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Sexy Beast: The unfortunate truth is that if a college freshman lived with this lovely, she would eventually be a coveted partner.

Freshman 101

Mistakes not to make when educating the first-year monkey mind

By Tessa Brunton

There is no denying that if college life resembled the What to Expect pamphlets handed to you at freshman orientation, the experience would be really boring. In those pamphlets, there are no depictions of the trials that lie ahead: the night Sven the exchange student will throw up on your shoes in lower quad; the first time you'll hear people having sex in the co-ed showers . . . Mistakes and surprises abound in the freshman year, and when I entered college, I thought I understood this.

Yet the last night of that first year is a perfect example of how too many mistakes and unfortunate surprises can cause an apex of hellishness like no other. Sitting at my desk in my dorm room, trying to write a 10-page essay due just after dawn, was I typing feverishly into the night? Was I mastering my complex thesis? Did I even know what a thesis was? Uh-uh. Instead, as my roommate and my ex-boyfriend fooled around on her bed across the room, I was shouting, "For the love of God, will you two please stop making out like sex-crazed monkeys! My essay is due in five hours and it's not done at all!"

I had to shout because Mia, my roommate's best friend, was blasting Outkast on the stereo. Mia had been sleeping illegally on our floor for two months and was now positioning a gargantuan purple bong between her thighs and hunting for a lighter on the floor.

"What?!" my roommate shouted over the music.

"I am going to kill you all!" I threatened. She pondered this, her drug-addled brain cells wrestling with the concept, before thoughtfully replying, "What?"

Things had obviously gotten out of hand.

In order to deal with similar challenges that won't be addressed in the What to Expect freshman-orientation pamphlet, here is some simple advice to avoid unnecessary and stressful situations in college.

Do not force yourself to live with someone you hate. The first hurdle you may face upon entering college is your new living situation.

The dorms are the New York Stock exchange of food, drugs, music and germs, and mooches abound. You can handle all of this as long as your actual roommate situation is all right. The truth is that there are several ways to drive yourself totally insane in the dorms. One way involves huffing air freshener in the bathroom. Another extremely effective road to madness is through living with someone you really dislike; in fact, it's the express route.

If you are unfortunate enough to room with a disagreeable individual, there may be a lot of talk about "mediating" the unhappy situation and reaching a "compromise." Don't buy into this psychobabble. You can't mediate your roommate's desire to build a to-scale model of the Egyptian pyramids out of Diet Coke cans inside your room (which someone actually attempted to do in my dorms). If you can't stand your roommate, your year may become a pity party, reservations for one, and you deserve better than that.

Be the squeaky wheel. Let's say something has gone wrong in the beginning of your college career. Your new roommate has a propensity to collect garbage, or all of your desired classes are full. An alternative to enduring this with a heavy heart is to make some noise. This is never truer than at college, the ultimate bureaucratic institution.

Never forget that by attending a four-year college, you are inheriting a legacy of take-no-prisoners antiestablishment activism. While you may not feel totally comfortable chaining yourself to the administration building in a pair of bell bottoms in order to get your class of choice, getting what you want is what being an undergrad is all about. And remember, if consistent complaining brings you no closer to your goals, there are always Molotov cocktails.

Adopt a professor. Much as you would peruse the kennels at the Humane Society for a suitable animal companion, you should be equally selective when choosing a college professor to call your own. And having your own professor is a necessity. Why? Just imagine Harry Potter without Dumbledore, or Luke Skywalker without Obi-Wan. If you're going to do battle with Darth (and these days, who isn't?), you have to have some skills and support. A professor who knows you and likes you will get enthusiastic about your projects, offer advice and write you gushy letters of recommendation.

Keep in mind that not all professors are adoptable. Unlike dogs, professors are not predisposed to loyalty and companionship, so be choosy. Just as Gandalf was invaluable to Frodo, the right mentor will help you through the trials of your journey, from paper-writing to fighting off those pesky orcs.

Do not have sex with people you live with. In the beginning of every college career, students experience a phase where they act a lot like monkeys: they gorge on food, participate in such bonding rituals as mutual grooming and, more often than not, engage in what can only be termed "wild and totally indiscriminate monkey sex." Because the young tend to bond with the people they live with, chances are an early fling will involve someone down the hall or just one floor up. I cannot stress enough that in-house flings are dangerous. Many a brief romance has soured due to overexposure and even more fights have been caused by the inability of ex-lovers to escape each other.

This is how the drama often goes down: Juliet is sitting at her desk playing computer solitaire and looking pissy. Romeo is chatting with someone nearby, clearly pleased that he is upsetting Juliet.

Juliet: Hey Romeo, don't you have somewhere to be?

Romeo: Um, excuse me, was I talking to you? I don't really think I was.

Juliet: Well, Tina is my roommate. Get your own.

Romeo: Hey, like, what--you own this hallway now? You, like, own Tina? The world doesn't revolve around you.

Juliet: Arrrgggh!

Get a hobby. In this case, the What to Expect pamphlet is right: hobbies are not just for bored British people who like model airplanes. They are, freakishly enough, an important part of college life. When you do find yourself in the hallway of your dorm with fistfuls of your own hair in your hands, chances are you need a diversion. Joining clubs and taking up group hobbies is the key to making friends with people you don't live with (meaning you can have sex with them) and gives you something to do other than study and experiment with hallucinogens on grassy knolls. If there isn't a club for what you want to do, make one. Besides, if you ever meet any bored British people, you will have something to talk about with them.

Surprise yourself. That last night of my freshman year still lingers in its infamy. How I finished my paper by deadline without strangling myself, my roommate, my ex-boyfriend and the girl sleeping illegally on our floor with our phone cord, I still don't completely understand. But such is the miracle of college. For every unpleasant surprise and mistake, there is also that time when we exceed our own expectations. That is the fun: having the chance to grow, to suffer (to chain yourself to the administration building) and to ultimately be educated.

Tessa Brunton has prepared for her senior year at UC Santa Cruz by choosing to live alone and learning to knit.

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From the August 17-23, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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