Blocking with Blockheads

The people you think you hate may actually be your best bet

With blocking forms due in less than a week, freshmen across campus are coping with all sorts of questions. Who do I want as my roommates for next year? What House will we be assigned to? How do I tell my best friend that our mutual “friends” refuse to let her into our blocking group because she smells like a fine stilton cheese? Did I just swipe a homeless man into our entryway?

My little sister Kirsten, who is a freshman enduring this same process, sought my advice about blocking the other day. Being the sensitive big brother that I am, I ignored her and kept walking to the Science Center with my friends. After an angry phone call from my parents that night, I’ve decided to share some words of wisdom with Kirsten, and while I’m at it, give some advice to the entire freshmen class.

Choosing your blockmates is a very important decision. After all, these are the people you will be arguing with for the next three years. In making this decision, I suggest you look at my current blocking situation, and then do everything you can to avoid it. This might come as a shock, but I don’t like my roommates. As you read this, I assure you that they are yelling at me, having learned this for the first time courtesy of the widely-circulated Crimson.

I have three roommates, and each one can be distinguished by certain characteristics that are typical in many blocking groups across campus. One of them is the “intense student” roommate. Under the crazy impression that he is going to make the most of his time here, this guy is taking five classes and completes all his homework. He makes the rest of us feel like we have IQ’s only a few points above that of a parking meter. If you enjoy the illusion of being intelligent, try to avoid roommates like him.

My next roommate is the “morally just kid.” About 50-times more mature than the rest of us, he never lets us get away with laughing and pointing at the kid who slips and drops his tray in the dining hall. He is a constant reminder that we are all on the road to perdition. If you want to be able sleep at night with a clear conscious, try to avoid roommates like him.

My last roommate is the “messy kid.” While I’ll admit that we all contribute to the swamp that we call our room, this guy is definitely the primary reason we are living in an environment that Oscar the Grouch would envy. Given all the strange growths thriving in our room, it feels like we are living in God’s experimental Petri dish. If you prefer the freedom of walking around your room without tripping on a suitcase that hasn’t been unpacked since Thanksgiving break, try to avoid roommates like him.

Enumerating all my roommates’ faults makes me wonder if they enjoy living with me. I’m a pretty husky guy, and it’s a minor miracle when a week goes by without something being broken by my super-sized hands or feet. Our futon is currently on life support because I cracked the frame when I sat down on it. Come to think of it, you should probably avoid roommates like me, too. I suspect I am only part of this blocking group because they needed someone who owned both volumes of the “Saturday Night Live—Best of Will Ferrell” DVD.

Okay, I’ll admit that I exaggerated slightly when I said that I don’t like my roommates. As long as we aren’t talking about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, we get along pretty well. In fact, some of the faults that I mentioned can actually be seen in a positive light. The “intense student” roommate that I warned you to avoid serves as a useful reminder to me and my roommates that we don’t need to sleep until noon everyday, and that we should view Thursdays as “school days” rather than “days that ‘The OC’ is on.” The “morally just kid” has helped us understand that reading our friends’ e-mail behind their backs is not acceptable, and that letting testosterone govern every decision we make is not necessarily healthy. The “messy kid” reminds us that it’s alright to relax and take a break from the intense Harvard atmosphere once in a while. Also, when you’re hungry late at night, with the help of a shovel and rubber gloves, you will always be able to find some three-week-old pizza keeping warm in the middle of the compost heap.

So no matter who you decide to share your residential life with, you will adjust to the new environment and enjoy the many benefits that your blockmates have to offer. In looking at potential blockmates, don’t look at their apparent “faults” because everyone (including you) has them. Instead, look for their unique qualities—the things that will personalize your Harvard experience. And if next year you need some time away from your blockmates, come over to Winthrop and hang out with us. We’ll be eating pizza on the futon and watching Will Ferrell.

Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.