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J-Mac is still the place to find wild and wacky dorm rooms

First-year students Lauren Brooks and Agila Zafar have transformed their dorm room into a Polynesian paradise complete with tropical bedding, colorful Japanese lamps and inflatable plastic fish. Photo: Michael Richmond

With a South Pacific theme in mind, first-year students Lauren Brooks and Agila Zafar have transformed their dorm room: Visitors to their first-floor Johnson McFarlane (J-Mac) room get the feeling they’ve booked passage on a cheap Polynesian cruise ship complete with tropical bedding, colorful Japanese lamps and inflatable plastic fish.

“In order to complete the look, we tried to order grass skirts, but they were out of stock,” Zafar jokes.

Brooks and Zafar aren’t alone. J-Mac rooms are anything but cookie-cutter, each reflecting the personality, style and worldview of its residents.

Built in the ’50s, J-Mac was one of the first co-educational residence halls in the United States. At the time, Johnson Hall housed men and MacFarlane housed women. Today, women and men live in alternating rooms on the same floors. What hasn’t changed is J-Mac’s reputation for being a little kooky and a lot cool.

Tom Williams, director of the Phipps Memorial Conference Center, served as J-Mac’s director from 1972-77. “One memory that stands out is the gun cabinet at the reception desk,” he chuckles. “Since guns were not allowed in the rooms, students checked their guns in and signed them out as needed.”

Although it is no longer in use, the gun cabinet remains and now stores office supplies instead of ammo. Thirty years later, “Guns” remains scribbled on the outside of the cabinet in magic marker.

Dorm-room d├ęcor has morphed along with the decades. Lava lamps and beanbag chairs have given way to bamboo “friendship plants” and media centers (including large color TVs, PlayStations and DVD players). Each room comes furnished with two beds, two dressers and two desks as well as a refrigerator, microwave and safe. Students drag in everything else.

Inspired by the pad of “Friends” characters Chandler and Joey, the New York-style third-floor room of first-years Ben Brotzman and Matt Lindh features two overstuffed recliners set behind a 4-foot coffee table, a large TV and a complete sound system. “We just wanted a comfortable place to sit and watch movies, so we went to the ARC thrift store and picked up the chairs,” Brotzman says. “People stop in to see our room all the time.”

Although rare, the infamous messy rooms do exist, complete with aging pizza slices, discarded potato chip bags and dirty clothes. One first-year female resides in a landfill of dirty laundry, cleaning supplies (strategically placed by her parents?) snack wrappers and stuffed animals. “You’re not going to use my name are you?” she asks through a crack in the door.

The one item J-Mac residents cannot live without? A laptop. TVs are a close second, followed by skis, snowboards and take-out Chinese food.

While not essential decor, posters are certainly de rigueur. While some feature new music idols and movies stars, many posters favored by today’s students reflect old-school sensibilities — from Muhammad Ali to John Belushi’s timeless Animal House pose.

You can also find the usual amount of beer memorabilia on tap — including beer lights and bar signs. Yellow police tape and illegal-parking signs lend an air of lawlessness to some rooms, while others demonstrate a Mardi Gras-like flair. One standout features an inflatable plastic moose head on the wall, decorated with what appear to be women’s undergarments.

Some things never change.

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