Leigh Zurmuhlen: In Memory, Part II

10/11/2012 § 8 Comments

This post is part of a series. Read the first part. 

Winter sunset over the Fogelson Library at the College of Santa Fe, circa 1996.

It took a while to adjust to life at the College of Santa Fe. The first problem for two girls from big cities was that time seemed to move too slowly. Leigh kept asking me how many days we’d been in New Mexico.

“Three,” I’d say, “but each day lasts twelve days, and every hour is a month.”

Eventually, a short-hand was developed. “Um, where the fuck are we?” Leigh would ask.

“Santa Fe, New Mexico,” I would tell her.

“And how the fuck did we get here?”

“The stork,” I would say. “I mean, the Greyhound.”

My mother had brought me to campus, though she didn’t stick around much past buying me a box of Lipton tea and an electric kettle. Leigh’s parents had put her on the bus with three large packing boxes and a purple suitcase. I think it’s safe to say we were of a different generation than college kids now, before parents started staying the week and buying up the res-life section Target, but we were also kids of parents who didn’t much care where we were, as long as our fathers could still call us to about the weather. The day there was an earthquake in California, we were woken up by the ringing telephone. Twice. Our fathers wanted to know if we’d felt the tremors. We had to explain that though it looked close on the Weather Channel map, the earthquake had happened almost 900 miles away.

The first problem we ran into with other students was that they were insistent that everyone at CSF was “so mellow,” and yet they persisted on listening to really crappy techno music. We suffered this cognitive dissonance, which I would find out nearly a decade later, working in marketing and admissions for the school, was actually a documented problem among CSF students that caused them to not want to be there—some disconnect between what they thought they’d find at the ends of the earth (as we considered it then) and the reality of what existed at the ends of the earth. We began to suffer our cognitive dissonance on our very first night, when we met the Vampire Lestat.

***

When Leigh and I returned from the cafeteria at about 7 p.m., our hallway was dark. We crept down to my room, where I sat wondering if I was allowed to smoke cigarettes inside. Leigh was insisting that it was my room and I could do whatever I wanted when we heard voices in the hallway.

“Great. We are going to be murdered,” said Leigh.

“Not if we kill them first,” I said. I leapt out into the darkened hallway and shouted, “Who goes there?”

“It’s Paul. I have your roommate.”

It was my admissions counselor, a cute 23-year-old my mother had openly referred to as “skeezy.” We were thrilled to see him. He came into my room trailed by Alison, who was the size of a 10-year-old, with brown hair down almost to her waist. She wore jeans, brown hiking boots, and a purple and blue-striped baja. (Since what we were wearing became pertinent once we met the Vampire Lestat, I’ll add that I was wearing jeans, almost identical hiking boots to Alison’s, and a somewhat flowy tunic top in brick-red. Leigh wore the aforementioned yellow and black houndstooth flannel, black jeans, and Docs.)  Alison and I quickly found out we had a lot in common, including bringing almost identical music collections (heavy on REM) and identical Indian tapestries to hang on the walls of our dorm room. (This was futile. Nothing stuck to those walls.) She also smoked. Paul joined us for a cigarette and then left us to our own devices.

“Do you know where the light switch is for the hallway?” Leigh asked before he took off into the dark.

“I have no idea,” he said.

We decided to go exploring. It was literally so dark in the hall that we had to hold hands and hug the wall until we got through the lounge to the stairwell. Getting down to the first floor was an adventure! And then there was a dim glow. We followed it; it turned out to be a string of Christmas lights. We heard the strains of Jim Morrison coming from somewhere, and about halfway down the hall we discovered a partially open door, behind which candles flickered. We stood in the hall, giggling.

“Come in, girls,” said a man’s deep voice. Overly deep. Falsely deep.

We stayed in the hallway. “You want us to come in, open the door like a gentleman,” said Leigh.

There was some murmuring and rustling, and then a tall, thin guy with a mop of overly gelled brown curls threw the door wide. He was wearing sunglasses. “Come in and introduce yourself. I’m the Vampire Lestat, and this is Omar.” (In fact, he said his name was Lance, but saying his name invokes him, so that’s the last time I’ll mention it.) Omar was the silent boy from the lounge, who I’d met earlier in the day. He turned out to be from Silver City, New Mexico, and Lestat was from Big Spring, Texas.

“I’ve never met anyone from Texas before,” said Leigh.

Lestat had his own, big dorm room—a double-as-a-single—and Leigh wanted to know how he’d scored it. He explained that he was 23, a little too old to room with freshmen, but that the college administration thought it was a good idea that he be on the hall to look after everyone.

“Are you the RA?” I asked. He was not. I knew right then that he was full of shit.

He had some strange habits that emerged immediately. Before lighting a cigarette, he tapped it six times on the pack then rolled it between his lips, moistening the filter past the point I considered advisable. It was also super gross. He constantly twisted the curls at his forehead, and he waggled his eyebrows a lot and looked at us over the tops of his sunglasses. This was the seating arrangement, which would stay the same even after we left and came back again: I sat to the left of Lestat on one bed; Omar and Alison sat across from us on the other bed, with Alison directly across from Lestat. Leigh sat on a chair between the beds, between Omar and me. On the floor between the beds was a large urn-type object in black and gold that Lestat used as an ashtray. Omar still didn’t speak, which didn’t matter because Lestat talked and Leigh talked a lot, too. Soon enough, Lestat asked us if we smoked weed. We all shrugged in agreement and he pulled out an enormous bag of pot. There must have been two ounces there. He opened the bag and passed it around so that we could smell it. When it got back to him, he put it away in the drawer.

“You pull out pot and then put it back without actually offering it? Santa Fe’s weird,” said Leigh.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “How rude of me. I’ll roll a joint. Be careful, though. The altitude messes with everyone, and this is some rad, high-grade stuff. Just a couple of hits and you’ll be baked.”

Rad? Baked? He sounded like a surfer. Or like an idiot.

He rolled a joint with slow and painful precision, putting far too much of his spit on it. He seemed to know this and left it on the dresser in front of a fan for a few minutes while he went through other preparations. He explained that even though no RAs were around, you could never tell when security was going to stroll down the halls, so he shut the door and blocked the inch of air at the bottom with a rolled-up towel.

“Time to change the music,” he announced. That was when we first heard the techno. He passed the joint around while the bass pulsed and the synth was too loud for anyone to talk. Then he got up to dance. He was still wearing his sunglasses. He hip-thrusted up to the mirror on the back of the door and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. He danced with himself in the mirror, shimmying and flicking his tongue. This is the song that was playing:

He danced up to us, each in turn, including Omar, and thrusted his jeans-clad crotch. No one said a word. I wanted to exchange snarky glances with Leigh and Alison, but they seemed to be taking him seriously. For all I knew, they thought he was rad.

After the song ended, he turned down the radio. “Does anyone want alcohol?”

“I do,” said Alison.

When Leigh realized he had a car, she asked for a tour of the town. “I know it’s dark, but I want to see where I live.”

So the five of us took a tour. In the dark. In a town with very few street lights. We parked downtown and took a quick stroll of the Plaza. We stood outside the very fancy Inn of the Anasazi while Lestat went inside for a few minutes, explaining that he had to see someone about something in the bar. He made it sound nefarious and important, but my guess is that he was just using the bathroom. (The Anasazi has great bathrooms and that’s where the locals know to go pee for free.) Then we went to Jewel-Osco and sat in the car with Omar while Lestat and Alison, who was 21, went inside for Boons Farm and beer. Leigh tried asking Omar questions about Silver City, but she couldn’t pry much out of him. When we got back to Lestat’s room, he put on the Mr. Vain song again. I didn’t like to drink much, and Leigh wasn’t drinking because she was getting over a cold, but Alison was happy with some Strawberry Hill. Lestat made a grand gesture of toasting with Omar like it was some very exclusive guy thing to drink Heineken. One of us asked him to tell us more about CSF. What were the students like? What should we expect?

“Well,” he said, “everyone’s super mellow.” He went on to say that there was a great variety of friendly people. “We have all types. We have mountain girls like you,” he said to Alison, “punk-rockers like you,” he said to Leigh, “and hippie free-love types like you,” he said to me. Leigh was kind of punk-rock, and I was a little bit scrubby, but the first mountain Alison would ever climb was in Santa Fe, and she was still a couple of weeks from that adventure.

“Oh,” I said, “are people really into categorizing people here?”

“Nah,” he said, “everyone’s super mellow.”

What happened next became one of the most memorable bonding moments between three strange girls in the history of CSF. In the middle of speaking, Lestat suddenly projectile-vomited into the ashtray-urn.

“Whoa,” Leigh said, “did you just puke?”

“No,” he said, coughing a bit and wiping his mouth, “I just swallowed the wrong way. No big deal.”

Finally, we left. We dragged upstairs to our rooms and Leigh hugged Alison and me goodnight. Even though we had yet to spend the night in the place, and we still didn’t know where the hall light-switch was, Lasalle already felt familiar to me. In our room, we had the first-night jitters. We changed for bed with our backs to each other. As I dropped my enormous plaid flannel nightshirt over my head, I said, “Did he puke?”

“Yes! He puked!” Alison howled with laughter, which got me going. Soon we were sitting on the floor, just laughing. “I was sitting directly across from him. He didn’t swallow the wrong way!”

“And what the hell was that song?” I said.

“And what the hell was with the dancing?” she shouted.

We heard running footsteps in the hall and then Leigh was banging on our door. “I want to laugh, too!” she cried.

***

Lestat didn’t have his own room because the college administration wanted him to keep an eye on the young people of Lasalle Hall. He had his own room because he kept creeping people out. He made a habit of inviting guys to his room—just one at a time, ever—with an invitation to drink expensive liquor. After he’d gotten them good and soused, he took out a grenade, or a large knife, and asked them if they’d ever thought about death. Lestat was, according to him anyway, a veteran of the first Gulf War. He was injured in a ground battle and when he returned to the U.S. he became an opiate addict for a little while. Currently, he was living off of funds sent to him by the government. He was on the CIA payroll he said, and he could be called to action at any time.

A few years later, after Leigh and Alison and Lestat and Matt and Omar and almost everyone else I met in Lasalle were long gone from CSF, I found out that Lestat came to Santa Fe from a three-month prison stint in Texas, on a coke bust.

Lestat was a seducer, a pusher, a cipher. He ruined people. He ruined a significant percentage of the population of an entire dorm. He joyfully and mirthfully ruined Leigh, or set her on the path to ruin, or sent her farther, so much farther down path to ruin.

***

“Where the fuck are we?”

“Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

“And how the fuck did we get here?”

“I have no idea.”   

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§ 8 Responses to Leigh Zurmuhlen: In Memory, Part II

  • philgonzales says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. This might be off-topic, but like Dave said in your last post, no one writes about CSF and it’s startling how many raw emotions I still have about the place.

    I chose Santa Fe because I thought it’d be a good place to reinvent myself, far away from people who knew who I really was. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at reinventing myself and being surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar land just makes me hunker down and become a super-concentrated form of myself that is terrible to behold. I also get really loud and spastic. I didn’t know how to make friends outside of a very controlled environment (one day I’ll write about our High School Theater department) and jumping into life in Santa Fe was like jumping into ice water every single day for at least a year.

    I avoided people like Lestat as if my life depended on it. My friends were nice people who liked to sit and talk about pop culture. I didn’t even hang out with theater people very much because they were too intense (?) or demanding (??).

    I had one friend sophomore year who was bulimic. She would sneak through the kitchen in the Pit to get to the bathrooms and purge. The only people who were really wise to her problem were the kitchen workers. They actually did their jobs and reported her to the proper people, but she insisted everyone screw off. I’d never been close to someone with an eating disorder that I was aware of and didn’t know what to do. So, we did what we always did: ignored it and talked about it when she wasn’t in the room.

    • jenniferslevin says:

      Thanks for your comment. Leigh used to sneak to the Pit bathrooms the same way, but no one ever tried to help her except for me. That will show up in a later post, obviously. I think I recall the girl you’re talking about, too. I remember hanging out w her and maybe you, too, at an Oscar Night party in the soundstages. I watched her binge on buffet food. I had become particularly good at spotting a public binge…

  • depizan says:

    Ack, I think I met that guy.

    • jenniferslevin says:

      Of course you met that guy. Everyone met that guy. I’m really tempted to scan his pic for a future post, BUT WHEN YOU SCAN HIS PICTURE YOU INVOKE HIM.

  • [...] is the third part in a series. Read Part I and Part II. Johnny and me, outside the CSF Sub, fall 1995, about a year after the events of this post, right [...]

  • ttothemc says:

    This topic of documented cognitive dissonance intrigues me, and now years later, kind of infuriates me…that we were all feeling it and at the time I felt so alone and tormented.

    Lestat creeped me out the first time I met him and I steered clear from then on.

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