The last time I got up at 6 a.m. was my first day at Harvard. My two high school friends and I were first in line at the Business School parking lot. We waited patiently until the gate was opened and waited a little more until our car was allowed to drive into the Yard. Thus began my freshman year. Even though I was an eager Harvard freshman. I didn't get up that early to check out The Tasty or The Store 24. There was something else I wanted very badly.
I wanted the single.
I had gotten my rooming assignment in the middle of August. Wigglesworth A-11 was going to be my haven for that dreadful freshman year. I was assigned three roommates and figured. I still don't know why, that there would be two singles and a double to house four of us. It wasn't such a dumb assumption. The room was costing my parents well over two grand. Besides, I had seen Brideshead Revisted and figured rooming at Harvard could not be drastically different from that at Oxford, the butler excluded, of course.
Around 7 a.m. on that fateful morning, I picked up my keys from Mr. Dan O'Donoghue and sprinted past Widener to the A entry. I flung the A-11 door open to find my sizeable common room with a fireplace and three large windows looking out on Mass. Ave. So far, Brideshead Revisited. I walked to the center of the common room and saw three doors. Hey, I thought, I am right on the mark! Three bedrooms and a single for this earlybird. I slowly opened the first door, and in place of my desk, a sink, instead of a dresser, a tub, and alas, in the place of my bed, a toilet. It then dawned on me that Harvard had cheated me of my dream single.
No use getting too upset, I told myself. At least, as the first one to arrive, I would have the privilege of picking the better of the two bedrooms. The first things I saw when I opened the left bedroom door were cans. Dozens and dozens of empty Bud cans carpeted the wooden floor. On the second glimpse, my unbelieving eyes met my first roommate crashed on the lower bed of a bunkbed, snoring the roof down. Still in shock I hurried to the other bedroom only to find another guy recuperating from a hard night's drinking. Instead of Brideshead Revisited, the scene hauntingly reminded me of another movie, one starring John Belushi. I learned my first lesson at Harvard that day. Regardless of effort, drive, and burning desire to accomplish anything, there were always will be someone else ahead of you. I couldn't even finish second in a race of four.
At best, the first year was going to be a culture shock. I attended the Bronx High School of Science, sometimes known as the Wonks High School of Science. I must admit that the school was full of wonks and what some would call geeks. Hell, we didn't even have a football team. I will even admit that for two full years, I carried around a TI 57 on my belt. The problem, however, wasn't that I came from a school designed to produce besnectacled future Engineers of America. It was that, since my early acceptance to Harvard in December, I had prepared myself exclusively to deal with the future yuppies of America. And boy, was I in for a shocker.
I didn't really believe Harvard's proud declarations of its student diversity. Instead, I expected to meet young cornheads in the midst of their Andover-Harvard-family business treks. Well, I got a homogeneity of another sort. My roommates Jerry, Steve, and Jim were all from the east coast, varsity or j.v. athletes, and Irish. I don't have to delve into Weber's theory on bureaucracy to say that the Freshman Dean's Office royally screwed up. It wasn't that they were all from the east coast. I'm from Westchester. It wasn't that they were all Irish. But how can anybody with brains put three jocks with a poor Korean kid whose high school athletic achievement went no further than a membership on its math team? And I was terrible even at that.
Well, I knew I was in for a whole new experience when, on the first weekend of school, Jerry said "JI, let's have a keg party." That night, I met the rest of the freshman football team (Jerry soon became its captain), saw my first keg, lost half of our furniture, learned to remove everything off of my desk for parties, and put on first three pounds of the 30 I would put on my freshmen year. And, of course, the always friendly Harvard University Police paid a visit because they did not like the fact that we were collecting money to pay for the beer.
Enough on the culture shock.
* * *
One thing I expected to see and experience a lot was sex. My high school sweetheart was attending a school at least a thousand miles away, and although I had the best time of my life when she visited me in October, our relationship went off the cliff after that. No problem, said this freshman confidently. I go to Harvard. Women should soon be breaking down doors to see me. Well, this was true for everyone in Wigglesworth A-11 but me. My only attempt at a relationship with a Harvard woman ended on an exclamation by one who said, "You want me to go to bed with you or something?" That killed my ego enough to realize that this Harvard man's libido wasn't going to be satisfied by any Harvard woman.
Onward to Smith.
There were four of us. All freshmen and all psyched to test our newfound status as "The Harvard Man." Our first stop in Northampton: the pharmacy. The second question (you can guess the first; it was at the pharmacy): how do we get to Smith? Alas, my first encounter with a Smithie tells the sorry tale.
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