Revisions: December 2-4, 1994
[also very minor revisions made from time to time (last revised August 22, 1996)]
Copyright (c) John Leo 1995. All rights reserved.
I was still trying to decide where to put Work Week on the list of the most miserable experiences of my life when Rush Week began. Work Week would have been only half as bad had only one of two terrible things happened. I suppose work during Work Week was inevitable, and I indeed was prepared for the worst. I was not prepared, however, for Cora's sudden change in attitude toward me from indifference to hatred. ``Why won't you talk to me?'' I asked her.
``Go away! Leave me alone!'' she replied as she ran into another room.
I had no idea why I loved her. I also had no idea why she hated me. Perhaps the two were somehow connected. I tried to forget about her, but it was impossible since she was always around. I was desperate.
My job during Work Week was to hammer in invisible nails with the sharp ends pointing outward under the carpeting leading up the stairs to the attic. The nails had been placed there by pre-Work Week fanatics to give me something to do. I had to be sure to find every one, since we didn't want any freshmen hurting themselves and suing us. Brian TeX, the treasurer, was very concerned about that. I was told that the best way to find these nails was to run my fingers over the carpeting until blood started flowing. Needless to say I was less than enthusiastic about this particular project. I spoke to the Work Week God, in charge of operations.
``Couldn't you find something less painful for me to do, God?'' I asked humbly.
``No way, Luke,'' He replied. ``Cora's already started and we've got the Parcheesi teams settled. Just make the best of it.''
Cora loved physical labor, which I couldn't stand, and I had long ago decided she was a masochist at heart. She was a special kind of masochist, however, and would let no one but herself hurt her. Time and again I offered to make her miserable, but she refused my every plea. Her project was to rebuild the house, which had been demolished over the course of the summer. She went about her job dutifully, her thoughts concentrated solely on her work. I walked up to her one day. ``Hi,'' I said. ``How's it going?''
``Go away!'' she yelled. ``I'm trying to work!'' I tried for several minutes, but to no avail. I didn't know what to do. Finally I left her and went back to searching for invisible nails.
Aside from Cora and myself, everyone else was assigned to play Parcheesi, a tournament that God himself managed. It was a farce, as always, since Halfaya won every time, but it did give them something to do. The idle life of Parcheesi playing and labor was only interrupted for meals and, occasionally, sleep. The fanatical Parcheesi players would seldom suspend their games for something so trivial, and Cora, of course, refused to let sleep divert her attention from her task. ``There's no way this is going to get finished if I start sleeping,'' she would say.
I hated physical labor more than just about anything. I went to God in the middle of the first day. ``I can't go on,'' I complained. ``I'm going to die. Why can't I play Parcheesi instead?''
``Luke, I'm getting pretty tired of your attitude,'' God replied. ``You're sapping morale. People are having trouble playing Parcheesi because of you. Remember, we're all in this together. So get back to work.'' I returned to trying to find the nails. For the first four days I searched slowly and carefully, then more rapidly and desperately. The last three days were spent hammering frantically on random places along the stairs. My efforts seemed to no avail. Finally on the seventh day I went to God. He discovered that there was a reason why I couldn't find the invisible nails. There were none there. The nails were actually under the stairs to the basement.
God was all set to assign me this last minute project, but at that moment I happened to produce a ticket to the picnic from my pocket and wave it menacingly in His face. According to the Rush Rules He had no choice but to let me go.
``I'm free!'' I yelled as I left the house at last. Once again I was happily reminded of the advantages of living two hours from campus. Of course the forgery of the picnic ticket was also instrumental to my escape. As I walked unhurriedly toward MIT my thoughts drifted from one subject to another. I thought back to my year at Chi Alpha and to all the fun that I had had there. I had survived Work Week, and CA was worth it. The people were great, and I enjoyed, with few exceptions, an absolute unawareness of anything going on there. Life was simple, and simplicity was one of my favorite things.
Cora complicated matters considerably, of course, but I could forget about her as I walked happily on that beautiful day. I reminded myself to forget about Cora and continued on my way. Instead I started thinking about Rush Week, and what was to come. I had enjoyed the week tremendously as a freshman, although Halfaya Pass, the Rush Chairman, had warned me that it wasn't as much fun on the other side. ``You'll have to be nice to people,'' she told me. ``Most people can't handle that, but I have faith in you.''
Halfaya was being kind. She knew as well as I did that I hadn't been nice to anyone in years. ``Niceness just isn't something you can fake,'' I told her, although I secretly wondered if Cora had managed to accomplish that. Cora could do amazing things when she wanted to, especially when it came to forgetting things. She had wiped away entirely any memory of our trip aboard the Lovecraft. ``Don't you remember the fun we had?'' I asked her.
``No,'' she replied as she walked into her room and locked the door behind her. I was amazed at her skill at pushing me out of her mind, and I loved her even more as I thought of it. But I reminded myself again not to think about Cora, and worked to concentrate my thoughts on the impending Rush. To prepare for this event, Halfaya had decided to hold a Rush Simulation so that the Sophomores could see what it was like before the real thing happened. In previous years it had taken several hours to enact a mere portion (several hours) of Rush Week, but this year Halfaya took advantage of modern technology and ran the Simulation on Brian's VAX computer. Brian's program was able to simulate the entire week in ten minutes with incredible precision. I and the others watched the VT100 screen excitedly as freshpersons FP, FP and FP pledged.
We were rushing for twenty-one that year, since almost everyone had moved out and there were only nine of us left: Halfaya, Brian, Cora, God, Linda, Brad, Jeff, Van, and myself. The reason for the mass exodus was generally attributed to the opening of Party House, a new dormitory at MIT. They offered better food, less work, better living conditions, and more fun than Chi Alpha could offer. Of the party faction at CA only Jeff Parks had remained to keep the spirit of constant partying alive at the fraternity. He was rushing for more athletes and better looking girls to dance with. As he opened a beer he told me of his plans for a year-long party during the next term, and for CA to capture trophies in every sport. ``All the more reason to party,'' he told me. I knew that his dream would never come true, but it scared me nevertheless as I realized no one would likely be rushing for the same people I was looking for: bland, uninteresting people I could have superficial conversations with and otherwise ignore.
Thursday night Halfaya told us the rules of Rush. ``Rush is fun,'' she explained, ``but not as much fun as it might be. To keep it from being too much fun, there are certain Rush Rules which you have to follow. Failure to do so will lead to grave and serious consequences which have never been disclosed. There are far too many rules for me to tell you about but here are the most important ones. Don't talk about sex, religion, politics, violence, poverty, war, the exchange rate, how much money lawyers make, or anything else of a serious nature. Only talk about meaningless things that the freshmen will immediately forget. Act shallow and stupid, especially around people you like. You can't say anything about MIT, any other university, any MIT fraternity or living group, any fraternity or living group anywhere else, or anything else about MIT or anywhere else. For example, you can't walk up to some random freshling and say `Sigma Delta Delta is full of greasy jocks.' '' SDD was the fraternity next to us, which we had never gotten along well with. Everyone believed that the people living at SDD were greasy jocks, although no one was certain since we had never seen any of them. The one good thing about SDD was that because it existed we could claim to not be the farthest fraternity from MIT. SDD was at least 20 meters further away.
Halfaya continued. ``Finally, and this is the most important one because someone thought it up last night, don't ever mention anything about the MIT Bridge situation.''
The MIT Bridge situation was that there was no MIT Bridge and thus nothing to talk about, but many fraternities liked to believe there was such a bridge, and we were in no position to contradict them. ``Now, remember your hand signals. If we're going to be coordinated we've got to have those straight. Halfaya gave everyone a quiz. I had studied diligently over the summer and easily passed, but others weren't so lucky and had to go back and use Brian's computer-aided instruction program until they got everything right.
After the meeting Halfaya took me aside. I thought she might declare her undying love for me, but I was disappointed. She knew I was going to the picnic and reminded me that the Rush Rules also say not to mention where we are from until Rush officially begins. ``How will I know when that is?'' I asked her.
``They'll say: `This is the official beginning of Rush.' ''
Arriving at the picnic, I was at a loss for what to do. I supposed I should grab unsuspecting freshpersons and drag them to CA. I decided instead to eat some food and wait. Unfortunately I ended up in the wrong line and received as my meal a large teaspoon of monosodium glutamate. ``It enhances its own flavor,'' the server told me, but I was unimpressed and fed the meal to the nearing trash can. The Great Court was completely filled with people all talking excitedly. I somehow felt completely out of place. I turned around slowly, looking at everyone, and then walked to what seemed to be the exact center of the Court, sat down, and reminded myself not to think about Cora.
This triggered the formation of a plan. I would prey on freshwomen, I decided, to relieve my mind of its burden. It would be easy. I was an upperclassman, a man of the world. No girl could resist my charm, and even if one did the chances of her seeing me again were negligible. I looked to my right. Sure enough, there was a beautiful girl eating alone. I decided to carry the metaphor to its full potential and walked around her slowly in diminishing circles. She was unsuspecting. Finally, I pounced: I sat down next to her. ``Hi, what's your name?'' I asked. She didn't answer, rather merely stood up and walked away. I was crushed. Lying back in the grass, I reminded myself not to think about Cora. ``You've got to get up and try again, or you'll regret it for the rest of your life,'' I told myself. It was useless. I was tired from my walk and fell asleep. In my dream, Cora said hello to me. I was so shocked that I woke up immediately, only to find myself still lying in the center of the Great Court.
``All right,'' I said as I stood slowly. ``I'm going to do it this time.'' I walked around the Court, occasionally on all fours for proper effect, looking for new prey. Then I saw them. A group of girls talked animatedly only ten feet away. This was it. The odds that all three of them would walk away would be fairly low, I thought. And if they liked me I could take my pick. Who knows, maybe I could have all three? The possibilities excited me and I started to stalk. This time I rushed at them and slid gracefully onto my side, my left arm supporting my head from the ground.
``Hello there,'' I said. ``I don't think we've been properly introduced. My name is Luke Germaine.'' They stopped talking but didn't seem quite ready to run away. They eyed me suspiciously. Finally the tallest one spoke. ``I'm Amy Quarterock,'' she said. Then the girl of medium height said, ``I'm Para Metanorm.'' Finally the shortest girl said her name was Lisa Bargraph. ``What nice names,'' I said, although I had already forgotten what their names were. ``So, you're all freshmen?''
``You mean you're not?'' the short one asked back. I faltered for a moment, recalling Halfaya's warning. ``Well, no, but I can't say where I'm from,'' I said finally.
``That's okay, we don't care,'' said the medium one. None of them wore glasses, and she was the only one wearing contact lenses. No doubt the other two had had their eyes surgically corrected. My own perfect eyesight began to bother me. I couldn't tell which was the best looking, or indeed if any of them was. I was in love with all of them equally, and they seemed equally attracted to me as they ignored me and began talking among themselves again. I interrupted.
``So, how to you know each other?'' I asked. They each looked at the other two to see which would answer me. Finally the short one spoke. ``We all have the same temporary dorm.'' I picked up on the conversation immediately. ``How do you like it?''
``Oh, it's all right,'' the one with the contact lenses said. ``Have you looked at any others?'' I was on a roll. ``A few,'' she said. I noted that this girl was beginning to dominate the conversation. Halfaya had warned about this, and had given us hints to involve less talkative people in interesting converstation. Fortunately I had the notes from that meeting with me in my pocket, and I pulled them out and read them quickly, trying to act nonchalant.
I looked directly at the tall one. The instructions said to address the person by name. ``Uh, what was your name again?'' I asked, hoping she would notice I was talking to her. ``Amy,'' she replied, and I concentrated on remembering the name. Unfortunately I concentrated so hard I forgot what I was concentrating on. ``Anyway,'' I continued. ``What do you think of MIT?''
``It seems okay,'' she said. ``How about you?'' I pointed at the medium-height girl. ``Yeah, okay.''
``And you?'' I asked, pointing to the third girl. ``Okay up till now,'' she replied. I decided I couldn't let these girls go. I had to get them to come to Chi Alpha. But I remembered the rules and decided to use a more tactful approach. ``How would you three, right after the picnic, like to visit a place that has the same abbreviation as a large state on the West coast?''
``What place is that?'' the short one asked. ``Well, I can't say exactly,'' I replied carefully, ``but it's a great place that's lots of fun. I can tell you more after the picnic; just don't run away.'' I made them all promise to stay. The girls started talking among themselves again, and I concentrated on thinking up something new and interesting to say, when I was by good fortune rescued by the president of MIT, who had just come out to make his speech.
``Hello kiddies,'' he began. ``I hope you're having fun. Because once Rush Week is over it's going to be four years of hell. Just remember that you don't deserve to be here and that half of you will end up in the bottom half of your class. And now I'd like to announce that Rush is officially beginning!'' No one moved. ``Ah very good, very good, you didn't fall for it. There may be hope for you guys after all.''
I looked out toward the opening of the Court and saw a wall of upperclassmen barricading the exit. I knew that on the signal they would rush at us and trample us to death. The president continued. ``Let's try this again. Simon says: let rush begin!'' Still no movement. ``Okay, how about: This is the official beginning of Rush!''
Those were the magic words, I realized, that indicated Rush was to begin. I quickly explained to the girls that I was from Chi Alpha, a co-ed fraternity located off campus that was lots of fun and had really nice people living at it, and that-no, the distance really wasn't that bad-and that had lots of good food and big rooms and stairs to the attic that had no invisible nails pointing outward underneath the carpeting and fun games to play and we would be having a special party that night and would they like to come?-but I was not quick enough and we were trampled to death by the wall of upperclassmen. Fortunately we survived and I managed to guide them to where I guessed Chi Alpha might possibly be. ``But we wanted to have fun tonight!'' the tall one complained. ``This is more fun than having fun,'' I insisted as I tried to drag all three of them simultaneously. At last they relented and I pulled them to Chi Alpha's orange on orange sign. ``I've got three!'' I called to Halfaya, who stood calmly in the middle of the chaos shouting directions to everyone. ``Go with him!'' she yelled to me, pointing to Dash, one of the alumni.
The three girls bundled into the back seat of Dash's car and were, for the first time, unable to talk. Dash offered them some red licorice but their parents had warned them not to accept candy from strangers. When we at last arrived at CA I was amazed at the sight of the house. Cora had done her usual incredible job and the house looked immaculate. It also looked orange, since as a last minute project she had decided to paint everything that color. My love for Cora increased to new heights, and I had an uncontrollable urge to talk to her again. We pulled up the driveway and into the new parking garage Cora had built Tuesday night.
``Well, we're here,'' Dash remarked as we got out. ``Where's that?'' the short girl asked. ``Chi Alpha,'' I said. ``Don't you remember?'' But the girls for some reason had thought we were going to Florida. I looked at SDD next door, but as usual there was no sign of life from their house. Mary Kelly, an alumna, greeted us at the door and asked the girls to sign our guest book which we kept as a souvenir in case anyone who visited ever became famous. As we entered the house I realized we were the first group to arrive, although there were various Chi Alphans hiding in places ready to jump out and scare us, and I could hear the sound of Cora's last-minute project of rebuilding the stove. It was my duty, I knew, to give the House Tour, the very first of CA's Rush activities.
``Well, this is the house,'' I started. The girls looked around timidly. ``Isn't there an awful lot of orange?'' the middle one asked. ``Well, yes,'' I admitted, ``but it's a very nice shade, don't you think? Orange and orange are CA's official fraternity colors, so we try to use them when we can.'' The girls seemed unimpressed and started to leave. ``Wait!'' I implored, holding them back. ``You haven't seen the whole house. And don't forget we're having a great party tonight.'' I showed them the Living Room and the Family Room, which were the same room. Couches and recliners filled the room, along with a color TV and pictures on the wall of people who had given us money to put their pictures on our walls. The girls became interested in the recliners and the color TV, and settled down to watch a soap opera before I could get them to follow me into the library. ``I'm very proud of this room,'' I began, ``since I was librarian last term.'' I showed them the one book that I had been in charge of. The librarian was given a budget of one cent per term and only two years ago had enough money been raised to buy the used Harlequin romance. All three of the girls had read it and agreed it was better than Moby Dick. I had read neither book and was in no position to disagree.
We went upstairs to the personal rooms. Each room had a special name, a touch that had been added only a few years ago. Before that the rooms were named according to MIT's conventions. For example, my room used to be called SW52-210. Now it was called Baba Yaga, and we visited it first. Baba Yaga was well known for its colorless walls and the lack of a florescent stellar display on the ceiling. It also housed my $4000 stereo that I never used and my enormous classical record collection that I never listened to. ``Some lucky freshman gets to live in this room with me next term, and it could be you,'' I said, pointing to all three of them.
We next went to Communist Front, where Van Bultic lived, and after that to Fascist Front, which was Jeff's room. Between them lived Halfaya in a room called No Man's Land. All of the rooms would also house freshman after the Rush was over, save for Cora's and Brad Hassel's rooms, which were singles. I decided not to show them Brad's room, called Broom Closet appropriately enough, since it actually was a broom closet. Brad had chosen it because he hoped to make himself miserable, a task he had long been trying to accomplish. Brad was disturbed because he was always happy. He had no idea why this should be so, but he didn't like it and wanted a change. Other people were unhappy, he reasoned, why shouldn't he be too? I told Brad I would gladly trade emotional states with him, but neither of us could find a way to effect the exchange. He remained continually happy and I remained continually depressed.
The final room on the second floor was Work Week God's residence, Safari. He owned a huge collection of stuffed animals that he hunted regularly. Those that he had killed were mounted on the walls, while the surviving animals glared angrily at us for various locations in the room. God's hunting cap and rifle lay on his desk. The girls seemed somewhat stunned by this violent scene and left silently after me.
We returned to the main floor, and then headed down to the basement. I told them to be very careful, just in case there might be invisible nails with the sharp ends pointing outward underneath the carpeting. There were two personal rooms in the basement. Wonderland, where Brian and Linda Commander lived, was off limits. Brian's VAX computer was in this room controlling everything and was not to be disturbed. That was too bad, I thought, because Wonderland was by far the nicest room of the house. It was a huge, sprawling maze of underground rooms and passageways. I had explored only a small portion of Wonderland, enough to tell me that it was a rather large room for a double. There were ten bedrooms inside it, for example, although Linda assured me that she and Brian didn't use all of them. That didn't surprise me, as the personal room area of the basement was commonly known as the Den of Sin, but what did surprise me was that they used three of the ten bedrooms. ``Whatever do you need all three for?'' I asked her. She just winked at me and said, ``You can probably guess.''
So I showed the girls instead Cora's room, the Valley of Death. It was a very appropriate name, I thought, because that's what I felt I was walking into whenever I tried to visit Cora. Looking into it I saw once again its immaculate appearance, the precise positioning of every object in the room. Dominating was a huge plant Cora had purchased to replace me. I had overheard her tell Jeff that it was much more exciting than I was. I left the room feeling very depressed and it was several minutes before I realized I had lost the girls.
I looked about frantically. If by chance they had broken into Wonderland and one of them knew how to gain illicit access to SETPRV on the VMS operating system, use SETPRV to give herself SYSPRV, override protections of system files, read, modify and delete important data, and restructure the runtime library, they could easily disable Chi Alpha's Rush and make both Halfaya and Brian very unhappy with me. I began to search everywhere, but fortunately found them almost immediately in the main area of the basement. ``This is Central,'' I told them, but they were more interested in the bar in the corner where we kept our cleaning fluids. ``You really drink this stuff?'' the tall one asked me as she held up a bottle of Lysol. ``Only at parties,'' I replied absentmindedly. I was still worrying about them getting into Wonderland, and envisioned the whole scenario right up to my execution by being fed to Brian's laser printer. I decided to make sure these girls were harmless. ``How much do you know about VMS?'' I asked. They were pleased at the question and began trying to figure out what VMS stood for. ``Very Moderate Sizes?'' the medium one pondered. ``Velvet Men's Shorts?'' tried the tall one. And there were many others: Volvo Motor School, Venus-Mars-Saturn, Visual Mental States, Virtual Memory System, Various Meaningless Sentences, Valueless Mandatory Sessions, and countless others. I admitted that I, too, had no idea what VMS stood for.
``And now, the last stop on the tour,'' said gracefully as I guided them into the Coke Room. ``Would you care for anything to drink? Only 45 cents since it's Rush Week.'' Little did they know the key to Chi Alpha's Rush was hidden behind the false front of that vending machine.
``Well, why don't we go up and join the others?'' I offered, and we walked back up the stairs, again being careful to avoid the invisible nails. Sure enough, the house was now filled with Chi Alphans and freshpersons. The girls sat down together on a couch and I sat on the floor in front of them. ``So, what are your names?'' I asked.
``You mean you don't even remember our names?'' the short one asked me. ``Uh...temporary lapse of memory,'' I countered. This time I made sure to write the names down. ``When's the party?'' the medium...Para asked. ``Well, I'm not quite sure.'' It was true. I had no idea when the party was or even if there was a party at all. I knew there was some event, and a party seemed as likely as anything. Once again they ignored me and talked among themselves. I tried listening to their conversation for a while but soon drifted off, recalling a conversation I had had one day with Dash.
``Your basic freshwoman, he began, ``is ia very delicate creature." He was lying back casually in one of the recliners sucking on a stick of red licorice. ``She's not like your high school girl. She's got a past. I mean, she's got some boyfriend back home that she's going to marry after college. It never happens, of course, but you've got to beware of that. She's not going to forget about him for, say, two or three weeks. You can't really start moving in until then. You get my meaning? You've got to be careful.''
``But I don't want to prey on freshwomen,'' I complained. ``I want Cora.''
``No, no, this is never going to work of you keep thinking about her. Forget about Cora, I tell you. She's never going to like you. You've got to find someone else, someone who knows nothing about you and can't hate you right away. You're only going to be miserable if you don't do what I say. So listen up! This is a great plan. I've seen it work a million times. You'll thank me when it's over, really.''
But as I looked at the girls talking animatedly I was only reminded more of how wonderful Cora was. I could not forget about her, no matter how much I tried. I tried once again, though, as I interrupted the girls. ``So, what other places have you three visited?'' I asked them.
``Nowhere, yet,'' the tall one answered. ``This is the first place we've gone to.'' ``Oh yes.'' I paused, confused. ``So how do you like this place?''
``It's okay,'' the short one answered. She didn't seem very excited but I was sure that she would pledge. The other two were definite possibilities. I started to try to think of something else to say when Van Bultic came to join us. I was incredibly relieved, because if there was anyone who could make interesting conversation it was Van. I had seen Van talk to people for days on end without stopping and they swore afterward that they were never bored and the only reason they fell asleep at various times was due to overwork and lack of food. Van went into action right away by asking the girls to tell them about their entire lives so far. The girls didn't know where to begin so Van helped them out by relating his own life story.
``Once I was in Indianapolis at the Saint Pius X Knights of Columbus, right? And we were just sitting there casually eating our meal, when suddenly I sensed something was wrong. For one thing, the apple sauce tasted exactly like tomatoes. I just couldn't figure it out. The customers were starting to vanish mysteriously. They'd go into the games room or the bar, and never return. Suddenly I realized what had happened. Fortunately I'd just seen the movie The Thing so I was able to make the connection. It was obvious that an alien creature had landed in the restaurant millions of years ago, but remained frozen in the ice machine until that night, when it had been accidentally thawed by one of the help. It then started taking over the bodies of the employees, turning them into alien creatures as well. The customers were next, and then....''
But at that moment Jeff burst into the room wielding a huge water machine gun. ``Die, communist dog!'' he screamed as he pumped fifty rounds into Van, who died in a pool of water.
Halfaya whisked in with a sponge to clean up the mess. She led me out of the room. ``I sent Jeff in as a distraction so you could escape down to the Coke machine and vote. Why don't you do that now?''
Opening the false front door of the Coke machine, I was greeted with the familiar voting booth in which we could choose the freshmen we liked. Each lever had the name of a freshperson on it, and all I had to do was pull the levers of the ones I wanted to live at CA. That proved to be a problem, as I had once again forgotten their names and had left the piece of paper in the Living Room. I pulled three levers at random and went back upstairs.
Cora was in the hallway. I was so happy to see her that I ran to her and jumped on her back. ``Come with me and marry me and live with me forever!'' I begged her. ``Get off me!'' she screamed. But I couldn't let her go. She hit me against the wall and my grip weakened. I let her go and fell to the floor. She took the opportunity to run into the Family Room while I lay on the floor, dazed. As I stood up wearily I knew I couldn't go back to face her or anyone else. I went up to my room instead.
I was extremely depressed and was tempted to play my $4000 stereo, but I was scared I would break it and had nothing I wanted to listen to anyway. The stereo was made of top-of-the-line components: a preamplifier, amplifier, direct-drive turntable, moving-coil cartridge, auto-reverse computer-controlled cassette deck, graphic equalizer, speakers, and many other components that I didn't know the name or function of but which the salesperson assured me would help make my system more expensive. I didn't own a tuner, though, as I detested the radio. Instead I owned a prodigious collection of classical records. I didn't like classical music, and never listened to them. I had purchased them because I was sure some day I would grow tired of rock music and then all the rock records I had purchased up to that point would be worthless. I looked at the classical records with the fond hope that someday I would be grateful for my decision.
I sat down at my desk, took out a piece of paper and a pencil, and tried keeping track of my feelings by plotting my happiness as a function of time. This turned out to be a bad idea, because as I saw my happiness decrease I only got more depressed and as a result I became exponentially more miserable. By time = 2 minutes I was ready to jump out the window. I was stopped, though, by the knowledge that I was only on the second floor and would do little but hurt myself. Instead I reached for my HP-41CX calculator that I had purchased to replace Cora. I turned it on and pressed the ALPHA button. The calculator cheerfully replied:
HELLO THERE YOU WONDERFU
It could only hold 24 characters in its memory. I was writing a program for the calculator that would contain my entire life. When I told Brian about this, he was unimpressed. ``I can store my entire life in a single memory register of a TI35,'' he told me.
``But isn't your life filled with daring exploits, thrilling adventure, and passionate romance?'' I asked him.
``Sure, but that's all there is.''
For no explainable reason I was instantly reminded of Cora. Her memory pounded down upon me, so much that I couldn't concentrate on driving it away. I ran from the room in horror, but unfortunately her memory followed me. Through the house it chased me until at last I reached the Living Room, and the chaos therein calmed my mind and brought a little peace.
I saw Jeff waving, using one of our secret hand signals, indicating that he had found a really good-looking girl and that other people should come and check her out. Everyone else was ignoring him, but I, having nothing better to do, decided to go and see who he was so excited about. I sat down with them and started to play the game ``Pray Tell, What Is Your Name?'' It turned out her name was Cora.
I don't think she noticed the small scream I emitted. ``Gee, we already have a Cora here,'' I told her. ``Do you mind if I call you .Cora, just to keep things straight?'' I was then about to delve into deep and meaningful conversation, but quite fortunately was saved by Halfaya.
``Hey everybody!'' she said. It was barely a shout, but suddenly the house became quiet. ``It's time for tonight's big activity, what you've all been waiting for: Chi Alpha's N'th annual MARGARINE TASTING CONTEST.''
Oh yeah, that's what it was. They had that last year too. Everyone filed into the dining room, where they were given a teaspoon of five different brand-name margarines, along with a teaspoon of butter. The object was to tell which was the butter. Once again I was easily able to tell them apart, and would have won another gift certificate for a pound of butter had I still been a freshman. Others weren't so skilled, however, including Lisa, Para, and Amy, who came to me complaining.
``You said there was going to be a party!'' Lisa complained.
``This is the stupidest contest imaginable!'' Para complained.
``I could swear that this is really the butter!'' Amy complained.
``It's a metaphysical party,'' I explained. ``The butter is symbolic of fun, while the margarine represents ersatz fun, for people with a lower budget. By tasting all, you live in both worlds, and it is up to you to determine if they are any different, or indeed, as Amy has discovered, that the imagined has overtaken the real.'' At this point even I realized I was faltering at improvising the explanation. The girls demanded to be taken to Party House.
After Dash led them away, I decided to meet someone else, someone male for a change, and pulled out a card with good opening questions on it that I might ask someone I would soon meet. I memorized the lines and walked toward the Family Room, happening to pass a freshman on the way. I immediately accosted him.
``What's your name, where are you from, what are you going to major in?'' I asked him. ``Jim, Maine, I don't know,'' he replied as he walked by. In the Living Room, groups were already beginning to form, and I resigned myself to trying to meet more people when I noticed a strange man with a computer terminal in the library. He seemed too old to be a freshman, and I didn't recognize him as one of our alumni. ``Hello there,'' I said to him. ``My name's Luke. What's yours?'' But he didn't reply; he seemed totally absorbed in his computer. I looked over his shoulder.
I'M IN THE LIBRARY OF AN OBSCURE CO-ED FRATERNITY. VISIBLE OBJECTS ARE: ***USED HARLEQUIN ROMANCE*** FRAT-MAN THE FRAT-MAN SAYS: "HELLO THERE. MY NAME'S LUKE. WHAT'S YOURS?" WHAT SHALL I DO? >take romance THE FRAT-MAN WON'T LET ME! >say hello THE FRAT-MAN IS TOO BUSY LOOKING OVER MY SHOULDER TO RESPOND! >feed frat-man I DON'T HAVE ANY MARGARINE! >inventory I HAVE THE FOLLOWING: BOX ***SUPER GOLD*** COMPUTER TERMINAL KEYS PARROT ***NUDE PHOTO OF YAMAGUCHI TOMOKO*** SAFETY SNEAKERS VIKING SPACE LANDER THE PARROT SAYS: "OPEN THE BOOK, MATEY." >romance frat-man HE'S NOT THE ROMANTIC TYPE. >wait TIME PASSES.... SUDDENLY, THERE IS AN ATTACK OF STUFFED ANIMALS! >say yoho EVERYTHING SPINS AROUND AND SUDDENLY I'M ELSEWHERE....
Quite suddenly the man and his computer terminal disappeared. I spun around, only to be greeted by the menacing faces of a half a dozen desperate and vicious stuffed animals. Screams came from the Family Room. It was clear that God's menagerie had escaped.
I quickly grabbed the Harlequin romance. ``Hey, how'd you guys like me to read you a little story?'' I threatened. But they were immovable. A shot rang out. God barreled down the stairway wearing His hunting cap and carrying a smoking rifle. ``Back to your places, you stupid beasts!'' He called out. I could just barely discern Halfaya ushering the freshpersons out the door and into the waiting cars she had of course ordered at precisely the correct moment. God was firing randomly about the house. The stuffed animals just stared at me menacingly. At any minute, I knew, they would pounce. My life flashed before my eyes. Sure enough, it would easily fit into the calculator's 24 character memory.
I heard the slam of a door. Halfaya had come back. She breezed through the house, effortlessly collecting the renegade stuffed animals and tossing them into a large pillowcase. I felt a wave of relief as she handed the filled bag to God. She smiled broadly at him-she was always smiling-and then turned and called ``Rush meeting in five minutes.''
After we had gathered together in the Living Room, Halfaya pulled a large roulette wheel out from under one of the sofas. ``This, in case you don't recall, is the True Wheel. This is how we decide who is going to live here. We just stick all the names of people who visit onto the wheel, and give it a spin!'' She demonstrated, and then put it back under the sofa. ``But that's for later in the week. Tonight we play Pinochle.'' It was a Chi Alpha tradition to play only games beginning with the letter P. After an hour, the mandatory time dictated by the Rush Rules, the meeting was disbanded.
We were about to go to bed when there was a knock at the door. Linda went to answer it. I could see her talking with some invisible persons, and then she returned. ``It's some people from Sigma Delta Delta,'' she explained. ``They'd like to buy our leftover butter and margarine.'' Brian immediately swung into action. ``Let's see what kind of deal we can make,'' he murmured to himself as he headed for the door. When he came back, he was smiling. ``We've made quite a profit tonight,'' he announced. Jeff and Brad carried the leftover goods out the door. I went up to Baba Yaga.
That night I had a strange dream, in the form of a morality play.
[LUKE is walking down the long road of life, represented here by Memorial Drive. He is searching for a purpose to life, which is pretty typical in this sort of play. Along the way he encounters BRIAN.]
BRIAN: Hey, Luke, how would you like to make a lot of money and have a nice house and a Mercedes and live a happy, comfortable life?
LUKE: No thanks, Brian. I know there's more to life than money and happiness. There's misery and depression and poverty, too, and I wouldn't want to miss out on those.
[LUKE has passed his first great challenge. But there's worse to come. He notices a large aircraft carrier sinking in the Charles River.]
LUKE: War is evil.
[LUKE thus guarantees this play immortality in the world of literature by introducing an anti-war message, necessary for any serious work. He is accosted this time by noneother than KATHY MARTIN, an ex-schoolmate from Cathedral High School who uses lots of exclamation marks when she talks.]
KATHY: Hi there, Luke!! Gee, you look down! That's not good!!! You should be happy!!! Hippity-hoppity-happy!!!! Come on Luke, buy a button! Show some school spirit!! Spirit, Luke, SPIRIT!!!! Go to the prom! Dance, have a great time!!! You can do it, Luke!! Come on, smile!!!!
[KATHY pauses jumping around just long enough for LUKE to push her
into the river. She drowns.
Luke continues on his epic journey. He meets three GIRLS, who turn
out to be LISA, PARA, and AMY.]
Luke continues on his epic journey. He meets three GIRLS, who turn out to be LISA, PARA, and AMY.]
LISA: Don't do it, Luke!
PARA: You'll regret it!
AMY: For the rest of your life!
LISA: Don't go on!
PARA: Go back!
AMY: Turn around!
LISA: Say goodbye to the future!
PARA: Remember the past!
AMY: Remember the good times...
LISA: ...lounging by the roadside...
PARA: ...never a care in the world...
AMY: ...life was simple...
PARA: But now!
LISA: Too complex!
PARA: Spin around!
AMY: Lose control!
LISA: Can't sleep!
PARA: Can't think!
AMY: Where are you going, Luke?
LUKE: I've got to reach my goal.
PARA: After all we've said?
AMY: After all we've done?
[LUKE continues, oblivious. He looks up and notices MARY KELLY running toward him.]
MARY: Excuse me, have you seen my shoe?
[She runs past. LUKE continues, oblivious. He looks up and notices
CORA. Shock. Everything freezes.
A long pause. LUKE looks at CORA. She is standing with her eyes
closed, holding a sign. LUKE reads the sign.]
A long pause. LUKE looks at CORA. She is standing with her eyes closed, holding a sign. LUKE reads the sign.]
LUKE: Should I really not talk to you, O Cora, as your sign says? Should I really just go away? Do you think that would be best?
[CORA does not respond. She remains absolutely still, never moving or changing. LUKE continues, shaken. He meets CASSANDRA, the prototypical prophetess for all Greek tragedy.]
CASSANDRA: You're gonna die, Nickolich!
LUKE: My name isn't Nicholas.
CASSANDRA: Wanna hear your fortune?
CASSANDRA: All right, then. You're heading into tragedy. You should go back, but you won't because you're pretty stupid.
LUKE: But what about my quest, to discover the purpose of life?
CASSANDRA: You won't discover life's purpose, although that doesn't mean there is one. Instead you'll be damned to wander aimlessly until you wake up.
LUKE: What about Cora?
CASSANDRA: Cora will totally ignore you and never talk to you again. Then she'll live happily ever after.
LUKE: What about me?
CASSANDRA: I've already given you your fortune.
LUKE: But I don't want it! Can't I have another one?
[CASSANDRA disappears forever. LUKE continues, dazed. He reaches MIT.]
[Sure enough, CASSANDRA's prophecy is correct. LUKE has just stumbled into the midst of a Greek tragedy, THE HOUSE OF AGAMEMNON, in its second smash week of performances in front of the entrance to MIT. DANIEL AGAMEMNON NICKOLICH, MAUREENTEMNESTRA FITZGERALD, AEGISTHUS ZAPPIA, the CHORAGOS and the CHORUS are all immersed in their roles.]
CHORUS: Just when you think you're about to die,
CHORAGOS: you find it's just another lie.
MAUREEN: Oh Dan, you're home at last!
DANIEL: How goest the olde school since I hath been awaye?
MAUREEN: Oh, it's been just great, Dan! We've doubled the tuition, halved the food quality, squeezed more money out of the alumni, and installed pay drinking fountains. Overall the financial situation is quite favorable. Not only that, but we've opened Party House to undermine the power of the fraternity system, just in time for Rush week!
DANIEL: What sayest thou?
MAUREEN: You know, Rush week. When innocent young boys and girls are corrupted forever.
DANIEL: Ah yes, remember well it I. But forsooth, whatfor this ``we''?
MAUREEN: You know, my lover Aegisthus Zappia and I.
DANIEL: He, thy lover?
MAUREEN: Sure. He's here now, right behind you, waiting to kill you.
DANIEL: Vraiment? [DANIEL turns around to be greeting by ZAPPIA, holding a raised knife.]
ZAPPIA: Heh, heh.
DANIEL: Alack, Maureentemnestra. But why this ruffian, who neither can read nor write? Why he over I, who graduated Harvard?
MAUREEN [pleading]: It could never have worked between us, Dan! You just won't stop talking in that arcane language!
ZAPPIA: Heh, heh.
[He stabs DANIEL.]
DANIEL [confusing famous Latin phrases]: Quo vadis?
CHORUS and CHORAGOS: Too bad, Dan. Maybe next time.
[HALFAYA approaches LUKE.]
HALFAYA: Hey Luke, how's it going?
LUKE: Okay, I guess. I'm in the middle of this really bizarre dream.
HALFAYA: I'm in the middle of it too. What a coincidence!
LUKE: What should I do, Halfaya? I'm lost.
HALFAYA: Why don't you just wake up?
LUKE: That's what I'm afraid of! This is much better than being awake.
[HALFAYA starts to shake LUKE.]
HALFAYA: Get ahold of yourself, man! This is Rush week!
flashed before my eyes and the next thing I realized I was being shaken awake by Halfaya. ``It's almost breakfast time, Luke,'' she said, but I was more interested in continuing the play. ``I'm not hungry,'' I told her. ``All that butter filled me up last night.''
``All the more reason to come down and meet more people!'' she replied cheerfully with infallible logic.
I was surprised to discover that Lisa, Para and Amy had returned for breakfast. I sat down next to them and to a freshman named Eddy Nickolich. Eddy was really enjoying the Donkey Kong cereal, and I knew immediately that he was my kind of person. I was even more pleased to discover that he was from Indianapolis.
LUKE: So, Eddy, what made you decide to come to MIT?
EDDY: Well, I was riding my bicycle along and I just happened to be in the area....
LUKE: What do you do in Indianapolis?
EDDY: I work at the Saint Pius X Knights of Columbus.
LUKE: Hey, I know someone who went there once. Do you know Van Bultic?
EDDY [lying]: No, I don't think so.
LUKE: What do you do in your free time?
EDDY: I go to high school.
LUKE: Really? What year are you?
LUKE: What school is it? Maybe I've heard of it.
LUKE: Wow! This is amazing! I know someone who was once the principal there. Do you know Halfaya Pass?
EDDY [lying]: No, I don't think so.
The Saturday afternoon activity was advertised as ``Visit other fraternities with Chi Alpha.'' Those who didn't want to go stayed behind and amused themselves with Pin the Tail on the Donkey and other party games devised by Jeff. I searched desperately for Cora amid the faces of those going, but could not see her.
Halfaya decided to visit SDD first, since it was the closest and certainly most interesting of the other fraternities. We were tense with anticipation of finally discovering whether the people there were really the greasy jocks they were reported to be.
We were stopped at the door. ``Who desires admittance?'' the guard demanded. ``CA,'' Halfaya replied. ``We're your neighbors and we brought some freshmen along to look around.'' The guard was so confused that we were easily able to get by. We walked into the main area and gasped. So it was all true!
The entire first floor of the house had been cleared to make room for a giant frying pan, which covered the floor over a low flame. The pan was coated with what I immediately recognized as our leftover butter and margarine from last night. Upon this the Sigma Delta Deltan's and their freshman visitors were playing hockey.
We left SDD hurriedly, and walked to the next nearest fraternity, six miles away. This was Omicron Zeta, home to computer scientists. Brian knew quite a few people here, all of whom despised him because he was an economics major. We were unable to get into OZ, however, as their computer had taken over the house and was holding everyone inside captive.
The next place on the list was Apartment House, the smallest living group at MIT, holding only one person. The last inhabitant had graduated and moved out, so they were participating in Rush this year. We stared into the empty room for a moment before continuing on to the most dreadful of all residences, LIMBO. LIMBO had no walls or doors, but rather was a black void from which terrifying screams could be heard. ``This is where you go if no one else wants you,'' explained Halfaya solemnly. We were going to go to Beta Upsilon Rho Nu Omicron Upsilon Tau next, but Halfaya remarked that it was about to rain and that we should head back. A downpour started just as we walked through the front door of Chi Alpha.
The others divided up, some going to the Living Room and some to the Family Room, but I found myself drawn to the library by the faint sound of keyclicks. Once again I saw the same mysterious stranger who had been there the previous night, still hunched over his computer. I again looked over his shoulder.
I'M IN THE LIBRARY OF AN OBSCURE CO-ED FRATERNITY. VISIBLE OBJECTS ARE: ***USED HARLEQUIN ROMANCE*** FRAT-MAN THE FRAT-MAN DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING. WHAT SHALL I DO? >take romance IT DIDN'T WORK LAST TIME, EITHER. >distract frat-man by showing him nude photo, then inconspicuously take harlequin romance and hide it in box DOESN'T PARSE >help READING EXPANDS THE MIND! I MAY NEED TO SAY A MAGIC WORD HERE! >say rush is about to begin NOT QUITE RIGHT >take parrot I ALREADY HAVE THE PARROT! >feed parrot THE PARROT EATS THE FRAT-MAN. YUM, YUM. >take romance TAKEN THE PARROT SAYS: "OPEN THE BOOK, MATEY." WHAT SHALL I DO? >open book OPENED. >read book IT'S A TOUCHING STORY, MUCH BETTER THAN MOBY DICK. UNFORTUNATELY YOU CAN'T QUITE MAKE OUT THE PLOT, AS THE LAST 147 PAGES ARE MISSING. >say yoho EVERYTHING SPINS AROUND AND SUDDENLY I'M ELSEWHERE....