I recall a strange and hazy time about four and a half years ago, fretting in the sweltering heat of Hinton James 244, sitting on my bed while the rest of the residents scurried outside.
My suitemate from Brevard was parading his spittle collection, a particularly nauseating mass of his oral waste that he kept in three 2-liter bottles above the door. My roommate spoke in a dialect from Edenton that barely passed for anything on our side of the language tree, and the only things I had to wear in the 105-degree weather were corduroy pants from my goofball private high school. Tripping over the bricks, showing up for classes in rooms miles away from where the classes were taught and getting lost by the water tower, I might as well have had a huge placard wrapped around my neck that said "Oh so clueless" and a number to call in case anybody found me peeing in his yard.
But there was a time before that. I call it The Time When I Thought I Wanted to Go to Duke.
For some unexplainable reasons having to do with planetary alignment or a chemical imbalance, I was set on going to that university in Durham. My high school in Virginia brainwashed us all into thinking that if we didn't end up going to either Duke, UVa. or one of the Ivys we would surely end up stocking Pampers at Wal-Mart. So off I scuttled to those schools, all bushy-tailed and bated, hopin' to impress some institutes of higher learning. By the time I got to visiting Duke, however, the luster of college had begun to dull into a bleak haze.
My tour guide's name was Lorna - no lie - and she spoke in a loud, brash voice that seemed to shake the leaves from the cute little shrubberies. "And on your left is Duke Chapel, the centerpiece of our Gothic campus. Our university is considered by many to be the most beautiful campus in America."
"Umm, excuse me," I said, "Where do all the kids live?"
"The kids," she said, in a voice of utter disdain reserved only for parents whose child had been very, very naughty. "The Duke student body mostly lives in the buildings you are looking at right here, with the beautiful Gothic architecture."
"Well, how hard are the classes here? Would I be studying all the time?"
She fixed her cruel New Jersey gaze on my frightened 17-year-old soul. "Look, that's totally assuming you even get in here at all. I know tons of people that would have given their left arm to get in here. And not only that, but - Oh, hi, Thad!" Some senior named Thad wearing Vuarnets and baggy khaki shorts ambled up with an evil Gleem smile.
"Leadin' the kids around, eh Lorna?" he asked, and cackled like the frat Grinch.
"Yeah," she giggled, and the two whispered to each other while exchanging muffled laughs.
I was herded into the cafeteria and stuck in a line for pizza, while Lorna went off into the crowd with some of her friends. A scowling guy slapped a piece of rubber pepperoni pizza on my plate, and as I walked across the room to sit down, I tripped on one of those Gothic little cherub things on the floor and sent my pizza flying 20 feet onto the sweater of a girl named Annabeth, a junior English major from Bridgeport, Conn.
"Oh my God!" she squealed, and every face in the entire joint looked right at me. Thad the sunglasses man started to clap, and half of the cafeteria joined in my humiliation.
Suddenly, I was back in third grade, and all the boys and girls were pointing and laughing at the picture I'd drawn of my family. Suddenly, I was sitting alone at the side of the blacktop while everyone else got picked for the dodgeball team. Suddenly, I was lying in the Iowa snow, getting my ribs kicked by five guys who thought I'd stolen their football. I had no escape.
And that's when I decided to go to Carolina. I had never seen the place, had never heard of Chapel Hill and I picked Hinton James because it had a laundry room. After a while I grew used to the town - I didn't get lost behind the water tower; I learned what Gardner Hall was; and I began to enjoy the company of my suitemate, despite his spittle collection. I also developed a taste for basketball, and during the games I noticed that we had certain heated rivalries - whenever we played one of those teams, I got tense and dug holes in the seat.
Now I realize that school spirit is a pretty goofy thing to some people, but I'll tell you something: I hate Duke with an infernal passion undying. I hate every leaf of every tree on that sickening campus. I hate every fake cherub Gothic piece of crap that litters the buildings like hemorrhoidal testaments to imagined superiority. When I see those Dookie boneheads shoe-polishing their faces navy blue on television, squandering their parents' money with their fratty elitist bad sportsmanship antics and Saab stories, I want to puke all over Durham.
So this is my request, boys of basketball: Tonight, I not only want you to win, I want Krzyzewski calling home to his mother with tears in his eyes. I want Alaa Abdelnaby to throw up brick after brick. I want Rick Fox to take Christian Laettner to the hoop so many times that poor Christian will be dazed on the bench with an Etch-a-Sketch and a box of Crayola crayons. I want Bobby Hurley to trip on his shoelaces and fly into a fat alumnus from Wilmington. Send Thad and Lorna home with their blue tails between their legs.
God bless them Tar Heel boys!
And that, my friends, is why Duke is the bane of our existence! Go Tar Heels!