I had something to do every day over Winterim Break: Friday night, birthday party (1/27); Saturday, Superbowl party at Jason’s apartment in Milwaukee; Sunday, trip to Madison to see Sharon’s high school and one of Pearl’s old friends from Kenosha, who went to UW-Madison; then the last day, a trip to Milwaukee for a phone cord and boots.
Saturday, January 28 was the one-year anniversary of the day Phil and I began going out. My day planner messages dealt with a printout of a genealogical chart my dad had sent me, and a missing phone cord for the modem. No mention of Phil anywhere. But I did remember what day it was, and blotted out the number 28 with white Liquid Paper. You see I didn’t think much of that anniversary: It was the anniversary of the day I began a relationship with someone I should have run far away from.
At the Superbowl party, we watched the commercials and used the actual game time as breaks for getting snacks or going to the bathroom. I believe the people there were my roommies, maybe Mike, Charles, Jason, Jennifer, and a cute guy named Brad.
Jason and Jennifer–like Peter and me so long ago–were pre-engaged. But unlike Peter and me, they actually carried it through, and are married to this day.
The scary thing was, Brad acted like Phil!–Phil at a party, that is: crazy, goofy. Pearl and I both freaked at the resemblance. I hoped that was the only resemblance. He acted like he kept wanting to talk to me or ask me something, but never got the chance.
At one point, we tossed around a stuffed, toy football. Charles hit it at the computer, and a drink spilled. Brad picked up a disc, which was in a plastic sheath, and said, “At least it had protection!”
Brad hadn’t shaved that day, but I could still tell he was cute. (In a picture he later sent me of himself, he was clean-shaven and even cuter.) All through the party he acted interested.
When my friends decided it was time to leave, we all stood around for a bit talking. Jason’s apartment was a studio apartment with only the bathroom and the bedroom in separate rooms. There was also a step separating the kitchen area from the living area. I stood with my coat on above the step, and at one point Brad sat below me, hanging onto my ankles, begging me for something (I forget what, probably that I wouldn’t go). If anything told me he was interested, that was it. It certainly boosted my self-esteem. I thought about slipping him my number, but I guess I didn’t have the courage.
The Budweiser Frog commercial, the first of its kind, was a big hit with us, our favorite of all the Superbowl commercials that year. We loved the three frogs saying, “Bud! Weis! Er!” We especially loved the last frog’s enthusiastic “ERR!” at the end of the commercial. After we finally left, Brad buzzed us at an intercom in the hallway. When we answered, he said, “Bud! Weis! ERR!!”
I was to find out that Brad was twenty-four, the same age as the Vampire and Charles.
I kept wishing I’d slipped him my number. Pearl wanted to set me up with a Madison guy named Alex. She said we had a lot in common, and he was a Christian. He sounded cool, and “Alexander” was my favorite guys’ name, yet there was this Brad. I decided that a serious, exclusive relationship with anyone would be a bad idea for me at this time.
About the trip to Sharon’s on Sunday, January 29: There are hills on the way to Madison, big ones, almost mountainous. It looks quite different from the little hills and flatland of southeastern Wisconsin. (By the way, my Wisconsin friends who say how flat Indiana is, Northern Indiana has huge hills!)
When we pulled up to Sharon’s house and waited for her to come out, I saw her house for the first time. It seemed I was the only person who hadn’t been there before; I don’t believe Charles was with us. Its size–tiny, boxlike–struck me. I couldn’t believe one person could live in that house, let alone Sharon’s whole family. It looked no larger than one room.
But when I visited Sharon one day much later, I found it was actually like Dr. Who’s TARDIS: bigger on the inside than on the outside. Sharon and her siblings also thought it looked too small when their mother first had them come see it, but then they walked inside and changed their minds. This house had two stories, though it looked like only one from the street, and the basement and attic were made into bedrooms.
First stop: Shabazz, the alternative high school. It may have been a whole building by now, or it may still have been as it was when Sharon went there: maybe two hallways out of a shared building. Not many students went here, but enough to make it worthwhile. The school was run quite differently from a regular school. It was for smart kids; they had more freedoms, and classes and requirements were structured differently.
By this time, the halls were overrun with teenagers clad in flannel clothes similar to the ones Roanoke freshmen wore, only much trendier. (In September of 1994, when the large freshman class came to Roanoke, I looked around the cafeteria and saw a sea of checked flannel shirts.) I said to Pearl, “They all look like My So-Called Life!”
If you ever get a chance to see re-runs of that show, you’ll see what I meant by that. The style was a mismatch of seventies fashions, thrift-store and probably army-surplus finds, striped flannel shirts hanging loosely over T-shirts, and probably some tight shirts on the girls.
The hair was in all sorts of weird fashions. I can’t remember them now, but a glance at My So-Called Life will show you, like Ray-Ann with her crazy, tiny braids here and there in tousled hair.
For those of us Roanoke upperclassmen who had seen very few high-schoolers since the early nineties, this scene was so strange as to be almost unbelievable. When we graduated, girls wore permed, big hair and clothes much like the late 80s. Most of my college classmates still dressed that way in 1995. Had things really changed that much since we were in high school? It had only been three and a half years!
Back to Shabazz. There was even a computer lab in which students sat all around the room at computers, all connected to AOL. There was even a display on cards around the walls and above the chalkboard–like an alphabet–of the various emoticons, or smiley faces, frowns and other facial expressions used on the Internet:
:) :( :P >:( etc.
The streets of Madison were narrow and claustrophobic and had steep hills, but were pretty, and sometimes you could see the state’s capitol building or the university.
We parked on one of the hills and met some of Pearl’s youth group friends in a Victorian house they rented while at college. They were students at UW-Madison. One was a guy, the others girls. It seemed odd to me to find students renting a house together instead of living on campus. I remembered that Phil once talked with Peter and some other guys about doing this. But the only traditional student I knew who’d actually done this was Latosha, who lived with her then-boyfriend.
I believe Pearl’s friends rented the downstairs story. They had a bird or two, a cat or two, and maybe other pets; I was jealous. I wasn’t jealous of the fixtures, which appeared to majorly need updating. The lights were inadequate, and the house felt a little cold. There were few furnishings.
But I did get to sit in a wicker chair, a big, round, nestlike thing, not the kind Morticia Addams would sit in. This was the first time I’d ever seen such a chair. (The second time would be in Cugan‘s apartment.) I have just discovered that they’re called papasan chairs. (Wouldn’t you know it, somebody else in some Internet forum wanted to know what they’re called, and that’s how I found out.)
These students knew Alexander. I whispered to Pearl in the car later, and she asked one of the friends about Alexander, but she didn’t know what was going on with him. I couldn’t tell if she meant he was free or wanted to be dating or not.
We went to an ice cream place where Sharon used to work, Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor. Though I don’t think it was like this when she worked there, it was now full of a kid’s wonderland: trains running along the tables, trains running around tracks inside the glass-topped tables, tables made up of gameboards, a jungle scene, clown dolls everywhere, and so much stuff I can hardly remember it all here. For more information and lots of pictures, check out the website.
We sat in front of the jungle scene. I ordered a sundae which the menu claimed was number one among UW-Madison students, and you would order it by asking for the “Number One.” It was a grilled pound cake hot fudge sundae, “the number one sundae in Dane County” according to the current menu.
Charles took Pearl to a hospital in Milwaukee every week, Tuesdays or Wednesdays I believe, so her doctor could monitor her after her surgery. One week, probably on Tuesday, January 31, I joined them, and waited with Charles in the lobby. Charles read a Highlights magazine, even though it’s for kids, and I thought that was funny and cute. The nurses thought Charles was Pearl’s boyfriend, so she had to set them straight.
One night, Mike asked me (I don’t remember why) to move his car from one parking lot to the lot next to the apartments, since I had a license. I said he wouldn’t want me to do that, because I hadn’t driven in years. But he still said I could do it, and in a way I wanted to, so I did.
I sat in the car and remembered all the things I needed to do–adjust mirrors, move seat, put on seatbelt, etc.–but I totally forgot to turn on the lights. It was bright under the lights in the parking lot, so I didn’t think of it.
I drove onto the highway, since the apartment lot didn’t connect to the other drives and lots on the campus, and drove there for a minute or two–realizing I didn’t have my lights on, it was now dark, and I didn’t know where to find the light switch. Somehow I could find my way: there was probably a street light or two. I wondered if the car coming the other way could see me. At least there was no one behind me on that country road, which got little traffic besides students.
I got to the apartment lot safely, went inside, and laughed as I told Mike what had happened. What better way to get through your embarrassment than by laughing about it?
Now that the Vampire had introduced me to it, whenever I could I watched Forever Knight. I kept wondering if Dr. Natalie Hunter was a grown-up Sarah Sutton, the actress who played Nyssa of Traken, but her name never came up in the credits. It was actually Catherine Disher, but she had an uncanny resemblance.
For the Spring Semester, we rearranged the living room: The table and chairs went along the wall in the study nook. The TV went over in front of the glass doors, far enough away that we could still use the doors. The couch went opposite it, under the bookshelves. The armchair went to the left of the couch, when facing the TV. The stereo went along the side of the wall to the kitchen counter. The computer was to the left of the TV, when seen from the couch.
I believe one of the table’s chairs became the computer chair. Whenever one of us wanted to watch a roommate’s activities online (which was often), we pulled a chair over to watch. We may have sat on a footrest, of which there may have been two: a cushioned milk crate and a blue one belonging to the armchair. (Yes, that’s the same milk crate that offended Phil when my friends suggested he sit on it. Yet it was good enough for us to sit on.)
We knew the new room arrangement looked a little funny, with the TV sitting all by itself over by the glass doors, but we loved it because it was more open.
We heard that people in Muehlmeier kept knocking out walls (which they could somehow put back up again later) to get more room and more roommates. Charles told us about this, and he lived in Muehlmeier, so it was probably true, but I have no idea how it was accomplished.
This gave my roommies, already in the mood for rearranging, the idea of moving all our beds into Pearl and Tara’s room and all the desks into the room I shared with Sharon. When they told me, I said,
“I don’t want to do that!”
Randy joked, “One day you’ll go away and come back to find it done, whether you like it or not.”
One roommie said, “Why don’t we do a two-week trial period? After that, if you still don’t like it, we can move it back.”
Sharon or Pearl said, “This way, we can use one phone line for the modem and the other for talking.”
The second point tempted me more than I wanted anyone to know. You see, the phone cord used for the modem was actually more than one cord hooked together. We ran it from Pearl and Tara’s bedroom to the computer, which was in the living room. When we switched the rooms around, we hooked up both the modem and one of the phones to this cord. This new-style phone had no carriage, so you set it down to hang it up. We put it on the floor by the computer. You just had to be careful not to pick up the phone when someone was online, or you’d bump them offline. Since Roanoke had call-waiting, every once in a while, even an incoming call bumped us offline. The phone line in my bedroom was now used for talking.
This was a useful setup, and it was fun to see the surprise on people’s faces when they asked for my extension and I gave them two numbers. So after a while I no longer wanted to put the rooms back the way they were. I tried to ignore Randy when he joked that the rooms hadn’t been switched back around, so I must like the new arrangement.
As the weeks passed, I spent so much time online that I no longer cared which room I slept in or where all the desks were. Ironically, now I could’ve talked to Shawn late at night if he wanted, because neither phone was in the bedroom, but he never called again until after I graduated.
Of course, bed-making was now shot to heck. None of us made our beds very often, now that the bedroom was just a bed room and nothing else. Friends were entertained in the living room. Sharon and I still kept our clothes in what was now the study room, and changed there.
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)