Confusion of State
By Steve Hofstetter
The most popular kid in Sunny Valley High School gently lifted his duffel bag up a few inches, careful not to hit the guy passed out beneath him. Pizza boxes and beer cans littered his path, but thankfully, the passed out guy was the only body in his way.
Jason finally found suite 412, put his bag down, knocked, and waited for the answer that he didnâ€™t get. After making sure that his itinerary instructed him to this exact room, Jason tried knocking again, receiving the same empty result. After making sure that one of the cardboard ducks on the door read â€œAndy,â€ Jason tried to make contact a third and final time, coupling his knock with a loud â€œis anybody here?â€ From inside the suite, Spencer yelled, â€œNo.â€
Spencer wasnâ€™t asleep when Jason got there, but he wasnâ€™t planning on getting out of bed for another hour. He lay there, fully dressed from the night before, wearing blue jeans that were no longer blue, a Ghostbusters t-shirt that was no longer white, and one backwards Converse All-Star, that was barely a shoe anymore. As Spencer was trying to remember the last time his shoe was on forwards, Jasonâ€™s voice derailed his train of thought.
â€œIs this Andy Wrightâ€™s room?â€ Jason yelled, one cheek almost pressed up against the door. â€œIâ€™m looking for Andy Wright.â€
That was enough to wake Spencerâ€™s roommate, who was not Andy Wright. Spencerâ€™s roommate was Rob Dryden, and unlike Spencer, Rob Dryden had been sleeping.
â€œWho is it?â€ asked Rob, as if someone had dared to disturb his thousand year slumber.
â€œI think itâ€™s the anti-Christ,â€ replied Spencer.
The red numbers of Robâ€™s alarm clock slowly faded in to read 1:30. A bit early for a Friday.
â€œWho are you and why are you bothering us?â€ Spencer called into the hallway.
Jason explained that he was a prospective student, and that he was supposed to be staying with Andy Wright, of the suite 412 Wrights. Being the only one in the room dressed, Spencer got up to go get Andy, despite his now surety that Jason was the anti-Christ.
Spencer and Jason walked down the hallway towards Andyâ€™s girlfriendâ€™s room, where Andy had spent the night. And the week. Andy and Becky were a new couple, and they were still in the relationshipâ€™s â€œmove-in togetherâ€ phase. Spencer was pretty sure that Andy would get tired and come back to his own suite soon, but never having been in a relationship himself, he had no proof.
â€œHousekeeping!â€ Spencer yelled into the suite door, while trying to identify his own affected accent.
Beckyâ€™s roommate, Jen, just as asleep as Rob had been, called back in a useless attempt to find out who it was.
â€œI come to turn down pillows for you!â€ Spencer continued. â€œTowel? You need fresh towel?â€
Jen poked her mussed-hair filled head out the door, and found the always mussed Spencer and a letter-jacket clad stranger. Using her intuitive abilities and the name sewed on the strangerâ€™s chest, she guessed that jacket boy was Jason.
Spencer explained that Jason was a prospective NETU student looking for Andy. Annoyed that neither Spencer nor Jason were there to help make her bed, Jen retreated into her suite to retrieve her roommateâ€™s boyfriend. Spencer smiled, glimpsing the baby-tee and boxers that Jen had slept in, but quickly grew stern as he realized that Jason was just as impressed.
Rob towered over his hamper, removing his clothing piece by piece. He smelled each article before tossing in a pile, until he arrived at a pair of boxers so foul that he could take no more.
â€œI knew this day would come,â€ Rob said.
â€œWhat day?â€ asked Spencer. â€œFriday?â€
â€œRob, itâ€™s totally Friday. I know because yesterday, pink-pants-girl wore her pink pants to Poly Sci, and she always wears those on Thursday. Thatâ€™s why I nicknamed her pink pants girl.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not what I meant,â€ Rob said. â€œWait, every Thursday?â€
â€œShe hasnâ€™t missed one all semester,â€ Spencer replied.
â€œAre they the same pair every time?â€
â€œI think so. Theyâ€™ve got this little heart on one of the back pockets. Oh, and the way she sits sometimes, the pants crease exactly in the...â€ Spencer interrupted himself. â€œUm, yeah, theyâ€™re the same pair.â€
â€œHow does she do it?â€ Rob asked.
Spencer began imitating exactly how pink pants girl sat before Rob interrupted and explained that he was less curious as to how she sat, and more about how she could get the same pair of pants clean every week. Though how she sat would have to be investigated some day.
Robâ€™s father had recently decreed that he become more independent and stop sending his laundry home. And though Spencerâ€™s explanation of â€œput it in the machine and take it out when it buzzes,â€ was helpful, Rob was still afraid heâ€™d screw things up. Especially since Spencer had only done laundry three times before. And that it was already March.
Jasonâ€™s whirlwind tour of campus concluded in front of the dorm at which it began. Andy had taken the time to show him all the best spots on campus. Like the lawn where he had a picnic with Becky. Or the table where he studied with Becky. Or the section of the stacks where he made out with Becky. Jason was now the expert on all of the best places on campus to run into Andy and Becky.
Jason asked Andy if NETU had much in the way of fun before noticing a guy almost as wiry as Andy fixing a co-edâ€™s glasses. Jason corrected himself and asked if there was anything on campus that heâ€™d find fun.
â€œWell,â€ Andy answered, â€œthereâ€™s this party tonight that this kid in my lit class is throwing. Maybe I can talk to him and see if I can get you in.â€
â€œAlright,â€ Jason said. â€œNow weâ€™re talking man. You can bring Betty.â€
â€œBecky,â€ corrected Andy.
There was a rhythm to it. Jen knocked on a door, waited for it to open, and watched it shut in her face a few seconds later. Knock. Open. Shut. Walk a door down. Knock. Open. Shut. Walk a door down. Becky was torn between dancing and asking her roommate why she was knocking on every door in the hallway. And why she was doing it all in a towel. Becky tried dancing until Jen noticed her and the beat stopped.
â€œHave you seen my shampoo?â€ Jen asked.
â€œHave you tried the shower?â€
â€œYes,â€ Jen snapped. â€œThatâ€™s where I left it. This is the third time this month. And this time, I actually labeled it.â€
Becky helped console Jen, assured her that she had nothing to do with the theft, and suggested that the two of them ask the guys. Becky reasoned that Andyâ€™s roommate Nigel was constantly having girls stay over, and one of them may have taken a bottle here and there. And though none of the guys actually knew where the missing shampoo had gone, they were all eager to help Jen any time she was wearing a towel.
Spencer, Rob, and Nigel lined up outside their suite door, while they shouldered Jason back inside. Spencer spoke first.
â€œWhy, Jen - I have no idea what happened to your shampoo,â€ Spencer said. â€œBut itâ€™s a shame you canâ€™t find it. A damn shame.â€
â€œI even wrote my name on it this time! I wish someone would just stop stealing from me!â€
â€œYour name?â€ Nigel interjected. â€œSo they knew who they were stealing from? Thatâ€™s awful.â€
â€œDownright awful,â€ Spencer added, looking slightly downward, thankful that he was taller than Jen.
â€œPerhaps we can help you locate it?â€ Nigel offered.
â€œI just hate it when people steal from me!â€ Jen said. â€œI think anyone who steals anything is just, just, a very bad person.â€
And thatâ€™s when the boys went back inside. Spencer had homework. Nigel had to study some lines for an upcoming play. Rob needed to get to his laundry. And though Jason poked his head out and told Jen he had all day to help her, Rob grabbed him by the collar and yanked him back to the suite.
â€œWhat the hell man? Hot girl in a towel and you losers have to go back inside to get work done?â€
Spencer decided that to understand why the guys retreated, Jason would have to see the stash. And though Jason got briefly excited that his hosts had a â€œstash,â€ the top left drawer of Robâ€™s desk was not filled with pot - rather 237 forks, knives, and spoons that Spencer had taken from the dining hall. He was really quite proud. So proud that he didnâ€™t notice Andy come in, outraged that someone had been stealing Jenâ€™s shampoo. But they all noticed Andyâ€™s shock at seeing hundreds of utensils in his room, and his stare necessitated a response.
â€œYou know how, sometimes, youâ€™re leaving the dining hall and you forget to return your fork?â€ Spencer asked rhetorically. â€œYeah, me too.â€
Andy began lecturing Spencer on how it wasnâ€™t right to steal, but Nigel told Andy that everyone steals. He, in fact uses the theatre officeâ€™s phone code to call his family. Rob admitted to sneaking into the business school to use their copy machine.
â€œHubcaps,â€ Jason said.
The boys agreed that no one would tell Becky that theyâ€™d been stealing so she wouldnâ€™t break up with Andy. And that no one would tell Jen either, so that Spencer still had a chance with her. Although they were all sure that Spencer had no chance regardless of the silverware.
Rob entered the laundry room, his thick arms full of dirty clothes. He placed the laundry on the folding table, walked over to a washer and stood in front of it, before leaning back and forth to look at it from several angles. After gently kicking the side of the machine, Rob lifted the lid and stuffed it with all of his clothes, before closing it and placing three quarters into the slots. He slowly pushed the metal coin tray in until it clicked. He released it and sighed.
Rob sat on top of his washing machine for about ten seconds before he remembered the laundry detergent. He hopped down, stopped the machine, and moved all of his clothes to the machine next to him. After discovering that all the detergent bottles n the room were empty, he retrieved a bottle of shampoo--his own--from the bathroom.
He squeezed the bottle a little. Then a little harder. Then a little harder. With the shampoo safely in the washing machine, Rob put three new quarters in the tray, pushed it in a little quicker than last time, and climbed up on the lid once more before staring at the wall.
Nigel, Spencer, Andy, and Jason were back in the suite getting ready for the party. Andy was particularly happy that heâ€™d be attending his first party as a couple - no need to look around for girls, get turned down, or come back disappointed. Nigel saw it as a bad thing since it meant that Andy wasnâ€™t allowed to talk to any of the attractive drunk girls at the party, but Nigel never had to look for girls, get turned down, or come back disappointed.
â€œHey, Becky and I are about more than just the physical,â€ Andy said. â€œWe have an emotional connection.â€
â€œIf she were fat, would you still date her?â€ Spencer asked.
Andy assured his friend that Becky was not fat, and so thatâ€™s not an issue. But Spencer pressed on, and asked Andy to answer the hypothetical. But before he said anything incriminating, Andy wanted to know how fat.
â€œSweatpants every day fat,â€ Spencer said. â€œSeconds at every breakfast fat.â€
He was interrupted by Nigel.
â€œFails the wall test fat.â€
Andy had never heard of the wall test. Nigel, much to Andyâ€™s horror and Jasonâ€™s delight, explained that if a girl walks into a wall and hits her stomach first, she fails the wall test. As the guys were debating the practicality of pushing girls into walls, Rob poked his head in the door to ask if anyone would watch his washing machines while he ran to the bathroom.
â€œWhy do you need someone to watch your machines?â€ asked Nigel.
â€œI donâ€™t want anyone stealing my stuff,â€ Rob replied.
â€œRob,â€ Spencer said, â€œwho is watching it now?â€
Robâ€™s sandaled feet squished through the suds on the floor of the laundry room as he finished loading the dryer. He had to put his quarters in a few times, as they kept clanking through the change return. He finally got the machine to accept four, and realized that he was one quarter short. After checking the pockets that his sweatpants didnâ€™t have, Rob got desperate. He looked behind the washer. Then the dryer. Under the table. On the table. And thatâ€™s where he noticed the gleam of a quarter sticking out of the pocket of a pair of womenâ€™s jeans.
Rob looked carefully in both directions, as if crossing a street when he was six, before approaching the jeans and digging in the pocket. And since Murphy makes the laws, Marie, the owner of the jeans, watched from the door as Rob tried to fit his over sized fingers into the tiny pocket and retrieve the quarter.
â€œExcuse me,â€ echoed a surprisingly commanding voice for Marieâ€™s diminutive frame. â€œWhat do you think youâ€™re doing?â€
â€œOh, geez,â€ Rob stammered, looking like a cartoon elephant running from a mouse. â€œUm, nothing. I, uh.â€
â€œThat didnâ€™t look like nothing.â€
â€œItâ€™s just, I had to do an extra wash, and I ran out of quarters, and I just needed one, and I saw one just sitting there.â€
â€œBuddy, where I come from, the pocket of someone elseâ€™s jeans is not just sitting there. You saw something that you wanted and you just decided to grab it, huh? Well thatâ€™s not the way it works in this world,â€ Marie said, beginning to hit Rob in the shoulder on every beat. â€œNow you take (hit) your thieving self (hit) and you get (hit) out of my laundry room(hit) before I call the RA (hit).â€
And that was all Rob could take.
â€œListen, alright? Iâ€™m having a very hard time here. All I wanted was to come in and do my laundry, but no! I forgot the soap! So I had to go get the soap, and it cost an extra dollar to do another load, and then I had to go to the bathroom, and someone could have taken all my clothes, cause I didnâ€™t think I needed someone to watch them while I went to get someone to watch them. And I didnâ€™t have detergent, so I used shampoo, and I donâ€™t even have any of that left! And the floor was all wet, and Iâ€™m in sandals but I couldnâ€™t get any shoes because there was no one here to watch all my stuff, and I donâ€™t have any dry socks anyway. And then I tried to dry everything, and I needed a quarter, so I took it okay? Whatâ€™s so bad about that? Someone has been going around this dorm, stealing shampoo, with no regard for personal property, and Iâ€™m the bad guy for taking one, stupid, insignificant, measly, quarter?â€
Marie, terrified, handed Rob the quarter and ran out of the laundry room. Rob paused, smiled, and put the final quarter in the dryer, which accepted it immediately.
â€œI donâ€™t like him,â€ Spencer said.
â€œHeâ€™s harmless,â€ responded Nigel.
â€œIâ€™m telling you, I donâ€™t like him. Check out how heâ€™s looking at Jen.â€
Nigel and Spencer looked across the party at Jason looking at Jen. Just past the two, Becky was looking at Andy looking at the wall, but she wasnâ€™t sure why.
â€œSo?â€ Nigel said. â€œEveryone looks at Jen like that. We look at Jen like that.
Spencer reasoned that he and Nigel had earned the right to look at Jen like that. And though Nigel tried to convince him otherwise, Spencer knew something had to be done to stop her from making a big mistake - hooking up with someone other than himself.
â€œIâ€™m sure sheâ€™s just humoring the kid,â€ Nigel said. â€œHeâ€™s seventeen.â€
â€œSo? Sheâ€™s 18. Thatâ€™s only one year. I once dated a girl four years younger than me.â€ Spencer noticed his friendâ€™s expression sour. â€œWe canâ€™t all be ladies men, okay?â€
Nigel thought that Spencer was being paranoid, and that if he couldnâ€™t get her, nobody could. Spencer thought that Nigel was being naÃ¯ve, and that they should tell Jason that if he looks at Jen again, theyâ€™ll cut his balls off and sew them to his letter jacket. Or at least that Nigel should tell Jason that. Spencer would tell Jason himself, but Jason was much bigger than Spencer. But as Nigel had almost convinced Spencer that he was just being delusional and there was no need to worry, Nigel spotted Jason nuzzling into Jenâ€™s neck, and that was about all Nigel could take.
â€œHey, I hate to break up the party,â€ Nigel said, grabbing Jason by the arm and leading him a few feet away, â€œbut can I talk to you for a second?â€
â€œWhat the hell man? I was about to score. Whatâ€™d you do that for?â€
â€œI had to warn you,â€ Nigel said.
â€œWarn me about what? What, is she a guy? Got a little extra bow on the package?â€
â€œNo,â€ Nigel said, deciding not to use Jasonâ€™s line of questioning to his advantage. â€œYou know our friend Spencer?â€
â€œYeah, so? That her boyfriend?â€
â€œNo. Itâ€™s much worse. We call him the cock-blocker.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s a cock-blocker?â€ Jason asked.
â€œHeâ€™s an evil man. The worst kind of man. Barely a man at all. A cock-blocker is someone who goes out of their way to make sure that your cock is completely, well, blocked.â€
Jason laughed. â€œNo one could do that to me.â€
â€œOh no? You think youâ€™re impervious to his talents? He will cock-block you whether you like it or not.â€
â€œAnd how does he expect to do that?â€
â€œHe could tell her embarrassing stories about your past,â€ Nigel suggested.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t know anything about my past.â€
â€œHe could tell her to wait for our whole group to leave instead of letting you two leave alone.â€
â€œIâ€™m going the same place she is.â€
â€œHe could start hitting on her.â€
â€œIâ€™m better looking.â€
â€œHe could follow you two around so youâ€™re never alone.â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind making out in front of him.â€
â€œHe could talk about girls you hooked up with last weekend.â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t here last weekend.â€
â€œHe could talk about girls you hooked up with tonight.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been talking to her all night.â€
â€œHe could tell her youâ€™re gay.â€
â€œI could show her Iâ€™m not.â€
Nigel paused. â€œHe could send a friend over to distract you while he starts talking to her, and they could leave the party before you even notice.â€
Jason assured Nigel that heâ€™d notice, and that everything was okay. Jason thanked Nigel for trying to help, and gave him the guy-trademarked handshake/hug as Spencer and Jen left the party together.
On the other side of the room, Andy told Becky that he bought her and Jen a shower basket to help them transport their shampoo to and from the bathroom each time they showered. Rob, clad in a NETU shirt that was way too small for him, arrived just at the end of Beckyâ€™s thank you kiss.
â€œRob,â€ Andy asked, â€œdid you take my shirt?â€
â€œNo. This is my shirt.â€
â€œWhat happened to it?â€
â€œI washed it.â€
Becky, a self-proclaimed laundry veteran, realized the hot-water-and-cotton-based mistake instantly. Rob explained that this was the first time he did a load of his own since he had always sent his laundry home. Even though he lived in Canada. Taking pity on her boyfriendâ€™s suitemate and looking for a way to pay for a few new bottles of shampoo, Becky offered to do Robâ€™s future laundry for a nominal fee.
â€œWhere am I going to get the money to do that?â€ asked Rob.
When Andy suggested Rob sell his new Barbie clothes on eBay, Rob shoved Andy into the wall, knocking him to the floor.
â€œWhat do you know,â€ Nigel said as he walked over and placed on hand on Andyâ€™s shoulder. â€œYou passed.â€
Oustide the suite lay Jasonâ€™s duffel bag and folder, next to the beer cans still left over from the night before. No one knew what had become of the passed out guy.
Inside the suite lay Jen and Spencer, and much to Spencerâ€™s surprise, the two had been kissing for the last few minutes.
â€œAre you sure you want to do this?â€ asked Spencer.
â€œOf course Iâ€™m sure.â€
â€œBut with me?â€
â€œYouâ€™re adorable,â€ Jen said. â€œBut you know this is just for tonight, right? This is just because we want to have a little fun. I donâ€™t want to be Andy and Becky.â€
Spencer agreed - no one wanted to be Andy and Becky.
â€œDo you have a condom?â€ Jen asked.
â€œRob has some inâ€¦â€ Spencer stopped himself. â€œI mean I have some in my desk in the other room. Iâ€™ll go get one.â€
As Spencer started to get up, Jen pushed him down, saying that he should stay right there, and sheâ€™d go get one. Spencerâ€™s barely audible utterance sounded like â€œokay,â€ so Jen left for the common room in search of protection.
â€œIâ€™m gonna get with Jen,â€ Spencer quietly said to himself. â€œIâ€™m gonna get with Jen! Iâ€™m the man! I am the man!â€ he said as his voice grew louder. â€œWho is the man? Itâ€™s me! I am the man! Spencer is the man! I am the man!â€
The Man was interrupted when Jen called in from the other room. â€œWhich drawer are they in?â€
â€œI am the, uh, I mean, top left.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Jen said. â€œIâ€™ll be rightâ€¦oh my god.â€
The jingling of silverware was all Spencer needed to hear to know he was not going to be the man that night.
â€œTop right,â€ Spencer told himself as he looked at the â€œLâ€ he now made with his left hand. â€œTop right.â€
The four guys sat in their suite Saturday afternoon, lamenting and lauding their respective accomplishments and failures from the night before. Mostly lamenting Spencerâ€™s.
â€œWhy did I say left?â€ Spencer asked. â€œWhat could have possessed me to say left?â€
â€œI think that deep down,â€ Nigel said, â€œyou didnâ€™t want it to happen. I think you wanted her to leave.â€
â€œYeah, that makes perfect sense. Iâ€™ve been chasing her for a year, and I wanted her to leave.â€
Rob turned from the computer long enough to suggest that Spencer only liked the chase. Spencer assured his roommate that he liked the Jen more. The conversation went in circles before Rob became frustrated with Spencer and turned back towards the screen, trying to raise enough money to pay Becky to do his laundry. He wondered if the silverware would have a better chance of selling on eBay if listed in separate sets or as service for 237.
Jen and Becky stared at the shower basket for a few minutes before finally trying to put a bottle of shampoo in it. The bottle fit, but when the two tried to add some soap, the bar fell to the floor. Becky tried to convince her roommate that the basket was cute, and that it was the thought that counted. Jen was pretty sure that Andy hadnâ€™t thought about it much at all. The two finally decided that they would use Beckyâ€™s new income to buy a newer, bigger basket, and that they wouldnâ€™t tell Andy about it. They could get rid of the old one easily enough - all theyâ€™d have to do was leave it in the bathroom for more than five minutes.
The knock at the door that interrupted them came from Spencer, who was kept in the hallway while Jen stayed in her room with the door cracked.
â€œWhat do you want?â€
â€œI wanted to say Iâ€™m sorry. I stopped stealing. Itâ€™s all gone now.â€
â€œYou gave all that silverware back?â€
â€œNot really. Rob sold it on eBay so he could pay Becky to do his laundry.â€
â€œSo sheâ€™s been accepting stolen money? Spencer, thatâ€™s no better.â€
Spencer stuck his foot in the door to keep Jen from closing it. He explained that while Rob was on-line, they did a little surfing for Jen, and came up with something sheâ€™d enjoy. Spencer produced a bottle of shampoo with the word â€œJenâ€ scrawled on it, with a miniature red bow on top.
â€œOh my god, where did you get this from?â€
â€œEh, some girl was selling a whole batch of em. Only cost me 80 cents.â€
Jen told Spencer he was â€œthe best,â€ as she hugged him, before making him promise to quit stealing.
â€œIâ€™ve stolen enough. Itâ€™s over,â€ Spencer said, smiling as he pictured Jason rifling through his bag and not being able to find his jacket.
Jen was singing in the shower, happy with her new shower basket. It could fit her shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, moisturizer, loofa, razors, wash cloth, and a small village if she ever needed to bring one into the shower. Marie stepped out of the stall next to Jenâ€™s, noticed the basket on the shelf, and quietly added to her collection of shampoo bottles. Marie slinked past Jenâ€™s stall and out of the bathroom, grazing the empty shower basket that had been sitting on the sink for two weeks, and knocking the â€œplease steal meâ€ note to the floor.