Lancelot and the Big Bang
by Rick Beck
A Rick Beck Story
© OLYMPIA50 2016 all rights reserved
A dorm fire at Maryland University worsens the dorm room shortage. A scramble is on to house two dozen displaced boys from the school's athletic program.
When Lance, a dedicated soccer player, goes to room with Bang, a certified geek, neither is aware of the other's propensities or what might be coming.
It sets up an age old battle and answers the question, can a jock and a geek inhabit the same room and live to tell the tale?
An irreverent look at college life and dorm etiquette.
The Big Bang
Who's That Knocking
The fire took out the top two floors of Allegheny Hall. Because of the fire the soccer, lacrosse and wrestling teams would be forced to relocate for at least two semesters. While this was a hardship on the teams, it was a nightmare for the administration. As large as University of Maryland was, the on-campus housing was filled to capacity. Every nook and cranny would be called into service in order to house the athletes as close as possible to their training facilities.
Lance Harris was one of the athletes affected. He found himself reassigned to a room with a space that had been vacated sometime during the school year, and that was the sum total of the information he was given by the administrator overseeing the dispersal of athletes around University of Maryland. Lance was handed a sheet of paper that included an address and the words Old Steam Plant Venue written on it.
As a jock he'd only been housed with other jocks since arriving at Maryland two years before. He had a soccer scholarship and was recruited out of his Nebraska high school. He was well into his sophomore year and he'd rarely associated with the more academically inclined students. He might have if he knew where to find one, but he was a jock to the core and happy with that.
He certainly wasn't pleased about his dorm burning down, but it came in the form of things he could do nothing about. He learned early in life that many things were beyond his control. Fretting did nothing but make matters seem worse. In his mind, the reassignment was just another bump in the road in a life that had had its share of bumps.
Not only was he dispatched half way across campus to live, he found himself standing in front of the old heating plant. It once housed several full time engineers before the plant underwent automation, making the engineers redundant, not to mention unemployed. Their Spartan quarters became "temporary housing" for the overflow of students on the overcrowded campus. That was twenty-five years ago, and now Lance joined those who had been housed there over the years.
The nature of the former occupants, along with the underground location of their quarters, earned it the name The Graveyard. But Lance had no way of knowing the history of his new digs and he wouldn't really care. He was only looking for a place to live until he could get back to his dorm. At first, when he stood near the entrance looking at the address on the sheet of paper in his hand, he suspected that two buildings might have the same address. He couldn't help but notice the upper portion of the building was an inhospitable structure filled with humming generators. The instructions written below the address said to take the stairs down into the ground.
Lance struggled, carrying his duffel bag, two gym bags, and the various pieces of athletic equipment that were essential to his well being. He brought it all in one trip so there'd be no need for a second trek across campus. As he dragged the duffel bag down the stairs, he could hear the mellow hum of his new surroundings. He was accustomed to looking out over the lights of the campus on nights he couldn't get his brain in gear, and was suddenly all too aware there would be no windows to look out down here.
Bang Phillips was firmly entrenched in math and physics and his underground room. Since his latest roommate left school during the second semester, he had had the room all to himself. He was confident that no one else would elect to burrow down into the depths of the heating plant; but that was before the unexpected fire that was about to alter a second young man's life.
Bang had heard about the upper floors of Allegheny Hall burning, but that was on the other side of campus. Besides, it housed jocks, and jocks, previously an annoyance, were now of no consequence to him.
The fire engines had passed by that night, so Bang knew about what time the fire had been fought. He had ignored the note that had been placed in his mailbox the day after the fire. He had only pulled it out to see what it said on the morning Lance arrived. He was not pleased to learn his single had become a double once again.
"Arg!" he muttered, looking around to see if anyone had noticed his distress. "Honeymoon's over, Phillips. Now you've got to break in a new roommate. Why me, God?"
He looked at the ceiling for an answer, but the ceiling remained mute, and Bang went back to his schedule. He liked his underground digs. It was quiet except for the incessant hum, which he no longer heard. He had declined opportunities to relocate once this or that new dorm was opened. A few other boys, mostly like him, had settled into the other rooms, and they were rarely bothered by the outside world.
By the middle of his next class he was absorbed in the lesson and had forgotten all about his new roommate. He went through the entire day without bothering to check the date on the note that would tell him when his new roommate was to take possession of his half of the room. Bang was well along in his nightly reading when he was startled by the door suddenly swinging open wide.
At first he saw an imposing shadow, lit only from the back by the light in the hall. The little light coming from the reading lamp at the head of his bed did nothing to illuminate the interloper. Only when he saw the shadow was heavily laden down with its belongings did he put two and two together and realize his new roommate was home.
"I'm supposed to live here until my dorm's repaired," Lance announced, waiting for an invitation to enter, or some greeting from the guy in the bunk directly ahead of him.
Without responding, Bang turned his face back to the book. He tried not to let the noise the guy was making disrupt his concentration. It had been so peaceful since he was left alone in the room. He hated the thought of someone rearranging his routine. Life could be cruel but so could he.
"These drawers are empty. Can I use them?" Lance asked, as he checked things out. He was already annoyed by his new roommate's seeming indifference to his arrival. "He could at least be nice," he thought, as he glanced at the boy in the bed with the book.
Having dragged his duffel bag to the front of the dresser that was affixed to one wall, he held his gym bags in one hand as he checked for more empty drawer space, banging each one after opening it. He was determined to get a rise out of his new roommate. He finally turned to look at the boy in the top bunk. He didn't want to question him further, but they would have to talk sooner or later, wouldn't they? One of his long legs hung over the side of the upper bunk as the boy seemed oblivious to his presence. His nose was stuck deep in the book he was reading. He did his best to ignore Lance.
Bang finished the page and put the book down on his bare chest. He took a deep breath, reluctantly accepting the inevitable.
"If they're empty use them. If stuff's in them don't use them. It's a simple concept once you give it some thought."
"Thanks," Lance said, not sounding thankful. Realizing he had to live there, he decided to make a small effort. "I'm Lance." He continued opening and shutting drawers.
"My stuff's on the right. Drawers on the left are empty. That might help get this done sometime tonight."
Bang once again read until he finished the next page. He put the book down on his chest. "Bang."
"What?" Lance said, already feeling like he wanted to slap the guy.
"Bang Phillips. You're Lance,… remember? I'm Bang. That's how you do it."
"Yeah! Let me save you the trouble. My old man's a chemist. He did a lot of work in the garage at home when I was about eight or nine. One day I decided to be just like dear old dad. I put a lot of junk in one of the beakers he used, just like I saw him doing a hundred times… Bang!"
"Bang?" Lance repeated with no clue where the conversation was going and seeing no possible relationship to the boy's name coming out of the story.
"Bang is the sound it made in the house. I blew up half his chemical supplies, half his equipment, and put a hole in the floor of the garage, not to mention blowing out the back wall. It was concrete. The floor. I've been forever known as Bang since the fortuitous evening twelve years ago."
"Very good! And you're Lance. Glad we had this chat," Bang said, picking up his book.
"What the fuck happened to you if you blew up a concrete floor?" Lance asked after packing each of the empty drawers he came to full of his clothing. He was absolutely certain his new roommate suffered brain damage.
Bang put the book down again, holding up his left hand to display his little finger and the finger next to, each one joint shorter than is customary.
"I was left-handed until that day, and I had to use my right to write for a few months. Now I write with either, both sometimes if I'm in a hurry. You can't read either one, so it really doesn't matter which I use. They did a fine job of reconstructing my hand, but medical geniuses that they were, they still couldn't put Humpty back together again. Not completely. My dreams of being a surgeon changed once I knew they couldn't really do the impossible."
"Yes, I contemplated being a chemical engineer for some time. Wanted to please dear old dad, follow in his footsteps, you know. I gave that up as a lost cause. Now I think genetics or biochemistry might be my field. Blowing things up has lost its allure," he said, holding up his hand while admiring its shortcomings.
After loading the last drawer, Lance surveyed his new roommate, looking closely at the damaged appendages. "Do I call you Bang or Humpty?"
"Very cute. Bang is fine. And what, might I ask, do you do?" Bang asked, picking his book back up and starting to read. He just knew it wouldn't be a very long answer.
"Soccer," Lance said, with intense pride in his voice.
"You're a jock!" Bang said with alarm. "A fucking jock! I've devoted my life to avoiding jocks and they send one to live with me. God, you are cruel." Bang looked up as he finished speaking softly to himself and the ceiling just a few feet above his head.
"Yeah, but they've established that it isn't contagious. I'm only here until my dorm's done, so don't get your panties in a bunch. How long could that take, anyway?"
"January next school year if the funding is approved. It doesn't even come up until the beginning of the next term. That's two semesters from right now at the earliest, if we luck out and the contractors go to work the day funding is approved. Fat chance. There are ten projects on the drawing board before they get to Allegheny Hall."
"How do you know all that shit?"
"It's a nasty little habit. I read the university reports on finances and expenditures. I enjoy being informed."
"I guess we're stuck with each other until then, huh?" Lance said. "Housing is scarce, they say. Really scarce," he said, looking at the painted cinder block walls.
The new boy moved deeper into Bang's room once there were no further objections to his being there. He dropped the soccer ball that he had tucked up under one arm onto the floor. With a delicate tap from his big toe, he eased it under the bunk beds. Bang watched the ball as he contemplated the situation.
"Maybe if you reapply for accommodations that are more suitable to a man of your stature, you could secure quarters with another of your ilk."
"You calling me names or something?" Lance challenged, immediately sensing some hostility in words he wasn't sure he understood.
"Heavens no. Ilk: someone similar to yourself, dear lad. You know, another jock maybe? We aren't suitable roommates in case you haven't surmised this little detail by now. I have dedicated my life to the avoidance of physical activity. Certainly you don't believe we could possibly find a way to coexist down here in the bowels of the earth."
"They got us scattered all over the place. I don't think everyone got a room on campus. I think this is permanent for the time being. I don't like it any more than you do, but we're stuck with it."
"Yes, too many students and too little space. I suppose it is a bit late to do anything about this major oversight in strategic planning. I will find out who it was that arranged this feeble attempt at levity and have them summarily executed, or at the least, discharged."
"Could you use some English words every once in a while so I know what you're talking about?" Lance requested in his most gracious voice.
"I don't think we need to get that dramatic about it."
"You do run on. We're only roommates. I ain't going to ask for your hand in marriage."
"No, I suspect not, but you'd think they'd avoid placing a jock and a nerd together underground."
"Well, I'm here, and I don't think there is anything we can do about it."
"Don't say "we", please. I'd like to think of us as you and I."
"Whatever! I think we're stuck with each other. I'm no happier than you are. I got burnt out. You got a roommate. If you compare the two in English I think my burn out trumps your displeasure with my soccer connection. I am also a student. You can tell by the books."
"What I meant was, you'd feel more at home with those of your kind. I'd do better with another nerd. You get the picture? One should not mingle with those not of his own species. Could open the door to some mutant strain the world hasn't been properly prepared for."
"What you meant was, you don't want a jock for a roommate. It wasn't my idea. We'll make the best of it until we can do something about it. That's what I meant. I don't want to fight with you, so let's just agree we aren't the ideal roommates and get on with it."
"Yes, I was looking for a way to avoid that," Bang said, turning back to his book.
"There's only the one closet?" Lance asked, ignoring Bang's impertinence.
"Yes, and it's small," Bang said, reading on.
"Thanks for making me feel so… so at home. I didn't burn the goddamn building down so they'd move me over here, and I'm sure whoever did, didn't do it just to piss you off."
"No, probably not. I'm simply not into physical activity. I swim some but mostly stand in the water. It's as close to a bath as you get around here. I study the rest of the time. This is college. Some of us do actually come here to learn. It's a funny notion, but it could catch on one day."
"Yeah, well, some of us come here to play," Lance said, feeling abused but not knowing how to better the lip from the bed.
"No stereo?" Bang asked cautiously, hoping this was all there was.
"No! My roommate had that covered."
"Thank heavens for small favors. Where's your computer? Don't tell me, your roommate? See that Mac? It's my Mac. Key word, "My." Keep your greasy hands off. I don't look at porn, NFL, NBA, or NASCAR results. It's a study tool. You use the word "we" a lot but there is no "we" when it comes to my stuff."
"Are you this friendly to everyone, or am I a special case?" Lance asked, slamming the drawer loudly once he had opened it so he could slam it.
"In reality I'm far friendlier to most people, but they don't live in my room."
"Our room. Is it always this hot down here?" Lance asked, pulling the shirt away from his sweaty neck. "Damn it's hot. I won't need the steam room anymore."
"Depends. The air conditioning is on, but this is the heating plant. It cools down at night because they aren't heating the classrooms. It's like this during day time most days until it warms up outside. You dress down and it's fine. I hardly notice it anymore. I'm in class late most days. I don't guess you have late classes."
"We practice in the afternoon."
"No one helping you move?" Bang asked. "Don't you guys all hang together?"
"Lots of guys are moving. I didn't have that much. I didn't really need help. The guys I knew best are all moving too. I don't suppose there's a shower down here? I smell pretty bad."
"Yeah, four doors down on the right side of the hall as you go out. There are six other guys down here in three more rooms. Most of us are geeks to one degree or another, so be forewarned. This is the last room on this side of the hall, and it's the quietest."
"I get the idea. I don't have a towel."
"You use it to muffle sound?"
"No, I use it to wipe water off my skin."
"Let me guess. Your roommate?"
"Well, his mom did laundry for us."
"For which you furnished what as compensation?"
"I supplied socks and underwear because my family keeps sending them to me every month. I mostly wear a jock. Does your mom do laundry?"
"What size shoes you wear?" Bang asked, throwing his feet over the side of his bunk and sliding down until he hit the floor.
"Ten," Lance said.
"That'll work. Towels in the bottom drawer over there. I wear briefs -- 28."
"I'm boxers, 32," Lance said, looking at the boy's long legs and high face.
"Can't wear boxers," Bang said.
"Everyone can wear boxers. It's what they send me. It's the style."
"Nah, Willie gets away from me in boxers. It's embarrassing because I never notice little details. I'm accused of being absentminded that way. When I was at the prep school, I'd walk out in the hall going to the bathroom, and I'd invariably meet someone who seemed amused. Then I'd realize Willie was loose again. I got out of boxers after I was thirteen."
"Where were you before you came here?"
"Back then it was a military school. Then it was the college prep school once I was fifteen."
"Whatever! I can get briefs, I guess. They'll send what I ask. They'll be stumped by the 28 waist, but I'll tell them I'm on a diet or something."
Bang walked over to take a fluffy white towel out of one of the drawers. He tossed it to Lance. "I do the laundry. My parents are divorced and my mother, well, she didn't do my laundry when she wasn't divorced. My dad, well, I'm not sure where he is. Holland or Poland or some place. I learned to be independent. If that suits you, I'll expect socks and underwear in return."
"You're skinny and tall," Lance said, looking Bang over.
"I'm thin, if you don't mind. There's a difference," he said.
"Sorry! How tall are you?" Lance asked, looking up at Bang's green eyes.
"You look taller. You got funny eyes. Soap?"
"I might have an extra bar. I expect you to replace it. I'll do laundry, but I can't buy your supplies. There's nothing wrong with my eyes."
"No problem. I'll clip a few bars from the locker room. I usually shower over there anyway."
"Oh great, they sent a larcenist to live with me. I'll get chains for the computer."
"I said they were funny. You know, unusual. I've never known anyone with eyes that green or that big. Where you from?"
"Hyattsville. It's not far. You?"
"Omaha. You go home much?"
"What home? Haven't had a home since the divorce," Bang said, leaning back against the dresser. "They sold the house and sent me away to private school. You know, boarded me out there for a few years. The old man sells his services as a chemical engineer all over the world. He's been in Europe, mostly, since I came to the university."
"You never see him?"
"Sure, I see him. He stopped once already this year, and he came twice last year. We went to a conference in Minnesota for a week while I was on break. It was cool. We get tired of each other pretty quick, though. Usually he comes in the summer and we go off for a week."
"Oh," Lance said, trying to find a way to take the edge off his new roommate, but having no clue what to say next.
At five feet seven and a hundred and fifty pounds, Lance felt small next to Bang. The taller boy had reddish hair, big ears, and freckles. He didn't look twenty-one. He had no muscles that were apparent but he wasn't skinny either. He was thin, with narrow shoulders and a waist Lance doubted was the twenty-eight he had mentioned. His chest actually had some shape to it, but his arms didn't. They were definitely skinny compared to the bulging biceps that came from the weight training Lance did.
"You always walk around in your underwear?" Lance asked, noticing Bang's lack of clothes.
"Yeah, sometimes less than that. It makes the heat less noticeable. I perspire fairly easily. As you may have noticed, we can't open the windows because they forgot to put them down here. If it makes you nervous, I'll put on my shorts. I thought jocks all ran around half dressed."
"Yeah, well, we jocks know each other a lot better than I know you. It doesn't make me nervous or anything like that," Lance emphasized. "Shorts would be fine if you have them," Lance said, as he undressed for his shower.
Lance's chest showed the development that years of lifting weights had given him. He was proud of his body, even though he'd never grown big enough for football or the other competitive sports he would have liked to take up. His dark hair and year round tan made him almost the exact opposite of Bang Phillips. He hoped that didn't mean they wouldn't be able to get along. He'd had two previous roommates and they'd liked all the same things and done everything together. He had liked having a friend for a roommate. Someone to talk to. Somehow he had the feeling this wasn't going to be the same.
After Lance had stripped out of his clothes, he fumbled with the towel while trying to fasten it around his waist. Bang stood in the middle of the room waiting to see if the new arrival had any more requests. He usually studied most evenings until he fell asleep, but it was his new roommate's first night and he knew he needed to make an effort if there was to be peace in the room. It would break the monotony of his evenings, and having someone around wouldn't be all that bad. Lance seemed okay, for a jock.
"What?" Lance asked abruptly, feeling self-conscious after struggling several times to keep his towel hitched around him. He usually didn't even put on a towel at his dorm, but he knew the guys at the dorm and felt comfortable around them even without clothes. Bang stood watching and it made him feel even more naked than he actually was. He wanted him to go back to his bunk and read.
"You asked for soap. This is soap," Bang said, extending his hand toward him with the wrapped bar in it. "Don't flatter yourself. You don't have anything I don't have a lot more of."
"I didn't say you did or didn't," Lance defended, feeling more self-conscious and a little like a fool as he took the soap out of the long slender fingers.
The too-tall boy's skin had a pink hue to it. He was smooth, with faint blond hairs on his forearms, but nowhere else until you got below his knees where the hair took on a red tint.
"I saw that look on your face. You keep to yourself and I won't have a bit of trouble staying to myself. And that means your friends as well. I don't want a bunch of rowdy jocks in my room at all hours."
"Our room. That suits me fine. I doubt any of them will be wandering over to no-man's land to see me since we practice together every day. This is the first time I've been on this side of campus in almost two years."
"Yeah, you guys all live in the new dorms. Now you get to see how the rest of us live," Bang complained.
"I had the upper bunk before," Lance said, figuring it was worth a try since he'd been so agreeable up until then.
"That's good," Bang said. "Now you get to try the bottom. Variety is so important when you reach college age. Prepares you for the workaday world."
"The water is extra hot. Run the hot water first before you add the cold. It'll let the steam out of the pipes."
"Steam?" Lance said alarmed.
"Heating plant! Remember? The water is always too hot at first. Run the hot until the steam stops coming out and then add cold. You'll add way too much cold if you don't and then it'll be freezing once the steam runs out. Gives new meaning to blue balls."
"Thanks!" Lance said as he stepped into the hall, leaving the door half-open, and wondering if it would come to bloodshed.
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