Every university dorm hall has “that” group. They go by many names: the Koreans, the Italians, the Saudis.
It’s not so much that the embody a national stereotype, nor is it due to their “otherness” as foreign nationals. In most cases, they simply pick up the moniker due to an inscrutable group dynamic that makes American-style social stereotyping impossible.
And so they become known by their homeland — an easy enough identifier, rather than further sub-typed into the typical American college cliques. Theater kids, frat stars, athletes, nerds…
In my sophomore year living quarters, it was the Romanians. A trio of skinny, olive-skinned, post-Soviet hippie warlocks that lived directly across the hall. They were all men, though it was a co-ed dorm.
My first interaction with the Romanians was (of course) buying weed from them; until that point I had only heard of their antics through my roommate.
We lived on the ground floor of a university-owned building, and allegedly the Romanians were the progenitors of the absolutely inescapable marijuana stench that greeted visitors upon entering the residence hall. This was a source of concern for the residents of my room, as we knew the smell would attract the University Police, but also a source of security: we knew if the cops ever did show up, they’d go to them first — and not us, who were smoking a far lesser amount of pot.
And so one day in a moment of desperate dryness and with my dime-bag dealer roommate (he would only call himself a ‘middle-man’) as a liaison, I went across the hall to meet the Romanians for the first time.
We knocked on the door timidly, as if expecting to be face-to-face with a cadre of undercovers on the other side. When it opened, we were greeted with the strangest collegiate living space I have yet seen.
The three-bed, one-room apartment was decorated like a Grateful Dead tour bus; not exactly rare for college. There was a half-dead fish tank whirring in the corner. Again, not too weird. It smelled like burnt dollar store incense and decent mid — but once again, I’m just boring you with stuff you expected.
What first aroused a sense of oddity was the thin layer of loose rolling tobacco that carpeted the entire floor. Suffice to say rolling your own cigarettes is basically unheard of in the United States. My eyes wandered to a desk in the room, where one of the Romanians was dutifully, yet aloofly creating a cigarette from the mound of tobacco in front of him.
It seemed like an archaic practice to me, and I felt as if I was an anthropologist watching some shamanic ritual and taking mental notes.
Then there was an array of Native American iconography scattered around the room, a Buddha head framed by a tie-dye sheet, prominently displayed metal ritual equipment seemingly designed for staging pagan rites, a flag of the USSR, and a pair of passed out stoners sleeping in makeshift pillow beds. It was barely into the evening, 6:00 p.m. at the latest. But the autumn dusk accentuated the already hazy visibility.
“Oh, they’re okay,” the Romanian who opened the door remarked, sensing our alarm. (I should note I literally have no idea what their names were, nor did I then.) “They were high as fuck earlier.” (It was a weekday.)
“You into Buddhism?” I replied, gesturing toward the bust of Siddhartha and desperately trying to find some common ground. “Same.” I was there strictly to buy drugs, but I try to appreciate a fellow traveler when I meet one.
“Oh yeah man,” a different Romanian answered, emerging from a bed on the other side of the room. This Romanian would become the only one I can really differentiate from the others in my memory, and was the most inscrutable of all. Let’s just call him Drew, because I truly don’t remember.
Drew had a gigantic tattoo of an eagle on his back, a chain-smoking habit, and a proclivity for older women, mostly of the prostitute variety. I only know the first and last bits of the aforementioned trifecta because he later got busted by the cops (for something?), and was dragged shirtless into the hallway together with a thirtysomething woman complaining about not getting paid. (I watched this commotion unfold — quite voyeuristically — through the safety of my door’s peephole.)
It seemed as though Drew had just been awakened back to reality by my question, and was now once again a slave to his corporeal form. He picked up a pack of American Spirits from his desk, “Want a cigarette?”
My friend and I looked at each other, at the huddled pair of knocked-out junkies on the floor, glanced back at Drew, and then back at each other. Giving that “fuck it bro” nod to one another, we followed Drew into the bathroom for a dart. (I was slightly disappointed we weren’t going to smoke one of the rollies that his other roommate was making.)
The bathroom was a disgrace to the senses, something straight out of those living space horror pictures you see online. The entire sink was clogged with cigarette butts and ash. The windowsill was similarly covered in a layer of black. I peaked at the shower drain and inside the toilet bowl, and those too doubled as ashtrays.
At that point I knew I made the right decision in crossing the hallway. If anything, I was going to remember this cigarette. I believe it was my first ever smoked inside.
There was a sort of catching-up-on-lost-time excuse to the decision, as if I had to experience smoking tobacco in a school bathroom, even if it wasn’t in high school and only technically in a “school bathroom.”
The three of us lit up with 7-Eleven lighters and started bullshitting. I was in the belly of the beast now, and I had to ask. “So you guys just smoke inside? And you just dump it into the sink?”
“Yeah dude. It’s okay, none of us mind. It’s too cold outside.” Drew paused and took a drag. “It’s okay man trust me. So you wanted an eighth?” He produced a baggie with his free hand seemingly out of thin air, as if it was summoned by some dark magick.
We did the deed ($35, a tad lower than market price for the school) and went on to the less interesting topics: Oh you’re from Romania? You’re studying international relations (boring!), you’re an indica guy… blah blah blah. The typical dealer-client halfhearted schmoozing.
I found out none of them were from Bucharest, but rather from an array of provincial municipalities that I’m sure only other their fellow countrymen would know.
One tangent finally did produce something of note, and I learned Drew was a fan of Mircea Eliade (Thankfully Drew was the hippie type of perennialist, not the fascist kind.) That tidbit at least fit the national stereotype.
We finished our cigarettes. Without any hesitation, Drew threw the dregs of his Spirit into the shower. My friend and I took the more civilized option and left our butts on the windowsill.
With that venture over with, we decided the Romanians were just a little too sketchy to consort with often. I mean, we liked them, but we were paranoid academic strivers and it was clear the pigs would kick their door in every other weekend.
From then on the Romanians took on an almost mythical quality in the oral history of my friend group: only summoned in time of great need, and spoken about with a sense of both awe and amusement.
I would spin tales of the great bathroom cigarette blasting, eulogize the many times they were cited by the University Police, and recount the inane measures they would go through to evade capture at times, such as throwing bars of Xanax out of the bathroom window or using a box fan to waft incense smoke directly from their room into the lobby of the building to mask the smell of weed.
And then one chilly Friday afternoon in the dead of winter, my roommate and I chanced upon a throng of the Romanians outside our dorm. They were babbling in ecstasy, quite obviously high. “What’s up,” Drew noticed us. “Want to take some acid?”
Now, my roommate and I were in the competitive video-gaming club in college (don’t laugh!), and planned on going to an all night LAN party on a satellite campus of the university later that night. I had never done any sort of psychedelics, but the thought of combining the obligatory college acid trip with an old-school LAN party was too post-modern to pass up.
I turned to my roommate, “You down? Nothing better to do.” He did that split second decision face and vaguely nodded in the affirmative. “Sure man. Let’s do it.”
With that we followed Drew to back to their lair. At this point, the room had essentially become a flophouse, and upon entering we were presented with a half-dozen or so passed out college kids on the floor. What was previously just two makeshift beds had become a dense array of haphazard sleeping arrangements.
“Don’t worry about them.” It was the exact same feeling as last time we had interacted face-to-face. I knew I had made the right decision simply because of the peculiarity of it all.
The room had denigrated further since we last saw it, and along with the orgy of sleeping pscyhonauts on the floor, another biological entity was present.
Piles and piles of mysterious dried meat of unknown provenance were stacked in various parts of the room: on shelves, beds, the ground. Jerky scents mingled with the odor of bodies, weed, incense, and tobacco.
As the more experienced drug buyer, my roommate took control of the situation. He was a mercurial guy just like myself. We changed opinions often, loved Socratic dialogue, and could hang around just about any group, especially the weirdos and misfits.
“All right man, so how do you take this stuff?” My roommate responsively asked after exchanging ten bucks for a tab. “Put it under your tongue and let it melt. It’ll take a few hours, then you’ll start peaking. I can’t really describe how it’s gonna feel, you’ll know. You should probably have a tripsitter,” Drew explained in an enlivened tone.
His accent was coming out a bit more now, perhaps because he was excited to share the gift of knowledge, or maybe it’s just a side effect of mind-altering chemicals.
All in all it was excellent advice, and I give the Romanians credit; they were certainly not idiots. Of course, being an avid Erowid reader I already knew the whole ‘first trip’ checklist, but it was reassuring to hear it aloud.
I approached Drew, gave him my money, and was granted a tab. It was exactly like receiving communion at Mass. I held the tiny slab in my left palm, plucked it into my mouth with my right hand, let it melt in my mouth, and said a prayer.
Nothing happened right away, as any psychedelic user knows. We did our goodbyes and promptly left. There was a tense aura of anticipation as we left the Romanians’ room and headed back down the hall to our own.
I’m going to skip ahead here, because the come-up was boring. We smoked some weed in our room, found a tripsitter (let’s call him Rick), and headed out to the LAN party.
With my roommate cradling his Xbox 360, we boarded the bus between campuses. On the drive over we both started to have our first minor visuals, and gleefully attempted to describe the dancing city lights to Rick.
When we finally arrived at the library basement that was hosting the LAN, we were surprised at how many people actually came. There were at least a hundred, and since it had reached this critical mass, an armed University Police officer was present. (That’s Amerika for you.)
The set up was pretty standard for a LAN, featuring dozens of collapsible tables piled high with laptops taking up the bulk of the space. Away from the computers on the far side of the basement was where the console peasants had set up, and we began to make our way over to join that ever-oppressed class.
But first, we had to pay our respects to the club president for inviting us. We scurried up to a table in the front of the room where he was sitting with another friend of ours.
“What’s up dudes, we’re on acid right now,” was the first thing I said to him. “I’m not,” Rick made sure to add. The president laughed under his breath in response. “You guys are crazy.”
After making our grand entrance, we set up the Xbox 360 and continued where we had left off in Halo 3. My roommate and I were trying to beat every single Halo game from 1-3 on Legendary Co-Op mode, and we were making good progress.
We reached the third mission in the game, Tsavo Highway. It was a vehicle mission, and proved almost impossible to play while tripping. We probably died over 30 times just trying to kill the first Scarab.
The acid giggles were in full swing after playing for about an hour, and I was trying as hard as I could not to embarrass myself, essentially just stifling all thoughts and emotions. I paused the game, and our trio escaped to a bathroom so that my roommate and I could cackle our brains out and hopefully get our shit together.
We hyped each other up, then calmed ourselves down. Rick sat idly by, keeping a watchful eye. We eventually put on our serious facades, and decided to go back inside. Upon sitting down to play Halo 3 again, I realized I wasn’t in the mood.
At this point I was bored, and was fiending to play some Super Smash Brothers: Melee, which was set up on an old CRT television a few tables away. I had dabbled in competitive Melee since high school, and was “pretty good,” i.e. I could dumpster 99% of casual players, but only rarely get out of an actual tournament bracket alive.
But as I waltzed up to the Melee table a few moments later and asked a to “hop on the sticks,” I was not prepared for the police officer present to do the exact same thing almost immediately after myself.
I intuited there was nothing that could actually happen to me; the absolute worst case scenario was I’d freak out in some way and he’d call an ambulance. Rather than panic, I immediately just felt a sense of inner absurdity. Dude, you’re about to play Melee with an on-duty cop while tripping balls, literally no one has ever done this before.
I found it delightfully transgressive, and as a look of confusion swept his face upon seeing no items, 8:00 time, 4 stocks, I understood it would be a bloodbath. I promptly 4 stock’d him with my Pikachu.
Once again, I knew I had made the right decision.