I nervously left Building C and walked to the other side of the South Residential Area. It was a warm night, but not warm enough to wear shorts, in my opinion. I wore a t-shirt and jeans. I kept trying to reassure myself that I didn’t have a reason to be so nervous. They invited me, after all; it’s not like they are suddenly going to reject me. But what if they do? What if they something weird happens and they never talk to me again? What if I embarrass myself in front of these people, who don’t know me as well as my Building C friends do?
I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous. Just because I was going to be hanging out with a different group of people did not necessarily mean that something bad was going to happen.
I got to the main entrance of Building K and saw Megan and Tiffany already in the lobby. I knocked on the door, and Tiffany let me in. “Hi, Greg,” she said. “Come on in.”
Megan turned around and looked at me, smiling. “Hey, Greg. We’re just waiting for Maria and Ron. They said they’d be down in a few minutes. You ready?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking around. Building K looked just like Building C, except the walls were painted a different color, and there were different flyers on the bulletin board. Megan was one of the resident advisers for Building K. She wore shorts and sandals with a T-shirt, and her short dark blonde hair still had a few traces of green in it. She had cut her hair short and dyed it a few months earlier, but it looked like she was growing it a little longer again. Her hair had been somewhere between chin and shoulder length when I met her. Amy, one of the RAs in my building, had introduced me to Megan in the dining hall during fall quarter, and we had gotten to be friends just from seeing each other around and talking. I wanted to get to know her better, and I wanted to know if she had a boyfriend, and if not, if she was interested in shy younger guys like me.
Earlier this year, my friend Brittany, who lived in Texas and met me online in a chat room, had asked me if I had met any girls in college yet. I mentioned that I kind of had a crush, but it probably would not work out because she was older. “How much older?” Brittany had asked. “If she’s also a student at your school, then you can’t be more than three or four years apart, right? That’s nothing. You shouldn’t worry about that, unless this Miss Megan is 40 or something like that.” Brittany was probably right. Megan was only older than me by a year and three days, and that isn’t really a significant age difference. However, I was inexperienced enough with dating and relationships and girlfriends that I still felt way too young to be dating a sophomore. Megan was going to turn 20 in August. That was a grown-up age. She was almost done being a teenager.
“How’s your weekend going?” Megan asked.
“Good. I’ve mostly just been studying. Trying to get it out of the way. One more math midterm on Monday, and that’ll be the last midterm until finals.”
“That midterm is gonna be hard,” Tiffany said. “Greg’ll probably ace it, though.” I smiled.
“You two are in the same math class, right?” Megan asked.
“Yeah,” I explained. “I don’t think it’s that hard so far. But it seems like the quarter is going by fast in general. The first midterm still feels like it wasn’t that long ago.”
“I know! This quarter is flying by!”
A girl with dark hair and brown eyes, whom I had seen around the dining commons and met a couple times before, emerged from the stairwell into the lobby with a spiky-haired thin guy. I assumed this guy must be Ron, since I knew Maria was the girl.
“You guys ready?” Megan asked.
“Let’s go,” Ron replied.
The five of us walked out of Building K, along the bike path past Kent Hall and the barns, turning left at the chemistry building, and getting into a line at the large outdoor steps leading to 199 Stone, the largest lecture hall on campus. The room held around 400 students, and that lecture hall was the only room in Stone Hall. The front of the room was one building story lower with the rows pitched downward as they would be in a theater or stadium, and a door on the right side of the back wall connected to the basement of the chemistry building, which was right next to Stone Hall. The room number 199 was chosen to be consistent with the numbering of the nearby rooms in the chemistry building.
On weekends, a division of the Associated Students organization called Campus Cinema used 199 Stone as a movie theater, showing movies that had been in theaters a few months earlier but were usually not available to rent on VHS video yet. (Those are those giant cassette tapes for watching movies at home, before DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and streaming video were invented.) A different movie would show every day, and tickets only cost three dollars.
About an hour ago, I sat down with Megan, Tiffany, and Maria at dinner. They said that they were going to watch the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone and invited me along. I said sure. I needed to get out and do something tonight, and more importantly, this was an opportunity to hang out with Megan. I had also seen commercials for this movie when it was released last fall, and it looked intriguing. The movie was based on a true story, about a television game show from the 1950s with outcomes that were rigged by the producers.
On the walk to 199 Stone, Maria and Ron were acting very much like a couple, holding hands and kissing a few times. Does that mean I was Megan’s date? Or Tiffany’s date? Of course not, but I kind of wished I could be Megan’s date. I was walking in the back of our group of five, and I realized at one point that I had been staring at Megan’s butt and legs in front of me for long enough that Tiffany might have noticed. I looked up, hoping that she hadn’t.
After we bought our tickets, and Ron bought popcorn, the five of us sat down toward the top of the room, in the right section. The room was filling up, but we were still able to find five seats together; I sat between Megan and Tiffany.
One of my favorite parts of Campus Cinema was that they showed an old cartoon before the main movie, like movie theaters of my parents’ and grandparents’ time would do. Tonight, it was the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he has a feud with an opera singer, ending with Bugs pretending to be the conductor at the singer’s concert and making him hold a long note until he runs out of breath and the stage collapses. I had seen that one many times over the years; I grew up on old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons.
As I watched Quiz Show, I felt like this movie was exposing a dark underbelly of the game show industry. The producers of the show in the movie entice their returning champion to lose on purpose, because a new contestant is presumed to be more likable to audiences. In order to keep the new contestant on the show, they provided him with the questions and answers in advance, and the producers manipulated the air conditioning and ventilation around the contestants to make them sweat and experience physical discomfort.
At one point during the movie, Megan crossed her legs, and I could feel her crossed leg inadvertently brush up against mine a few times. I looked up one of those times. “Sorry,” Megan whispered, and moved her leg away from me. I didn’t want that. I kind of liked her brushing up against me. But I said nothing. That would be inappropriate, and probably a little creepy. Also, someone would probably find a way to make fun of me for it, just like in 8th grade when Paul Dickinson figured out who I liked and told the whole school.
I hoped that the game shows I enjoyed watching as a child in the 1980s had not been fixed like the one in the movie; that would be disappointing. I do remember as a child watching an episode of Press Your Luck where one contestant went on a ridiculous winning streak, always stopping the spinner on the best spot on the board and never getting a Whammy. I suspected that the contestant himself had somehow figured out how to beat the system, but I did not know if the show’s producers were involved. Hopefully the show was not fixed, because after the incident that the movie described, new laws were passed to prohibit fixing of prizes on television shows. However, television never tells the full story of what is really happening. I would learn years later that the contestant I watched on Press Your Luck had cracked the code on his own. He was a compulsive gambler and get-rich-quick artist who lost much of his game show money in a robbery and the rest in a bad investment, and he would eventually die alone, broke, and fairly young.
On the way home from the movie, Megan asked, “Are you guys both going home for the summer?” The question was directed to me and Tiffany; Maria and Ron were walking more slowly, arm in arm and no longer in earshot of us.
“Yeah,” Tiffany said. “I’m probably not going to be doing anything. Maybe getting a job.”
“My mom said she has a job for me,” I said. “Someone she knows works at a bookstore, and they’re looking to hire someone part time.”
“That’ll be good,” Megan said. “You’re from, where was it? Somewhere near Santa Lucia, right?”
“And you’re from Ashwood?”
“Yes,” Tiffany replied. I realized that I had known Tiffany since January but had no idea where she was from until this moment. Ashwood was at the far end of the Valley, about as far away as Plumdale but inland, to the southeast, whereas Plumdale was more due south.
“I’m going to miss all my friends here,” I said. “I want to get everyone’s address so I can write. Or email, for people who have computers at home.”
“Definitely,” Tiffany said. “Give me your address before the end of the year.”
“I’ll be here taking summer school,” Megan added, “so I’ll have email.”
“Great. I’ll write you.”
By this time, we had returned to Building K. “Thanks for coming with us, Greg,” Megan said.
“Thanks for inviting me! It was a good movie.”
“I know. I’ll see you around. Have a good weekend, OK?”
Megan hugged me, and I smiled. Tiffany hugged me too. I turned around toward Building C, turning back one last time to wave to my friends from Building K as they entered the building.
As I climbed the stairs toward Room 221, I could hear the muffled sound of music playing somewhere else in the building. It seemed to be coming from directly above, from the third floor on my end of the building. Instead of going to my room, I continued up to the third floor, curious to see what was going on. I began to hear muffled voices along with the muffled music, as if many people were being loud trying to be heard over the music.
When I was on the landing halfway between the second and third floor, the third floor door opened, and the music and voices became louder. Gina Stalteri and Karen Francis walked through the door. Karen was giggling and leaning on Gina, having a hard time standing on her own. She was holding a can of Coors Light beer.
“Hey, Greg,” Gina said, noticing me on the landing. “Come on up.”
“Greg!” Karen shouted, giggling. “I’ve never been drunk before!” She tried to step forward but staggered to the ground instead.
I continued walking up the stairs toward them and walked into the third floor hallway, my mind still processing what I was seeing. This appeared to be a party. My first college party. I had never been to an actual party like this, but I had seen parties on TV and in movies, and this looked exactly what I imagined a party to look like.
At each end of each floor, the hallway widened in front of the last room on each side. The hallways on the second and third floor opened to a balcony at the end of the building, like the balcony on which Taylor Santiago had been sitting when he met my parents, but that was at the opposite end of the building. A few months ago, someone had hung strings of beads where I was now, over the hallway at the point just past the door to the stairs, so that one had to pass through the beads in order to get to rooms 322 through 325. Brendan Lowe in room 322 had started referring to himself and his neighbors at the end of the third floor as “The Bead People.” Derek Olvera in room 324 had put a sign on his door proclaiming that “Cool people live here.”
The door to Brendan’s room was open, and the music seemed to be coming from there. I didn’t recognize the song. Brendan listened to a lot of weird, really dark music that I was never exposed to in Plumdale. I peeked my head into room 322, where Brendan, his roommate Will, Jenn from the first floor, and two guys I didn’t recognize were sitting, talking, and drinking something from plastic cups.
“Hey, Greg,” Brendan said, pointing to a case of Coors Light in cans. “You want one?”
“No, thanks,” I said. I stood in the doorway observing their conversation for a few minutes. I didn’t understand what they were talking about, so I went back into the hallway and walked around all the people sitting against the wall drinking beer.
Room 324, where cool people supposedly lived, was also open. Derek, a tall guy with reddish-blonde hair, sat on his bed. He had his arms around a dark-haired girl named Stephanie who lived at the other end of the third floor; I had seen them together a lot lately. Pat Hart sat on the other bed. The other bed belonged to Jared, the guy who often played Scrabble in the common room, but I did not see Jared at this party.
“Hey, Greg,” Derek said when I walked in.
“Hey,” Stephanie added. “What’s up?”
“Just looking around,” I said.
“Take a seat if you want,” Derek offered, gesturing toward an empty chair. I sat. Derek lifted his leg and farted. Pat laughed. Stephanie gave him a disgusted look. I chuckled.
Karen walked into the room. “I’m back!” she said. She attempted to sit with Pat on Jared’s bed, but fell over on her side instead. Pat picked her up and kissed her deeply for quite a long time. When they finished, Karen looked up and announced to the room, “This is the first time I’ve been drunk!” She had told me this same thing just five minutes earlier. “Nate said he’s bringing more beer,” Karen continued.
“Good!” Stephanie shouted.
“I’m going to go see who else is here,” I said.
“See you around, Greg,” Derek said. Stephanie waved. Pat and Karen were making out and did not seem to notice that I was leaving.
A voice coming from Brendan’s stereo started singing something like “bow down before the one you serve.” This was still not the type of music I was most familiar with, but I had heard this song before, unlike the song that was playing before. I thought this song was by that band Nine Inch Nails. Brendan really liked them, as did Skeeter. I didn’t see Skeeter at this party.
I stood outside of Derek’s room in the wide part of the hallway at the end of the building. A few people were sitting there on desk chairs taken from nearby bedrooms, and some other people were sitting on the floor. Mike Adams and his girlfriend Kim, Dan Woodward, Schuyler Jenkins, Tracy Lee, Yu Cheng, and two guys I did not know who did not live here sat talking. Mike was telling a story loudly, interrupting to laugh every few sentences. Others laughed as well. I missed the beginning of the story, so I wasn’t sure what it was about. I saw Pat and Gina come through the beads with a case of Budweiser cans, but then I realized it wasn’t Pat because he was busy sucking face with Karen in Derek’s room. This was Nate, Pat’s twin brother who lived in a different building. “Hey, Greg,” Nate said when he saw me. “You want one?”
“No, thank you.”
Nate went into Brendan’s room to put the beer down, and then into Derek’s room where his brother was. I felt something brush against my leg; I looked down and saw Schuyler lean her head on my leg, from a position of sitting against the wall. “Hi,” she said, looking back up at me.
“Hi,” I replied.
“I just got here. I was watching the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone with some friends from another building.”
“Did you like it?”
“I did. It’s interesting.”
“Really? I’ve seen it before. I thought it was boring.”
“I grew up watching game shows. It was fascinating to see the dark side of the game show world.”
“I just thought it was dumb. Not my thing.”
Mike was laughing loudly again at something, and everyone reacted as if he had been the funniest human being alive. Schuyler took another sip of beer. “I think I’m going to go back downstairs now,” I said.
“No!” Schuyler replied. “Don’t leave.” She put her arms around my legs, giggling. I carefully stepped out of her tenuous, drunken grasp.
“This party isn’t my thing. Just like how the movie isn’t your thing.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Come back later if you want.”
Before I walked into the stairwell, I looked at the door to room 321, where Amy, the RA, lived. On the small bulletin board on her door, she had put a piece of paper telling people where to find her, with a push pin indicating where she was.
- Here. Come on in!
- Here, but please knock first.
- Studying hard. Please do not disturb.
- In class.
- Eating at the DC.
- At the Help Window.
- Somewhere else on campus.
- Off campus.
- Not in Jeromeville.
The push pin was next to “Not in Jeromeville.” Amy must have gone home for the weekend, which explains why the Bead People had chosen tonight to throw a party right next to the RA’s room.
I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of Karen emerging from Derek’s room. “I’ve never been drunk before!” she announced to the people sitting in the hallway. I turned around and walked back down the stairs to the second floor. It was ten o’clock at night, and quiet hours started at eleven. If this party didn’t shut down in an hour, I would not be getting any sleep that night. I knocked on the door of room 215, where Gurpreet, the other RA, lived. He did not answer either. I was not surprised; of course the party would happen when there was no one in charge in the building.
I went back to room 221 and sat on my bed, angry. How did this happen? I knew no one here was 21 years old; who bought the beer? Did they have fake IDs? Did they have older friends buy it for them? Maybe one of the other people at the party who was not from this building was older. And what about Karen? She was drunk enough to be staggering, and she was not even a legal adult. She had skipped a year in elementary school and graduated from high school early, and she had just turned 17 a month ago. In health class in high school, we learned about drugs and alcohol, and everyone kept talking about how kids could get drugs and alcohol anyway even though they were illegal. Where? How? Who were these kids? Everyone seemed to know how to get drugs and alcohol except for me, and it made me angry. I had no desire to do drugs or drink alcohol, but it made me angry nevertheless because these people had some kind of secret knowledge about how to flout authority that I did not have, and they felt no remorse for doing something illegal and unsafe.
Sometimes I wished I had gotten invited to more parties in high school. That way, I would know when and where kids were getting drunk, breaking the law, and I could call the police on them and get them in trouble, and justice would be served. Now I finally had my opportunity, and the people in charge were gone. It was frustrating. What should I do now? Should I call the police? Should I go to the Help Window and tell whichever RA was on duty tonight? Maybe I should call Megan. She was another authority figure who might be able to do something about this. And that would give me another chance to talk to her.
As I sat on the bed thinking about what to do, I realized that I knew all along what the right decision would be. I did nothing. I got over it and let it go. If the Bead People and the others who went to that party wanted to make poor choices, that was their life. No one was hurting me, and a bunch of college freshmen drinking cheap beer and playing loud weird music is not exactly the greatest threat to America’s freedom and well-being. The police might not even consider it a high enough priority to respond. And these people were my friends. I had come a long way to be at this point in my life where I actually had friends, and I didn’t want to ruin that by being a stickler for the rules. Following authority is important, but so is friendship.
I didn’t go back upstairs to that party that night. But I also didn’t report them to any authority figures. I just sat quietly in my room playing around on the computer. I played Tetris. I got on IRC chat and looked for girls to talk to. I played around with this new thing I had gotten recently called Netscape, where I could look at these things called Web sites that had text and pictures to read. If the text was underlined, I could click on it and a new page would open. The pictures took several seconds to load, but it was still more interesting than the text-based Internet I had been using all year. That night I kept myself busy looking up Pink Floyd lyrics and album artwork. And I was far enough away from the party that the noise didn’t keep me awake. I never did find out what happened the rest of the night at the party on the third floor. I don’t know if anyone got in trouble. And it was not my business. I slept just fine that night.