What would you do if a completely random person showed up in your common room and took out her homework? Students across campus discovered the answer to that question when I planted myself in a strategic selection of common rooms in a quest to understand shared spaces at Williams.
That’s right; I was that weird girl – and I sincerely apologize if I made you feel uncomfortable in your living space, because I certainly made myself feel uncomfortable in your living space, and it wasn’t a picnic. Unless you’re talking dirt, flies and sticky beverages. Metaphorically, of course.
My first stop is Goodrich House. Upon walking in, I see someone in the common room, get flustered and retreat to the kitchen. Once composed, I return to the common room, establish myself on a couch adjacent to a Mystery Guy, and pretend to read my comp lit book while actually questioning my life choices. So far all I have gotten is a, “Hey,” in response to my, “Hi,” plus a few sidelong glances. I am terrified.
After a brief suspension in channel surfing and experimental poetry – “expect enemy carrier forces to strike” … “a hideous bird in nets” … “don’t sweat it” … “bicephalous man” – two things happen. First, a girl walks by and has a short conversation with Mystery Guy, rendering him Nice Mystery Guy Who Has A Lot of Reading to Do. Second, I snigger at something on Scrubs and conclude that I’ve embarrassed myself past the point of no return, so I start talking, to NMGWHALORTD, that is.
I soon learn that my unsuspecting companion is Jeff Lauer ’11, who is typically in his common room on weekday afternoons. I also learn that while my intrusion was “kind of weird,” it pales in comparison to a run-in with a first-year who walked through one morning in a rugby shirt and no pants. Since I am neither in rugby nor the buff, I continue on my way feeling marginally more secure.
Next, I invade a Willy B common room. Someone is doing work in his room with the door open, listening to delightful music and in full possession of his pants. This time I am calm enough to actually read a few poems before he gets up and walks past me to go to the bathroom. When he returns to his room, he all but closes the door. I am contrite, but I am also typing this article on my laptop so I stay put for a few more minutes, during which the longsuffering student leaves his entry, this time shutting his door decisively.
I then colonize a couch in Mills 3. Someone is surfing channels three yards to my right, but I don’t dare look up. I also don’t want to admit how much I am enjoying myself. Later I am told by Tyler Cole ’12 that my attempt to pretend I was waiting for someone was successful. We have a pleasant conversation about entry jurisdiction, sign pilfering and perceived ESPN domination on common room TVs.
Basking in class year superiority, I stride through a few more Mission entries but find them vacant. I do, however, find Andrew Nguyen ’12 in the hallway of Dennett 2. I explain my quest, and he says that without the social space of the common room – which was messier and emptier than usual, he assures me – his entry would feel much more fragmented.
At this point, I realize that I am (a) probably not subtle enough to glean reflections on common property that go beyond, “We love our territory but don’t usually hurt trespassers,” and (b) definitely not metaphysical enough to ponder the essence of a “room.” Nevertheless, I am (c) creepy enough to adopt an efficient ambush plan: enter common room, await resident, observe reaction, leave.
So it came to pass that I stalked a total of 20 common rooms, in every dorm region south of Mission. Amid vastly varying degrees of elegance, there were: four common rooms in which I encountered people whom I knew, nine in which I encountered strangers, four in which I didn’t encounter anyone despite extended occupation and three that I backed out of (one had beds; one was attached to a room that emitted, shall we say, delicate noises; one was the suite of someone I sort of knew, but not really).
Out of all these enriching explorations, a pattern emerged. If the common room belonged to more than two people, I got a scrupulous reciprocation of whatever I offered – a smile for a smile, a “hi” for a “hi,” and ditto for silence and chattiness. The sole exception was a JA who greeted me because she thought I was a pre-frosh.
On the other hand, if the common room belonged to people who knew me or one of those lucky sods who can lay claim 1.5 rooms, I generally got, “Hi. [long pause] Are you waiting for [my suitemate]?” Aberrations from this included stoicism that would make a pilgrim proud, a heartily startled holler and an outright “What are you doing in my common room?” from someone who occasionally bullies me.
I’m not too much of a common room person – once I get back to my dorm I’m inclined to pass out or do work in my room, or have giggly conversations in a suitemate’s room – and have had my fill of creepiness for a while. (Or so one would hope.) My quest may not have yielded any grails, but I now know that if my inclinations ever change, I should pursue a common room shared by at least three individuals, preferably fully clothed. Also, research indicates that I probably won’t know your name and you probably won’t be able to pronounce mine, so we’ll have something in common.