By the end of the Summer after my senior year in high school, I became convinced that I had exhausted everything that Pensacola had to offer me. I had put in my two weeks notice at Domino’s Pizza over a month before I left for college, leaving me with several weeks of absolutely nothing to do. As my friends moved away before I did, I got extremely restless and decided that I had to be fully moved into my dorm room as soon as the university would let me.
I packed everything that I needed for my new life into my car and drove to Orlando by myself, leaving early enough in the morning that I would arrive by mid-afternoon. My imagination got me through the first 4 hours of the drive, an insufferable 300 mile stretch of trees, nothingness, and monotony on I-10. I fantasized about all of the mischief I was going to get into in college and ran through the lurid tales that my older friends (who would now be sophomores) brought home with them last year.
Daydreams of beer and boobies took me to the junction of I-10 and I-75, and then I got bored. My iPod became less interesting. My legs needed to be stretched out. I started yawning frequently. I couldn’t find a happy medium with the A/C in my car. My feet were cold, but my arms were just right. I turned the heat on my feet and pit stains began to blossom on my shirt. Knowing how many cool points this would lose me with the gaggle of girls that would be lined up to throw themselves at me as soon as I pulled onto campus, I cranked the A/C up and hunched over the steering wheel, angling the vents to shoot arctic gales up my shirt to get the sweating under control. My feet never thawed.
Discomfort and boredom gave way to frustration and blinding anger as I got off of Florida Turnpike and onto the toll road 408. Over the course of an hour and a half, I realized just how big Orlando was. Eventually, I gave up on being too smart to ask for directions and stopped at a gas station in a part of town where sweaty, angry-looking people grimaced at drivers from the roadside. I finished the final leg of my journey painfully slogging from red light to red light, up a traffic infested main road, but unlike the 408, it was free to use!
After arriving on campus, I checked in, got the key to my dorm room, borrowed a dolly, and unloaded my car into my new home. Campus was desolate and unpopulated. My desire to get out of my hometown as soon as possible wasn’t as common as I had hoped. I spent my first night in my dorm room alone, unsure if anybody else was in the same building as me, let alone on my floor.
With everything unpacked and moved in, I daydreamed about my roommate. All I knew about him was his name, Ronald LeFleur. I tried to look him up on Facebook, but couldn’t find him. His name sounded tremendously dorky, but it didn’t matter. If movies were to be believed, this guy was going to be my partner in crime. I figured he would be a bad boy, reckless and and nihilistic in his drinking habits and endlessly charming with women; or he would be a quiet sleeping giant of a party animal and I would have to help him overcome his shyness to bring him out of his shell. Either way, we were going to be best buddies navigating the hedonism of college and growing into bold, intelligent men together.
The dorm rooms in my building were set up in pairs, with two people in each room, and two rooms sharing a connecting bathroom. The people occupying the adjacent room, my suite-mates, arrived before Ronald. They seemed like nice enough guys. One was a quiet, but stylish guy from Gainesville; the other was a scrawny New Yorker with a big nose. I couldn’t see either of them as a groomsmen at my wedding someday, but I figured that could change. My hope and optimism about my roommate, however, remained undaunted.
My dad had already come down and helped me get settled in and then left by the time Ronald LeFleur arrived on the final day of move-in. The dorm had been my home for several days when I heard the voices outside the door and the multiple hands that were fumbling with the complicated ‘smart’ key that they gave us to get into our building as well as our individual rooms.
He was a skinny guy, made even skinnier by the girl jeans he was wearing. It wasn’t likely that the white belt that held them up came from the men’s department either. I don’t remember what band was on his t-shirt, but it told me that he was a ‘Scene’ kid. His red hair swirled to one side in a Bieber-esque manner (even though, to my knowledge, Justin Bieber wasn’t yet a cultural force and the angelic voice of a generation at the time). By the looks of him, Ronald’s sexuality wouldn’t likely qualify him to be the wingman that I had hoped for, but I wasn’t judgmental. This was going to be my new best friend and college is all about broadening your horizons, so regardless of whether he chased men or women, we could still drink too much and grow up together.
I introduced myself, shook his hand, and met his family. I helped them carry a mini-fridge through the door, and stayed out of the way as they haphazardly populated the room with the rest of his stuff. After that, they left to go get dinner, and my new best friend and my new second family didn’t invite me. I went to meal plan and ate dinner and hung out in the room, watching TV and messing around on the internet for the rest of the evening before Ronald (who preferred to be called ‘Ben’) returned. His family wasn’t with him, but another scrawny guy who dressed slightly more masculine and looked equally feminine was. This was a friend from back home. They were meeting up with some other friends from back home. Goodbye.
Our friendship and life together wasn’t off to a stellar start, but I didn’t get discouraged. We just needed something in common, or some common experience that we could bond over. It shouldn’t have been hard to find something that we both enjoyed, but I was put off by how difficult this ‘guaranteed’ friendship was and Ben just didn’t put in any effort at all.
We co-existed for about two weeks, with only minor annoyances and minor courtesies. He wasn’t a bad roommate, other than his tendency to set his alarm clock about 30 minutes before I planned on waking up. After that, he was around less and less. I rarely saw him during the day and then he stopped coming to the dorm to sleep at night. Several days would go by between sightings, and had I been more capable of imagining bad things happening to people I knew, I might have wondered if he was dead in a ditch or something, but I was a little sore that we weren’t bros so I didn’t really care.
Despite the increasing rarity of our encounters in the dorm room (which I inhabited more frequently than not in that first semester), his belongings were vanishing a few at a time. Soon, the room barely held any sign of him living there. Other than the matching desk, drawers, bookshelves, bed, and his mini-fridge and microwave, there was not much evidence of more than one person living in the room.
It was at this point, that I got over my hurt feelings and began to see the situation for what it was: a tremendous opportunity. This was MY dorm room – I had it all to myself! I started by taking liberties with his furniture. I stacked his bookshelf on top of his drawers and moved some of the other stuff to against the wall. The room started to open up, but I wanted more, more space, more control over the arrangement of the room.
At this point, I have to explain the peculiar beds in the dorms. The twin extra-long beds (which are a pain in the ass to find sheets for) are adjustable in height. Many students put their beds up as high as they can so as to accommodate a mini-fridge or some storage bins underneath. I even knew one guy who put his TV and Playstation under the bed, creating a small man cave for himself. Adjusting the beds can be done with a hammer and some determination if you are a layman, but the protocol was to put in work orders and let the maintenance guys (read ‘professionals’) do it for you. They could even bring metal rods that run through the bed posts allowing the beds to be bunked. Seeing as this was college and not summer camp, not many people pursued this option.
Before I could proceed with my plan, I needed closure on the situation with Ben. I Facebook messaged him and asked if he was coming back and if I could bunk the beds and re-arrange the furniture. Wherever the hell he was, he messaged me back with consent. I put in the work order within the next 2 minutes. In moments such as these, waiting can feel like an eternity, but the maintenance guys were prompt in their response and the beds were bunked, opening the room even more. With some final adjustments to the furniture, I had exactly what I needed: enough room for a freaking ping pong table in my dorm room.
It took time to find a good price at a store near enough for me to pick the table up, so in the meantime, I ignored repeated requests from my awesome RA Jen to stop stealing furniture from the common room and using it to make my room cozier. This shouldn’t have been a rule that I broke multiple times. When a couch went missing, it was always very obvious where it went, seeing as how I was the only person with a room awesome enough to hold any extra furniture. Several months later, however, borrowing couches for movie nights became a trend on our floor and I was always suspect #1 for these instances of temporary theft.
To this day, I am shocked that I was able to find such an amazing price on a ping pong table. I’m truly grateful that I took the time to shop around. As the weather began to turn and the heat lightened up its stranglehold on central Florida, I strolled proudly through the automatic doors of Sports Authority to pick up my brand new roll-away ping pong table for just $200.
After a couple of hours with a screwdriver and lots of swearing, the table was assembled. I had paddles and ping pong balls ready to go, but few friends to play with. I called up one of my closest friends from back home and he helped me to discover the depths of my ping-pong ineptitude that night and for many nights afterwards. I bought beer mugs with the intention of playing that crazy type of beer pong that I saw in Beer Fest (where you play ping pong, trying to hit the ball into the mug), as well as beer to inhabit the fridge that Ben left behind, which I rebranded as my designated beer fridge.
My room became a curiosity and fellow people with mediocre or poor social skills dropped by every once in a while to see the dorm room with a the ping pong table in it. By now, my RA was cool enough to casually mention the fact that this was all a big fire hazard and then never speak of it again.
All in all, the experience was another misguided belief that friends would just gravitate to me if only I seemed like a cool enough guy. I reacted to the rejection of someone that I thought had to be my friend by turning his abandonment into an epic man-cave that would eventually come to be integral in my social development. For several months, however, I was just another lonely guy, homesick and struggling to make friends with my only distinction being my ping pong table and my Alaskan Organ Donor Card.
It wasn’t until the beginning of Spring Semester that I started trying to solve my problems by confronting them, rather than trying to work around them.