stuart/harper east

april 2009

So I was walking to the coffee shop in the basement of Cobb Hall with a friend last Thursday, and outside the building, someone handed me a quarter-card advertising an AEPi party. My friend laughed when he saw it and threw it away. I laughed, too, and agreed that the prospect of going to a party entitled "Dirty Professors and Naughty Schoolgirls" was silly and clearly something I wouldn't do. But I put the card in my pocket. And I thought about going.

For the last year or so, I have been working hard to either a) plunge myself into new and different situations in order to obtain a broader understanding of The Human Experience, or b) desperately try to ward off my impending entry into official adulthood by pretending I'm 18 and indulging in all the things (mostly physical hedonism and chemical bacchanalia) that I never did when I was 18 because I was too focused on becoming an adult.

So I decided to go. And Saturday night came. And as my watch got closer and closer to 11 PM, I became more and more reluctant about going. I decided not to go. I hate interacting with people I don't know. I hate talking to people who I'm not already close friends with. I don't like being in crowded social situations where I don't know anyone. I always feel awkward and isolated and and ostracized just like all those horrible years in elementary school when everyone hated me and I had no friends and I wanted more than anything to be "cool." I'd much rather sit at home and read a book. Or watch a movie. (Or, more likely, fuck around on the internet for three hours. Refresh email! refresh blogs! refresh Facebook! more YouTube!)

But this is not a good quality. At the end of high school, I made a list of my dozen closest friends, and I realized, to my utter horror, that my friendships with them had happened almost entirely because they had reached out to me and they had become friends with me--not the other way around.

So for the last year or so I have been making a concerted effort to get out of my comfort zone (sorry for the cliche) when it comes to social situations. I've always wanted to be able to make friends easily and be comfortable talking to people who I don't know. And I think I've improved a lot. I don't know how much of it is real and how much is perceived; I don't know whether it would have happened anyway; I don't know whether I'll snap back into antisocial mode once I enter the terrifying abyss of post-college. I don't know how possible it is for people to change. This is one of the eternal questions that will always remain unanswered.

I dunno. But I used to be fat and I used to hate sports. And now that I'm apparently doing a triathlon this summer, I guess it would be reasonable to describe myself as "athletic," even though I still don't think of myself as being so. And I used to hate, hate, hate, hate math. And now the math department pays me to teach it to first-years.

So eventually I guilted myself into going to the party. I told myself that there was absolutely nothing else I would do (true) since no one was around Snell-Hitchcock (true), and I would just feel bad about not going (true). And I convinced myself to have absolutely no expectations for the party—I would just go, dance, enjoy myself for an hour or so, and then leave. So I went.

It was a frat party. It was like all the other frat parties I've been to—dark rooms packed beyond capacity with half-drunk people and vibrating sound waves, which turn into physical vibrations in the walls and the floors and the dancing people.

And for me the fundamental question always has been: how does one make out with a girl at a party, anyway? This is the sort of thing you hear about all the time. My lengthy interrogations of Paul and Kristen, both of whom have considerable experience, has revealed absolutely nothing of use. "It just sort of happens sometimes," seems to be their conclusion. But it is very hard to write an algorithm such that "things" "sort of happen" at specific times. For them it seems to be a combination of a) going to these parties, b) getting drunk, and c) doing this a lot.

Well, I wasn't drunk, but I was dancing, or trying to, and a couple of girls started dancing near me. They were both dressed up like very slutty, very naughty schoolgirls, in skirts and white collared shirts that were buttoned down far enough to reveal quite a bit of their breasts. One was shorter and had blond, bushy hair tied back in a ponytail. The other was taller—only a couple inches shorter than me—and had freckles and dark brown hair in two braids. Braids are really hot. And she had a very cute face.

So I danced near them, and I was as unsure as ever about the proper etiquette. How do you start dancing at a party with someone you don't know? A lot of people come in groups, or at least in pairs or triples. The music is so loud that talking is impossible, which makes any kind of introduction or pleasantry impossible. So what do you do? Do you just start, like, macking on someone?

The girls were smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit, and I was trying to smile in their direction, though since I wasn't drunk, I probably wasn't actually smiling. I was probably just staring creepily. And they weren't really making eye contact with me, so I figured they weren't interested. But I kept dancing near them, since I thought they were kind of cute, and the fact that they were dressed up really sluttily seemed to indicate that they had a certain enthusiasm for going to the party.

I made eye contact with the taller, cuter one a couple of times. After a few minutes she turned her back to me, and I wasn't sure if she was trying to ignore me, or what. So I danced a bit closer. And she brushed up against me a bit, and so I danced a bit closer, and so did she, and we got closer and then we started grinding. We did this for five or ten minutes. And then she turned around and we stopped dancing and we made out, pushed up against a window, both of us sweaty from the overheated, overcrowded room. It was hot. And after ten or fifteen minutes she whispered in my ear, "Nice to meet you," and walked away.

And I was completely elated. (For some reason I thought this was the first time I had ever made out with a girl at a party, forgetting entirely about my adventure in the Andes last summer, but that probably just added to my excitement.) For a moment I considered leaving—how could I possibly top this?—but then decided that I could top making out with one girl at a party by making out with two girls at a party! So I stayed, and kept dancing.

A few minutes later I was looking around the room. For a moment a random gap opened up in the dozens of people between me and the door, and I saw Laura standing in the hallway. And then all my neurons snapped out of their newly-formed cat's cradle and back into their old one, and my pulse tripled and the fact that I had just grinded with a girl at a party and made out with her and put my hand up her skirt disappeared like a Tibetan sand mandala in a sneeze. Gone. And all I could think about was Laura and Laura and Laura.

I kept trying to dance and enjoy myself, but after a few minutes I realized that I was too distracted and too removed and so I left.

I ran into Laura on the way out, though. "Hey!," she said. "What are you doing here?" I gave her my prepared lie about how I had been bored and had come with a group from Hitchcock. And then she asked how my weekend had been, and I said I had gone downtown to ogle bikes and draw pretty pictures for my graph theory homework. She said she liked that algebra was harder this quarter, and we talked about the problem set. It had been assigned the day before and wasn't due for a week. She said she had done all of it.

She was dressed up in a button-down shirt rolled up to expose an inch or two of her midriff and a tight plaid skirt that ended halfway down her thighs and left the rest of her legs bare. She looked kind of slutty. Like a naughty schoolgirl, I guess––but a naughty schoolgirl who had scored a perfect score on the GREs two days before and who gets straight A's in all her math and CS classes even though she hardly spends any time on them and even though she went to a high school that didn't even offer honors classes, much less AP's. And now she was semi-drunk at a frat party.

Though I guess she was dressed fairly modestly compared to her friends Jack and Sarah, who I had seen earlier. Sarah was wearing a top that had roughly the same coverage as a sports bra and Jack, the gay friend she was grinding with, had his shirt completely unbuttoned. It's all relative. I wish I knew a better way to say that, because when it comes to people there seem to be few things more true.

I wish I didn't obsess over people so much. It's unhealthy. I thought about Jen every day for a year and a half until Laura and I started going out. And I probably still think about her on more days than not, even though it's been three years since we last spoke.

On Sunday night I was in the Doc projection booth, leaning out the window into the theatre and wondering how I was going to write this. The window has a huge ledge, like two feet deep, and so you can basically lie down and stick your entire abdomen out into the theatre. I love leaning out that window. The booth gets really hot, and it's full of tens of thousands of dollars of reminders that you're at work, and you can kind of escape from that when you lean out the window. But you're not really in the theatre, either, since you're all the way in the back and forty feet above everyone, so when you lean out the window it's like you're between worlds.

As I was leaning there, I was wondering how to write this, because I had forgotten all about that girl I made out with. That was what I wanted to write about. I was so giddy and excited and proud of myself. And I still remember what happened with her in the literal sense, down to the last detail and stage direction. But the instant I saw Laura all that raw horniness and visceral emotion disappeared. And you can't write without that insane emotion. When I wrote about grinding with her it was like I was reading a script and recreating the scene in my head rather than actually re-experiencing it.

I'm worried I'll wake up one day and I won't be able to write anymore everything it is that I want to write about Ithaca and all those emotions for that place and those people that were so overwhelming once.

Laura lent me East of Eden over spring break. It's now the second thing I've read by Steinbeck, and what I find remarkable about his writing style is how emotionally detached it is. I guess I'm used to reading stuff, like Philip Roth or most other contemporary American fiction, that is written basically from a character's point of view, even though it may be in the third person grammatically. But Steinbeck is very different. There is a certain calmness and detachment to his writing, like everything is being narrated by an omniscient sad god who sees all the pain the world but is powerless to stop it.

iran | northern new york | chile 1 | chile 2 | chicago 1 | chicago 2
transamerica | arizona 1 | arizona 2 | oakland | berkeley