When I was a TA, a student once told me that some of her friends filled Gatorade bottles with vodka before coming to my class. We met on Thursday afternoons, right before the undergrad weekend. That means Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off. You actually don’t start studying until Monday morning. I pondered the situation a moment and shrugged. I said, “Fine. Whatever.” The students in question weren’t disruptive. In fact, they were quite chill. They participated. They seemed happy. I didn’t want to fuck with that. I was their professor. Not their life coach. There’s a difference. If they got through Contemporary American Literature with a buzz, but could explicate a poem by Langston Hughes, that was a major win.
As a college professor, I’m not supposed to say this. But I don’t care if students drink. Yes, I care if they drink too much, but that’s different. I drank and smoked pot all the way through college and graduate school. My first time having sex was also my first time getting stoned. Some of my friends even considered me a late bloomer. Lost my virginity at 19. Jeez, I didn’t fuck in high school? I did some things in high school, but intercourse wasn’t among them. You know what sucks? I can’t really tell my students all the fun I had in college. I’d probably get fired. One time, a student complained when I showed clips from an art house movie with brief nudity.
Even sadder? Some of my students think they’re so cool because they listen to Miley Cyrus, but they haven’t climbed a sixty foot rockface without rope. Have they? I’m sorry to throw Miley under the buss. I just have to speak the truth here. What’s my definition of cool? Sharing malt liquor with a cute guy during a severe thunderstorm in the mountains. If the tent’s a rockin, the wind’s gusting 60 mph.
What’s also cool? Getting arrested outside an abandoned prison you just sneaked through under a full moon. When the cops let us go, we went to a bar to celebrate. Trespassing normally carries a hefty fine. They let us off with a warning.
My underage drinking had little in common with the activities of fraternities and sororities. I was a back packer and a rock climber and a troublemaker. We drank around campfires and fucked in sleeping bags. We didn’t get trashed, because we’d be hiking or biking ten miles the next day, starting at dawn. Ever tried kayaking class three rapids with a hangover? Not a good idea.
One semester, I actually lived off campus with a pot dealer. I was looking for a place away from my family. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to one of his older friends who was managing his dad’s townhouse near campus. Nobody told me he was a dealer, until my first week when he decided to test me. He called me into the kitchen and said, “You know anybody who wants some bud?” The refrigerator practically glowed kryptonite green when he opened it.
I also waited tables at this hipster bar. Half the waitresses did coke. One of them wore a purple wig to work. She was hot stuff. We competed over guys sometimes. I usually won because I could speak at a normal pace and didn’t have the jitters. Two of the wait staff lived with our manager and his daughter. They never said so, but I think they had orgies.
All of this happened before I ever turned 21.
What else? I’ve told you I was high during my first time having sex. Here’s how that happened. During my shift, a gorgeous young man named Jordan followed me into the kitchen. I turned around, and he placed a hand on my cheek and said, “You’re beautiful.” It wasn’t sexual harassment, because it turned me on big time. We were both a little drunk. Yeah, the owner let us drink on shift. I was 19. Jordan wasn’t a complete stranger. We’d been flirting for a couple of days, but now he made his intentions known.
Jordan lived in the woods with a small commune. They’d gathered wood from their network and built three log cabins. At least that’s what they said. It was amazing. They were, like, real cabins that didn’t seem in danger of collapsing. Jordan drove me out there, and we spent the weekend smoking, drinking, making out near a pond, and exploring each other. He gave me a crash course in sex. He always seemed so much more mature, but he was also underage. Just one year older than me. 20.
People have this stereotype that fraternities and sororities are the only ones who drink at college. Nope, they’re just the ones who do it badly. They’re the ones who get wasted and start fights. Not every frat, I’m sure. But the bad ones. The rest of us drank responsibly. Maybe it has something to do with socio-economic status. At the end of the day, I come from a working class background. My dad makes a lot of money, but he doesn’t spend any of it. He acts just like my grandpa, who was an auto mechanic. Bare with me; this is going somewhere.
You see, I did briefly consider joining a sorority in college. I interviewed with a couple of houses. They seemed eager to have me. (Who wouldn’t? Wink.) But then they explained the fees. It was a long time ago, but I remember them throwing out a number like $250 or even $400 in membership dues. My eyes bulged. I said inside myself, “Fuck that.” I couldn’t afford to spend a week’s wages on something I could get for free. Some reflection showed me that I really just wanted a conduit to socialize. So I joined the Great Outdoors Club. Coincidentally, most of those people shared my working class background. We understood college for what it was: time to become adults, test our limits. We had jobs, we went to our classes and studied. We got all that shit done so we could party on the weekends.
When bad shit happened, we didn’t call our parents. We dealt with the situation. For example, one of my friends bought a used car just in time for fall break my freshmen year. We piled into the clunker and rumbled off for a weekend climbing trip in Virginia. Halfway, the car started grinding and growling. We broke down after 3 hours. My friend called her dad, and he laughed. “I told you not to waste your money on a lemon.” And he hung up. She said, “Fuck.” Fortunately, one of our group had AAA. We spent the night drinking in a motel, five of us sharing two beds, and then got towed home the next day. We didn’t cry. We sneaked down to the dam outside town the next day and climbed there.
Alcohol and pot was around all the time. I lost count of all the parties I went to in college; they weren’t crazy ass riots. Twenty or so people got together, we drank, and hooked up quietly to Jeff Buckley music. Yeah, there was always that one girl throwing up in the bathroom, but we took care of her. These days, I don’t often get a chance to share all my stories. I look at my students and hope they’re having fun. Real fun. Not lame ass parties where they stand around sipping from red plastic cups while One Direction plays in the background–red cups they’ll throw in the yard. Gross.