Like the world of Bilko, everybody in college spent their spare time coming up with schemes to outfox the various authority figures as if they were our personal Col. Halls – in this case: buying term papers, cheating on exams, sneaking booze past the R.A.s, conning our way into “invite only” frat parties.
No, college was, for all intents and purposes, the 13th grade and possibly an even bigger conformity factory than high school itself. If you don't believe me, then ask yourself why the same people listening to “Top 40” not three months prior to the beginning of their freshman year automatically switch over to “Alternative Radio.”
I'll admit that perhaps I have a bit of an axe to grind in trying to deconstruct the whole myth of college. I think it's because, among other things, I was told it would be some Xanadu (the one in Coleridge's poem, not the movie where Gene Kelly does roller disco). But when I arrived at my university, I was to soon learn some harsh lessons that couldn't be found in an overpriced textbook.
I was actually lucky to get to attend college. I graduated high school as the iron gates were closing on the era of an affordable college education.
Today, a character like me, with only a B-plus grade point average, run of the mill SAT score and not enough honors classes would be relegated to a community college (at the time, a fate worse than working at 7-Eleven).
I was also pretty grateful that I'd get to branch out, academically (that college was a letdown on that front is a discussion for another time). And so it was that I arrived on campus, excited for the great adventure that lay ahead. Then I met my roommate, and I realized I'd drawn the short straw.
“The Unibrow” was what I'd soon start referring to him as, named after his most defining feature, a huge, uninterrupted patch of eyebrow traversing his forehead. But this guy was no “ol' buddy Bert,” as I'd soon find out.
In he lumbered, with his “Jew-fro,” a bulked-up upper body that I'm almost certain was the result of steroid use and a tank top that said “Brown Wrestling: Chicks Dig It.” The accompanying illustration on his shirt showed a cartoonish, wrestler-type athlete, flanked by two women on either side. This, ladies and gentlemen, was how he made his grand entrance into the world of higher education.
When I saw how his parents were browbeating him, I almost felt bad for the guy. But after they left, he started browbeating me, telling me that my jeans were too dark. Yes, my jeans needed breaking in. By the way he was acting, apparently everything that was wrong with me was inextricably linked to a flaw in the Levi-Strauss manufacturing process.
I'd hear him on the phone, talking to his girlfriend back home. He'd yell at her from time to time, and I believe “bitch” and “slut” were peppered throughout the arguments, particularly when he thought she might leave him. Here was a guy with all of the charm of Popeye's nemesis Bluto, and as it turned out, these college “women,” the ones who allegedly outgrew idiots when they graduated high school, couldn't get enough of him.
The story that typified this trend towards the absurd took place in the “Inter-Floor Peer Sex Workshop” with the women from the second floor. (Living on the all-male first floor, we were fated to be paired off with the second floor women for all dorm-sanctioned inter-gender activities.)
The concept was simple. Bring the girls down from the second floor for a frank discussion on male-female sex issues, to open doors of communication, to learn that “Hey, guys and girls aren't that much different.”
Anyway, this was going to be a great opportunity to meet the girls from the second floor. The format was that all the guys would write down anonymous questions for the girls to answer, and the girls did likewise.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, seating the opposite sexes at opposite ends of the lounge, relaying questions like some tribal council ... OK, it was an ass idea. But it was one of the few times there were girls on the floor, so it was a good chance to try to make a first-rate first impression.
About a half-hour into the proceedings, the question was posed to the women, “Why don't girls ever finish what they start?” When they asked for clarification on what was meant by that, I wasn't exactly shocked when the Unibrow revealed himself as the question's scribe and leapt up to defend his stance.
“Yeah, I've been with girls, and we start kissing,” he said. “And then right as I'm about to get down her shirt, she decides to stop. If you start to hook up, you should go all the way.”
The girls exploded in a cacophonic rage, to nobody's surprise, as the Unibrow had essentially tried to justify date rape to a roomful of women. The workshop ended prematurely, as the girls all stormed out shortly thereafter.
Some of the guys decided that we needed to do damage control, quickly, so we wouldn't be branded the biggest assholes in our building. So the R.A. and a couple of the guys went up and told them that the Unibrow just got carried away. He was the exception, not the rule.
To illustrate their point, they told the girls what a nice guy I was. (An odd choice, since I don't recall saying anything of worth at the meeting.)
After reminding them who I was, a couple of them said stuff like, “Yeah, he seems very nice.” Condescending, in a way, but the closest thing I'd get to a compliment for most of that year.
After the guys told me what happened, I felt it was a small victory, that maybe these girls “got it” after all. But I got a taste of what was to come when about an hour later a couple of the girls came to my room. They asked to speak to the Unibrow.
I thought it would be a tipping point for him. He'd get chewed out by the girls, and after being adequately humbled the bullying oaf would learn his life lesson and become a better human being.
But here's what actually happened. They told him, “Even though you said all those horrible things at tonight's meeting, we still think you're a pretty nice guy.”
So his behavior, that some might describe as deviant, was instead rewarded and nurtured. Why attend classes when the real learning was going on in my dorm? It was where I discovered that a lot of women, starting at age 18, think “bad boys” are exciting, and “nice guys” are duller than a “Matlock” marathon.
The whole thing was just really ... weird. I'd been told over and over that college was the place where this sort of thing simply didn't exist. But here at the university, destructive relationships were as much of a prerequisite for the student body as Psych 101.
I think there was a point in time back in college, where I wanted to be the “good guy” to show these women what they were missing and how they should be treated. You know, all they need is to be loved and doted on, and all that jazz.
All these years later, I've become aware of just how dangerously naïve that viewpoint really was. More importantly, I realize that I want to get as far away from these looney tunes as humanly possible.