Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
Contrary to rumor, Jeremy Burdick didn't beat me up. I didn't move to Arizona to join the priesthood. I didn't drown, trying to save one of my campers at Camp Davis. I was not institutionalized because of my schizophrenia. I just went away to boarding school. I didn't tell anyone, because I hadn't planned on going. Ninth grade hadn't been a hardship, I'd made a number of popular friends, and discovered that I was really good at American Sign Language, and working with kids. I had every intention of returning to Cranberry Lake High, and yawning my way through another year's worth of classes. My grandfather had other ideas. And my grandfather's ideas were always more important than my own.
My first real memory of him was when I was three or four. I was watching The Smurfs or The Snorks or some tirelessly friendly cartoon inspired by a Scandinavian comic book. My grandfather walked into the room, changed the TV to the news, and then walked out of the room. I turned the cartoon back on. He walked into the room, changed to the news, and walked out. I changed back to the cartoons. When he came back in, I asked "You want to watch the news?"
"No." He said. "I read the paper this morning. I want you to watch the news." And he turned the channel back to the news, and pulled the dial off the TV.
During the summer between ninth and tenth grades, I was a summer camp counselor in training. I helped run the sports program, and taught swimming lessons (and nobody drowned during them). I had planned on being there all ten weeks, but during the fifth week, my grandfather stopped by. He was captaining a boat from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Maine. I'd gone with him for the southern part of the journey when I was twelve. This summer, he wanted me to help out with the Cranberry Lake to Portland leg. I agreed, because I had no choice. I figured, it was a three day trip, max. And I was technically correct. We arrived in Portland the next day, spent one day at my uncle's house, eating lobster and catching up with relatives, and the next day, he rented a car, and we began driving, I assumed, home. I assumed wrong.
"It's Reunion Weekend at my old highschool." He said. And I knew I was doomed to spend the next two days with his fellow septuagenarians, listening to dull stories about their childhood, and how I looked just like my grandfather, which was a lie, as I was adopted, and shared none of his body or facial design. I also knew I'd have to take some sort of tour, where a smiling admissions officer would tell me how much fun I'd have there, what a great drama department they had, how I could volunteer to work with kids, and how I would yadda yadda smile love it there.
I knew that if my grandfather wanted me to go there, odds were I was going to go there no matter what I wanted. Plus, it meant I wouldn't have to watch my parents fumble toward their inevitable divorce. So when I got home, I told my parents how much I'd loved the school, and, sure, I'd really apply myself there, and could I please go back to my summer at Camp Davis now?
Three days after camp ended, my parents drove me back to Torpor Heights, carried a bunch of my clothes and belongings up the four flights of stairs to my room, and took me out to lunch. My mother cried. My father was proud of me. Back in Florida, my grandfather was proud of me. The only thing I was excited about was meeting my new roommate.
Through a fluke in the admissions process (or maybe a donation from my grandfather), I'd been booked into the biggest room in the dorm, a triple. But there would only be two of us. Whereas all the other rooms had a single, cumbersome wardrobe, our room had two walk-in closets AND two cumbersome wardrobes. We also had a bunkbed AND a non-bunkbed. My roommate, though absent when I had moved in, had already been in the room, and claimed a closet and the non bunkbed, which was totally fine with me.
It was a few minutes after my parents left when one of the student leaders knocked on my door. "Hey. My name is Daveed. I'll be living across the hall. You met your roommate yet?"
"Oh, man." He made Oh, man sound precisely like I'm so sorry that your puppy got murdered, but don't worry, you're going to get a chance to see him real soon, because you're about to get hit by a very big truck with very spikey tires.
"Oh, man?" I asked.
My very first roommate at Torpor Heights was a twenty-one year old sophomore named Yao Wen Handsome. A Chinese student, whose mother had recently married a very inaccurately named banker named Sean Handsome. Their marriage was some sort of business arrangement that, for some reason, meant that Yao Wen had to change his last name to his American stepfather's. Yao Wen had been in America for two weeks when school started, and the only English he spoke was "Yes", "No", and "I want fuck yo'r ice", which had been taught to him by one of the very unscrupulous hockey jocks who lived down the hall from us.
I hoped that his English would improve quickly, as THA had one of the premier English as a Second Language programs in the country. Alas, instead of teaching him things he could use like "How do I get to the Science Building?", "Do you mind if I use your stereo to blast my shitty Chinese pop music while you're trying to sleep?", or "Excuse me. I had some really spicy food for dinner.", they taught him annoying phrases like "Need you help now." and "Giant bresteses." Two things he liked to say almost as much as he liked to announce that he wanted to fuck my rice. No matter how many times I explained that I didn't like my rice fucked, he insisted that he would be really good at it.
After the third night in a row that he'd slapped me awake at three in the morning to ask for help with his homework, I started setting up a line of tennis balls in the little dip between my bunk and the wall. Every time I caught him walking in my direction, I'd chuck one at his head.
I wasn't the only person in the school who was less than pleased with the existence of Yao Wen Handsome. Next door to David (pronounced Daveed)'s room were two juniors. A shaved-headed punk fan named Jack Marple, and a purple headed goth rocker, who voluntarily went by the name of Roadkill. I wasn't present when Roadkill and Yao Wen began their war. I don't know who first insulted who, but I do know that I came home from dinner during the third week of school to find Roadkill running down the hall. Yao Wen was chasing him, with three of my tennis balls in his hands, chucking them at Roadkill, yelling "No shoes on bed! No shoes on bed!"
After the fourth time the dormhead was called to settle a dispute between Yao Wen and one of our floormates, I made a request that he be moved out of my room. I was assured that I'd have permission to request a change of roommates by the end of the week. Three weeks, and a dozen or so excuses later, I decided to take matters into my own hands. One of the other sophomores, who lived on the third floor, had the unfortunate pleasure of sharing a room with a kleptomaniac named Charlie Denton. Barely a month into the school year, and Charlie had been caught stealing two jackets, a dozen or so CDs, and Roadkill's favorite hairbrush.
"It's bullshit." JBob (Denton's unfortunate roommate) said. "He's stolen two of my Guns and Roses bootlegs, sharpied out my name, and wrote his own. And my favorite jacket disappeared my first day here. I asked the dormhead to transfer rooms, and he told me he'd get it done by the end of the week. That was two weeks ago. Fuck, dood, there's an empty room on your floor. I don't get why one of us can't move into it."
"I have a better idea." I said.
That afternoon, while Yao Wen was in class, JBob and I moved all of his furniture and clothes into the empty room, and moved all of JBob's furniture into my room. "This way," I said, "we can claim that you didn't know I didn't have permission to move Yao Wen's shit out, and, with any luck, the dormhead will feel sorry for you, and let things stay the way we want them." Which is pretty much what happened. Yao Wen came back from class, flipped out that all his stuff had been moved, and found the nearest Chinese interpreter to take his case to the dormhead who, initially, flipped out, then shook his head after Yao Wen left, and said "Well played. You guys can be roommates, but don't pull any shit like that or again, or I'll put you on disciplinary probation."
Little did he know, JBob and I had one more game to play before we felt we were even.
Every Wednesday morning, there was a mandatory all campus meeting at our Chapel. The student leaders checked each of us in at the beginning of the meeting, and we'd sit in our assigned pews, listening to the deans or the headmaster or a guest speaker fill our minds with morality or mortality or whatever opinion they were determined to inflict on us. JBob and I had loyally attended each one, but we knew that Denton liked to sneak out and take a cab into town and shoplift, since he had the two post-meeting periods open.
On this particular morning, I checked in with David, and JBob checked in with his student leader, then we excused ourselves to go to the bathroom. While our dormmates listened to our Headmaster explain how important cultural diversity was to a school like ours, JBob and I broke into their rooms and began playing a game of Kleptomaniac Scavenger Hunt Bingo. I took Roadkill's brush, and Jack's New York Dolls CD. JBob took David's drumsticks, and one of his roommate's Argentinean porno magazines. I took our resident Republican's U2 poster, and his roommate's favorite sweatshirt. And together, we went up and down all floors, taking one or two things from each room (including our own), and scattering them all throughout Denton's room. Then we went to our fourth period classes.
Neither of us were there to witness the beginning of the chaos. Seeing as he'd already caught Denton stealing his hairbrush once, Roadkill knew where to go when he discovered it missing a second time. And, of course, he saw Jonathan Fletcher Tork the Fourth's U2 poster, and told him about it. JFT4 saw David's drumsticks, and one of the other student leader's guitar, and on and on and on. When Denton came back, he was pulled into the dormhead's apartment. He was completely befuddled, and swore he was innocent. But he was wearing JBob's favorite jacket, and had the inside pockets stuffed with CDs that were stolen from the local music store. He was kicked out at the end of the week.
For the remainder of the first trimester, JBob and I got along famously. Despite his justifiable concern over my taste in music (I had just grown out of a pop phase, and had a Mariah Carey CD and some Paula Abdul tapes scattered throughout my U2 and Nirvana), we found we had a lot in common. Our honeymoon period was brief but enjoyable.
Both of us had work jobs (the most redundantly named program at the school) in the dining hall. He served lunch. I helped prepare dinner. One night, while squeezing whipped cream onto the lime jello, one of the salad ladies approached me with a petition. "Do you know that Yao Wen kid?" She asked.
I told her that we'd been roommates.
"Well, the faculty and students that work here have been having problems with the way he talks to people. And the way he touches them."
I relayed the story about my walk back to the dorm, after my first tennis class, when Yao Wen had touched my ass. How I'd firmly shook my head and said "Don't touch me." And how he'd touched me again, anyway. And how I'd cracked him over the head with my tennis racket and ran like hell to the dining hall.
"So you'll sign this?"
"What will it do?"
That week, it got him banned from the back of the line in the dining hall. He could still eat there, but he wasn't allowed to even talk to the cooks or the students serving the food. The next week, he was told he was no longer welcome at the farm. It wasn't too long before I came back from French class to find his new room empty. Some months later, my guidance counselor told me he'd been sent to "an institution better suited to his needs".