Red plopped on the faded couch and lit his first joint of the day. It was 1 p.m. Others joined him. Despite the warm weather, Red wore a rainbow knit cap that bulged with the effort to contain his dreadlocks. When he pulled the cap off his Rasta-style braids spilled out like a tangle of cinnamon snakes.
Red wasn’t his given name but it had followed him from birth when he came out of the womb with his unmistakably vibrant scalp. Later, the name gelled nicely with his flavor of politics. He was a product of Buckley and Exeter, educational bona fides unsurpassed in the eyes of the eastern establishment. That Red was a product of that establishment, with a rich grandfather and a trust fund of considerable heft, was something he had dedicated himself to living down, at least outwardly. He loved walking into his grandfather’s Park Avenue offices, dreadlocks screaming defiance as he strolled by all the work-slaves.
But the truth was, having the money freed him from having to make any himself, from being a cog in someone else’s corporate machine. No one was going to exploit Red Wheeler. This rationalization gave him comfort.
Red was one of those people who just always seemed to be around. Every university had a few; inhabitants who found creative ways to extend their collegiate experience far beyond the usual boundaries. Red was in his seventh year, having found Devon much to his liking. He’d been a handful of philosophy credits shy of graduating for some time, a process he managed with care. Technically, he wasn’t enrolled at the moment at all and lived off campus.
Being at Devon relieved Red of any responsibility, from having to figure out what The Plan was. His family was big on planning. Red, not so much. He liked things one day at a time. The pursuit of progressive causes conferred a needed sense of purpose and also acted as a shield of sorts. When you’re saving the world, no one should be on your case about a goddamn plan. Better yet, progressivism came with its own pre-packaged lifestyle of clothes and rallies and pleasing pharmaceuticals. It was a lifestyle Red fully embraced.
The others usually deferred to Red, as he was older and had seen his share of The Struggle, drifting seamlessly between causes - G7 Summits, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, Antifa…he was universally acknowledged to be “woke.” When Trump was elected, he rallied four hundred students into the middle of the East Quad for a primal scream at 3 a.m. It got over 200,000 views on YouTube. He really made his name as a sophomore, when he led a student movement to force the endowment to divest from fossil fuel companies. Borrowing from the eighties playbook when Devon anti-partied demonstrators constructed a shantytown, he rallied students to build a “zero net energy village” right in Bingham Plaza. Consisting mostly of unsightly yurts, slapdash lean-tos, and other tent-like structures, it prompted Milton Strauss to announce over a billion dollars of divestment. Red was quoted in The New York Times.
There were always rumors around Red after that, talk of some hacking, maybe even with Anonymous, the infamous hacker collective known for wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Red did little to dispel these rumors, keeping a Fawkes mask lying casually around his apartment. The truth was he never got any further than Comp Sci 101 way back in freshman year.