At my alma matter, Gettysburg College, after your first year you could elect to live in theme housing. A group of students would live together in historic houses on the edge of campus, and get to skip the housing lottery, in exchange for hosting events open to all students. Events had to be related to your theme, and after a never explained incident, there were to be no sports team houses.11 It may have involved a couch, in flames, being thrown off a balcony
Knowing those two rules, before my freshman year the Ultimate Frisbee team had founded the Funk: Mind, Body, and Soul house. The name itself had no real meaning, and was constructed to be easily related to any event they could think of. The Funk house was born.
My sophomore year, seven of us elected to continue the tradition, creating the even more impossibly named Funk: Mind, Body, and Soul/Douglas Adams house. We were assigned the second floor of Lamp Post, a former donut shop on Carlisle Street. Below us would be the Artistic Mind house. While the lack of proper ventilation ensured we smelled what they were smoking, they were generally great neighbors, though the kitchen was always a little sketchy to use.22 And they sometimes had parties that got a little too loud, but being at tournaments on weekends, we were rarely home. We had to start a PR campaign to get safety & security to recognize us as a different house, and not get shut down.
The bathroom situation was particularly tricky. Downstairs had both a men’s and a women’s room. Upstairs only had a single bathroom, with one sink, one toilet, and two showers. At our first house meeting we simply declared the bathroom open to anyone. We were all going to get to be real good friends. Many surprisingly meaningful conversations happened while toothbrushing.
But there was something else weird. My room had a particularly unusual setup. On the far side of my room was another door, which led to a set of stairs to a third floor, where Erik lived. In order for him to get to his room, he had to cross my room, unlock a door, and climb the stairs. While as a physics and history double major, with an education minor, he was pretty busy, and often at the lab, when he did come home it would be very late. He’d always wake me up.
Our relationship deteriorated over the year. Erik started calling my room if I was so much as talking with someone in my room. He progressed to stomping on the floor to make us quiet down. We took to having conversations in the hallway. Watching a movie was out of the question. Then there were his girlfriends. I took a passive aggressive approach, positioning my big, pink recliner right in front of his door, so that he’d have to move it every night before he went to bed. He stopped even trying to be quiet when he got home.
But I think the stress hit him the worst. After a bit of a rough weekend he got pulled over for a DUI down in Richmond, and our roommate Fricker had to go bail him out.33 Fricker was a character, who’d occasional binge sleep, for 20-30 hours at a time. He once didn’t tell us he’d gone home for the weekend, just to see if we’d notice. We all thought he’d slept the whole weekend. He’d only told Pickle, in case there was a fire, so we wouldn’t burn to death trying to wake him up. Erik was falling apart.
And then he accidentally left his room unlocked. And we took some of the freshman up there. And discovered his room was really just a storage space.
There was no Erik. There’d never been an Erik. We’d made him up, just to mess with the new frisbee players the same way we’d been messed with.
When we had first returned to campus after the summer, after voting on the bathroom situation, we’d invented a roommate. As house leader, Pickle was responsible for making welcome signs for each of our doors. She made an extra, writing Erik Phrisbey down as the name. We made his room number 42, and attached it to the spare door in my room. We figured that surely, with a name like Phrisbey and a room number that not only didn’t match the floor it was for, but was an obvious Douglas Adams reference, surely no one would believe us.
But Erik took on a life of his own. Even though the door didn’t even have a handle, just a deadbolt, every new frisbee player who came by bought the story of our made up roommate and his crazy schedule. When they’d ask a question, like “Why isn’t Erik ever around?”, whoever was there would just make something up. At night, after all the new players had gone home, we’d gather around and share whatever we’d made up that day.
We had a house rule to always speak about Erik as though he was a real person, so we’d never mix things up. It was never “Oh, today I pretended Erik was in the lab so that Julia wouldn’t get suspicious about where he was.” It was “Erik was in the lab today while Julia was over looking for him.” Jester might come back with “Oh, really? I was in the lab, and Fratz and I didn’t see him.” We’d check the times, then determine, “Oh, he must have stopped for some food on the way there and just missed you.”
Things snowballed. We orchestrated a conversation in my room, and had Pickle call my phone from her room. I very apologetically took the call, pretending it was Erik, busy cramming for a test, and asked everyone to quiet down. Campus maintenance accidentally left the door open after a long weekend, so we had Pickle’s boyfriend, Batman, go up there and stomp around a bit while people were over. We used the campus email system to create a group email with the address [email protected], and told people Erik had a weird situation where he was originally an employee or something, so he had an employee formatted email address. Pickle and I spent hours trying to figure out how to get the IT guy in charge of the student information system to create a profile for him, so people could search him like any other student.44 The campus system was called CNAV; searching for someone was called C-stalking.
By the time spring rolled around, we were in over our heads. Two of us had significant others who fully believed in Erik, and we started to get worried about just how many little lies about Erik we’d told. We started making crazier stories, hoping they’d figure it out. That he’d hooked up with a rugby player. That he’d been arrested and Fricker had to bail him out (Fricker was actually just going home for the weekend).55 Fricker did more than just go home for the weekend: he’s also accidentally covered my last peanut butter topped bagel in dirt, saved me from two broken legs, and saved me from being crushed to death by a boulder underground. That he’d had a one time kiss with Pickle earlier that year, and there was a lot of weird tension.
I’m not sure who figured it out first. Whopper straight up called us out on it, but Julia was more memorable. She claimed to have had a soirée with him in late fall, leaving us scrambling to find a way to incorporate that into the story. We ended up telling both significant others. Neither was happy to find out the truth.
By the end of the year, as we prepared for our world record attempt, another student from our year asked us, “Whatever happened with Erik? It’s so weird, I’ve never had any classes with him. You’d think I’d have met him, since we’re both physics majors.” We made up a response on the spot, about how he must have been a semester off in the sequence or something. Some people never found out the truth. Hopefully they still ask about him at the reunions.