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Archive for May, 2010

Night

Darkness. The sticky palps of the night are spreading throughout the sleeping town. Nightmarish smell. Weight. I sneak like a terrorist down, down the multiple stairs. I feel tiny under the huge load. Walking slowly and quietly, I carefully conceal my footsteps. I look around for some curious neighbor. It’s clear. The operation is a go… I run like a chased doe, but soon I have to stop under the weight of this back-breaking load. Finally I get to the final destination. A noise. I panic… Calm down! It’s just a stray cat. I catapult the load. Oh God, I made it!

Well, it is not that easy to throw out the trash…

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Sex, beer and meat: one of MIT’s largest parties and grandest traditions. What more could you ask for anyways? The Debauchery of Steer Roast Continues for its 46th year- food, drink, mud wrestling, pornography, interesting people, and a variety of recreational drugs…

This year’s roast took place under clear skies and the watchful eyes of what seemed like every Campus Police officer employed by the Institute. But even the police presence, wristbanding policy, or other newly implemented Institute party requirements  could not detract significantly from the atmosphere. Senior House has sponsored a Steer Roast every spring since 1964 in its courtyard, and even though the administration certainly tries to, it cannot stop the hundreds of students and institute alumni from coming together for this annual bacchanal.


But let’s start at the beginning… Friday 5pm and the Senior Haus courtyard is full of people waiting to let hell loose this weekend. Piercings, mohawks, cross-dressers, a few nakeds and a range of exotic costumes, including an impressive fairy outfit and a variety of degrees of leather… But mostly the assembled crowd has a regular-MIT look with that special intellectual-deranged feel that characterizes the east end of campus. The mainstream college kids from the west side had not penetrated these walls.

It’s time. Large quantities of flammable liquid are poured on the pit to the sound of “The Ride of the Valkyries” echoing from the walls of the old five story building and then a great roar of approval… the totemic flaming toilet paper* roll was launched from the roof of the dorm down on its path over the heads of the crowd. It reaches its destination, sending up a huge ball of fire engulfing the meat and the flame burns high for a minute or so before 10 people jump on it with fire extinguishers to put hell back into chains**. The sacred Senior House Sport Death flag – “Only Life Can Kill You” spelling out the teeth of its skull – is unfurled on the wall. The house motto Sport Death, means roughly: “do not settle for mediocracy; live life in extremes”, and Steer Roast embodies the practical expression of this philosophy involving intoxication, wild parties, ear-splitting music, and polymorphous sexual activity.

The rest of this Friday afternoon is dominated by mud wrestling and mud wrestling is dominated by nudity. For years the fight in the mud pit would start with the annual battle between the housemasters Henry and Cynthia Jenkins who now retired were watching this freak show from the sidelines. Some started without clothing, while others were gradually disrobed during the course of their matches. During later fights the two hyper-testosteronated announcers focused exclusively on clothing loss as a measure of victory in any match involving a woman. There was choreography and there was pure rage with one or both of the participants flying out of the rink. There were also somersaults and some quite sexual encounters in the mud with way too many body parts revealed.


The festival then continues into the night with strippers, gambling and music, or so it used to. Two years ago we were enjoying performances of local strippers in the basement followed by DJs all night long but those are now probably victims of budget cuts. Or it is just that there are certain Senior House residents who are more talented in both art forms and are showing their skills for free. Another extinct tradition are the beloved kegs hidden in certain bathrooms to quench the thirst of the partygoers, but even though they are not around any more, definitely no one suffers much. Free cold beer is abundant if you know where to find it, and if a room door says “Stay Away” be sure to enter. This year there was also spiced chocolate goodness everywhere, with quite of a kick so if you are a candy monster like me, you might wanna be careful. People everywhere were having fun, swapping stories and laughing with and without gas or cookies being involved…

Access to the inside of the dorm is supposed to be restricted because of the perks in there, but anyone chaperoned by a resident or alum can actually get in to explore this unique place. Definitely a dorm like no other – the multiple murals painted in the hallways range from a Pokemon orgy through random flames, brains and creepy faces that stare at you from the walls, and curtains of beer cans are hanging from the ceiling. Especially for Steer Roast all the public spaces and lounges are transformed and make you feel like you are tripping on mushrooms. In past years there was a playground with swings and slides, a room filled to the ceiling with balloons, and this year’s special – an isolation box surrounded by Christmas trees. Of course, every year there is also a casino room to get your gambling fix at the poker tables, while the Bulgarian suite is always the ultimate party space with lasers, spotlights, a smoke machine and loud electronic music till the early morning.

During the Roast, about a dozen bands play from 8pm until 2am both nights and provide the soundtrack to the entire weekend. Ranging from death metal to hip hop, jazz to experimental performance pieces, the music is as eclectic as Senior house, which has a tradition of embracing alternative and underground musical styles. The lineup this year certainly reveals this with Earthquake Party, KC Quility, Truman Peyote, Mamarazzi, Have Nots and the Willowz playing through Friday night. Mamarazzi, whose sax player was rocking a costume of a cosmic panda, were definitely my favorite this Roast with a groovy funky sound that made the crowd move. As they describe it themselves, their music “like a ripe grapefruit, is that just-right combination of unlikely elements: tart funk, acidic groove, and nectar of ancient lullaby”. The set on Saturday started with Bodega Girls and Gentleman Hall, after which Das Racist gathered quite a crowd of local fans, followed by Class Actress and Big Digits who closed the night with an amazing set…

There are legends surrounding the lineup that pass through the ages, and especially whenever the music sucks, stories begin to fly about bands that have played roast, including white zombie and nirvana.  Nirvana played at Senior House in 1989 and is rumored to have been paid in LSD.  Although the details have been garbled over the years, the legend of Nirvana perpetuates the alternative, subversive, anti- establishment attitude that is integral to the house culture. It serves to remind the younger residents of what senior house used to be and what it can be.

The namesake of Steer Roast is, of course, the actual barbeque, or the several hundred pounds of meat (an entire cow) being grilled at the enormous bonfire in the middle of the courtyard. It takes about 17-18 hours for the meat to be ready, and legends reveal that the meat is best just after it is removed from the spit at 10am on Saturday – still warm, juicy and a delight to eat. Unfortunately this experience is esoteric, as the only people awake at 10.30am on Saturday morning of Roast are those that stayed awake all night (a rare breed past dawn), and those that are required for duties at that hour of morning (which I always somehow managed to avoid).

The feast begins at 2pm; groggy-eyed partiers stumble into the courtyard and line up for their breakfast.  Standard barbeque food lines the tables including cornbread, salad, vegetarian lasagna and cobbler, and even though some refuse to eat the meat, claiming the preparation process leaves much to be desired, for me, eating the steer is part of the ritual. Tables fill the courtyard and freshmen squeeze alongside alumni that are upwards of forty years their senior and their kids. A short skit, written and produced by the current residents, accompany the feast, featuring the essential players in the house culture that year. There is also an awards ceremony for most obnoxious freshmen, senior and alumni as well as virgin killer, accompanied by dozens of corncobs pelted at the recipient. After the feast, the leftovers remain in the first floor kitchen to be ravaged by late night munchies.

The theme of food continues into the final event of the weekend, the champagne breakfast on Sunday morning.  This event brings together the most intense of partiers, the folks that have stayed awake all night and are desperate for sustenance before collapsing for the rest of the day. The survivors are few however, but there are always enthusiasts trying to avoid hangover through continuous consumption… doesn’t work!

From the pit lighting until the champagne breakfast forty hours later, alumni return to their old halls and suites , sit back and relax with the current residents, swapping stories, drinking and smoking….and remembering once again that Only Life Can Kill You!


Legends:
*The toilet paper used is essential.  MIT once purchased toilet paper from the same company as the army, and many have recounted dreadful experiences of that toilet paper.  Suffice to say that the government eventually ended their contract with the company due to the unpleasant quality of the paper, and MIT followed suit shortly after.  In 2001, the very last roll of this paper was sent down the wire to light the pit and since then, the house has used the generic Scott brand toilet paper.
**An infamous pit lighting legend occurred in 1998.  The pit was not properly secured and the gasoline used for ignition leaked into the courtyard and the sewer.  When the toilet paper reached the pit, the uncontained gasoline carried the flame into the sewer and exploded causing the manhole cover in the center of the courtyard to soar over fifty feet in the air.

after Bodega Girls and Mamarazzi, Das Racist gathered quite a crowd of local fans, followed by Class Actress and Big Digits who closed the night with an amazing set.

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