Saturday, January 9, 2010

#7 - Shadows of the Night

Trigger: Chatting online with the other cohort in this story.


University of Tulsa. 1984, maybe 1985. Let’s call it the winter of 84-85, because it was cold. Inhumanely cold. Certain death if not adequately protected while outside, that sort of cold.

And I’m on the planning committee for some shindig, a party of sorts. It was probably something being arranged by the Residence Halls Association, because I was an RA that year. If you had the opportunity to go to college and live on campus, you know about these Resident Assistants. We were the fancy hall monitors that tried to keep peace on our respective floors, patrolling the building at night and trying to keep you from killing yourselves by doing something creative but stupid.

Oh, and we had been trained to do CPR. That was a real plus. Never had to do it once.

But hey, you got free room and board if you were an RA. If you ain’t got no money and you’re going to a private school, you do what you gots to do. Sayin. But really, it was an okay gig. 97% of the time I actually enjoyed it. It was only the occasional drunken frat boy, throwing up in the bathroom and yelling racial slurs, that took the shine off the job. Try dealing intelligently with hormonal, over-privileged snots who have lost their mind on tequila. That’s fun.

Anyway, this party thing. I’ve been tagged to do some promotional work so that we get an adequate turnout. I’ve got a promo buddy to help with this particular task. I won’t mention a name, because we eventually did something that night that was not very nice, but I will at least say that my buddy was female. And she was a real pistol. For those of you who survived that year at the University of Tulsa and knew me, I’m sure you can put two and two together.

Our objective that night was to traipse around the campus, putting up flyers and whatnot. I even think that there might have been balloons, a concept that was probably really nifty in the warmth of a toasty meeting room, but verged on the suicidal when considering the howling, frigid winds that were currently sweeping the campus.

Oh, and we were also supposed to write invitations on the sidewalks crossing the campus, using chalk. This was a popular, but also controversial, method of communication at the time. It was a very effective tool, in that people had to walk to all the buildings in order to attend classes, and therefore couldn’t help but see your message.

But there was a growing contingent of outraged people who were offended by this chalk thing. They found it unseemly. You are not supposed to write graffiti on the sidewalk. It’s rude, and when the chalk washes off the sidewalks it will kill the grass and all the trees and the entire planet.

I didn’t really care for the anti-chalk tree-huggers. I’m all about caring for our planet. Go green. But this is CHALK, people. Not Agent Orange. Nothing is going to die because a trace residue of chalk happens to get in the groundwater.

Anyway, me and my cohort are piddling around in the dorm, fiddling with our promotional materials and doing everything we can to delay heading out into the night, because it’s freaking cold. Wind chill factors can kill, not chalk. The campus was not mammoth, but it certainly wasn’t small, and we had little enthusiasm for tramping all over hell in the wind and cold.

About that time, one of the Residence Directors (meaning one of our bosses) wanders out and quickly sizes up the situation. He realizes that we need some motivational assistance or nothing is going to get accomplished. His suggestion? “Take my car.”

Both of us, who are car-less, look up at him with glistening eyes of gratitude. Done!

So then we’re racing outside, just a few steps away from the front doors of the dorm since Mike always had the best parking place, cramming our things into his tiny little whatever kind of car it was. (It was red, that’s all I remember.)

Then we’re off, motoring from one parking lot to another, doing our thing at the various buildings. And it’s okay at first, as it always is when you’re dealing with extreme cold. You don’t really notice the pain right away. But it doesn’t take long before you can’t get warm. At all.

So we’re sitting in the car in one of the parking lots, breathing heavily after dashing back from the last building we decorated with primitive invites, and really not liking life at all. We can’t feel our extremities. We are slowly dying. What to do?

Then the suggestion is made, and I won’t say who dreamed up this brilliant idea, that since Mike’s car is so tiny, it would probably fit on the actual sidewalks leading to the buildings. We could drive right up to the building and do our thing. It was the monotonous schlepping from the parking lots to the buildings that was sucking the life out of us with this insane, chilling wind.

And what do you know. The car DOES fit on the sidewalk. Game on!

After this remarkable discovery, we’re almost enjoying ourselves. Drive right up to the building, hop out for two minutes to slap up some balloons and a poster, and then madly scribble something on the sidewalk. Jump back in the glorious heated car and head to our next destination.

We are warriors of promotion. Nothing can stop us now.

But something does. We are actually almost done with our mission, just a few stops left, when something unsavory enters the picture.

Cue the theme music from “Jaws”.

Now, I don’t know if they still have these things, but back in our collegiate day the campus security people drove these little golf-cart-looking contraptions as they patrolled the grounds. Cushman carts. Little motorized annoyances that could spring on you at any moment. You did not want to hear the irritating whine they make as you were staggering back from a frat party, since 75% of the students on campus could not legally drink, even though everyone did.

And you certainly did not want to hear that whine when operating a motor vehicle on the sidewalks of a college campus, a place where an automobile clearly should not be.

But we WERE hearing the whine, quickly buzzing in our direction from the west.

Oh boy.

My cohort and I looked at each other. What to do? Well, it was clear what we needed to do. Get the hell out of there before Barney Fife in his go-cart could catch up to us.

At that particular moment, we had just turned onto the sidewalk that led down Fraternity Row. This is a very long sidewalk, with all of the frat houses lined up along the north side. We were nowhere near an actual legal road. The only thing we could do was get to the end of this sidewalk, which terminated at one of the streets bordering the campus.

I floored it.

We are zooming down this sidewalk, with confused and plastered frat boys scurrying to get out of our way as we barreled along. A quick check in the rearview mirror reveals that the Cushman Cart is having trouble keeping up. Great. We just have to get back on the street at the end of the sidewalk and zip away into the night.

What Thelma and Louise have failed to remember is that halfway down this long sidewalk, there is a significant drop in the sidewalk, with stairs leading down to the lower level. The remembrance of this fact comes far too late to stop the speeding vehicle.

Within seconds, we are airborne, with both of us screaming.

Then we slam to earth, sparks flying in all directions. I realize immediately that the frame on this vehicle will never be the same. Well, too late for Plan B. We get to the end of the sidewalk, bounce down the curb, and race away, headed back to the dorm.

Once there, we pile out of the car and thunder inside, throwing the keys at a slightly confused Mike. He wants to know how it went. Great, we say. Best time ever. Then we run around a corner and hide, waiting to see what happens, peeking out every now and then.

A few minutes later, the Cushman Cart rolls into the parking lot and stops behind Mike’s car.

Mike walks to the front door, peers out, assesses the situation, then immediately stomps in our direction. We gulp and prepare for the worst, various alibis flitting through our minds.

“What’s going on? Why is the Cushman Cart Man looking at my license plate?”

We quickly launch into our defense. It was so cold. Oh my God it was so cold. And we were just trying to keep warm. And we were driving on the sidewalks to get closer to the buildings. That’s all we were doing. We didn’t mean any harm. Did we mention that it was cold? We could have died. And it was SO cold-”

Mike holds up his hand. Stop. I’m fully aware that something else happened, because you both look like rabbits after electro-shock therapy, but we’ll focus on the cold, okay?

We both nod our heads vigorously.

“Now, I’m going to go talk to this man. But I’m going to talk to both of YOU, tomorrow. Now go away.”

And he marches off to deal with Barney.

My cohort and I look at each other.

“We need alcohol.”

“Indeed we do..”

“Let’s go.”

And we scamper away into the night…

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