Dance Floor out of Nothing
Crushed by the requirements of her athletic scholarship and seduced by the different world of Occupy, Sarah Rupp dropped out of UC Davis and moved to Oakland.
When I was 17, I committed to playing lacrosse at UC Davis. I’m from Virginia and had never even seen the Pacific Ocean. What I knew of California was gathered piecemeal from watching every episode of the O.C. until the day they jumped the shark and killed Marissa – the tragedy of my eighth grade. I had decided between the University of Delaware and Davis one morning while eating waffles at my parents’ house in Blind River, Ontario. But I went with Davis, because of California’s sunshine and supposed political radicalism and really because I just wanted out of my small Catholic high school where classmates sometimes hung roadkill in the outstretched arms of statue saints. I was talented and fast but only five feet tall and too broke for the Ivies, which can’t provide athletic scholarships. So, Davis.
I went out there with my parents and it was my first time west of Ohio. We stayed in this shitty little trailer park in Half Moon Bay the first night I got there. All night the fog horn at the lighthouse went off, and I remember being surprised by how cold the beach was and how scraggly and alien the trees looked to me, how the restaurant had soft serve with olive oil on top, how I was too depressed to be excited about moving but had the tingling sensation in my head that comes when you are about to face the unknown or when you think too hard about outer space.
Davis is a small college town near Sacramento. Lacrosse is a spring sport, but the NCAA is a racket and allows off-season practicing and scrimmaging called Fall Ball that should definitely be banned. It basically means athletes are always on the clock and are never allowed to just be students. Our first practice was two days after I had flown into California in August. It was the crack of dawn and the zero-humidity desert heat was already ungodly. We were told to meet at the track to run our fitness test. Our coaches didn’t even greet us. Girls on my team pissed themselves running.
Lacrosse was horrible physically and socially. That first week we had a form of hazing, uncreatively called Date Rush where we were expected to find a male athlete within six hours to take with us to a party at the lacrosse house. It was like a sorority. We had a schedule where we had to wear a different practice uniform every day and if we showed up wearing the wrong shorts we would have to run punishment sprints. The same was true if we came late or hungover. Every few months, we had to go into a room where male scientists would measure our body fat with wrench-like devices. Then our coaches would put our body fat findings in the gym, visible to all.
I started cracking under the pressure pretty quickly, and other freshmen did, too. We would wake up in panic at three in the morning, afraid that we had slept through practice. This became so regular that I started having sleep deprivation hallucinations. While watching the sunrise at practice I would look over into the stands and point out a pack of foxes scattered about, watching me, but I was the only one seeing the foxes. I started imagining biking into the freeway or drowning myself in my dorm’s swimming pool. I got sent to a sports psychologist who wanted me to work on meditation but who also put me on off-brand SSRIs and sleeping pills, which Davis footed the bill for. The school also paid for an operation on my knee, which was diagnosed and then cut open within a freaky 48 hours. While recovering, I still had to sit through practice and weightlifting four hours a day – while also going to rehab so that I would be able to run again come spring.
I started failing out of my Severe and Unusual Weather class, a class literally about clouds and rainbows. My professor was a pistachio farmer who felt so bad me for looking so physically and mentally wretched that he let me retake my midterm twice. I started my first neurotic lesbian relationship which I hid from almost everyone on my team because, you know, “locker room awkwardness” or whatever bullshit I had internalized.
I could walk again by Halloween and ended up getting drunk every night for a week. One party that stands out involves me dressed as Babe Lincoln in a white button down shirt left unbuttoned to expose black lingerie. I also wore a black top hat and black beard. I drank a fifth of raspberry vodka mixed with diet coke. Immediately a blonde fifth year senior on the water polo team zeroed in on me at the party and invited me home with him. I was too drunk to walk the four blocks to his house and so he called us a cab. He smoked me out and then we fucked and I remember thinking the entire time, this is awful this is awful this is awful, I must be gay. I woke up in the morning, threw up in his bathroom, and walked back to my dorm in the shirt.
This all happened by November, and then that famous pepper spray incident happened, in which a cop named Pike attacked seated students with a military-grade weapon. Occupy Davis took off that night, and I went out and walked around the tents until someone was nice enough to talk to me. I ended up staying, kind of awkwardly, and started living out of a tent. I would wake up in the morning, put on my designated practice uniform, unzip my tent, shake my fist at the rising sun, and limp over to the stadium for practice. At night I would walk back and drink as much as possible with the co-op inhabitants. Twice I sleepwalked and was found curled up outside under some trees. Eventually one of the hippies who lived in an eco-friendly geodesic dome harassed me online for being bisexual and I stopped hanging out with them. Instead, I tried to attach myself to the cooler older guard of communist professors and grad students. I met my good friend Evan outside of a blockaded bank.
He wrote to me four years later about that time when we met and he said that I “was a NCAA lacrosse player who’d flipped and found our picture of things more acceptable. As a fellow traitor, this made [him] very excited,” and that “if the haute left radicalism of our slogans and arguments have moved someone like this, political reality must be closer than ever to our collective/personal nightmares.” I’m thankful because if that hadn’t happened, I could be organic farming right now. I moved my tent from the outside quad area to inside the occupied administration building, and later into the occupied cultural center. I started reading Marx and, like a cliché, cut all my hair off. For Christmas one of my teammates gave me a pink Disney princess tent to sleep in.
I got arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer and allegedly resisting arrest at a protest. My coach had to bail me out. It was right before season started. Then we had to travel to the East Coast and I was starting on the defensive line in all the games. Our season ended with us losing to a team who had never won a game. It was over a hundred degrees on the turf and our coach wouldn’t let us stand in front of the fan because she said it was distracting.
Sometime after this, I went to Oakland for the first time. I met a boy at a party named Brian who pushed a sound system during all the marches for Occupy Oakland. He invited me to stay with him and on our first date we had sex by Mac Dre’s grave in Mountain View Cemetery. After we were done it got dark and because he’s afraid of ghosts we ran through the graves towards a gate. I fell down a flight of stairs onto my bad knees and busted them open. He carried me into a boba shop and wiped the blood off me with napkins. He had a serious partner so we went back to his mother’s house. I was only supposed to stay the night, but ended up staying an entire week. His partner broke up with him for unrelated reasons and so then it was just us.
He wanted me to drop out. He had been kicked out of a UC and banned from the campus of another. He had me read things like “Communiqué From An Absent Future,” which refers to college as “a reading room in a prison,” and The Coming Insurrection. I told my Davis friends that I was dropping out to move into a squat in Oakland with Brian. They were dubious and rightfully so. I didn’t even bother going to the finals of my advanced theory classes.
The Oakland squat we wanted to move into needed help building a floor and so he dragged me along to work on it. I had never so much as wielded a hammer, but there I stood, waist deep in the foundations of a former electronics store, ripping up floorboards, inhaling god knows what awful powdery shit fabricates buildings. Human dust, dead-thing dust, cancer dust. The point (as always) was to make a dance floor out of nothing. We ran out of wood and around the time we got to building the bar, we had to start improvising. We ripped apart all the pallets we had but decided we needed more. So me, Brian, and an older, definitely drunk woman got into a van and drove to Target.
Target keeps all of its pallets in its back parking lot. The drunk woman directed us there, through the creepy, sprawling mall that is Emeryville. We stopped the van and looked out at the completely unguarded pallets and rushed to help ourselves to the bounty. Two thirds were plastic, one sixth were broken, but the other wooden ones we threw into the van. As we were loading them up, a Target employee came out, made eye contact with us, shook his head, and went back inside. Feeling that this was it, that we were going to go to jail again as pallet thieves, we jumped back into the car. Only problem was, the car didn’t start. The battery of this ancient, crusty van full of stolen kindle had given up on us.
Immediately, the drunk woman bolted out of the car, 40 in hand, and left us for places unknown. We placed pleading calls to friends and were promised jumper cables – within the hour. We decided it was probably best to leave the disgusting dead-to-us car and kill the time in Target. We had $2 between us and were hungry after a day of haphazardly sawing things and inhaling particulate matter. The only thing we could afford to feed both of ourselves were two hotdogs. It was my first hotdog and it was the best hotdog. I had been a vegetarian for a decade until that moment. We got the car started up, drove back to the squat, and I ate hotdogs every day for a few weeks. I haven’t even considered being a vegetarian since.
I had to fly back to Canada to visit my parents and break the news to them about quitting college and falling in love with this cute boy who had been arrested 13 times. I flew into a small airport in Toronto to catch a bush plane North to Sudbury. Instead of making it to my flight, I was deported. The agents took my passport and tried to interrogate me. I was wearing pink Victoria’s Secret sweatpants (that were kind of cool then) when they escorted me back through security with armed guards. To get me off the island, they said I could choose a flight to anywhere in America. I picked Oakland.
Brian and I ended up moving in together to the third floor apartment in a mall in Oakland’s Chinatown. I got a job selling cupcakes. Occupy was definitely over but the huge sound system lurked still and unused in the corner of our living room. The three of us stayed there for three years.