There were three kinds of Little Aleppians: refugees, transplants, and lifers. Not everyone is cut out for the neighborhood, for streets rearranging themselves in the middle of the night, much less in broad daylight. One needed a tolerance for a wobbly reality, and some kids grew up itching to get to Akron, or Gainesville, or Santa Fe. Some poor fuckers are just born normal. The second group, the transplants, found their way. Not to get all mystical about it or anything. Everywhere around the world, they’re coming to Little Aleppo. Every time that flag’s unfurled, etc.
And then there were the lifers. Born in St. Agatha’s, most of ’em wheeled home via the Main Drag with a balloon tied to the carriage. Everyone on the sidewalk would make way. First stroll. Important milestone. KSOS and The Mister Hamburger Show while Mom got breakfast ready for the older kids, and toddled to Plummer Park for the swings. Learned to read at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary. Learned about their bodies at Lyndon LaRouche Middle. Learned about each others’ bodies, and Shakespeare, at Paul Bunyan High. (Go Blue Oxen!)
Some went to work after graduation, and some learned a trade, such as refrigerator husbandry. Kids from the Upside got shipped Back East for college, because rich people think that college is something that happens in New England, and the brilliant kids got sent to be with other brilliant people at various institutes of technology. Every few years, a young man or woman would be such an impressive athlete that a university with an enrollment larger than Little Aleppo’s population would come recruiting.
Most everyone else attended Harper College, because Harper College was free to locals. 12 years in Little Aleppo’s public schools got you four at the college, although exceptions were often made for applicants who moved into the neighborhood around Grade 4 or so. Tuition was gratis, and room and board was nominal–cheaper than it would cost to house and feed yourself off campus–and local students received a book stipend, which they all spent on dope and posters of Rock Stars.
“Society, Mr. Harper. To it, what do we owe? Shall we leave a more clever world, or hillocks of dullards? This is the question when it comes to society.”
“Okay,” Harper T. Harper said. He was a smart man, and a successful one. He was a cunning man, and a strategic man, and he had a head for numbers. But he was not an educated man (despite having attended Yale) and so was intimidated by Carter Spants. It was 1924 and Harper had returned home from the Congo having made his fortune in rubber and Congolese hands. The Belgians wanted him dead, but he was damned if he was going to be afraid of some damned Walloon. Harper did not consider whether or not the Congolese wanted him dead.
“Have you, Mr. Harper, considered Communism?”
“Considered it and rejected it, Dr. Spants.”
“Capital decision, Mr. Harper.”
“Thoroughly. It is Godless. Did you know that?”
“Godless and godless. I mean not one god at all. Africans were heathens, but at least they worshiped something. Communists, I don’t get it.”
“It is a puzzlement.”
“Godless in the extreme. Agitators and bomb-throwers, that’s all they are.”
Carter Spants was a smart man, too, and a successful one. He had survived intradepartmental wars at Rutgers, a sexual plagiarism scandal at Princeton. Top of his class at Yale–this was undergraduate–which is where Harper had gone (and why Carter had gotten the interview) and already a legend in several fields. He had written the book on chromatic materialism, and corrected Niels Bohr several times. In his spare time, he had translated the Odyssey into limericks, many of them quite filthy.
There once was a man from Ithaca
Who had his balls laundered in Nausicaa
He showed the suitors
That they were no shooters
And then had Penelope to stick it ta.
He had an entire sheep’s worth of sheepskins, and was an expert in winning conversations the other participant didn’t know were competitions.
“You wish to head it off at the pass?”
“You despise Communism and all its tenets?”
“Then we must provide free education to the people!”
Carter Spants thrust forward his hand and grabbed Harper’s, shook it up and down, before he could think about the exchange. He placed a hand on Harper’s shoulder and steered him out across the grassy lot where the college would one day be.
“I see the dorms going over there.”
And the dorms did go over there.
Picture a right triangle. We’re looking at the school from above. A right triangle with the hypotenuse facing northwest. Up and to the left, if you’re skittish about cardinality. Harper Zoo is directly above the college, and is shaped like home plate. The angled side of home plate to the southeast, or down and to the right, is the shared border between the institutions.
Still got the triangle in mind? At the vertex, at the right angle, the corner on the bottom to the right, to the southeast: there stands Harper Hall. It is a collegiate structure. Five stories tall and squat at the base, made of the brickiest bricks you’ve ever seen. Gothicism abounded, and there used to be climbing ivy, but the Idiobotanics Department invented something it shouldn’t have, which mated with the ivy and then that started mating with grad students, and now there is no ivy. The Student Union and the Bookstore were on the first floor, and the offices were on the second, and above that were classrooms for subjects that did not stand a chance of burning down/blowing up/splitting apart the rest of the building. Books were discussed in Harper Hall; all the messy subjects were held next door in Alouette Hall.
We’re going clockwise.
Alouette Hall has been constantly rebuilt since it was originally built, always to the same specs, and always with the same inscription over the front doors: Aedificium non cremare. No one speaks Latin any more. The building was for the hardest of sciences. Psychochemical Engineering was in the basement, and there simply wasn’t enough ventilation down there. Unfortunately, that’s where the soda machine was, so undergrads would walk down and resurface in Belgium several months later with an entirely new personality. The administration has had several serious talks with the Psychochemical Department over the years, but the administration does not recall any of them. It was a mistake to put the AI Department and the Robotics Lab right next to each other. The Comparative Explosives Department is simply a menace.
Next door, still going clockwise, is the Tandey Arts Center, and the Fire Department had been called on the artists just as many times as the scientists. Painters smoked around their turpentine, and kilns were pushed beyond their specifications. Sculptors carved dicks out of C4–it was a statement about war, or dicks, or something–and one time a performance artist named Shimmy Furst drove a bulldozer onto campus and pushed in the whole north side of the building; she was nude in the cab of the ‘dozer, and had carved BRISEIS into her chest with a razor blade. Upon dismounting, Shimmy flung her various personal fluids at the assembled crowd. She was awarded tenure, and the Performance Art Department was disbanded, as it was decided that “knocking down a building and throwing turds at strangers while being pretentious” was the logical endpoint of performance art.
At the southwest angle, the bottom left, the 45-degree vertex, there is the Boone Gymnasium. Barn-like, with a lofted ceiling and windows under the arches on either side that let in the sunlight all through the day, and basketball hoops and pull-out bleachers and a scoreboard on the far side. Swimming pool somewhere in there, and a weight room and lockers. The whole place smells like balls.
It’s a college gym. You know what they are. Let’s move on.
The dorms were over there, four of them along the hypotenuse of the triangle, lined up neatly. Each was three stories and curled around a central courtyard.
“Terpsichore, Erato, Calliope, Ourania.”
“The dormitories’ names. We’ll put them along the long side of the campus, one two three four, and we’ll name them Terpsichore, Erato, Calliope, Ourania after Plato’s Four Muses.”
Harper T, Harper pretended to have known that, and Carter Spants pretended to believe him.
“The muses of dancing, writing, singing, and astronomy. Those are fine muses.”
“I don’t see what astronomy has to do with the other things.”
“That’s because you’re not an Ancient Greek. I see just the spot for the cafeteria,” Carter said, and marched off with exceptional posture so that Harper had to scrabble after him.
Harper College’s first class was the class of ’28, which means they entered the school in 1924. Erato, Calliope, and Ourania were still being built, so Dean Spants put all the freshmen–including the co-eds, though they were on a separate floor and there were chaperones–in Terpischore. The next year, he put the incoming students in Erato and let the returning ones stay where they were. This started a tradition, and since then each incoming class has occupied the same building for all four years of its tenure. Naturally, this leads to intense in-group/out-group identification which has, on occasion, spilled over into outright Dorm Wars. By the middle of the fifth or sixth semester together, the classes were semi-autonomous tribes with leaders, rebels, outcasts; everybody was sneaking around to fuck everybody else; stabbings were not common, but also not unheard of.
There were first loves in those four dorms, and first fucks, and kids took acid for the first time. Cults of personality, lines for the showers, rogue RA’s, annual low-grade pandemics of pink-eye. The buildings were square, but all of the rooms were oddly-shaped and none the same; they were assigned alphabetically: Aaronsen and Abbot in 101, Adams and Aglet in 102. You might not have anything in common with your new roomie–Adams was a chain-smoking engineer with FUCK BOATS tattooed across her forehead; Aglet was a vegan who studied poetry in between anxiety attacks–but the alphabetical thing was tradition.
Traditions are the chakras of culture.
The Snug–The motherfuggin’ Snug!–was founded in one of these dorms: Calliope, naturally. Room 212. Holiday Rhodes and Johnny Mister lived there, back when they had normal-person names. Rock Nerds would sneak in sometimes to take pictures. American Elephant was written on the roof of Ouranian. McCarson Gee’s roommate couldn’t take the typing, so McCarson built himself an open-air office up there. Just a desk and typewriter, set far back enough so that he could not be seen from the ground. He liked it up there; the book won many awards. Three non-related Ponzi schemes had begun in Erato.
The dining hall is at the apex of the campus, the most northerly point. It has been a neutral zone since 1973: vegetarian activists snuck into the kitchen and stole all the meat and fish, followed closely by vegan activists who stole the eggs and milk and honey. In response, a group that called itself Chewing Is Murder stole all the rest of the food. Dean Spants let everyone starve for a few days until the dining room was declared apolitical. The hash browns are good; the coffee is abysmal and abundant. Obviously, Taco Tuesday protocols are in effect.
Below that–we are still proceeding clockwise–is the Spants Library. It was originally named after Harper T. Harper, but he was long gone when the Dean died and the campus sought around frantically for things to rename in his honor. It’s easy to rename a building: you just need a ladder and some oversized letters in the right font. There is a belltower with a clock, and it chimes the hour at E-flat.
And then we are back to Harper Hall. Full circle around the triangle which made up Harper College, which is where all the locals attended in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.