This is the first installment of a multi-part story about the first semester of my freshman year in college. During that semester, I lived with a member of the men's basketball team. That team was nationally ranked and featured a future NBA All-Star. Some of you already know where I went to school, others may suspect, and still others might figure it out over the course of this narrative. Nonetheless, I don't plan to divulge the name of the school, players or coaches involved. Other names might also be changed to protect the innocent.Prologue -- Mid-July, several years ago:
It was a lazy summer day, and I was at home doing something utterly meaningless. I can't remember exactly what that trivial activity was, but it might have been watching TV (probably old Celtics games I had on VHS), playing Super Nintendo (possibly Street Fighter or NBA Live), or maybe reading (I'm guessing Unfinished Business
by Jack McCallum). Anyway, whatever I was doing, my time-wasting was temporarily interrupted by a phone call from a student assistant who was working for the dorm I would be moving into next month.
The reason for his call was to determine whether I would be willing to live with a student athlete. He said the possibility of that actually happening was remote, but the dorm had to have a contingency plan in case the student in question -- a Dutch-born basketball player -- couldn't be placed with another student athlete. I was mildly wary, but I said, sure, I'd do it.
He said, "That's great. But, uh, there are a few things I need to talk to you about. According to your housing form, you requested a roommate who's a non-smoker, who doesn't typically stay up later than 2 a.m., and who won't have more than four guests in the room at a given time. In order to put you on the list of prospective roommates for student athletes, I need you to waive those requests."
Honestly, I didn't remember making those requests when filling out my housing forms. Maybe my mom had done it. I had no idea. But I shrugged my shoulders and waived the requests without really thinking about it.
The student assistant thanked me and that was that. A week later, I received my housing contract in the mail. My new roommate was named Chad Riggle. Chad wasn't a student athlete. He was a sophomore engineering student from a couple towns over. As it turned out, Chad was the cousin of my soon-to-be girlfriend, Aimee, who described him as "quiet and harmless." Chad and I talked on the phone once. He told me in an exceptionally nerdy voice that he had a couch, mini-fridge and a microwave...which was fortunate, because I had nothing.Late-August, several years ago:
My first trip to school wasn't pleasant. I was in a car with three other people -- my mom, my aunt Peggy and Aimee -- and all my worldly possessions. And this particular car happened to be a two-door Buick Somerset. The car looked like this
. Pretty small for four people and a lifetime's worth of possessions, right? Oh, and the air conditioning didn't work. It was 97 degrees that day.
My mom was entering the first stage of empty-nest syndrome, so she was angry and on-edge. My aunt, understanding my mom's volatile mood, was deathly quiet. Aimee, meanwhile, was reminding me why she didn't want to have a committed relationship with me (we were going to different schools, freshman year was hectic enough without a boyfriend, etc.). For my part, I was nervous to the point of near-illness. It wasn't that I didn't want to go away to college. I was more than happy to leave my hometown -- a teeny speck of burg known as Kokomo, Indiana -- in the rearview mirror. But I'd never been away from home before -- I'd never even gone to camp as a kid -- so I was a wee bit high-strung. So much so that, when we stopped for lunch, watching Aimee eat some pintos and cheese from Taco Bell almost made me throw up.
We got to the dorm and went through all the requisite check-in procedures. I filled out some forms, had my picture taken for my dorm ID card, and I signed up for my very first collegiate job...with the dorm's food service. Once we had all that squared away, my mom suggested we go find the room before pulling the car around.
Room 329 was located on the third floor of the building's northeast side. The dorm had opened in 1958 and was built to mimic military-style barracks. It was an all-male housing unit, and the combination of age, heat (remember, it was 97 degrees), lack of ventilation and dozens of sweaty dudes made the place smell like the world's largest locker room. The walk wasn't pleasant for me, and even less so for my female companions, each of whom looked like someone had pulled a dirty jock strap over her head.
When we got to the room, it was unlocked, which I found strange. (Upon check in, I was informed that Safety Rule #1 was "Always lock your door, even when you're in the room.") I walked in and immediately turned to my mom, told her to wait, and closed the door. I wasn't prepared for what I was seeing, so I was pretty sure she wasn't ready for it either.
There was a man laying in one of the two beds. Actually, he was more man-monster than man. He was a giant. And, within the confines of this tiny little room, he seemed beyond enormous. The best way to put it is he was Shaq-size: 7'1", almost 300 pounds. I think sometimes, as an NBA fan, it becomes all too easy to take for granted the sheer bulk of a muscled seven-footer...but not when they're right in front of you, and certainly not when you're trapped in a room the size of a large closet with them. To make matters even stranger, he had a shaved head (something that I had never seen in my hometown) and he was wearing nothing but a pair of bikini-brief underwear.
It was too much for me to take in. I just stood there, staring at him for several long seconds. He was reclined with his hands behind his head, and he didn't seem remotely alarmed or even interested in my arrival. Finally, I stammered out, "Uh, hi. Er, are you, uh, Chad Riggle?"
He sat up slowly and it was like watching a glacier move. He stuck out a hand the size of bucket and, in a low, booming voice, said, "No. I'm Mat [only one "t" because he was Dutch]. Are you Matt McHale?"
Ye Gods! The beast knew my name!
I shook his hand and admitted that I was indeed Matt McHale. He said, "Cool. I'm your roommate."
"No, you're not," I said, almost reflexively.
"Yeah, I am," he said with an air of complete finality. That settled that.
"Uh, okay," I replied, not knowing what else to do. "Well, I'm...going to move my stuff in now."
"A'ight," he said, and began to lay back down.
I took him in again and, noting the exceptionally tiny underwear, said, "Uh, my mom, aunt and girlfriend are going to be helping me." He said nothing. "Yeah. Three girls." Still nothing. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Three girls are helping me move in."
Finally, he said, "So?"
"Could you, you know, put on...something."
He heaved a deep, irritated sigh and pulled on a pair of shorts that were barely bigger than his underwear. But it was an improvement, and likely the best I could hope for under the circumstances.
I walked back out into the hall and closed the door behind me. My mom looked irritated and demanded to know what was going on. I said, "Well, my roommate is...not Chad Riggle."
"What?" my mom asked. "Who is it?"
I didn't know how to explain it, so I said, "Just come in. You'll see."
And they saw. But they could hardly believe it. Mat, though, was apparently used to people staring at him. He once again sat up and, to my great surprise, greeted them kindly and introduced himself. He even offered to share some of the Dutch marshmallows he was snacking on. They declined the marshmallows, but they were all very taken in by his presence, which kind of annoyed me.
Then we began the not-so-fun task of moving all my stuff in. I'll never forget this: While three women helped me carry my things up several flights of stairs, this huge, muscular guy just sat and watched. Not once did he offer to help, although he did flirt with Aimee every chance he got.
Fortunately, I owned almost nothing, so the moving-in process was mercifully brief. After finishing up, we all stood around making a little idle chitchat. Mat hadn't been interested in lifting or carrying, but he was more than happy to talk. He looooooved to talk, mostly about himself. I don't know whether it was his size or some natural charm I wasn't picking up on, but the women seemed to love him, and when I finally escorted them downstairs, they couldn't stop talking about how neat
he was. Even my mom, who had been a total grump all day, repeatedly said, "Yeah. Yeah. He's really
We exchanged the official tear-filled goodbyes, after which I watched them slowly drive away. Then I was alone...except for my new, titanic roomie, who was waiting for me upstairs. Only he wasn't. By the time I trudged back up to NE3, he had disappeared, like he was the world's tallest ninja or something. I didn't see him again until I woke up the next morning. And he wasn't alone.Part 2
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large