Now Playing: Pretty, by Micky and the Motorcars. “I was ridin’ on a one way ticket to an early grave. My path of destruction has long been paved. If not for you, I might have never been saved. But you caught me at a bad time.”
I started at UNC Chapel Hill in August 1975. The day I moved in was my first step on campus. Of the 20,000 people there, I knew one other student – Sam – and we were friends in high school but not close ones. We hadn’t hung out together in high school, and we wouldn’t at UNC.
So I had to find a new circle of friends. Quickly.
The first place I looked was right around me. The fourth floor of Hinton James on South Campus. As south as you could get at the time.
My freshman roommate was a guy from Kinston named Taylor Koonce. He was a great roommate: He walked on in football (played for the JVs), so he was gone every afternoon. He went home every weekend. Even though he was a freshman, he had a car (which he parked illegally but never got ticketed). And he was a pretty nice guy besides. We didn’t really hang out (he’d gone to a private school in Kinston and he spent a lot of his time on campus with his buddies from home), but we did go to Raleigh a couple of times to look for trouble. Mostly he was just gone. Which meant I essentially had a single room.
But I quickly met and became friends with a bunch of guys on the floor:
Bill and Bill were two of the most unlikely roommates ever. Bill Eagle was rail thin and had a nose like an eagle’s beak. He loved David Bowie. And most unlikely of all, his dad was a colonel in the Marine Corps. His roommate Bill was a doctor’s son from Myers Park in Charlotte. He was a hard partier and a good guy, who later became a dog trainer in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. They got along OK, though.
Greg and Willie were equally unlikely. Greg is my longtime friend Greg Mercer. He was from Eastern North Carolina and talked a mile a minute. Which came in handy when he became an exec at a Charlotte marketing company. We were both from small towns, liked Southern rock and got along right from the get-go. Willie was the son of a professor, and I say without question, was the biggest pothead I ever knew. (And I knew quite a few – draw your own conclusions.) Nice guy, slept a lot, partied hard, fun to be around, but I never quite trusted him.
Bruce and Gary were upperclassmen. Bruce claimed to be the son of a Johnson & Johnson exec in New Jersey. But then Bruce claimed a lot of stuff. Some of it might even have been true. Regardless, I liked Bruce. We hung out a lot, because he’d often sit on the balcony and play his guitar, which of course was a chick magnet. He was a lot of fun, too. Gary was a nice guy from Burlington, and I liked him OK, but he was really boring. Not sure what happened to either of those guys.
But just so you don’t think I hung out with a bunch of losers, there were also Ben and Big Ed. Ed worked for many years at the Brunswick nuclear plant near Southport (I think he might have been a nuke engineer, might still be one there for all I know), while Ben went on to become a plastic surgeon (I won’t say where). They ranked right behind Willie on the pothead list.
There also were Steve, Walt and Chris, who would be my roommate for the last three years at the University of the People. Lamar, a great guy, was our RA. And there was even another Arthur on the floor. Last name ‘o Schrum. (I swear I’m not making this up.) Who went by the name of Pod (get it – Arthropod). So we called him Prod, Probe, Prong, etc. He was crazy, so much so that he eventually joined a fraternity – a no-no among our group. We really disliked the Greeks, which wasn’t that uncommon an attitude at the time.
We all did a lot of things together, like going to Troll’s, at the time a new bar in Chapel Hill. It remained my favorite all through school, even though I don’t think it ever changed its jukebox during that time. But it had good pinball machines and a foosball table you could get to without much of a wait. And cold, cheap beer. It was run by a guy named Sam (and I swear I’m not making that up) who’d gotten tired of being a lawyer.
We’d go to football games as a group and smuggle in liquor – it wasn’t hard in those days, as long as you didn’t wave it in the face of the ushers. And I can still remember the drunken walks back from seeing Animal House and Monty Python and the Holy Grail and other movies. We’d shout lines from the movie and fall down and laugh and shout more lines. We’d make giant vats of spaghetti or chili and pull massive all-nighters together in which some measure of studying even got done.
What did we have in common? We all loved Carolina, of course. And we all lived on the Fourth Floor of James. And we all had at least a little bit of a crush on Janis.
Janis High also lived on the fourth floor. She was a freshman (freshwoman?) from Dallas. The one near Gastonia – the hellmouth of weird – not the one in Texas. She’d been a high-school cheerleader, and she often stood arms akimbo. She was famous in our crowd for saying, “Are You Making Fun of the Way I Taaalllllkkkk? (If you couldn’t tell, she’d draw out that last word for about a minute and 17 seconds – I counted one time.) She was a brunette, with a nose that was a touch too broad and a chest that was a touch too small – not that I ever touched it. She wasn’t as dumb as she sounded, and she managed to get us to do just about anything she wanted with a modest amount of flirting.
Most of us got over the crush thing after a few weeks. I think I got over it after meeting her friend Hazel (but that’s a tale for another time, and, once more, it’s not what you think). There were, of course, other girls on the floor who also became our friends: Janis’ roommate Peggy, Doris, Candy, Kathy and Verna, among others. But two of our number didn’t get over it – Bruce (the guitar guy) or Walt (who was in Air Force ROTC). They competed for Janis’ attention for months, and finally it looked like Walt had won. They started dating – Bruce seemed pretty OK with it – and things kept going smoothly into the spring semester.
Of course, there’s a “but” here. A big one (Not Janis’ – her’s was just right). All of us – including Walt – eventually found out that Bruce and Janis had been seeing each other behind Walt’s back.
Things were never quite the same after that on the fourth floor. Bruce fell out of the group altogether. We all still liked Janis, but not the way we used to. Seems like we saw less of her after that, and eventually we didn’t see her much at all. Even among those of us that were left, a bond had kind of been shattered. We still partied together and hung out and had a good time. But I’m not sure we ever completely trusted one another again the way we had during those first months. We got together in smaller groups. New people floated in. And we met people from other parts of campus. It was just different.
I guess it was a momentary low point after all the High. Though rest assured, there would be plenty of lowercase highs after that.
“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” _ Bob Dylan