I am seated cross-legged on a tapestry rug. There is a hole in my left sock. The hole serves as an escape route for my big toe. My big toe curls towards a discarded composition book with a bent cover. The book cover’s pho-marble surface catches the shadow of a hooka stem. The hooka stem snakes around a pensive circle of bodies. The bodies are wedges together in the cracks of a futon, a love seat that has seen better days, and two overstuffed arm chairs. Behind the furniture are four walls. The four walls carry art. Each art piece bleeds together at its respective edges, forming one overwhelming scene of rats, long-haired boys, trees, neon globs, and bears with halos.
The kaleidoscopic scene holds up the ceiling, which, at the moment, appears to be made of smoke.
This is not your typical college home. Nor is this your typical college gathering. Tonight I am a guest of the Hippie House, one of TCNJ’s little-known off campus residences. Members of the house are hosting one of their weekly get-togethers – a poetry reading. Etiquette is simple: come prepared to recite or listen. I plan on reading a passage from a book by Roland Barthes. Other selections on the itinerary include The Raw Shark Text, a journal entry entitled “Room 314” and an essay called “Good Noses.”
“Good Noses” is written by Philosophy major Steve Klett. Klett is one of the house’s current occupants. Klett moved into the house in August of 2008. Prior to August, Klett lived in the College’s dorms. When asked what prompted him to relocate, Klett states “I felt daft. I forget what that word means but it seems to fit. There comes a time in which the rooster needs to fly from the coop and the chick needs to leave the nest. I was, you know, looking for a room of my own, to quote Virginia Woolf.”
Klett occupies one bedroom. The remaining two tenants are Greg Letizia and Leandre Bourdot. Bourdot is a Fine Arts major. Her creations take up a large portion of the dwelling.
Presently, she sits in a corner, penning ink drawings for a bookmaking class. Bordot claims that becoming a part of the Hippie House has been both a hindrance and a source of stimulation for her work. Glancing around the tightly packed room, she confides, “There are mornings when everything together is inspiring and there are also mornings where everything plays off each other and becomes stagnant.”
As for Letizia, he has taken a leave of absence from the College.
Nevertheless, he remains an avid writer, often reciting typewriter compositions via a voice distortion box. Out of all of the occupants, Letizia is the most elusive of the bunch. I ask him what the credo of the house is. Maybe it is because of a recent screening of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” but as Letizia speaks, he begins to resemble the smug, jargon-littered Caterpillar. Steam issuing from his nostrils, blue-tinted glasses perched on his nose, Letizia muses, “The essence of the place is the essence of the place and the goal is the goal. It is a place for I to be I.”
The overall ambiguous quality of the Hippie House is perhaps what attracts students to it. The crowd that frequents social events like Poetry Night range anywhere from five to eighteen people. Stationed amidst these individuals, I feel mellow and in same measure, completely absurd. Snippets of conversations filter into my ears. On the surface, topics are similar to that of most young people. Visitors tonight talk about:
(“That is completely convoluted in its contingency.”)
partying too hard,
(“Hey, I think I left my crown at your house the other night.”)
(“Could you hand me that singing bowl?”)
However, as illustrated, if you listen closely, discrepancies appear.
Ken Kesey, leader of the Merry Pranksters, asserted that “you are either on the bus or off the bus.” By coming to the house, I am choosing to embark on the ride. I believe it is for worthy reasons too. Some partial cynics (me included) may claim that sixties youth counterculture is officially dead, dissipated by the absolution of the political and social issues of its heyday.
Still, within the house there exists a smaller, equally valid resistance against the sameness of suburban college life. No one wears TCNJ sweats and Uggs. Of course, it wouldn’t be a problem if you did. Apparel choices are never judged.
In fact, clothing itself is considered optional.