John Grindrod: Feeling nostalgic for my temporary haunts

During my work days, I’ll periodically find myself on college campuses doing cleaning inspections in residence halls. And, while the areas I’m evaluating are limited to common spaces and not the dorm rooms themselves, often doors are open, providing me some glimpses at the young folks’ temporary quarters, the tidiness (or often the lack thereof) and the décor.

Of course, much has changed when it comes to dorm life since my days as a freshman in Morris Hall on the campus of Miami University in 1969-‘70. First of all, nowadays, most dorms I’m inspecting are co-ed, in some cases, even boys and girls in the same wing. I’m sure we Men of Morris would have been fully on board with that, , but I’m pretty certain the young ladies of ‘69 would have found the whole notion horrific.

When in dorms, I’ll often find myself thinking about my own experience over fifty years ago. While I also lived in the Sig Ep house as a sophomore and in an off-campus rented house my final two years, my first temporary digs comes with a story.

During my senior year at LCC, my buddy and future freshman year roommate Greg Swick and I decided that decorating our room in style was of utmost importance, which led to some untoward behavior in that state up north. While staying at Greg’s parents’ cottage on a winter getaway weekend where we managed to wrangle parental consent, we slipped out one night with some tools of criminality and loosened and spirited away some of the signage from the Michigan stretch of Interstate 69.

We knew those signs with our graduation year with the vibrant red, white and blue colors that reflected in the dark would, with little doubt, move us to the top of the coolest-rooms lists come the fall. We also scored some extra cool points by allowing our classmates in charge of the yearbook, The Flame, to use the signs in a photo.

Since, of course, we couldn’t take the signs to their new home in either of our parents’ cars, come move-in day, another of our Miami-bound classmates with parents who took a more blasé approach to what went in the trunk got them to Oxford.

Alas, as it played out, our dreams never were fulfilled. You see, we tried to take the signs to our room the very first night before we really knew the campus layout and were caught by campus security carrying them from our classmate’s dorm back to Morris. We were taken to the campus police station, and our parents were called. Both sets naturally were irate and incredulous since they’d just arrived home after moving us in scant few hours ago, and we were put on something called social probation.

To be honest, I’m not even sure there was such a thing as “social probation” until our idiocy wound up on the desk of a dean who felt he had to do something. Social probation meant we were grounded for our first quarter, unless we were in class or at the library. We also had to pay for the signs’ return in exchange for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s generous offer not to prosecute.

While we would always have the memories of our thrilling, nocturnal, nefarious actions, we also had to live with the embarrassment at having been caught and, almost without question, becoming the first two college students ever to see the inside of a university police station before we saw the inside of a classroom.

Despite the loss of those signs, we did manage to add some personal touches to our room. However, without those signs that found their way back home to Michigan, we surely didn’t have the coolest quarters in our hall. That honor went to two rooms that achieved the legendary status of becoming proper nouns.

There were a couple of boys who shared a great love of Mountain Dew. So as our freshman year unfolded, they began stacking on the wall above the counter all their empties. Before long, the entire wall was green and white with the red word Dew, truly a sight to behold. We all called it The Yahoo Room.

In ’69, black lights were also popular, and I remember another boy who was a huge Jimi Hendrix fan. He had posters of the ill-fated legendary guitarist all over his room, posters that glowed in the black lights that perpetually bathed the room, save the lone study lamp on his desk. His name with Jim, and I remember he signed his name Jimi as an homage to his hero. Nothing but Hendrix music played on his record player, and our Miami Jimi also wore his hair in sort of a Caucasian version of the rocker’s Afro. Of course, we all referred to it as the Purple Haze Room.

Yes, those are the thoughts that tend to find a place in my brain whenever I’m in young people’s dorms these days — thoughts of my miscreant moments of those purloined signs from so very long ago and also thoughts of my freshman mates’ and my first rooms not under Mom and Dad’s roofs. It goes without saying, though, that Greg and my room would have been far cooler had we been smarter crooks and ours would also have been accorded proper-noun status.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].