The Rooster is CROWNED!

The 2021 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes, has concluded. Catch up on all the action!

The Education of Elisabeth Eckleman

An Escape With Geoff

Elisabeth Eckleman just left home, and has a lot of difficult decisions ahead of her. In this installment, Elisabeth makes time for friends, but not for studying, and gets the grades to prove it. You decide what happens next.

In our last installment, Elisabeth was rattled by the revelation that her ex-boyfriend Brad had started dating someone else. But when a cathartic session of burn-the-bastard’s-photo set off the fire alarm in her dorm, Elisabeth had to choose between a heart-to-heart with Brad, who had shown up to explain himself, or leaving with Geoff, the RA, who offered the most innocent of escapisms: ice cream. You voted for her to leave with Geoff. Let’s see what happens...

 

“I find ice cream helps most emergencies,” says Geoff as we enter his dorm room. “Ice cream and pot.”

There isn’t much in Geoff’s room besides an unmade bed bolted into the wall. No posters, no photos, just lists randomly stapled to the walls—intramural sports, RA meeting times, a periodic table of the elements. One list has comments about every resident on the floor. Room #407: “Kat—drama major, v. outgoing, funny. Elisabeth—undecided.”

He cracks open a small freezer. “I’ve been meaning to introduce myself,” he says, scanning a series of boxes with the words “Soy Delicious” on them. “I met Kat the other day. She’s a character, huh?”

I nod, still somewhat shaken.

“You know, I think you handled that well,” he says, handing me a bowl of chocolate ice cream. “I tried to stay with my high-school girlfriend, and it was the biggest waste of—”

“Brad’s actually a nice guy,” I cut in.

“I’m sure,” he says, taking off his clunky black glasses and rubbing his temples. “Aside from the occasional cruel disregard for your feelings.”

Exactly.” Yuck. This ice cream tastes like plastic.

“The ice cream’s vegan, by the way. Is that all right?”

“I tried to be a vegetarian once,” I say. “I saw Babe and vowed never to eat meat again. But then a few weeks later, I gorged on all this smoked sausage. I felt so bad I cried myself to sleep. Even now, when I see a pig, I feel the need to apologize.”

“You hate the ice cream, don’t you?”

I nod.

“That’s cool,” he says. “Wanna get stoned?”

When Geoff was a kid, as he explains it, he used to have terrible A.D.D. He was always getting in trouble for reading ahead in books and setting things on fire in chemistry class. He started smoking pot when he got to college, though, and it focused him. Which is weird, because pot just makes me paranoid and stupid. The one time I got stoned with Brad, I forgot the word for “bathroom.” I spent five minutes pantomiming it before giving up and squatting in the backyard.

“Have you ever tried something wrong that just made you feel really right?” Geoff asks, holding in the smoke.

I nod. That’s how I feel about Diet Coke.

For the next week I stop by Geoff’s dorm every day. At first I make excuses—a light’s out in the girl’s bathroom, I need directions to such-and-such building. But after a while, I drop the pretense, and it becomes a welcome routine. He smokes pot, I drink Diet Coke, and the hours unspool in a stinky haze as we talk about our lives. It’s not romantic, although sometimes I think it could be. Geoff is unlike anyone I’ve ever met—he doesn’t own a cell phone, for one thing, and he doesn’t ever use email.

“How do people get in touch with you?” I ask.

He smiles, firing up his bong. “You’re lookin’ at it.”

It never occurred to me someone would live without technology on purpose. Even my parents own a computer, though they’re baffled by it. Once, I tried to teach my mother email. I told her to look at the mouse, and she shrieked.

But Geoff’s technophobia is different. It gives his room a sense of calm. No ringtones. No television. Just a little background music and two people letting their secrets slip out.

“Here’s my confession,” he says, changing a CD. “I have a total man-crush on Conor Oberst.”

“Here’s my confession,” I say, stifling a soda burp. “I have no idea who that is.”

A few days after I meet him, Geoff changes my description on his resident list. Next to “undecided” I am pleased to find the words “v. nice, addicted to Diet Coke, could use a good schooling in indie rock.”

 

My first month of academic study has been dangerously light on the academics. Although I finish with classes by 2 p.m. every day, my afternoons are spent either sitting in Geoff’s dorm or sleeping in my bed. Though in high school I woke at 6 a.m. and powered through till 11, I seem to have an endless reserve of naps inside me. I come home prepared to read some textbook only to wake in darkness, Feminism in Our Time resting on my chest, cracked open to the introduction.

Perhaps this is why I do so poorly on my first paper in Reality Television class. It’s returned to me with a letter I’ve never received in my life: D+.

My heart thumps as I read the professor’s notes. The red-ink response to my title, “An Excoriation of American Idle,” is one word: “hardly.” At the bottom, I find a note: “Your analysis is absurd and ingenuous. Have you actually seen this show?” The blood drains from my face. The truth is that I haven’t.

“Many of you still consider this a blow-off class,” the professor tells us. Although 600 people are signed up for the course, only about half show on any given day. Wesley, for instance, hasn’t been here in weeks. “This is a critique of an important cultural phenomenon,” he continues. “On Friday, meet with your T.A.s to discuss individual papers. Next week, we tackle Mark Burnett. Any questions?”

I have one: What does “ingenuous” mean?

On Friday, along with the rest of my group, I meet with Raj, a handsome American Studies junior who carries a briefcase and wears a sports jacket every day. “Look, don’t be freaked out,” he tells us. He speaks with the slightest trace of an Indian accent, like his sinuses might be clogged up. “The problem with these papers is that there is no critical thinking. You write about how you love American Idol or how you hate American Idol, but we did not ask for opinions. The question regards the show’s significance.”

Raj has the most beautiful brown eyes. They shimmer like liquid.

“Can we get a re-test?” asks one girl.

Raj laughs. “I don’t think so,” he says. “But I have devised a form of extra credit. The show is next Tuesday at 8 p.m. We will meet at my house for pizza and perhaps a few adult beverages.” When no one laughs, he clears his throat. “Afterward, we will assemble for a discussion. If you come, you will receive a full grade point increase.”

As we filter out of the room, Raj places a hand lightly on my elbow. “Elisabeth, I hope I was not too hard on you,” he says. “Your paper was nicely written, but your criticism of the show was so humorless.” He smiles, and his eyes sparkle.

“You wrote those things?” I ask. “I thought the professor did.”

“Between you and me, I don’t think he reads any of the papers,” says Raj, winking. “I hope to see you Tuesday. Perhaps I can change your mind about the—what was it?—‘pathetic mockery of democracy and capitalism.’”

I stole that line from Brad’s debate speech last year. He won first place, and I’m not telling.

“See you on Tuesday,” I say.

 

It’s 5:30 p.m. when Kat comes back to the room. I’m asleep, my face pressed into the “Candid Camera” chapter of Historical Reality Television. An empty Diet Coke can rattles across the floor.

“Goddammit!” Kat says, followed by a loud bang.

I sit up fast. “Are you all right?” I gasp, bleary-eyed.

She giggles. “It’s all good, baby,” she says.

“Where have you been?” I ask, squinting. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Aww, did you miss me?” she asks, petting my hair.

“I kind of did.”

For the past two weeks, Kat has disappeared every evening. At first, it was an I-Hate-The-O.C. watching group on Thursdays. Then it was “Take Back the Night” planning sessions on Tuesdays. Now every night is booked. She comes home past midnight and snores till noon. A weeks’ correspondence has elapsed on sticky pads. The other day, I came home from class to find my teddy bear with a Post-It on his forehead: “Eat the damn tuna fish or the bear gets it.”

“I saw Brad and his lady friend in the cafeteria today,” she says, plopping onto her bed. “What’s her name? Aragorn?”

“Ariel,” I say. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“She’s hot,” she says. “She has tits like a porn star.”

I sigh. This is why I haven’t eaten downstairs in two weeks.

“If you cry I’m going to kill you,” she says.

“I’m not going to cry,” I say, starting to cry.

Kat jumps on my bed and starts to tickle me. I squirm out from beneath her, swatting away her hands and howling with laughter. “I won’t cry!” I yell. “I promise!”

“Good,” she says, out of breath. “Because he’s a cocksucker.”

Last week Brad sent me an email trying to explain his relationship with Ariel. When I got to the part about how they met, I almost puked. It was at orientation. Three weeks before he and I ever broke up.

“You’re in a good mood,” I say to Kat, as she lays down beside me. She smells like wet grass and garlic.

She nods, resting her head on my shoulder. “Have you ever met someone and had, like, electricity?”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

“Like, you sit across the table from the person, and you think, I could just crawl over this thing and fuck you senseless right here, right now.”

“Mmm?”

“And what’s weird is this person is not your type,” she continues. “Normally, you would never be interested in someone like this. It’s inexplicable. But you’re just pulled together like magnets. Like animals.”

The truth is I’m glad to hear Kat interested in someone. I owe her about 100 hours of sympathetic listening. “So don’t keep me waiting. Who is it?”

She rolls onto her stomach and hugs the pillow to her. “Have you met our RA, Geoff?”

 

All this time, I thought Kat was gay. But apparently, I lack an understanding of the complexity of modern sexuality. I lack an understanding of the complexity of reality television. I lack an understanding about the complexity of my former romantic relationships and current male friendships. In a month of college, this is what I have learned: I am ingenuous. An ingénue. An idiot.

On Saturday afternoon, I go to the library to study. I find an armchair and settle in for a casual reading of Marshall McLuhan. If I’m going to be alone and miserable in college, I might as well get better grades.

“Pssst. Eckleman!”

I look up to find Geoff at the computer. He’s so out of context it takes a while to recognize him. I don’t think I’ve seen him in daylight before.

“What are you doing here?” I whisper, trying to disguise how I excited I am to see him.

“My stupid blog,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Hey, why haven’t you come by? I have a 12-pack in the fridge waiting for you. A special treat: Diet Coke With Lime.”

I hold up the book. “Mid-terms,” I say.

“It’s not even October,” he says, laughing. “I see your roommate more than I see you.” He walks over and crouches beside me.

“Oh, really?” I ask, pretending to read. “Better hide your stash.”

“What’s wrong?” he says, lowering his voice. “Are you mad about something?”

I consider several variants of the truth and settle on this: “I got a D on my first paper.”

He places a hand on my shoulder. “You’re so young and full of hope,” he says. “But fear not, dear freshman, because I am about to fix everything. I am about to expand your horizons. I am about to blow your mind.”

“Did a shipment of mushrooms come in?”

He clucks his tongue. “Two tickets to Bright Eyes, my friend. Conor Oberst in the flesh. Tuesday night, you and me. Prepare to be converted.”

The first thing I wonder is if he invited Kat first. The second thing I wonder is if I can skip my class meeting that night. The third thing I wonder is what he thinks of me, and what I think of him, and if any of it is a good idea considering the fact that my roommate is crazy about him. That I might be crazy about him, too.

“I can’t see them in concert,” I say. “I don’t even know their music.”

“Do you have feelings?” he asks. “Are you human? Do you hurt? Have you been broken-hearted, lonely, sad, hopeful, lost, afraid?”

I raise an eyebrow and try to smother a smile.

“Then you will fall in love,” he says, squeezing my hand. “I promise.”

Should Elisabeth go with Geoff to the Bright Eyes concert and blow off the class meeting with Raj or blow off the Bright Eyes concert and go to the class meeting?