“Wow, you’re one punctual motherfucker.” I was. We had set the interview for 9:00. I arrived at the illustrious Pyne Hall at the appointed hour, ready to begin my study. I had heard through the grapevine that a pair of Ivy bros, Yannis Gagnon and Matt Dugin (whose names have been changed to protect their anonymity), had constructed a beach in their shared triple, a welcome break from the fickle climes of early spring. After getting in contact with the duo, they agreed to give me an exclusive look at their campus paradise and sit down for an interview.
I arrived on time, and pushed open the door that had been propped in violation of university fire safety standards (visionaries, they would later explain, have little time for fire safety). The room was empty, and I was given my first few moments alone with the beach. The beach is at once a confusing and wonderful thing to behold. Like a sandbox for man children, the beach is full of all the earthly pleasures one would expect of such a place–one metric ton of white sand, an inflatable treasure chest cooler filled with Coronas, a leafy green palm tree and a speaker from which the country stylings of the Zac Brown Band can regularly be heard. The first encounter with the beach must always be one of incredulity–how can this exist? Why would someone do this to their living room? What sort of godless heathens would do this to the maintenance staff? Well, dear reader, all of these thoughts rushed through my head in my first few moments alone on the Beach. After a few minutes, there was a noise at the door—in staggered Dugin, clothed only in a bathrobe, his hair characteristically messy. He remarked on my timeliness, sat down next to me, and, still relatively unclothed, turned on a summery country song extolling the virtues of ice cold beer, girls, and trucks.
In many ways, Dugin is a stereotypical Princeton bro. A fraternity member with a penchant for lewdness, Dugin enjoys his beer and girls about as much as the country songs he so loves. However, Dugin is a multifaceted character, with a penchant for the inventive and creative. As a mechanical and aerospace engineering student, Dugin is constantly creating new designs for environmentally friendly vehicles that run solely on electric power. Despite his bro-y exterior, Dugin is a man with varied interests and deep passions, and cannot be written off entirely as a result of his harsh diction.
The two of us sat in relative silence for a song or two, me writing my D3, Dugin with one hand placed strategically in the folds of his robe for warmth, the other scrolling through Facebook on his phone. After a beat, Yannis walks in. Immediately, the two greet each other in what seems to be their typical fashion – playful exchange of expletives with the intention of wounding the other’s sense of self-worth. Neither seem satisfied with the exchange, and suddenly Dugin leaps from the couch, and begins grappling the fully clothed Gagnon, robe flapping in the wind, each heavily muscled man battling the other for dominance. It is an ancient, time-honored dance the two enter into, one played out across a thousand years by a thousand different species of men. The two vie for supremacy, to assert their status as the alpha, as the most desirable mate. This is the closest I have been to greco-roman style wrestling in my life. I hope to never grow closer. The conflict seems to reach some unspoken resolution, and the two wrestlers separate.
There was clearly some deep bond between the two roommates, which is surprising, given the language barrier that separates the two of them. The two have been fast friends since their freshman year playing for the club beer pong team (the actual club sport has been changed for the sake of anonymity, though in actuality more beer pong is played by this team than any actual athletic activity). Gagnon is from an isolated town in Quebec, and speaks almost exclusively in thick, syrupy, Quebecois French. What English he does speak is heavily accented, to the point where very little of what he says is intelligible to the untrained listener. Dugin seems to have acquired an ear for it though, and through a series of gestures and head nods it is communicated to me that this interview will be conducted over Coronas. Instead of a bottle opener, Yannis opts for the door hinge, ripping the bottle caps off one by one on the protruding metal. Beer cascades down the wooden door. He seemed not to notice.
We sat down on the chairs arrayed on the sand — the roommates on two university desk chairs, myself on a sand covered bean bag chair. What follows is a rough transcription of an excerpt of the interview (all of Gagnon’s portions were translated by a friend in the French department. Thanks Emily!).
Bischoff- So how did this idea come about? When did you decide to build a beach in your room?
Gagnon- It was last year, early sophomore year. I was walking back to my dorm in Whitman and there were three rolls of the wallpaper we have up there (the walls around the beach are covered in ocean themed wallpaper) sitting outside of a door. Mon dieu, I thought, this wallpaper is perfect. I had had a vision early freshman year— I decided I wanted a beach in my room at some point in Princeton, and this wallpaper was perfect for it. I waited a couple of days and no one claimed it, so I just took a roll. I had it with me last year, and this year at some point we decided, we gotta make it happen.
Dugin- Yeah, all his other roommates, in freshman year, the year after, Yannis told them about the beach idea and they said ‘no, of course not’ (at this point the roommates share a smile). Then you know, me being me, I was …
B- Crazy enough to do it with him?
G- Dugin was as into it as I was and we were both staying over for spring break, so why not? I thought about making a zoo, getting a lot of exotic animals, but that didn’t go over well.
B- How are you going to get rid of all of this when you move out?
G- The same way we took it in dude, with buckets. And then vacuum the rest I guess.
D- Yeah, with a big shop vac.
G- I mean, there’s still gonna be plenty left over. The people next year are definitely gonna wonder what happened in this room (they both laugh).
B- Have you had any problems with Fire Safety?
D- No, Fire Safety actually came about a week ago. I got a text from my friend saying ‘Hey! Today’s the day. Fire Safety just came.’ So I said oh shit— I went to my professor and said ‘Hey, Fire Safety’s coming, is it ok if I make sure everything’s alright?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Remember the beach?’ and he goes, ‘Oh shit you better go.’ So we sprinted back here, took everything of the doors and made it like, Fire Safety good. Then we put on shorts, took our shirts off, and sat down on the beach with books. And they walked in—
G- They were like, ‘That’s a special one,’ (knowing laughter). Then one of the guys said ‘Yeah, we’re not sure which rules you’re breaking so we’re not gonna say anything.’ And they were joking about it. ‘If you have the room next year, you might as well keep it in.’
D- And right before they were done, they were walking out and looked around and said, ‘Well done guys. Really good job.’
B- Wow. I notice you have a lot of beach themed props around the room. Did you have these to begin with or were these “appropriated” like the wallpaper?
G- We had some, and bought some other stuff, the buoy, and the inflatable chest…
D- And these little lights! (He points out an array of small solar powered path lights arrayed around the palm tree).
G- Wait did you get those? I didn’t get those.
D- I spent frat money on them so we’re good.
B- Beautiful. So how much of this is self-owned and how much is ‘borrowed’ from other enterprises?
G- Are we on record? (Laughs). It’s pretty much all self-owned. Overall it was, what, less than $200?
D- Yeah, $200.
G- And we put 10 hours into it, maybe, building it.
D- Yeah, it was $60 for a ton of sand, $50 for materials, $30 for a palm tree… having a beach in your room? Priceless. That’s all I can say…the girls do like it.
B- Oh? What’s the best reaction you’ve gotten when people see the beach?
D- Usually something along the lines of ‘What the fuck’ is pretty common.
G- Another good one is, ‘Have you ever had sex on the beach?’
D- Yeah, that’s how we follow up (laughter).
B- …Sex on the beach?
D- Not that I remember.
D- Did you?
G- No, no, I was close to it, and I then I think her exact words were ‘I think it’s going to be a logistical nightmare.’ … sand does get everywhere.
B- Has the beach turned out to be the spot of paradise that you wanted it to be?
D- Oh my god, it’s the oasis.
G- Everyone was doing those spring breaks where they were going to these crazy islands and we didn’t have the money for that.
D- Just $200 and a vision. But it’s worth it. This is where we can be on vacation and not worry about what other people have to say about the way we see ourselves, so to speak? (He looks at Gagnon).
B- And the way you see each other?
D- Yes, our union. I’d call it a union.
B- Has it been the romantic getaway you wanted it to be?
D- Everything and more. You know how most couples–I mean most people go for a bottle of wine? A few Coronas, that’s all we need (he gazes at Gagnon).
G- Oui. We have our own room, but it’s not the same thing. When we step on the sand, we know it’s our safe and special place and we can be ourselves-
D- (Grabs Gagnon’s hand) It really is.
G- -with each other. It’s beautiful
B- Wow, I’m moved.
D- You should see the way he moved me the other night.
After that, the interview broke-up, as other bros came in and began their weekly beer-pong ritual.