The Rugby House

It’s the last week of school and The Rugby house are tempted to ignore New York state law one final time. Dom is leaning from the window of a scarlet Chevrolet truck and gently creeping onto a busy high street. He’s tall and bulky and cuts an imposing figure at the wheel. His pale face is dotted with freckles and he has a craggy set of ginger hair on his head. Next to him is Isaac, who is in many ways Dom’s antithesis. Isaac has a willowy frame and looks like he could survive on a diet of ice cream topped lasagne without his waist moving an inch. From the passengers seat he is amping Dom up. The pair are hyped at the idea of ignoring the ‘No Left Turn’ and attempting to outrun the onrushing traffic. Kelvin; a marketing major from just outside New York City and Jordan; the eternally chilled member of the pack, are sitting in the back; less inspired. “You’re going to get t-boned,” Kelvin warns, jutting at a white pick-up truck careering down the near lane. A left turn may knock ten minutes off their journey but what’s ten minutes if you write off your car?

Dom, now somewhat cagey, deliberates for a few seconds before slamming his foot on the accelerator. “Fuck it. I’m only in this town for one more day.” He laughs and swerves into the left lane, compelling the white pickup truck to hit the brakes. The driver bangs his horn and screeches to a crawl, becoming a waning speck in Dom’s rear view mirror. The boys are in hysterics, a cocktail of relief and exhilaration. Dom is laughing the hardest. He palms the wheel with his right hand and stuffs the left through the window. “Fuck off asshole!”

We’re in Oneonta, upstate New York. The small college town is all trimmed shrubs and manicured lawns, wooden town-houses and silent suburban streets. Dom, Isaac, Kelvin and Jordan are or at least were students here. They call their place ‘The Rugby House’ and rent it for a few hundred dollars a semester from Deborah, a college professor turned landlord. The house almost fits the profile of a typical Oneonta townhouse. Almost. There is no costly Benz in the driveway, just Isaac’s rusting Selco and the grass on the front lawn is beginning to frazzle. The house; a warm burgundy on first build, has since faded to a musty grey. Deborah, bought it a decade back and began renting it to students shortly after. A few years down the line it earned a reputation amongst students as a party house, popular with fraternities and sports teams. The Rugby House are the latest iteration of this, with Kelvin, Jordan, Dom, Isaac making friends at the College’s Rugby club in freshman year. They have been renting the seven bed for the past two years and according to Deborah, it has never been in such a state. Boys’ houses are notoriously trouble for private landlords but The Rugby House has breached new boundaries of mess. There is bright paint splattered on the walls from Jordan’s DIY UV Raves and the wooden flooring is caked in a layer of muddied dirt. The kitchen sink best represents the reality of life in a guy’s house at college. It’s stacked with plates caked in dried food, musty glasses and a few frying pans. Guys love to eat but they don’t like to wash up.

Their contract still has a fortnight to run but they have all made the decision to move out for good in two days. Jordan finished his final paper late last night and the quartet graduated this morning. Their four year stay at College is up. On Monday their parents will arrive in their pick-up trucks and family vans with the seats squashed down to pack up their kid’s belongings and funnel back to the corners of New York State from which they came. Until then, for the next forty eight hours, they can be college kids. The license to get drunk on vanilla vodka and toss sofa’s from their balcony like they did last night. Shrug it off with an offhand apology when a neighbour calls the police which also happened. Or punch holes through their walls and square the blame on ‘rage’ when Deborah asks questions.

For the time being, smoking endless blunts and watching episode after episode of Louis C.K. is enough. Its mid-afternoon and the front room is lingering with smoke. The drone of passing cars is drowned out by laughter and the faint rumble of trap music from the speakers upstairs. They are taking turns ‘toking’ from the three blunts being passed around. Kelvin is rolling a fourth on his stickered MacBook and Fred is inhaling from a makeshift bong. It’s fashioned from cellophane and a coca cola bottle with the bottom cut away. He takes a suckering gasp from the neck and twists his lips into a ring, puffing out loops of smoke from the tiny parting at his mouth. “Yo, does Wegmans [Grocery shop] drug test?” he sputters once his lungs are empty. “I’m thinking of getting a job there. Some entry level shit.”

Dom bears the least attachment to college in the house, preferring to focus on what’s to come rather than tear up about irreversible bygones. He is moving back home with his parents but wants to rent a place of his own with a friend shortly after. His sister; two years younger, studies at Oneonta and still has two years left; meaning that within reason he has the option to come back and visit whenever he wants. It’s not an option he intends on abusing. “I don’t want to be a Wiley,” he says of their friend who graduated last year. “I know his girls still here but that kid was down here a lot. I’m content with not coming back for a while.”

The boys are a neat cross section of the post graduate spectrum. There are those like Kelvin who have locked in a job and intended career path already. He’s snagged a role as social media intern at a Jazz festival (“Taking pictures and shit”) and hopes to land a full time job in the music industry thereafter. Jordan is investing his time in a start-up. He was roped in by a friend who graduated last year. They have been awarded funding and office space in down-town Buffalo; New York state’s second city, where they both plan to live indefinitely or at least until they run out of money. Then there are those like Dom; the majority. Certain that they want to do something with their life, just not yet sure what it is yet.

A few hours later the weed has finished and Jordan, Isaac, Kelvin and Dom have piled back into Dom’s truck to re-up on their weed stash. We’ve headed into the centre of town where their friend and weed supplier Sophia lives in a one room apartment above a Burger joint. There is an unmade single bed at one end of the room and a cooker and sink at the other. The heavy black curtains have been pulled shut and the only light comes from a dangling dull bulb that gives the room a yellow glow. Sophia is a bubbly, heavy set student. She is wearing black leggings with a black t-shirt. She has a soft round face and wears her chestnut brown hair in a swollen bunch. Her plan is to move to Ithicar next week to work shifts in a bar out there, but first she still has a few friends come clients to fix with weed. She’s sitting on a sunken bean bag, huddled over a small wooden table that resembles a beginners guide to drug dealing. There is a metal scale in one corner and a box stuffed with clear Zip-Loc bags in another. In the other is a grinder for her own personal use and a glass ashtray littered with cigarette buds. Being a weed dealer in university is viewed differently from selling full time. In school it’s just kind of accepted. The part time dealers are far from kingpins and more often than not only sell small amounts to friends and acquaintances. They rarely, if ever, prick the attention of the authorities and are never mentioned in the countries fanatical ‘War on Drugs’. Most fall out of the habit after graduating but for some, college can be a gateway into harder stuff. Shifting larger amounts of more potent product. For now, Sophia is sticking with selling eight balls to college friends like The Rugby House.

It’s the likely to be the last time they will be together; Sophia and The Rugby House. They are friends but the kind that like each other’s pictures on Facebook or send a text on birthdays. Sure, if they were to stumble across each other in the street they would stop and chat but the likelihood of weekend cross-state trips are slim. It’s explains why they have taken to regaling on college memories whilst Sophia bags up the weed. ‘Who tripped balls off acid at Fret Fest’ and ‘Who slept with ‘The Rash’’ or Kerry, as her parents named her. Kerry is that student who had her name eternally tarnished having involved herself with countless men in freshman year. Their mutual friend Josh was rumoured to have slept with her once. Eight months later she gave birth to a boy and protested that he was the father, a claim he vehemently denied. To resolve the impasse Josh took a paternity test, which came back negative, leaving Kerry to continue the Oneonta-wide search for her child’s father. “There must be so many bastard children running around this town,” Dom laughs. “Josh would be a good dad though. He’d love his kid.” Sophia interjects: “Yeah, he would [love his child] but that doesn’t mean you’re a good Dad.”

The next day they set about clearing out the basement. It’s that task that had been pushed to the back of their minds, ignored until they could ignore it no more. Nobody had descended down the concrete steps and into the darkness since the turn of the year. Jordan expects that it was left in a foul state. Fears become reality when he finds several beer bottles brimming with fluffy mould. They are leftovers from the brutal Rugby initiations the house staged, where the new freshmen were made to prove their worth in a string of sloppy drinking games. Isaac donned in plastic latex gloves has taken on the more bearable task of clearing out the training gear that had also been left behind. Amongst the cushioned pads and mud stained balls he finds two flimsy wooden letters (A ‘K’ and an ‘M’), about two feet in length and coated in the American flag. He and Jordan had poached from the Sigma Kappa fraternity house streets away. They had forgotten about it but are now scheming on how best to deface them before they leave. Jordan suggests hanging from their balcony for everybody to see as they drive past but Isaac wants something more drastic. After all, it is their last day at college. He opts for burning later in the evening and props them purposefully against the wall as if to make things official.

Later that day, when the sun has set and the cleaning has been semi-finished, the house gather outside to incinerate their pinched fraternity signs. Isaac has already amassed kindling: sheets of blank white paper and brittle twigs that had fallen from the oak trees. He pulls a lighter from his pocket and gets the fire going. They have decided on a small blaze, nothing spectacular. They can ill afford a second run in with the police. It’s a fitting way to end their time at college, impulsive recklessness that’s now tampered with a hint of restraint. It’s dawned on the group that closing this chapter of their lives may not be such a bad thing, in spite of wistful parents in their fifties who swear that university days are the best of your life. Maybe there is more out there and besides, you can only pillage your insides with drinks and drugs for so long. That’s not to say vanilla vodka is forever striked off the shopping list and Kelvin and Jordan are still intent on divvying up their remaining crumbs of Molly, but curbing things is a start. “I came to college to be smart,” Jordan smirks. “But I’ve lost way too many brain cells.” A pensive Dom agrees but has no regrets. “We lived how the ninety nine percent wanted to live.” The circle nod in agreement. Isaac interrupts; his fire is burning healthily and he’s now ready to place the letters on the licking flames. He starts with the ‘K,’ gently lowering it onto the edge as if he were a father taking his son swimming for the first time. The bottom edge catches first, sluggishly almost resisting before accepting its fate and allows itself to be consumed. The ‘K’ is less work and alights quickly. Isaac steps back to admire his work, unsure of what to do next. It’s too dark to hang them from their balcony as Jordan wanted and they have nothing left to burn. “We should have done this weeks ago and left it on their lawn,” Kelvin says with a tinge of regret. “Aaah man we would have heard about that, everybody would’ve heard about that.”

Words By Aniefiok Ekpoudom (@AniefiokEkp)

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