In the fall of '81, just before the start of my freshman year at the University of Kentucky, I moved into my assigned residency at Holmes Hall. This four–story dormitory was built in 1956, and it is located on the north side of campus at the corner of South Limestone Street and Avenue of Champions (Euclid Avenue).
At Holmes Hall, I shared a dorm room with Neal, a friend of mine from high school and one of the few people I knew on campus my first day there. Our room was rather small; it had just enough space for two compact beds, a couple of small desks, a few storage shelves, a built-in closet, a pair of dressers, and a bit of walking room.
Despite the small size of our dormitory room, Holmes Hall turned out to be a comfortable place to live. It had a large lobby on the first floor, complete with tables, well-cushioned chairs, sofas, and even a couple of televisions to keep you entertained. There were also a few book rooms scattered about, a laundry area in the basement, and an active courtyard to visit when inside life got a bit dull.
Neal was a terrific roommate, but nevertheless it took both of us a while to get used to sharing a small space and to get accustomed to our differences. My former high–school friend was rather laid back, while I had a tendency to stir things up. He also liked to go to sleep early, and I was a night owl. At times this dichotomy in personality caused tension between us, but looking back I can see that sharing a dormitory room with Neal did much to see things from somebody else's point of view.
Living in Holmes Hall forced me to adapt to a social culture that hitherto was foreign to me. For the first time, I was living away from my parents and away from the surroundings that I had been accustomed to. I also found myself sharing floor space with people whose backgrounds and personalities were a lot different than mine, a situation which on more than one occasion made me feel tense, lonely, and out of place.
Learning to feel comfortable around people who surrounded me was, perhaps, the most difficult part of my freshman year in college. I had never lived among such a large and socially varied group before, and this caused me quite a bit of mental strain from time to time. I was particularly uncomfortable around some of the guys who loved to booze it up and party whenever the opportunity struck. We also had a few druggies at Holmes Hall who really irritated me at times. Incidentally, several years later I learned that one of the worst of this bunch straightened up his act and became a very successful aeronautical engineer. Learning this made me realize that even a person who is drowning in vice can turn things around and make good things happen.
As my freshman year progressed, I got to know most of the guys on the fourth floor of the dormitory rather well, and I became good friends with more than a few of them. I even drank a couple of beers with the party animals once in a while.
One thing I learned from my drinking “buddies” was that many of them were hiding their fears and troubles behind a well–disguised façade. They were all smiles and giggles on the outside, but deep inside many of these guys were as “lost” as I was. Alcohol brought them temporary escape from their fears, and recognizing this helped me realize that my own apprehensions were normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
There was a lot of music lovers at Holmes Hall, and on just about every Friday and Saturday night stereo systems could be heard echoing loudly across the dormitory floors. I still can hear the seemingly endless record plays of Foreigner, Boston, Joan Jet & Blackhearts, Men at Work, Queen, The Cars, Tom Petty & Heartbreakers, The Police, Rush, and other popular acts of the day.
I once brought a magnificent concert tape of the Rolling Stones to a party, and everybody who was there seemed to love it. It contained a recording of a concert that was captured during the band's 1978 U.S. tour. Songs on the cassette included, All Down the Line, Shattered, When the Whip Comes Down, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Respectable, Brown Sugar, Love in Vain, Lies, and Miss You. I can still hear Charlie Watts' sensational drumming and Keith Richards' moving guitar riffs on these concert tracks.
Shortly after the drinking fun was over, I loaned my Stones' cassette to the party host. Later, when I asked the host to return the tape back to me, he shrugged me off and claimed it was stolen from his dormitory room. When I suggested that he might have misplaced the tape, he refused to let me look around. Trouble could have broken out, but I decided to just walk away. Sometimes, the right thing to do isn’t what you want to do, and you just have to let things go.
Interacting with the diverse crowd at Holmes Hall did much to better my understanding of people and to broaden my perspective of life. This “education” proved to be, in many ways, more valuable than what I learned in the classroom. Knowing facts and being able to perform mathematical computations can take you far in the world, but understanding what makes people tick and knowing how to work productively with them can take you much farther.
Eric lived in the dormitory room across from the one Neal and I shared. He was from Prestonsburg, Kentucky, a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. When I first met him, he was reading, just for fun, a large book about the history and development of the Pascal programming language. Seeing the thick technical tome in Eric's hands rather intimidated me. Nonetheless, Eric and I became friends, and once in a while we would study together. Keeping up with Eric was not easy; he was one super smart guy.
Initially, Eric entered the University of Kentucky with the ambition of becoming a chemical engineer. Later, however, he described chemistry as “messy”, and he changed his major to computer science. It appears that he made a good move. Eric went on to earn an M.S. and a Ph.D. in his chosen specialty, and later he was promoted to Senior Scientist at the University of Kentucky's Mathematical Sciences Computing Facility.
One of the last things Eric did at Holmes Hall prior to the end of our freshman year at UK was slide out a drawer from a dresser in his dorm room and pencil sketch on the back of it a comic strip of some of the guys who lived on the fourth floor of the dorm during our stay. He then slid the drawer back in the dresser, and we joked that his illustration might be discovered one day by a future resident.
Roy lived just a few rooms away from Neal and me, and I don’t think I ever met a person more laid back and content than he was. Roy took the position that he was “average in everything”, and he was proud to be ordinary. I, on the other hand, had a hard time accepting the concept of “average”, and initially I just couldn't understand his complacency. Over time, however, I came to appreciate Roy's genuineness and complete acceptance of himself. I also appreciated that I could have a conversation with him without pretentious talk or hype. Roy was the kind of person you could just be yourself around.
While Eric possessed smarts and Roy an inner peace, Tom’s distinction on the fourth floor at Holmes Hall was his brute physical strength and muscular development. He had played football during his school years at Valley High in Louisville, and his stocky build marked him as quite a tough guy.
When Tom had learned of my weight-lifting background, he was anxious to see how I leveled up to him. This led to a wrestling match between us right in his dorm room. After getting off to a friendly start, our competitive spirits almost turned the match into an all–out war. Fortunately, Tom and I agreed on a truce before one of us got hurt. The wrestling match was great fun, but I was glad we settled for peaceful draw at the end. Tom was just too big and powerful to push around, and some bad things could have happened had his temper been triggered.
I respected Tom for his strength, and I think the feeling was mutual. One night Tom wanted to go to a local mall, but he did not want to walk to his car alone because it was parked off campus in an area known for its nocturnal hoodlum activity. Tom asked me to tag along with him, and he joked that I was his bodyguard of choice. We made the trip to the mall without incident, so I was never tested as his escort. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my assignment.
I have many more fond memories of dorm life at Holmes Hall, and during the nine months that I lived there I was rarely bored. Even when nothing was really going on inside the dormitory, the proximity of the building to Downtown Lexington, Memorial Coliseum, the Lexington YMCA, and many other goodies ensured that there was always something interesting to do. Anyway, I could always count on my circle of friends at Holmes Hall to liven things up by doing something totally insane, like setting lit firecrackers at your door just before knocking on it. Best of all, my stay at Holmes Hall gave me an opportunity to gain independence and make it on my own.