Welcome to the second part in a series reminiscing about my time at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I spent eight years there, from 2000 to 2008, graduating with a Master’s in History. I got accepted to EIU out of high school and moved into a room on the 7th floor of Ruth Carman Hall on August 17, 2000. Although I love EIU and my college years, living in Carman Hall is not something I’d want to repeat. It’s a blessing the building has been closed for several years.
When I first came to EIU, freshman couldn’t park on campus and had to live in a dorm. Carman Hall, at the southeast end of campus, was considered the “freshman dorm.” It was built in 1971 to accommodate the glut of Baby Boomers entering college.
It looked like a Soviet tenement, with twin featureless beige towers, segregated for male and female, connected by a corridor with a shared dining hall. There was a computer lab and laundry room in the basement. Males had to be escorted to the female wing, and every floor had a resident assistant to look after things and make sure everyone was following the rules. That worked much better on the female side than on the male.
Our tower was disgusting. The vomit-encrusted elevator was rarely functional, trash littered the hallways, wires were pulled down from the ceiling, and fire extinguishers went missing. Someone even stole the drinking fountain on our floor! It got so bad the spring semester of my freshman year the college newspaper, Daily Eastern News, ran an article about the vandalism.
My roommate was a skinny kid from Western Illinois named John. He was a nice guy, but like many students away from home for the first time, couldn’t handle it and dropped out after the first semester. He was the kind of guy who would either get blackout drunk or bring a different girl back to the room every night. He finally got in trouble for selling pot. I guess you could say I had that nightmare college roommate everyone worries about, but it gets worse.
Less than two weeks into my first semester at EIU, at around 4:30 in the morning, I woke up feeling a stream of warm liquid hitting my back. I described what happened next in my journal:
“Sure enough, I rolled over and there was my roommate, standing there pissing all over my bed like nothing was going on. I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, and he answered: “I’m going to the bathroom.” I yelled at him some more, then had to borrow quarters from the night assistant downstairs to wash my sheets. The next morning my roommate was really sorry for what happened. He had been extremely drunk…”August 31, 2000
There are worse things in life than being pissed on, I suppose, but at the time it was a singularly humiliating experience.
Despite his failings, John was a genuinely nice person. He always tried to include me in his social circle, despite my being more interested in intellectual pursuits. I watched Scary Movie for the first time in the girls’ tower with John and a few friends. They shoved a towel under the door and pointed a fan out the window so they could smoke. I swore I was going to get emphysema by sophomore year.
Then there was the time a psychotic boyfriend came pounding on our door at 2 a.m., out for blood. As I mentioned earlier, my roommate frequently brought girls back to our room for extra curricular activities, but that night, he escorted this particular coed to sleep off the drunken stupor from a house party. Annoyed by being kept awake, again, I had to intervene and diffuse the situation. John was one hundred percent a gentleman that night. The boyfriend collected his wayward sweetheart and went home and I finally got to rest in peace.
This was my dorm room a couple months after I moved in. Check out that huge TV, and if you look carefully, you can see a landline on the shelf behind my bed (yes, that was right before cell phones took off). I wasn’t much of an interior decorator.
EIU hadn’t banned smoking on campus yet, so every evening students would sit on these steps to smoke and socialize. There were plenty who smoked in the dorm, even though you weren’t supposed to, which caused problems when they threw cigarette butts down the garbage chute. The building had to be evacuated due to fire alarms at least four times my freshman year, and for a bomb threat in September.
There used to be a Hardee’s on the northwest corner of 4th Street and Lincoln Avenue, which was open 24-hours. I walked there a couple times when our dorm had to be evacuated late at night, but unfortunately that place closed in 2001—a bar crowd casualty.
Attendance at EIU has fallen significantly over the past several years, and Carman Hall was closed in the summer of 2013 due to budget cuts and low enrollment. I’m not sure if it ever reopened, but ROTC cadets used it in 2015 to practice clearing rooms. Do you have any memories from Carman Hall? Feel free to leave a comment with your own stories.