Sunday, March 14, 2021

Childhoood's End - the Dorm Room

Note:  This is a posting I started a long time ago and just finished today.

Do you remember living like this?  Most of us try to block it out.

One funny thing about being an "adult returning student" at College is that you feel like a visitor to an alien planet. An invisible visitor who is examining the local flora and fauna, just like Dian Fossey studying mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  As an older student, you are virtually ignored by the other students, which is a blessing.  The younger students, however, spend an inordinate amount of time on grooming and nit-picking, and establishing a social order.  It is liberating to be invisible to all of that.

In my last year of undergraduate study (which took about a decade) I was informed that I needed to re-take organic chemistry, which I had flunked many years before.  Why I struggled with it so much a decade earlier, I don't know.  Oh, right, smoking pot.  Back then, we had this theory that if you studied while you were high, it didn't matter, so long as you were high during the exam.   I found out the hard way this wasn't true.

So anyway, here I am, nearly 27 years old, going into an auditorium with well over 100 students, to hear a chemistry lecture from a graduate student teaching assistant.  It was the classic "cattle call" classroom experience that so many freshmen and sophomores go through - and another reason to consider a two-year college to take all these pretty standard courses before transferring to a 4-year school.  And it is a pretty standard curriculum, no matter what school you are in.  Liberal Arts majors have to take Chemistry and Math, Engineers have to take Intro to Psychology and writing courses.   You do need to know things outside of your narrow area of study, to succeed.

Anyway, I forgot how easy Freshmen Chem was.  In fact, it was only I who made it hard for myself.  The course was "Organic Chemistry" and basically you had to draw out diagrams for hydrocarbon molecules, H=C=H and so on, as well as be able to name them, using the archaic naming system for butane, methane, ethane, and so forth.  You loaded this information into your head, took the final exam, and then promptly forgot all of it, unless you were destined to work at Exxon.

A couple of young "dudes" saw that I was doing pretty well in class, being not high at that point in my life, attending each class, taking notes, and passing all of the quizzes and whatnot with flying colors.  It wasn't like I even had to study it much, if you paid attention in class, you pretty much could ace the course.

Anyway, these dudes asked me to come study with them in their dorm room, for the final exam.  I went there the next evening and it was a typical male freshman dorm - that is to say, a freaking mess, with crap all over the room.  They were all sitting on the floor, in a circle, with their books and pitiful notes on scraps of paper, passing a bong around.  "Dude!" one said to me, "If you study high, it's OK, so long as you take the test high!"   I demurred and told him I had personally disproved that theory, but it fell on deaf ears.

We went through about three or four sample tests, which the teachers keep on file for anyone to look at (and even more are on file at the fraternity houses).  While it seemed impossibly hard at age 19, at age 27, it seemed, if not ridiculously easy, at least a challenge that could be met.  I went home that night, got a good night's sleep and the next day took the test, leaving a half-hour early, to the amused glances of my younger classmates, who assumed wrongly that I had just punted the exam.   I mean, come on, kids, it was multiple choice!

Well, this time around, I got an "A" in organic chemistry.  But for the life of me, I cannot draw a diagram of some hydrocarbon molecule if my life depended on it.  This is not to say the experience was worthless - far from it.  You go to college to learn what you want to do in life - and what you don't want to do.  Not only that, you get an appreciation for the complexity of subjects that you have no interest in.  Maybe 99% of the kids taking Freshmen Chem are not destined to become Chemists, but at least they will appreciate what Chemistry is all about, and that it is a complex field of endeavor.   And perhaps because of this, they will be less likely to believe stupid conspiracy theories like "fire can't melt steel!" and other idiocies enounced by self-appointed experts on the Internet (mine included).

But getting back to the dorm room, it seems that some of us never quite get out of that mode of living.  There is something about adolescents and unkempt rooms. I guess it starts in high school, leaving laundry on the floor and books and things scattered. Mom no longer "tidies up" the kids' rooms anymore, and frankly is afraid to go in.  Once you get to college, well, if you have roommates, it becomes a race to the bottom.  Maybe this is less of a problem for girls, but guys can be absolutely gross, as every woman already knows.  If you start "tidying" your dorm room, your roommates will assume you are the new maid, and do even less to keep the place from being a shambles.

Stark white - in so many ways!

And sadly, for many young men, this pattern continues after college.  I look back and shudder to think of how I kept my first apartment and house.   Were we really such big slobs? I guess so.  It reminds me of this SNL "bachelor makeover" video, which will no doubt go right over the head of most viewers.  Stark white, indeed.   Although to be fair, a trendy girl from Atlanta told me with no irony they painted their whole house inside in stark white - so maybe this is a new "thing" - just as Mark and I gave up and got on the grey bandwagonOh, well.

It is a lot of work to keep a house tidy - to pick up laundry, do the dishes, fold and put away laundry, empty the hated dishwasher and to clean all the horizontal surfaces of crap you left behind as well as dust.   That is the problem, basically, we tend to want to leave things laying around, thinking, "I'll get to it later" and then we forget.  We forget there is a cardboard box sitting in the hall for a month.  It never ends, but I think as you get older, you notice it more, which is why "old people's" homes tend to be neater and nicer, that is, until they reach a certain age and revert back to dorm living.

I think also, you start to understand how dust works as you get older, and realize that regular vacuuming is not something you do once a month.  I look back in horror at my early days and realized I was living in a sea of my own dead skin.  Well, that and old pizza boxes, empty nacho plates and beer bottles.

I guess in part it was because we were "too busy" with schoolwork, with real work, and the vaunted "social life" that seemed oh-so-important.  But living in a festering hellhole isn't fun, and in fact, is depressing.  And over time, I guess we all figure that out - or most of us do.  I know some adults, relatives even, who live in unclean bong-lairs, with take-out containers littering the floor around their well-worn sofa in front of the altar of the almighty Tee-Vee, a game controller lovingly laid on the armrest.   This is how a lot of people live and they see nothing wrong with it.

But if you think about it, it really isn't much of an upgrade from the dorm room!