Bard College, the liberal arts school located 120 miles north in Annandale-on-Hudson, "puts the 'liberal' in 'liberal arts,'" according to the 'Princeton Review.' It has a 600-acre campus and nearly 1500 undergrads. This is their story—as told by a student who would like to be known as Stephan K. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.
The writer of this column has referred to himself from the beginning as Stephan K. While would-be Kakutanis and Sontags may have believed this name to be a weakly disguised Kafka reference, the pseudonym has a darker derivation.
Instead, the name Stephan K. is derived from a small trailer on the North Side of the Bard College campus, which, although its official title is "Stephen's", was rechristened Stephan's by its occupants this year. There is a lot to be said about Stephan's, and even more to be seen within.
Should you be, at some low, low point in your life, be taking a tour of Bard College, or simply passing by, and you are inspired, by this column or by some kind of intoxicant, to look up the trailer, you will find it to appear extremely boring. It's the kind of building you see on the back of trucks driving down highways, the kind of house you could probably order off of Amazon. It features 11 rooms and a kitchen/common room space. It has three entrances, two bathrooms, and aluminum siding that has deteriorated over time like the faces on Faces of Meth.
Because of the lack of housing at Bard, 20 students were initially packed into the trailer, which was designed to hold 10. Since then, several people have moved out, but the dorm remains overcrowded. On Friday, August 31st, when the occupants of Stephan's arrived with their parents and their luggage, we were shocked and appalled. We examined the lone hallways, the tiny rooms, and the two single bathrooms, each with one toilet and one shower. In one bathroom, there was a large hole in the wall near the floor, which the maintenance crew had stuffed a washcloth into in order to prevent leakage. The other bathroom's door didn't lock, and the toilet had to be persuaded to flush. There was an initial bout of trauma, but it subsided, as the Stephan's crew bonded. We stablished rituals of both the week and weekend, even, attempted, once or twice, to hold community pot lucks, which mainly consisted of couscous.
The tuition at Bard College (according to the "America's Best Colleges 2008" section of the U.S. News & World Report website, as of Tuesday, September 25th, 2007) is $36,534, and $10,346 for room and board.
One of the ways the citizens of Stephan's learned to cope was through public art. The first insistence of this was when Baby Jane, inspired by a long lecture on the dangers of Ketamine, decided to paint "K-Land" on the front door. This spiraled a little bit out of control a week or so later, when, on a whim, the hallways and the walls in the kitchen were also painted, creating what was first described as a "mural" but what has since been deemed by the administration as "vandalism."
The degree to which the Stephan's population disrespected their $10,000 digs was quickly reciprocated by the college itself, when the washcloth that was, apparently, holding the building together was discovered to be subpar. In an effort to prevent the dorm from sinking into the ground both morally and physically, a team of construction workers began to attempt to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.
I myself awoke one morning to find an entire team of workers, armed with drills, outside my window, digging out the foundation of the building and observing loudly that they would be surprised if the building lasted through the year.
To calm our nerves and to help us struggle through the hardship of being shocked awake every morning by the sound of cinderblocks being nailed to the bottom of our home, the people of Stephan's turned, not only to their usual strict regime of weekend partying but also, to donuts.
The donuts are provided, on a nearly daily basis, by a Special Forces team within Stephan's, consisting of Lips the Dance Major, GG Trance, and myself, the designated Stephan's driver. It was perhaps GG Trance who first had the idea of going to the nearby Red Hook Dunkin Donuts just before closing time and relieving them of the baked goods they would otherwise have to throw away. Since then, our relationships, both with trans fat, and with the Dunkin Donuts Night Managers, have evolved.
Brianna, who greets us nearly every night with a not-entirely sarcastic "What did you guys take tonight?" literally prepares multiple bags of everything from Coffee Cake Muffins to Frosted Chocolate Rods ("I know you like those big Chocolate Rods") for us.
We bring them back to Stephan's, along with smoothies, tea, coffee, and even, on one occasion, an entire 2-Liter bottle of "Pure Liquid Cane Sugar", stuff them in the freezer (which is actually being used less as a freezer and more as a public art installation featuring a menorah, an old pumpkin, a picture frame, some drawings, and several wreathes) and await the weekend, when we divide them up. The Munchkins are to be used as golf balls by the less-violent of our crowd, and the rest are to be tossed at unsuspecting neighbors and the walls of a large, imposing dorm nearby.
Briana and the other night manager, Roland, it has turned out, have been dating for several years. They live together, and work together (during the same shifts no less), pooling the tips we leave them and using them as laundry money. They met on X-Box Live, playing Halo no less, and immediately rushed to meet each other in person (she flew all the way to Michigan).
It is an interesting thing, living in Stephan's. It is an interesting thing living at Bard, period, let alone in its dingy leftovers. For a couple of weeks, during construction, there was only one working bathroom in the dorm. For the duration of a few now-extinct relationships, it was hard to tell whether you were hearing the pounding of nails on stone, or the couple next door. At one point, as they raised the floors of the building, but neglected to realize what that would do to the doors, several students were locked in their rooms awaiting the arrival of a man with a crowbar.
I've had some bad experiences with living conditions in the past. My parents have a fondness for bed and breakfasts, which I do not share. My family and I once arrived at a bed and breakfast at 10 AM on a Sunday morning to find the owner and his wife sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels. Later that night we were forced to flee the house when the husband decided he didn't want his wife screaming anymore. It was a bad experience, not unlike a domestic violence-themed Disney world, and yet, as I look back on it, I realize it wasn't all too bad; at least we weren't sharing a bathroom with 18 other people.
I once went to a Holiday Inn, where, after I was issued a room key, I discovered a family of eight sleeping in my room. They looked more comfortable, screaming and running around the room, still half-asleep, thinking that I was there to rob them, than many of my dorm-mates do today.
Once, on a trip to Paris when I was younger, my grandmother and I saw a very happy couple walk right onto the subway tracks and disappear into a lovely decorated little hovel they had established there. Although both of them had large gashes in their skin and rats crawling in and out of the pockets of their coats, they seemed less disturbed by their home then the occupants of Stephan's.
On September 10th, 2001, I performed, as a member of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, at a Michael Jackson tribute concert, where, standing backstage, I came within a few feet of Michael Jackson's private box. The box contained not only the King of Pop himself, but also Macaulay Culkin, Elizabeth Taylor, and OJ Simpson's kids. Ms. Taylor got up out of her seat, got into her wheelchair, and was escorted by her bodyguards to the ladies room every six minutes. Despite the trauma of that experience of celebrity magical realism, I now envy Ms. Taylor, and dream of the day when I might be able to board a bathroom-bound wheelchair from my dorm room.
Needless to say, nineteen people sharing one bathroom is gross. And I'm paying money for it. A lot of money. Money whose non-presence will plague me for decades to come, regardless of whether or not I keep my ridiculous pattern of money spending. Unless i win the the lottery, I will be paying for this overcrowded, unsanitary, fly-infested, sinking dorm with hostile doorways for what could be half my life.
Hopefully, I will keep the friends I have made here for longer than then. But for now, it seems ridiculous to assume that you would find it reasonable for me and my fellow dorm-mates to have to live under these conditions at these prices.
College, is, I've been told, and I'm finding out, supposed to be the best time of a person's life. That always depressed me, when adults said that college was the best time of their life, because I hoped to God I would get a little more than four years of the best times of my life. Especially if the first year is spent smelling other people's fecal matter.
Previously: The Day David Bowie Died