It started with a whisper from Mario. “There’s someone in our shower … and I don’t know who it is.”
Of the guys who shared our in-suite bathroom freshman year, all were easily identifiable. Hiro had a green towel. Donny had a blue towel. Jordy, well, sang — but since his successful Duke’s Men audition, he hadn’t stopped singing. “I went in there to brush my teeth,” said Mario, “and there was this pile of clothes, and I could hear someone … grunting?”
Meet Miami, a homeless man our well-intentioned suitemate Alan thought needed a bath. “His brother’s really rich,” said Alan, “but he kicked him out of the house, and Miami walked here from Newport, R.I.. And that’s after he was kicked out of the Marines, which wasn’t his fault.”
Miami’s appearance forced me to wear flip-flops in the shower. It also caused an attack of liberal guilt. Alan might have pushed the envelope when he turned our bathroom into a public arrondissement, but at least he was involved. That’s what Yale was about: involvement — a cappella, community service, sports, helping freshmen move in. I wouldn’t do these things. I would spend my time boozing and cruising, and then writing nasty plays about my ex-boyfriends and inviting them to sit in the audience. Was I the abnormal one? What Alan did was just a good deed gone wild. What would my good deed be?
Three days later I woke to the sound of Miami rattling my window screen. “This is Miami,” he grunted. “I need to get in. This is Miami.”
I should get up, I thought. I should offer him a beer and a foot bath.
After all, the motivations for community service are various. Didn’t I have at least one? Miami could be in dire need, a victim of the machine, even the Lord Jesus sent in disguise to test me. But he looked healthy enough from the window, and screw the machine … this man was a lunatic. And the real Lord Jesus could transfigure a shower of his own out of anything from free Atticus bread to a copy of Teen Vogue.
I closed the drapes and shuddered.
A week went by undisturbed. Getting up early for class, Mario may or may not have seen Miami vanishing out the exit door. He wasn’t sure. Thanks to Theater Studies, late nights and my own convenient laziness, I never got up before 11 a.m. I locked my door, ceding Miami the morning.
Then, just as I sat down for a quiet evening of TV with my suitemate Hiro, someone started pounding on our door.
“Should I open it?” said Hiro.
“Check the peep hole,” I said.
“I can’t see anything.”
I looked out. The sorry bastard was standing too far to the left.
“Fine,” I said. “Open it.”
“I don’t want to open it,” Hiro hissed. “It’s Miami.”
“Well I’m not opening it,” I said, thinking, by the time he’s heckling you for cash, I can be in my room with the door locked.
Hiro undid the lock. We heaved a collective sigh of relief. Standing innocuous and bewildered in the doorway was some kid from upstairs, the most normal visitor to our suite since our parents left.
I had become ridiculous. The Miami that haunted me now was a mere bogart of public service. I was being taunted. Everywhere around me were admirable people: pre-meds, East Asian Studies majors, the guy who founded a non-profit for AIDS in Africa, the girl who learned Arabic for fun. Sure I wanted to help, but I wanted to avoid sick people, gross people, crazy grunters and ex-Marines.
So, I became a FOOT leader. Touring unsuspecting freshmen through the wilderness for two years was my offering to the Yale God of service. But as several members of the class of 2007 can tell you, when a moose charged us in the Vermont forest, I dove off the trail to cower in the underbrush, leaving them for dead. (Side note: The moose turned out to be charging away from us, but my depth perception is like Miami’s life narrative, faulty at best.)
As I scrambled to regain my dignity in front of my giggling freshmen, I wondered if I was to be a bystander to the Miamis of life, that rare antagonist to the Yale do-gooder, the Yale no-good. Was I the kid who went to the ACLU meeting for the pizza? The signs were abundant. I always monopolized free food. Given the chance, I stole every last free condom. I was the kid who would consider the Whiffenpoofs not because he liked music but because they’d take him to Thailand on world tour — the holy grail of cheap things. But didn’t the Whiffenpoofs read to children in schools? That sounded too do-goodery for me.
I had to own it. In a world of star students, I was a heaping degenerate. A taker, not a giver. A cruel and miserable blight on the shining reputation of my school.
“Give me another chance!” I cried to the heavens. “I’ll let him shower in my shower!”
But only because it’s cleaned by the staff.