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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Fair
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CLOSE TO HOME

That first student apartment
It's a place to play grownup


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All over town UW students are at the starting line of a lease with people they think they know. Or with complete strangers. How's that going?

I was ready and rarin' for my first apartment after a classic freshman year in the Lakeshore dorms. My dorm roommate was from Rockford, which sounds like a cliché. He was a freestyler, a sprinter on the UW swim team with me.

He locked me out from Friday after supper until Sunday at noon in order to have strenuous sex with his huge-breasted Rockford girlfriend, who looked exactly like the St. Pauli Girl.

They didn't even come out for water. I spent those long nights on a cot outside the door of 104 Bashford House. Lying on my back, eyes wide to the ceiling. The memory of their animal sounds is arousing to this day.

After a year of this the thought of having my own room in an actual big-boy apartment was more than I could handle. My dream came true in one of seven bedrooms in a house on Van Hise Avenue. We were all swimmers. We infested the beat-up clapboard like horny, chlorinated rats.

In those days scholarship athletes could run a tab at Mickies Dairy Bar. You handed your check to Hank, the cashier; he in turn walked the slips across Monroe Street to the finance office. Once out of the dorms this became our de facto training table.

All the cool, corny things you hear about a Division I athletic experience are true. Especially the part about the brother and sisterhood formed around a block of 40-hours-per week of training and traveling. At our house on Van Hise, no matter the individual differences between us, we shared a common enemy: a black stripe on the bottom of the pool.

I'd like you to meet my former roommates.

Mike was a sawed-off middle-distance freestyler from Illinois with a bouncing, choppy stroke. His swim career shut down over the next couple years, slowly, the way you drift into a nap. He woke up in a pile of cocaine.

Ned from Ohio slept in the basement. He pursued science and sketch art with equal enthusiasm.

Dean was a sprinter from the Bronx. As exotic to me as if he was from Mars. He made it into med school with a Religious Studies B.A.

Gregg was our only townie. He swam the mile and disappeared into his room between classes for Transcendental Meditation. And Todd Rundgren.

Fritz was an Olympian from Bergen, Norway, whose uncanny ear for language gave him perfect Midwestern English. Girls wouldn't believe he was Norwegian, and this tortured him. Fritz possessed the first uncircumcised penis I ever laid eyes on.

Paul was also an Olympian, a breaststroker from Australia. His primordial skill with women was a source of awe among the rest of us. He called his swimsuit a "bathing costume," as in, at six in the morning, "have you seen my costume, mate?"

I swam breaststroke, too, from Louisville and weighing in that year at about 135, one of the lightest swimmers in the Big Ten.

I took all of these lads down to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby that year. The 10 hours we spent in the infield that day is my second-favorite memory of my Van Hise roommate days. My favorite memory has to do with football, money and nudity.

On UW football Saturdays we filled the front and back yards with cars at 10 bucks apiece. The proceeds paid for a half-barrel and a feast that lasted until early the next morning.

In May of that year, as the minutes clicked down on the end of our lease, Bob the landlord called. "I'm coming to get the football money," he said. "What are you talking about?" said Paul, who took the call.

Bob unfolded himself from his Porsche 911 as the last of us finished taking off our clothes. We decided the best defense was offense and figured that being naked would give us a leg up on the negotiations.

It was a Saturday morning and we went about our normal business. Frying eggs on the stove. Reclining on the sofa. Paul answered the door with uncircumcised Fritz.

Bob's visit was brief. "Put some damn clothes on," he kept asking. Paul produced our copy of the lease and, with the document in hand, he got very close to Bob. Real close.

"Nothing in here about parking money, mate," he said, pointing down into the fine print. Bob exited the house with his eyes on the floor.

I miss those guys.

Your first student apartment is a place to play grownup without having to be one. If you're reading this and you're on your first lease, enjoy every loving minute of it, mate.

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