Everything All At Once

Where you look for meaning, you will find it.  Where you look for symbols, you will find them.  If you dig deeper, more will come.  Look.  Look.



Every college has it’s “famous” apartment complexes which reside just off of campus, where Freshmen and Sophomores who are stuck in the dorms go to party.  At Shippensburg University, there are the Big Three: Bard, Chateau (I know, right?), and College Park apartments.  College Park is (or at least was) the most famous of these, as it sits right on the edge of campus, separated from University property by a mere 15 or so feet and an 8-foot-high chain-link fence.  It was into this famous apartment complex (with which I already had a rich history as a visitor) that I moved, following the house on Orange Street, with two of my buddies I had befriended while living in the dorms at Naugle Hall.

These weren’t bad apartments, nor were they great.  Fairly standard, three-room, one bath apartments with full kitchens.  Standard, flat-paint white walls, a blue-green loop carpet, ten-foot high ceilings.  The designers had taken great care to make each room have a bit of “shape” beyond a mere four-cornered room.  For instance, our living room was slightly “L-Shaped”, while my bedroom (which I shared with the other single roommate; the roommate with the girlfriend got his own room, which we all found to be fair) was not really a shape as much as it was a 6-cornered room.

I smoked in this apartment, though I was the only smoker who lived there.  We all drank there (we were all 21, and off-campus), although certainly I drank much more than them.  We listened to loud music all the time, watched great movies over and over (it was here that I discovered Magnolia; thank you Rob!), we played golf with Wiffle golf balls. We watched on CNN Headline News with apprehension and beers in our hands as George W. Bush got elected for the first time. I listened to live Pearl Jam bootlegs while playing air guitar on golf clubs for hours on end, while one roommate was playing computer games (or the Hollywood Stock Exchange online…feel like a real geek? Check out http://www.HSX.com) while the other did homework on one of our two horrible, horrible couches.  I have no idea whose couches they were.

The kitchen was, of course, a wretched disaster, as all male (and most female) college kitchens tend to be.  Dishes would pile up and just sit there, until the stench and the visual evidence of vile mold would drive somebody to wash them.  The refrigerator had everything we had decided to use on a regular basis pushed up front, while unwanted foodstuff got pushed to the back, gestating for months until, once again, the tell-tale signs of mold forced someone to do something about it.  And I have never seen anyone use a toaster oven as much as one of my roommates did; frankly, until I lived there, I had suspected toaster ovens were a myth.

These were most certainly my “wacky college days”, the kind of time I had always hoped to have in college which hadn’t materialized until now.  Nevermind that most of the time at this apartment I was more depressed than ever, and more debauched than ever (Henry Miller would blush…really), but at the same time, there was more lighthearted goofiness and exploration of our adulthood/childhood bridge than I had experienced yet.  I often slept on the couch in the living room, and this gave me great opportunities to fuck with the other guys as they slept in the bedrooms.  I was a big fan of finding new and inventive ways to make it impossible for them to open their doors in the morning.  Once I even upended both couched and put them both (standing on end) in front of Rob’s bedroom door (he was the one with his own bedroom), and then I went and slept on my bed.

It was also the only place I ever lived where we had our own beer pong table, which made me finally feel ‘college’.

One day, about halfway through our living adventure there, we got a call from the front office.  Some students who were interested in renting an apartment there next year would like to walk through one to see what they are like on the inside.  Could they walk through ours the next morning?  Sure, we said, and that was that.

Now, our apartment was not disgusting on the whole.  If it had been just me living there, it would have been, but my two roomies were not filthy. They were not clean, neat-freaks either, just standard guys who didn’t want to live in squalor.  We balanced each other out in a fairly democratic way; there were never fights about cleanliness, because there was not a huge gulf between our sensibilities, but there was a large enough difference to keep the apartment in a sort of “cluttered but not gross” stasis.  So it didn’t occur to us (as it most certainly would occur to me now) to clean the apartment for such a visit.

Late that night, the three of us were spending some leisurely hours watching television, sprawled out between our two couches and one obscenely large chair.  At some point, I said something like this:

We should do something that’ll really fuck with those people tomorrow morning.


The roommates agreed, but wondered what I had in mind.

We should, like, build a tower of stuff from the floor to the ceiling, right in the middle of the living room.


This intrigued them, and in fact, in my memory of the event, one of them was off his chair looking for stuff the moment the words were out of my mouth.

At first, we pulled the coffee table into the center of the room, with the intention of building from that as a sort of head start.  But after some deliberation we decided that building off the table would take away some of the effect.  We wanted the people (hopefully prissy Sorority chicks) to walk into this apartment and be greeted by a complete, narrow, impossible-looking tower of everyday items reaching from the floor to the ceiling…and we wanted it touching the ceiling.

So we started building on the floor.  First, a wall calendar to level out the carpet.  Then, on top of that, our largest text books.  The text books alone got us quite a bit of height, and a sturdy base, as well.

It’s difficult to remember what all we made the tower out of.  I know there were some empty two-liters in there, as well as empty half-gallons of White Tavern gin (what I almost exclusively drank) which gave the tower quite a sad but rebellious look.  There were smaller books in the middle, some cups and drinking glasses, some boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and probably canisters of shaving cream and sticks of deodorant.  The main thing you need to know is that this tower should have been impossible.  When you looked at it, you really could not believe it was standing, or that is wasn’t glued together or didn’t have some wire running through the hollowed-out materials. And it really hadn’t been that difficult.  Things just seemed to keep fitting into one another and holding perfectly.  We only had one or two setbacks, and a few other moments where the tower teetered on the edge of collapse and then righted itself.  It couldn’t have taken more than an hour to get within 2 or 3 inches of the ceiling.  Then, however, we had a problem.

We wanted to tower to touch the ceiling, but to just touch it. We weren’t interested in fashioning a drinking straw to the top that would touch the ceiling and then bend and have an extra 3 inches dangling there.  We wanted it to be perfect, for the tower to be the exact height of the room from floor-to-ceiling.  And we tore our apartment apart looking for just the right thing.  We even measured the gap and then started measuring things, trying to find something that was exactly 2 and ¾ inches (or whatever it was).  We finally found what we needed in the form of a disposable Morton’s Pepper shaker, which had been hiding in the back of a cupboard.  It slid neatly into place (I was not able to participate in the final leg of construction, as, even standing on the chair, I was not tall enough, so I had to participate from the ground) and our tower was finished.

It was an absolute marvel, and we were rightly impressed.  We watched TV a bit longer, with what seemed to now be a fourth person in the room, this presence that was watching over everything.  We went to bed that night giddy in the knowledge that our tower would not be a secret for long; in fact, strangers would soon see it, which is probably the most satisfying knowledge anyone can have about a work of art they have created.

I awoke briefly to the sounds of people in the apartment the next morning.  I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but they were in fact girls.  We’ll never know if they were fully astonished, but I know they saw it.

If you dig deeper and look harder you can see everything all at once.

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