in Friends and Family, Personal History


I was fortunate during my sophomore year in college to share a room in Willamette‘s off-campus apartments. I was even more fortunate that my roommate had managed to nab a corner flat on the top story.

Ken was only nominally my roommate. He actually lived on the third floor with his girlfriend, Caroline, in a small studio barely big enough for a single person. They packed the room with Ken’s synthesizer, Caroline’s clothes, and their shared books, furniture, and food. They lived cozy lives.

Ken stayed in our apartment only if he and Caroline had been fighting, and usually then for only half the night. (As you can imagine, I found this arrangement terribly convenient.)

During the spring semester, Ken “moved out”; that is to say he still lived with Caroline, but he gave the university some bogus address. I found a new roommate, Bill, and had to become accustomed to actually sharing living space again.

Bill and I both preferred morning classes. I know a lot of kids who, during their first year of college, schedule all their classes for the afternoon. I did that during the first semester of my freshman year, but found this was a Bad Idea. For me. I fell asleep in afternoon classes. The professor would be droning away about behavioral psychology or gender roles in society or the Baghavad-Gita while I waged a private little war with my leaden eyelids. Not fun. And not conducive to learning.

So I took morning classes. Ever after it was my goal to be done with classes by lunch. (Except I allowed myself one night class per term. I liked night classes.) Bill had a similar schedule.

We both liked to rise early, but we had different approaches to waking.

If Bill woke first, he’d play a tape of mellow music. (This was mere months before the dawn of the CD era; I owned four CDs but had nothing to play them with.) George Winston’s December was a favorite, or Cat Stevens, or James Taylor. He’d brew some tea or coffee, and when I wandered to the kitchen I’d find him sipping his drink, eating a fresh scone, reading Michel Foucalt, piano music tinkling softly in the background.

His whole approach to mornings was anathema to me.

If I woke first, I’d put in a tape of 80s dance music: Alphaville or Duran Duran or Depeche Mode. I’d crank the volume as much as I dared. When Bill made his way to the kitchen, he’d find me chugging a glass of orange juice, eating a couple of slices of bacon while reading a Stephen King novel. “Can we turn the music down?” he’d ask.

Our philosophies on evenings were just as different.

Bill managed The Bistro, the campus café. His idea of a great evening included boisterous conversation with friends, a bustle of activity, and lots of upbeat music. It was in the evening that he broke out REM, The Communards, and U2.

I wanted my evenings soft and restful. I wanted lullabies and classical music, a good book, and maybe a warm bath. I wanted to prepare for sleep.

I have many fond memories of Bill. I remember our early-term trip to Heliotrope, the local health food store. We stocked up on natural and organic food, most of which was never eaten (the stuff slowly turned foul in our cupboards). I remember the day he fixed curried chicken: he spent the entire day boiling and seasoning the meat, preparing a feast for friends. “What’s curry?” I asked him. “You’ll see,” he said. In the evening, I tried curry for the first time; it remains one of my favorite flavors. I remember the day he told me a deep, deep secret. This must have been difficult for him, and I’m afraid I was a bit too flip. (I already suspected the nature of the secret.)

Bill was a good guy, a deep thinker, an excellent human being. After college, he pursued a graduate degree in philosophy. We exchanged e-mail once, about ten years ago, at which time I mentioned that Kris and I felt morally obligated to have children (a story for another day). He responded that this kind of thinking was akin to Naziism. I’m sad that was our last communication.

I like Bill, and I wonder what’s become of him.


On 15 January 2005 (11:26 AM),
Amy Jo said:

Do share why you and Kris felt “morally obligated” to have children at one time . . . I have a difficult time imagining Kris feeling morally “obligated” to do anything, especially when it comes to having children. This isn’t to imply that Kris has no morals–quite the opposite. She strikes me as someone firmly rooted in her beliefs and not easily swayed by others with whom she disagrees.

On 17 January 2005 (08:13 AM),
J.D. said:

Our reasoning at the time — for good or ill — went something like this:

We are reasonably healthy, well-educated, psychologically stable, and wealthy. In theory, we can provide an excellent environment for a child to excel. Therefor, we ought to have children in order to balance the scales a little. It was a moral obligation.

Bill believed — perhaps correctly — that there was an unspoken, subliminal racism inherent in this philosophy. I don’t think it’s so much racism as a sort of classism, and I see that now. But I still think that, statistically speaking, has we brought a child into this world, they would have had an above-average chance to succeed. I look at many of our friends who are now having children and I think, “These kids will be the top kids in their classes at school.” Maybe it’s wrong of me to think this (and probably I’m completely wrong on my guess anyhow), but it’s still what I believe.

I’m not saying that a kid raised in poverty, in an unhealthy environment, by uneducated parents cannot succeed. I just think it’s more difficult for a child to do so.

On 17 January 2005 (03:01 PM),
Scott D said:

JD – last time I communicated with Bill, I learned he was an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Don’t know if he is still there, but I do have that particular email address if you are interested.

BTW, our DVD β€œStir it Up” is going to be reviewed in Parenting magazine in May. And you are not morally obligated to buy it πŸ™‚

On 18 January 2005 (06:21 AM),
Joel said:

Dude, you guys had your own kitchen?! Salem really is the land of milk n’ honey.

On 18 January 2005 (07:32 AM),
J.D. said:

Well, Joel, you can find photos of our apartment, with kitchen, in this entry about the first Chicken Noodle Fest. Bill’s even in one of the pictures.

On 19 January 2005 (06:09 AM),
al said:

I (We) have decided to not have children, though I have no problem with people who do have them (up to 2). I believe it’s irresponsible once kids start outnumbering parents.

My wife and I are thinking of an activity group for adults w/o kids. We have the freedom that being childfree allows, so let’s travel, let’s go out late w/o babysitters, let’s have fun!