Dorms: The Next Generation

Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor's noisy party than being there.

-- Franklin P. Jones

Everybody shows up around the same time. They settle into their spaces -- hang posters on the wall, unpack their favorite pillow, and organize their clothing, books, and CDs. In one room, a candle is lit. In another, incense is burning. Despite the various homemaking activities undertaken by dozens of different people, everyone is thinking the same thing: I wonder what my neighbors are like. I've never lived in a dormitory, nor have I ever wanted to. The prospect of having "roomies" did nothing for me. Once, however, I came very close to joining a sorority -- I was 18, and a girl from my biology class at San Diego State invited me to a party at her sorority house. There I was "boozed and pizza'd" (the collegiate version of "wined and dined"), and before the weekend was out -- with a hangover worthy of medical attention -- I found myself pledging the sisterhood of Delta Zeta.

I thought it would be great to join -- to belong to a group and automatically have new friends! I convinced myself it was the life for me. That was, of course, until I was given a tour of what was to be my new home. In order to become a sister, I was told, you had to live in the house for at least one semester. I was shown the bathroom -- a spacious, gym-style locker room, really, with toilet stalls, shower stalls, and multiple sinks lining a mirrored wall. Then I was shown my future room, where I encountered two girls on the floor between bunk beds chatting with each other while a third sifted through her clothing options while wearing nothing but a towel on her head.

"They share everything?" I asked my tour guide.

"Yeah," she said. "Especially Rhonda. She likes hand-me-down guys, you know, 'broken in' by her sisters."

"Huh. You know what? The last three months have been fun and all, but I'm not going to be able to join. It's just not my scene," I said.

"You're kidding, right?" My tour guide had an expectant smirk on her face -- waiting for the punch line. Greeted only by silence, she said, "But your initiation is tomorrow! Why would you go through all the pledging just to drop out now?"

"I'm not a good sharer," I said. "I don't do communal." Thus my sorority life ended before it began.

As ironic as it may seem (because I'm so open about my life), I require privacy. How could I relax in a bathroom filled with people? How could I groom and ready myself for an evening out while others were around, watching and chattering? How could I study? Watch my favorite programs on TV? Don't even get me started on the germ thing -- with that many girls spitting in the same sinks and using the same showers, surely other microscopic communities would be moving in as well.

I tried living with a roommate -- moving into an apartment at the end of College Avenue with my best friend. Less than a year later, our friendship ended when I announced that I needed to find my own space: She felt abandoned. I felt liberated. Living alone was better than chocolate after sex. I could come and go without being questioned. I could leave dishes in the sink when I didn't feel like washing them right away. I could have people over whenever I wanted. Which is the funny thing -- I always wanted people over.

I may not be into communal living, but I can't survive without a sense of community. I threw parties with a frequency that would leave even the most well-connected Hollywood insider dazed. Now, ten years after my narrow escape from the slew of sexually transmitted diseases infesting the Greeks on campus, I have adjusted to sharing my space with another -- my life partner, David. Whether or not he's adjusted to sharing his space with me remains to be seen.

A month ago we moved into a new condo. Because our home is located in a newly constructed building, we are experiencing the mature version of dorm life. With 80 homes being populated simultaneously, the buzz and excitement in the air is palpable. Now that people are beginning to settle in, the housewarmings have begun (housewarming = an opportunity to show off your stuff, socialize, drink, and be merry; it's the adult version of the college kegger).

This weekend we attended two housewarmings. On Friday down at John and Todd's on the first floor, I sipped a blue-colored cocktail with fresh blueberries floating inside my martini glass and got to know some of my neighbors. Right before Alexia, drag queen extraordinaire, stepped out to perform in her kimono (which, I later learned, would be removed to reveal dark and colorful lingerie), David and I were whisked away to view the interiors of a few more units down the hall. The party raged on into the night, but none of the neighbors complained about the noise, as they were all in attendance.

Last night we attended a milder affair, David and Lisa's housewarming on the second floor, which began whilst the sun was still high in the sky. Because we wanted to make it to Kip's birthday party on the beach before sunset, we couldn't stay long. However, minutes after we returned from the beach, the party came to us! I had just pulled a bottle of multivitamins from the fridge when the doorbell rang. Upon opening the door, 15 or so people paraded inside -- folks who had been at David and Lisa's and other neighbors, like Josue and Rosa. All were welcomed and given the grand tour of our far-from-finished home.

As people continued to pop in, I felt like I'd been given a power boost. Excitedly, David and I spoke of our plans for the place, proudly guiding everyone toward the terrace for the jaw-dropping finale of their tour -- a 270-degree view of Cowles Mountain to the east, Tijuana and downtown to the south, and Hillcrest, Point Loma, and Mount Soledad to the west and north. After everyone left, I realized that I actually enjoy "pop-ins."

Unlike college dorms, our building offers community without the mess and stress of communal living. Walking the halls from one friend's "room" to the next, I told David, "I love this place. It feels like one great big house. It's like our condo is a giant self-contained room that we can escape to when we feel like it." I now see the appeal of dormitories -- I don't even have to put on my shoes to visit my new friends. This is my chance to experience the college life I never had! I think I'll throw a party to celebrate this next generation of dorm living. I wonder if wine comes in kegs...

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