A College Party
Amidst reckless abandon and streets scattered with tin beer can scraps, large groups walked to one party or another. Belligerent and boisterous, some barked across the street at one another. Some stragglers made their way with hoods drawn, facing the concrete and minding their own business. Our group was made up of seven or so people, noisily high-spirited but sticking to ourselves. The floor was sticky, caked in various fruity beverages not noticeable to the eye, only with in the slight resistance with the lifting of a stride. There were people along each side of the hallway making small talk. To the right was a crowded living room with two couches placed compactly. You could faintly hear the music among roars of laughter. The air was thick with stale beer, sweat, and fragile college ego. I was introduced to the host of the party in a sticky, fermenting kitchen: a short man with an impressive beard. At first he did not take lightly to jokes from a stranger, but became friendly after a brief conversation. Some people looked around to make small talk; they turned out to be interesting people. By contrast, some guy tried to argue aggressively. One lady met my smile with a smirk and rolled her eyes. At one point, I asked a friend if another friend of ours was meeting us here. I was answered by an unfamiliar voice stating: “This is the turnout for girls, sorry to disappoint.” Soon after this a group of four girls walked through the front door, I chuckled and went for a smoke.
The first steps outside felt like zero gravity— it felt like I was an astronaut on a moonwalk. The wind was blowing and there were people hustling in and out of the house. Outside there was a guy, who I later found out was in his first year in college. He had on a Michael Myers mask, and seemed way to excited about Halloween, which was just around the corner. Another fella, who also turned out to be in first year, did not find this drunk kid running around looking like a total doofus amusing. He pulled off his backpack, reached into the front pouch, pulled out a medium sized knife and said: “I’m going to fucking stab you”. Now you see, this was not the time to be a smoker—everyone retreated back to the house. There isn’t much reasoning to be had with a kid who brings a knife to a party. I told the kid to put the mask away and assured him he wasn’t going to be stabbed. The kid looked ready to cry. I ended up reasoning with knife boy and he finally put his weapon away. Apparently, the word got out of the situation inside and thirty angry kids came out and sided with one or the other. What was initially a diffused situation turned into a shit-storm; so, I walked away.
The next morning, we drove downtown to the street party. It was a strange scene as everyone had open liquor container and was screaming. The streets were crowded and groups congregated on every street corner. Many people were sitting on roofs and balconies. A few people were doing funnels from upper story windows. An old couple carried grocery bags, filling them with endless cans and bottles. A small fortune was to be made from this sea of trash. Some students were drunkenly making their way down the road, while being held up on the shoulder of a friend. Others embraced each other while making out. There were some children walking with their parents down the street with a look of amazement and fear. Whether their football team had won or lost, I doubt the outcome would have differed. These people were just looking to escape their everyday life by binge drinking and turning the occasion into a party. Hundreds of people gathered on a single short street and everyone was all crammed together. Bottles were being passed around from person to person. An admirable sense of excitement lingered in the air. The feeling of elation was notable in the glossed eyes and drunk grins. Some members of my group brought along a female mannequin hollowed, and then turned into a funnel. Everyone who tried it had signed his or her name. As they carry it around over their heads, the signatures multiplied. By the time it was offered to me, I felt the need to decline. They mannequin had been given a name, which was soon repeatedly chanted by a small crowd. At one point “she” made it up onto a roof. It was strange and interesting to witness how something so simple could entertain a crowd. Everybody was clearly enjoying the party. There were also some graduates from a rival university, roaming the street, and wearing blazers with “89” stitched into the shoulder. They too were offered the mannequin; no one was being excluded.
5pm on a Friday in October 2016.
I arrived at my friends’ house. It was nice, spacious, and clean. The kitchen was very open and separated from the living room by a small island. I was here to experience another university’s homecoming. We sat for dinner with a few old friends and some new ones. The centerpiece of the eating area were the elephant shaped “salt and pepper” shakers moved into a mating position.
Dinner was over and people had started to arrive. I hadn’t met any of them prior to that moment. They seemed weary of new people until we all went for a smoke break. Guys began talking about whom they’d try to seduce that evening. Before returning inside, everyone was better acquainted. The new topic of conversation was about their college town’s nightlife, and their frequent shenanigans. “Yeah, I puked on her door!”, was one guy’s surprising choice of getting back on a rude neighbor. The music got louder and people were feeling the effects of various substances. There were fifteen to twenty people there in all. As the night was progressing, we had to figure out which party to go to next. Surprisingly, even with such large number of people, the group managed to figure out the next step.
The decision on what party to attend had been made. It was a very interesting process. Some parties were closer but weren’t expected to be as “lit,” as one lady stated. Each person had input on what party would be best; the discussion actually became a very organized ordeal. A friend explained to us that “hat boy” (nobody was sure of his name) was to attend the party. She assured us that she was going to seduce him that night. For a student house, my friends had a very nice living room setup. The furniture and TV weren’t brand new but it looked great and had a homely feel. I was sitting on a couch with one of the guys I had just met. He was showing me his Snapchat stories which featured him in the shower and having beer poured on him. I thought it was kind of weird at first, but I decided I needed to stay in the spirit of participant observation.
As a group, we made our way to the party. Everyone knew the host but me, and he didn’t appear to like the strangers. It was understandable because many people that he didn’t know were trashing his house. Once you got to know him, you realized that he was a nice individual. The party was very cliquey: people did not want to converse with outsiders. Standing around in a circle of people you already know, tends to become boring. The music was very loud and both doors to the house were wide open. This didn’t reduce the stench of beer and sweat.
There was a young first year guy outside. He had a mask on and looked like he was trying to scare people. But this wasn’t a great environment to try to be spooky. The angry and drunken adolescents did not appreciate the mask. A knife was pulled. The poor kid realized the mistake he made, and soon looked like he was going to cry. I told him to put the mask in his bag. “Rambo,” on the other hand was harder to convince. “Who does he think he is!” this kid shouted. His friends weren’t doing anything to calm down their knife-wielding friend. I was standing in front of him when his eyes grossly contorted “I’m going to fucking kill you,” he said. After a few minutes of me explaining to him why wearing a mask around Halloween wasn’t a reason to stab someone, he put the knife away. Almost simultaneously all the guests at the party stormed out of the house. One guy was screaming about his friend being provoked to the point of pulling a knife. I was with his friends, who were far more reasonable. We explained the situation, but it was clear he was just looking for a fight. I walked back to my friends’ house. The two friends with whom I had come to visit were partaking in coitus. I reasonably closed the door quietly and sat outside for a while.
I first chose to represent my data through an ethnographic narrative. The narrative is made up of a series of observations that give an account of what takes place during a night at a party. This style of presenting my data allowed my ethnographic description to be open and versatile, and more inclusive of the perspectives that were not my own. The paper really highlights my own style of writing and my voice, while sharing the ethnographic observations in an easy-to-read format. I chose to do more of a “raw field note approach” in the second essay. Here I wanted to show the analytical aspects of the exercise, rather than first person description. The two approaches together gave me a better understanding of ethnographic texts, while also leaving room to experiment. The assignment helped me understand the importance of tone to the ethnography, and the challenges faced by anthropologists, in describing and analyzing their observations.