Monday, April 8, 2013

We Didn't Start the Fire (Okay, Yes, We Did) and other Ann Arbor Adventures

The night that I accidentally spit chewing gum in my own hair while partying 
at a Phish show at Hill Auditorium is where my memory of sophomore year at the University of Michigan shampoo to disentangle my infested hair, was just the beginning of a year of debacles. 

In retrospect, it started with my journey to Michigan. My dad was pumped to make the drive from Philly to Ann Arbor with me in my black two-door BMW 325 with tinted windows and red lighting bolt pinstripes.  However, five minutes before our departure, he got a glimpse of my car bulging from all sides.  

“What the hell is in here?” he grimaced, struggling with a duffle bag. 
“Clothes!  Just put it down.  Please!”  I grabbed the straps from his hands and pushed the bag back into the car.  I had not even attempted to zipper the bag shut. Puffy sweaters bulged out.

“You can’t even close this bag!” he protested.

Truthfully, I had never used a zipper on a suitcase in my entire life.  (And I still, to this day, have not). At least, not when traveling by car.  

Next, “Hanibal Lecturer” launched into one of his all-time favorite speeches, “The Perils of Overpacking.” He plucked a few cashmere sweaters out and threw them into a heap on the driveway.

I started to cry. 

“Dad, stop it!  Stop it!” 
His face turned crimson and he realized he might as well have just set my entire wardrobe ablaze.
“Ok, doll, I’m sorry,” my dad attempted, picking up the sweaters from the asphalt. 
“These are good sweaters, Dad!  Apologize!”
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry,” he said patiently.
“Not to me!  To THEM!”  I shoved the sweaters at him defiantly.
My dad apologized to my mistreated clothes.  Apology accepted.  He shoved the sweaters into the back seat with a grunt and we were on our merry way. 

10 hours, 600 miles, and 27 Bob Dylan discs later, when he kissed me goodbye in Ann Arbor, the tears returned. But this time I wasn’t sad about sweaters. As I watched my dad pull away, I thought to myself how he had spent the better part of his life ensuring I was happy, safe, and warm. (And that last duty of his, keeping me warm, was probably why he let my sweaters come along for the ride).

I walked into my new home on Elm Street that I would be sharing with six other girls. The estrogen in the air was palpable. My roommates hailed from New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. 

The house itself was really a bungalow, and one which Greg Brady would have surely found “groovy.” There was plenty of wood paneling to go around and puke green furniture from the ‘60s, which, chances are, had been puked on plenty over the years, considering this was off-campus housing and located conveniently next to two frat houses.  The centerpiece of the living room was a mustard yellow arm-chair that resembled Pee Wee Herman’s “Chairy,” only this one didn’t speak. (At least not when we were sober). We had black lights, overstuffed beanbags and a dining room table, which we would later learn had mystical powers.

Our landlords were Milly and Doug, who happened to have different last names.  Every time we got wasted, we debated whether Milly and Doug were legally married, mere business associates, brother and sister, or perhaps common law husband and wife.  We contemplated Milly and Doug’s romantic link incessantly because these are the kinds of topics that fascinate potheads.

And that was definitely the year that we became party girls.  I'm talking experts.

“I’m going to ‘Stairway to Heaven,” (the local head shop), I announced one cool October afternoon as the Michigan wind whipped colorful leaves off the trees.  “I need an upgrade.”  My girly ‘Little Mermaid’ that my freshman year roomate’s boyfriend had created for me was no longer appropriate.  I wanted something smooth, glass, at least one foot.  Something that signified that I had arrived.

Arriving in that way made everything entertaining.  We would watch the local Detroit news and laugh until we were in tears: "What's with the long lines for the Ladies Bathroom?!" "Also, a live demonstration -Falling through ice, what you can do to protect 11and The Truth About Pap!" We would throw our hair up in wet buns and think we looked normal walking to class in 20 degree temps. We would jump in a car and go to Chicago in search of Oprah at the gym, working out, just because we could.

Sometimes we would randomly discover a new form of entertainment. Wheelbarrow rides up the stairs. Or fun with the dining room table. It all started one night, when my roommate, “Pyro,” was torching paper towels over the table, as she frequently enjoyed doing. She dropped the flaming mass on the table and shrieked something unintelligible in her Chicago speak ("Maaaagiano's?"). Fearing for our lives, we raced outside, barefoot in the snow, expecting to see our groovy ski lodge go up in flames. To our glee, the house did not burn down. 

That night we learned a very important lesson: our dining room table was indestructible.  This meant we could roast marshmallows over an open flame directly on the tabletop, which we did every night the rest of the winter. That table became the center of our lives. We gossiped there, drank there, 
and of course, feasted there, mainly on take-out food. Our most difficult daily dilemma was: Amers? Maize-n-Blue? Pizza  House? Or all of the above? We were sophomores, and no longer concerned with gaining the notorious “freshman fifteen.” We inhaled Pizza House chipatis and Stucchis' ice cream and sometimes hit Angelo’s for breakfast. Sure, we cooked from time to time. My favorite was Boboli pizza or Puffed Kashi cereal with a side of Cool Ranch Doritos. 

Did I mention that we loved to bake? Baking usually led to insane food fights that spilled over into every room on the first floor. We would crack eggs over each other’s heads and sometimes turn out a great cookie cake, which one roommate would zero in on like a stealth bomber and inhale after we all went to bed - (and then deny it the next day). There were also sick games, like daring each other to drink an entire quart of milk or eat the nastiest hunk of cheese in town. 

Our house on Elm Street was also quite musical. Karaoke brightened up even 
the grayest days in Ann Arbor. We rediscovered Donna Summer and Neil Diamond and 
choreographed line dances to their greatest hits. The Love Boat Theme song was one of the most requested tunes in our house and I doubt I could catch of glimpse of Captain Stubing today without getting really nostalgic for 1995. We celebrated birthdays, breakups, and who could forget (or rather, remember) Hash Bash? 

My roommates and I tried in vain to understand the Michigan lingo, like “parking structure,” “pop,” and “tennis shoes.” The drive through Beer Depot was a house favorite. So was the local hair salon, Jeffrey Michael Powers, where we would go to get waxed by a woman who was nine months pregnant who would literally hoist her heaving belly on top of us and practically pin us down in order to get our eyebrows just right. 

The wind tunnels chilled us to our bones and our winter jacket collections grew exponentially in order to withstand the Michigan blizzards. We braved bone chilling temperatures and Midwest accents and came to embrace Ann Arbor as our home.

There were some scary moments in our house on Elm Street, as well, and I'm not talking Freddie Kruger. One night, I got locked in my own bedroom. I woke up at 3 a.m. to discover that I was trapped. Frantically, needing to use the loo, I called my downstairs roommate, who I’ll 
call, “Sassy.” Sassy answered her phone sleepily, listened to my pleas for help 
for thirty seconds, then hung up on me and fell back to sleep. Sassy was 
the same person who told me to “suck it up and enjoy the show” after I discovered the glob of gum in my hair at the Phish concert. Clearly, I needed to call a more sensitive roommate, so I tried the girls across the hall. They immediately came to my door and tried to bust through to no avail. “Pyro”  
hollered through the door, “Don’t panic!” Of course the Fire Department was on her speed dial. I was reassured until I heard her telling them to come as quickly as possible. Then a miracle occurred. My roommate from down the hall, “Sex Kitten,” came to my rescue with a hair pin. All of the jokes I had made about her whips and chains, chaps and frequent gentlemen callers were put to rest. 

There were high hopes that year for the Maize and Blue. Our football team had us sitting in negative twenty wind chills, getting frozen marshmallows pegged at our heads, and still we had enormous grins on our faces as we sang, “Hail to the Victors” after every touchdown. Yet one day, despite our vast Michigan memorabilia, face paint, and moral support, our team was crushed, and we 
spiraled into a “sophomore slump.” My roommate, “Pyro,” who had a communications class with many Michigan football players, decided she would cheer them up with an original speech, entitled, “Why Jews should not be upset that Neil Diamond did a Christmas Album.” Her impassioned speech in support of diversity did little to help our ailing team and left Amani Toomer, sitting in the front row, simply unimpressed. 

That year came to a close with the Naked Mile, a senior tradition of streaking across campus. We went to check out the crowd and found ourselves quickly freaked out. “Ew, I had history with him!” I shrieked as I saw a naked dude on a unicycle ride by. What was really unfortunate was when the mass of nude joggers got bottlenecked at the arch into the Diag. It happened every year and before you knew it, thousands of naked people were bumping up against each other, while spectators laughed and took pictures. It was disturbing, to say the least.  At this point, my naked friend on rollerblades wiped out. Luckily, she only skinned her knees. 

Although Michigan didn’t make it to the Rose Bowl that year, the Fab Five had disbanded, the snow didn’t stop falling until mid-April, and I was forced to cut out a clump of my hair because of the gum fiasco (following Phish's opening jam at Hill Auditorium), it was still a year to remember. 

Yes, we went to class. (In case you're wondering). Yes, we studied.  Believe me, we learned.  We worked hard and we played hard.  Were there nights that we spit gum in our own hair or worse?

I'd be lying if I said no.

Would I have had it any other way?

I'd be crazy if I said yes.

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