A Freshman’s Guide to BYU

We thought it would be helpful to give the incoming freshmen a practical guide to living at BYU, what with all the big decisions you are now facing, such as whether to eat dorm food all the time, or to try surviving on vending-machine items, which are more expensive, but which may contain more nutritional value.

For you see, we have been through this already. We are a senior now, and not only does that entitle us to say “we” when we mean “I,” but it also gives us some insight as to how you, as a freshman, can make your first year at BYU a memorable, death-free experience.

The first thing you have probably realized is that you’re not in high school anymore. BYU is nothing like high school. And you probably recognize this as being a good thing. If you had wanted to go to high school some more, you would have STAYED in high school, or perhaps gone to Ricks.

You have probably been thrust into a “Y Group.” You were met by two unbelievably perky upperclassmen who have taken time out of their busy summer schedules (we’re kidding; they weren’t doing anything) to show you around campus and make you learn the Cougar fight song (which, by the way, you will be quizzed on in most of your first-semester classes). They have played fun “get-to-know-you” games, and they have promised to be your friends and guidance counselors to help you through your rocky first semester at BYU. You will never see these people again.

As you walk around campus, you may be concerned at first by how large BYU is, and how seemingly complicated it is to find your way from one building to another. Do not be alarmed, my friends. Due to the library construction, which is scheduled to be completed sometime in the late summer or early fall of the year 3281, by which time highly evolved monkeys will rule the Earth and will have either enslaved the humans or will be keeping them as pets — due to the construction, NO ONE can find their way around campus. Even the upperclassmen, many of whom have been students here for well over a decade, have trouble getting from one place to another.

Our best advice is, if you see a path that will lead you to the building you want to enter, take it. You will occasionally see signs saying, “Construction area; do not enter; $300 fine.” Do not heed these signs, for they are meant merely as jokes — quaint examples of the refined senses of humor possessed by all construction workers (all of whom smoke, by the way, so don’t be surprised). (We are just kidding, of course. About the signs, we mean, which you actually SHOULD obey. Not about the smoking, which is true.)

If you are living in Deseret Towers or Helaman Halls, it is important that you realize now that you will never accomplish anything of value in those buildings. You will make many friends, and have a great time singing loudly in the hallways at 3 a.m., and filling people’s rooms with crumpled-up newspaper, and throwing furniture off the roof, and playing computer games until your eyes require corrective surgery, but you will never get ANY studying done. The dorms are scientifically engineered to make studying impossible. As soon as you try it, one of your dorm-mates will come along and demand that you accompany him and a thousand others to Denny’s, where you will watch the freaks and weirdos and gasp in horror at all the people in Provo who are drinking coffee.

Which brings us to an important point: What is there to do in Provo? Some people would have you believe that Provo is boring, and that there is no fun to be had. Those people make us so mad that veins start to pop out of our forehead, and we have to go lie down for a while. There’s PLENTY to do in Provo. For example, there’s a lot of live community theater, which is occasionally not painful to watch. A bar called LeMar’s used to have female dancers who danced while only partially clothed, but the City of Provo recently made them stop. Still, the movie “Titanic,” in which the same sort of nudity is featured, played to sold-out Provo audiences for six months. (We do not seek to explain the motives of the people of Provo; we merely report them and, where appropriate, mock them.)

Speaking of movies, Provo also has a lot of movie theaters. These are places in which motion pictures — such as the ones you’ve seen advertised on television — are shown to members of the general public in exchange for money. There’s even a place called Movies 8, also known as “the dollar theater,” where movies cost — that’s right, you guessed it! — $1.50. Provo is full of movie theaters. Unfortunately, they are too far from campus to walk to, and you don’t have a car, so forget about it. Start crumpling up some newspaper, Sparky.

This appeared in a "special section" of The Daily Universe -- the Orientation Edition. (This is not to be confused with the New Student Orientation Edition, which was co-published by BYU itself, and which was mailed to all the incoming freshmen a month earlier, and which was pretty much the same thing as this edition.) It appeared Aug. 27, during orientation days, but before the semester officially started. I didn't plan on writing a column for this issue, but I was informed that I either had to write a column or real news story, so of course I took the easy way out.

There are plenty of jokes that you won't get if you don't go to BYU, but you'll have to get over it. I make a passing reference to Ricks College, which is sort of like BYU's younger brother: a two-year college, also owned by the LDS Church, in Rexburg, Idaho. Its name was changed to BYU-Idaho a few years after this column was written. It is often regarded as just a continuation of high school, and it is the subject of much mocking; I am not the first to enter that arena.

Two things about this column were different when it was published in the paper. First of all, the part about highly evolved monkeys taking over the Earth was removed. There were some who felt that because this notion is so contrary to the religious beliefs of nearly everyone in the reading audience, the readers would stop and say, "Wait, that's not ever gonna happen," and it would totally throw them off. I maintained that 1) I had no intention of calling to mind any doctrinal issues, that the monkey statement was just meant to be absurd and silly, and 2) even if it IS a doctrinal thing, that's exactly the point -- it WON'T ever happen, and it IS contrary to what we believe, and so therefore it's funny. Certain people didn't see it that way, and in fact, I was encouraged to put some kind of Mormon joke in there instead -- something like, "...by which time the Millennium will be half-way over anyway." I refused on the grounds that such a joke would be cheap and easy, as if to say, "Hey, I made a joke only Mormons will get! And you're all Mormons! Isn't it funny? I'm one of you!" So I took out the joke altogether.

The other change is the parenthetical comments after the bit about ignoring the "$300 fine" construction signs. I originally just left it at that, encouraging people to ignore those signs. It was feared that someone would take me seriously -- calling the column "Snide Remarks" and having it chock-full of jokes wouldn't be enough to convince the average freshman that I was kidding, apparently -- and they would actually ignore those signs. So I added the "just kidding" part.

I received an angry letter a day after this was printed. The subject of the e-mail was: "Don't you have anything better to write about? You Weenie!" The e-mail read as follows:

We recently read your column of August 27, 1998, in which you slammed the construction workers here on campus. The signs of which you refer to ($300 dollar fine for trespassing) are meant as you stated to deter traffic from construction areas. It has been our pleasure to see the education at BYU however good it is, still has not taught such fundamentals as reading. Many trousers and other articles of clothing, not to mention skin, have been torn while trying to go over the fences with such visible and readable signs on them. After releasing themselves from the fence, the angry person displays their wrath because we placed a fence where they used to walk. All of this occurring as construction workers with cigarettes stand idly by enjoying the humor created by these people (correct me if I'm wrong, if someone wants to smoke it's their own business).

I personally did not know that whining and complaining was a course taught here at BYU, but it appears to be exceptionally well taught. Remember we are all inconvenienced. Maybe your time would be better used writing positive articles and gosh, wouldn't it be nice for some construction workers all over the campus to get a pat on the back for trying to create a more pleasant and user friendly campus.

Thank you very much,
Construction workers everywhere

p.s. We would appreciate a public apology for the remarks made in your column pertaining to the construction workers here on campus.

There was no chance of this being a joke, because the return address on the e-mail, as well as the "Organization" line, indicated it came from Gramoll Construction Company -- the company doing most of the work on BYU campus.

My question is, Who read my column to them?

A few days later, I got this e-mail, on a different topic. The writer was upset about my comments on Y Groups, and guess what? He was a Y-Group leader himself! (When you read these comments and reactions, be prepared for such shocks.) The writer actually sent his letter to a friend of his, who he knew was also a friend of mine. He included a P.S. indicating that his friend could go ahead and forward the message to me (I don't know why he didn't just send it to me in the first place). Here it is:

I resent Eric's coments about Y-Groups and their Leaders. I for one know that many of the freshman have already talked to or seen their leaders since last weekend. I also know that many of the groups already have plans to meet together later on this month and during the semester. Eric failed to state anything about how much time and effort is and was put into New Student Orientation (NSO). Its hard to come by 250 upperclassmen that are willing to sacrifice a week and a half right before school starts. Many of us didnt have our textbooks or schedules figured out monday. Nobody including Eric or anyone else who wasnt a Y-Group leader this year even come close to comprehending or understanding the time and effort that went into three short days, and what we sacrificed or the way we made the freshman feel, and the true difference we have made for their BYU Experience. If what Eric said was true, a majority of us Y-Group leaders would never have done this, since it was our [Y-Group] leaders that made us want to be involved.

I know that Eric jokes a lot in his columns, but the freshman don't. Whether these comments were meant as a joke or not, I don't even know, so how do you expect that, that makes them feel about it.

I've noticed the phrase "I don't know if this was meant as a joke or not," or words to that effect, coming up frequently in the angry letters I get. And I think the fact that the writers don't know the answer to that one key question is one of the basic problems with their letters. Because in every single instance that they have indicated "not knowing" if something was a joke, it always HAS been a joke. It is a humor column, after all. I do tell jokes.