Back to School
Photos by Kelly O
Back to School
- The Stranger's 2013 Back to School Guide
- Academic Trouble: Choosing Classes, Getting Off Campus, and What to Do if You Really Fuck Up
- Drinking Trouble: How to Avoid Getting Into a Police Chase
- Social Trouble: Drugs, Parties, Shitty Roommates, and More
- Race Trouble: Do Not Waste Your Time with Racist People
- Love Trouble: Getting Into a Relationship, Getting Out of a Relationship, Getting Over Being Dumped
- Sex Trouble: Hooking Up with Roommates, Getting Knocked Up, Dealing with Cheaters, and More
College is the ultimate gateway drug, and experimenting with intoxicants could wind up being your second major. Here are case-by-case instructions on how to interact with intoxicants—from alcohol to acid—without ruining your night/weekend/college experience/life.
Alcohol: Does booze make you aggressive, dangerously morose, or unable to stop drinking until you're blacked out? CONGRATULATIONS! YOU'RE SOMEONE WHO SHOULDN'T DRINK! (Perhaps try Washington's legal-for-those-over-21 marijuana instead?) Everyone else: Have fun but don't be stupid. (Stupidity includes binge drinking, drinking until vomiting, and getting blasted more than twice a week. And stay away from boozy energy drinks, which torture your cardiovascular system and, we suspect, mutate your genitals.)
Marijuana: Now legal for those over 21! Still super-fun and potentially problematic for all! The golden rule of pot: Don't force it. For every person who smokes weed and visits heaven, there are 10 people who smoke and end up huddling in a corner silently interrogating themselves into a black hole. If you're a pot-heaven person, have fun and be careful: Wake-and-bakes are for weekends. Attending classes stoned is a waste of both college and pot.
Cocaine: Expensive, short-lived, and makes you instantly want more. Avoid (except when you're at a weird family gathering and your cousin offers you some, or some other such divorced-from-daily-life situation).
Hallucinogens: Almost a must, at least once, for everyone (at least everyone who lives a safe distance from mental illness). So many college experiences have been enriched by tripping—on LSD, mushrooms, peyote, what-have-you—you'd be foolish not to consider trying it. Warning: Hallucinogens aren't party drugs. They're take-a-full-day-away-from-everything-you-call-life-with-only-great-people experiences (and being in the beautiful outdoors is also best). Plan accordingly.
MDMA: The high is great; the crash is terrible. For every night of molly-fueled dancing, expect a day after of being a whiny baby who can accomplish nothing without wanting to cry.
Prescription Pills (Oxycontin, Percocet, Adderall): So easy, so effective, so potentially problematic. Use in extreme moderation, never forgetting that you are taking hardcore drugs. (If you find yourself considering trading Adderall for meth or Oxy for heroin, get help right away, please.)
Meth/Heroin: Please don't. Ever.
Important Fact: Washington State enacted a Good Samaritan law, which says people who call 911 for someone who is overdosing are immune from prosecution for their personal drug possession. If you are watching someone overdose, call 911. Godspeed and good luck.
When you go to a "cool party," you might think you're supposed to "act cool." You may feel a fight-or-flight reaction and assume you need to act ambivalent about the scene while seeking out a corner to drink alone. This is wrong. You are there to engage. A guest—no matter how nervous they are or how cool the party seems—should break the ice, if possible, by bringing something that can be shared: a bottle of wine, a six-pack of cider, a bag of chips, or a giant bag of fun-size Snickers. Sharing this item gives you purpose when you arrive. Once you're in the door, greet as many people as possible; smile and say hi the first time you see them, and it'll be much easier to strike up a conversation later. Seek out the host and, without ingratiating yourself, let them know you brought something to share. Thank them for having you. Now go meet people—you're at the party to talk to new people. Smile a lot. Make eye contact. Be curious with questions (but not interrogating). Finally, when it's time to go, just leave. Don't make a self-centered production about hugging everyone. If you like, thank the host again or say good-bye to people you really connected with. These rules apply to all parties, from basement keggers to fancy soirees. Really. (P.S. If there is a party you want to attend but weren't invited to, do not sulk like a fucking moron. If it's a fairly large affair, ask the host if you can come. Or be an adult and find something else to do.)
After searching for a perfect roommate, you find her: She's smart, fun, tidy. But after she moves in, it turns out she's a secret alcoholic who rides the Amy Winehouse train through your living room every night. Or, more likely, she just turns out to be a slob, or, even worse, an overbearing, sanctimonious prude. You shouldn't live with people you hate. But living together, sharing bills or at least space, is a business relationship as much as a personal one. You have to man- or woman-up, and—this is hard—express your concerns using actual words spoken in front of their actual face. Do not expect your complaints to be understood through a secret set of silent codes of door-closing or rearranging objects. Do not drop cryptic statements into ordinary conversations intending to send a message about your cohabitation problems. Set up a meeting to talk about your issues. Ask that person to correct their problems and promise to correct yours. Again, this is hard. But if things don't improve, you have laid the groundwork to do one of two things (this is hardest): Firmly ask them to please move out, based on the documented and unresolved problems, or decide you need to move out instead. But do not under any circumstance just bear it. If your home is hell, your life is hell.
Free rent and a dorm room of our own—that's why some of us at The Stranger worked as resident advisers (RAs) during college. Regular night rounds taught us how dumb some students are about staying out of trouble. But it's not that difficult. Remember: Most RAs don't want to bust you. That only leads to paperwork, hassle, and bad feelings. Help your RA help you with a few simple steps.
Noise complaints: If someone complains about your loud music, just knock it off. Don't turn it back up and give your neighbors/RA a reason to start cultivating a grudge. Plus, noise complaints are often where RAs find more serious issues (like blackout-drunk 18-year-olds). If you want to break the rules, keep it quiet.
Drinking: Drink slowly. When you start to feel buzzed, stop. Super-drunk people aren't any fun (even to themselves), and nobody likes puke on the carpet. In more severe cases, an ambulance gets called in to deal with potential alcohol poisoning. Just take it easy.
Smoking drugs: Washington is legalizing marijuana, but that doesn't mean your living/enrollment/financial-aid situation won't be impacted by a drugs charge. So be careful. Seal the crack under your door (a rolled-up towel works). Then check the airflow in your room by opening a window and holding a lighter nearby to see which way the wind is blowing. (If it's blowing into your room, you might want to hold off until that changes.) Small fans are helpful. Joints are too stinky—use pipes or vaporizers. Exhale into some kind of air-purifying device to minimize the smell. Some head shops sell fancy versions, but a paper-towel roll filled with fabric softener sheets is an old standby.
Remember, your RA really is there to keep you safe and happy. If you find yourself with a serious problem, it's much better to get help and risk getting in trouble instead of risking something much worse.
Most police officers are affable people—they have an innate desire to help their fellow man and keep a cool head. If you get into trouble with Officer Friendly, you probably had it coming. But some cops are egomaniacal asswipes. For them, a badge is little more than a bandage that soothes the oozing sores of their insecurity and gives them license to express their unbridled internal rage. You can get in trouble with those fuckers just by taking photos in public, asking questions about a crime scene, participating in a legally permitted protest, or going about your life. If they are an asshole, stay cool. You'll have a chance to tell your side of the story later, and your side of the story will be more credible if you follow these rules: Never, ever escalate a situation with police. Don't swear at or run away from police officers. Never physically resist them, even if they are arresting you for a bogus reason. Do call them "officer," do follow all of their orders, and do politely ask reasonable questions: "Why are you detaining me? Who is in charge? Am I free to leave?" You don't have to answer their questions—silence is your constitutional right. Remember to always get the officer's name and write down what happened as soon as you can so that you remember the details of a confrontation. If a cop has done you wrong, file a complaint: Call the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability at 684-8797. And don't forget, you can call the media to tell your story, too, but make sure you've got your case number (if there is one) and a legit complaint. (And if you were stopped by one of the affable cops for a good reason, the media will just tell you that you had it coming.)
ZOMG, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN NOW! Free to gallop through the grocery store like a stoned Dorito king drunk with cheese power! But just because you're unsupervised doesn't mean your body is some garbage dump. Your body is your only body, and you want to use it for great things (sex! Maybe a little badminton! More sex!), not for feeling gross all the time. Okay, here we go!
Snacks! Are! So! Good! But in moderation, right? Maybe you were raised on starch, or perhaps your hippie parents forbade you to eat Oreos and now that's all you think about—whatever the case, junk food is not dinner. Common sense and light label reading can help you separate the junk from the decent: High amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium are bad, fiber is your best friend, and ingredients that sound sketchy probably are sketchy. But some of the healthiest healthies don't even have labels; it's hard to go wrong with fruits and vegetables—figure out which ones you like and eat them as often as possible. Experiment with your diet if you want, but remember, being vegetarian does not mean eating chips all day (and being vegan does not mean eating vegan chips all day). If you're eating only white and beige foods, your intestines are probably furious with you. Drink lots of water, and remember that juice isn't really that healthy. If you do happen to polish off a large Little Caesars at 4 a.m., don't beat yourself up; just get some exercise the next day and figure out how to incorporate some kale into your next meal.
Speaking of food guilt, on the other end of the food-prob spectrum: Absolutely do not become a creepy diet monster. Those people who constantly yap about their weight, regale you with calorie information, or are "just so full uuugh" after eating half a salad with no dressing—those people are not fun to be around. Gaining a little weight in college is okay and often just the final stage of growing up. Eat super-healthy if you want, count calories if you like, hit the gym if it's fun. Just don't get weird about it—hot dates often include food, and no one wants to take a creepy diet monster on a half-salad date.
Veganism is the radical, vastly unpopular concept that eating food should cause as little suffering and environmental damage as possible. You'd think that ethos would be more widely embraced, but no. Just by being a vegan, you're a scorned minority. People joke about the way vegans always announce they're vegans, but even in 2013 America, non-meat/dairy consumers have to let their preference be known, as the food game is still rigged against them. Nevertheless, you can avoid being an obnoxious vegan by raising the topic only when it's absolutely necessary: at restaurants or parties where the food's contents are unknown. A simple, understated "Is there dairy or meat in this dish?" should suffice in most circumstances. If the answer is yes, don't eat it, and don't expect something special made just for you, either; this is your choice and also your responsibility. If somebody asks why you're eating a vegan diet, don't yell, "Because meat is murder!" even if Morrissey was spot-on. Most people bristle when they are classified as killers, and you'll likely become a pariah if you trot out this line too often. A better approach is to say in a calm tone, "I simply believe that the fate of the planet is more important than my taste buds. As a bonus, my cholesterol level is astonishingly low." One should gloat as humbly as possible.
A tremendous number of clueless white folks with very good intentions are wandering these parts of the world. If you think you may be one of them—perhaps you believe "color blindness" is not a problem (it is)—do not panic or become defensive. Remember: You have good intentions! You want to help make the world a better place for everyone, not just the old affluent white straight Christian able-bodied dudes whose prejudices got us here in the first place. Maybe you haven't had much background in analyzing the issues, or your perspective has been limited—this is overcomeable. The best thing you can do is to learn the difference between individual racism (overt bigotry) and structural racism (the racism still inherent in our systems—business, education, law enforcement, government, health care). Outright bigotry is easy to fight against, and calling it out is vital. But there's also the silent racism of the status quo. Be willing to hear about it, learn about it, and talk out loud about the fact that it needs to change, too. If you find yourself saying "That's not racist" more often than "Tell me more," you're probably doing it wrong. That's okay. Nobody is judging you. This is not, actually, about you. It's about people who are having a different experience from you because they were born into a racist society that racializes some people and teaches others (white people) that race isn't a thing. Race is a thing. You can start there. (See also: "Race Trouble.")
Guys, listen up. There are still some men out there who don't believe that women are human beings. Those men treat women as though they exist solely to provide them with pleasure. Those men are assholes, and you've got to stand up to them or things will never get better.
If you're hanging out with men and someone starts talking about women like they're monstrous fuck dolls, it's your responsibility to speak up. Just a simple "That's not cool" will usually do. If it escalates, and the bro starts to make it personal, make sure everyone knows you disagree with the misogynist and leave. The same thing applies in mixed-gender situations: If you see someone giving a woman unwanted attention—catcalling, making repeated lewd advances, name-calling—you have to stand up and say something.
There are dangers in doing this, of course. If the situation is about to get physical with the douchey, antagonistic guy, you have to make sure that you and the targeted woman are away from the scene as quickly as possible. There are doubtless some concern trolls out there preparing to ask: If women are equal to men, shouldn't they be able to get themselves out of these situations? Well, sure, and they do. All the time. Every day. But doesn't everybody need a little help now and again? The most important thing to remember is you're not standing up for women. You're standing up with them.
Hey, look! Laughing at people because of their race? That's fucking bigotry. Laughing at people because of their gender? That's fucking bigotry. Laughing at people for being transgender? THAT'S FUCKING BIGOTRY. So... "tranny" jokes? They're as bad as all those other jokes that were only funny when everybody was pretending that hate wasn't hate. So unless you're transgender, shut the fuck up when it comes to the word "tranny." Recently, Seattle Times editorial board member Bruce Ramsey mocked Chelsea Manning, writing that he "burst out laughing" that she was wearing makeup, and adding that her photo was "funny." Ha-ha-ha, you asshole bigot. Don't be like Ramsey. If you're around asshole bigots like Ramsey who are laughing at transgender people, nip it in the bud. Tell them to shut up. Tell them it's not funny. And if they persist, call them out as the bigots they are and get the hell away from them.
First, build your aesthetics. Read perceptive critics such as Lester Bangs, Simon Reynolds, Philip Sherburne, and Greg Tate, and magazines like the Wire and Wax Poetics. Check blogs like Ad Hoc, Mutant Sounds, and 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Listen to wfmu.org, KEXP (mostly after dark), and Hollow Earth Radio. Peruse and explore the Nurse with Wound list. Frequent record stores like Wall of Sound, Everyday Music, Easy Street, and Sonic Boom, and pick the brains of their staff. Befriend musicians you respect and ask what's wowing them. Always take notes, because you can't trust your memory. Armed with this knowledge, scour YouTube for rare gems. A couple of tips will lead you to dozens of random, incredible discoveries. Now that you're steeped in several terabytes of amazing music, spread the gospel. Go forth unto Facebook, Twitter, parties, shows, art exhibits, or your own damn blog, and shine a light on the zenith of what you've discovered. Use flowery hyperbole, because apathy and inertia run thick and deep. Excite your friends to the possibility of a lifetime of sonic enrichment. Take people to awesome shows and just plain out-there ones, too—live music, DJs, the uncategorizable shit. If you do your job well enough, you will be having more sex than you know what to do with.
You're an adult now, which means you have to start managing money—student loans, parental stipends, or tips from your night job of busing tables. To do this effectively, you need to make yourself a weekly or monthly budget to ensure that you can make it through the school year without starving. Making a budget is easy; ask your parents for help, or if they owe half their paychecks to Rent-A-Center, check your online bank for an app or google it. Now, there's an easy way and a hard way to enforce your budget. One way is to invest in a plastic rock—like those fake garden rocks your grandma hides her spare house key in—and refill it with a weekly wad of cash to ensure you're not overspending. The other way is to put your weekly/monthly budget amount in your checking account, and live off of a debit card. If you're already great with that type of budget stuff, consider applying for a $1,000-limit credit card and start learning how to pay that off EVERY MONTH. It'll come in handy when you want to move off campus and rent your own place (most landlords and some employers run credit checks before accepting applicants; if you have no credit card, this could make some basic adult activities in life more difficult). Make sure your credit card doesn't have annual fees associated with it and that it has a low interest rate. Also look for a card that offers some type of rewards system for paying off your monthly balance. If all this budget-money talk makes you feel like taking a nap, just stick with the rock option. It'll do you just fine.
So someone on Facebook or Twitter or Slog claims to be calling you out on your shit, maybe because of a joke you just told or something you said about a character in a TV show or a movie. What next? The first thing to do is check yourself. If you're about to respond to online criticism with some variation of "Some of my best friends are black/fat/gay, so clearly I'm not racist/fatphobic/homophobic," you need to step away from the computer and reevaluate your life choices. Likewise, you need to stop if you're about to declare yourself to be the victim of an attack on your free speech—free speech doesn't give you the right to say whatever you want without repercussions—or any other kind of a victim, for that matter.
The important thing is to not enter into an argument with the thinking that you're going to win internet points for the speed and wittiness of your response. Try to get some perspective on the situation. Imagine what it looks like from the outside. Think about what your accuser is saying. Ask a trusted friend. Imagine what your parents would think of this discussion.
Not every accusation of assholery is right on, of course, but it never hurts to take a moment to imagine someone else's point of view. If you're wrong, apologize clearly and quickly. If you still don't think you're wrong? There's no harm in graciously leaving the argument—"I'm sorry that we disagree, but you've given me a lot to think about, and I thank you for that"—and wallowing in your smugness. And as a good rule of thumb, remember the Golden Internet Rule: If you meet more than two assholes in a day, chances are, you're the asshole.
Get yourself out of the trouble that other people have in store for you on your 21st birthday—just say no to the tradition of your body being the site of group abuse that night. In "honor" of you, everyone will want to buy you a drink, and some of these people will want to buy you the most disgusting drink they can find, and still more of them will insist on buying you this "gift" drink even after they believe you to be incapable of doing anything but vomiting it back up again. These people are not in control of what you put in your mouth—you are. (Do not spend any time trying to figure out what the hell is the matter with them; it's your birthday!) Drunk is fun, sick is not. Be crafty, not direct, in your rejections: Give drinks away on the sly, when nobody's looking. Abandon glasses a few sips in by creating diversions, say, threatening to kick someone's ass at pool and/or darts and then going over to the pool table/dartboard where finishing your drink is no longer the main event. Excuse yourself, bring your drink, and toss the drink down the bathroom sink. Remember: Only you can stop the suffering from overtaking your first day of being 21.
Super-intense friendships are soooo exciting and fulfilling. You just can't live without your wonderful, dramatic, fascinating friend, they just can't live without you—it's always interesting, and it makes you feel needed, important, worth something. You guys are just so connected. No one else understands. Except, you know how sometimes you almost want to take a break? Like being friends with them is a roller coaster, and you'd like some solid ground? But you just can't hurt their feelings, so you take one more long, weepy one a.m. phone call even though you need some sleep, or you go get wasted with them even though you had other plans, or you hide their drugs/razor blades/bloody fetus in a shoe box under your bed even though you wish you could've said "no" just this once.
That shit is toxic.
It's intoxicating, but it is also toxic. It poisons you. And it will make your life suck as it drags you into a giant soap opera, or an addiction, or a codependent relationship based only on taking care of each other instead of having fun and living your life. At any point in this process, it is okay to say, "That's enough." When someone starts treating you like a sidekick or an employee instead of a friend, extricate yourself from that as soon as you can. You can confront them. You can try to back off for a bit and see if it gets better. Or you can cut them out of your life. All of those are okay options, and you should do whichever of them you can. Because your first responsibility in adult life is to take care of yourself. That's not selfish. That's adulthood.