28 July 2011

One last walk through UMass (Part 3)

Looks like the Grad Lounge is going to feature one of those hoop-shooting games next academic year. This place is the only bar on campus, and it's typically been a fairly chill, if very institutional-looking spot. I can only wonder what this thing is going to do for the atmosphere.

I'm not sure this place even existed the first couple of years I was at UMass. It wouldn't have mattered because I was not of age, and I wouldn't have known because, as stated before, I wasn't in the Campus Center/Student Union complex that much. The first time I remember being in the Grad Lounge was drinking before a compilers class with a friend. This became a fairly regular thing regular thing and one time caused me to be late to class.

Sometimes I'm not sure how I got there. When I came to school, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to drink. But pretty early on, I remember giving in fairly easily when told, in no uncertain terms, that I had to drink some weekend and there was nothing I could do about it. I put it off a weekend (my parents were visiting that Sunday), but the next weekend a shot of E&J brandy introduced me to the wild world of ethanol.

Back in those freshman days, a night of drinking was an event. It invariably occurred on a weekend and invariably was characterized by excess. I can think of one example that was on a Thursday and did not involve excess by any typical metric, and it did involve a smelly shoe being put in my face as I writhed on the ground in the aftermath of a disastrous half-court beerpong game. Surely an event. I remember some photos getting out on Facebook and my first visit in Framingham being characterized by some half-serious inquiries by my high school friends into whether I had become an alcoholic. And really I was drinking once a month at most. Jesus christ.

After that first year, that next year in Gorman, was I drinking even less? Had a temperance movement washed over me in pursuit of a clearly dysfunctional romance with a clearly disinterested girl? Or was I just getting high more? Because I was. My favorite sophomore drinking memory is getting trashed and some friends put on Revenge of the Clones. I remember emphatically yelling "THAT'S NOT STAR WARS THERE'S A CAR CHASE" over and over and quickly drawing the ire of just about everyone. Also I had also watched this movie while drunk freshman year I think. I've never seen this movie sober.

What the fuck did I even do as a junior except turn 21 and then everything was legit. Already talked about that one maybe. Yeah same girl (though she was mostly gone by then). I think I lost touch with my supply (before I turned 21) and started working all the time. Good fucking grades that year. Oh and I pulled on allnighter in the course of writing cycle-accurate simulator.

It was that year that I became what I had sort of dreamed of before I had come to college. By the end of high school I felt aimless and unable to get things done. Now, I was a super-motivated programmer with crazy focus. I was super-interested in what I was doing and work and pleasure ran into each other. I was closer to whom I wanted to be.

Next semester I'm in the grad lounge drinking before class. Nothing gold can stay. Except that's so hilariously not how I feel. I think I feel as though a grew past some sort of mental block. I wasn't attempting to engage in episodes of borderline problem drinking in order to achieve some sort of catharsis or outpouring of emotion, but just taking in the everyday world with a buzz. It's funny because put that way it sounds more like the way of the alcoholic than the freshman who, by a rule, only drank on the weekends. But freshman definitely had more problems. And that senior who was 10 minutes late to class that one time and feeling a little funny through the remaining hour and five minutes is someone who I feel as though I can still identify with.

But who cares, what bothers me more is that I have no idea how this transition happened so quickly.


If there's a hoop-shooting game in the grad lounge, can it still be a place where people go to talk? To unwind after work? Even to get there work done? Will it become a center for meatheadery?

A memorable chapter of my life was kicked off by interactions in the grad lounge. It's almost a cliche, the important events in one's life all being traceable back to a bar. An offhand comment by a coworker growing into a festering idea, that motivates a meet-up at the very same place. All because of a thematically ill-defined institutional space. P.S. This story did not end as hoped.

But somehow, if someone had just beat their bro's record and was all OOOOOOHHHHHHH YEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, the whole adventure could have been nipped in the bud. We're a product of the most minute details of our environment and that's why I needed one last walk through UMass.

23 July 2011

One last walk through UMass (Part 2)

I ended suddenly and awkwardly because I received an opportunity that few people do. I can't sell out those who gave it to me, so any discussion must take place out of band. But on that note. the Chadbourne thread will need to be picked up later, because now I'm in Southwest and in another state of mind.

The first time I was in Southwest, it was my world. I was fortunate enough to have a room where people would congregate for all variety of reasons: from homework to movies, to video games, to just chatting. And for many of the people who lived there, that was their world. It was my world too. My then-roommate  still considers this time to be one of the most noteworthy and energetic times in his life. There was a lot going on, and quite frankly some interpersonal drama. I used to feel the same way, but now when I look back at it, I can't.

I feel as though I was so ignorant then to what was occurring outside of the bounds of the 15th floor of Washington dorm. My life involved hanging out there, going to various classroom buildings, and going to eat at the dining hall right outside (until they closed it for renovations, in which case it became a grueling 3 minute walk to get food). I had no idea the nature of the campus and no interest in finding out. I was perfectly content in this little sphere.

Is there a problem with being perfectly content with such a parochial existence? Not really. But I feel like it's fundamentally limiting, because who knows what bigger and better things exist outside of it. Maybe there aren't any, but doesn't it behoove us to find out? That didn't occur to freshman me.

I remember one thing that did bring us outside of the sphere was we played pool in the Student Union basement one day. I think it was a weekend where few people were around. I went with my roommate and four other friends, two of whom had smoked weed just before. I was on the team with the two smokers and we frequently tried to go out of turn and otherwise not care about the rules and cause havoc. This didn't seem to go over well with the other team, who I christened as the 'team uptight' to our 'team relaxed'. These names seemed to go over even worse. But after all, isn't it only the uptight who desire strict adherence to the rules. Maybe not. Afterward, I chased a duck around on the Student Union lawn and now that I mention that, I remember now another time walking around the pond with some people and discussing not desiring having children. I was told I would make a good father. Maybe I got out a little more that I thought I did.

One last walk through UMass (Part 1)

I can still get on the UMASS wireless network. I wonder how long that lasts. Currently, I'm sitting outside the Student Union. It's quiet out here, the occasional car and confused-looking driver slowly make their way down the pedestrian path that is serving as the detour as they tear up Hicks Way to do electrical work for the new honors residential complex. No one else sitting here, which is almost unheard of during the school year. But that's summer in Amherst.

I started sitting here maybe my second semester as a graduate student. View's superb, there's a ton of foot traffic and activity and there are trees to shield you from feeling like you're right in the thick of it. The fountains in the pond are nice too, these days. There's a nice constant sound of splashing water. How I came to sit here I think came from a grad students' antsiness. A constant feeling of 'how am I going to accomplish this' that lends itself to long walks through the heart of campus, hoping to gain some sense of inspiration, but more than that a distraction from the sterile office environment. A comrade would sit here, and sometimes I'd catch him here and we'd chill. Sometimes I'd just sit here by myself, usually with my laptop and let the benchmarks run while I watched the girls and the fountains.

But I always had a sense of being misplaced here. Being some child walking onto the set of a movie with a fan-screaming laptop. I hate to put people in groups, but there was a sense never stated by constantly inferred (and maybe not even implied) that to be here you needed to care more about politics or organic food than I ever could. Or at least dressing like it? Is this unfair? Yeah, probably really. Maybe it's more of a mindset thing. Did I not develop some fundamental characteristic that would allow be to not feel like an outsider as I watched the fountains and the girls, and talked to people who I felt like I was never quite on the same footing as.

Today I came over here as via upper central. I parked in blue lot 29, where I would park when I would visit Chadbourne as a grad student. I miss that dorm, I really do, which aside from a friend living there is I think the reason why I tried to make it back so often. By first semester there was not so hot. I had a huge single room on the top floor with a beautiful pitched roof and dormer. But there was no sense of community and I spent most of my time down the hill in Gorman. What even happened that semester? I turned 21 and spent the night in my dorm room cussing out a girl (not to her face) and playing Mario Kart. Supertime radio. Random car rides in the dead of night. I think this way the semester where I started to relax a little, where relaxing is in this case defined by deviating from a more strict routine. But still a forgettable one.

Two semesters later I found myself in Chadbourne again and my primary complaint is that I worked too much, but fuck I could say that about the whole time I was here. Is mini-baseball the the defining element of that year? What is there to recruiting people from throughout the dorm, taking them to an abandoned storage room, and hitting a squishy globe ball with a souvenir Lowell Spinners bat. Some sort of quirky sense of joy.

17 July 2011

A fact about my dad

My dad calls growlers of beer 'groliers'. He presumably does this because of a CD that came with a computer that he bought in 1995 called the The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.