I live in a loft. This isn’t about that. (Maybe the coincidence somehow means it is, though.)
I was playing this game yesterday, where I tried to write every single event I could remember about a person from twenty years ago, every time I could remember us hanging out together, to try and brainstorm past just the stock two or three or five things I always remembered about them. I’m trying not to fall down the endless nostalgia k-holes that make me want to write books about what happened back at college, because we all know how well that worked out the last time I wrote a 600-page book about college and tried to get people to read it. But sometimes I need to write something, just to type, and this is a way to do it.
During this exercise, I remembered a strange little concept I’d almost completely forgotten: the loft.
When I lived in the dorms in Bloomington, you got two beds per double room. They were these tiny twin beds, with a metal spring frame that hung between two wooden headboard/footboard pieces. But when you had two people living in a single room, that meant floor space was at a premium, and the solution was to go vertical. You could loft a bed by replacing the headboard/footboard pieces with taller frames that had pre-mounted brackets that would accept the pins on the spring, and raise the whole thing from the normal height of about a foot to somewhere around five feet off the ground.
Lofts were not included in room and board charged for the dorms. You could probably buy a loft, maybe from someone graduating, but it seemed like a crap investment to make, especially since most people only lived in the dorms for a year. And unless your dad was Bob Vila, you probably weren’t building one of these contraptions on your own. This need was met by a whole network of loft rental companies. I don’t remember the exact prices or vendors, but I seem to remember the White Rabbit book store renting lofts, plus there were lots of flyers posted on phone poles from outfits of more questionable repute offering to shave ten or twenty bucks off of the prices of the more legit renters.
A common layout was to have one bed lofted, and the other bed halfway under the other one, in an L formation. That left half of the under-bed area free for dressers, a mini-fridge, or a beanbag chair or other odd furniture. My first roommate bought his own loft from — I was going to say craigslist, but this was a decade before craigslist, so maybe it was one of those bulletin boards at a grocery store or in the student union. Maybe it belonged to his brother. I don’t know. All I know is I didn’t want my bed half under his loft, because I didn’t want him drunkenly falling into my bed, and I also had a semi-legitimate fear that the whole operation would scissor over onto itself and collapse, killing me. Maybe that was just an urban legend, like the guy who killed himself and the roommate getting all As. I also remember hearing similar tales about people drunkenly falling from their lofts and cracking their head open, but that could also be Rod Stewart/stomach pump territory.
I remember there always being a weird politic, especially with females, about who got the top bed and who got the bottom bed. As a guy, my bed was my bed, and I’d never think about swapping beds with my roommate, especially with all of the various microscopic bugs and jizz and everything else probably inhabiting a mattress after a few months. But I knew a few women who had a system where they would swap top and bottom bunks every month or every other week.
I don’t remember how many people lived in the dorms at IU, but it must have been in the low five figures. When I started there in 1989, I think the total grad and undergrad population was something insane like 38,000, and there were too many people for the dorms, so RHS turned a bunch of common lounges into dorm rooms until people quit or transferred or died and they could relocate them into real rooms. And it seemed like almost everyone had a loft, and most of those were rented. At the beginning of the school year, you’d see these huge U-Haul trucks double-parked at every dorm, these 38-foot long monstrosities, completely filled with these giant H-shaped braces made from 4×4 lumber, along with crews of handymen hustling the heavy pieces into the dorms. It’s strange to think of this whole economy centered around what was essentially a half-dozen pieces of dimensional lumber and a quartet of metal brackets.
The other thing, which I remembered during this free-write, was that there was always this clusterfuck during the last couple of weeks of class, because the loft rental companies had to come and pick up all of the lofts before the end of the semester, which meant you had a week or two, usually during the mad dash to study finals and finish the school year, where you had to revert the room layout to the default two-on-the-floor bed situation. In 1993, I was dating this freshperson over at Forest, and when her roommate was up in the top bunk, we could sit in the bottom bed at night and not really disturb her. But in that last week, when the two beds were right next to each other, that shit would not fly.
Did other schools have this same situation? Do they still do this? I haven’t thought about it, and wasn’t sure if I went back to a dorm in 2013 if I’d still see the same pieces of lumber that were knocking around the halls of residence in 1989, or if there’s some new, modern, brushed aluminum, iPhone-related invention I don’t even know about that’s used to elevate beds.