“Hey Moe—I mean, Hans, come look at this.”
“Oh come on.” My roommate Mike had made a mistake and called me by his boyfriend’s name instead of mine. “Did you really just call me ‘Moe’?”
“Get over it.”
I met Michael freshman year. He was my roommate, English House, room 304, the awkward-looking, skinny boy from Bumfuck, Pennsylvania.
“Okay, it’s definitely not called ‘Bumfuck,’ it’s called Doylestown.”
“Same thing,” I replied.
This was our third year living together, an awkward match at first glance. Mike loves musicals. He knows all the lyrics to “Wicked,” “Book of Mormon,” and Charlie’s musical from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” He knows more, but I don’t know the names of the other ones.
I hate musicals.
Mike is five-eight, and weighs one hundred and twenty pounds on a good day. By a good day, I mean a day where he’s actually eaten something besides ramen and pretzels. He doesn’t play any sports. He cares even less about them. His definition of an exercise is riding his bike downtown to a café, or drinking wine in the dorm and watching “30 Rock”.
I hate Tina Fey.
I was brushing my teeth when Mike made the mistake of calling me “Moe,” to which I responded that I should start calling him by the girls who I’ve struck out on. I tried this out for a couple of minutes.
“So, what do you want to show me… Dominique.”
“You sound pathetic.” He had a point.
My first contact with Mike was over Facebook, when I found out he was my roommate before our first semester of college. I was hoping for a roommate that resembled my friends from back home—sporty, laid back, and from California. I found Mike’s profile after a couple of minutes of searching. “Aw Shit.”
Michael one-upped me. I messaged him, telling him I was looking forward to our year together as roommates, and that I wanted to figure out if there was anything he’d want me to bring from California.
He ignored my question. “I’ve never met anyone I’ve liked from California.”
“He sounds like an asshole,” was my dad’s observation at the dinner table when I told him about our first conversation.
“Well, you know, you never know how people are, maybe, uh, he’s just joking or something.” I tried defending the roommate who I had never met.
“I’m not joking,” Mike had told me when I asked him during our Facebook conversation if he was serious about his remark about Californians. But my dad didn’t need to know that for the sake of argument.
When I met Mike for the first time, he confirmed my East Coast stereotype by proving to be impersonal and busy. He was never on campus, he was out and about. I would catch him in passing, we would make small talk, and he was off again. He came back to our dorm from time to time to sleep in his bed.
“Do you think Mike’s gay?” My friend Emma, also a hall mate, asked me one day.
“I don’t think so. Well, I guess I could be convinced one way or another, but I’ve never asked him about it. It’s personal. I don’t care.”
Mike, to me, was sexually ambiguous. He wore earrings, wore cut-off jeans, and owned a Lady Gaga poster, which on the West Coast would probably have been deemed a dead giveaway, but sexuality can’t be reduced to a heuristic. In my short time on campus, I had encountered plenty of sexually ambiguous men. The European students and Fiji convinced me that masculinity could exist somewhere within those super-tight, moose-knuckle exposing, salmon-colored pants that they wore.
I never knew that Mike was seeing a guy at that point or that he hung out at the cafés and bars in Philly’s Gayborhood inside Washington Square West. He came back late one evening when I was already laying in bed. I asked him where he was.
“Cool. What’s that?”
“It’s a gay bar,” he added.
“That’s cool, you had a good time there?”
Our relationship changed after that short conversation. I think he was afraid how I would see him if he broke his sexuality to me too early. Coming from a strict, religious background and a Christian private school, he wasn’t comfortable letting a stranger know about his sexual orientation, much less someone he would have to live with for a whole year. His mistrust was understandable. He got over it.
Since then, Mike has been there for me.
“She said no to a second date? I don’t blame her.”
And he keeps it real.
“You’re wearing that tonight? God, you look like a hot mess.”
Most importantly, he understands what’s going through my mind.
“I really don’t know what you were thinking.”
He’s good at making me laugh with his sarcasm, but he’s been even better at walking through the college experience with me. I went into Penn as a Modern Middle Eastern Studies major, which I decided wasn’t going to work out after my first semester of Arabic. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, whom I wanted to be, where I wanted to go, which are typical questions for college students.
“So what are you studying?” A Wharton girl I had just met at a party fall semester sophomore year asked me.
“I think I want to major in philosophy.”
“Oh, wow, that’s so noble… But what are you going to do for a job?”
“She sounds like she needs to get laid,” Mike commented when I relayed the story to him.
Mike didn’t know what he wanted to do, and an argument could be made that he still doesn’t know what he wants to do. He understands where I’m coming from and rants about it.
“I can’t stand the pre-professional atmosphere at Penn. Where did the whole concept of learning and finding yourself during college go? I can’t have, like, a normal conversation with a lot of kids without them talking about OCR or their internships or their Wall Street job upon graduating. And, you know, whatever, if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine, but they’re so condescending about it, like I’m wasting my parents’ money just because I’m not like them. It pisses me off.”
“But Mike, like, what do you wanna do with an anthropology degree? Aren’t you just wasting your parents’ money?”
“Shut up, philosophy major.”
Mike told me recently he is planning on going abroad for this year’s spring semester. He wants to study in Jordan.
“Oh, I get it. Like, ‘Michael in Jordan.’ You’re going for the pun.”
“Who let you into Penn. Seriously.”
Mike has been studying Arabic since freshman year, and all his classmates had the opportunity of going abroad and improving their Arabic. He felt that if he wanted to make that next jump to fluency, studying abroad was necessary. I don’t want him to go, but it’s not like I would be able to tie him down to his bed and force him to stay.
“’Tie me down to my bed’? I didn’t know you were into that kind of kinky stuff. Is this something you picked up in Germany?”
At a place like Penn where labels are given out like Locust Walk flyers, I have a hard time assigning a label to Mike. I end up quoting him and letting his own words do the work. But when I bring up Mike, people try to define him simply by his sexual orientation. “So he’s gay.”
“No, he’s Mike.”