The Oberlin Stories Project

On meeting neighbors

Noah Morris ’12

“I heard several shouts of “Come in!” and someone opened the door slightly. I’d braced myself for a lot of possibilities, but what I found still surprised me. As I entered, I found myself in a full-blown body-art party.”

Noah has green scales painted on his face.

When I arrived in my new dorm room in Burton on my first day of college, I was quick to scope out the neighbors. To my left, I soon met them, but to my right, it appeared there was nobody home. I asked around a bit, but no one seemed to know if anybody lived there.

Several weeks went by. My roommate and I would occasionally hear voices coming from that questionably occupied room next door, but we never saw anyone go in or out; we theorized we were neighbors to a small family of ghosts.

Then came the fateful day of September 27. The noises through the wall, to which we’d become accustomed, were louder than usual. In fact, it was a veritable hubbub.

Then, crisp and clear through the noise, I heard a single question: “Does anybody have a pencil sharpener?” It seemed to elicit no immediate response. I glanced down at my desk; staring at me (daring me, even?) was my brand new and virtually unused electric sharpener. Alright, I said to myself, I’m going for it. Trying to push the nastier bits of Poltergeist out of my head, I bravely picked up the pencil sharpener, took the three steps down the hallway, and knocked on the door to the phantom room.

I heard several shouts of “Come in!” and someone opened the door slightly.

I’d braced myself for a lot of possibilities, but what I found still surprised me. As I entered with a feeble “I heard you needed a pencil sharpener?” I found myself in a full-blown body-art party. The room was filled with about a dozen people, busy drawing, painting, and tattooing on one another. I’d been planning on handing over the sharpener and returning to my room, but -- strangely -- the group heartily invited “the guy who brought the pencil sharpener” to stay for the rest of the party. Never mind that I didn’t know anybody in the room, I soon found that my face was being painted like a fish while someone calligraphied kanji on my arm.

The host was not to be a ghost after all, but a delightful junior named Harris, who offered me cookies. The most surprising thing of all was that I was issued a standing invitation to all future gatherings in Harris’s (no longer phantom) room. If the walls were so thin that I could hear what was going on, it was reasoned, then it was only fair I should be allowed to attend.

This turned out to be a lovely deal. Harris may have been quiet enough the first month to make me think he was a ghost, but as it turned out, my newly discovered neighbor hosted a lot of fun get-togethers, from bawdy sing-alongs to weekly readings from The Phantom Tollbooth. But that’s not the point of this story.

The point is that, looking back on it, I should not have been surprised to be invited so enthusiastically to join this party of strangers. I’ve been welcomed into every community in Oberlin with equally open arms. Every collection of people on this campus, small or large, friends or strangers, has instantly ushered me in and made me feel at home.

Admittedly, they don’t all make as tasty cookies, but I guess that would be a bit much to ask, even from Oberlin.