The Lowell Labyrinth is a dangerous place to get lost.
The Lowell Labyrinth is a dangerous place to get lost.

Bystander: Climbing the Housing Ladder

It was nearing 2 a.m. last night and Lamont Café, the social headquarters of the freshman class, was abuzz with
By Charles J. Wells

It was nearing 2 a.m. last night and Lamont Café, the social headquarters of the freshman class, was abuzz with angst. As I sauntered over to the barista to grab a study break snack, I couldn’t help but notice feisty premeds pounding numbers into past problem-sets to prepare for their last mid-term exams. Wannabe MBAs were schmoozing in the basement, and on the steps outside, anyone too alt to function was smoking American Spirits and counting down to spring break.

But if there was one thing in the back of every freshman mind in Lamont last night, it was that in a few wee hours, Housing Day would soon be upon them.

It might seem inconvenient that the big day falls in the midst of mid-terms. For some, Housing Day is nothing but the unsolvable end sum of a complex mathematical algorithm by which they will be assigned a place of living. And for others, it’s just an annoyance; a lack of perfect information in Harvard’s centrally planned real estate market.

But for one subset of the freshman class, Housing Day is the culmination of an intensive, nearly year-long study of Harvard’s winding social staircase. For these climbers, today is one of the most crucial exams of a Harvard career—and there’s no curve.

Alexander F. Carmichaels III ’12, for instance, had been studying for this trial since just after Thanksgiving break. I spotted the Jersey-native sipping a latte near the magazine racks in the café, surrounded by a cadre of 2012’s most well heeled aspiring final clubbers. But rumor has it he hadn’t always been in such bourgeois company.

“I hear he only wore Knicks jerseys at the beginning of the year,” one girl whispered near the vending machines.

“And like, they don’t even like him, he just got a fake in the City and they use him to buy alcohol,” another responded.

“Yea, well I know for a fact that both the ‘III’ at the end of his name and his Prada loafers are completely bootleg,” sneered the first girl.

Illegitimately outfitted or not, it was undeniable that Carmichaels had made himself just tolerable enough to sit on the periphery of first-year aristocracy. He hoped tomorrow would move him closer to his ultimate goal. He would be practically legally bound to bunk with these Eton elites and Cantabrigian Brahmins he’d studied so well.

“Nah she’s fat,” I heard one of the Brahmins say to the others as he moved on to a different Facebook profile.

“Wait go back, Stefan. Look at her profile pictures,” another pleaded.

“So do you think she’d still hook up with you after last weekend,” yet another chimed in with a British accent to an uproarious laughter from the group.

“Do you fellas think we should get going?” Carmichaels said to no response. “We should get going on this River Run thing, right?”

The others acted as if they couldn’t hear him, and sat transfixed in front of the computer screen. It was as if they were playing a high-stakes game in which the first to respond to [the semi-outsider lost social clout]. A few minutes later they responded. Not to Carmichaels, but to a vibrating iPhone.

“Dude let’s go to Drake’s club. He said we could hang out with the guys,” the British one said, excited. The group picked up their monogrammed L.L. Bean backpacks and headed towards Winthrop, Carmichaels scurrying along after them.

As I settled into a carrel a few floors above the café, ready to study for an important midterm of my own, I couldn’t help but overhear Carmichaels’ raucous roommate, Ken G. Singer ’12, whispering just a bit too loudly.

“He loves using StickyNotes on his Mac,” I heard Singer say to a study-buddy in a hushed tone, “once, I was looking for a song on his computer and just happened to see a whole bunch of them stuck to the desktop of his computer.”

“I mean, that’s not that weird,” I heard in response, “I use them all the time to remind myself to finish my homework and stuff.”

“Yea but do you use them to remind yourself to schedule a ‘luncheon’ with someone from the A.D.? Or to have dinner with a Delphic member? These weren’t just to-do lists I’m talking about, Alana. These were plans of social action more intricate than the Stimulus Package.”

As daybreak approached, I left Lamont. Heading down Mount Auburn Street back to Winthrop, I couldn’t help but see the outline of a boy knocking on the door of the Phoenix. As I moved closer, the pounding grew louder and more desperate, echoing in the empty streets.

“Yo guys,” I heard Carmichaels’ voice, “guys. Let me in.” But there was no response. All I could hear as I passed the brick building was the inorganic crunching of numbers into Carmichaels’ recently purchased BlackBerry Storm.