Boomerang Days: Infinite Jester

A Longhorn does college all over again.

Boomerang Days: Infinite Jester

I was a student at UT a few years ago … a few more than a few … maybe much more than a few. OK, let’s be honest, more than 20 years ago. • In 1991 I arrived at Jester West Dormitory with my Smiths tapes, a bag of clean clothes that would not be laundered again until Thanksgiving, and a stomach with more butterflies than the trees had grackles. This summer I decided to return to the University of Texas like some burnt-orange boomerang. • My initial plan is to spend the night in Jester, staying up too late and ordering Gumby’s pizza at 1 a.m. This idea is quickly nixed by the Division of Housing and Food Service. In fact, every dorm, on or off campus, feels a 40-something man lurking around the halls trying to relive his college days is just south of creepy. My wife agrees.

Instead I arrange to meet Rachel Cohen, an RA and English senior, for breakfast and a tour. From the outside Jester looks much the same—something between a prison and a beige Lego housing project. I step inside and the feel of the place sweeps back over me. The same mellow echo of steps, same buzz of students, even the A/C chill has a nostalgic edge.

I make my way to the Jester Mail Center, where I’ll be meeting Rachel. Just being near the place sweetly punctures my heart. Oh, those daily pilgrimages to these mailboxes, yearning for letters from family and friends, and one particular girl studying music in Kansas. This was pre-Internet revolution; mail came but once a day. Even after all these years the heartsick hopes linger about my old mailbox like the aroma of burnt hair.

Thankfully Rachel shows up and pulls me from my bittersweet reminiscing. She guides me through the refurbished lobbies, the fireplace lounge, the Gallery of Texas Cultures. The overall effect is unsettling, like going home and discovering that not only have your parents redecorated your bedroom, but they’ve opened an art museum in your closet.

I ask about my old home, the 10th floor of Jester West, the dorm’s only all-male floor. I didn’t choose to live on an all-male floor. Quite the contrary, I hoped co-ed living would be a boon to my not-so-extraordinary dating life. I would have to meet girls if we shared a bathroom, right? But by some mysterious algorithm Jester recognized that the female population of UT would have little use for me, and I was relegated to the ladyless 10th. We tried to maintain a certain floor pride—we made “Men of Ten” T-shirts and came up with witty chants, but it was a little like celebrating a bad case of scabies with a chest tattoo. 

They have a weekly steak night, for goodness sake, though the concept of using Bevo Bucks to purchase a steak does seem a little hypocritical.

“All the floors are co-ed these days,” Rachel tells me.

“Great,” I say. “For them.”

Next stop is the Jester City Limits cafe. My memories of Jester breakfasts consist of chewy bagels and jugs of Grape-Nuts. Oh, how things have changed. Smiling chefs—not cooks, chefs—prepare omelets, French toast, gluten-free delights. We never had an espresso machine or a wok station or themed international evenings like Japanese Cuisine Night and Native American Night. They have a weekly steak night, for goodness sake, though the concept of using Bevo Bucks to purchase a steak does seem a little hypocritical.

Over breakfast, Rachel and I chat about the campus, student life, and registering for classes.

“Sure,” I say. “I spent hours dialing TEX trying to get a class.”

She frowns. “It’s all online.”

“No TEX? President William Livingston? The voice of the university?”


I’m old.

Rachel then stops me mid-bite with the news that some of the food I’m eating is actually grown here at Jester. This is disturbing. The only thing I grew in my dorm years was a nasty foot fungus. But now, it turns out, Jester sports an impressive student-run vegetable garden. There’s even an herb garden in the works. (Though back in the ’90s I knew of a few industrious students with their own private herb gardens. )

The final stop on the tour is a sample dorm room. I brace myself. How have they changed? Guess what—they haven’t. Not much, at least. Same comfortable cluttered collection of two beds, two desks, and a sink. Looking around, I have a strong desire to grab a snack from the tiny fridge, to unwisely toss water balloons from the cracked open window, to fall asleep on an open textbook hours before a final. To move in, just for a while. Can I do that? Is that OK? Rachel informs me that, no, it is not OK. And maybe it’s best I leave.

As Rachel and I part ways I thank her and in my best Texas brogue, say, “Goodbye, and good luck.”

She smiles patiently. She has no idea what I’m talking about.

Check out a video segment of Owen Egerton on campus

Illustration by Mario Zucca


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