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. I’m sure the lovely folks in Canada would scoff at our misery, judging us as inferior amateurs in the whole frigid scheme of things, as they play naked volleyball in the snow and we whimper if we have to dig out the “big coat” from its dusty storage in the hallway closet. But really, we were in Oklahoma. It can get cold there. But super cold, with icicles dangling off your privates? We’re not conditioned for that. You either pray to Jesus or you move; it’s the party line.
Anyway, I was on the planning committee for some festive shindig, I don’t recall the exact details at this point. 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 in the 80s, you probably know about these Resident Assistants. (They may have a different name for these folks now, since every generation is convinced that they know more than the previous generation.) We were the fancy hall monitors that attempted to keep peace on our respective dorm 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. I never had to perform this miracle activity, despite the rigorous training wherein we all smeared our saliva on the plastic lips of an unrealistic-looking woman-doll known as “Annie”. (In my later years, I will admit that every once in a while I’d hear someone choking in a restaurant or a court-ordered therapy session, and some fuzzy, little-used part of my brain would perk up and say “wait a minute, you actually know what to do if this annoying choking person gets all drama-queen and quits breathing”. But then the Clara Barton moment passes and I go back to deciding between the tuna melt and the Cobb Salad.)
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. 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 like a woodpecker, which took the shine off the job. Try dealing intelligently with hormonal, over-privileged snots who have lost their mind on tequila and an amped-up sense of self-worth. That’s fun. (To be fair, this unrequited bigot-wrangling at least somewhat prepared me for my eventual immersion in the world of corporate America, where the racism and misogyny is given a politically-correct sheen that is wafer-thin but manages to avoid most lawsuits.)
Back to this party thing, before I wander off again. I’d been tagged to do some promotional work so that we would 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 mature, 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, part of that dwindling pool of people who happened to be in the same place at the same time, I’m sure you can put two and two together. For the rest of you, suffice it to say that my copilot had no qualms about mayhem or inadvertent destruction.)
Our objective that night was to traipse around the campus, putting up flyers and whatnot. And I’m pretty sure that balloons were involved, an attention-getting 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. This is the American Way: The people making the decisions are not the people tasked with actually making it happen. Bitterness ensues.
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. (Note to young people who were weaned on social media: There was actually a time, back in the dark and mysterious past, when there wasn’t an option to post a selfie of yourself chugging a tequila shot and therefore your 426 billion vapid followers would know exactly where to go in order to be hip and cool and trend-worthy) The chalk-scribbling was a very effective tool, in that people had to walk to all the buildings in order to attend classes (there were NO online courses, young grasshoppers), and therefore they couldn’t help but see your message as they shook off a hangover and staggered toward an actual, physical classroom. (Where one had to take notes using pen on paper, not the keyboard on the latest smart device, those pesky modern things which have destroyed dinner conversation across the land.)
But there was a growing contingent of outraged people who were offended by this chalk thing. They found it unseemly and offensive. 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 will implode in an orgasm of toxicity.
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. We’re talking about simple calcium carbonate here, a natural substance, not a chemical atrocity developed by a Nazi scientist named Horst who got a bit too exuberant about genocide.
So, transitioning to present tense, my cohort and I are piddling around in the dorm, fiddling with our promotional materials and messing around with the stupid balloons 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, not one of those state universities where 70,000 people could graduate on the same day, but it certainly wasn’t small, and we had little enthusiasm for tramping all over hell in the wind and frigidity and certainty that my testicles would be the size of raisins when the rescue squat tripped over my corpse the next morning.
About that time, one of the Residence Directors (meaning one of our bosses) wanders out from wherever it is those people go when a potential lawsuit isn’t pending and he quickly sizes up the situation. He realizes that we need some motivational assistance or nothing is going to get accomplished, just like any given session of Congress. His suggestion? “Take my car.”
Both of us, who are car-less because we were born in a time when children were not given every single thing they could possibly desire even though we didn’t deserve it, look up at him with glistening eyes of gratitude. Done!
After a ceremonial transference of keys, with both of us thanking Mike profusely because it used to be a time-honored tradition to thank people for helping you instead of just expecting it, we’re racing outside the building in jubilation. We don’t have to go very far, a mere few steps away from the front doors of the dorm, since Mike always had the best parking place (who was he sleeping with?), cramming our things into his tiny little whatever kind of car it was. (It was red, that’s all I remember.)
Pilot and I begin our mission, 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, despite your best preventive measures and the fact that our unregulated late-teen hormones should have provided plenty of natural heat. (Grasshoppers, respect the time that you get to spend with a metabolism that supports and encourages you in your youthful years. There will come a time when that metabolism will leave you for a younger partner.)
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, which would make things so much easier. It was the monotonous schlepping from the parking lots to the buildings and back that was sucking the life out of us with this insane, chilling wind. (Additionally, the gale-force factor is randomly slamming the balloon clusters into sharp objects, resulting in unexpected gunfire that has us constantly wetting ourselves a little bit.) Anything has got to be better than this mess.
So I tentatively ease the original Mini-Cooper onto the sidewalk leading to our next destination, and what do you know. The car does fit on the sidewalk. Game on! After this remarkable discovery, we’re almost enjoying ourselves. We get as close as we can to the target structure, hop out for 90 seconds 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 the next tactical point in our campaign.
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.
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. Diminutive 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 are hearing the whine, despite the blustery wind because those bitchy little Cushmans were LOUD, quickly buzzing in our direction from the west like a mosquito on steroids.
My cohort and I look 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 golf cart could catch up to us. (There are times when one should do the right thing and surrender to authorities. College is not one of those times.)
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, and hope that one of us knew what to do at that point.
I floor 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.(I’m sure the hamster in the engine wheel was getting tired.) 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.”
And we scamper out a side door and into the night, scurrying past some Theology undergrad who is already trying to erase one of our chalky slogans with her Greenpeace t-shirt…
(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” and “Memory Remix” blogs on 01/06/10, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)
Categories: The Stories