Stoop Outside of Beta: Friday, 11 p.m.
A friend tells me it would be best to keep it casual at Beta. Though it is a pajama party, I am not to wear pajamas. I nod, as though this is obvious to me. Feeling very wise, I wear my favorite cream-colored sweater instead.
At midnight, I find my friends shivering by the stoop in front of Beta. They are waiting for someone to find them important enough to let them through.
I am impressed with myself. I did not expect to make it this far. Two hours ago, I was in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin. Nothing short of my important and official mission could have brought me to this stoop. I am reporting on fun, and I will have fun, whatever the price.
“Hey, I know you,” a Beta brother, who’s standing guard at the front door, says as he points into the crowd. “You’re in my class.” I realize he’s talking to one of my friends, and we all grab hold of her. This is half the fun.
As he steps aside, we snake through. The door closes behind us with a pleasant thud, shutting us off from the cold, damp night.
Wallach 2C: Thursday, 9 p.m.
Po Bodin, a junior in Columbia College, is my RA. When I ask if I can have fun with him, he gets very excited. I can come at 9 p.m. on Thursday night, he tells me. That’s when he plays board games with his friends. “It will be super fun,” he promises. “If you want to invite more friends, please, please do.”
I may not be fun, but I know enough to know that a good time rarely comes with an open invitation. A real party should have a proper guard at the door, the kind that points and chooses.
I watch the video Bodin has sent me to prepare myself. In it, a man sits behind a table with carefully folded hands. He sounds like an anchorman, but instead of announcing the news, he tells me how to play The Resistance. I learn that there are rebels and there are spies, there is good and there is evil—and you must be able to look someone in the eye and tell the difference.
I realize it’s okay that Bodin has excluded no one from his gathering, because the game he chooses is all about leaving people out. It is a game of lies. It is a game of betrayal. In the middle of the third round, one of Bodin’s friends leaps from his seat and cries, “You are all spies! Everyone is a spy and I am the only good person!” No one finds this odd. The game gives you that kind of liberty.
There are the rules of the game, and then there are Bodin’s rules about playing the game. Cell phones are not allowed. When a laptop sneaks out between rounds, it catches Bodin’s eye.
“I’m just turning in this essay before midnight,” the offender explains. Bodin tells him to make it quick.
As Bodin deals out the cards, I notice the words on the box for the first time: “The Resistance: Avalon.” This is a disturbing revelation. I know all about the kind of person who plays Avalon. I have had long conversations with someone who plays Avalon in a club every Friday. Talking about it, he gets a delighted glow in his eye that makes me want to ask what other things he does during his free time.
Suddenly, I feel the need to inform Bodin and his friends that I am not like them. I am here as a journalist, not a person. I tell them I am reporting on fun.
One of Bodin’s friends would like to know if I will be getting drunk or getting high for this article. I have never been high and am not very good at getting drunk, but I see another opportunity to distinguish myself.
“I’m going to a Beta party on Friday.”
Beta Basement: Saturday, 12 a.m.
After my second cup of jungle juice, I lean against a wall in Beta’s basement and start taking notes on my phone. There is a boy in a karate uniform, a girl rolling on the ground. I have been told this is fun.
I think I am being diligent, but everything comes out as a riddle.
“cant stabd as type”
“camaglouge by eating barbacue chips”
“kick in her in the shib”
I am struggling to stand, so I decide to sit on a couch and look alone. As one of my notes informs me the next day, “look alone long enough and someone will clme.” I must be learning, because when I look up, someone is there.
He tells me he was on probation for a while, but now he is not. Now he is having a whole lot of fun. I try to produce the appropriate follow-up question. My first one makes his smile tighten, so I choose another. I ask him what he does for fun.
“I guess I watch movies,” he says. “I made a list of 1,000 movies to watch in high school, and I’ve watched 234 of them.”
This sounds like a truly terrible time. Even I have more fun.
Lerner Black Box: Saturday, 4 p.m.
For Venya Gushchin, a junior in Columbia College, fun is a bit like Dostoyevsky and a bit like The Great Gatsby and a bit like Nabokov, but mostly like the Book of Job.
“Job is the least fun book at Columbia,” his friend points out. “You are literally dead inside.”
We are sitting at a belly-dancing performance, because Gushchin promised me it would be fun. As it turns out, he is here to support a friend in the show. I am disappointed. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of fun.
Rolling their stomachs up and down, the dancers look the way I thought I looked at the Beta party last night. One steps out wrapped in a fur and bats her eyelashes. The fur slips off. I know the story she is telling herself.
Watching from a corner and pouring out drinks, when Gushchin hosts parties, he imagines he is Jay Gatsby. Being seen that way, that’s his fun.
“I guess it goes back to Kant,” Gushchin tells me. “I don’t think that fun should be an end in itself. You should do fun things to reach other goals. Personal enrichment, personal achievement. I do have this idea that everything I’m doing is one day going to be a novel or part of a novel.”
“Just shoot me in the face repeatedly,” his friend says.
I ask Gushchin what he does for fun. He’s unsure about that, but he has some theories. One is that he likes the idea of fun more than fun itself. Another is that he likes having his identity validated. A third is that he likes the shame that goes along with liking having his identity validated. Together, these theories have a name: “intellectual masturbation.”
“Nabokov is also intellectually masturbatory,” Gushchin explains. “But he has no shame about it. I have shame about it. For me, masturbation is a dirty thing. It’s not good to do it in public.”
“You’re doing it in public right now!” his friend exclaims.
“I’m aware, but I feel intense amounts of shame about it.”
I am having a bit too much fun.
Beta Dance Floor: Saturday, 2 a.m.
My cup is dry. There is something wet dribbling down my back and someone damp whispering in my ear. When I look up, I see a hand sprinkling jungle juice into the crowd. When I turn around, I see a face I think I recognize.
“Are you really a reporter?”
For the second time, I try to explain my article, but it’s no use. Under these dim lights, everything I say comes out sounding like a seduction. The voice drops low.
“I don’t believe you.”
It’s impressive, the way he whispers, articulating every syllable over the bass. I imagine him practicing the whisper in his room, carefully refining it for an ear like mine. He sounds like Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. I even know the scene. It’s the one that made me shiver with pleasure when I watched it in the sixth grade, with my math homework in my lap and a mug of tea by my side. Now, I don’t feel a thing.
The crowd is slowly pulling me away. And I let it take me. And he is gone. And there are no consequences. And there is no price. And I forget the red jungle juice spattering my cream sweater. The stains can wait until morning.
The crowd carries me to the front of the room. I fall into the arms of a friend I lost at the door. “You’re here!” she cries. “You’re here!” I cry back. We dance beneath a fan. The breeze is dry and cool, and I decide that the way her hair floats back means something good.
The Morning After: Saturday, 11:00 am
The morning after the Beta party, my head hurts, and my cream sweater is splotched with red. “If it’s wine, you can use soda water,” my mom tells me over the phone.
But it’s not wine, it’s jungle juice. And now that’s she asking, I’m not so sure what it contains. I promise to wash the sweater soon, before the stain sets. Between the laundry room and my dorm, I run into Bodin.
“How was the party?” he asks. There’s a pause. “I won’t write you up.”
I tell him it was fun, but game night was fun too.
“Which was the most fun?” he asks.
Everyone I’ve interviewed has asked me this question, but I am reluctant to answer. It ruins all the fun.
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