Room For One More?

By Isaac Meyers
Written as an e-mail message to the CTY-L list
Apparently, in CTY historiography t-shirts are the primary documents. Well, I have the first LLRT t-shirt. It's a sporty gray number; on its front is a design of a large round table surrounded by faceless, muscular human beings. They appear to be writhing in ecstacy (or maybe agony). On the table are various items that are labeled: spilled salt, tabular fries, "Lunk's boyfriend." Above this are the words "Land of the Large Round Tables." On the back is the motto, "There's Always Room for One More," with a list underneath of about 30 people, including me, and one blank space.

Now, I ate in the fourth dining hall with those people almost every day in '95. Did I know I was in "LLRT"? No, I did not. I was clueless, and it wasn't the first or last time. I could have told you the names of my friends, a stable group of about fifteen people. We DID always eat there, and there was another group of people who always seemed to eat nearby whom I knew vaguely, but I had no idea that major geopolitics was occuring as I ate my Crunchberries. Someone asked me for 10 bucks to make a t-shirt that had my name on it, so I paid. When I got the shirt, I didn't know who everyone was. To tell the truth, I was a little bothered to discover that I was part of a group with an official motto. I remember when Jon Wachter actually said "There's always room for one more." That was in the context of encouraging someone to pull up a chair to our table. It was a nice sentiment, not necessarily a statement of principle, and in actual fact there WASN'T always room for one more, either literally or figuratively.

Of course I loved my friends. I was very bad at making friends and had almost none outside of CTY. My friends at CTY were precious and I was not going to let go of them just because I suspected we might be a clique. Of course we were something of a clique, and it was wrong to take pleasure from being exclusive, when I myself minded being excluded outside of CTY. On the other hand, "there's always room for one more" _is_ a nice sentiment and, given that where there are people, there will always be cliques, I'm glad I was in a group of good-natured, easy-going people. It was possible only at CTY; my experiences at CTY truly changed my life and made me permanently happier. So, on the balance, I think the sort of clique I was in was more good than bad.

Two years and a haircut later -- and after several reunions of a dwindling number of people -- I returned to F & M as an RA. It's hard to describe the sort of weird pride I felt at seeing things that my friends had done in an off-handed way now being treated by some students as serious tradition. I remember when Laura Passin and Laura Staum wrote "The Eyelash Song," and I vividly remember myself inventing the llama hand-sign (so that I could sign "llama-burger" to Christine Lee) -- by the time I came back as an RA, both of these things were of CTY traditions written in stone. The kids who cared most about these traditions were roughly identical to those who called themselves LLRT. But none of those kids were on my t-shirt! It was weird.

I really liked most of the LLRT kids and was sorry I hardly ever got them as my personal students. The more mostly a bunch of smart, funny, friendly people. I enjoyed watching them learn and interact and have fun. I hope if any of them are reading this and remember me, they'll let me know how they are. I liked almost all the kids at CTY, but I had a special fondness for the LLRTers.

While I was an RA, I was very tempted to treat the LLRT kids differently -- not just because they treated me as a god among mortals (well, they actually didn't), but because they reminded me so much of myself when I was in their position. I was very inclined to excuse in-clique behavior (and I had to do so sometimes in the face of other RA's, which was not enjoyable) because I understood the motivations perfectly well. But it was my duty not to indulge in being a former student, part of a student clique, but instead to act as an RA with foremost responsibility to the organization, CTY. Also, it was unclear how close the LLRT I found really was to my old group of friends.

As an RA, I had to give a lot more weight to the fire-hazardy aspects of "there's always room for one more" than I had as a student. Also the throwing-food-around, making-out-like-capybaras, terrifying-the-little-kids aspects of cliquishness struck me more as a problem. They wouldn't be a problem in New York City or even Iowa City, and I might even smile avuncularly on them there; but in CTY, while I was an RA, they were troubling. And then, the connections between LLRT and what I actually remembered were tenuous. The cliquishness seemed much more aggressive: although there were more "members," they were called "members." There were some really awful scenes that nearly broke my heart, when some student would go to pieces because he or she was prevented from doing something or other with the group. When students threaten to do themselves physical harm because they are desperate to be with their clique, then the administration is right to be alarmed and the average onlooker is right to be confused. In this case clique is hardly the word for it. I did understand LLRT much better than most RA's, I think, yet it did seem cultish to me at times. My group of friends -- LLRT retroactively -- never seemed cultish, and we never acted that way as far as I can tell.

So although I'm sanguine about cliques in general, I've concluded that any group with a list and a website should just go ahead and call itself a society (or even a secret society -- although Yale secret societies are way drabber than LLRT), and that societies have no place at a summer program like CTY. It was because of the implicit assumption of being a real organization that LLRTers felt they could bargain with the CTY administration. Not that the administration was always right and fair, but the idea of bargaining was silly. I think CTY tradition is a terrific thing. I made a big effort to preserve the Canon when I was an RA. I even wrote a huge memo (some student somehow found it and put it on the web, unattributed: on CTY dances in order to help preserve them without treading on anyone's toes. Of course no one paid attention to the memo -- not even me -- but it was a noble effort. And I don't think I'd ever be able to say a word against a tradition I had a hand in starting. But CTY the culture is predicated on CTY the organization, and at this point the concerns of the organization take precedence over organic traditions. If cliques interfere with the essential business of CTY, then I wouldn't be sentimental. Well-- I _would_ be sentimental, but I'd do my best to break up the clique anyhow. Sometimes I had to do just that with LLRT, and I don't regret it. Hell, I don't have to answer to anybody -- I'm a college graduate and an official "Meat Pilots" roadie.