A Half Naked Exchange Student and Other Matters

Here’s a little something I wrote for a magazine.
It calls to mind my college life and all the travesties that took place.
Enjoy.

Craig lived a few doors down from me my freshman year of college.
Just across the hall on the fourth floor of Rinker dorm, he lived and
moved and had his being.
Hailing from the West Coast of Florida,
from a little piece of earth called Sanibel Island,
Craig came to us a drummer, a lover, and
in the hearts of his fellow suitemates, a legend.
Now, it’s really quite impossible for me to convey to you the full realm and
reason of Craig’s existence, but let me just say that he was a bit of a free spirit.
And if you don’t know what I mean, and of course, unless you lived there, you
won’t know what I mean, well, my hope is in the few words that follow,
I can begin to pull back the curtain into the magic and mystery that was Craig Stewart.

I came to Palm Beach Atlantic University at the tender age of eighteen with
all of the wild hopes, dreams, and obnoxious energy that seems to accumulate
in one’s veins during that long-awaited summer between high school and higher learning.
When you’re a freshman, you call it excitement, but by the time you’re a senior, you call it nauseating.
Like a shaken can of mountain dew (which I can assure you, I drank plenty of),
I arrived on campus that first day, ready to burst with life and optimism.

It was the fall of 1999, but coming to south Florida from the great state of
Virginia, one would have to watch the weather channel in order to have any idea
what season it really was. I guess I just wasn’t used to September requiring sandals and sun-block,
and so I admit, it was pretty disconcerting at first. I was thinking sweaters, pants, shoesÖ.
you know, all the things normal people wear in autumn.
But no. Not West Palm Beach.
It’s shorts and t-shirt or it’s nothing. If you even try to wear pants in September,
you’ll be swimming in your own sweat by the time you get to your first class.
So needless to say, it was a difficult transition that first month, but after a few
rather nasty sun burns, followed by the illumination that I could go to the beach
every single day of the calendar year, I’d say I acclimated rather quickly.

But for Craig, growing up on an island down at the bottom of the United States,
he came to school prepared for hot days, warm nights and plenty, and I do mean
plenty, of practical jokes. I lived in room 410, while Craig and his suitemates
were just across the way in 408. Oh 408, how I miss you.
And for those of you that haven’t started upon your college experience just yet,
let me explain a suitemate. A suitemate is essentially a roommate that lives in
a separate room, but closely connected to your room.
In this case, each suite, (i.e. 408) contained four rooms therein,
where you would live with a roommate, and also, six other suitemates.
You’d share a set of bathrooms, and a lovely living space, where many of the
strangest, funniest, and most memorable moments would take place.

Now like I said, Craig loved his jokes, and when we weren’t his subject,
we loved them too. The best times coming when we could all get it
on the action together. All for one, at the expense of oneÖfor all of us.
You know how it goes. Flour in the face, water balloon from a
well-positioned balcony, practical jokes are just as much a staple of dorm life
as Little Debbie’s and ramen noodles.
And after a good solid semester of fun, sun, and occasional studying,
the spring semester of 2000 was upon us, and we were ready to embrace her
with grander schemes and fresher victims.

Luckily, our beloved college had something special in store.
Unbeknown to any of us, we were about to be given the gift of a lifetime.
PBA called them, “perspective students,” but by the time we were done with them,
there was nothing perspective about them.
Now, for those of you that don’t know, these are simply,
up and coming seniors in high school, trying to see what college life is all about.
They come and look around, and in this case, they stay in a suite to experience
dorm life first hand. Poor guys. They never knew what hit them.

Let me just see if I can paint this picture for you.
Imagine you’re going to see a school that you’re fairly excited about.
Located in south Florida, right by the Atlantic Ocean, you’re visiting
Palm Beach Atlantic University, and you’re overwhelmed with joy.
You’ll be hitting the surf, laying in the sun, and hopefully hanging
with some cool college kids.
Hands down, you know that it’s going to be the time of your life.

So after a visit with the admissions office, and a thorough inquisition on the beach
and its whereabouts, you’re shown the way to Rinker dorm, where your
counselor kindly escorts you to the door. They tell you to ride the elevator up to
the fourth floor and turn right, room 408. You do. You give a knock but no one
answers. You wait. You try again, but this time you give the door a little nudge
of frustration, and to your surprise, it swings open. A bit apprehensive now,
you make your way down a narrow dimly lit hallway and into a living room
where you’re greeted, not by some beachy college dudes, but by a half-naked
exchange student, beating a hand drum and screaming in horrible goat noises.
Think Empire Strikes Back, like the Ton Ton that Luke splits open and crawls inside?
Well, he sounds like that. And suddenly, to your horror, he looks at you
hollering something in what seems to be Russian, and then resumes to
beat his drum while dancing hypnotically to the rhythm he’s creating.
In a bit of a panic, you scour the room with your eyes, hoping for someone
or something to save you from this intensely awkward moment you’ve just walked
yourself into. No help. Nothing but a few lit candles, and empty rooms surround you.

You stumble. You notice he’s wearing what appears to be a diaper
constructed from bed sheets, and nothing but a large fur hat on top of his head.
He’s getting angry now, and with no other alternatives, you simply turn and run.
This is not what you signed up for, and it’s definitely not what you were expecting.
This isn’t even something you could imagine seeing in a movie.
But then, who could ever be expecting the fantastical ideas that Craig would concoct?
None of us, I can assure you, and certainly not any of the students
that came to visit that fateful year.

Every time it was the same story. Students come. Students go. After just one night, they would inevitably ask to be moved to another room. Something about feeling creeped out by the guy in 408, and then we’d never hear from them again. Oh, those were good times, and looking back, I suppose, quite scandalous. I can’t help but wonder how many more freshmen PBA might have had that next year, had they not first sent them to the land of Craig. What might have happened had I not been placed on the fourth floor of Rinker dorm? I can’t be sure, but I do know, for your sakes, I hope you have a friend like Craig when and if you finally do make it to college. A friend, who for some reason knows random phrases of Russian, and who really knows how to have a good time. I’m telling you, with a kid like Craig Stewart, your life will never be the same.

Cheers,
Mike