Field trip!

Whenever our household is a little subpar in appearance—perhaps a power struggle is going on over who is going to wash the dishes, say, or perhaps certain members of the household have walked past their piles of freshly folded laundry for several days in a row (I have a personal dignity-maintaining standard that allows me to gather, sort, pre-treat, wash, dry, fold, and re-sort laundry, but draws the line at moving that laundry into individual rooms or bureaus. Listen, it makes sense to me.)—my husband will muse, “I wonder what other people’s houses look like.” Because of course, you never really know. You typically only get into other people’s houses when they’ve invited you, and I figure if they know you’re coming, they’ll probably cheat and clean up. Plus, most social gatherings tend to center in the dining room and living room, and while maybe you can sneak in a trip to the bathroom, I would like to see the potentially sordid state of the bedrooms, the kitchens, the closets. Yes; I’m talking about self-affirmation through smugness.

Well. Today was my big chance.

Not too long ago, the Law School received a very generous gift from Charles Munger (who attended undergrad here in the 1940s, and then went on to some other law school, never heard of it, rhymes with shmarvard) for the purpose of renovating the Lawyers Club. This, of course, is fantastic news for future residents of the Lawyers Club, but it does pose a bit of a logistical problem. Turns out people are fussy about plaster removal and installation of pipes and so forth; interferes with studying, we’re told. So we’ll have to close the facility during construction—but when the space is gussied up during 2012-13, where will the 150 or so first-years who would otherwise have lived there go? Getting a grip on that question required a little field trip by myself, the finance director, and the dean. Accompanied by a game rental manager, we trooped through representative rooms in various nearby living spaces. Some elucidation resulted.

First realization: perhaps my room-cleanliness standards for my children are unreasonable. Alternative, contradictory, simultaneous realization: I better keep those standards high so that when the inevitable degradation occurs once they leave home, their abodes will still be at least remotely habitable. The inspiration for those thoughts was standing ankle-deep in egg cartons and empty cereal boxes and six-pack containers in the initial apartment we visited. Normally, it would have felt awkward to have such judge-y thoughts in someone else’s home, but in this case, it really couldn’t have been more clear that the responsible party, who collapsed back onto his futon immediately after opening the door, was absolutely unperturbed about our bearing witness.

In fact, at no point did I ever really have to grapple with awkwardness inhibiting my instincts for superciliousness. Except for that first guy, every apartment we encountered was either uninhabited, or inhabited by people who had been asleep until the moment we arrived and were thus too inanimate to bother themselves with thoughts of shame regarding the state of their kitchens. Mind you, we were not dropping in at 8 a.m.; who would have thought that dropping by an apartment at noon on a random Tuesday in May would have resulted in rousing lots of people? I fear for the circadian rhythms of today’s youth.

All the detritus on floors and whatnot did, however, distract a bit from assessing the likelihood that my Platonic ideal of a law student—who, naturally, would be far neater than the undergrad, b-school, and med students whose disordered lives we were witnessing—would be interested in renting one of these spaces as an alternative to the Lawyers Club. So of course I was pleased when, at apartment number six or seven, we finally alighted upon a place featuring neither piles of trash nor freshly awakened dwellers. Those lackings created, naturally enough, a certain patina of posh from the get-go. That initial sense was immediately enhanced by a prominently displayed turntable, where a Coltrane album was poised. Vinyl! Jazz! Classy. The sense that we had entered a truly superior dwelling was sealed with a glance at the kitchen counter, where a re-corked bottle of decent red wine was displayed. I am quite sure that none of the previous apartments had been rented by people who would have failed ever to kill a bottle, once opened—even if that bottle were Two Buck Chuck, and even if that act of parsimony necessitated later throwing up the contents on the sidewalk. Waste not, want not. In any event, imagine my gratification when I wandered back to peek in the bedroom, only to see shelves and shelves of law books. You made me proud, unknown Coltrane-listening, wine-sipping law student.

But of course that got me thinking. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me previously that some of these apartments might well be rented by law students. How weird would that be for the inhabitant, to have the law school dean and the dean of admissions drop by out of the blue? Sure enough, in the next building we entered, a rather startled-looking law student exited as we entered. Ha ha ha, we all said awkwardly, scuttling quickly down the hallway and out of sight. I imagined the start of a rumor in which the dean, the finance director, and I were going to set up housekeeping a la Three’s Company. (I went on to imagine J.J. White playing the role of Mr. Roper, after briefly toying with, and rejecting, Mark West for the role.)

The thought of law students being behind some of the doors, however, did kind of kill the joy. I stopped marveling at the number of shoes some people own and the amount of pizza some people apparently eat and got distracted by trying to frame the conversation that might result. “Hi,” we could have said. “We are concerned about your study habits, and would like to inspect your most recent course outlines.” Happily, we concluded the tour without encountering that social quandary. And I was left with a tentative sense that my version of household order can be affirmed by fly-on-the-wall observations of non-lawyers only. Not owning any Coltrane myself, I fear frequent observations of the homes of even nascent lawyers might simply make me feel insecure.

-Dean Z. Assistant Dean for Admissions and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies