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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

THE GUIDE TO COLLEGE WEIRDOS



I like Meg Cabot’s blog. I read it all the time. The other day, she wrote about how it’s back-to-college time, and gave some great tips on how to avoid pervs. This is all very sound advice.

It made me think of my own college days, and the various and sundry characters I met. College was a fantastic experience, by and large, but I met some odd people, too. You are also likely to meet, and live with, with some odd people. You will have to deal. This is just the truth.

I’m not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I was a bit clueless when I arrived at college. I’d just spent four years in an all-girls Catholic prep school (the basis for St. Teresa’s in Devilish). I hadn’t had to deal with guys on a daily basis since eighth grade. So to suddenly be living with them was a bit of an eye-opener. I made all kinds of mistakes, and met all kinds of weirdos. I offer these experiences up as a guide.

College weirdos are not just guys. And many of the guys you meet will be great. They will become your friends, maybe even your boyfriends. But, as in the animal kingdom, the males are often the more brightly colored and exotic of the species.

Without further ado, let us look at some college guys.

THE HUNGRY GUY WHO WANTS YOUR VACCUM CLEANER

There’s always a guy who shows up at college with nothing, not because he is destitute, but because he didn’t put any thought into getting ready. His room looks like something from an army barracks—near-empty desk, one plain blanket, nothing on the walls. He will eventually buy a poster or two from the bookstore, but this will take a while. He may have a fridge, but he will never put anything in it except food that comes from you.

The HGWWYVC visits your room for the first time and looks around in awe at your coordinated bedsheets, your closet organizers, and your well-stocked pantry and mini-fridge. From this point on, HGWWYVC will view you as a food source, like those tiny fish that live in the teeth of sharks.

You will dazzle him further with your Dustbuster, bagless Stick Shark, or whatever cleaning tool you’ve brought. It would never have occurred to him in a million, billion years to bring such a thing. And at some point, when something weird happens—like a minor ceiling collapse or a fishtank explosion—he will come looking to borrow it. He won’t return it for weeks, even though he will tell you constantly that he is going to bring it back. He means it too, but he is either very forgetful or just can’t bear to part with the precious shiny thing.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HIM: You shouldn’t be stingy with your food, but the HGWWYVC should be viewed with the same caution reserved for squirrels. He has an insatiable appetite, and he will keep coming back. He’ll also eat anything, so don’t think that you can fool him by giving him some nasty, super-healthy snack. Try to keep your meetings with him confined to the dining hall.

If he borrows your vacuum, go to his room when he is out and get it back from his roommate. You won’t have any trouble finding it. It’s in his otherwise empty closet.


THE DOORWAY SHADOW

For some guys, coming to college and living with girls is just way too much for their heads. (The same can be said of the girl-guy relationship, but we tend to react differently.) Upon arriving and finding that he now lives among the womenfolk, the Doorway Shadow’s head explodes. He never recovers.

Doorway Shadows do exactly as the same implies: they come and stand in your doorway and stare. I’m not talking about the guys who just come around a lot to talk, or the guy who looks at you shyly in class; the Doorway Shadow comes to your room, never comes in, and he rarely speaks. He may just linger in your hall, even though he doesn’t really know anyone who lives there.


HOW TO DEAL WITH HIM:
It’s hard to tell if a Doorway Shadow presents any actual threat. You will definitely meet people in college who are simply awkward and overwhelmed. But the behavior in and of itself falls on the pervy side of things. Some Doorway Shadows will simply become known as “that guy who just lurks around” and it will never come to more than that. But you will frequently have to make this call in college—“should I be nice, or should I get out the mace?” When in doubt, err on the side of caution. The Doorway Shadow really can be a problem, sometimes a serious one.

The first steps are simple. Talk to the people in your hall/suite/building and let them know your concern. They’ve probably noticed too. Shut and lock your door when you go out. Tell a guy friend what’s going on and ask him to come and sit in your room with you for a while. This will often deter the Doorway Shadow. I also had some success with just asking the DS what he was doing, but this doesn’t always work.

If it happens more than once or twice, or if you really feel that something is wrong, speak to your RA. They’re likely to leap directly into some plan already laid out in the Big Book of Residence Life, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS

College represents an opportunity to start again. New town, new friends, a blank slate. This is refreshing for everyone. Some people, though, will take this chance to reinvent a little too far. Ever once in a blue moon, you will meet that elusive and colorful beast, the pathological liar.The Man Who Never Was decides to rewrite his entire life story. He makes everything up.

I met my Man Who Never Was in my freshman year. He was a sophomore, and therefore was Experienced in the Ways of College. He soon made friends with a large group of us freshpeople. We knew that he had a girlfriend from high school who he had loved deeply, and that she had died in a terrible accident. We knew he had a blackbelt in karate, that he took Russian classes at another school, and that he was a celebrated actor at his high school.

We knew these things because he told us. We never thought, on hearing about his dead girlfriend, to say, “Nuh-uh. Liar.” He had her picture, and he looked genuinely sad when he talked about her. Who would lie about such a thing?

He sometimes went off for the weekend to karate competitions and came back sore. He drove off a few times a week for Russian class. We believed him, because these things are real. There are people who have had a girlfriend die. And some people take karate and Russian. It happens.

The Man Who Never Was had all kinds of grandiose stories. He could be fun to be around, simply because he always had interesting things to say. The professors at our school, he would tell us, were “working with him individually” because of his great talent. He told us about fights he’d had, and crazy stories about shows where he’d suddenly had to take on other roles in the middle of a performance when another actor got sick. He was a fun time, the Man Who Never Was. We, his freshman groupies, loved him.

We also knew that he was failing every class at our school because he never went. He always had an excuse to give—karate injury, a dead grandmother, some illness. I was the one always pleading with him to get his act together, and then letting him borrow my Biology notes (because I actually made it to the 8 AM lectures). I always thought it was a little odd that he was taking Russian at another school, but he said our school didn’t have the class he needed.

After a few weeks, I knew something was up with him, but I didn’t quite know what. This was because I was clueless. But that changed, a bit.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HIM: The hard part in dealing with really big liars is that they lie about weird stuff that you wouldn’t even think about lying about, and they do it for seemingly no reason. The only way to tell is that there will be inconsistencies in versions of stories, or things that simply do not add up in life. Like if someone tells you that they are so motivated that they take Russian at another school, and never attend classes at their own. They’re lying.

I actually caught him one day over a short story he was writing. The Man Who Never Was also claimed to be a great writer, much esteemed by the English department, even though I never saw his work. (“It’s not good enough yet. I can’t show you. It’s trash now! Trash! I never show work until it’s ready.”) He was actually enrolled in our school’s fanciest writing class, and I think he really went, as that professor was not going to deal with excuses.

One day, he came down and (very dramatically—he was always dramatic) offered to read to be from his new story. He said he needed my opinion. He read. I was honest. It was terrible. I mean, genuinely terrible.

He looked slightly put out, but responded gamely.

“I know,” he said. “It’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to write it badly first. Then I’m supposed to rewrite it. It’s what we do in [fancy writing class].”

I didn’t know what went on in [fancy writing class], but even I thought that sounded a little insane.

Maybe an hour later, I had to go up to his room for something. He wasn’t there, but his door was open. I went in, as I always did and was welcome to do. His computer was on, and the story was on the screen. Next to the keyboard was a high school literary magazine, open and face down. I picked it up and looked at it. I wasn’t completely shocked to see the same horrible story I’d just heard printed there, and a totally different name under the title.

I waited for him to get back, magazine in hand. I held it up.

“What’s this?” I asked. “You’re copying?”

He looked put out again, and then said. “No. We’re supposed to take something that’s bad by someone else, and then rewrite it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “And you didn’t say that before. You said it was yours.”

“I thought you would get upset,” he said. “I know how you are. You wouldn’t like it if I had to copy someone’s work. I didn’t like it, but . . .”

Never let it be said that I don’t eventually catch on. A little lightbulb went off over my head.

“Where are your Russian books?” I asked.

That one stopped him cold. After a moment, he said they were in his car.

“Okay,” I said. “I have some time. Let’s go out to your car and get them. There’s something I need to look up in a Russian dictionary.”

His face went totally blank, and after a moment, he left the room. And that was that.

In the next week, every story that the Man Who Never Was had ever told us slowly collapsed. In comparing notes, we all realized that our versions of the death of his girlfriend (which we hadn’t repeated, as he’s always said, “I’m just telling you—please don’t tell this to anyone else”) varied slightly. In one, he was in the car with her when it was hit. In another, she was in the car in front. In a third, he wasn’t even there. There was no girlfriend, no karate, no Russian, no nothing. He was just a garden-variety weirdo with an exceptional ability to make up stories on the spot.

The last time we saw The Man Who Never Was was a few weeks later. The stress of being abandoned by all his new freshman friends had taken its toll. He had started wearing sunglasses indoors, and had decided he was a smoker. In fact, he was a super-smoker, going so far as to procure a large pedestal ashtray which he placed in the center of his room. It overflowed with cigarette butts, and he smoked so much that the hall outside his door stank. He came out less and less, and then eventually vanished into his own smoke. Perhaps he went somewhere else to start all over again, carefully working out the details of his stories so that next time . . . next time would be different.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I swear I went to high school with the exact same Man Who Never Was!! It drove me crazy! And it drove me even crazier when new people would meet him and think he was the greatest!! I'm so very glad you called him out on it!

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Chelsea said...

My sister's best friend is the Man Who Never Was. He told her he had cancer, and he said he had to run by the hospital to get a "shot of chemo" and therefore was unable to hang out with her that day.

I called bs. She still doesn't understand, and she's 10 years older than I am.

The thing about The Man Who Never Was is that there is usually someone who is so fascinated with him and his stories that they refuse to believe he could be lying. I did test him once, though. I wrote a short speech with completely untrue information about figure skating in it, which I saved for the next time he came to pick my sister up. I asked him to look over it because my sister wasn't ready to leave and I "thought it was choppy." After reading it, he started explaining figure skating to me using the untrue information in the paper. The funny thing was that I hadn't asked him about figure skating. I asked him how to make the speech flow better.

The Man Who Never Was... Unfortunately, we all know at least one. I think I'll have more elaborate strategies to catch TMWNW in his lies when I get to college than I did when I was in 13. I should start plotting.

Thanks for the informative and hilarious entry. :)

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