Over in the business end of New South, the lights have been on a little later than usual these last few days.

It has nothing to do with the action outside the windows, where mile-long steel poles are blasting into the ground. The employees at the Office of Housing and Conference Services aren’t hanging around for late-night snacks in the cafeteria, either.

They’re getting ready to carry out the single worst sweepstakes this side of Ed McMahon, a contest with odds that make the roulette wheel in a Las Vegas casino look like the Plinko board on the Price is Right.

It’s the housing lottery and there’s only one rule: You lose.

One calendar put out by the housing office lists the deadlines involved in the housing selection process, and with each deadline comes another chance to lose.

I have lost, or plan to lose, at almost each step of the way, and I hear voices. They’re planning my execution, sort of like the biker gang in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. “I say we stomp him (`yeah!’), then we tattoo him (`yeah!’), THEN we hang him (`yeah!’) AND THEN we kill him! (`yeah!’)” they say, and I get the feeling that the housing mafia wouldn’t give me a last dance even if it had “Tequila” on its jukebox.

Musical matters aside, it’s hard to blame the folks in the housing office. Much of the trouble is not of their making, and they surely do their best to ensure that the whole housing process is as fair as it can be.

There have been some problems, though. Like last year’s preference lottery, which left a bunch of sophomores, including myself, without housing or time to find any on our own.

That’s how I ended up in a behemoth of an apartment building on Wisconsin Avenue, one of the “houses” that dot the street between the National Cathedral and the Grog and Tankard.

I’ve taken some abuse from my friends over my residential situation at Carillon House – they find it particularly funny that I live next door to the Russian Embassy and within walking distance of two gentlemen’s clubs, a sushi house and a restaurant that specializes in asparagus.

It’s nice, really. I’m just a five-minute bike ride from campus and have developed a wide repertoire of Carillon House jokes that play into the common misconceptions about my housing arrangement. (Many people think it is very funny when I tell them about my plans to run for elected office in Bethesda, Md., and others think it is funny when I talk about tomorrow’s weather as if I had experienced it on the bike ride to campus.)

But getting kicked off campus is only one way to lose the preference lottery – a bunch of my friends became automatic losers when they forgot to enter it in the first place.

So let’s say you enter and win the preference lottery; that is to say you don’t lose it. Congratulations, now begin forming a group, a most divisive and painful process for anyone who does not choose friends in groups of fours. Not just friends, but friends with whom you would enjoy living. That means the girl who takes long showers three times a day and the guy who watches acGyver reruns all day may have sensational personal hygiene, fine taste in television programming and be very nice people – but they might not be the best roommates.

OK, group’s formed (you might be down to four friends by this point) and boy are you lucky! You have pick No. 245 out of three trillion, so start making a list of the 245 places you would most like to live. After my freshman year, my friends and I went around with a clipboard, a radon detector and a carpenter’s square in order to determine where we ought to live. We assigned every apartment a rating, based on a formula too complicated to fully explain here.

The next year, you show up at your apartment or dorm, thankful that you have a place to live but disappointed about the large hole in the living room wall. In fact, for a brief moment you aren’t sure if the last resident, apparently a monsoon, has vacated.

The irony of it all, not to sound like a third-grade bully, is this question: What are you going to do about it?

Are you going to pick your friends (like your furniture) based on livability? Are you going to buy a rabbit’s foot and some interior paint? Are you going to build a new dorm?

I know I’m getting the carpenter’s square out of the attic and hitting the street. I need a backup plan for when my third year of guaranteed on-campus housing falls through.

I hear there’s a spot on 30th Street recently vacated by bon vivant extraordinaire Pierre Salinger. Seems that the former John F. Kennedy aide was so frustrated with George W. Bush’s election that he packed his bags and moved to France.

That’s it. I’m going to Yale.

Tim Haggerty is a junior in the college and editor in chief of The Hoya.

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