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[guest post] The Random Hall Milk: Gone But Not Forgotten by Alice L. '24

an obitu-dairy for Pecker's oldest resident

This is a guest post by Sara M. ’24, our lovely dorm VP, who did a better job eulogizing the Milk than I ever could. If you’re a milk-enjoyer, please take a moment to think of our beloved Milk as you drink your own Milk in the bottom of your cereal bowl, mug, or biohazard bin.

The annual return to Random Hall began slowly. First came those who lived in MIT housing over the summer, trickling in from EC and MacGregor on August 13th. Then came the Friendly Neighborhood Upperclassmen: the peer mentors, the desk workers, the government, and the like. Last but not least of the early returns, the backbone of society: the REX volunteers. 


The first frosh arrived on August 19th. The last upperclassmen trickled in on September 6th, the day before classes began. 


This is the first fall in three years that the reopening could be considered even remotely normal. Random Hall, for another year, was back in its full music-blasting and food-producing chaotic swing of things. We were – we are – so happy to be back home. 


But all is not well. We hadn’t been in the dorm for more than a week before we began to notice that some crucial items had gone missing over the summer. Half of Foo’s murals were painted over in Institute white. Black Hole’s Goldberg-like light switch is missing. Ninety percent of the entire dorm’s baking pans are gone. 


Most distressingly: no one could find the Milk. 

For those of you who may be unaware, allow me to provide a brief backstory. Before the Milk was a name and cultural presence on the east side, it was merely a carton of milk, brought home from the store by a lactose-intolerant Bonfire resident eager to make mac and cheese. In a tale familiar to us all, the Randomite had forgotten to purchase the mac and cheese mix itself. Thus, the milk sat. In the fridge. For months, long past its October 20, 1994 expiration date. No one else used it, as they hadn’t purchased it. The purchaser didn’t use it, as they were lactose intolerant and didn’t recall having any reason to own milk. 


Whether by chance or on purpose, the Milk was never consumed, nor was it tossed out. (A too-fitting physical representation of the busyness of life as an MIT undergrad, I believe.) The Milk became a staple good – not of someone’s forgone mac and cheese, but of Random Hall. 


Eventually, the Milk began to stink. It gained a secondary container, and a warning label. At some point it migrated from Bonfire to Pecker, where it remained for the rest of its days. Legend tells of a phase in the Milk’s decomposition journey when it required periodic burping – that is, opening the container on the roofdeck for unseemly gases to escape, ideally without them escaping into the unlucky burp-ee’s face. The Milk had been stable for the past several years, residing in a cabinet or on top of a fridge, looking down on us all with judgement, and, I hope, affection. 


Several Admissions blogs and a handful of third-party articles have featured the Milk, most describing the strange object with a wonder several generations of Randomites have come to share. In 2014, the Milk turned 20 and applied to MIT, but was regrettably denied admission to the school whose dorms it had lived in its whole life. In 2017, the Milk turned 23, reaching the milestone of having lived in the dorm longer than nearly every undergrad had been alive. 


Last year, on October 20, 2021, we sang the Milk its birthday dirge. We reminisced about the origin of the Milk, telling stories passed down over the years. Someone mentioned that, save the GRAs and Heads of House, the Milk was five or so years older than all current Randomites. The Milk sat on the middle of the Pecker kitchen tables, photographed and praised all night long, before returning to its over-sink residence. 


Little did we know, that would be the last time we had the honor of celebrating the Milk’s expiration date. 

The fall 2022 search for the Milk began accidentally. The residents of Pecker, freshly off planes and trains and automobiles, unpacked their bins of spices and unholy amounts of flour, steering the kitchen back into the familiar beautiful disarray that had been corrected over the summer. In doing so, one Peckerite must have opened the doors to the stout cabinet above the sink. Perhaps they were looking for the Milk. Perhaps they were seeing if our missing baking sheets had been stashed up there. Perhaps they were doing nothing in particular. 


Regardless, they found nothing. The Milk was declared missing on August 20th, 2022. 


The Milk is not an easy object to mistake for something good and normal. Wrapped in a faded orange warning label proclaiming it “Flammable Liquid,” the clear cylindrical twist-top container occupied by a vintage milk carton and several inches of mysterious grayish-brown liquid may not look like something of value to unkind observers. But, we logicked, the warning label and attached note proclaiming it “The Milk” also made it clear that this object is not trash. It was clear that somebody cared. 


Once all the Pecker residents returned and confirmed that none of them had moved the Milk away from its usual year-round hiding spot, the alarm was sounded. Cruft from last year were contacted in an attempt to determine when and where it had last been seen. The GRAs and Heads of House were roped in. Our new House Manager was alerted, and our very lovely maintenance workers helped us search every nook and cranny of the building. The dorm’s extended mailing list of over 300 current students, alumni, and other assorted Random-adjacent humans was contacted, twice. 


In the end, no Milk. 


Theories have sprung up regarding what happened. Maybe non-Randomite summer residents took the Milk, or disposed of it in some cruel prank. Or, perhaps it was the change in House Mangers; the switch created lots of chaos, its reasonable to add a miscommunication resulting in the destruction of the Milk to the list. 


Most likely it was a cleaner, a contract worker, or another welcome visitor, innocently doing their job and trying to make the dorm a neater place who happened upon a presumed dairy-based disaster, not knowing it had greater meaning. 


We don’t truly blame those responsible, whoever they may be. The Milk was bound to go eventually. We’re just sad that it was so soon, when the dear Milk had so much life left to live. 


Hope remains, stubborn and ill-advised. Surely not every cabinet has been searched and every floorboard upturned. Perhaps someone took it for safekeeping, or some other indiscernible reason, and is yet to check “return the Milk” off their doubtlessly overflowing to-do list. It’s not over until it’s over. 


Nevertheless, we must sooth our wounds, and move forward in dignity. It is in this spirit that we resign to the fact that, after five months of no contact, the Milk is quite likely no longer with us. 


The story of the Milk will live on, preserved as a Random folklegend and on the depths of the internet. A memorial for the Milk is in the works. Whispers float down the stairwell – maybe, just maybe, the Milk will soon have a long-awaited sibling. As much as the community would welcome a new Milk, nothing could possibly replace the wonder of the original. 


Every evening on October 20th for the past 28 years – over eight generations of Randomites – we’ve dirged or otherwise honored the Milk to celebrate it growing another year older. 


This year, Random Hall will stand in silence.