Ode to Artz Haüs
When we pulled up outside Artz Haüs at the University of Guelph that sunny, late summer day, a girl in a blue peacock costume greeted us. The Orientation Volunteers (OVs), all matching in blue t-shirts, were singing songs and screaming chants in-between lugging the boxes of the shy newcomers up flights of stairs. I had worn a crisp white shirt that day, a safe and uncontroversial choice which was a metaphor for this new era in my life: pristine and fresh and blank. That day, I didn’t know if going away for university, which I had been dreaming of since grade nine, would be a halcyon Golden Age or disappoint my high expectations.
Artz Haüs (so named in the 1990’s because, according to one OV, “German was considered cool…?”) was in Maids Hall, a small three-story residence which had at one point housed domestics. For how important Artz Haüs would eventually become, I ironically ended up there because of a fluke: my first choice on my application had been to be in a history ‘cluster’. But because almost no boys applied for the residence vaguely dedicated to artsy students, they had placed me in at second choice. Thank God they did. As a result, I didn’t make any history friends until fourth year, but I lived with people I hope to know forever.
I had been bullied a bit in high school, but was mostly just ignored. Artz Haüs proved to be different the minute I arrived.
“You’re Maximilian?!” the OVs excitedly asked. “We’ve been waiting for Maximilian!”
I soon learned that all of our names were written on construction paper toads and water lilies tapped to our doors, and the OVs couldn’t believe that someone actually had my name. I was famous already.
Another piece of fortuitous luck was that my roommate, Tristan, never showed up. Throughout the dizzying O-Week I half-expected to come back to my room (which was on the first floor, with an ivy-framed window looking out on the lawn and the slope towards the campus’s main walkway; one of the most beautiful residence rooms ever, my Dad claimed) and find a stranger with suitcases, angry at me for taking the right side bed. Then we heard that Tristan wasn’t coming, and my new friends and I sighed with relief: our late night conversations on my bed, snugly sleep-overs and occasional ‘capers’ (good natured pranks) would continue.
A few of us went to a sex talk at the Wellness Centre at the end of O-Week and, on viewing a diagram of the diverse types of butt-plugs which was passed around, most of which had names which described their shapes (‘Arrow head’, ‘Pearl Necklace’), giggled uncontrollably when one was inexplicitly named ‘Tristan’.
“So that’s why he never showed up!”
Whereas I was never going to be comfortable with my sexuality at high school (or, I should say, my high school was never going to be comfortable with it), at Guelph it was like the world changed overnight. This was the Will and Grace/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy era and everyone seemed to think it was cool to know a gay guy. Sans roommate, my room, which eventually acquired a sofa, became the unofficial first floor lounge, and my identity splattered everywhere. Pages cut from Vogue, retro album covers and a shirtless poster of Justin Timberlake graced the walls and I weighted down the bookshelf with crap (so much so that it fell on my head; in hindsight, I should’ve sued).
Being truly comfortable with my friends and my environment for the first time (as well as able to change outfits as often as I felt like), Max the Clotheshorse was born. I would return from pilgrimages to Value Village with heavy bags of tweed jackets, boy scout shirts and obscure Tee’s, having become, at least in my mind, an experimental and witty fashion-plate, a gay boy Carrie Bradshaw.
I kept my door always open and my motley crew of friends (not dissimilar to the eccentric and eclectic Muppet gang) got in the habit of dropping by just to hang out all afternoon or evening. Our conversations on my bed were so involved that some nights I had to change into pyjamas, turn off the lights and crawl under the sheets in order to kick people out. We talked for hours and hours, about things serious and frivolous, inventing much-referenced inside jokes as we went. We were so green, what did we have so much to talk about? I wish I had kept notes.
It was not a perfect year. Inevitably with fifty people living in close quarters, there was drama and some fights and events which seemed like the most important thing ever at the time, but in hindsight you wonder why you were upset at all. I remember being really sad sometimes, probably dwelling on not having a boyfriend (big surprise), but now I consider it the best year of my life. The Max you all know, either through friendship or just reading this blog, took shape in that little house at Guelph. Without it, I don’t know who I’d be.
The spring when we moved out was very emotional. Although I was coming back for a second year at Artz Haüs, and planned to stay in touch with all my friends, we knew it would never be the same. But endings often help you see something clearly for the first time: it was only as we packed up our stuff in the mockingly cheerful sunshine, took down our posters, signed yearbooks and pretended to study for exams, that a lot of us recognized what a truly great year it had been.
Although I’ve had many adventures in the years since, they some how feel a bit less real than the events of that formative time. Perhaps that’s just what our mind does with memory…
We all love bashing social networking, but facebook at least makes it easier to keep in touch with people you used to see every day but now live provinces, sometimes countries, away from. But emails are devilishly easy to ignore, and I’m scared to death of growing farther and farther apart from friends who shaped an amazing year and made me who I am.
All things must end, but can (facebook) friends last forever?