Off Limits

During my long, murky and still uncompleted career as a University of Colorado student, I worked and quit (i.e., my supervisor told me to quit before I was fired) many jobs on campus. The most memorable? Orientation leader.

The two-day orientation program run by CU's Office of Orientation is designed as the new student's introduction to both academic and social life at the school. Before the fall semester starts, over 6,000 freshmen, transfers and their parents arrive a few days early so that student orientation leaders can drag them through the maze that is the Boulder campus. If they don't pass out from altitude sickness, they also get to register for classes, learn the 5,000 rules of the residence halls, take a tour of CU's own Playboy mansion -- Norlin Library -- and ask questions. Lots of questions.

Last summer, after a group of freshmen asked me whether they could start an intramural sports team through the rec center (the answer was yes), they informed me that it was an all-nude midget volleyball team. For the record, none of them were midgets. During my first stint as an orientation leader, a freshman asked me if putting Saran wrap on his penis was a suitable alternative to a condom. He also wanted to know if having a mirror above his bunk bed in his dorm room would scare off "the ladies."

Sex is a hot topic this year, too. "A lot of them ask what to do if they want to masturbate or have sex in their room and they have a roommate," says current leader Marissa Deal. Colleague Chris Barnes says she tells them, "You go into the shower." Chris Carlson suggests this answer: "You wait until they go to bed."

"The most common question we get is about classes," notes Erin Arnold, interim director of orientation and a former leader herself. "They are worried about getting the classes they need, or taking classes that are big lectures. Honestly, a lot of freshmen do end up in the big lecture-hall classes. We also get a lot of questions about how they'll fit in."

They also want to know what they can fit into their residence-hall rooms. Leaders get questions about maid service, door-to-door trash pickup and other little necessities of trust-fund life. "Some kid asked me if we had wake-up calls," Carlson reports. "He says 'Are there wake-up calls?' I said, 'What do you think?' He says, 'Yeah.' I'm like, 'Is this a hotel?' He goes, ';No, it's college.' I told him to buy an alarm clock."

Fielding students' questions is relatively easy compared to dealing with parents. "I had a parent call me on a Monday after attending an orientation session the previous week," Arnold remembers. "They didn't like the classes their student got, so they went home that night, before the registration system was locked, and took him out of all his classes -- but the classes they wanted were full. They erased his whole schedule. They tried to fix it and screwed it all up."

Another mother just didn't understand the concept of letting go. "I had a parent call who was coming to the last orientation session," Deal says. "I was telling her about what would go on during the session. Then she says, 'Okay, we're going to move into the residence hall, and then what do I do?' I said, 'Well, once you get them moved in, I guess you leave.' Then she says, 'I just leave?' I told her that she could live in Boulder -- it's a nice place. She starts bawling, 'Oh, my God, I just have to leave? I have to leave him?' I said, 'I'm sorry, but once you move them in, that's kind of the end.'"

Although this year's orientation program officially ended last week, the job of the Office of Orientation is just beginning. Last fall, it became home to Ralphie's Resource Center, which dispenses answers throughout the school year to such burning questions as "Can students receive flowers for birthdays?" and "I was wondering if I could get straight A's if one of my roommates dies."

Despite all of CU's bad press over the last year, orientation leaders didn't get many questions about the controversy. "We really have not had a lot of people asking us about the football scandal," says Arnold. "They already have an answer set up," reports Norton. "Students say, 'Oh, well, that's just the media' or 'It happens.' They don't want to know our opinion on it."

Welcome, Class of 2008. Keep the Saran Wrap handy. -- Crystal Preston Watson

What's So Funny?

By Adam Cayton-Holland

Here at What's So Funny, back to school invariably means back to cool. That's just a given. Our staff shops all summer long for the sickest fall outfits, rushing between Urban Outfitters in the Cherry Creek and Park Meadows malls, frantically shrieking, "Dress me, you corporate hipsters! Sell me this year's bohemian lifestyle!" We scour fashion catalogues and study trendy bands to figure out if long, disheveled hair is still in, or if we should go for the more sleek, man-boy cut. If there's some new video game the kids are playing, we've beaten it. If there's some clique member drifting toward the fringe, we're the first to ridicule him. We'll turn on that loser like Fredo on the Corleones. Because being cool when returning to school is crucial, and we understand that.

We -- and by we, I mean I -- remember my first day at East High School. Coming from lily-white Graland Country Day School, a neo-fascist lacrosse-player factory, I knew that things were going to be different at East. I also knew that a new school and a new school year were opportunities too sweet to waste. Summer was a chance to reinvent myself, autumn the blank palette on which to paint masterpieces. Things were going to be different for me. I was no longer the smallest kid in the class, I had the faint traces of a burgeoning mustache, and I'm pretty sure my right testicle had descended.

I also knew that what was cool at Graland was not cool at East. There, I had been from the wrong side of Sixth Avenue, but now, now I was in my element. I brushed up on hip-hop; I practiced the sports I intended to play. And in a stroke of sheer genius, I marched right into Foley's, blatantly ignoring the fact that it wasn't even Red Apple Sale season, and made Mommy buy me a green plaid Tommy Hilfiger polo. Preliminary scouting at East had revealed to me that Tommy and Nautica were safe pseudo-thugwear for the white, liberal-arts-school-bound gangster, and I knew I had to have it.

And on that first day, as I sat in American Lit. X flossing my Tommy gear, I blended in just like wallpaper. I looked identical to all the other students, and it felt nice. But then, in a cruel twist of fate, the teacher started talking about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and God help me, I got excited. Fifteen minutes later, after my 37th correct response in a row, I sat back in my chair in a giddy, book-nerd daze. All eyes in the room were on me.

After class, as nearly every student approached me -- everyone from the cool guys with the Eminem bleached hair to the girls with tattoos and pierced tongues -- and asked, nay, demanded, to copy my homework from then on, I smiled with contentment. I knew I had made it. I was accepted. And I owed it all to that Tommy Hilfiger shirt.

So when we here at What's So Funny offer up tips for foolproof, back-to-school success, we're not just flapping our lips. We know a thing or two about the subject. Some ways to realize your dreams:

If you're a freshman at North High School, focus of a Rocky Mountain News profile, go out of your way to explain to reporter Tina Griego how, as a Mexican-American, you feel "like, both Mexican and American." Smile for Saturday's two-page spread.

Rig your iPod so the theme from Saturday Night Fever "inexplicably" blares every time you walk down hallway.

High school students riding RTD buses, remember that the driver does not have time to report you to your principal; he's got a lot more stops to make. If you can manage to actually be wearing his uniform when you get to school, earth will now revolve around you.

One word, three syllables: Yu-Gi-Oh! Elementary-schoolers, if you don't know, you'd better ask somebody.

Cole students, when Hickenlooper and Wartgow shake your hand, slap your back and tell you you're going to college, they're just atoning for their ineptitude. You're screwed. While your classmates may not initially appreciate your pointing this out, in the end they'll thank you for your honesty.

Telling the principal about a bully is one method, but only a handgun will keep that fool from stepping.

Ignore cliques, petty social hierarchies, dress and looks, and hang out with who you want, when you want. Life is too short to sell out and forget who you are in the meaningless pursuit of popularity. Just be yourself.

Beat the holy hell out of people stupid enough to follow the above advice. Get drunk; go after blond chicks. Popularity is everything.

Enjoy your year, kiddies!

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