My memory of this time is a bit grainy. The tracking is off and I’ve taped over parts of it. I’ve forgotten the names of nearly everyone, and for the sake of the story I’ve filled in those names with inaccurate replacements. Other names have been changed for the usual reasons. But all of the key details are true.
Part One: Naked Girls and A Hotel-Sized Prank.
It’s sometime in late 1989 or early 1990. I’m nineteen. I’m a senior in high school. My girlfriend is one Mandy, a member of FBLA and leader of the FBLA chapter in our school. FBLA is looked down on as an un-manly group. The name ostensibly stands for Future Business Leaders, but at my school everyone thinks of it as the Future Secretaries of Future Business Leaders. The truth of this is irrelevant: The guys have always thought of the organization that way and so guys don’t join. As a result the membership is largely female, which only serves to reinforce the idea that this is a club for girls.
My girlfriend points out that they have a series of competitions. The first is a one-day affair between FBLA members at the county level. The winners of that will go on to Seven Springs Ski Resort for a few days and compete at the state level. The previous year she’d made it to state, and is confident that she could do it again this year. She even has hopes of winning at state and going on to Nationals. She suggests that I join FBLA and enter the Computer Science competition. If I won locally, we would get to go to Seven Springs together. Despite the reputation of the group, I join. The fact that I am joining a “girls” club is more than mitigated by the fact that I’m joining it so I can spend time with a girl. The various goals and aims of the group have never entered my mind for a moment.
It turns out our chapter is about fifteen students strong, and after I join we have exactly four males. Getting to the competition means going to some meetings, a task which I undertake with much sighing and complaining. (My future self will look back and hate his crybaby predecessor, but he’s in the future and can’t do anything about it. Ha.)
Mandy and I go to the competition together. I manage to do well enough to go on to the state level. Mandy doesn’t. I go to Seven Springs. She stays home.
This is Seven Springs:
Obviously this picture isn’t the best, but it’s all we have to work with. The tall curving white section on the right is the part we’re interested in right now. That’s the hotel. The rest is convention space / dining / stuff for skiers / swimming pools / who knows what else.
FBLA members from all over the state descend on Seven Springs, and the place is promptly filled with giggling, screaming teens. When I say “filled up” I’m not exaggerating. The Hotel Proper is packed, and a few of us are obliged to settle for other accommodations. We aren’t given any choice. Someone else has planned this all out. All we do is go to the front desk, give our name, and go where we’re told.
Behind the large curving white building is a small group of faux-log cabins which can house a large group of people. These buildings are called “chalets”. Experience teaches us that anytime a hotel wants to really screw you they start giving things French names. I’d seen these “cabins” on previous visits, and I’d always assumed the buildings were for hotel staff or supplies or something. They were always dark. From the outside they look small, simple, and rustic. The handful of us who wouldn’t fit into the building with the rest of the students are dumped in a chalet.
Once I get inside I learn that the outside was just for show, and that these are no doubt luxury accommodations. It has a fridge and everything. Downstairs has eight bunk beds. Upstairs has another ten beds in two rows, boarding-school style. It looks a bit barren up here so I decide to ignore the second floor. I claim one of the bunks downstairs. I’m glad I’m not paying for this room, since it probably costs more a night than I’ll make in the coming summer working fast food.
The other students arrive. The first is Dennis, who looks every bit the part of an FBLA male. He wears a pullover sweater, dress shoes, and tan pants, even when we aren’t obliged to dress according to FBLA code. He has a nice conservative Michael J. Fox haircut. But he also swears and smokes, which suggests that this FBLA thing is being imposed on him and he’s rebelling against that in his own small ways.
The next roommate is Jay, who looks as out of place as Motley Crue on an episode of The Cosby Show. I have no idea why he’s here: I can’t imagine what type of competition he’s involved in, or how he managed to reach the state level. I don’t have the nerve to ask. He has the look and demeanor of an auto mechanic. He manages to dress in such a way as to obey the dress code while at the same time holding it in obvious contempt. He’s wearing a mullet, which he will probably regret someday, but right now we’re all fine with it. He’s sharp and direct, and shows no patience for business-school niceties.
The last guy to show is Chip, a round-faced kid with glasses who has long since come to terms with his abundant nerdery and embraced it. So there it is. Four guys and (since all of us are ignoring the upstairs) eight bunk beds.
We’re exactly the sort of oddball group that populate John Hughes movies. High-school pecking order and social norms would have prevented us from interacting under normal circumstances. We could look at each other and know that we are from different groups. Dennis would hang out with the other preps. Jay would hang out with the other kids clad in denim and heavy metal t-shirts permanently infused with cigarette smoke. Chip would look for the other honor students. I would look for a place to be alone on purpose so that it wasn’t obvious that I was alone by default.
But in this context we try to relate to each other. It’s Friday afternoon, and we’re going to be here until Sunday morning. Might as well pretend to be friends.
We complain about the cold and the rain and our fate of being dumped into this separate side-building away from everyone else, like lepers. After a while the last of the students check in, and we notice our room is lacking in something very obvious: We don’t have a chaperone. I can only extrapolate, but my guess is that while there were enough chaperones to go around, there weren’t enough male chaperones to cover all of the male-occupied rooms. Suddenly our room is a stroke of fortune. We are unsupervised, forgotten, in a nominal luxury room, and in a hotel full of girls. We suddenly feel invincible. Our social differences evaporate. We are four guys who have fallen into this good fortune together.
We look out of our huge front window right behind the couch and see the backside of the hotel. If I were to walk out of our front door and down a mild slope, I would find myself at the last door on this side of the hotel: Room 102. (I assume Room 101 is on the front side of the building.) I know it’s room 102 because the number is right on the door. This is not to imply that I would want to visit 102. (As I’ll find out later, 102 is a place of horrors.)
Our front window is better than a large-screen television. It is huge, and the only thing on is our new favorite show, Girls On The Balcony. Each room above the first floor has a balcony. There is a divider so that people can’t see the adjacent balconies, but they can look up the hill (over our little chalet) and see the now-green slopes.
Dinner time is coming. We put on our dorky FBLA blazers and get as dressed up as we have to.
We spend a little more time watching girls pop up and disappear back into their rooms when we notice a room directly in front of us and eight stories up. Four girls are hanging out on the balcony and enjoying the view. Dennis half-jokes that since there are four of them and four of us, we should take them to dinner. I point out that they are eight stories up, directly over room 102. Therefore, they are in room 802. I suggest, also half-joking, that he give them a call and ask them. He’s not up for any such move. Neither am I. I’m much too shy to try flirting with unknown girls a hundred feet above us.
Jay is having none of this sissy crap. He grabs the phone and, after figuring out how to call the other room, does exactly that.
Dennis and I are amazed. Is he really calling them? Is he messing with us?
We’re still watching the girls when they stop talking and look back into the room. One of them goes inside. Then Jay starts talking. We can see the girl he’s talking to must be pausing to put her hand over the receiver and whisper to the others, because they all dash back into the room, and then come back out and start leaning out over the rail, trying to figure out where we are. They look down and to one side, but our little house must be invisible: They don’t give it a second glance. Like me, they never included the little buildings as part of the hotel. It’s just scenery and infrastructure.
Jay informs us that we need to step outside. These girls want a look at us. My heart starts pounding. We are about to be judged, at a distance, by four girls. If we fail, the rejection is going to sting. He has to practically shove us out the door. We wave and smile, wondering that the result will be.
The girls go back inside to confer. We hold our breath. Jay hangs up.
“They say we can come right up.”
So now we live in an unsupervised room and have dates for dinner! This just keeps getting better.
It isn’t until halfway up the steps that Chip says, “I hope they’re good looking.”
Our pace slows. This seems to have slipped our mind. At a distance both groups seemed to accept the other, but what does that mean? All we can tell is that they are thin. Up close perhaps they are toothless, blind, and covered in weeping sores.
We knock on 802. A woman in her late-20’s (that is, an old woman) answers. This is a bit shocking and straightens us right up. We’d forgotten that our situation was wholly unique: everyone else lived in a room with four girls, a chaperone, and two beds. We lived in a room that had four guys, eight beds, and no chaperone. We are yanked back into reality. Dennis and I adopt our best “Good evening ma’am is your daughter home?” posture. Jay just shrugs and looks bored. I bet fathers just love it when their daughters bring guys like Jay home.
After giving us a dour look she turns the girls loose. All four of them are quite fetching. Some are quite a bit nicer than others, but on the balance this is about as good as anyone could hope for.
Four girls. Four boys. Pairing off is obvious, but how to do it? Shall we fight for the best looking? Shall we pick teams, like in kickball? How does this work? What is the protocol?
One of the girls is a bit rougher than the rest. Rhonda. She’s dressed up, but her vocabulary and body language give her away as The Bad Girl. She and Jay begin walking together without hesitation. The rest of us fall into a loose, non-committal cluster and follow them.
Dennis and I try to be gentlemen without being dorks. At our age this is quite a challenge. Chip tries to be funny but misses painfully more often than he hits. He’s blowing it. We have to go the length of the hotel, down eight floors, and then plunge deep into the convention area of the complex. The walk is quite long and provides many opportunities for awkward moments and shyness. It is in these moments that we begin to learn why adults do small talk. Small talk is for those moments after you’ve given someone your name but before you’re ready to tell them that your brother is in jail or that your parents are divorced. We try a little. It isn’t too bad.
After dinner is some meeting-type stuff. Jay and Rhonda slip off, probably to smoke. The Powers That Be hold a “Welcome to FBLA” sort of affair in one of the convention halls. We take our dates. Jay and Rhonda reappear.
Chip is still trying to be funny, and has dug himself into a hole. He’s like red-shirt Ensign Ricky beaming down to the planet with Kirk. You can see it coming a mile away, but his gruesome demise serves as a warning that the situation is serious, so Dennis and I are trying not to make any mistakes.
There are three remaining girls: First is the Shy Redhead, Ann. Next is the uninteresting blond who Has A Boyfriend and obviously wants nothing more to do with us. And finally there is Diane, the girl with long dark hair who is smart and witty and frighteningly attractive and who is clearly way out of my league. She is the unspoken leader of their group, much as Jay is the defacto leader of ours.
By the time the show is over it has gotten dark outside. Has A Boyfriend goes back to her room and Chip retreats back to ours. Someone suggests we go for a walk. Everyone heads outside. I’m sure whoever suggested it was thinking “moonlight walk”, which sounds fun and adventurous enough, as long as we’re willing to do without the moon and the light. It’s overcast. The sky is an opaque black. The trees are slightly darker. We can’t see a dang thing out here. We walk around the near side of the building and try not to run into anything on the way.
Jay and Rhonda walk together. Dennis finally screws up his nerve and starts walking with Diane. This leaves me with Ann, and I relax. The pressure is off at this point. If he’d taken Ann’s side I would have felt obligated to accompany Diane, and probably would have lost my nerve and simply run off like Chip did.
We finally get around to introducing ourselves proper. Up until now all we’ve had are names and schools. Now we try to place each other on the map and work out just how old everyone is and what contest we’re entering.
There seems to be a large wooden deck on this side of the hotel. It contains either a very large hot tub or a very small swimming pool. Whatever it is, there’s a tarp over it now. Still, the handrail on the deck is just the thing when navigating around in the near-darkness. On the downside, the ground here is not level and so we must go up and down a few unexpected steps. There is a light pole near the pool, which provides just enough light to keep this from being suicidal.
All six of us are from western side of the state, and live within an hour or so of one another. We’re all seventeen or older, except for Ann, who is fourteen. She’s five years younger than me. I should point out that she is an exceedingly tall and mature fourteen year old. She’s the tallest of all of the girls. She’s bright. She speaks a couple of languages, plays three musical instruments, and I’m pretty sure she skipped a grade at some point. I’m the oldest guy in our group, and she’s one of the youngest girls attending the entire conference. I thought she was just shy. No, she’s a kid. She’s probably scared. She’s walking around in the dark with a nineteen year old who she knows doesn’t have a chaperone in his room. Geeze.
She’s hard to read, but I’ll bet she didn’t want to do this at all. She’s probably only out here because she’s following her roommates.
I am so floored by the revelation of her age that I get a bit too incredulous. I ask her three times, and repeat it myself, fourteen? You sure don’t look fourteen! Eventually I realize I’ve either offended or annoyed her. I’ll bet she gets this treatment a lot.
I should point out that I have not forgotten my girlfriend. In case you’re worried about where this is going: Sex isn’t anywhere on my planning horizon and won’t be for several years. I’m not even interested in romance. I’m just looking for a bit of company. This is a fun moment, and a little harmless flirting. It certainly beats hanging around in the room and eating alone. In truth, my girlfriend would probably not approve of this, but it’s pretty innocent as far as I’m concerned. At least, it was until I found myself in this odd thing with Ann. Who knows what she’s thinking? I have a sudden urge to get away from her. I wasn’t planning anything, honest! But I also don’t want to hurt her feelings. Worse, if I run off now it might look like I really was hoping for sex. No, I need to keep going and make sure I’m a gentleman about this. Finish the walk, try to be witty, then say goodnight. Stick to the plan.
I’m still working on this when we get around to the front of the hotel and there is a howl from Jay. Out of the corner of my eye I can see a column of bare flesh. Some of the girls in 101 are showering and / or getting changed. Not used to big hotels, they have left the lights on and the curtains open. It’s pitch black out here. They can’t see us, but anyone outside can see everything in the room.
My mother did not raise me to be a cad. Such training is not easily dislodged, even when she’s several hundred miles away and there are naked females to be seen. I spin on my heel and turn my back to the building. Dennis and Jay have no such reservations. They point and laugh. I’m grateful for the dark, because my face is burning red right now. I feel stupid for looking away, but I would feel much worse for leering at them. As I stare down the hill at the exceedingly uninteresting road I really, really hope that the girls with us are taking note of my manners.
Our companions tire of this quickly and more or less drag Jay and Dennis around to our own side of the building. I keep my head averted. There are a few moments of chatter as everyone gets this out of their system. I keep quiet.
Eventually the conversation recovers. Jay and Rhonda disappear. Dennis and I escort Diane and Ann back to 802. After enduring a few icy looks from their chaperone we leave. Then we mill around the hotel. The day, which seemed to have so much promise just before dinner, seems to have taken a bad turn. Chip did poorly and fled in shame. Diane seems to be cool towards Dennis. Ann is a young and exceedingly serious girl who is wound much too tight, and would make for difficult company even without the scandalous age difference. Jay and Rhonda seem to be having a fight of some sort already, which means their relationship is proceeding at an incredible pace.
We don’t have chaperones, but everyone else does. Curfew is at 9:00pm. Even if things hadn’t gone as they did none of us would be sneaking off to steal kisses with any of them. Sure, we can go wherever we want, but so what? Everyone else is in bed. We’re free to wander around this gigantic hotel in the middle of the night with nothing to do. Big deal.
Having the girls around was nice. The place feels lonely and dull now.
By the time we get back to our room we’re feeling down. Dennis and Jay tell Chip about the naked girls in 101, which doesn’t improve his mood. The afternoon began with such promise, and has ended with a shrug.
The phone rings. I pick it up, “Hello?”
“Phone tag, you’re it!”
Ah. I’d forgotten about that one.
This always happens when a bunch of students invade this place. They start dialing random rooms and “tagging” them. The only way to get revenge is by passing the insult along, dialing a stranger, tagging and hanging up on them. I don’t know how the tradition started, but there is nothing that can be done about it now. Everyone is going to have to get this out of their system.
The phone tag cheers Jay up. He makes a few calls and gets into the spirit of the thing.
It is surprisingly annoying to get “tagged”. It’s stupid and random, but there is still that bit of “gotcha” shame, as if you should have somehow averted the tag. This bothers me. I decide to do something about it.
The phone rings again. I reach over and grab the phone from Jay. I adopt my most sincere tone, “Hello front desk.” I say the words quickly and moosh them all together, just like someone would if they said this a hundred times a day.
There is a stunned pause on the other end, and then, “Ummm. Sorry. I was trying to call someone else.”
“Of course. No problem. Good night ma’am.”
I do this every time the phone rings now, which should be fine as long as the front desk doesn’t call us. The girl on the other end usually assumes they made a mistake in dialing. Their reactions are very amusing. One of them tags me anyway. Either she wasn’t buying it or she felt like pranking the front desk. This is the funniest thing I’ve heard in ages. Nobody else seems to get it, but I have this picture in my head of some dolt calling the front desk over and over with various “is your refrigerator running?” type gags. I laugh so hard I have to stop answering the phone for a bit.
We aren’t getting as many calls as everyone else, not by a long shot. We get one every few minutes. Inside the hotel proper, some rooms are taking the phones off the hook because the dang thing won’t stop ringing. Our room is numbered as if we were on the ninth floor. There is no ninth floor, and most students have noticed this. So the only calls we get are from people who are just mashing the buttons at random.
Out of habit we tend to call even-numbered rooms, which are on the side of the hotel we can see. Jay aims for rooms with the lights off, so that we can see the lights go on when they answer the phone. As Jay pranks various rooms we can see lights switching on and off, which gives us an illusion of power. The front of the hotel – with the odd-numbered rooms – doesn’t even exist for us.
But the game gets old quickly.
Then someone – not me, I assure you – gets an idea: Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone went out onto their balcony and screamed at the same time?
Jay calls up a couple of the girls from his school and tells them, “Did you hear? Everyone is going outside at 9:45 and we’re all going to scream at the same time. No, I mean on the balcony. Yeah. Ok, well – call everyone you know and tell them. Actually, just call everyone.”
Jay makes a couple of calls like this, Dennis follows suit. I’m the only person from my school here, so there isn’t anyone for me to tell. A few minutes later Chip gets a call. One of his schoolmates wants to let him know that we’re all supposed to go out on our balconies and scream at 9:45.
This was our first hint that it was working, and that the thing had taken on a life of its own. We grab the sofa and spin it around so that it’s facing the window. The four of us sit. Jay is on one end with the phone in his lap. Our lights are all off and the area outside is well lit. We know our little chalet looks dark and silent from the outside. Our window is a mirror to anyone that would be looking in. We can watch as the events unfold in front of us, safely hidden in our invisible little cabin. Our window offers us a seemingly panoramic view of the hotel. Our hotel.
At 9:40 a few girls appear on the balconies, standing on tiptoe as they try to spare their bare feet on the cold concrete surface. More lights come on. More girls appear. By 9:45 we can see the silhouettes of a hundred girls in nightgowns and t-shirts as they hop around excitedly on their balconies. Dennis opens our door just a crack. The hissing and giggling of a hundred girls and a dozen boys has risen to an audible murmur. We all start grinning. It’s working!
Dennis rejoins us at the window. The stage is set, but nothing is happening yet. The girls are leaning way out, trying to get a look at the rooms above, below, and beside them. 9:45 passes. Nobody is screaming.
Dennis says flatly, “They can’t see each other.”
He’s right. Only we have this view. None of the rest know. None of them want to start screaming and end up being the only ones.
A few tire of this. Their feet are probably cold and nobody is screaming. The moment is passing. We need a catalyst.
Dennis says what all of us are thinking, “If just one of them started yelling they all would.”
Jay gets on the phone and calls the girls in 802. I can tell he’s thinking he might be able to get one of them to go out on the balcony and yell, but their chaperone answers. She assumes this is another prank and gives him an earful. He manages to convey that this is a real phone call. She informs him that is after curfew. He asks if he can talk to Rhonda for just a moment. The Wicked Witch relents, and puts Rhonda on the phone. He explains the situation. She can’t help. They are in bed and their chaperone wouldn’t stand for any messing around.
Girls are popping in and out of the rooms, but on balance the balcony population is falling. I finally say what I’ve been thinking for five minutes, “One of us needs to start this.” I’m afraid they are going to turn around and tell me to do it. They don’t, but a fierce silent version of “I dare you” ensues, using only facial expressions.
This takes guts. The downside of being able to see everyone is that they can see us. If one of us steps outside, he will be in front of a hundred girls. If he screams and they do not, then he will be making a fool of himself in front of a hundred girls. Worse, we don’t want to give ourselves away. Aside from the girls in 802, we’re not on anyone’s radar. We want to make this happen by pulling the strings from the shadows. We don’t want to be identified as the perpetrators.
Jay finally takes a deep breath and goes over to the door. He opens it just a crack. Certainly anyone looking down at our chalet will notice this, but he can’t very well yell through the door. These places are designed to be impervious to cold air, full-volume television, and the drunken screams of numerous skiers. He would have better luck trying to incite their screams via a pantomime from within our dark room.
He draws in a deep breath and lets loose with a country-boy / Dukes of Hazard jumping-over-the-lake whoop. Chip, Dennis and I flinch.
Some girls respond. A nanosecond later the whole thing reaches critical mass and goes off. They are all yelling. More lights come on. More girls appear. The girls that left now return and join in. Girls that had wisely done their waiting inside rush out as the sound rises. Chaperones are yanked awake and start screaming for everyone to shut up, which only adds to the din.
The lights are on in every room. As far as we can see are girls on balconies, stacked eight stories high and running the length of the hotel, jumping and screaming. The front of the hotel probably looks the same. I wish we could see it.
I’m so glad Mandy talked me into coming.
Mass Effect Retrospective
A novel-sized analysis of the Mass Effect series that explains where it all went wrong. Spoiler: It was long before the ending.
A Lack of Vision and Leadership
People fault EA for being greedy, but their real sin is just how terrible they are at it.
Do you like electronic music? Do you like free stuff? Are you okay with amateur music from someone who's learning? Yes? Because that's what this is.
What was the problem with the Playstation 3 hardware and why did Sony build it that way?
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.