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September '05 -- edited by Savannah Schroll

The Unusual Emigration of Franklin Lewitt
  by Sloan Schang

  by William Painter

For the Good
  by J. L. Laughlin

The Dogwalker
  by Amy Shearn

  by Justin Bonsey

First Impressions
  by Peter Clarke

The paperwork associated with getting accepted into college is a walk in the park in comparison to the long list of chores that follows acceptance. Being somewhat of a naturally conscientious fellow, I was attentive in advance to that list.

One of the first items, I recall, was an instruction to open a ‘Universal Account’ which, among other things, included disk space on the campus’ network drive, access to computer labs, and a web-based e-mail account. I made certain this item was scratched off my list without delay.

Midway through summer, I had essentially completed all those procedures that attend the transition between high school and college. Besides signing up for classes and scrutinizing the details of furnishing my as-yet-unseen dorm room, only one true difficulty remained. Namely, I had never gotten my e-mail account working. My “Universal Account,” with its nice little welcome page worked without flaw… But the one link, “E-mail,” would cause me fits.

I didn’t worry about this problem at first, figuring the e-mail system simply had not yet been activated for the school year. But as the summer wore on, I became concerned. I began to ask other people about their e-mail accounts and found that I was alone with my trouble. This information led me to call the school’s help desk, with which I had various dealings until I finally gained a new password. Still I was refused access.

At that point, I became flustered and simply decided to forget about it. I’d worry about it when I got to school, I figured. This conclusion brought me satisfaction enough (how outrageous it is to contemplate what peace of mind can be achieved by use of the phrase “screw it!”). And so I moved on with my life, ultimately to become quite content with the status of my preparation for beginning—more or less—a new life.

Despite my general enthusiasm for planning ahead, one particular item of my college preparation I preferred to overlook. By recommendation, I was to make contact with my roommate—sooner rather than later. But this I had no intention of doing.

By nature, I am not a terribly social person. I really am not all that awkward in social situations, nor am I all that shy. Only, my disposition calls for much quiet time and personal space. This has led me—in a very conservative sense—to “withdraw” into a lifestyle that is comparatively reclusive.

One consequence of my solitary existence is that I can’t bear talking on the phone. A phone conversation could possibly be done if the topic was strictly for the purpose of relating some information of importance. For example, if I were to break both my legs, I would no doubt succumb to making an emergency phone call. But to have a conversation over the phone… That I loathe to do. And it is the same with letters and e-mails.

Yes, if I am going to have a conversation with someone, it is going to happen face to face.

When you come to appreciate this about my personality, you might understand why I was not so keen on making early contact with my assigned roommate. It simply isn’t consistent with my character. And I would hate to ruin a first impression by coming across as something other than my true self—as would surely be inclined to happen over the phone or in an e-mail.

First impressions are rather delicate. This is essentially why we still bother to dress up to go to the store even when we can confidently say that we won’t see anyone that we know: all the various nameless folks that we do see will still form an impression of us that is not easily nullified--even if we were to become better acquainted with them. Personally, I would rather make a fool of myself before an old friend than before a stranger. First impressions are to be made with care.

I was more than content to wait until I could meet my new roommate in person. And this would have surely been the case—only my roommate proved to be of a nature somewhat different than mine.

I was at work (serving as a cashier in the men’s section of a department store) one day in early-to-mid August when my mother came into the store with some news. She told me that my roommate had called and that I was to call him back that evening. For some reason, I had never actually considered that such a situation would arise. But now that it had, what could I do but play along?

“He sounds like a really nice guy,” my mom said.

“Hm, that’s good,” I answered. “I’ll be home around six-thirty.”

But who doesn’t sound “nice” over the phone—particularly when speaking to someone’s mother?—This was just a passing thought. Admittedly I was skeptical—essentially as a result of the fact that I was slightly annoyed. But I knew that this was a foolish response: I had no grounds to be skeptical—at least not until I myself had spoken to him.

Later that night, I walked upstairs into the kitchen where my mom was washing dishes.

“Well, I just got off the phone with Brian…” I said, referring to my roommate.

“Oh, good. I’m glad you didn’t put it off until too late,” my mom responded. “How did it go? What did you talk about?”

“I don’t know…not much. We just—”

“Did you find out what he likes to do? Does he play any sports?” My mom was as apprehensive about the situation as I was. And rightfully so, no doubt.

“Not really,” I said. “We didn’t talk about much, actually. But he signs up for classes on the same day that I do. It sounds like we’re going to try and meet then.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“Yeah, I got his cell phone number…”

“Where did you write it down?”

“On a sheet of paper downstairs.”

“Well, give it to me and I’ll put it in our address book so we won’t lose it.”

“Alright,” I said, beginning to walk away.

“But what did you think of him?” my mom asked with earnest curiosity.

“I don’t know,” I said, turning back around. “From his voice, I’d say he’s tall.”

My mom laughed slightly.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“He’s got a pretty deep voice—just something in it makes me think he’s tall. I’ll bet he’s over six feet.”

As I turned again to go downstairs, I said over my shoulder, “Yeah—he sounds like a nice guy, I guess.”

School started on the 22nd of September. I arrived on the 19th. Settling in was an easier—and certainly less dramatic—process than I expected. Yet there was scarcely ever a dull moment. The campus was vibrant with info fairs and live music (not to mention thousands of people). Indeed, between locating old friends from high school and checking out the new opportunities that the campus afforded, those first few days before class started were pretty much a blur.

About a week later, after I had thoroughly accustomed myself to my new life, I was in my dorm room sitting at my computer when it suddenly dawned on me that I had completely forgotten about my university e-mail account. To my relief, I found that it worked perfectly. Who knows what the problem had been (it probably had something to do with my home computer—I was using a different computer at school), but, whatever it was, it had evidently resolved itself.

I even had a few e-mails. One e-mail was a welcome from the school, another was from a friend of mine, and also there was an e-mail from Brian, my roommate. Brian’s e-mail was dated July 30th. With curiosity, I opened it first to see what he had had to say that long ago. I’ve edited some, but the e-mail basically read as follows:

Hello, My name is Brian A— and I am going to be your roommate. I am from P— and looking forward to living in B— this next year.

I've attended N— High School for the past three years, but for the past two I did running start. I haven’t decided on a major yet but I am looking into math or science while hoping to end up with a good base for medical school.

My hobbies are rock climbing, swimming, gaming, reading, cooking, and a few others. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

-Brian A—

I chuckled a bit as I read Brian’s description of himself. Rereading the e-mail, I tried to imagine what sort of person I would have taken Brian for had I read this little epistle before meeting him. Then I set to fitting the e-mail description with the Brian that I knew. Again a smile came to my lips.

I sat reflecting for a moment or two before I turned to exploring my other two messages. Finding them dull, I moved on to other things.

A few minutes later I heard a key inserted into to the door. The handle shook and my relatively short, shaggy-haired roommate entered.

I looked at him and my smile unconsciously returned.

“What?” Brian demanded good-naturedly, noticing my smirk.

“Nothing,” I laughed.

“Fine!” said Brian, with his characteristic sarcasm.

I laughed again shortly as I considered the odds of Brian actually turning out to be a “nice guy.” A lot of people had stories about bad roommates; I wasn’t destined to be such a person.

“Thanks for the e-mail, by the way,” I said casually as Brian sat down at his desk.

“What e-mail?”

“Never mind,” I answered. “It really doesn’t matter…”

Peter Clarke grew up in Port Angeles, Washington. He is currently studying psychology and philosophy at Western Washington University. He eventually hopes to study law, though writing is his true passion. This is his first publication.