When I moved into my new dorm during my sophomore year at Fordham, I expected no surprises. The second floor was an all girls’ floor, my freshman roommate and close friend lived right across the hall, and my third roommate was a transfer who my original roommate and I begrudgingly took in with latent resentment and reluctant acceptance that our mandated double was now to be a triple. What I did not expect, however, was that living in the room next to mine would be the director of a service project program at Fordham, a man by the name of Peter Frederick.
When I first saw the name “Peter Frederick” neatly taped on the door, I was baffled and, admittedly, also a bit concerned by the identity of my new neighbor. What the fuck? Is he…a priest? Would there be a Jesuit next door? Would he look the other way when we misbehaved or would he come down hard on us with an iron fist and the wrath of God? To my delight–and also dismay, for living next door to a priest would have been, of course, hilarious–Peter Frederick is a tall, geeky, and awkward man in his late thirties or early forties, wears glasses, carries a messenger bag, and always greets you with a warm “hi, how’s it going?” He is not a priest, though he just might be a saint. He kindly and patiently holds the door for you if you’re coming inside or up the stairs behind him, and he gently admonishes you when you smoke a cigarette too close to the building’s entrance. He spoke to us briefly about his program at our first floor meeting, how it’s a great opportunity to see the world and make a change. Go forth and set the world on fire, am I right? That is about the extent to which I have interacted with Peter Frederick, yet through our adjacent, paper thin walls and under the guise of the night, he probably knows me better than some of my nearest and dearest friends.
This is not to say that I have firsthand caught Peter Frederick in the act of spying or intentionally eavesdropping on the events and conversations in my room. I have never found him with his ear permanently pressed to the wall, begging for more conversation or debauchery. In fact, I’m sure Peter Frederick could really care less about what an entire floor of twenty-year-old ambitious, yet rowdy college girls are doing in their rooms at any given hour. He probably thinks of us as residents, neighbors, and nothing more or less. Still, though, you have to wonder what he thinks every single time you misbehave or have that totally weird before bed conversation.
My roommates and I invented a game called “What would you do?” and we would play a few nights a week before we went to sleep. In the said game, we would ask each other what we would do in a given situation, typically an overly sexual, physically dirty, or unhygienic one. The scenarios would be met with a roar of laughter and a playful expression of disgust or disdain followed by, in all seriousness, what we would do. The game was hilarious, if not revolting, and there wasn’t a night we played where one of us didn’t vocally or internally wonder if Peter Frederick could hear us ask each other the twisted, absurd questions we’d ask one another and our screeches of laughter. What would you do, Peter Frederick? I’m sure I don’t want to know the answer to that question.
As a sometime stoner and lazy college student who doesn’t always have the will to walk outside, I learned during the dangerous outdoor conditions of Hurricane Sandy that the best place to spark up a joint or a bowl was my dorm room’s bathroom. With the days of communal bathrooms long behind me, I could creep into my bathroom at any time, turn the shower on to the hottest water setting possible, and blaze up in my very own personal steam chamber. Many a memorable night has been spent hotboxing said bathroom, most notably being the one where a group of seven or eight of us piled into the three beds in our room and watched a laser light show complete with the Imagine Dragons blaring on a set of nice quality speakers. The hallway reeked of pot (and teen spirit), and every single time I pressed that bowl–aptly named Tiger Lilly for the flowerlike figure painted on it–to my lips, I said a silent prayer that Peter Frederick wasn’t sitting in his room trying to relax after a long, hard day of saving the world with the remote control in one hand and an ice cold beer in the other and suddenly be disrupted by the stench of marijuana floating through my vent into his room and down the hallway. Yet not once has he reacted (knock on wood). Perhaps he was into the green when he was my age, too. Perhaps his sense of smell is dwindling. Or perhaps he doesn’t give a shit.
He’s probably familiar with the sounds of sweet, harmonious love-making between two young individuals inspired in the heat of the moment–or perhaps by one too many beers at the Rugby House or shots at Mugz’s. You can’t walk past a dorm room nowadays without hearing the current conversation inside. Now imagine trying to avoid hearing sex. You may try to avert your ears, but you just can’t because you know you don’t want to. The room fills with the sounds of overdramatic moaning and the bed creaking against the wall with each thrust. Whether it’s harder, slower, closer, what have you, you can recognize the sounds and signs just about anywhere. We need sex to stay mentally stable, especially in a time of great stress and fear that we won’t be prepared to embark successfully on the rest of our lives. For me, it’s mortifying enough being pressured into kissing and telling after an intimate night, but I’m sure it’s much more mortifying when you can hear every event of the bed olympics through the walls.
So I’m sorry, Peter Frederick, if you have ever smelt my weed smoke or unintentionally heard me having sex or if you’ve ever wanted to participate in a game of what would you do, but couldn’t because you’re separated by the adjoining wall. And every single time you greet me with a seemingly innocuous “hi, how’s it going?” I can’t help but wonder if what you really meant to say was “don’t act all coy and innocent, I know what you did last night,” or “I know your secrets. I know you better than you know yourself.” Truthfully, somedays I want to put my ear to the wall we share and hear your phone conversations. Once, just once, I want to walk into the hallway one day and smell smoke wafting from underneath your door. And next time you’re cooking a nice meal that smells like a fresh, juicy steak or a hearty, exuberant Thanksgiving family dinner, invite me, because God knows I love to eat and the cafeteria food just isn’t satisfying. Then, we can pick each other’s brains and share the secrets we already know.