In My Life: “Drop It Like It’s Hot”

I still can’t hear the beginning of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” without feeling like I’m dancing in a dark, humid frat basement, the smell of beer and cigarettes permeating the whole house. There’s a 98% chance it was on the party playlist the night Kenny G saved my life.

Let’s take it back to August 2004. I’d just moved into Hogate Hall at DePauw University, a accordion-shaped maze of a residence hall built in the late 1960s, supposedly with the purpose of deterring riots. I was meeting so many people that I couldn’t remember most of them, even though I’d always been good at that. DePauw was actually smaller than my high school (where graduation classes often surpassed 1000 and mine was considered small with ~720 getting diplomas). However, I’d gone to the same school system since I was 5, so I’d known some of my classmates since kindergarten or earlier. This was a brand-new crowd of ~2300 students, around 600 fellow freshmen. Oh wait, “first-years.” We weren’t “freshmen,” because that reminded people of hazing. The university called us first-years.

Anyway, freshman year began with a weekend of typical activities – workshops, team-building games, earnest conversations about binge-drinking, etc. I loved being around so many new people. I only knew a handful before moving in. Three guys from my high school graduating class, including a dude I couldn’t stand and my very-recent ex. A few people I’d met at prospective-student events – girls named Emily, Erin, and Erica who’d all gone to slightly nicer high schools in the Indy area. The students who’d hosted me when I stayed for a weekend in March. A really nerdy guy my ex had met at some admissions event. Some faces I recognized from high school choir competitions and speech tournaments. A girl who’d gone to my church camp years before. Some people I’d interacted with on LiveJournal.

It was clear, though, that our social groups had not yet sorted themselves out. That while I wanted to make friends right now, no one really knew exactly what their crowd would look like and how they might evolve. My first evening there, my new suitemates and I walked over to a luau on another dorm’s porch. I talked to dozens of people whose names I knew I’d forget. There was one, in fact, who I did forget about for several months.

Upon our reintroduction months later, I vaguely remembered that he told me he was from Hawaii and dropped all sorts of tidbits designed to communicate that his father was wealthy. I think he was also the guy who shared his goal of owning sweatshops in Southeast Asia and waved off my concerns about exploitation. We were reintroduced by my friend Kendal, a bushy-haired, stone-washed-jeans-wearing beanpole of a Wisconsin boy who lived one floor below me. (This was before stone-washed jeans came back in style.) Kendal (or Kenny G, as he was often called) ran cross-country and was the only person in our now-solid friend group even younger than me. I turned 18 two weeks before the 2004 election; poor Kendal’s birthday was a week too late. (We’d both skipped 3rd grade.) He was from a tiny town in northern Wisconsin, and about once a week, he received his hometown newspaper in the mail. I found it so hilariously quaint that it became our tradition to read it together, or for him to give it to me after he finished it. The only story I can still remember was about a “troubling wave of gang activity” – a park shelter lightly vandalized by spray paint, clearly by bored teenagers.

In addition to our dorm friend group that had formed, Kendal also hung out with the runners, and the guy from Hawaii was a runner. In fact, everyone called him “Hawaii.” (Real name: Brent.) Sometimes my group went out with the runners. So it was the night of the Phi Delt foam party.

I’ve found that people are either intimately familiar with foam parties or they’ve never heard of them. This should illustrate the concept. Soap bubbles are sprayed out of a machine, filling up a room crowded with revelers. The air gets incredibly humid – even beyond the normal sweaty-frat-basement level –  and the foam can get quite high. This is a good time to mention I’m 5’2″ with shoes on.

At some point early on, Kendal introduced me to Hawaii, but it was brief. I didn’t remember him from the luau yet. Our large group held court by the speakers and foam machine. Then Hawaii asked me to dance.

(In retrospect, he probably didn’t ask. Generally a guy just came up behind you and started grinding. Usually he was a total stranger. I cannot believe I ever thought this was normal and fairly acceptable.)

While we danced, he started whispering in my ear. From what I could hear, he was talking about his rich dad again, and how he now wanted to be a doctor, but “just for the money.”

As I barely pretended to care, I thought, “Mom said that if you marry a man for his money, it will be the hardest job you ever hold. Now I see what she meant. You’d be marrying someone like this d-bag.” I was over it already, but Hawaii thought we were just getting started. He pulled me over to the wall perhaps 10 feet away and pushed me up against it, his arms on both sides, his smug grin inches away from my face. And then – before I knew it – he had taken a few steps back and begun what I can only describe as a failed Chippendales audition from the 70s. He leaned back, shook his hips and shoulders, and began unbuttoning his shirt ever so slowly. It was a reasonable imitation of the strip teases he’d probably only seen in movies. It was also, perhaps, the cheesiest thing I had ever seen. So ridiculous, in fact, that I just laughed and didn’t walk away immediately. That was a mistake.

Around this time, someone cranked up the foam machine. What had been at my shoulders was rising fast. By the time I noticed, I was up to my neck; the foam is usually tallest along the wall. Hawaii’s shirt was off and he was even closer to me, doing that polishing-my-back-shoulders shimmy move with it, where the shirt becomes sort of a rope or towel. He was so impressed with himself that he didn’t notice me disappearing. Nor would I have expected him to. He hadn’t even noticed I was laughing about the striptease. The foam was pretty high on him too  – he wasn’t much taller than me – but it was building much higher against the wall. I was surrounded by taller people and couldn’t see a clear path out. In fact, the crowd was tightening around me. Music pounded. The damp, smoky air slipped away. The foam rose over my eyes and I held my hands on my face, just trying to breathe. It was at that exact moment I felt someone lifting and pulling me out. It felt practically religious.

Kendal, knowing Hawaii, had been keeping an eye on me. “All of a sudden you disappeared,” he said, “so I bolted over here. I could only see the top of your head when I found you.” I caught my breath with my friends and, before the chilly walk home in our soaked clothes, I decided I’d never dance with Hawaii again. And at some point during all this, I can be certain that “SNOOOOOOOOOOP” blared out of the speakers over a low, thumping drum, followed by that tongue-clicking noise. Thanks for the soundtrack, Mr. D-O double G. And for the rescue, Kenny G.

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