Part 2, The Terrors of Room 102, and Lessons Learned
The screaming ends and the girls go back inside. If we were sensible we’d go to bed now. It’s obvious that everything from here on is going to pale in comparison. We hit the high note. The show is over. We should all high-five and go to bed.
The adrenaline in our system makes this impossible. Phone tag has ended. The rest of the place is going to bed for real. There are a few more very minor phone pranks, but they seem stupid and petty after what we just saw. This sucks.
Right in front of us is room 102. They have the lights on and the curtains open. We’ve been ignoring them up until now, since the rest of the hotel was covered in girls. Now the lights have gone out everywhere except 102, so the room grabs our attention. We can see Guy 1 in laying in bed watching TV. Wasn’t there a second guy in there?
He emerges from the bathroom, stark naked. We cry out in horror. These guys aren’t FBLA. These are full-grown men. Muscles and hair and everything. They look to be in their mid-20’s. I sort of expect Guy 1 to get offended when Guy 2 starts showing him what he’s got. He doesn’t.
Guy 2 gets up. When he throws off the blankets we can see he’s in his underwear. This is just awful. It’s like our window has some sort of karmic balancing and it’s trying to make up for all the awesome stuff we’ve seen tonight.
I can give these guys a little more credit than the girls in 101. Room 101 is in the front of the hotel, facing the road. These guys have a window facing the hill, with only the dark and pervasively ignored cabins to consider. Still, is the concept of lit rooms and open curtains this difficult to grasp? What are the odds of witnessing this sort of thing twice in one night? Is the world full of people like this? More to the point, why do we have to have the naked guys right in front of us?
At first we try a few obvious gay jokes, but this doesn’t help. Gay jokes would be funnier if the scene didn’t already look so overtly gay. The charge of homosexuality is a joke only if it’s false. These guys are either gay, blind, or from a culture we will never comprehend.
We’re still facing the window. This is the only thing we can see right now, and we are not enjoying it. These guys don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to get dressed. They take turns in the bathroom, doing who-knows-what, and generally being way too comfortable with the sight of each other. Even allowing for a couple of guys who don’t have a real sense of modesty, this nudity seems excessive. Shower time is over. Why don’t they get dressed now?
I’m starting to wonder what’s on TV. Chip wisely goes to bed. The triumph of the 9:45 scream has been abolished by the nature boys in 102.
Jay and Dennis are talking. Dennis is daring him to do something. Then Jay is on the phone. Guy 1 suddenly gets up and answers the phone.
Jay tells him, “Hey. Would you guys get dressed? We don’t want to see you naked.”
Dennis and I howl with laughter. Jay hasn’t said anything witty, but the idea of just calling these guys up and asking them to get dressed is outrageous and would never have occurred to me.
Guy 1 hangs up and pulls the curtains closed.
We’re grateful that we don’t have to look at them anymore, but we’d feel better if they had put some pants on before they did so. Now we have to imagine them still there, still naked. The curtain in now a dark veil, behind which is the portal to a place of unspeakable horrors and living nightmares.
From my vantage point some 17 years later I feel a bit sorry for these guys. Whatever their deal was, they certainly weren’t FBLA and I’m guessing they didn’t like the screaming. The phone tag probably wasn’t a lot of fun for them either.
The next morning is brutal. I’ve had what? Three hours of sleep? Two nights ago – the night before the trip here – I’d been too nervous to to get a good night’s sleep. Then I spent last night with Dennis and Jay, making jokes that are only funny at 2am and talking about stupid stuff we’ve already forgotten. One night of missing sleep is easily shrugged off. But two in a row is pushing it.
Now I remember that I’m here to take a test. A test to judge my grasp of all things Computer Science. That test takes place after breakfast.
I feel like something a necromancer just dug up and animated using his dark arts. My eyes gaze downward at nothing at all as I shuffle mindlessly through my morning. I can’t speak. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to prepare for the Big Test. I didn’t study, sure. But subjecting myself to sleep deprivation seems excessive. Am I trying to fail this?
Students are taking the test in waves, so I can’t get a feel for how many people are even competing. We’re sent to various unoccupied or unused places so that everyone is spread out. I end up taking the test in the bar, which feels strange. It’s closed, of course, but I haven’t been in a bar since I was a very little kid.
The test is your standard multiple choice, fill in the circle, use a number 2 pencil, don’t bend the test paper. I hack my way through it with little ceremony. The questions seem familiar. I’ve seen most of this stuff before, sometime in the last couple of years. On many questions I can eliminate two of the four choices, but by now my memory is vague and so it often comes down to a coin flip between the last two.
The test ends, and as I turn it in I experience a little nervousness that finally wakes me up. Too late. I’ll have to wait until tonight to find out how I did.
Lunch. Then meetings. Then more meetings. These are stupid. I hop from one conference room to another. Most are run by business people with tips on how to be a success in business. One is on the importance of good grooming, for crying out loud. Nose hair trimmers are mentioned. Telling teenagers to trim their future nose hair is like trying to tell them how to care for the dentures they will have someday. How could we be be expected to care about this? That is like, a million years from now or something.
Other classes are on business etiquette, making a good resume, and how to handle a job interview. Their words wash over me with little effect, like a river flowing over a smooth pebble. My mind is numb, and I’m impervious to input at this point.
My favorite event is where we get to sit in on the extemporaneous speech competition. Students are given a subject on which to speak. They get five minutes to come up with what they want to say. Then they are sent into the room filled with their bored peers (like me) and must make their case. It’s a pretty big room. You could easily get a hundred people in here, and the contestants have to do their thing without a microphone.
They all speak on the same subject, although I’m not sure if they know that. I admire every last one of them. This is probably the toughest audience they will ever face. Some speakers attack this as if the subject mattered. They rattle off a list of bullet points and arguments they’ve cooked up. Admirable, but this isn’t a debate. The subject is very vague and not fodder for deep thought. Imagine a two minute-speech where someone tries to sell you on the idea of “Believe in Yourself”. Now imagine ten of them in a row.
Other contestants have a clearer idea of what this game is all about, which is speaking in a compelling manner even when you’re deprived of something interesting to say. The key here isn’t so much what you say as how you say it, and how well you can connect with the audience and make them believe that you give a flying crap.
One guy steals the show. We’re used to kids standing at the podium, presidential-style. This guy ignores the podium and gets right in our faces. He has the shouting enthusiasm of an infomercial salesman. Like everyone else, he’s saying mostly nothing, but he gets everyone excited anyway. He strides back and forth at the front of the room, waving his arms and pointing at us. His voice modulates as if his drivel was leading up to some point, as if he was laying down a set of facts and ideas that would inevitably checkmate any naysayer. He loops back and repeats stuff he’s said before, only with an air of finality, as if he was wrapping up his arguments. Someday this guy is going to be a brilliant talk show host or pundit. By the time he strides out of there the kids are ready to hold lighters in the air and ask for an encore.
Then dinner. We dine with the girls from 802 again. Jay and Rhonda are missing, but we’re pretty sure they are someplace either having a fight or making out. Ann avoids eye contact. Suddenly I can see the fourteen year old inside and I feel bad. She seems miserable and alone. Has A Boyfriend comes along but does a fine job at acting like we aren’t there. Diane is interesting and we chat about That One Guy Who Gave the Awesome Speech. She makes some other observations about the events today, and for a few minutes I forget that I’m talking to Imposingly Attractive Diane, and just enjoy the fact that she seems to be the only other person at the table who has anything interesting to say. Chip is quiet. Dennis looks tired.
After dinner is the award ceremony.
I’m told that eighty-eight students took part in the Computer Science test. I placed seventh. At first I’m elated to be in the top ten. I get a plaque and everything. I stand at the front with the rest of the top ten, we get some applause, and then the rest of the ceremony grinds on while I look at my award and realize that I am an inexcusable imbecile, a lazy dolt who should be firmly smacked.
I had known nearly all of the answers on the test at one time or another, but I’d never bothered to refresh my memory. In the preceding weeks I never once investigated what the test was supposed to cover. I never cracked a book. I didn’t make any effort at all. I went into the test cold, clueless, and short on sleep. I’d managed seventh, but now I know I could have done a lot better with just a little more effort. How hard would it have been to skim a few books a couple of nights ago? I never even thought to try.
The top three spots will go on to nationals. I might have had a shot at one of those spots if I’d made some sort of effort. I didn’t think I could win, so I didn’t try.
I’m still thinking about my “win” an hour later on the wooden bridge outside. It’s another cold, damp, pitch-black night, and we’re at the distant edge of a pool of warm yellow light radiating from the hotel. In the middle of the broad wooden bridge are a couple of benches. I have no idea why the bridge is so wide. If you could get a car up onto the path you could drive it over this sucker with one of the doors open. The thing never sees any foot traffic at all. So why the big bridge? Then I remember that I’m in a Ski Resort, and it isn’t ski season. The far side of the bridge most likely leads to the skiing stuff.
Almost everyone else is inside, but I’m out here with Diane and Has A Boyfriend. Dennis is also here, but Diane doesn’t seem to feel like talking. He packs it in and heads back to the room.
I’m leaning over the wooden railing, looking at the dark icy water below. I’m still thinking about seventh place and wavering between elation and angst when I notice the conversation has picked up and taken an unexpected turn. Diane and Has A Boyfriend are sitting on the bench beside me, and Diane is talking about the fact that she doesn’t have a date for prom. It takes me a while, but I slowly start to realize that this conversation might be for my benefit. Maybe not. Maybe I’m so uninteresting to her that she’s saying this as if I wasn’t even here. But maybe she’s letting me know in case I want to ask her.
I have a girlfriend already, but the possible implied offer realigns my perceptions. I replay a few of my conversations with her in my head. I think back to how I acted outside of Room 101 and how she’s reacted to me since then. Maybe she did take note of my manners, and maybe that sort of thing matters a lot more than I thought it did. I’d simply assumed that Diane was out of my league, but I never thought she was beyond Dennis. What did he have that I didn’t? Nothing, as far as I can tell. I only assumed he had an advantage because he wasn’t me.
I didn’t think Diane would want to talk to me, so I didn’t try to talk to her. I didn’t think I could win the Computer Science competition, so I didn’t study. Despite the cold and lack of sleep, my brain is sensing a pattern here.
What did I accomplish here? I could perhaps have won a place in nationals, and in any case I could have spent some time with a pretty girl who was a lot more of a conversationalist than my roommates. Instead I wasted my time engaging in asinine behavior and cultivating my neurosis.
I’m not going to take Diane to the prom. I’m not going to take home first place in Computer Science, and I’m not going to nationals. But I am going to take home a few new ideas on what I could accomplish if I Stop Screwing Around.
Thanks for reading.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
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