Category Archives: B-side

Arts, lifestyle and culture blog.

Grooving with the Mountain Goats

Four men in suits ran on stage, looking like a band of dads who had hurrying from a business meeting to this gig.

CAROLINE SLACK, B-Side.

For a second I wondered what I was getting myself into. Then I felt the pulse of the bass and heard the hearty strums of a guitar.

CAROLINE SLACK, B-Side.

On Wednesday, April 18, the Mountain Goats graced the Higher Ground in South Burlington, which although not quite sold out, was packed.

CAROLINE SLACK, B-Side.

 

While the Mountain Goats may look tame at a glance, their indie-folk sound is heavily influenced by the goth, punk and metal bands that lead singer John Darnielle listened to in his youth, according to a 2017 Noisey interview.

CAROLINE SLACK, B-Side.

 

The band was formed in 1991 by Darnielle and has since released 16 full-length albums, most recently “Goths”, which was released May 19, 2017.

CAROLINE SLACK, B-Side.

Reclaiming Identities of Addiction

Language is a powerful form of representation, and one that is largely absent on this campus for our students in recovery.

Professors banter about the consumption of alcoholic beverages in class, students openly recount drunken evenings on the bus and people jokingly self-identify as “alcoholics.”

Comments from professors — including one who said all heroin users are lost causes and should be locked up — are swept under the rug. Students and professors often neglect to realize there are numerous students in recovery from substance use disorders who are regularly marginalized on campus.

UVM supports these students through the Catamount Recovery Program, founded in 2009.

Amy Boyd Austin, the director and founder of CRP, worked tirelessly to create the program after a faculty member informed her of students struggling with substance use on campus.

“We realized that ours [program] was about building community and connection – a safe haven for students that celebrates recovery and honors recovery as a model of wellness,” Boyd Austin said.

The program follows five pillars: recovery, community, academics, service and advocacy. CRP consists of over thirty students, but Boyd Austin said she is in contact with fifty or more additional students interested in the program.

Senior Zachary Wyatt, a personable and tenacious psychology major in CRP, discusses his recovery as an identity with fervent authenticity.

“I think deep down, people want to share, but don’t because of the stigma. It’s an identity I hold, it’s part of who I am,” Wyatt said. “It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and why wouldn’t I be immensely of proud of that?”

Anonymity and recovery have been coupled for decades since the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. CRP strives to empower those in recovery rather than promote anonymity.

Genevieve Winn, VT Cynic.

Members of CRP are looking at the similarities with acceptance, learning from the ways in which the gay rights movement gained traction and removed the stigma that being queer was a choice.

Austin, while speaking about university programs in relation to CRP stated, “I honestly feel more connection to some of the other identity centers than I do to policies like dry campus or Wellness Environment, because I feel like those centers are working hard to support identities that are marginalized and that generally aren’t seen or understood and are expected to be able to just deal with the norms of college life.”

CRP is challenging this stigma by offering classes in community engagement and encouraging students in recovery to find confidence and strength through their personal stories of adversity.

Wyatt, along with other CRP members, finds advocacy to be an important aspect of recovery. “It’s taught me that speaking up about things takes the power away from them and that confidence and empowerment always follow.”

Universities, in addition to selling an education, are selling a college experience. Senior Joy Solomon, a thoughtful special education student in CRP, vocalized this idea.

“I think in a systemic way, this institution from orientation day has this college experience … UVM is a brand and the brand is for a very specific college student,” Solomon said.

Solomon said she received a booklet for off campus housing options, but even these came filled with assumptions.

“It just assumes that you’re going to be too loud for your neighbors and that there are certain things that you’re going to experience and encounter,” said Solomon.

Assumptions about partying and a culture of excess that are enforced through this type of language has consequences in that it doesn’t represent those in recovery.

Through University marketing and everyday language, Boyd Austin laments that we have accepted that substance abuse is a given on many college campuses.

When asked about how our institution could better support the CRP and our students who are in recovery, Boyd Austin said, “I think that UVM could improve in supporting the program by recognizing it as another form of diversity. This is an underrepresented identity on college campuses and can be really invisible.”  

Through institutional policies and the normalization of substance use culture, UVM perpetuates this invisibility.

While the university could make major improvements in diversity surrounding both recovery and marginalized identities at large, students and faculty should also take on the role of creating a truly inclusive campus.

Our community can also participate by shifting our biases from an anti-recovery attitude to one that appreciates and engages with those in recovery.

CRP has helped countless students thrive in a college setting, but isn’t by any means operating at its full capacity. Representation of this community allows for more students struggling with substance abuse to use this extraordinary program.

Whether it be through social media or in everyday language, moving away from a culture of normalized excess substance use can help ensure that there is enough room for everyone to be represented and have an equitable college experience.  

A Night Out with Rose Street Collective

Snapping their fingers under lights of purple, blue, and yellow hues, Julia Spelman, Lilly Dukich and Erika Polner spend the majority of a Friday night set perfecting harmonies as a powerful vocal trio, while reserving a few songs for solo performances highlighting individual strengths.

 Rose Street Collective, a new band consisting of five UVM students, surrounds the three singers while playing songs the group has meticulously mastered.

Filling two venues in one weekend, the Skinny Pancake and Radio Bean, the Collective shares their own perspective on jazz by playing both original and familiar tunes.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. From left: Lilly Dukich, Julia Spelman and Erika Polner performing at the Skinny Pancake on February 3rd.

Since November, the band has played about 10 shows and is quickly becoming a  staple of the Burlington music scene.

The magic of Rose Street Collective lies in their ability to pay tribute to the history of jazz by taking the audience through a dynamic tour of the genre, from Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” to a nostalgic yet energetic rendition of Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” and, finally,  covers of today’s hit indie songs.

The band consists of Adam Sullivan on keys, Ian Mack on guitar, Kevin Nikolaides on bass, Ethan Shafron on drums, and Rayne Bick playing the alto sax.

Members share a respect for jazz’s rich history, a reverence that resurged years after taking lessons as kids.

“It has always been a part of our lives, even when we didn’t realize it,” Spelman said.

Most of the members met through the UVM jazz ensemble, while Mack and Bick connected with the group later on through mutual friends.

The ensemble helped them further develop their skills and the group quickly became eager to branch out from campus once they recognized their common love of many different genres of music, from soul to funk to rock.

The group’s ultimate goal was to mimic their favorite musicians, incorporating classical jazz standards into the modern music they listen to.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Rose Street Collective at the Skinny Pancake on February 3rd.

Their interpretation of funk group Vulfpeck’s hit song “Back Pocket” illustrates this perfectly as they replace keys with an alto sax and turn the volume up, taking the song to a new level.  

While it may seem that there is a meticulous strategy to their setlist, it mostly just pays tribute to the songs they all love, which they compile into a Spotify collaborative playlist or suggest via Facebook messenger, Shafron said.

Nikolaides uses Google Sheets faithfully in order to avoid chaos, keeping ideas and song choices organized. 

At the show, the band members seemed completely in their element on stage, exchanging glances and smiles in the midst of their solos.

They’re quickly making their way from one Burlington venue to the next each weekend, which helps to immerse them into the “hopping” music community, Spelman said.

To keep up with their movements, the band suggests liking them on Facebook and possibly following their Instagram in the near future, Shafron said. They have a show this coming Thursday, February 16th at Radio Bean, 11:00 pm.

The Anti-Sport

     Skateboarding is set to be in the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. I’m confused. The Olympics are for usually for sports, and skateboarding can’t be a sport. Seeing skateboarding in the olympics is akin to McDonald’s offering dry cleaning. Skateboarding can’t be a sport, sports have clear objectives and points. In a basketball game, everyone knows what they should be doing: trying their darndest to get the ball in the net. When they do, they don’t wonder what happens next, they know they will get points for it.

   Skateboarding is nothing like that. Skateboards don’t come with instructions. Some people choose to use a skateboard purely as transportation. Some people decide to ride huge boards exclusively down steep hills. Some people aim only to flip their board in complex ways. Some people strive to hop down huge sets of stairs. The only wrong way to approach skateboarding is to not approach it.

    There are no points in skateboarding. When I landed my first ollie, there wasn’t a scoreboard flashing numbers at me. There’s no way to score skateboarding. Some people can naturally do things without trying, while it might take someone else years to learn. That one guy at the skatepark that’s struggling to kickflip may turn around and do something twice as hard.

   Sports encourage competition. Competition encourages animosity and hostility amongst competitors. Every time a team celebrates scoring a goal, there’s another team that hates them for doing it. Skateboarding is the opposite: it encourages camaraderie and friendship. When I see someone do some trick I’ve always wanted to do, I can’t be mad at them, I can only be excited for them.

   Calling skateboarding a sport is like calling a grilled cheese a burger. Or calling high heels tennis shoes. Or calling 9 hours of sleep a nap. While they may share some minor similarities,the connection is not quite there. I propose a new word, something to signify an activity that requires physical exertion and developed skills, but does not contain an inherent goal or point system. How about ‘hobby’? Skateboarding is a hobby. I’m all for making an Olympics of hobbies, but I’d like to keep skateboarding out of the current hyper-jockish, athlete-childhood-extinguishing Olympic culture.

And The Kids Share Lovers

“I’m trying to wrangle everyone into a group costume…but it’s a secret!,” said And The Kids frontwoman Hannah Mohan. Mohan and her bandmates are gearing up for a two-night run at Signal Kitchen Thursday and Friday, excitedly rallying friends and assembling outfits for the weekend’s festivities.

“We love playing in Vermont, there are so many amazing bands playing with us,” Mohan said, “I have all my best friends so it’s really fun.”

The band has been touring with their new album, “Friends Share Lovers,” for the better part of 2016, and are finishing off the year with shows in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They’re coming back home to New England with friends to see and old times to revisit.

Mohan hails from western Massachusetts, where she and the band spent their formative years living in tents, playing residencies and growing together. “When we started the band, we decided ‘ok, no jobs for us, we’re not gonna pay rent,’” Mohan said. “We found this piece of land in Hadley right on the [Connecticut] river and payed this guy 100 bucks a month to live on the property while we were on tour.”

And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.
And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.

With a makeshift practice space crafted from a Pods container, Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaporano roughed it during the band’s inception. Mohan testified to the importance of place in her life ever since, which seeps into her music as well.

“I’m a cancer and our whole thing is we revolve around home,” she said. “I’m also a crab, so my home is on my back. There’s a huge inspiration for me to write about habitat.”

Even on tour, Mohan’s connection to place inspires her. “Out of nowhere, I loved Madison, Wisconsin,” she said, “I got really attached — we bought a tape deck at this vintage store, I just really didn’t want to leave.”

Anchoring to home has been problematic for And The Kids, too, as Canadian synth player Megan Miller’s visa troubles have kept her from touring with the band in the U.S. “We wrote “Friends Share Lovers” before our keyboard player got deported, so there are some songs about her,” Mohan said, “we had to come up with power songs we could play as a two piece.” 

And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.
And The Kids. COURTNEY CHAVANELL.

Despite Miller’s absence on tour, she is anything but missing from the album. Her synth riffs float through the album’s most atmospheric tracks, like “Creeper” and “Picture” with exquisite and ethereal spookiness.

“Creeper is my favorite because of Megan’s fucking synth part at the end,” Mohan said.

“We went deeper into the ocean of experimenting with sonic shit on this album,” she said, “We recorded it on tape, too, so that’s fucking amazing.”

The album is nebulous and playful, resounding with anxious emotion and confusion, yet remarkable sophistication. “We were trying to have more of a concept linking all the songs on this one,” said Mohan.

Along with strikingly evocative sounds is And The Kids’ glittering and gorgeous album art by Brooklyn, New York  artist Chase Carlisle.

“Aesthetics are really difficult because we have different visions, some of us want a more mature look and some want sketchy drawings,” Mohan said. “Now I just want fucking gorgeous stuff that doesn’t take two seconds to make.”

“I’m gonna hang out with a bunch of my friends and go to my old house in Colchester, maybe build a fire,” Mohan said. “We’re trying to make a music video with Joey Pizza Slice too, he makes awesome VHS videos.”

Gone, sadly, is their trademark inflatable deer, Andrea, that Mohan rescued from the woods in Washington, D.C.

“Andrea the deer…she had a really rough tour with Ra Ra Riot and she’s kind of out of commission now,” she said. Regardless, And The Kids has incredible music, lovable antics and a guaranteed sprinkling of glitter to offer when they return to Vermont. Catch the band at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 at Signal Kitchen and in the station at WRUV Friday at noon.

Grand Point North Celebrates Burlington

With summer officially coming to an end next week, Grand Point North music festival serves not only as the perfect ode to warmer weather, but also as a celebration of all things Vermont music, art and food.

        Years ago, Grace Potter approached promoter Alex Crothers with a vision of a Burlington music festival that would revolve around the local bands that inspired her as well as her and her friends’ smaller, up-and-coming bands. In its sixth year, Potter and her brainchild, Grand Point North, have grown beyond the bounds of Burlington to national success.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

        Potter’s constantly growing fan-base attracts people from all around the country, with people from out of state  making up about 50 percent of ticket-buyers. Crothers describes the event as the “mecca for Grace Potter fans,” as it’s an intimate performance in her hometown, where she will be surrounded by family and lifelong friends. Music fans from all different parts of Vermont will make up the other half of attendees, shipping up to Vermont’s biggest city to enjoy the capstone music event of the summer.

Support for the burgeoning Burlington and New England music scene will bring great diversity of sound to the stage, from punk to Americana to funk to rock and beyond.

        The same goes for food. With Skinny Pancake as the chief caterer of Grand Point Local, the festival’s culinary component, Crothers says the they will offer local food for everyone. Pingala offers vegan eats for veggie lovers, while Southern Smoke BBQ offers Cajun and Caribbean barbeque for meat fanatics. Farmers & Foragers and Green Pasture Meats offer wholesome farm-to-table meals, while Duino Duende and Caja Madera offer flavorful tacos.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.

        In addition to music and food, Crothers says attendees can check out the “visual eye candy” at Grand Point Weird, the art installation located on the festival grounds. Professional glass artist and sister of Grace, Charlotte Potter, will feature an “intensive collaborative project” between Brooklyn-based painter Esteban del Valle and artists from Vermont Governor’s Institute of the Arts.

        Before festival gates open, yoga instructor Taraleigh Weathers will lead hour-long free classes at noon on the Great Lawn. With live music and yoga mats provided, the lessons will offer an ideal environment for anyone wanting to try out yoga for the first time, and for expert yogis looking for a fun, laid-back experience.       

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

Crothers describes the festival as “convivial,” with a fun and art-driven atmosphere. Though it’s conveniently located in the heart of Burlington on the lake, the festival will feel far from chaotic, with short and quick lines. The festival emphasizes the importance of community through maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere, kids 12 and under are free, making the crowds welcoming to everyone. As the final outdoor event of the year, Grand Point North encourages all to soak in the last moments of summer in the ultimate celebration of Burlington.

Wit and Wisdom with Matteo Lane

Matteo Lane is a master of many trades: he’s a painter, an illustrator, an opera singer and now, a stand-up comedian. Lane will be at the Vermont Comedy Club Sept. 9 and 10, treating audiences to his trademark sarcastic wit.

Opera may not seem like the traditional path to comedy, but for Matteo Lane, everything is connected.

“I tried to get my start as a singer in Chicago and i joined a group of drag queens and strippers and it was a year and a half of hell,” Lane said, “so stand up seemed glamorous in comparison.”

His past experience continues to influence his stand-up today. He told me he’s found similarities in all his artistic pursuits.

“The most important thing in all art forms is to surround yourself with people better than you. That’s the only way to get better at any art,” Lane said.

His transition to stand-up was inspired in part by his large Italian-American family.

“I’m mostly shaped by my family. They’re the funniest people on the planet,” Lane said, “You have to compete; you learn what is and isn’t funny. You learn your timing at a very young age.”

Lane paused here to refill his coffee and tell me the fried chicken he was enjoying from the comfort of an NYC diner was delicious, before we began to talk about what makes stand-up unique as a form of entertainment.

“Stand-up is one of the rawest forms of performance,” Lane said, “it just requires a microphone, your thoughts, and a lot of hard work; singing, you can hide behind the music, acting behind the character. Stand up is just a dialogue between you and the audience.”

This “rawness” Lane values in stand-up, which he compared it to a combination of sexting and Catholic confession, has increasingly allowed more and more diverse voices to break into the business.  

“I think there’s been a shift even in the past five years in what people in the industry are interested in,” Lane said, “I’m not someone who’s like ‘straight white men suck,’ but I do find it refreshing that more people are seeing themselves reflected on stage.”

His experiences as a gay man have provided material for his stand-up. Lane particularly values comedy as a kind of coming to terms with his past.

“I’ve found humor in healing all the shame I held onto as a child,” he said, “the stage will heal whatever I’m going through.”

Although Lane unapologetically embraces all aspects of his identity, the comedian also does not feel the need to limit himself to only performing to certain audiences when speaking on certain issues.

“I don’t think of myself as a spokesperson for anything but I’ve gotten a lot of outreach from kids in the closet and it means a lot to them to see me,” he said, “if you’re LGBT, you’re doing a lot just by being yourself. Anything else is extra.”.

Lane’s ability to create humor from  the shameful, the scary and the awkward is what has allowed him to connect with so many audiences, from his work on MTV’s GirlCode to his growing career as a touring comedian.

“When you are really honest, it’s not so much shocking as it is interesting,” he said, “I’ve said things that make people’s skin peel off them. But it’s a relief to say them. It can be dark and intense but life is dark and you have to find the light in it.”

Reviving Rock Classics with the Sheepdogs

      ‘70s rock and roll lives on, and not just on Beatles-filled throwback playlists. With sweet harmonies and classic three-chord guitar rhythms, Ontario based rock outfit the Sheepdogs are reviving the genre’s golden years.

        The band released their fifth studio album “Future Nostalgia” last year, and is set to play Signal Kitchen May 4.

        “Future Nostalgia” is chock full of crisp and sunny windows-down rock and roll, immediately evoking the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. All the while, neo-blues tracks like “Darryl & Dwight” align the band with fellow rock revivalists like the Black Keys.

        Ewan Curie, the Sheepdogs’ lead singer, spoke about the band’s preference for older sounds. “I don’t really like modern rock, so I don’t want to sound like it,” Curie said, “I think rock and roll should be more fun than it is.”

        For Curie, making music isn’t about doing something that hasn’t been done. “We’re going to keep on playing the music that we love,” he said, “People can play whatever they want and hopefully find an audience for it.”

        At the same time, the Sheepdogs aren’t set out to be a cover band. “We love all these acts, but we’re not just trying to be the Stones,” Curie said.

        In terms of influences, Curie sticks to the greats. He said Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills and Nash are two of his favorites. “With Zeppelin, you get the power of blues rock; with CSN you get a singer-songwriter sound but still a band that rocks,” Curie said.

        He said he  seeks to strike a balance between the two ends of the classic rock spectrum, landing somewhere between explosive riff-driven tracks and light, folksy jams. “We work really hard on our singing—we want to record songs that connect with people on a personal level,” Curie said.

        While he holds rock renaissance acts dear, contemporary bands like Wilco and My Morning Jacket are among the bands he loves. “I admire them for sticking to their guns and making the music how the way they want to,” Curie said.

        “[Wilco] might have had a moment when they were a hip and cool new band, but they just kind of do what they want,” he said.

        The idea of doing what they want, how they want to do it, seems to be a defining aspect of the Sheepdogs. “We play the music we love, and we’re gonna keep on playing it,” Curie said.

        After cutting their last album in a secluded cottage on an Ontario lake, he said the band is refocused and ready to head out on another tour. Come this fall, the band will begin work on their sixth studio album which, at the pace the band is going, will likely become a new classic.

Cricket Blue’s Io: An Exploration of Music, Myth and Agency

“Myths and old stories feel unresolved. You want to explain them,” Taylor Smith told me as we sat down to discuss Burlington folk duo Cricket Blue’s new EP “Io.”

Their new EP opens as Smith and the duo’s other half Laura Heaberlin softly croon: “When the woods were full of wolves, the girls tied back their hair. They covered up their hands because it gave away their age.”

With this first track, “Angela Carter,” Heaberlin said they were “emulating Angela Carter’s  weird fractured fairytales.”

Carter’s fiction, with its combination of feminism and magical realism, is the perfect fit for Cricket Blue’s mythological folk.

This desire to explore and complicate traditional myths and fairytales is an undercurrent in much of Cricket Blue’s music, from earlier work like “Forsythia,” a love story set in the garden of Eden, to “Angela Carter’s” investigation of what lurks after the words “once upon a time.”

Their lyrics read like missives from another time or place. They remind the listener that the myths and stories they were raised on often have a dark underbelly lurking behind their apparent innocence.

“I think I have sort of a tendency to mythologize places,” Smith said.

This attention to place is evident on “Kentucky,” a song inspired by the state where Smith spent his formative years. He both wrote the lyrics and arranged an impressive cello part for the song.

Lyrics like “lost like a boy with his lord bound around him with cords” and “the staff and the rod of the terror of God have finally gotten to you” are almost visceral in the way the violence they discuss is made concrete through metaphor.

However, even at their most melancholic, Cricket Blue does not make music for cynics. In “Kentucky,” kernels of hope glimmer as Smith and Heaberlin sing wistfully: “Let all that is old be made new.”

Unlike Smith, who is more influenced by place, Heaberlin said she thinks she is more influenced by the theme of time when she writes.

““For me, it’s not so much place, as era,” Heaberlin. “I write in the past a lot.”  

The influence of past eras on Cricket Blue’s work are obvious not only in their fondness for myth but in their song “Eleanor,” a ballad of young wife who has an affair when her husband ships off to war.

One of Smith’s personal favorites of the album, the song exemplifies the eerie and complex harmonies that make Cricket Blue so intriguing.

Although “Io” has much in common with their previous work – the attention to mythological detail, the bluesy orchestration, the recurrence of the figure of “Eve” (“because feminism,” Heaberlin quipped) – it also is a departure from their previous work.

This is the first album the duo has recorded in studio, and because of this they were able to collaborate with other musicians and had access to more resources than they have had in the past.

“We were a little worried about bringing a creative partner in, but it was wonderful,” Smith said of their experience working with Beehive Productions.

Thematically, “Io” is more “character driven,” than their previous EP Heaberlin told me.

Named after a myth where Zeus pursued a woman against her will, only to transform her into a cow in order to hide her from his wife, “Io” takes up the plight of the downtrodden and trapped.

“We were writing about characters who had lost agency in one way or another,” Heaberlin said.

From the fairytale women who so often are reduced to archetypes, to Eleanor the suffocated 1950s housewife, to the namesake of their album, Cricket Blue uses their music to provide a voice to those who have been rendered voiceless.

This reclamation of agency is what makes their music so interesting to return to. You’re lulled in by the sweetness of their melodies that are reminiscent of traditional Appalachian folk or literary indie rock like Andrew Bird and find yourself suddenly surprised by the epiphanies that their songs so often crescendo to.

“We haven’t run out of stuff. We don’t get sick of each other,” Heaberlin said when I asked what it was like to work with Smith.
“Io” is something else you can count on not getting sick of. The EP is replete with literary and mythological references that don’t yield themselves up upon first listen. “Io” begs to be played over and over.

An Education: Lessons Learned from Converse Hall

Incoming college students can arm themselves with myriad study guides, syllabi, and workshops that promise to deliver academic success. What they don’t prepare you for is the various oddities of day-to-day dorm life.

My education has been delivered to me courtesy of UVM’s oldest (and spookiest) dorm: Converse Hall.

My first rude awakening was that locking your door here is a necessity. Coming from the Living/Learning Center, where we left our doors open 24 hours a day and were unfazed to come home to people in our rooms who didn’t live there, this was a weird adjustment.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

I came home not long ago to the smell that was part opium den, part Easter vigil, and part Seattle basement. The smell was expected. The bedraggled middle-aged man wandering my hallway and knocking on doors was not.

 After kindly telling me many stories of his time at UVM in the ‘70s, he went on to explain an elaborate conspiracy involving banks and invite me to an “all ages, BYOB barn dance.” I still can’t decide what my favorite part of that concept is.

I turned him down. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice dude. But even I knew that sounded like a bad idea. Apparently there was a naked man running through the building the other day, too, which should have been surprising news when I heard it, but wasn’t.

Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

Anyway: I lock my door now. I feel pretty good about that decision.

I’ve also stopped expecting anything to really be where it’s supposed to be. Couches routinely turn up part way down stairwells. There’s a graveyard of unwanted bed frames in the attic and someone has managed to tear a sizeable hole in the ceiling. Like, big enough to hide treasure or a dismembered body in.

Some mornings, I’ve walked down to the basement to find all the pool cues stuck in the ceiling and the floor strewn with underwear and empty bottles. A miniature garden of potted plants and trays of germinating seeds clutters one of the the fourth floor window sills.

Somehow, the plants have made it this long, so I assume someone is taking care of them. Or at least taking as good care of them as college students take of themselves.

IMG_9822
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

There aren’t any secrets in Converse. Other than the ghost, that is. We don’t have your typical idiot-proof cinderblock dorm walls. I hear everything. I see everything. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be omniscient, just live in a centuries old dorm building. You will know everything you possibly could want to know.

I knew when the person living above me had the flu for a week. I know the fourth floor plays an impressive amount of Kendrick Lamar. Weirdly, I know a lot about the recent shares purchased on the stock market by the guys who smoke outside my window every night. Apparently Chipotle’s stock isn’t doing so hot. 

One of the more obvious, although most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that buildings built in 1895 behave exactly like you think they would. The pipes make this incredible banshee like shrieking noise whenever you turn the heat on and rattle against the wall. The tile on bathroom wall is falling off, leaving gaping holes. Ice freezes over the inside of the windowsills.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.

This fall, the fire alarms started going off everyday for absolutely no reason. We would all stumble outside in our barefeet and bathrobes and sulk until the fire department came. It was kind of bonding experience, I guess.

My favorite, though, is the attic. It’s like a room where Victorian gentlemen locked up their insane wives was redecorated by a carpet salesman from the ‘70s. You can’t really go for a cooler vibe than that.

Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

People complain a lot about Converse. And to be honest, I get it. The decrepit haunted mansion crossed with a frat party life isn’t for everyone. 1 AM fire alarms aren’t anyone’s favorite and thin walls (despite my newfound knowledge of the stock market) have their drawbacks.

So I don’t blame you if the Converse life isn’t for you, but if you need me, I will be hanging out in my creaky, weird, possibly haunted dorm room. Knock first— the door will be locked.