The Nerdstank

Counter-Strike swept through the dorms like a herpes outbreak. Freshmen year I’d watched over shoulders as neighbors became terrorists and counter-terrorists -- as they shot, stabbed, and flashbanged groups that screamed at them from down the hall. I wanted what they had – but couldn’t really catch it.

One prophylactic was my ancient computer. Its equally aged mouse had one monstrous, lumpy ball that required frequent and careful cradling to de-grime. My friends’ mice ran on lasers, goddamnit. It was like flaunting a circa-1990s brick-style cellphone; Indiana Jones would sweep in at any second, rescuing the machine from my miserly clutches while screaming, “It belongs in a museum!”

Another vaccination came during a souring in the free air of dorm life. There arrived, well, a smell. Hunter – my very tall, very burly, very gay high school friend and dorm roommate – sniffed me, a disturbing breach of personal space coming from a clinically OCD gentleman. Was he about to snap? Climb Mary Gates Hall with a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, start mowing down his ivory tower oppressors? Realizing that a random sniffing was not standard practice for sane individuals, for a few days he let this apparent phantasmagoria rest.

Then I smelt it: a dry, unpleasant reek. Validated, Hunter seemed energized, because now was the time for adventure, for solving a mystery. His reward would be lording moral superiority over the literal unwashed, righteously demanding they tidy their acts. I wasn’t so sure. To me, this reek seemed to signal that behind one door down our hall was a corpse, bulging with intestinal gas, maybe leaned against a heater for days.

Behind door number one, just rowing jocks. Sweaty, always swilling creatine, but bathing at least occasionally. Door number two lead to a couple of acne-riddled, grinning vegans. Hunter and I readily identified a specific aroma, but it wasn’t the noisome, toxic concoction filling the hallway.

Nobody answered door number three.

This door belonged to another pair who'd been friends in high school. The first was pasty and tall, with a forgettable face. The second was a redhead with close-cropped hair and a monster truck’s tire around his waist. Easily 300 pounds, the redhead was a definite crowdpleaser for people watching. From the common room window, Hunter and I could snarkily comment on his thrice-daily beeline to grab a Double Husky Burger, fries, a massive soda, then hurry straight back to his room. We hadn’t seen either for a few days.

We summoned the bubbly, Indian, five-foot-tall RA. Her voice, You guys okay? outside the door did nothing. It was, curiously, the jingling of her keyring that unlocked this door to horror. It creaked open slowly, as the pasty roommate rushed back to his computer on the clean side of a long, wraparound desk.

David Lynch couldn’t have outdone the corroded perfection of this room. It was cut in two by a line of blue masking tape, demarcating one obsessively-spotless side, from the other. Two cold, stale-looking Husky Burgers on the wraparound desk. Easily five stacks of the grease-blotched paper baskets, marks of fallen Husky Burgers, freckled bright green by the mold growing off bun leavings and thousand island dregs. These were piled anywhere from three to eight baskets high, the taller ones leaning improbably. One of these towers had collapsed, mixing with a sea of stained sweatshirts, crushed Coca-Cola paper cups, spilled, dried condiments, crumpled two-liter Mountain Dew bottles, even a few black blobs of what could only be more mold. The whole mix had been swept back over the blue center line countless times, leaving dark stains on the tile.

What struck palpably, like walking from air conditioning into humid, 115-degree heat, was the smell. It roiled over our faces, sweeping over in waves, seeping into every exposed pore. A potpourri of heavy, stale sweat, sickly sweet rot, and, perhaps the faintest touch of Eau De Old Urine? Never in my life have I weathered so perfect a storm of the olfactory grotesque, though I’ve encountered shades of it since. The Nerdstank.

By the time we’d gotten past the shell shock of this initial sensory clusterfuck, the pale roommate had lurched back to his clean chair, on the clean side of the room, seemingly unaffected by the poisonous atmosphere he was roasting in. Right back to gaming. The redhead, locked into his chair by his own trash, might not have noticed we were there. While this dynamic duo made high-powered tactical advances in the game StarCraft, Hunter and the RA got in sideways words, gave them dispirited pieces of their minds. Take a bath. Deodorant costs a dollar. But neither was listening.

The air only cleared after the redhead, rather than attend a few hours of midterms, just played StarCraft. They kicked him out, first quarter. Hefting his shit through the halls, he proudly announced he’d never do anything different, never change, and never let the man get him down. All marching, head held high, back to mom and dad’s.

I kept doing my homework.


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In Play: Tales of the Gaming Netherworld is available in paperback and kindle. Dooo eeet! Doo et! Come onn! Get it nowww!

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