Thomas Lauderdale: High Energy Plus Fashion Sense
`He's the eternal cheerleader of Adams House'
Amy B. Shuffelton '92 did not have the typical first-year rooming group.
She lived in a Mass. Hall suite with two other women and, after Thanksgiving, they were joined by a man named Thomas.
She recalls meeting Thomas M. Lauderdale '92 just a week or two before he moved in with the group. "Thomas came in wearing bunny ears and underwear and nothing else," she says.
Another time, Shuffelton came out of the shower to find Lauderdale "dancing around the room, saying, `I just bought 220 candy canes!'" Lauderdale explained that the Coop was having a sale, Shuffleton says. "It was kind of a typical Thomas thing to do...I remember thinking, `this just sums up living with Thomas.'"
Two years later, Lauderdale has become something of a cult figure in Adams House, where he is as much a part of the landscape as the dark wood panneling, black turtlenecks and cigarette smoke haze.
Everyone in Adams knows Thomas, and many have tales to tell about him:
Will L. Rhett '92, Adams house committee chair: After declaring that "Adams House needs new checks," Lauderdale, the house committee treasurer, donned a salmon-colored dress, grabbed a whip and lunch pail and marched off to the bank. He return with Country Living-style checks, boasting pastoral scenes of geese and barns.
Ulysses Y. Chuang '92, one of Lauderdale's roomates: "I met him freshman year in Matthews. I was walking downstairs and heard loud opera music coming out of his room." Chuang looked in the doorway and saw "huge movie posters and Christmas lights." Lauderdale was handing out Twinkies and flowers from a large punch bowl. "That's how he met people in the beginning, walking around and giving things to people."
Tina P. Hsu '93: She needed to borrow a dress for a formal, and Lauderdale approached her one day, saying "I have the perfect dress for you!" He told her that he'd worn it last year, "`so I can't get away with it this year.'"
Victoria Y. Wei '93: "When my roommate and I were shopping houses, we got lost in the tunnels of Adams House, and then we heard this `You are my sunshine, my only sunshine...'" The voice belonged to Lauderdale, and he was wearing "this little fez."
"He's the reason why we're here," says Wei's roommate, Helen L. Limm '93. "He's got that image but it's not pretentious at all in my eyes...it's not like he's stealing attention away from other people," she says.
Whether he steals it or not, Lauderdale does get loads of attention. He is ubiquitous in the Adams House Dining Hall during meal times, whether he is announcing house events or simply sporting a designer gold lame cocktail dress.
"He's the eternal cheerleader of Adams House," Rhett says.
Some Adams residents say they feel that Lauderdale's high visibility makes it hard to really know him. "There's an artificiality. People often feel they can't really know the real Thomas, because he's so social," says one Adams resident.
Lauderdale says that while he is unaware of people's perceptions of him, he does need his own "space."
"Each person needs a room of his or her own. I don't know what people think of me, but I have to have a place, a room of my own where I can go when crisis erupts. That's not necessarily a physical room, but a metaphysical nook, my own little space."
One of those nooks for Lauderdale is the grand piano. Lauderdale, more known for his effervescent personality and taste for expensive women's clothing, is a concert pianist.
He practices about three to four hours a day. Lauderdale began lessons at age 6, and has performed with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra on three separate occasions. He has been asked to play in 1992 with their classical concert series, he says.
Lauderdale says that classical and "lounge lizard" music are his favorites, although he said he believes that "Tiffany is the ultimate goddess faith, family, country, and community."
"I've studied classical music all my life; it's the music I know best, but I bump and grind every now and then," Lauderdale grins.
At the Club Cafe in Boston, Lauderdale has the opportunity to perform his "lounge lizard" music. He plays there each Tuesday night, he says.
Right now, Lauderdale's favorite musical works include Chopin's nooturnes, Janacek's "On the Overgrown Path," and Delibes' opera "Lakme."
"Those are just pieces that are favorite right now. They're constantly evolving," he says. "Music can't be formulated or torn apart. Music can't be reduced to formulas or even words--or acronyms."
Lauderdale expresses himself through music and through fashion.
He met a recent visitor wearing a navy blue vintage sailor's suit, shorts, black knee socks and an electric blue fez.
And that's somewhat conservative attire for Lauderdale. He says he likes wearing dresses because they are more comfortable than tuxedos, which "confine and constrict movement." Women's accessories are not always as liberating, Lauderdale says. "Heels kill me."
"Adams House is definitely one big formal. People dress to dinner and I do, too," Lauderdale says. His favorite dresses are his three black Betsey Johnson dresses, and a gold lame dress from Bullock's in Los Angeles. "We got it for $15 marked down from $150, and it fit me," Lauderdale says.
Lauderdale also sports a platinum-blond crewcut. But like his constantly evolving musical tastes, that is changing. "The roots are beginning to show," he says.
Lauderdale has brought new meaning to house spirit. As treasurer of the Adams House committee, he has energized support for house events among a student body often called remarkably blase.'
"He's very good at mobilizing people. Everyone knows him. They all seem to be willing to do stuff for him," says Rhett. Once Lauderdale's ideas catch on, Adams House "rides the wave of his enthusiasm," Rhett says.
The "Wall Street Journal Affair," orchestrated by Lauderdale, has already entered Adams House lore. A Wall Street Journal reporter treked to Adams, hoping to write an article about the "politically correct."
While he was eating dinner at Adams, many house residents wore black clothing and the meal was dotted with a series of "politically correct" announcements.
"It was the most incredible thing," says Rhett. "Everyone was so psyched for it. The Wall Street Journal guy was so flabbergasted," he says. "He just never stopped taking notes," Wapenyi says.
Birthday candles were melted on to tables for a "seance effect," Rhett says, and the event turned into a dance party.
"It was madness," says Tanya S. J. Selvaratnam '92.
"He just orchestrated the most extraordinary evening I have ever experienced," says Adams House Senior Tutor Janet A. Viggiani says.
When all is said and done, "Thomas is Adams House," says Khahasa H. Wapenyi '92. "When you walk around Adams House, as a female, his presence just hits you in the womb."
Lauderdale demurs when confronted with his reputation for being the glue that holds Adams House together. "I'm just another little guy. I'm your average Joe Blow on the street corner. That's how I look at myself."
Not many Adams residents could describe Lauderdale's parties as being average, however. His legendary talent for merry-making may have roots in his childhood. When he was three years old, Lauderdale says, his parents threw a "silver spoon party" for him.
And as a student at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Portland, Oregon, Lauderdale held dinner parties featuring entrees like chicken adobo. Now Lauderdale hosts parties on his own, "because no one else does." They are alcohol-free, but successful because of the themes, he says. "Parties have to have a gimmick if you want to be a star," Lauderdale says.
Lauderdale kicked this year off with a "Wild Kingdom" party, since he "always wanted a resurrection of `Bungle in the Jungle,'" a party thrown last year, he says. "Hello Kitty" invitations for the event asked that "no bitter or negative people" attend, he says.
"Part of it is his reputation...there's a big element of playfulness about it," says roomate Chuang. In place of alcohol, Lauderdale often provides strawberries and whipped cream, animal crackers, fresh squeezed orange juice and even smoked salmon. His "chocoholiday" parties have featured at least $100 worth of chocolate. However, "Cool Whip is basically at every party," Chuang says.
In addition to Lauderdale's own parties, he organizes many social events in his capacity on the the house committee.
The committee also sponsors "Cafe Mardi" every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. It features live jazz in a coffeehouse atmosphere.
And for spring break, Lauderdale says, "we're all going to go to Charleston, South Carolina." Lauderdale says they chose the location because it was "a low-budget, cost-free hideaway vacation wonderland."
When asked where he will be in 10 years, Lauderdale rattles off an ambitious list of goals.
"I want to be a concert pianist. I want to be mayor of Portland, Oregon. I want to be head of the Portland Art Museum. A fashion designer. President. Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, my favorite team."
At another point in the interview, Selvaratnam, Lauderdale's self-professed fiancee, makes her own prediction.
"Tom is going to be president one day, and I'll be first lady," she says.
And Lauderdale gently corrects her: "No, I'll be first lady and you'll be president."