The Last Page

A Mug Rat's Lament

By Ian Heller '90

I remember when it hit me that I truly bore the Vassar stamp and was no longer interchangeable with a student from any other liberal arts college. It was the night I was the first student into the Mug. The lights were on. It was still quiet—a rare moment of peace in which to contemplate my upcoming graduation and law school attendance, a rare moment of peace before the dance floor started to vibrate and the seltzer started to glow.

For many Vassar students, myself included, the “real me” did not come out until after dark when I appeared at the Mug, covered from head to toe in regulation black. The Mug was about the floor-shaking music, the attitude and the clothing, the smoky sexuality. For me, the Mug was not the icing on the cake, it was the cake itself.

I graduated twenty years ago.When ever I meet with Vassar friends, there is pleasant discussion of how there should be a written history of the Mug and its denizens, the Rats. Seems reasonable, no? Vassar has a historian and a history written of nearly every other corner of the campus. I would buy such a book. It could be an insider’s guide to modern Vassar.

When I was president of the Long Island Vassar Club, I would routinely tell high school seniors about how much fun I had studying two works of Victorian literature every week. (I did. Really.) Needless to say, I did not share my double life as a Mug Rat with 17-year-old high school students. And truth be told, if a student ever asked me whether Vassar had a really good club scene Iwould raise an eyebrow.

Do we all pretend we never went to the Mug? Why does Vassar celebrate every building, except the one that held so many memories for so many of us?

In my senior year of high school I was accepted by Vassar, Middlebury, and Swarthmore. My grandmother, the matriarch  of the family, decided I was going to Vassar. I was adutiful grandson, so to Poughkeepsie I went. When I arrived I was immediately pegged as a future lawyer—a stable, suburban bore. That assessment was right and wrong. By my eighteenth birthday my sleeping schedule was erratic and I could not stop pacing. My artistic tastes, which were always a bit too edgy for the community in which I was raised, were now out of control. I was obsessed with literature, fashion, music, and whatever was new. I was creative, confrontational, and totally overstimulated.

My academic education was traditional and intense, but my social education was extreme and took place outside of the classroom. First, there were the friendships that developed in Cushing, where I lived for four years. I blossomed beyond this to a group of friends in the Quad and then, when it became more appropriate, the Mug.

I visited the Mug on weekends and then, when I mastered academia, I visited the Mug during the week with a small coed posse. We were smart, well-spoken, well-dressed, and we could dance. I do not know how we did this and still managed to go to class. These days I can barely make it to the commuter train station on time.

In my head are hundreds of memories from my youth. Like gas in a tank, they keep me going. So many are of the Mug, and of the friends I danced with, the songs I heard and of all those pretty clothes. We all looked good back then, our youthful bodies framed in smoke.

The high point of my youth was dancing on a tabletop in the Mug, age 22,with my 18-year-old girlfriend—she was so pretty. There is another memory of an evening in the Mug, when I was king of the dance floor in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the logo “Love From Above.” Decades later, this memory is more real to me than any book I read or paper I wrote. And the skills I picked up at the Mug are as useful to me as the ones imparted in the classroom.

Tomorrow I go to my office, where I really am king. I work in a modeling agency. The women are pretty and so are the men. The people here are respectful and do as I ask. But truth be told, I would rather be back in the Mug, circa 1990, dancing with my friends—22 years old again, 22 years old forever.

—Ian Heller '90 is in-house counsel at a major modeling agency. Exactly which one? “Well, “ he says, “you'll just have to pick up the phone and call.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vanessa Hambidge '92

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