“The Nummit Hello”: A study in social awkwardness

Entrance Interaction: A critical diagram Drawing by Henry Stockwell (Again, folks, we’re all of us just really sorry about all this.)

FROM the EDITOR— In an unprecedented breach of editorial objectivity, I feel a certain responsibility to explain the content of this week’s Living Davidson. Yr. humble editor assigned yr. (less-than-humble) correspondent to attend Warner Hall House Formal—WaHaHoFo, to the initiated—to write a piece of gonzo-style investigative journalism on the experience of the Eating House Formal. But, alas, yr. correspondent neglected his assignment: I found him gorging himself on tortilla chips at Carburritos at precisely the hour I expected he would be on the bus. The following—an earnest expression of yr. correspondent’s budding interest in Anthropology—is presented as humble penance for this lapse. (And also I’m sorry.) —­­Lucas Weals

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By: Henry Stockwell ’19

Amateur Anthropologist

 

“We are therefore dealing with a real Human Comedy, where the most socially-inspired nuances of passion (conceit, rightfulness, refined cruely, a sense of ‘paying one’s debts’) always felicitously find the clearest sign which can receive them, express them, and triumphantly carry them to the confines of the hall.”
—Roland Barthes, Mythologies, “The World of Wrestling”
The act of entering Summit Outpost—or “Nummit”—is a spectacle of the social order. The door is a curtain, and the threshold, a stage. Who enters? Anyone aspiring to heightened caffeination. Or those psychopaths aspiring to decaffeination. Perhaps even those aspiring to muffination, and so forth.
Let’s begin this conclusive and definitive compendium by briefly defining some of the terms and exponents of what we will call the Entrance Interaction.
Entrance Interaction: the whole thing, starting from when the Enterer enters Nummit, concluding when both the Enterer and the Drinker have each left Nummit, at that point becoming the Leavers. Enterer: one who gets there second, who opens the door, who presents him- / herself to the Nummit world like a spotlit opera singer. Drinker: one who is already there, who has annexed space in Nummit, who, among other things, may be drinking liquid of various kinds. Potential Drinker: one considering entering Nummit. (Note that in this construction, the Potential Drinker must first become the Enterer before achieving status of Drinker, and that this continuum is hierarchical.) Leaver: one who leaves Nummit for any number of reasons, which we will interrogate. It is important here not to confuse the physical act of leaving with the possibility of relieving oneself of the far-reaching dynamics of the Entrance Interaction—there is no possibility.
The Entrance Interaction, and all the turns it may take, hinges on the Potential Drinker. Specifically, it hinges on how badly the Potential Drinker wants to be inside of Nummit. Some may say: Nummit is perfectly pleasant—why wouldn’t one want to be inside it? Answer: this world is not as it seems. As we will unpack in our definitive compendium, by opening the door to Nummit, one exposes oneself to myriad foreseen and unforeseen social dynamics, ultimately having far-reaching implications for our campus, the world at large, and, doubtless, humanity itself. But the veiled nature of the Entrance Interaction renders the Potential Drinker an innocent, naïve to the power that walks hand-in-hand with their desire to enter. Had all Potential Drinkers considered the matrix of dynamics contingent on their entering, perhaps fewer feet would cross the hallowed boards of the threshold.
However ignorant of the sheer amount of potential social energy they hold, let our Potential Drinker decide to enter Nummit—curtain pulled, lights up. With a flourish of the baton, the conductor cues his orchestra. The Potential Drinker becomes the Enterer. The Enterer’s first decision is paramount: eyes down and straight to the register, or eyes up and wandering the room like some sort of rogue Sauron. The former indicates a weariness of the behavioral Pandora’s box that eye contact could open; the latter indicates either an ignorance of it, an indifference toward it, or a desire for it.
But the inciting event of the Entrance Interaction is eye contact. When eye contact between the Enterer and the Drinker occurs, does the Enterer cower in the leveling gaze of the Drinker? Has there ever been an Entrance Interaction where the gaze of the Drinker was so overwhelming that the Enterer just turned around and left Nummit immediately? Or is a particularly charismatic Enterer able to subvert the Potential Drinker-Enterer hierarchy and perhaps prompt the Drinker to abandon their post?
We must also consider the role of sound of the Entrance Interaction. Those headphone-less Drinkers hear the noise of the door: a mighty creak, a clearing of the throat. “Behold me,” the door says, and the headphone-less Drinker obeys. This organic, sound-prompted call and response follows logic; the more fascinating creation of eye contact between Enterer and Drinker occurs when the Drinker is wearing headphones. We’re familiar with the psychological phenomenon of having a premonition that “someone is watching you.” Is it possible that the Drinker could have a similar premonition about the presence of the Enterer without a concrete prompting via the senses? Could there be a mysticism at work here?
Once eye contact has been made, it comes time for action: to greet or not to greet. Is greeting obligatory if eye contact is made? Does that hinge on the relationship between the Enterer and the Drinker? Those who push back on greeting as obligation fall into the Larry David school of the Nummit Hello. In the Larry David school, greeting is never obligation, regardless of both the presence of eye contact and the relationship between the Enterer and the Drinker. These thinkers would qualify the Nummit Hello as a “stop and chat”—a waste of time. Others might push back here—does the cultivation of a healthy campus community fundamentally rely on seemingly minor niceties, like the Nummit Hello?
And how much of a window does one have to execute the Nummit Hello? Let’s say the Drinker makes eye contact with the Enterer, and both of the parties know each other, but choose not to greet one another in any way. In the aftermath of the eye contact, minutes or even hours after the entering, does either party then decide at some point to initiate some kind of exchange of greetings? Is such an exchange rendered significantly more awkward by the mutual, unspoken knowledge that each party has already chosen once to forego the exchanging of pleasantries—like in a war in the old days when the terms of surrender grew less attractive each time the losing side refused them?
And what if, later that day in another campus locale, one sees someone with whom they previously engaged in the Entrance Interaction? Does one bring up the Entrance Interaction? If yes, one runs the risking of appearing as some sort of Westworld robot-sociopath who writes down their daily interactions like an accountant on cocaine auditing alphabet soup. If no, one runs the risk of appearing as aloof and indifferent to, or even ignorant of, social interactions generally.
To conclude this conclusive, academic compendium—the Entrance Interaction butterflies outwards in time and space. What should be one second spent standing in a doorway balloons into minutes or hours, if, like me, you consider, reconsider, and re-reconsider how you might have played the Entrance Interaction differently.
What’s the answer? How might we solve the tailspin of awkwardness stemming from eye contact made in the shining threshold of Summit Outpost? For this Amateur Anthropologist, the answer is: we do not. There is no perfect way to enter Summit Outpost. We cannot hope to end the awkwardness of the Entrance Interaction; we may only hope to contain it.
Henry Stockwell ‘19 is an English major from Virginia Beach, VA. He can be reached for comment or complaint at hestockwell@davidson.edu. (We’re very serious about the “complaint” option, here. Just please make sure you send them to Henry, not me.)

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