by Kent Sterling
With yesterday’s announcement that Indiana University basketball player Luke Fischer is leaving the team and school, I thought it worth recalling the experience of another freshman who found it difficult to assimilate to the Bloomington lifestyle.
College seemed like it was going to be fun. How could it not? Almost 40,000 students between 18-25 jammed together learning and partying. Being out from under the disciplinary gaze of parents had to be a relentlessly great time.
In the beginning, it was fun. The week before classes began, there were no responsibilities. Nothing to blow off, and nothing to dedicate effort toward left a void that parties easily filled, and a temporary lack of a roommate meant no worries about noise, disruptions, or the weirdness my high school friends experienced with the guys assigned to share their space.
The whole week sped by with me waiting to meet my roommate. I had heard that some incoming freshmen pledge a fraternity without moving into a dorm, so I held out hope that might be the case in room #327-A in Briscoe Quad at Indiana University.
I hung out with high school friends all week, and met a variety of idiots with whom I had nothing in common. The girls were insipid and dull, and the guys were, well, I had plenty of high school friends who were around, so meeting new guy friends wasn’t on the agenda.
The Sunday before the first day of classes, I heard a key in the lock of the door to my room. The guy opening the door ended my dream of solitude, and at first he seemed like a decent person. Then, he unpacked.
He cracked open a box that contained a brand new dorm room refrigerator. I said, “Oh, cool.”
“No, not cool,” Bill said. “This is for business.” I wondered what kind of business might be transacted with the small fridge.
He pulled two gallon jugs filled with black capsules, and put them in the fridge. I asked what they were. “Black beauties,” was the unsatisfying response. I had no idea what Black Beauties were, so I asked. “Speed,” Bill said. “I pay a quarter each, and sell ’em for a buck.”
Bill was a big guy who played high school basketball, but appeared to have strayed into a world of illegal entrepreneurial enterprise. Sadly, he also enjoyed getting stoned on a daily basis, sometimes with his friend Mel. The stretch in the room was relentless, and I hated being there.
This was especially true on weekends when his girlfriend would drive down from Indiana Central University – now the University of Indianapolis. Bill and Cindy had two appetites – pot/hash and sex. They had no problem engaging in either while I was in the room.
I saw moving through this experience as a challenge. Someday, I would look back and laugh, so finding a way to tolerate this weirdness for the short term wasn’t going to be too big a struggle. I wasn’t a prude, and if this is what college was supposed to be like – bring it.
But it was a struggle. Moments of misery strung together for weeks and months tend to erode the spirit, and by the end of the fall semester I had enough of the relentless mopery that passed for life in the room I shared with a felon who was clearly not going to be an integral part of anyone’s academic or social success.
I left my room, and called my parents in tears from the room of a high school friend. I wanted out. I couldn’t take it anymore. Mom and Dad tried to patiently talk me through it, but my explanation for why my spirit was broken was incomplete. The parts about Bill’s drug business, relentless self-medication, and boundless sexual appetite were omitted because I thought my Dad would drive up to Bloomington and raise hell, or call the cops.
Jurgo, the roommate of the high school friend whose room I used to make the call, walked in while tears rolled down my cheeks, and he spun out of the room as soon as he saw my emotional distress. The call ended with my promising to stick it out until the end of the semester, which was only 10 days away.
A couple of days later, Jurgo sought me out, and said, “You really got me.” I asked what he was talking about. He recalled the crying, and said, “You’re great at prank phone calls.” Meryl Streep wouldn’t be that great at prank phone calls.
While home for holiday break, I resolved that I was going to return to school with a new attitude. Bill wasn’t going to have the free ride of debauchery he enjoyed first semester.
The first Friday night back, a friend named Lee and I got a pizza from Domino’s, and I told him that we could eat it in my room. Lee unnecessarily reminded me that Bill and Cindy were in the room. I told him not to worry about it.
I put the key in the door, turned the lock, and tried to open the door. Bill slammed it in my face. What they might have been doing that they thought I hadn’t seen before boggles the mind. I tried again, and he bolted through the doorway, grabbed me by the throat, pinned me against the door across the hall, and told me that if I tried to get into the room again he would beat my ass.
Bill was 6’5″, and probably 225 pounds, while I weighed in at 148 pounds soaking wet, but I wasn’t backing down. “Get your hands off me or the only place you be f***ing Cindy will be through bars at the Monroe County Jail. I’ll take a goddamn baseball bat to your bad knee while you sleep.”
What happened next is a little hazy. I don’t recall whether we ate the pizza in the room, or went elsewhere, and Bill and I never spoke again.
A month later, Dad brought me back to Bloomington after a weekend home, and insisted on walking me up to my room. I knew that anything was possible on the other side of the door when we got there, but being Sunday afternoon it was possible nothing at all was going on. In the back of my mind I hoped Bill was getting stoned or having sex with Cindy to prompt some action from Dad.
We opened the door, saw them in bed, and Dad closed the door. “Get the hell out of this room. Whatever you need to do, get out of here.”
The next day, I was in the office of the director of housing at Briscoe, and told him about the mess in 327-A. I was moved immediately to a single room on the ninth floor, and asked not to mention the freak show to anyone or notify the police.
On the ninth floor, I finally met some like minded people who remain good friends today. When they moved to Walnut Knolls a few years later, I did too, and met another group of friends I still love – including my wife.
Whatever Fischer went through at IU – whether it was a matter of playing time, being miscast by Tom Crean, or a situation like I tolerated just long enough to have the right answer thrust at me, I don’t question 18 year-olds who have a tough time adjusting to Indiana University.
It’s not for everyone, and it probably wasn’t for me either. I was just to stone-headed to not follow through with my desire to abandon ship, which was a good thing. My life would be radically different if I had left IU, and not for the better. That doesn’t mean Fischer didn’t make the right choice.
Forty-thousand students – not all of them are easy to get along with. Some of them aren’t worth knowing, and others you spend a lifetime with. That’s college. That’s life. Where we live it – and with whom – is up to each of us.