A retrospective on a piece of investigative journalism analyzing the hottest youth trend in the world.
The first time I ever heard of “The Window Game”, it left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. In fact, the only reason I can even put a mental pin on the exact time and place in the scatterbrained investigators corkboard that is long-term memory is due to the exceptional circumstances surrounding that particular time in my arrested “adolescence”, and even more so that particular moment – one of the rare moments in my life that is preserved in my subconscious in near film-like detail due to the impact it would eventually have on me.
It happened during the seventh and final year of my four year education in journalism and communications. My (clearly) strained relationship with academia only managed to labor on that long because I was capable of skating by (albeit at a snail’s pace) using the only real assets I ever had as a creative or person – natural charm, and an affinity for the bizarre. In the seven years that I spent frequenting all of the famous creative haunts of the Waindell School of the Written Arts, not one late night impression of an Edward Hopper masterpiece at one of the school’s countless absinthe “speakeasies” or Russian-style tea rooms ever managed to stir up anything more in me than considerably less than the bare minimum. Even now, over a decade removed from my coquettish relationship with higher education, the not-so-subtle exasperation in my academic advisor and dear friend’s Professor Askarova’s voice that morning lingers in my memory as clear as this afternoon’s lunch (A simple ham and swiss sandwich on sourdough). It was during one of my patented “Breakfast Dates” with Professor Askarova that the phrase “Window Game” first revealed itself to me. That particular breakfast date began like any other – Annika (the professor’s given name) met me for a turkey and pimento omelet with medium marble rye toast and strawberry jam at the local Courier Café to discuss the status of my graduation piece.
Waindell was not a traditional journalism school, you see. The private university, tucked away far from the well-worn path in an often ignored cove in Massachusetts and joined at the hip with a destitute crabber’s village, only dealt with the written arts – literature, essays, investigative reporting, satire, editorial reviews, opinion pieces, etcetera. The application process leaned just as liberally as the university itself. In lieu of a judgement on previous academic achievement and success, anyone applying to Waindell was required to submit an “Application Piece” in one’s desired discipline of study. Annika once told me that my admission piece, a gonzo account of one month I spent living undercover as a member of a new age cult slash street gang that worshipped mirth and believed in ascension through “innocent japery”, as the single greatest piece of reporting that ever graced the worn oaken desks of the Waindell Journalism Department’s admissions committee. As delightful as this compliment was to receive, Professor Askarova’s candid anecdote about my talent began to include the passive-aggressive caveat that the quality of my admissions piece combined with my habitual “underperformance” (her words, not mine) was beginning to shake the traditional Waindell Method of not considering prior grades as part of the admissions process sometime during the fifth year of my four year program.
The breakfast date tradition began the very first time Annika requested to meet with me one-on-one to discuss the current status of my graduation piece, during my third year. The graduation piece concept was one of Waindell’s most alluring features to potential students. Instead of packing silent lecture halls with students answering standardized questions in essay form during a series of traditional final exams, one’s success at Waindell hinged entirely on a single piece in the author’s chosen discipline of study, demonstrating all of the combined skills they picked up while studying at the school. Part of this process, of course, was the time-tested literary ritual of submitting a series of drafts to your hand selected academic advisor to receive notes and guidance. Standard academic procedure dictated that by the beginning of a student’s third year of study, they would have submitted no fewer than six drafts of their graduation piece. The first time I informed Annika that a “prior professional engagement” (in this case, code for “a bender”) would prevent me from attending a conversation about my grad piece during her normal office hours and that I would be happy to buy her a breakfast to talk over instead, it was halfway through my third winter at Waindell, and I not shown anymore more than a single sentence to anyone of the proof of concept for the piece of reporting that would determine whether or not my education was a complete waste of my rather limited time and money.
These breakfasts played to my knack for charm far more than any office hours ever could. Years after the fact, Annika confided in me that she had every intention of informing me that I was dangerously close to being thrown out of school during that first meeting over an omelet. However, by the end of that encounter, the entire discussion took the shape of the kind of intimately complicated small talk that could only ever occur between two women like ourselves, with blatant ulterior motives. When we finally parted ways, two hours after sitting down together and a good seventy-five minutes after the time we both agreed our breakfast would end, the only progress made in any regard was the scheduling of another such breakfast exactly one week later. It was nearly four years removed from this initial rendezvous that I would first hear of the Window Game.
The conversational tone of our breakfasts varied in extremes from week to week, taking on the characteristics of every type of encounter on a spectrum that began at “two professionals meeting to discuss terse and unpleasant business” one on end and ended at “childhood best friends catching up after the lives they lived independently of each other for years caused them to become strangers that they could still glean a unique and wistful type of comfort from” on the other. This particular morning was different in that was the first time in nearly four years of weekly breakfasts that Annika decided to hold me accountable for my failings, academic or otherwise. Even ten years removed from this conversation, the unfamiliar cold indifference in her voice that morning lives as fresh and vivid in my mind as me overhearing the conversation in the booth next to our usual two-seater while I pushed my untouched eggs around my plate with a fork and the professor responsible for the persistence in my attempt at higher education informed me that there was no longer any feasible thing she could tell the board to convince them to allow me to continue my studies at Waindell without at LEAST submitting an officially declared subject that my graduation piece would focus on. In retrospect, I suppose she had every reason to be frustrated. At the time, it felt vicious and personal, and the only salve was focusing on the two freshmen dining beside us, discussing an apparent new fad called “The Window Game” in the same excited, hushed manner a team of long-struggling research chemists may talk about the first signs of a potential breakthrough after years of fruitless effort.
In the twilight hours of that very same day, I tore myself away from a bottle long enough to inform Annika that my eventual final offering would be a no-holds-barred investigative report on the “polarizing and dangerous” new trend gripping the hearts and minds of the modern young adult all over the world – The Window Game.
(Part 2 Preview: An Interview with “Jonny Meats”, and the rules of the Window Game)