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Rooming with the Love Generation

IN 1969

It was the season after the summer of love. The Beatles were breaking up. A man was walking on the moon. The author, in the middle of it all, was starting college.No comingling after 8 pm. No room at all for the Boomers, crammed into an overcrowded campus as the world was coming apart at the seams.

READ: Abbie Hoffman comes to UNH

The Fall after the "Summer of Love"

The flaming wooden Coke case streaked past my ear like a downed Messerschmitt and hit the base of the concrete stairwell in a hail of sparks. It rolled twice, end over end, its twisted metal racks clanging until it struck the wall, froze almost in mid-air like a cartoon character, then toppled back on itself with a final clang.

There was a rush of feet downstairs and two clean cut guys squatted and peeked through the stairway treads.

"Did we kill anyone?" a voice called from above.

"Nah, just some hippie freshman," said the darker haired one. "Welcome to Stoke Hall, dorkhead." Then they were gone in a machine gun burst of footfalls and laughter.

So I was baptized by fire and initiated into my second dorm at the University of New Hampshire. And compared to the first -- it was heaven.

I spent my first days on the quad in what the housing people lovingly called a "build up." These "multi-student dwellings" had previously been used by the science department to breed hamsters until the hamsters filed a class action suit. After four years with my own bedroom at home, I was computer selected to cohabit this coat closet with three best friends who had all attended high school in a Stephen King novel.

The first night they taught me how to roll a wet towel so that, when snapped sharply at one's prey, the victim's femur would shatter like dry kindling. We voted and I was elected as prey. I escaped with a flying leap into my army cot only to find my knees embedded deep in my shoulders. I had been "short sheeted," another neat college dorm game.

Later that that week I discovered just how many diverse and amusing foods can be hilariously planted in a roommate's bed. Saltines are best, of course, when pounded almost to dust. Mustard, ketchup, Jell-O, actually any condiment or dessert will do in a pinch. At night we worked our way though the entire manual of freshman pranks guaranteed to obliterate REM sleep. There is, of course, warm water on the wrist of the slumbering person, pinching the sleeper's nose, removal of the bedclothes, removal of the bed itself, and a variety of scatological amusements such as the "psychological push-up" and the "jolly green giant." If you would like to know more about these games, kill a Russian policeman and inquire at your nearest gulag. The "alligator" is a fairly harmless assault in which about 20 dorm brothers crawl into the room of a sleeping newbie. They lay shoulder to shoulder on the floor in total darkness, at first just thrashing about, then making odd croaking sounds until the sleeper wakes. Groggy, confused, the victim climbs from his bed onto an undulating carpet of human flesh. The effect, I assure you, pales in the telling.

So after two sleepless weeks I found myself a willing inmate of Stoke Two, an entire wing of single rooms designed for outcasts and mutants too pathologically introverted for life in the real world. If the build-up was a closet, these rooms were desk drawers. It was possible for a small person to walk erect between the desk, the wall and the bed. Shoes were tied and underwear changed in the more expansive hallway. But there was a door, a thick, lockable kissable door, and no roommates.

Today kids who protest are jerks. That is a given. We all know there is nothing left to protest since, in the Sixties and Seventies, our group did all the protesting that would ever be necessary. When we acted like jerks, it was for a reason -- be it whales, war, women, gays, race, nukes, oppression, aggression -- it didn't really matter because we were right and the world was wrong. If we drank beer or inhaled dangerous chemicals, missed class, made love or pulled fire alarms, it was done purposefully, righteously, without a thought for our own personal needs. When kids act this way today it shows rank disrespect for all the privileges to which we entitled them.

Our first truly groovy cause was protesting a thing called "parietals." Under that oppressive system, women were allowed to visit men's dorms only until 8 pm. To do so, they had to sign a little book in the hallway. Then at the appointed hour our RA (resident assistant) would bang his way around all 40-odd doors and hand out penalties based on the number of girls that were still left in our rooms. The protest had less to do with the fascist housing rules, than with the lack of girls being discovered in our quarters.

Through a giant steel door at the center of Stoke Two there were 40-odd equally outcast females in single rooms of their own. So we refused to use the coin operated candy machines for a week until the housing people cracked and opened the door during parietals. The first whiff of perfume scented gym socks was almost more than the boys could bear. We stood by the elevators for hours gazing into the forbidden hallway. We hooted when the young women walked through, waved our arms, beckoned them to come hither and break parietals with us in the name of all that was decent. Then the girls filed a little protest of their own -- and the door was again slammed shut.

Living in such violent times, the violence we did to ourselves was well cloaked. It was so well cloaked, in fact, that it became known as the Peace Movement. On our arrival at UNH we were treated to an orientation lecture by a dope smoking foul-mouthed Abbie Hoffman who told us to go home and kill our parents. Since mine were paying most of my college expenses, I reneged. In fact, I continued to let them live even after graduation.

Luckily, before college, I had been in a rock band. We played the frats on weekends in our tight pegged pants and matching blue shirts. So I had seen the dull daily violence up close. At Keene State, by our third set of cover tunes, the stale beer was half an inch deep and we used to bring wooden pallets to keep the electric instruments from shorting out in the liquid. At Colby College in Maine, the frat boys had a neat little habit of smashing beer bottles on the floor and dancing in the broken glass.

So when we discovered that the Viet Nam vet at Stoke Two was target practicing with a pistol in his room, no one freaked. We were cool. After all, the walls were thick and he had used two hay bales to stop the bullets. More importantly, he and his girlfriend were never caught breaking parietals.

So when I see these underage college kids out in the streets nowadays -- in public -- drinking beer, it just burns my butt. Who the hell do they think they are anyway? You wouldn't catch the jerks from my generation out there in the open. I just want to go up to those little punks, grab them by the collars, give them a nasty shake and shout, "Get a room, you dork! Get a room!"


Copyright (c) 2005 by J. Dennis Robinson (UNH '73). All rights reserved. First published here in 1997.

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