Thursday, June 08, 2006


When I first moved into my dorm more than 10 years ago, I knew three things about my living arrangement: first, and foremost, I knew my roommate because we'd chosen to live together when we met at orientation, second, we were living in the honors dorm, and third, it was a coed dorm. The last was one of those theoretical pieces of knowledge, the thing that kind of buzzes by you when you're in the thrall of picking out new sheets for the extra long beds and discussing who's bringing the television/stereo/refrigerator.

So when we moved in that first day, we (and mostly our parents) were horrified to find out that our room, at the very end of the hall, was surrounding by guys. Guys across the hall, guys diagonally across the hall, guys next door. The guy across the hall was watching the US Open finals, and I was immediately drawn to the match, but my mom said, "No! Don't go in there! Don't ever go in there!"

Out of the ten rooms on our floor, only four -- including ours -- were girls. Over the course of the year, we -- guys and girls both -- got to know each other, overcoming our mutual fears of the opposite gender, and become very good friends. We got along so well that most of us never left that floor and finished all four years of college in the same dorm rooms we moved into as freshmen. I'm still good friends with most of the people I lived with that first year in college.

The guy across the hall, the tennis watching guy, turned out to be one of my closest friends in college, and he's the one who got me into journalism, and has made quite a name for himself in newspapers these days, including an appearance on the Today show a couple months ago. The guy next door, well, starting our sophomore year and to the day we graduated, we ate breakfast together every Saturday and Sunday. It was our thing, mostly because no one else would be up early enough to go with us. Today, he's a successful consultant in the DC area. And finally, the guy diagonally across the hall, I don't know where he is today, but he still makes me smile when I think about him.

We'll call him Doug and Doug was... well, he wasn't the LL Bean or J.Crew wearing type like the rest of us. Doug wore skirts. Regularly. When we asked him why, he just shrugged and said they were comfortable and didn't chafe like pants did. The skirt-wearing wasn't the only thing odd about Doug, but it was the most obvious one that people commented on. The skirt thing wore off pretty quickly because we were more fascinated by another aspect of Doug's appearance that to this day still remains unexplained.

During our first semester junior year, a freshman moved into Doug's room. Two weeks in, he passed out meeting notices for the Young Republicans club -- that we had such an organization at the East Coast's answer to Berkeley was a surprise to all of us -- and said, very politely, "I would love it if you could make it." He was so sweet that none of us -- almost none of us -- had the heart to tell him as a group, we were probably the Young Republicans' worst nightmare: pro-choice, anti-gun Clinton voters. The quality of the food in the dining commons was possibly the only thing that could arouse any kind of passionate political response in us. When it came to taking a stand against watery eggs, acidic melons, and undercooked bacon, we were *so* on-board. Protesting the new GLBT dorm on campus came a very distant last place to any of a million other concerns we had going on.

"Someone's got to tell him the truth," my friend the journalist said, staring at the flyer in his hand.

"But he's so sweet," Florida Girl said. I frowned at her. Of course she would call him sweet; she didn't have to listen to "I Saw the Sign" and "All That She Wants" 80 gazillion times a day. In the end, we all politely declined, but the invitations didn't stop coming, but somehow, we were always too busy to attend the meeting.

The kid discovered the truth about his doormmates accidentally. It was an unusually warm day for October, and most of us had ditched the turtle-necks for t-shirts. Then out comes Doug wearing his three-tiered paisley skirt in red and orange, complete with a little bell on the drawstring. The kid's eyes bugged, his mouth opened, but no sounds came out. Doug walked down the hall, past all of us. When Doug turned the corner, the kid slinked up to us and said, "Did you see what I saw?" And my friend, now the consultant in DC, said, "You noticed Doug only has one sideburn too?"

At the conclusion of the semester, the kid moved out, never to be seen by any of us again.

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