nov 16: here, look at this (yee!), then look at this. it took me the better part of a day to scan that drawing, it's about 6 feet wide. if the text is too hard to read, here's a big one.

nov 9: excuses/reasons: i'm really unmotivated, my next piece is research-heavy and i'm still doing the reading, there are lots of demands on my time, i'm spending a third of my life at work in the city, i'm behind in my classes by about 5 papers, etc.

october 12 1996: the rockefeller suite

here's the campus legend about the very top floor of Main Building, above the fifth floor which is the highest one that's actually accessible, but right at the crest of the front and center of Main there's this high ceilinged room with a big picture window. It's a prominent feature of the building, high above the entrance, part of the green roof against the red bricks. You can go to the fifth floor hall where there's a seldom-used study room in the center, where Adam and I used to go for Zen meditation, and out in the hall you see there's this staircase. Well, it's hard to describe; it's this protrusion from the wall that just goes up diagonally like a staircase. It's sealed off, there's a padlock on the door. Anyway, the campus legend is this: that room up there used to be a very, very nice room for students. The two girls who shared it were the two top students in their class. It turned out that one of them would be valedictorian, and the other supradictorian. The supradictorian killed the valedictorian, and then she herself jumped out of the window. So they sealed off the room. The point of telling the story to anyone is to get them wondering about ghosts. In fact the story is totally absurd and unverifiable—they take people through that room towards the end of each year when the juniors go up and ring the bell on top of the roof to ceremonially turn themselves into seniors. The room is really, really large; there's no way it ever would have been a room for two students. It's kind of laughable that people intelligent enough to come here will tell a story like that, in any context. As though it's going to be believed, or scare anyone. I think mostly it's just used to evoke a certain state. The real ghost isn't the student in the story, or even the story itself; it isn't something that can be classified as a meme or a campus legend, it's more amorphous. The real ghost is the urge to tell the story anyway. The urge itself is the force that possesses us.

back to the present...

Another unverifiable campus story is that of the Rockefeller suite. I can't verify it, anyway, and it exists for me only in a kind of legendary way. It's said that there are these suites for freshmen which are quite luxurious by campus standards. Most freshmen share a room with one other person and use the hall bathroom; the so-called Rockefeller suites are two separate, full-sized rooms and also have their own little bathroom. I've been told that there used to be one in every dorm; they no longer exist in the four carbon-copy quad dorms, and newer dorms like my own Noyes never had them. There are also reportedly quite a lot of rooms in Main Building that have their own bathrooms. I passed by what I think was one of these rooms recently when I was going to a friend's room in Main for a meeting. There was a chunk of empty wall space with no doors that looked too big for one room, and the fire-route maps posted at the end of the hall indicated a room that looked like a bathroom but had no door leading to the hall. The door to this abnormal room was open and someone was inside having a conversation. I tried to crane my neck around to see past the door to where an adjoining room would have had to be, but I couldn't get to a spot where I could see anything without being noticed by the room's occupants.

I imagine these places as little idyllic islands, where two people can stay just a little more to themselves then they would if they had to use the communal coed bathroom. It would give kind of a magical quality to your freshman year, at least as long as you got along okay with your suite-mate. I think I can even see one of them, in Cushing, the nice old dorm out behind Noyes, known as the "quiet dorm" and populated by an unusual amount of seniors. As you approach the dorm's front door you can see what looks like a bathroom window on the second floor, where there shouldn't be one. Bathrooms are usually in the same spot on every floor, producing a regular column of lit, fan-mounted windows running up the side of the building even when all the room lights are out. It's wonderful to look at when you're out at night; it keeps the dorms from looking like solid dark husks with no life inside.

Anyway the Rockefeller suite in Cushing is really the only one I can come close to believing in. My friend Ken's girlfriend Dakota says she was in it her freshman year. Her suite-mate, then, was Yumiko, who was in my painting class last year. The two of them stayed very close since. Dakota, at least, stayed in Cushing, a beautiful dorm, and always got beautiful rooms. On Founder's Day the whole campus has a party - Matthew Vassar was a brewer so you can get free beer, lots of people essentially take that as a dare and do all kinds of drugs, campus looks the other way as always, there's bands and a carnival - and as things were winding down between the day's events and the fireworks and movie, I was hanging with Dakota and Ken in her room as she read these Tarot-like I Ching cards for Ken. I think it was then that she said she had been in the Rockefeller suite, but maybe Ken had told me earlier or something. As we walked over to Sunset Lake for fireworks, I was both glad for their company and bitter that I didn't have a nice girlfriend of my own. Watching the two of them watching the fireworks, Dakota leaning back against Ken who was sitting up, both of them under a blanket, their faces lined right up one to the other and Dak's face lighting from within when the colored bursts lit it from above - she said "wow" out loud once or twice like a little kid - it all reinforced the idea that she had come out of this magic place and been blessed somehow. After the fireworks we didn't go around the lake to watch the movie like the rest of the crowd but went to watch Shaft in the auditorium instead (Dakota mostly dozed through it).

I thought of the story of the two dead girls from the room at the top of Main again as I was approaching the front entrance on a late night walk last night (yes, really last night). The story occurs to me at that spot because that's where I first heard it - freshman or sophomore year I was walking with some folks one time and someone wondered out loud about that top window, and someone told the story. Last night I walked toward Main and looked up at the window, and looked over at the spot where I thought the room with its own bathroom was on the second floor of the north wing, trying to see a light on in the bathroom. I gave up on that and walked through the front door into Main lobby, expecting to breeze on through College Center and back outside to more aimless sanity-walking, but just as I passed the door to the Main elevator, which I never use but some people swear by, it dinged and opened up as though someone had pressed the Up button. No one was standing there waiting for it, but it's possible that someone had pressed the button and then lost patience and just taken the stairs. I stopped and thought for a second, then I got into the elevator. I figured I never take the elevator, a little ride would be fun. Maybe I'd go up to the fifth floor and visit the ghosts. As soon as I stepped into the elevator - I swear to god this is true - the door closed right behind me and the elevator started going up. The interior of it was this weird spooky corrugated gold stuff - no, wait, that's the elevator at work down in the city. But this elevator was spooky too, and it just started moving on me. A week or so ago I watched the second half of this bad TV movie called "The Tower" on the Sci-Fi Channel, it had Paul Reiser in it and was all about this couple trapped in a computer-controlled office building that was trying to kill them and had a scene with an elevator that kept stopping at random and doing all sorts of scary things. So I thought some more about the ghost of the urge to tell tall tales, and wondered what floor I'd wind up on.

The door opened and I instantly recognised the fifth floor. Some security guard had called the elevator up, which explains why it suddenly closed doors and took off. He said whasup to me and he got in after I got off. Actually being on the fifth floor doesn't call to mind the story of the two dead girls; it just makes me think of Zen meditation in the study room, of carrying the black sitting pillows in from the utility closet down the hall, and back to it afterwards, and it made me think of all the juniors last year standing in line to go up the stairs and ring the bell, drinking champagne and complaining about the wait. The inside of that sealed-off stairway up to the room is now covered with joyful graffiti from all the people who've participated in the bell-ringing ceremony over the years. It's kind of depressing how the administration is perfectly willing to let students make a permanent physical mark on the campus as long as it's in a space where only students will see it, and only under special circumstances that are tied to a ritual that emphasizes students' belonging to the college. Everywhere else, they take down posters when you put them in the wrong place, they put in flowers everywhere when parents' weekend is coming up, and of course they paint out graffiti. They make it clear that this place doesn't belong to us. Last night I looked out the fifth floor's back window, that overlooks everything east of Main, the body of campus, out at the new pathway between the theater and the computer center that's lit all bright and has the low stairs and ramps that rollerbladers and skaters love (the signs say no skateboarding).

I took the stairs back down, and on the second floor the Rose Parlor caught my eye through the doorway. I suddenly felt really happy it was there and decided to stop there for a minute. It's all done up in beautiful red carpet and all the old furniture has red upholstery. It's kind of fancy and beautiful as heck but still has a good comfortable feeling to it, because it gets a lot of use and is sort of beaten up in that way. It feels inhabited, lived in, by students. Every weekday afternoon they still have tea there. They don't exactly require pearls and gloves like they used to - they just roll out a cart with hot water, tea bags, paper cups and cookies - but people go there and hang out. It's a tradition. I never go, but it's nice there. Last night I went in, sat down and looked at the dark out the window. I remembered a time, freshman year I think, when Marla and I were out bopping around campus some weekend night and we decided to check out a party in the Jade Parlor, which is near the Rose Parlor, and the party turned out to be visibly out of our league - a get-dressed-up thing, with a guard at the door - so we went to the Rose Parlor with our vending-machine snacks and sat down. A couple of girls in evening dresses came out of the party and sat on the bulbous old couch across from us to have a chat with each other. They were gorgeous and involved in some scandal and were looking at one another knowingly, and Marla and I were there in our sweats slouching around - I think I actually still sort of had a crush on Marla at the time, but I just started chortling like hell and Marla asked me what was so funny. I indicated the ladies across from us and said "Same planet, different worlds," and Marla laughed too. (The "same planet, different worlds" idea was stolen from this one Far Side cartoon: there's a guy lying in bed alone, worrying himself sick about this girl he likes and about what she might think of him, then cut to the girl, alone in bed elsewhere, thinking "You know, I think I really like vanilla." Story of my life.) Last night I imagined one of those ladies, the blonde with her hair up wearing the long black low-cut thing, sitting across the couch from me and looking up with downcast eyes, smiling, telling me some secret. Then I thought briefly about young Jane Fonda showing up for tea in the required pearls and gloves, but nothing else (another unverifiable campus story).

I sat a while, then I got up and noticed that someone had left a yellow notebook on one of the cushioned seats. I swear this is true too: the notebook's cover had the words "plans for the coming revolution" written on it. I opened and read the following, in weird gnarled handwriting with big spaces between words (this is an approximation of the text): "Dear Rachel: I'm in Denver fighting the good fight and having the time of my life. I'm with this group called Justice for Janitors. The janitors down here get treated like shit. They get no health, no sick days. Most of them are working to support children, and if their kid gets sick they can't take a day off to take care of them or they get fired. Most of the women are subject to sexual harassment and if they complain about it they get fired. If they complain about anything they get fired."

I've been in this place, this school, for three-years-plus-change now, I've come to know it pretty well, and lately sometimes I get mad at it for not giving me what I thought I had a right to get from it - a relationship with a nice girl who loves me. Obviously it's silly to expect to get something like that automatically. Not too many years ago Dad told me that most high school girls were looking for guys who 1) were stupid; 2) sweat a lot; 3) were endlessly confident, even when falling off cliffs; and 4) hang out with "The Team" a lot. They get this guy, then they spend hours on the phone with other girls complaining about their stupid, smelly, arrogant boyfriends who never have time for them cause they're always playing sports. Dad told me that once I got to college I would meet girls who were more mature and I wouldn't have any problem meeting someone who'd like me for who I was. He didn't lie to me; he just simplified, the way my science teachers and Spanish teachers would sometimes give the class a simpler, falsified version of the way things work, then complicate it the following year with all of the numerous exceptions and qualifications, saying, "Remember when we told you this was how it works? We lied." But it was okay. I just shouldn't have come in expecting it. More to the point, I'm not sure whether or not I still believe that there are two different worlds here at Vassar, or in the world in general. That some people are just born knowing, born special and worthy. The wise and charitable part of me says, probably not: everybody draws their own line between the haves and the have-nots and usually they draw it right above themselves. Imagining somebody who's got the secrets, but really we're all stumbling around in the dark. Who knows?

in other news...

About the Soul Coughing show: Skeleton Key opened. They fucking rock. Guitar, bass, drums and a percussionist who knocks on metal parts, pots and a Radio Flyer wagon. He lost grip on a drumstick and it hit me in the chin (I'm fine, thanks). Soul Coughing's set was great but Doughty was surprisingly cool-guy; all the girls were talking the next day about how hot he was. Also, there kept being short people behind me who wanted me to move so they could see.

Okay, I've made it now for two weeks running, but don't get your hopes up for the immediate future. I got an internship, which means two whole days of my week are shot until late December. We'll see how it goes.

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Tales From The Dork Side are copyright Mike Sugarbaker, email for permission to redistribute.
Updated Oct 12 1996