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You leave a trail. Whenever you leave a place you've been, you leave things behind, often things you didn't know you had or that you never imagined that anyone would discover. Not that any of it is incriminating or even embarrassing, but your footprints still follow you.
Actually, I take that back. If you're a jerk, it will show.
I realized this fact when my summer roommates and I first set foot in the house we had decided to sublet in Washington. We had searched for one on the Georgetown website under a list of student houses that were available for the summer, and we finally found one that could accommodate six people. The price was far cheaper than living in local dorms, which charged by the night, and the house had the added benefit of a kitchen and a backyard. The boys who lived there during the year, most of whom were on Georgetown's lacrosse team, would be back in September and were happy to leave us their furniture. We were ready to rent.
There were, of course, a few moments of hesitation. We sent a friend down to check it out, and we were somewhat disturbed when she told us about the broken window ("I think they threw a baseball through it") and the fact that it was "really dirty," but no matter. We figured we could handle a little dirt. We were also concerned by the fact that our overtenants kept saying things like, "Yeah, we're really glad we found you girls--we heard girl tenants are supposed to be the best kind. We know girl tenants will take good care of the house." As the "girl tenants" in question, though, we didn't let it get to us. What's a little sexist stereotyping among friends?
But when we first stepped in the front door, we gasped. The house was in a state of utter disrepair. The basement had recently flooded, the ceiling had a hole in it and the entire interior of the house was coated with a thick layer of grime. As we walked through the house, we saw more dirt and destruction than we had ever seen indoors. The furniture was falling apart, and every abandoned wall-hanging--from the grubby Olympics posters to the 8-by-10 foot American flag (in patriotic red, gray and blue)--was a cover for a "Shawshank Redemption"-style hole in the plaster walls.
The boys had left a trail. They had a small doorknob collection in a kitchen drawer, not to mention closets stuffed with dirt-encrusted lacrosse sticks and even a skateboard. In the closet down-stairs, we found a piece of paper with "The Game Guy's Prayer" on it, reading "Dear God: Help me to be a sport in this little game of life. I don't ask for any easy place in the line-up; play me anywhere you need me...." Another sign on the wall read: "Many people miss opportunity when it comes disguised as hard work." Their jock straps were left hanging in the closets.
Once we removed the uppermost layer of dirt, we found other surprises. The boys' vices, we discovered, extended beyond mere slovenliness to include a seemingly unquenchable thirst for alcohol in any form. The kitchen, for example, was ill-equipped for preparing a typical meal--forks were in short supply, as were other utensils, with the exception of one disturbingly large meat cleaver, and we counted exactly four plates. But mugs and tumblers were tucked into every cabinet, along with a blender and even a funnel. In the basement, snap-shots were tacked on the walls featuring hordes of white-hatted students--presumably the boys--tossing back pitchers with their chums. The stereo system had suffered severe beer-related injuries. In the neglected backyard, amidst scattered beer bottles and broken glass, was a full-sized counter-shaped bar, overturned and rotting on its side. And, in the living room, we found a printed invitation from "Craig, Sean, and Derrick" that read "Come on down too [sic] quench your thirst.... The time has come for the Boys' Twenty-First!" The invitation concluded with the words "Attire: Long ties, short skirts."
The house had been tattooed in other ways as well. As we moved a wooden futon from the first floor to the second, we noticed the words "STEVE IS A HOMO" carved into its side. Someone had been a little thoughtless with the dry-erase board in the kitchen too--the marker sitting next to it was a permanent one, so a few names, phone numbers and scribbles, including a half scratched-out face, had been indelibly inscribed. On one of the mattresses upstairs, we even found a small and strategically placed bloodstain. We could only wonder.
In one of the closets upstairs we found a large trunk with the name "DERRICK" on it in huge letters, which we decided to bring downstairs to use as a coffee table in the living room. Inspired by Derrick's vicarious presence on the vomit-stained rug as we lounged around after long days at our respective summer jobs, my roommates and I soon began making up long and elaborate stories about Derrick, his housemates and their charming home. It was clear to us, for example, how the bar had reached its final resting place. ("Man, we were totally trashed, and then me and Craig threw the bar out the back door. It was awesome.") The odd thumping noises from the stereo had an equally obvious cause. ("Man, we were totally trashed, and then Craig poured beer into the speakers. It was awesome.") The discolored marks on the carpet sparked legends. ("Man, we weren't even trashed, but Craig and I just suddenly decided to have this barfing contest in the living room. It was awesome.") The bloodstain on the mattress was affectionately dubbed "Derrick's Lucky Night."
But it wasn't long before humor began to erode into resentment. When the last doorknob came off in our hands, and then when the ceiling in one of the bedrooms began to cave in, we started plotting our revenge against Derrick. After all, if Derrick and his roommates hadn't felt obligated to comply with the lease (which had actually demanded a maid service), why should we? We decided that it was our mission to trash Derrick's house before we left. But we would do it with a bit of subtlety.
We thought, for example, that we might leave the house absolutely impeccable--except that we would fill Derrick's trunk with mud. The screenplay as Derrick and Craig struggle to carry the dirt-packed foot locker back up to Derrick's bedroom writes itself:
Derrick (panting as he and Craig lug the chest-o-mud up the stairs): "Man, I don't remember this trunk being so damn heavy. This is heavy as shit, man."
Craig: "But dude, how could it have gotten heavier? Maybe you just didn't pump enough this summer, dude."
Derrick: "Hey, what makes you think I didn't pump?! I pumped every DAY, man!"
Craig: "Yeah, right, dude."
Derrick: "Hey, I DID! I did what the coach said, man!"
Craig: "Oh yeah? Dude, I saw you at the gym. How much can you bench, maybe 110, tops?"
Derrick: "That's crap, man! I can bench like 170! Ask the coach!"
Craig: "Oh yeah, did the coach give you those pills?"
Derrick: "Shut up! I don't do that shit, man! What is this bullshit?! I don't do that shit!" (As background music swells into theme from NBC's "After-school Special," Derrick throws trunk at Craig. Trunk opens and spills. Both pause, momentarily shocked at the site of the large heap of mud at the bottom of the stairs.)
Derrick: "Man, check it out--the trunk's full of shit! How're we gonna clean up that shit?"
Craig: "Eh, just leave it there. The roaches'll eat it."
Another possibility we considered was scrawling the words "DERRICK IS A HOMO" on the dry-erase board in permanent marker. But that would be too blatant. Instead, we thought that we should write it in small letters on the side of one of the bedroom doors, where he would only find it several months later--after prolonged hangovers which would prevent him from ever suspecting anyone but Craig could have wrote it. And our most sophisticated plan involved leaving the house absolutely spotless but throwing all of the beds into the backyard. The scene unfolds:
(All five contemplate mattress-choked backyard.)
Derrick (pensively): "Man, those girls must've gotten totally trashed. Now we gotta carry the beds back inside."
Craig: "Eh, I don't feel like it. Let's just sleep outside for the rest of the year."
Everyone leaves things behind when they move out, me included. This past spring, I wrote my name and class year on the underside of the mantle in my old room in Eliot. Today, that room might very well be occupied by summer school students making up stories about me, attributing the pile of trash in the fireplace to my personal slovenliness, ripping off the doorknobs and throwing my bed out the window.
But I don't much care. I'll be in a different room next year.
Dara Horn '99 has vacated Eliot House for the summer to work at The New Republic. Her worldly possessions are safely hidden away.
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