Those fluorescent lights tho

Those fluorescent lights tho

Now officially on winter break, Daily Editor and Carmanite Rachel Deal reflects on her first semester spent in Carman.

On move-in day, it takes three tries to unlock the door to my “suite.” The room isn’t as bad as she thought it would be, my mom says, but she grimaces when she looks into the bathroom. We stretch a navy fitted sheet over my mattress while my dad hangs up an obligatory string of Christmas lights, and my siblings peer out the windows at Lerner’s brick side. I cover up as much of the greasy white walls as I can—I put up a Vampire Weekend poster, screencaps from Twin Peaks, a Columbia banner, photos from proms and birthdays and that time in Aaron’s backyard, my map of the world in Arabic. My mom still sometimes asks me about people we met that day, in the elevator and on the sidewalks of 114th, but I don’t remember their names or what they look like. A few days into NSOP, my lights and photos of family and friends slip from the sweating walls, and I leave them on the floor behind my bed.

When my friend visited from Harvard, he joked that Carman reminded him of a prison (which, in turn, reminds me of that Sylvia Plath quote: “Your room is not your prison. You are.”) It’s true, though—Carman is stark and institutional, institutional in a different way than muggy Hamilton classrooms and the names on Butler’s façade. It is not the Columbia you see on campus tours—it is not the striking grace of Alma Mater, and it is not red brick and blue roofs like Kent or Mathematics. Carman is fluorescent lights and white walls and vomit-stained carpeting and crumbling ceiling tiles and glowing neon red exit signs—blunt and unpretentious.

I have a few upperclassman friends who have refused to enter Carman since moving out at the end of their freshman years. Too many bad memories or something—memories of elevators reeking of urine, of sweaty parties and body odor and tiled floors sticky with Crazy Stallions and Lime-A-Ritas. The carpeted hallway, too, is always encrusted with something—the day after study break, it’s tortilla chips and Oreo crumbs, and after Saturday nights, it’s grains of rice and shreds of lettuce from (drunkenly) spilled halal. One night while we’re lying on our filthy hallway floor, our RA tells some friends and me that he loved Carman as a freshman. The first night of NSOP, he had us all write down a hope or dream for the semester on notecards. Afterward, he hung them all up on the bulletin board in front of the elevators, but some kid from another floor tore it down when he was drunk.

It’s a weekend night, and I have a big Comp Sci project or Lit Hum paper or something due the upcoming week, but lacking the motivation to go to Butler and search for a seat, I end up in the floor lounge with my laptop. Between the techno music coming from one suite and the smell of weed leaking from underneath the door of another, though, I get nothing done, but I like watching the people on my floor come and go. Sitting at the end of the hall, I don’t take my eyes off people as they walk its length, the glow of the fluorescents obscuring the outlines of their features. The elevator dings, and one guy stumbles back in a suit, zig-zagging down the hall to his suite, his tie loose. It dings again—another boy, this one wearing glasses and a backpack, slumps back to his room from the library. The glow of the lights is heady, and I can still feel their buzzing as I return to my dark suite, clicking the heavy door shut.