Home is where the hearth is: Fanning the Flames of Communality at Skidmore?s South Quad (Part II)

Posted by Brian Connor

They all laughed and continued to emit funny blue-collar soundings and turns of phrase before letting out a few final chuckles and re-engaging in a conversation over the plight of a mutual acquaintance.

Two of the guys were smoking cigarettes and two weren't. I wondered aloud whether this spot is mostly used by smokers. "Obviously, it being outside, and called the Chimney, it's a smoking place," Ghastly piped up. "There are two ashtrays and two benches. If there were no benches here I doubt it would be as commonly used." The others, especially Aviators who was not smoking, expressed that the Chimney is not necessarily a spot solely for smokers. Aviators asserted that it is primarily a space for "chilling," and that "it's a good place to do it: You got sun, you're outside, its sheltered so if it's hot out or it's raining you can just sit under here and catch a nice breeze off of the south lawn."

As we sat there, another young man approached the group. He was immediately greeted by all of the guys who were sitting on the benches. He introduced himself as Mike Mansion and explained that he's a sophomore and lives in Wilmarth, a south quad dorm which is isolated from the others. Mansion lit a cigarette and then offered his ideas about the use of the Chimney.

I know there are people in Kimball, especially on the far side of Kimball close to D-hall who've never heard of the chimney, who rarely pass through here and use the side exit. I had to explain to someone what the chimney was about a week ago. But its not necessarily known as the chimney to everyone. It's "the benches outside of Penfield" to a lot of people. Largely the people I've met, who don't really know it by name, are non-smokers who don't go outside for cigarettes and don't seek the smoking community. Because when you smoke cigarettes, you wanna come outside or at least sit down and kind of have a cigarette, and if you wanna meet someone to have a cigarette, its great to have benches. Standing outside and having a cigarette is one thing, but having a place to sit down and have a couple cigarettes — that's the Chimney.

Mansion immediately launched into a conversation with the other fellows regarding the upcoming event called Fun Day, and seamlessly adopted to their style of conversation. They all seemed to speak at once about a slew of different subjects, which all somehow coalesced into a coherent conversation.

This particular day was the last day of classes, and while these boys chatted away their afternoon on these two benches, a young couple lay on a rock in eachother's arms. They seemed unperturbed by the constant chatter of the Chimney boys, whose language was often foul and sexually explicit. The couple just lay there contently, and the fellows remained oblivious to their presence.

Often the Chimney talk surrounded other Chimney-goers. Sophomores frequently talk about the previous year and certain characters who embodied Chimney life for them in their freshmen years. They tell extravagant stories of these individuals' exploits, non-linear stories that were essentially just jumbled up quotes and facts, spewed in a rapid tone between wistful drags of the cigarette. The stories had no real beginning and no real end, but were instead just large references; the chimney dwellers seemed to live off of references. Conversations erupted and evolved which were comprised entirely of different references. They referenced movies, television shows, songs and most heavily, past happenings, past jokes and past references.

This group seemed to speak its own language. Acquaintances of some of these fellows would come up and a normal topical conversation would be started amongst that particular Chimney-dweller and his friend. Aviators, for instance, flagged down a girl with whom he was familiar and they carried on a brief talk about what their plans were for the night. Immediately after she left, however, the group once again broke into its stream of conscious style conversation.

I was clearly an outsider, and I sat there idly observing, unable to penetrate the rapid flow of chatter. At one point Ghastly noticed me and apparently decided to humor me some more. I said that I was bewildered by the way they all spoke to each other in a language that seemed entirely comprised of references to film and music. He elaborated more fully on the Chimney's role as a "village green." "It certainly is a place where people can drink, smoke, and those kinds of — cigarette talk, beer talk….If you're smoking weed, people smoke weed out here—you know, that all kind of leads to a certain kind of talk. It's not like walking to class talk or—you shoot the shit out here," explained Ghastly.

It became clear to me as I sat there, that I wasn't dealing with an ordinary group of friends, or with people who like to step outside for cigarettes and happened to know other smokers who did the same. These were Chimney-folk. Erikson writes that "[a] community of the sort we are talking about here derives from and depends on an almost perfect democracy of the spirit, where people are not only assumed to be equal in status but virtually identical in temperament and outlook. Classes of people may be differentiated for certain purposes — women from men, adults from children, whites from blacks, and so on — but individual persons are not distinguished from one another on the basis of rank, occupation, style of life, or even recreational habits" (Erikson, 1976: 192). Amongst Chimney folk, this principle of community is very noticeable. All of these people had different lives outside of the Chimney, they had different sets of friends who liked to do different things, they wore different clothing and used different means of transportation, and their grade point averages almost certainly varied tremendously. And yet, when they are all together in the Chimney, they are closer than family, they speak an entirely different language, and hold either very strong or completely indifferent opinions about the people who are merely passing through the Chimney...

    With regard to communality, Erikson writes that "…boundaries are drawn around whole groups of people, not around separate individuals with egos to protect and potentialities to realize; and a person's mental health is measured less by his capacity to express his inner self than by his capacity to submerge that self into a larger communal whole" (Erikson, 1976: 193). Chimney-folk apparently identify themselves in a similar manner...

As the sun slowly crawled across the sky, one-by-one the Chimney-folk rose to go inside. I'd been at this highly participatory observation for hours, and my head had begun to spin: partially from the beverages I'd consumed, and partially from the whirlwind of conversation that had kept strong for a good two hours. Aviators got up alongside me and we walked toward Penfield. As he held the door open for me, he removed his sunglasses, winked, and said, "its definitely partially proximity."

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