Thursday, September 27, 2012

Experiment in E Sharp

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Experiment in E Sharp

In high school, I always arrived early, well before the eight o’clock start. Students who arrived prior to the first bell were herded into the cafeteria. Myself and a few friends had made a habit of meeting there to socialize. Behind us, an absolutely godawful breakfast was available for the few kids who hadn’t yet had an opportunity to consume the most important meal of the day. Usually, these were the poorer students whose parents had to report to work early in the morning.

Ten years later, MTV expressed interest in filming a reality TV show, in part, on campus. Its purpose would be to follow around the football team and its sizable entourage. In the South, football is king, players are royalty, and cheerleading is the pinnacle of popularity. I watched the first two or three episodes of the show with a kind of morbid curiosity, expecting a trainwreck. Though it had its cringe-inducing moments, I think the producers did a good job of showing the concerns and lives of the same kids I’d once hated.

Not only that, I found it surrealistic seeing students seated at the exact same lunch table I inhabited earlier in life. Much had changed and much had not. The fashions were a little different, but the basic social hierarchy remained intact. They were all so young, not much more than children really, and that kept me from being as harshly critical as I could have been if they were my contemporaries.

Along the west side of the cafeteria was E Hall. E Hall mostly comprised fine arts classrooms. It was, for example, where I headed to take photography during my truncated senior year. Prior to the beginning of classes, however, it was a ghost town. Most students arrived just early enough to not be marked tardy. I rose at a relatively early hour and was dropped off at the back of the massive building, long before most everyone else showed up.

One early morning, my junior year, I chose to sit cross-legged against the wall. Bored out of my mind, I’m not sure why I was even there, as it wasn’t part of my usual routine. A girl I had never laid eyes on before sat directly next to me, plopping down with great purpose. We talked, flirtatiously, for a few moments. I intended to make sense of this unexpected opportunity and to plan for where it would proceed next.

What I had before me was highly unusual and presented an interesting challenge. Knowing that few students had much incentive or intention to arrive on time, I knew that privacy in this part of the building was not difficult to attain. I knew, in addition, that the men’s bathroom was entirely unoccupied at this time of the morning. She was amenable to sneaking into it to make out. As should come as a surprise to no one, I was hoping for as much as I could get.

I picked the handicapped stall because it was larger. Wanting to make the most of this, whatever this was, I escorted her into the bathroom as fast as I could, then latched the door behind us. We exchanged kisses, then began to get more adventurous. My primary concern was that, at minimum, the floor of the stall had been mopped and sanitized the night before. Men hold different standards of cleanliness than women, which is quite the understatement.

This situation in which I found myself reminds me a little of what routinely happens at Earlham College. Earlham is one of the most well-known Quaker colleges, one that has not watered down its Friendly values and theological stances considerably over time. Starting from the 1600’s, Quaker men and women were treated as equals, and college policy reflects this historical precedent. One might even call it feminist, though few think to use that terminology. In my mind, it's an entirely accurate pronouncement.

Should undergraduates who have moved into dorms opt for it, bathrooms on each floor are designated as co-ed. This deliberate experiment in gender equality takes some getting used to for everyone. The policy is technically illegal according to Indiana law, but enforcement is skirted because it is not included as part of official college policy.

Men find it a little disconcerting at first that women speak to each other when they use the facilities. Male code insists that bodily functions are a private matter; conversation is kept to a strict minimum. One is present only long enough for one's intended purpose, then leaves. Carrying on vocal discussion in the middle of the call of nature would be seen as strange and anti-masculine to most men.

Men are often already uncomfortable enough with what is most often a homosocial activity. Everyone is fearful of being judged in this setting, though no one ever gives voice to these insecurities. That’s yet another corollary of male code, felt, but never expressed around anyone.

With enough time, however, men begin to adopt the same behaviors as women. Men talk at the urinal or inside the stalls to each other. The freedom provided by co-ed bathrooms does, however, have some unintended drawbacks. Bathrooms are sometimes used by straight couples as places to have sex. Because both men and women are allowed to use the same facilities, no one assumes anything much is out of order when a man and a woman enter at the same time.

Back to high school, my own experiences were not nearly as expansive. I recall undressing, blushing, and leaving the stall feeling as though it almost hadn’t been worth the effort. She smelled like baby powder and a kind of cheap, thick lotion, a powerful olfactory association I will remember for the rest of my life.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only man to resort to the restroom for an intimate pursuit. While in undergrad, I attended a party or two where the sole available bathroom was commandeered for someone's throes of passion. This meant that, for the rest of us, the backyard had to serve as a makeshift toilet. One late night at a bar, a particularly adventurous couple managed to break the sink while involved in a similar act. Though I’m one to be talking, this conduct strikes me as sleazy, not daring or subversive.

While involved in a new relationship, I admit I can be a little sexually irresponsible. Regardless of how careful I sought to be, I could have gotten caught multiple times and it is thanks to luck alone that I have not. I’ve fooled around in movie theaters, public restrooms, open-air concerts, and once at the top of an abandoned parking garage. My partners at the time never registered a complaint, as we were riding high on the dopamine excitement everyone experiences alongside the new and thrilling.

Perhaps my partners found it equally exciting. Being desired and feeling desired have led almost everyone I’ve known towards situational decisions regretted later. I could never contain my libido for very long. Before I was treated effectively with the mood stabilizer Lithium, I may well have existed for months in a low-grade manic state. In the early days, mania was fun, and it was mild enough that most people wouldn’t have known how to separate a hyperactive personality from an illness.

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