On a scorching day in August 1992, I was sitting with my mother on a stout concrete wall outside of Bruce Hall, waiting for the building to open and move into my home away from home for the first time.
I wasn’t alone outside, as quite a number of other students loitered about the front entrance. I passed the time by observing some of my fellow freshman. Sitting across from me was one of the loudest country bumpkins I’d ever heard — a beanpole of a boy crowned with a Gilligan hat, his face decorated with freckles and a goofy grin that seemed permanently etched on his face. He spoke with the thickest country accent this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, and I remember thinking that I’d feel sorry for whoever is stuck with him as a roommate.
Around this time, the front door was unlocked and the staff welcomed us inside. Mother and I went through a gauntlet of paperwork required to get my key, then we went upstairs to inspect my new new room — and call dibs on the bottom bunk. While inspecting the room and completing paperwork, I heard that familiar loud twang once again. But instead of being across from me, it was now directly behind me. “Well, you must’a be my roomie!”
I turned to look, and there was that freckle-faced kid that I made fun of — my first college roommate Greg.
Greg was from Lewisville and was majoring in jazz performance. He played saxophone and led a life of 24-7 music. His dream was to hook up with a band and become successful as soon as possible. Down the hall were another pair of newly-paired roommates, Mark and James. After a few weeks, Greg and Mark were fast buddies, James and I had discovered some common interests, and eventually we swapped roommates. Greg moved out, James moved in, and I was now on my second roommate. Almost immediately, Greg dropped out of school to take up with a travelling country band. Mark was now in a private room and James was my second roommate.
As a roommate, James was interesting (insert understatement here). He was older than me yet still only a freshman. He was also a very public drug user — oftentimes I would return to the room while he was in the middle of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out during one of his routine acid trips.
During the semester, James met a Maple Street Hall freshman named Karen. As he got to know her, he discovered that she and her roommate were not getting along. So James invited Karen to move into our single-sex dorm room without asking me first. Then again, I wouldn’t have objected — after all, what horny 18-year-freshman wouldn’t want a cute freshman chickee sharing his living space? So in less than a semester, I was now on Roommate #3.
Despite such behavior, James and I got along well. I learned that he was a philosophy major with minors in psychology and Japanese. I also found out that his ultimate plan was to get a job in Hawaii as a therapist to Japanese tourists as a cover for perscribing drugs to himself.
To satisfy his minor, James utlized me as an unknowning subject for his psychological experiments. Many people confirmed that while I was out cold sleeping, James would pull a chair up to my bedside, lean close to my ear, and whisper over and over, “Matthew, you’re a cucumber. You’re a cucumber.” His primary goal was to convince me I was indeed a cucumber — once that mission was accomplished, he would start whispering, “Matthew, you hate cucumbers!” until I started to hate myself.
I never saw James read a textbook, but he was a prodigious reader. His private library consisted of such anti-establishment authors as Timothy Leary, Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Robert Anton Wilson, and J.R. “Bob” Dobbs. He both worshipped and feared the Illuminati, living in a constant state of paranoia.
James was convinced that the CIA was reading his email, so he would send them encrypted — and never tell the receipients how to decrypt such messages. Because of that, my inbox would fill with gibberish.
He didn’t maintain a P.O. Box at the student union — instead, he used “The Dumpster Behind Sack n’ Save, Denton, TX 76201” as the return address on his mail. In the city phone book, his number was listed under the pseudonym “Frodo Baggins.”
As the school year ended, Karen moved out and back to her parent’s house. As for Mr. Government-Is-Out-To-Get-Me, James did the only sensible thing: he enlisted with the Air Force. I never saw him again. As for what he’s up to now, my guess is that he was discharged from the military, signed up with the CIA, and is now spying on himself for the rest of his life.
Photo credit: Reaper the Simpsons