Back to School: My Friends and Job–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1992, Part 1

I may have first heard Q101 (alternative, Chicago) on the way back to school.  I do know it was sometime sophomore year, either then or during Thanksgiving Break.  I began to like alternative even more than I liked the dance music on B96.  Eventually, I discovered that Q101 came in at my house when the TV antenna was hooked up to the stereo in the living room.

When my parents and I first got to Roanoke, probably on the 5th, we thought there would be many people there.  When we’d arrived on move-in day the year before, we’d gotten the impression that the other people in the suite had been there for a day or two at least, maybe even a week, and that this was standard procedure for sophomores and upperclassmen and football players.

We received no notice saying that we couldn’t move in before move-in day, and really, Saturday was far more convenient than making my parents spend Labor Day moving me in and going all the way back home for work the next day.  (The drive was about 5 hours each way.)  Classes started on Wednesday.  So we loaded up the new Plymouth Grand Am and moved in on Saturday, thinking everything would be fine.

When we got there, no one was waiting for us, and the suite was empty, all the doors open.  We went in, but of course I couldn’t stay there without a key.  So I went down to the Campus Center to find someone to give me a key; I found MemAdmin.  She cried out in a tone that sounded like an adult scolding a child, “What are you doing here so early?”

I had no clue why she would say such a thing.  She wasn’t happy about it, but gave me a key.  I believe she said the doors were open because the cleaning crew was cleaning.  I went back to my parents and told them what had happened, and they were just as mystified as I was at why she’d say what she did.

We moved my stuff in, but there was no food service right away, so my parents (who were staying in S– overnight anyway) came and got me for meals.  On Sunday the 6th, as I was dreading a long day of having no one to talk to except my parents, we were passing the Campus Center, either on foot or in the car.  I looked up and saw, parked in its usual spot outside Bossard, Pearl’s scooter.  “Pearl’s here!” I cried.  At least one of my friends was already there!

She was back early to lead a freshman orientation group.  One of the guys in it was named Derf, like the guy in the Disney TV-movie Exile from 1990, a favorite movie of mine.  We all thought that was a funny name.

I thought I was going to be all alone, but no, the day was full of socializing and friends: Pearl, Sharon, Rachel, Sarah, a couple of others.  Most, if not all of them were RA’s or Freshman Orientation group leaders.

I forget what day Shawn came back.  But when he did, he sat at a meal with the Group and me.  I jokingly complained to him that despite all the letters I’d written him, “You didn’t write me any letters.  You didn’t even send me a birthday card!”  Tara groaned, stood up, and said to Shawn, “That even hurts me.”

Shawn also ripped on my letters–probably for being long–and Catherine defended me.  As she had told me in a letter, she loved my letters.  They told so much about me, she said, and were more interesting than some others she got that summer.


Soon after I moved in, somebody told me my new roommate had decided last-minute not to live in that suite.  I don’t know why.  I didn’t know her, so it couldn’t have been anything personal.  So I didn’t have a roommate.  I never did meet her.

Tracy [NOT that other Tracy] was the only other sophomore in the suites.  She was there because she, like me, had signed up to a suite (probably a language one) before they pulled the language suites (lack of interest) and said only upperclassmen could live in the suites.

Since the school’s policy change caused us an inconvenience, we were allowed to stay, though we might have to change rooms or suites.  I was moved from the old German suite to an honors suite on the opposite end of the building, which I was able to live in because of my grades.

My suitemates–the ones I remember–were Nicky, Georgina and Mary; for a short time, Maggie, who had the room next to mine; and, eventually, Elizabeth.  Georgina and Mary were roommates, and Elizabeth lived with Nicky when she moved into our suite.  Maggie moved out because she was very unhappy on campus and wanted to live at home.

Mary got engaged to her boyfriend, so she told us–though she never told her sorority sisters.  I don’t know what happened there.  Georgina used to date Jennifer’s brother.  He broke up with her, but she could not let go for quite some time.  Unlike Peter, he was nice to his ex, allowing her to talk to him and ask him to do things–and she did that a lot.  This really got on Mary’s nerves.

Candice once told me that if she and her boyfriend broke up, she’d probably take it worse than I did.  Well, they did break up over the summer, and she was right: She ended up in the hospital!

On one of these first days back, I was in the Campus Center, lower level, probably checking mail, and glimpsed a new video on MTV on the lounge TV.  Something about this video caught my eye, so I sat down to watch it.  It was “Jeremy” by some new band called Pearl Jam–and it just blew me away.  The quality of the production, the interest, the art, the song itself–all were excellent.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s a collection of images depicting a young boy, Jeremy, living out his tortured life with parents who don’t care and classmates who tease him.  In one scene, he kneels in front of a big picture of a wolf with its mouth open.

At the end, he goes into his classroom late and shirtless, tosses an apple to the teacher, pulls a gun to his own head and squeezes his eyes shut–then you see his classmates frozen in time, Jeremy’s blood splattered all over them as they sit in shock and horror.  I didn’t know it then, but it was based on a real occurrence, I believe in Indiana.

From what I could understand of the lyrics, and without the shooting, he was me.  (I hadn’t yet caught the parts where he would act like a jerk).  The music seemed to express the despair and torment of a child who’s being teased by everyone else.  “Jeremy spoke in class today” was the most eloquent line, since it didn’t just refer to him opening up his mouth and answering a question.

Also, the lead singer, Eddie Vedder, looked like a wild man with his long, straggly hair and big eyes.


On one of those first evenings back, I went to visit Shawn in his room.  It was a tiny, single room, because he couldn’t stand his jerky roommate the year before.  It was almost a closet, maybe half the size of a double room, which in the Grossheusch dorm was already barely enough for two people.  He had one bed, a small, green easy/rocking chair, and a little space for his desk and closets–and that was it.

There were closets and drawers all around and even above his bed.  A green Inverness coat hung from one of the knobs of a closet near the window, which filled the wall opposite the door.  I wished he’d wear it more often: I love Inverness coats.  I don’t remember if anyone lived in the rooms near him.  Above his bed was his stereo or jam box, which usually blasted Christian music (rock, pop, maybe rap).

I was in a playful mood.  As we talked, he began going on and on about something, and I chuckled and said, “You’re so analytical!”  I believe I also called him paranoid.  He handed me my letters, saying that when I spoke in one letter about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s West From Home, it sounded like I wanted all my letters for posterity.  Starting December 30, I spent several days copying out as much of them as I wanted to keep, then gave them back to him.


My room was much like the room I had freshman year, except the windows faced the Wehr Center, parking lot and football field, and the door was on the wall adjacent to the window.  My bed was under the window because it was next to the wall heater.  At one point we had to have the heater fixed, but it kept the room nice and warm for much of the winter.

The phone was on a dresser.  At first it was a box-shaped phone, the standard, but then it stopped working right, so we got some newfangled thing which just had the receiver and no box.  You’d put it down on the desk to hang it up, since it had this little hook-thing that would be pushed in.

I would often skip putting it on the desk to hang it up, and just hit the hook.  I loved this modern convenience.  The cord was also really long, so I could talk on the phone while sitting on my bed.

Maggie’s room would eventually be made into a guest room, holding the old furniture (including a big, comfy, but ratty old couch) when the new furniture was put into the lounge.  I was surprised to find the lounge didn’t have a TV.  I thought all the suite lounges had TVs.  After all, the one in the German suite did not belong to any of us in the suite, but to the college.

Somebody made a paper sign which read, “Suite Sweet Suite” rather than “Home Sweet Home.”

The Main Suite Lounge was now turned into Day Care, and the old Day Care suite was turned into either a living suite or the Beta suite.  It was disappointing to lose the Main Suite Lounge.

I always knew when there was a party or something else big going on in the Zeta or Beta suite, since I could see and hear it through the lounge windows.  I could even tell when the Zetas or Betas turned on loud music.  At least they played good stuff.  That’s how I first heard “Would” by Alice in Chains and “Percolator” by Cajmere.


Apparently, the summer was the last gasp of my feelings for Peter.  I thought I only liked Shawn as a friend, and only wanted Peter.  But I wrote in my diary on December 20,

This crush [on Shawn] has been going on long enough, and I don’t think just because it’s been fed.  It wasn’t fed during the summer; I just kept falling deeper into love with Peter.

I thought–remember this?–that I only thought of Shawn as a friend at summer’s end.  I badly wanted Peter to reform and return to me.

But, as soon as I got back to school, I didn’t want [my supposed “word of knowledge”] to come true, at least not very much, and Pearl called me “obsessed” with Shawn.

I still had feelings for Peter, which I can see showing up in my diary from time to time, especially on the anniversary of our first date.

But a lot of the time I wrote about praying for him to reform, and asking friends to pray for him, because I saw him turning into a reprobate–and for conservative Christians, someone turning away from Christianity, into what we consider sin, means their soul is at risk of eternal damnation.  He was on my list of intercessions for my nightly prayers.


I hadn’t seen the new movie Wayne’s World and had never seen the Wayne’s World sketches on Saturday Night Live, but I knew many of the one-liners from my friends, who now incorporated them into daily speech.  There were little catch phrases such as “Ex-squeeze me?”; “Ree!  Ree!  Ree!” while making stabbing motions; “We’re not worthy!”; and “If you spew, spew in here” (said while holding up a glass cup).

We loved the references to “Mill-i-wau-kay,” and I loved the references to Chicago, such as the Empire carpet jingle, which I knew from watching Chicago stations for years.  I don’t think we actually used Wayne and Garth’s “Schwing!”  After all, none of us were guys.

As for Saturday Night Live catchphrases, we sometimes used a falsetto “Ne-ver mind” and “I’m verklempt”.  I didn’t use “verklempt” since I didn’t know what it meant and didn’t watch SNL.  Pearl used “O-tay” (from Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat).  I believe she once embarrassed herself by using it with a much older adult during a serious conversation.  Tara’s favorite was, “You putchyer weeed in there!”

One thing my friends loved to say to each other after lunch was, “Let’s check mail–I want mail–I want a male!”

Somebody would lose her train of thought and say, “What did I want to say?”  Then somebody else–usually Rachel or Sharon–would pipe up with, “I know!  I know!”

One of the many running jokes we had that year was the “Standing O.”  Instead of standing up and applauding as a standing ovation, we would stand and put our arms in a circle: a standing O!

Other catchphrases: “That’s not very fun” and “This is my friend/This is not my friend (used about things and situations as well as people).  I don’t know where they came from.  Rachel liked to say “Oh…my…G-d,” like the woman in the beginning of the song “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-lot.

One catchphrase came from Rachel talking about her uncle and others and repeatedly saying, “He’s dead now.”  The “he” would be drawled.  Another one was “Spew!  Spew!  Spew!”  We said this whenever somebody took a drink just as another person said or did something funny.  The drink-spewing was meant to come out of the nose.

Another catchphrase originated in Rachel’s summer job.  She worked in a cheese factory, and one of the products was cheese and rice.  Whenever someone used Jesus Christ’s name in vain, somebody else would say, “Excuse me?  Cheese and rice?”

Another one (Rachel’s) was, “Excuse me, yer what hurts?”

Sarah, Tara and Carol loved to use the words “sexy,” “voluptuous” and “oscillating.”  I’m not sure what the deal was with “oscillating,” but the first two were used for anything that was good–even for plans that sounded like fun: “That sounds sexy.”

Catherine’s manner of speaking–things she said, her flirts, the way she talked about guys, the very sound and lilt of her voice–sounded (to me) just like Meryn Cadell in The Sweater, a song from the summer of 1992.

In the evening, I would go in the side door of Krueger, the women’s dorm.  In those days, it was always kept unlocked until probably Quiet Hours.  I’d get pop and snacks from the vending machines, or go visit my friends.  Pearl and Cindy, Rachel, and others lived on the first floor.


All during our talks the previous year, Shawn would mention his ex-girlfriend; he broke up with her because they were going to college and separating, and she had trouble opening up and talking to him, so they just made out.  But he was still hung up on her.

He told her they could call each other after their first year of college, and if they wanted to get back together, they could.  But she found a new guy, whom she could talk to–and was engaged to him.  Shawn didn’t think the guy was good enough for her.

Shawn called her over the summer and left messages, but she never returned his calls.  I felt bad for him.  (Still, if she’s gone then there’s more of a chance for me, right?  I must’ve thought that at some point.)


On Tuesday the 8th, I went out for pizza with Darryl, Steve, two guys named Ned and Marc, and maybe somebody else.  I had been hanging out with Darryl and Steve, who explained to me the background of Red Dwarf, which I had been watching on PBS over the summer.  (My brother also got the book version later on, which I read.)

Ned got Darryl into a political conversation in the car.  Ned was surprised I wanted to vote for Bush.  He said, “Is it because you don’t want to vote for Clinton?”  There really was no good candidate in this race, which would keep happening for the next few elections.  I only voted for Bush because, in those days, I thought Pat Robertson was God’s prophet–and he said Bush would win.

Ned is the same guy I saw when I visited Roanoke for a SEED day back in the spring of 1991, who flirted with me and impressed me with his sky blue eyes.

But by this point, he was no longer one of my crushes, just one of the guys I sort of knew; I don’t believe I ever thought of him again the way I did in the spring of 1991, not once I got to know him better.  He was very cute, but not my “type.”

Catherine had just started dating Ned.  I don’t think they dated during the summer, because she didn’t live in S– and had written to me about a couple of sailors she dated.  He said she wasn’t really what he was looking for, but he wasn’t sure what he was looking for.

I thought about telling Catherine what Ned had said, but wasn’t sure.  I may have thought they weren’t serious anyway, since they only just started dating.  I don’t know why I didn’t warn her, but I was soon to wish I did.

At the first dance of the year, on Saturday, I saw Catherine and Ned meet in the Campus Center lounge; Catherine wanted him to hurry up and go upstairs to the dance with her.

I thought her remarks were completely appropriate for people who were dating, but he treated her like a possessive nag telling him what to do, and said, “We’re not engaged.”  She soon went up to the dance without him.

A few minutes later, a lovely, voluptuous freshman named Melissa (Catherine was also lovely and voluptuous, by the way), who also happened to have been a schoolmate of Shawn’s, came in the lounge.

Ned, in his black trench coat, hurried over, crashed down onto the floor on his knees and knelt beside her, and began to talk with her.  At the dance, he danced with Melissa and totally ignored Catherine, who stood by the drinks table.

I then saw Catherine in the bathroom, looking upset but not crying.  She didn’t say much.  A short time later, I asked where she was, and was told she left.  I saw Peter slow-dancing with some girl, so I didn’t much care to stay, either.

I soon left and saw Catherine far ahead of me, walking back to Krueger, her head down.  But I wasn’t able to catch up with her or find her in Krueger and talk to her, so I don’t know where she went after that.  I may have tried calling her, but didn’t know her number and had to go back to my room first for a directory.  But by then, no one answered her phone.

Ned and Melissa were a couple for most of the year.  Sometime in early spring, Melissa broke up with him, and he was, as Pearl said, “still hung up on her.”  Catherine said much later that it seemed that every ex-girlfriend he had, hated him.  Many years later, he even told Catherine he shouldn’t have broken up with her.


People didn’t jump enough at the school dances.  All they seemed to do was sway back and forth and shuffle their feet a bit.  Black dances, which sometimes involved people lining up and doing a sort of follow-the-leader, were more interesting than these (which were predominantly made up of white people).  I moved my feet more than the other white people, as Peter taught me.  Somebody told me that House of Pain recorded “Jump” to get people to jump.

One day, an improv group came to RC and did a performance in Bossard during lunch.  If you’ve ever seen the British or American versions of the show Whose Line is it Anyway, you’ll understand what this improv troupe did.

Basically, none of the comedy was scripted: They made it all up from moment to moment.  They tried to act out situations and play games given to them by the moderator, who tried to give them situations and games that were as funny as possible.  They were given points which didn’t make a difference.

And if things ever got too raunchy, such as a sexual reference, the moderator would hit a buzzer, ending the player’s turn.  I don’t remember the jokes except for “Bananaman.”  One of the guys ended up with a banana and started going on about “Bananaman.”  He got buzzed for sexual content.  For the rest of the year, you could hear jokes about Bananaman.


Food Service was an icky job, but at first I didn’t mind cleaning people’s trays and sending them down the line to the dishwashers.  The kitchen and dishwashing areas were called “in the back.”  There was this big, long, silvery thing with rollers on it which was shaped like a U, and you slid the trays along it to your coworkers.

When people put their trays in the window, I tossed the trash in a big trash can with a red, plastic lid on the top with a hole in it for the trash, then tossed the silverware in a pan of water and sorted it by type into round containers.

The containers were in a stand that held them upright.  I sent down the tray, and the others stacked the dishes and trays in big trays which kept them separated from each other, then pushed them into a big washing machine.

When the dishes were clean, they came out the other side, which was parallel to and behind the side I worked on.  We let them dry and cool off, and then put them away.  If the dishes weren’t properly cleaned, they got sent back through the dishwasher–yet I still had to check my silverware and dishes for cleanliness at meals.

Before a shift, we ate, punched in, and hung up key card necklaces on pegs outside the dishwashing area.  We wore plastic aprons and white, rubber gloves, then tossed them into the trash at the end of our shifts.  The white powder inside the gloves weakened my fingernails.  The Back had a weird, food-like smell which clung to our clothes.

Nancy, our supervisor, was a sweet person, though she could get stern if she needed to. Arthur, our boss and a real chef, often rollerbladed around campus.  Rollerblades were new back then.

On Thursday nights, when I worked late, I often had to help take out the trash.  We went into a service elevator with doors that were pulled shut with a rope.  It took us downstairs and opened to the dumpsters.

This job introduced me to the Grease Bucket, which got dumped out by the trash.  It was disgusting, all yellowish and smelly.  It explained why I sometimes had stomach problems from the food, and had to blot the food with a napkin (just like my dad would do) until my stomach recovered.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: