Monday, September 14, 2020

E-Dorm Life- Background

We moved out of the freshman dorms after our first year. 

I’ll get around to posting about those early days eventually- what was intended as a single paragraph flashback highlighting them has bloomed into multiple posts. 

I know, everyone is stunned by that...especially since this oversize, non-linear cavalcade of personal history also began life as an expected paragraph sized introduction before thirty year old memories vomited forth by the bushel in no particular order. 

I spent the rest of my college days in the E-Dorms. (Click here for current floor plans)  The buildings were shaped (obviously) like an “E” and were the oldest residence hall on campus. As an indication, multiple sections were named after Pre World War Two officers of the Imperial Railways of Japan.  Jesse and I continued rooming together, as unlike most best friends who shared space in college, we remained best of friends.

Honestly, I think we’ve only had two borderline major arguments in close to forty-five years of friendship, both well before college.  One was the “snowball in the face” incident; the other was the “juggling Easter eggs” incident.  The first year of RPI “Wrong music cassette out the window” incident was more about stress and misunderstanding than anything else.

Because of the age of the building, the rates tended to be lower, even though for two years we lived in Clement in the largest room on campus. (319 square feet) Coincidentally, it was next to the smallest room on campus. (97 square feet) The resident of that room was extremely studious and health conscious.  To show what awesome neighbors we were, every week during the semester on our radio show that we wrote horoscopes, his (Virgo) was “Go Out, Get Drunk and Raise a Ruckus.”  The exception being Christmas when it was, "Go Out, Drink Egg Nog, and Raise a Ruckus."  My favorite part of that was Jesse reading, "Go Out, Get Drunk, and Raise a Ruckus" like it was new and exciting each time.

We would also, following Jesse’s logic that he may need to know how to do this out in the business world, very occasionally light up cigars. Hey, there are much dumber things we could have experimented with in college, back off.  Then we would walk into our neighbor’s tiny room with them, generating a completely opaque cloud in seconds.

Aside- the cigar trying ended abruptly after I got us a couple of giant ones over the summer as a gag. Jesse summed it up best.  “I’m completely done with this, and I still have more than a normal cigar left”.  I believe neither of us have touched one since.

The rooms were not only oddly sized, but also in some cases, oddly shaped.  We referred to our sophomore year room in Hearne as “the bowling alley.”  (167 Square Feet) It was barely wide enough for the bed and desk to fit with a small walkway between.  However, it was long enough that both beds fit head to foot with room for two book shelves between with access to them, plus the closets and main door on the ends.  In the area without desks, where the book shelves were, was just enough space for the host of an interesting late night talk show to sit- “Toothbrush Talk-With Brian.”

Brian would walk from his room to brush his teeth at night, and on his way back inevitably hear Jesse and I discussing something insane and pointless after we'd theoretically turned in.  He'd enter the conversation, and wind up sitting in our room as the initial AM hours flew past, toothbrush still in hand. That is, unless we’d gone too far off the deep end before he arrived. One night we were discussing topological effects a tiny planet would have on soccer rules. In mid-discussion, we heard our toothbrush-carrying friend from the other side of the door proclaim, “YOU GUYS…ARE IDIOTS!”   Sadly, there was no episode that night.

There was plenty of room in the single I had after Jesse went to graduate school elsewhere and I stayed on for my master’s, (161 Square Feet) but I had definitely been spoiled by the “big room” between that year and the bowling alley time.

The big room had its own hallway entering the massive rectangle that made up the main area. There was enough space that we could pass clubs inside if we moved some stuff since much of the storage space was in the hallway.  We seriously considered bringing in a full sized pinball machine.  (MILLION!!!) The amount of time of this serious consideration was about an hour, but (highly unusual for a dorm room) the available space was not the reason we gave up on the idea.  What we did decide to do, however, was use the expansive ceiling to map the heavens with a mass of glow in the dark star stickers Jesse found in a discount store the summer before junior year.  He had a constellation chart poster with old style drawings over the stars.  Nerds that we were, we placed a circular protractor in both the centers of the poster and the ceiling, and affixed strings with measured markings on them to allow scaling up the polar coordinates.  One of us would stand at the poster and read out the locations to the other standing on a chair.  We learned almost immediately that after sticking up about three stars, one’s arm would go completely numb.  In two years, we mapped about a dozen constellations total.

As can be surmised, there was something…off…about the E-Dorms.  It may have been their age, I’m not sure.  They functioned as a weirdness magnet in several ways.  Being the last remaining all male upper class dorm on campus helped.  I was kind of amazed that the amount of cleaning needed to get that many years of "guy smell" out of it when it went co-ed following our departure didn't lead to structural collapse.

I think those are the reasons the residents bonded the way we did there. Those in the “fancy schmancy” dorms in the Quad easily had the most school spirit, but I think we had the most Dorm spirit.  It was just us, no connection to any fraternities.  That is unless you count the guys who had Greek Letter shirts made up.  While the classic selection would be “Gamma Delta Iota” – “God D*** Independent” our gang went with “Gamma Omicron Delta” on them, in order to host a “Party of the G.O.D.s.”

The building attracted unusual animals as well as people.  Pets weren't allowed, but that didn't stop some students.  Guys in Voorhees, near Scott's locations and Brian's later room, had a python.  At least they had it until they tried to retrieve it from the warm spot under the radiator it was hiding, it tensed its muscles and broke the thing's floor brackets. That made them decide it might not be the safest roommate.  Earlier they foolishly bought a rabbit to feed it. (Foolishly, because you never feed something to your pet that can kick it in the face.)  Two other residents felt bad for the bunny and adopted it before the winner of that battle could be determined.  The Resident Associate (RA) was talking to them when he saw it hopping across their floor.  One of them quickly stated, "Man! First mice and now this!  You better call an exterminator."  The RA, faked out just as much as one would imagine, simply replied, "Make sure it's gone before I get back."

The residence hall also attracted multiple wandering beasties.   E-Dorm Eddie was a scrawny stray cat that hung around the interior and exterior of the place.  It had a weird, human way of sitting, which added to its bizarre appearance.  One day, I opened the door to go to an early class and it ran into our bowling alley room.  Then it darted from book shelves, to under the desks to closets to  the windowsills repeatedly.  The morning sounded like a classic Tex Avery MGM cartoon:  “Meow….hee hee hee….meow…hee hee hee…meow…hee hee hee.” 

The "hee hee hee"s were provided by my ever-helpful roommate, who did not have an early class, and was observing and giggling from his bed while I chased the thing around until it finally left.

That was the same room this suburban raised boy met his first of an urban type of insect.  Living Up the Lake every summer I had no issues with most crawlies, so when Jesse saw one on the floor an early weekend morning he said, “Hey, bug man, what’s that?”

Honestly, I thought it was a full size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper.  What it was, is known as a “Palmetto Bug.”  The reason they are  known as that is when they showed up on the Vanderbilt’s property the snooty family declared, “We do not have roaches it is clearly some other kind of bug," and renamed them.  In addition, the enormous monster could fly…which it did right into my underwear drawer.

After an explosion of tighty-whiteys and a mass amount of swearing and stick swatting on my part (with a large whittled branch brought from Up the Lake for just such an occasion) the offending beast was slaughtered.

The dog, meanwhile, was a whole separate issue.

Rensselaer Society of Engineers was a fraternity with their house smack in the middle of campus.  On the way back to the dorm after a late winter dinner, one would often see a pledge spending the beginnings of a long,cold night outside it rhythmically watering the lawn to create their custom ice hockey rink.  Due to their location and free range view of pet monitoring, their dog became everyone’s dog.  Due to its general (lack of) intelligence, and us being Douglas Adams fans, we sometimes referred to it as “No Nothing Bozo.” However, whatever his real name was, most students called it “Scooby.”  He would hang around in the Quad, by the dining halls or in front of our dorm.  Scooby's favorite game was grabbing our juggling equipment and running off with it.  It was like doing a perpetual show for a gang of sneaky three-year-olds.

The Juggling Club normally met in the padded (appropriately) ABC room of the ’87 Gym or outside in the Quad when it was nice, but there was also a fair amount of juggling in front of the E-Dorms. That is because a bunch of us ended up living there.  Jesse learned to juggle early on, and I started picking it up (after dropping it, ha ha) when we knew we were going to the same college.

Jesse and I heard RPI had a juggling club, went to the first listed meeting freshman year, and found one guy left.  Since he had the inherent ability to offend anyone within ten minutes of meeting them, we took the main officer positions and drafted in additional members. A bunch of us ended up herding into the E-Dorms, as well as training others after we got there, who in turn joined the club. We first met Scott juggling outside the freshman dorms and he lived in  the E-Dorms as well. We taught Brian to juggle early on freshman year and he was part of our migration.  Randy did live in the Quad, but we never held that against him. 

People after our year included Phil who lived in North Hall-the "E"s neighbor and sharer of residence staff duties- and Ben, in Hirai, who started to juggle after hanging out with us for a while.  To quote a corny old bumper sticker, "Juggling Is Catching!"  There were about thirty members when we graduated, and the club still meets today. A nice legacy overall.

Many of our unofficial juggling club meetings between the tines of the “E” took place at night and involved torches.  

Every juggler I ever met stated torches should be learned during the day with low temperature burning fuel…

Every juggler I ever met learned to do torches at night with lighter fluid. 

There is a huge incentive involved in the “catch where the fire isn’t” method.

One night we were out there later than usual tossing flaming sticks at each other and ourselves.  We were unaware we had continued past the time the library closed.  While most of the folks on campus recognized us as varying levels of mostly competent and technically sane performers, the people who normally lived in the library all day hadn’t seen us before.

Unbeknownst to us, they had called Public Safety to report, “Drunk guys setting things on fire.”

Scott was juggling torches while balancing on the guardrail at the top of the hill in front of the dorm…like ya do.

A student cautiously approached and asked, “Do you think you should be doing that.”

Scott hopped deftly down and,  ever our great Public Relations man, Jesse grabbed his torches, waved them over his own head and in a spooky voice asked, 
Does it friiiiiiighten youuuuuuuuu???”
While chasing the guy  down the sidewalk.

In yet another unbeknownst, Public Safety had volunteer student members.  This became rapidly beknownst as the guy panicked, ran away from Jesse, snatched a walkie-talkie out of his coat and called for backup.

More Public Safety cars than we had ever seen together came flying up Sage Avenue in both directions.  (Four of them…it was a fairly quiet campus overall.)  
The officers rushed up the stairs, saw us and said:

“Oh…it’s only you.”

Followed by,
“Have you guys ever tried eating fire?”
When Jesse said he had, the response from one officer to another was:
“He must have tried your wife’s cooking! Bwa-ha-ha!”

Then they drove off leaving their student member extremely unhappy.

Before continuing with other residents: here is a basic floor plan description to help with understanding.  The E-Dorm was a mix of a half dozen single and double rooms on each floor in each section with one bathroom, keeping crowding to a minimum.  The bathrooms featured multiple sinks, but a locking door to allow the use of the single toilet or shower.  As an all-male dorm, cleanliness could have been a concern. However, we were mostly civilized, and a cleaning crew member would come through the common areas daily, except for the weekends. 

The result of this was by Monday morning the bathroom garbage can became a leaning tower of pizza boxes.  Also, the inevitable water on the floor from the poorly designed shower curtain would migrate to the hallway by Saturday afternoon at the latest.  This prompted a group letter to the editor of the newspaper to be signed, 
"The Mighty Men, (with Soggy Socks), of the E-Dorms."

There were two kitchens with vending machines, one in Clement (now looking to be gone, and made another big room) which featured a lounge area with couches and a TV that often hosted  movie watching and food events. One great advantage of the Albany area was being half way between New York City and Buffalo.  Both the pizza and the hot wings were good!  The other, smaller kitchen between Hearne and Waite had a little TV up in one corner and regularly featured Scott making either rice and beans, or enormous single pancakes for his meals.  As a juggler, he mastered flipping quite easily.   The vending machine in that section had a familiar sound, and anyone buying an item with nickles would get the rest of the section humming the bass line to Pink Floyd's "Money,"

Outside of our nocturnal conflagrations, we were mostly on the quiet side of the E-Dorms's quiet and loud split. 

The peak of weekend night excitement (back when I ran, lifted and metabolized enough to stay in good shape when doing this after a normal dinner) was:  
Jesse, Brian and I having a six-pack each, splitting a twenty-four cut pizza, and watching an entire six-hour Mystery Science Theater VHS that Jesse’s brother taped at home while we were at RPI.  Scott would join in (minus the six-pack) if we started early enough.

In summary-, Jesse chased a guy down the sidewalk with torches, I’m from a large Italian family from the Bronx. There were others of similar volume backgrounds, such as Ben (substitute “Jewish” and “Queens” for his family), his roommate Lucas who only wanted to stay a year in the RPI atmosphere and was the only self-proclaimed existentialist at the school.  While some of our combinations were occasionally told to quiet down by Resident Associates after hours, generally grouping us away from the truly loud people is saying something monumental.

Yes, there were some extra quiet folks. In our year were Scott, who maintained a sane bedtime throughout college, in opposition to the entire population of RPI, and Jeremy, the formerly mentioned Virgo resident of the tiny room.  There was also DJ, Damien and Todd, who were more exercise and health minded than most college students. They gave us pointers and advice. In return, we corrupted Todd into joining the Juggling Club.  He had one of the best Halloween costumes I ever saw at our party, donning a brown garbage bag and a halo.  He was a Holy S***!  Scott was a close second, wearing shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and Gene Simmons makeup.  He was me.

There were some older really quiet ones too, mostly graduate students who wanted to be left alone. One example was the guy upstairs who probably ended up apologizing and explaining a lot to his girlfriend.  He was checking if the bathroom was empty for her. I didn’t lock the door while I was cleaning off some juggling equipment at one of the sinks. I thought he was alone, and answered in in a gravelly and deranged voice, “I’m just washing my balls.”

 “Dean the Vampire,” a completely nocturnal and pale skinned upper classman, lived on our floor, and engineered our radio show the first season before we got our own clearance.  More on that later.

Unsurprisingly, when I was the graduate student in a single in Voorhees, I evolved to not being a quiet one.  At the last possible moment my second semester (of three), I changed from planning to do a thesis to straight project and course work for my master’s and had to catch up in a graduate level Vibrations class to ensure enough credits.  The take home tests would send me in to three to four day long profanity marathons as I worked my way through them.  Ken, the RA, actually asked my friends if I was all right, and when they explained the tests, he began to anticipate them with glee, 
“Oh, Jeff has another f*** fest coming up, cool!” 

I’m convinced the only reason I got an “A” in that class was during final presentations I asked the guy who did a project on Bass Guitars, “If you put two of them at ninety degrees to each other would you have a set of orthogonal bases?”  
The professor laughed so hard I thought he was going to wet himself.

Note: swearing continuously for long stretches still did not make me the loudest one, counting only our dorm section, as the two guys next to me were prone to breaking into using their hairbrushes as microphones and belting out (respectively) Elvis tunes and the Love Boat theme (or together) the Village People's greatest hits.  Both of them did have an active social life, based on the visitors they had. I clarify this because the Love Boat singer entered my room one day, looked at the Beauty and the Beast poster, and stated, "Belle is really hot for an animated cartoon."  RPI does weird things to people.

The ones that, compared to even the musical duo and us, were the true "loud ones" formed a class by themselves.  Jason and Steve lived above our bowling alley room and came from our freshman dorm.  They both were large, bulky men and their favorite game to play with each other was, “I bet I can put this piece of paper in your mouth.”  They'd  argue about it for twenty minutes, and then wrestle over the attempt shaking our roof, or our furniture if they decided to play while visiting. Them buying a bag of marbles to drop on our ceiling was a minor annoyance in comparison.   They also hung a peach with a firecracker in it on a string from their window to the outside of ours.  We trimmed most of them off the edges, but my Super Powers poster (which my daughter has on her door now) still has burned fruit stains on it.

Matt was the loudest person I’ve ever met, and again, given the “large Italianness” of my family, that’s terrifying.  He would blast Jethro Tull normally, which was nothing compared to when he’d crank up the stereo to the point he could hear it when he was in the shower down the hall. One night we heard his familiar voice bellowing in from one of the courtyards between the prongs of the “E”.  We opened the window to find Matt with an empty and shiny beer case box covering his entire head.  He looked up at us, using the handle as eye holes, raised the paper towel tube in his hand toward the sky and proclaimed for all campus to hear, 
Then ran off into the darkness chortling.

Two loud upper classmen were Bill and George. "Bungalow" Bill tried barbecuing in a pot on the sidewalk one day and melted the metal into the concrete.  He also put his fist through the standpipe cabinet glass after a particularly unpleasant chemistry exam.  George had a succession of 1970ish (twenty years old at the time) green Buicks with hoods large enough to land aircraft on. Since the parking lot behind us was largely commuter, after any snow he could be seen doing evening power donuts in those lime colored monstrosities across the empty back section of the lot.  

They were the two ringleaders in my only brush with campus civil disobedience.


longbow said...

This was longer than my time at RPI

Jeff McGinley said...

You left early, but buckle up buttercup. It's the first post of 13.

Jesse Schell said...

Oh man, I had forgotten half of this! Thanks for putting these stories down!

Jeff McGinley said...

No problem. They were a lot of fun. Thanx for being there for almost all of them. And supplying the digital copes of the radio shows that led to many of the memories for a bunch of these posts.