New York Challenged: Tenth Floor Dormitory Converted to Landfill


Dirty dishes, lifeless flowers and a grocery bag fill the sink, the last straw before I surrendered to cleaning. (Mario Weddell/The Observer)
There aren’t many things that have a direct impact on my sanity— the weather gets to me, and a few other things. It’s a short list, but  a dangerous one. In addition to gloomy weather, the most nerve-wracking thing on that list is living somewhere that is dirtier than a 17-year-old boy’s mind.Nobody in my dorm is exceptionally gross; we’re all just very distracted and very lazy. That is normal and to be expected, especially in a room full of stupid man-boys. When school gets hectic, dorms get messy. But we reached a level of filthiness that would have made Oscar the Grouch cry himself to sleep in his trashcan. The mess became so vile that we were reduced to a state of vulgar madness; we became so disturbed and foul that slugs would have burrowed into piles of salt to get away. The room became such a landfill that we purposely added to its fecal state out of spite, spreading trash and bacteria throughout the dorm as if we were daring each other to be the first to break down and sob for mercy. Oscar the Grouch would have curled into a ball and whimpered, and someone would have vomited into his trashcan for good measure.

At first things were okay. When the trashcan first overflowed onto the floor, we complained but refused to take it out. Each one of us was convinced we “did it last time.” No big deal.

A week later, when we couldn’t see the floor around the trashcan, we put up passive-aggressive signs. I put a sign over the trashcan that was conveniently labeled “Trash.” This was meant to encourage the disposal of refuse into the bin—a container that happened to be manufactured specifically for the collection of “trash.” A novel concept. Someone responded by pouring soup on the wall (perhaps on purpose), so it spilled over the sign and melted into the carpet. My suitemate and I responded by completely emptying the trashcans onto the floor and spreading it all out. Problem solved.

The decay of the room gradually drove us into a state of bitter savagery. The apartment continued to rot. Beer bottles and cereal bowls slowly covered the living room. Egg shells were in corners of the room, so far away from the kitchen that it probably took extra work to put them there. Everything was contaminated with filth out of pure anger. Dirty spoons were under chairs. Chairs were lying on their side for no reason. A mound of coffee grounds had been left on the carpet for two weeks. The sink filled up with dishes, so much so that the water would not go down anymore. Some sort of plant-life had probably begun to grow in the pipes. One time I reached down into the swamp of the sink and found some grapes, a full slice of deli-ham and half a lemon, all covered in thick gray slime. Lots and lots of bacon grease, hopefully.

People began eating each other’s food. Ice cream was being stolen like we were living in the Sahara. At this point, I had become feverishly ill. I spat in my own food in the hopes that someone would eat it and die. We hated everything. Fried potatoes and pasta sauce formed an archaeological layer on the countertops, and things were perpetually sticky. I left another passive-aggressive note on a dirty cutting board that said, “Seriously?” I thought it was a valid question, because the cutting board had been on the counter for almost two days with sliced vegetables on it. When I came back from work, the note was floating in the sink.

Someone left a note on the front door that said, “Make sure the door closes behind you,” because sometimes the air pressure in the living room kept it from shutting correctly. This was a very reasonable request and a kind reminder. Some jerk responded by lighting the edges of the Post-It note on fire. To be honest, I think it was me, but at this point everyone was being so irrational that I can’t remember.

After a month of venomous, hostile mess-making, we lost our minds. People stopped shaving and sleeping. Showers were no longer part of the daily routine. We stopped eating regularly; meals consisted of things that would not require dishes. Everyone spoke to each other much too loudly, and showed their teeth excessively when they laughed. We glared at each other with veiny eyes. We were all waiting for someone to crack.

Finally, I cracked. I returned from class one afternoon to find an empty Trader Joe’s bag, a dish towel and the dish rack in the sink, on top of the dishes.There was also a dead rose in the middle of the pile. In my insanity, I was moved by the metaphor. What had once been so beautiful was now just another colorless piece of decaying matter. I choked up (mostly because my sinus infection made it hard to swallow my own saliva).

Coughing and wheezing, I went to Duane Reade and bought a month’s worth of cleaning supplies. Wearing a pair of latex surgical gloves, I washed dishes for two hours straight until people felt sorry for me. We cleaned the rest of the room that evening.

Suddenly everyone looked healthy again. We were talking at a normal volume. We sat in the living room for no reason other than to admire it. It was so refreshing; I can only imagine that this is the feeling old couples get when they renew their vows. It’s something along the lines of, “Yeah, this kind of sucks, but we’re stuck here so I think we should stop trying to kill each other for a little while longer.”