Monday, January 17, 2022

Bray Days: Orientation Part 2

Note- That is version one of "the shirt." It was the black replacement that inspired the sign.

Orientation continued once we moved into the dorms (for real) the week before Labor Day. I was thrilled to be assigned to Bray Hall. While the overall floor plan and individual rooms were identical to the other freshman dorms, there was one difference. Bray had a larger than life sized mural of the Original Series (at that point, not counting one Next Generation season, the ONLY series) Star Trek crew on the bridge of the Enterprise.

That first week, the S.O.s and R.A.s (Resident Assistants, an older student “in charge” of each floor) put us through a huge array of orientation activities. 
With one exception, once more I remember almost none of them in great detail.
Before the exceptions, I should detail how the R.A. on each of the three floors let us understand the full spectrum of what we could expect from collegiate authority. 

Up on the third floor was a guy who’d reached Chris Knight levels of laid back. There were stories that he purchased alcohol for the (underage) guys on his floor.
(Remember kids, back in the fossil days it was a different time. The drinking age had been eighteen as recently as his high school years.)
His direct opposite was the R.A. on the second floor. That guy was only a year ahead of us, and tried to inspire his charges with extremely clich√© school spirit quotations. He was an extreme stickler for the rules, and lived to write people up the nights he was on duty. Those of us with AP credits were already in classes with him by the second half of freshman year, undermining his authority a bit. There was one night spring semester where I “took one for the team.” It was similar to when I’d talk to the Up the Lake owner at night down the Lake when I was older, allowing the kids, who weren't supposed to be down there after dark, to sneak behind her and run up the path. 
I came out of the rest room and saw him on patrol down one end of the “L." Coming up the other end of the “L” were two guys with a five-gallon beaker they’d “borrowed” from the chemistry lab, and filled with beer. (Because…college.) I do not know how they got it, how they cleaned it, or how they filled it, nor do I ever care to. I immediately grabbed the R.A.s attention and started making up as many questions as I could about the Differential Equations class we shared, which I was currently doing astonishingly well in. While he pridefully bestowed his knowledge and wisdom upon me, I kept our angle such that the two guys with the Beerker could slip behind, and then stay behind him until they reached their room.
Down on the first floor, we had Ed. Ed was a typical RPI junior with average levels of spirit and geekiness, who meant well. There will be more stories about him later. 
Well…one story, but it’s hilarious.
The Resident Assistants looked out for each floor, and reported to the Resident Associate in charge of the whole building. We had a Grad Student named Gordon in that post. Gordon was also president of the GLBA(ssociation). GLB was the fossil times initials for LGBTQ+.  At the time, I was shocked by this idea. This is because I lived a sheltered life up to that point  and was isolated from a lot of stuff in the area I grew up. (Or to state it more simply, I was an idiot.) I didn’t become shocked until I went to borrow the building VCR (shut up, whippersnappers) and was surrounded by his posters of George Michael, Billy Idol and David Bowie. Looking back on it, the selection was a brave and highly compassionate one. The main reason for this was because he was excessively competent at his job. The other, possibly more important reason (especially back then) was- while we were all on our own for the first time, in the climate at the period it had to be far more confusing and scary for those with varied orientations. Installing Gordon is a position of authority gave them an immediate safe contact to get through what had to be a far rougher transition for them than it was for the rest of us.
I remember one student orientation adventure clearly, because it was connected to so many key formative experiences in my college residence life. Almost none of them were directly connected to the activity itself, which was the Freshmen Olympics.
They tried building up “dorm spirit” by making us create floor names and do a bunch of activities together. For reasons that would be obvious if you knew Ed, the name our floor chose was the BRAY-D Bunch. Jesse, Tom (his high school classmate and amusement park  juggling partner) and I were all on the floor, meaning we juggled as part of the parade they forced us into Downtown. For the floor picture afterwards, Tom dropped a club on Ed’s head, establishing juggling as a “hall sport” and therefore including it on the banned list in the dorm.
For the Freshman Olympics, we split up into groups. I know there were multiple ones about which I have no knowledge. For example, Frisbee golf rings a bell. Jesse may have done that one.
There was definitely a volleyball group. I know this, because one of our floor mates instantly gained a nickname due to his annoying behavior during that competition. Remarkably, this turned out to be one of the most important occurrences in my entire social life. An early week of the semester, Jesse and I were heading to dinner and he said, “Should I ask Brian to come?” At that point, I hadn’t memorized everyone and asked who Brian was. When Jesse told me he was, “Volleyball Weenie’s roommate,” I agreed that getting him away from said Weenie was of high importance, and the three of us have been close friends ever since.
Let me put it this way. The first year we were in the E-Dorms, Brian got another random roommate, Mark. On his moving in day, Brian walked in with his folks and found Mark was already VERY COMFORTABLE in the room…with his girlfriend. Yet, this was still an infinite positive upgrade from Brian’s first year experience. However, it came as a surprise to no one that Brian went for a single his last two RPI years.
The contest I know most about was the one I participated in: the tug of war. As demonstrated in ballroom dance classes I have always been able to stand still very well. This event was also where I learned how college really meant starting fresh. Obviously, no one who knew me in high school would have had any positive athletic expectations out of me. However, here everyone immediately decided that the position of anchor was down to Big Steve (of “I bet I can put this piece of paper in your mouth” fame) or me. Steve thought I should take the anchor, based on the logic of “Look at your legs!”
Aside- When I reached RPI; I was much improved from my low point, but still not what could be called "in shape." I hadn’t started lifting or running yet. However, in high school, my friend Mike and I signed up for the weight room in gym class as often as possible to compete with each other on the leg press. After a couple years of this focus, we were both able to press the entire five-hundred pound rack, then switch our feet positions and do reps of 750 pounds. This led to three side effects:
A) Well before a normal exercise schedule, I had powerful and defined leg muscles supporting the undeveloped rest of me.
B) Due to trying to see if we could press 500 pounds with one leg: To this day I have a dent in my right shin where my foot slipped off the pad and the other pad slammed into me.
C) I was voted having the “best legs” in my AP calculus class.
Aside inside the aside- That contest, back in much simpler yet stranger times, was always done by the Calculus teacher when the “no shorts” rule was lifted at the end of the school year. We had an unseasonable cold snap, and there was only one other (also male) competitor. I’m positive that if the one young woman in class who was wearing a miniskirt that day decided she counted, I would have lost.
Back to college.
We came in second place in the overall tug of war. At the time, I felt it was heavily my fault. Every other match, which we were successful in, I wrapped the end of the rope in a simple loop around my body. For the finals, I noticed all of the other teams had the anchor wrapped in multiple coils and I tried that instead. This increased torque on me and made me pivot more than I did in previous rounds, sending me into a zip cord like spin at the end. Then again, the dorm floor that beat us was populated with ROTC members who had been training for several weeks before school started to work together in physical synchronization.
The Freshman Olympics did not include the two “intramural” events that took place only on Bray One, and would have most likely been considered “Hall Sports” if the Resident Assistants had seen them, including the guy on Bray 3.
The first was due to two conditions:
1) The pack of toiletries they gave to all freshmen with soap, shaving gel and other bathroom necessities,
2) A complete “lost in translation” idea of how whippets worked.
Aside: For the young and uninformed- Whippets came about because some whipped cream was propelled by nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and one could inhale a bit at the start of a spray.
I’m not sure who started the idea on our floor that laughing gas was the propellant in shaving cream, but guys started trying to push the little rubber stopper under the can (of gel, mind you) and inhale from it. No one was inhaling the gel itself, we were intelligent enough to get into RPI after all.
When that (unsurprisingly) had no effect. Joe (of the single semester) decided to inhale some, and run down the hall holding it in to see if he could accelerate the effect of the gas. Because we were male, this rapidly shifted off the original idea and became a contest of who could run the furthest down the hall and back without breathing. General lack of oxygen to the brain eventually produced similar effects to what the original hope of the whippet was.
The second sporting event came about because a different Joe returned from Price Chopper pushing his groceries in a shopping cart proclaiming, “Hey, it only cost a quarter!”
It sat in the stairwell for a while, but with a group of overstressed engineering student guys, nothing mobile was unused for long. One afternoon, the idea of time trials was floated.
Several two-man teams formed, consisting of one larger and one smaller freshman. Having barely survived multiple bad ideas with a big wheel growing up, I volunteered to be the official timekeeper instead. The smaller team member would get in the cart down at the far end of one of the halls. The larger team member would then push his “friend” while running as fast as he could down that hall, skidding to a stop before reaching the bathroom. While I timed each, I do not remember who won. I do remember the contest being abandoned when what became the final larger contestant lost his grip on his smaller “no longer friend” and the cart barreled across the tiled floor of the bathroom, leading to a disturbingly powerful impact with the garbage can, and the smaller team member flipping out of the shopping cart into the can.  Brian, if you were one of the guys in the cart, please supply any details you recall.
The only other Bray One Specific Hall Sport only had a single participant, Tom. He was a gymnast as well as a juggler. Therefore, he could do a split with one foot on each wall of the hallway and hop down. We could always hear him coming.
*Thump thump thump thump thump…*
That is, unless someone left their door unlocked. In those cases, it was:
 *Thump thump thump thump squeak CRASH!  -pause-  random groans*

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