I had a hard time getting a sense of who Erik Anderson was prior to our interview. It didn’t help that his Facebook profile was private and that his WSO photo featured someone else’s face, half-concealed by Nutella-buttered toast (Anderson later explained that this is his “chick deterrent”). But as we sat down in Paresky and immediately dove into a discussion about skydiving, I realized that whoever this guy was, this would be a wild conversation.
I heard from a ski friend that you’re “a ridiculous dude”!
Man, I’ve been set up! Does that mean I actually have to be myself here?
Only if you’re super-cool. Describe yourself in 3 words.
Charming, wise and handsome. Hopeless and romantic as well. Charming, hopeless and then romantic.
How was studying abroad?
It was awesome! I went to Nepal and India.
Where did you stay?
We lived in homestays with Tibetan refugees in what was kind of like the projects of Kathmandu.
Do you speak the language?
We learned the language. The first day we got there, I only knew how to say hello. My homestay mom, who was more like a grandmother and literally half my size, didn’t speak any English. I didn’t speak any Tibetan. So we just sat on the floor for like three hours drinking tea.
That’s an adorable image. Did you become close with your hosts?
I was really close with my family in Kathmandu. They were awesome. And they had family in America. When I got home I took a lot of pictures of their grandson who lived in New York, who they hadn’t seen. Then I made a CD of him and gave it to them.
Aw! Sounds like Nepal was a good time. What did you do in India?
I went to the Kashmir region with my friend who is an officer in the U.S. Army and goes to Harvard Law School. It was a wild experience, living at 15,000 feet on the west edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Living in what?
Sometimes in an Indian army parachute that we bought off a guy. Most of the time we stayed in villages, so we just knocked on front doors and asked if we could stay with people.
Any crazy adventures?
This one time, we were on the border of India and Pakistan, and there are these border checkpoints where you have to give a copy of your permit to every station. So we had 10 copies, but there were 11 border stations. At our last stop, we gave them our original copy, but they never gave it back to us! We’d overstayed our permit, which is grounds for arrest. We had no permit, which is grounds for arrest. And we were almost in Pakistan, which could be grounds for arrest, depending on the day.
What did you do?
We waited until Indian army transport was coming back and paid them 400 rupees to sit in the back with the ammunition. The border police are different than the Indian army. There’s a bit of rivalry between them. So the army smuggled us back.
Were you scared?
This one time I was.
Only one time?
I was taking pictures of rock art [at] these cliffs at the base of this bridge that was being built … and of course, the army sees. So I was almost detained for a while. I had to go back to this guy’s house. Some of them spoke a little English, and I spoke a little Ladakhi, so they could translate into Hindi. I had to have this guy explain, “Hey, this guy is actually doing research for an academic project.” I was searched, patted down, everything.
That’s terrifying! Did you meet lots of shady strangers?
Well, I hitchhiked back with the Indian equivalent of a semi-truck with two Kashmiri guys. They are unbelievably charismatic in the worst way. They’re shysters. I fell asleep holding onto my stuff. When I woke up, the stuff had been taken out of my backpack. It was all laid out, and they’d divided my things into two piles. I figured, “Hmm, one of those piles is not for me.” So I was like, “No, no, no!” Luckily, I’m a pretty big dude, and most guys in India aren’t over six feet.
Was it worth putting yourself in constant danger?
Oh, hell yeah! What kind of question is that?
Was it hard readjusting to being back in civilization?
Yeah, it was really hard. I had been to Nepal and then to India and then back home in Montana where I was skiing and doing outdoorsy stuff. When I got back to Williams, everyone was applying for financial internships and stuff. I was like, maybe I should be looking for a financial internship.
No way! Hitchhiking through Asia beats working on Wall Street any day. But what are your post-grad plans?
I want to sail up to Newfoundland and on to Greenland, Iceland, Norway and down to the Mediterranean. I’ll probably write and e-book. That way I don’t need an editor. I swear a lot. And it takes too much time to do a real book anyway.
I’d love an advance copy – but tell me, what are some of your hobbies?
I ski of course, but a lot of people don’t know that I like cooking, photography, graffiti tagging . . .
It’s super cool – you take an X-acto knife and cut out stencils and spray-paint over them. Then you find a wall or whatever and make art.
Have you ever made art in an illegal place?
Nah, never! [Looks shiftily sideways]
Hey, even though you haven’t said it much during this conversation, I hear you use the word “dude” all the time. What’s up with that?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’m not using it with you because I’m trying to be intellectual. But I just love the way it rolls off the tongue, like DUDE! It’s probably kind of 80s, but hey, I’m from Montana. It takes awhile for trends to work their way inwards.
You seem to have a unique perspective on things. Do you have any novel advice for your fellow students?
Stay in school. It’s good for ya. And enjoy the office. ’Cause it’ll support my lifestyle.
What’s your lifestyle?
Being your boss.
Being my boss?
Being everyone’s boss. Work hard so I don’t have to. [Laughs] Also, this is more a suggestion for wasting time, but watch Da Ali G!
Solid guidance. Who are your comedic inspirations?
Ali G, Dave Chapelle, Robin Williams. Life. My mother.
Here’s the real question: What percent of your jokes do you actually think are funny?
Ninety percent. For me, anyway. For the general population, I’d say it’s about 60/40. Meaning that they think 40 percent of my jokes are funny. But I don’t care. Sometimes I’ll just keep going with a joke that I think is funny, and my friends will be like, dude, stop, but I keep going because I’m laughing.
Ok, backstory: My friend’s dad always tries to get upgraded first-class by asking the gate agent, “If I tell you a joke and you laugh, will you upgrade me to first class?” He says it works a lot, but he never tells us what the joke he uses is. So I was thinking of a joke that would work. People will be like “I hate you ’cause that joke is so dumb. But I did laugh.”
Alright. Let me hear it.
Why does Snoop Dog carry an umbrella?