Campus Cribs: Susie Hopkins chambers

This week, we take an investigative look at the rooms of two residents in Susie Hopkins – land of projectile bed cubes and manpurses – as we ponder the age-old philosophical dilemma of not-clean-not-dirty clothing.

I arrive at Susie Hopkins on a crisp, autumn Saturday morning. Walking through the front door, I am instantly greeted by what appears to be a small party going on in the first-floor room of Harris Paseltiner ’09. At least six or seven housemates titter mysteriously upon my entrance and then promptly exit, leaving me to stand rather awkwardly in Paseltiner’s abode.
Relieving the initial tension, he offers me some tea, which I decline before settling into a comfy canvas chair and taking my first sweeping glance of the room.

The first thing one notices about the room is that it’s big – cavernous, really. It’s surprising that my voice isn’t echoing off of the freshly-painted white walls and refinished wood floors. Already I’m making secret plans to kill this guy and steal his living quarters, and convert my bite-size dorm room into a ball pit.

The second interesting feature is that it could doubly function as a Radiohead hall of fame. “I’m a huge fan of Radiohead, and [I’m] kind of obsessed with music in general, so I chose to focus on that when decorating my room,” Paseltiner said. Two acoustic guitars propped up on stands grace the area directly across from the bed, along with a set of amplifiers. An In Rainbows multi-disc album cover is propped up on the dresser, and right next to it is a pair of gigantic speakers. But the crowning glory, of course, is the giant framed OK Computer poster hanging right over the bed, obviously the centerpiece of the room. In fact, it dwarfs the bed, which is actually rather small. Declining to comment on the implications of that, I note, instead, the laid-back feel that the neutral color scheme – an effusion of tans, browns and blacks – brings to the observer. “Yeah, I like to keep it pretty low-key, with some splashes of color here and there,” Paseltiner said.

Bamboo twigs in glass jars lend a natural air, and framed photographs taken by friends add a personal vibe to the place. The place looks like something out of an Urban Outfitters magazine, sans the pseudo-indie pretentiousness. The room is also so clean, it’s scary. “My room is always pretty clean, I try to keep it that way as much as possible.”

Not only is Paseltiner savvy in his decorating know-how, but he also likes to save. Bamboo twigs arranged neatly in glass jars? $8. Tasteful neutral striped rug? $20. “My mom hates that rug,” he said. “We couldn’t agree about it. My parents helped me decorate. It was a two-day ordeal. We went around to a bunch of vintage and antique stores in the area, got some stuff, like the bedside table, coat rack, and those teacups over there.” Paseltiner motions with his hand toward the windowsill. I swoon a little bit over the array of vintage teacups with a teapot that could have graced the cover of Good Housekeeping. Paseltiner, who spent last year at Oxford in the Exeter Programme, admits that he’s become a bit Anglicized. “After Oxford, I got way into tea. I suppose most people would say that having a tea-sill isn’t very manly … but I like it.”

“Kind of like the manpurse over there?” I asked. A brown leather satchel reposes under the bedstand. “I actually, uh, feel that the manpurse reaffirms my masculinity,” Paseltiner replied. He goes on to display an old-school shaving kit also from England, complete with brush. I ask for a demonstration and he obliges. For a second, there is only the sound of the gentle scraping of the brush against his five o’clock shadow. I cough awkwardly. We move on.

“So how’d you score this room? Diversionary tactics? Bribery?” I curiously inquired about his first-rate room. “Actually, I had first pick in the house,” Paseltiner said, looking a bit confused. “I chose the room because of its central location. Since I’m not involved in athletics, I don’t need to worry about the noise or staying up late … which I do a lot. Plus, there’s this.” He opens a door at the back of the room, which leads into a wraparound back porch. “Handy escape route for when, y’know, someone’s chasing me or something.” Blast, my chances for envy-fueled homicide have just been thwarted. “Or if I feel like being sneaky …” He trails off. Ah, say no more – a proper gentleman who seeks to avoid the walk of shame at all costs. Hats off to you, Harris Paseltiner.

We now head upstairs to the room of Aroop Mukharji ’09, which boasts a slightly different decorating aesthetic. Random articles of clothing are draped interestingly and elegantly over most of the room’s considerably smaller square footage. Bags and boxes also form a creative cover-up for the floor.

“My personal decorating style embraces entropy,” Mukharji said. “The thing I don’t like about Harris’ room is that it just doesn’t feel lived-in. There’s this sort of sterile cleanliness that just doesn’t work for me. There’s also nowhere to sit. In my room, the possibilities are endless. The keyboard is a seat. The bags are seats. The clothes are a seat,” he said.

Over in the corner of the room is the bed, complete with Spiderman pillow and effortlessly, yet perfectly mussed, bedclothes. A Babar poster also peeks out from underneath a strategically-placed pile of papers on top of the dresser. He seems to be channeling a vibe of postmodern nineties cartoon-chic, which to my understanding is currently quite big in Sweden.

“One problem that I have managed to solve is the old dilemma of what to do with clothes that are not quite clean and not quite dirty,” he said. “The solution is rather simple, actually: put them in a place that is neither the closet nor the hamper … which in this case happens to be the floor.” It’s such simple brilliance that it gives me shivers.

Hiding in a box near the door is Mukharji’s deepest, darkest fetish. So shameful that it almost feels dirty just talking about it. “This here is a box of hats … I’d say I have somewhere around 45.” He goes on to pull out a variety of stylish head-coverings, including a birthday cake-shaped hat, an Irish hat and a bright yellow Indian hat with green stripes.

So, what pick did Mukharji get in the house? “Seventh,” he said. “But no hard feelings. Would you like to see a picture of my dog?” He shows me a framed picture of Pumpkin, his nine-pound Shitsu.

Lovely. I see an Oxford sweatshirt sneaking out of that bag and ask if he was at Oxford last year as well. “Yeah, Harris and I were actually roommates,” Mukharji said. “We ended up getting the smallest room in the compound. But we managed. You see, I got the better bed spot, and Harris got the better desk spot, so it all worked out.” To which Paseltiner interjected, “Actually, I think I might have ended up getting the better of both spots.” Brief, awkward silence filled with not-so-discreet resentment followed. “I’ve got chocolates. Chocolates, anyone?” Mukharji said, waving around a bag of chocolate-covered almonds.

We then return downstairs to Harris’ room for a quick critique. “See?” Mukharji shakes his head. “No designated area whatsoever for not-clean-not-dirty clothes.” A flaw not immediately obvious to the untrained eye. I suggest the gigantic hollow cubes at the foot “Actually, those are specially reserved for a game that the natives of Susie Hopkins like to play when bored. It involves putting people inside and tossing them back and forth à la jack-in-the-box. It works best with small children, but we’ve had a shortage of those lately,” Mukharji said.

“I see,” I said. “What’s your take on the speakers? Jealous much?”

“Well … they’re big. Big can sometimes be aesthetically pleasing, I guess … if that’s what you like,” Mukharji said. This results in the granddaddy of all awkward silences.

I leave, on my way out catching a glimpse of what appears to be a large, chain-link fence monolith being carried up the stairs with ceremonial pomp and circumstance. Strange folk, this Susie Hopkins crew, but at least they are pretty hospitable.