My situation shows why a kid can’t count on a college to pick his roommate for him.  I should’ve answered that survey they sent, like my mother said.  I can’t admit that to her, though.  She’ll never let me forget it.

So I get to school the first day and I’m all psyched and ready to go.  I’m gonna have a lot of fun and all that.  Who do I find in my room, already reading a friggin’ chemistry book?  None other than Nathan, a Chinese guy.  I thought he was someone’s dad or something, what with his glasses and comb over.  He looks like he’s forty-five!  But no, he’s a “visiting student,” or some such thing.  If he does good enough in English this year, he’ll get to stay for all four years and graduate.  Hell, he’ll probably finish before I do.

Nathan’s not even his real name.  It’s something no one can pronounce.  His advisor decided “Nathan” would be easier to use in college.  I think they could have come up with something better than “Nathan.”

That first hour or two, he just keeps smiling at me and offering to carry stuff.  I say “no thanks” about ten times, but he keeps insisting.  So I let him carry a few boxes though he’s not really up to it, if you know what I mean.  I still have to take all the heavy ones.

Some guys from down the hall pop in.  They have their weed and pipes out and are rarin’ to go.  Jeez, the last parent only left the floor about ten minutes before!  Anyway, I left my stash at home, safe and sound in the crawlspace where my mother will never find it.  Who knows what she did back in college, but I didn’t want to take any chances packing it.

So I say to these guys:  “I’ll join you tomorrow, but I gotta get downtown and load up on some stuff,” and they’re like:  “Okay, dude, come on over when you’re cool.”  Then they ask Nathan if he’s up for a little toke.  Heh!  The friggin’ guy doesn’t even know what they’re talkin’ about.  They look at me and just start cracking up.  I don’t like getting laughed at, y’know, but anyway, they kind of seem like jerks.  Nathan just looks confused.  I sorta feel bad for him, but also for me.

Nathan’s real quiet the rest of the afternoon.  He gets back to his book while I unpack.  He sorta follows me over to the cafeteria for dinner and sits at my table.  It’s a little like having a pet, I guess.  He just smiles at me and waits, and hardly ever says anything.  I’m thinkin’, “How’s he gonna get any good at English if he never talks?”  So I ask him some questions, like:  “What teams does he root for?” and “Who’s his favorite band?”

He nails the first one – the Houston Rockets – ‘cause they had Yao Ming.  But he doesn’t even know what I mean by “band.”  I have to play friggin’ charades in front of a bunch of kids at the cafeteria making like I’m hittin’ a drum and strummin’ a guitar.  They probably think I’m nuts.  Anyway, there must not be much music over there ‘cause Nathan can’t name a group.  After a long pause, he says:  “Bwitney Spear’?”

I can’t keep myself from laughing, but I think he’s serious.

So we get back to the dorm, and I’m looking around for something to do.  Everyone’s like hanging out in the lounge and getting to meet each other and Nathan just seems to want to say “hi” to that chemistry book again.

“Nathan,” I say.  “What’s so good about that book?”

“I really want to know organic chemistry,” he says.

I guess he’s into growing vegetables or something.  I tell him I’m going out and ask if he wants to come, but he just blinks at me from behind those glasses.  Then he says, believe it or not, that he’s tired and will go to sleep soon.

“Nathan,” I say.  “It’s your first night at college.  You can’t go to sleep at ten o’clock.”

“Yes, very sleepy,” he says.  “Long flight.”

I’m like, “Okay, dude.”  So I leave.  But I don’t feel good about it and the whole time I’m at the lounge, and the R.A.’s introducing everybody and the girls and guys are checking everybody out, I’m like thinking about Nathan alone in the room.  It’s like I’m becoming a damned parent or something.

After an hour, I decide there’s really no one great to hook-up with so I go back to the room.  And Nathan’s in pajamas.  I haven’t seen a guy wearing pajamas like that since I was ten.  Anyway, he’s putting away his clothes into his dresser, and he’s writing something with a marker on his socks.  So I ask him about it:     “Nathan.  What’s with the socks?”

“Oh,” he says.  “Each day, I use different pair so they will always be even.”

“Hunh?” I say.

“Yes,” says Nathan.  “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday, and so on.”

“It’s Wednesday Thursday.”


“Wednesday is before Thursday, not Thursday before Wednesday.”

“Oh, yes, thank you very much,” says Nathan.  “You help my English so much.”

That was the happiest I’d seen him, organizing his friggin’ socks so he knows which pair to wear each day.  How did this happen to me?


So I’m in my bed and it’s dark and Nathan’s asleep in his bed on the other side of the room.  And I’m thinkin’ about how this is my first day of college and, so far, it’s been no fun.  And what am I going to do about this roommate situation?  Can I change rooms or something?  And, all quiet like, Nathan whispers across to me:

“Are you awake?’

So I say “Yes.”

He says:  “Thank you for being so nice to me.”

And then I feel bad again ‘cause I was just lying there thinking about how I want to get out of there.

“Ah, no problem,” I whisper back.  And I’m thinking to myself:  “Yeah, no problem for you, man.  But I got a big problem.”  Finally, I must have fallen asleep ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up.  And where’s Nathan?  He’s already sitting at his desk reading.  It looks like he’s been at it for hours.  He tells me he is sorry if he woke me up.