July 14, 2009

The Hurlbut Experiment

This coming weekend my college residence hall is having a reunion. While it is a 25-year-reunion, alums on both sides of that landmark were invited. In my case I moved out of Room 714 on May 19, 1979, thirty years ago.

Everyone has college stories. Want to torture your significant other? Take him to a high school or college reunion of a school he did not attend and listen to tales of old glory days. It is torture for the person not in on the jokes. Since I am unable to attend the reunion, here are my inside stories.

Hurlbut Hall was a co-ed dormitory that made up the top four floors of Studebaker Complex East. In September 1976 when I moved in, Hurlbut had been co-ed for a few years. At my son’s college today, the definition of co-ed is every other room. Three decades ago, my school’s risqué definition was every other floor.

The building was vintage 1960s, a brick and glass tower that had glass entrances on either end we called “the fishbowl.” Hurlbut’s fishbowl had a large circular vinyl bench. Messages were spray-painted on the glass.. “Come to Homecoming and cheer for the Cards” “RHA Goofy Olympics” “Campus Chest Dance Marathon,” Day or night there was activity in the fishbowl whether hanky-panky or the Dominos Pizza guy. There were always pizza guys waiting for someone to come down the elevator and pick up an order and pay for it in cash borrowed from the Thelma Miller Fund, the loan shark of the Hurlbut desk which provided small amounts of cash loans.

The sixth floor had the front desk, mail area, and lounge. The lounge held a TV, pool and foos ball tables, and comfortable chairs. Every afternoon crowds of people watched “The Three Stooges” before dinner (or supper as Hoosiers call it). After Moe poked Curly in the eye a few times, the crowd went en masse to Studebaker West’s dining room.

Was tonight’s meal the dreaded Fr. Fr. Gr. (as “french fried grouper” was noted on the menu, and pronounced fur fur gurr? Or maybe Canadian cheese soup? Or everyone’s perennial favorite -- chipped beef and toast -- “s**t on a shingle.”

Getting into the dining service required a meal card. Meal cards were kept in the dining hall in a brown wooden box under the constant supervision of a tiny, ancient dining service lady named Opal May. Everyone adored Opal May, but Hurlbut men were constantly trying to outwit her in some way, by throwing bread behind her head or tossing mashed potatoes onto the ceiling. (As a former dining service employee, I knew never to look up while eating.)

When a male friend ran out of money for his off-campus housing, two of my friends let him sleep in a bean bag chair on and off for nearly a quarter (we didn’t have semesters then). This friend was also able to sneak in the dining service many times pretending to be someone else, all under Opal May’s eyes. I am not completely convinced that she just didn’t let him get away with it.

I lived in the same small square room for my sophomore, junior, and senior years. The room had a southwestern facing window, which meant great TV reception for the four channels we received from Indy on my portable television. I could not miss All My Children and tried to work my class schedule around the show, deep intellectual that I was.

I was not the neatest person in the world, and chased off two roommates until I asked N. to move in, and she had more junk that I did, including at least 50 pairs of size ten shoes.

As a journalism major and card-carrying nerd, I was not exactly the sorority type and loved dorm life. I served in residence hall government and was even hall president for a year. One of us on council had the bright idea to buy bags of Mickey D’s hamburgers and resell them for a small profit on a Sunday evening. What the hall council did not know at the time was that we were being undercut by two gentlemen from the eighth floor named Chuck and Kerry who started “Huck and Jerry’s Hot Dog Stand” and went door to door. Of course, they undercut us. They were charming – they had jingles – and crisp white diner hats and funky aprons and a great sales pitch. We just had hamburgers, many hamburgers, and no particular sales pitch.

To park on campus you had to have an official yellow parking sticker. Student parking was extremely limited. Parking next to Hurlbut was allowed on the weekends. A great joy was finding that perfect spot and being able to parallel park my very-large 1971 V-8 Cutlas S in front of the fishbowl.

This was never more important to me than when we had a fire drill one February about three a.m. during a very bad ice storm. The temperature was well below zero, and the fire drill lasted for what seemed hours. My friends and I – in our pajamas – got in my car and were thrilled that it started in the cold. We stayed warm while ignoring the knocks of fellow residents on the windshield and car windows. Like Marie Antoinette to the French peasants we said “ Let them eat cake!” Besides, we had about ten people in the car already. Sedans were bigger then, and “Old Bessie” could hold numerous teenagers.

No memory is more vivid than the Great Blizzard. Snow started falling slowly at first on the early afternoon of Wednesday, January 25, 1978. On campus payday every other Wednesday my friends and I, who all had part-time jobs in student publications, chose a different dive for dinner after receiving our minimum wage paychecks. That day B. drove 4 of us in his huge rear-wheel drive sedan to the Happy Burger in beautiful suburban Elwood, about 30 minutes from campus.

We were eating our hamburgers and French fries and noticed that the snow was now coming down in larger, thicker clumps. What the hell? We were all Midwesterners and used to long, cold winters, and lots of snow and ice. What can a a little more snow hurt? Famous last words.

So we sat there in the drive-in and continued to shoot the breeze about whatever journalism majors usually talk about – First Amendment rights or what happened last night at the Chug-O-Mug. (Tuesday nights were Dollar Pitcher Night.)

We soon noticed something odd. All the other people and all the cars seemed to have disappeared. At the drive-up window was a man on horseback. How bad is the weather when you decide to get your fast food on horseback?

Let’s went, Cisco. Time to get the heck outta Dodge.

Our trip back to Muncie was treacherous on highways that were unrecognizable as anything but dogsled paths. The return trip took several hours. But did we return to our homes, which in my case, was Hurlbut Hall? Of course not. Just one more important stop at Bob’s Bottle Shop. We bought several bottles of vodka and hid them under dirty clothes in my laundry basket and carried it right up past the lobby desk to the seventh floor.

Now hold for the disclaimer: I realize this was wrong. I am not justifying our behavior or condoning drinking. I am just reporting it. Some people reading this now may be shocked (shocked I tell you) for I rarely imbibe now, just the occasional margarita.

Future Husband and his friend J. stayed around that first evening of the Great Blizzard and we played Monopoly.

Yes, we played Monopoly.
How incredibly lame is that? Mighty fun when you are in college and enhanced with Screwdrivers. Someone was plying our friend J. with large amounts of vodka. I hesitate to call them “screwdrivers” because they were about 90% screw and about 10% driver.

I kicked Future Husband and his friend out before dawn. Yes, I’ll bring in illegal alcohol, but I won’t let two male friends stay in my room, even in a co-ed dorm. Husband and his highly inebriated friend trekked half a mile across campus to their dorms at Lafollette Complex after about a foot of snow had fallen. Unable to see two feet in front of their faces with 50 mile per hour winds and 40 below wind chills, they huddled next to the circular University Pool Building, and felt their way around, crossed McKinley Avenue, and made it home. At one point, J. wanted to just lie down in the snow, but Future Husband dragged him onward. We must have had a great time for they returned the next night. J. survived to be the best man in our wedding six years later.

After several days, the booze ran out and the dining service was getting low on food. We had Spam for one meal. We missed classes on Thursday, Friday, and the following Monday, and Tuesday, which was unprecedented at that time. That day my car had been parked at the Newman Center, the Catholic Student Organization up the street (my roommate that year was the Student President so this Lutheran had special parking privileges) and it was weeks before I could attempt to dig the car out.)

When I finally convinced this roommate to help me shovel out my car, we dug for about two hours before we realized we had been working on the wrong car. The car next to Old Bessie also had a brown landau top. The size of the snowdrifts caused by this blizzard was amazing – many ten, fifteen, and even twenty foot drifts. The snow came down from Wednesday through Sunday and was more than several feet in the end.

In my last year, Future Husband and his friend J. moved into 814, the room directly above mine. Husband had a collection of models from old monster movies, and decided to put his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” on a string and roll it down gently past my window near where I was sitting at my desk studying. I was startled to look up and see something grotesque dropping past my window and immediately heard Future Husband yell, “Oh, expletive” and then slam his door and run, run, run down eight flights of stairs to retrieve his precious model. The Creature was still in one piece. I always wondered what would have happened if a potential student and parent had been visiting campus that day and hit on the head by a flying Creature from eight flights up?

At the end of that year I won a campus-wide award for leadership in the residence halls. I am proud to have been the recipient of this award. In addition to serving on my hall council for several years, I was involved in the Residence Hall Association and served as editor of RHA Input, a newspaper circulated monthly through the halls.

The night I won the award I almost had it taken away.

My roommate from that year was in marching band and has possession of an electronic megaphone for some reason. This was, to me, just like crack cocaine to the addict. It was just too tempting and I could not tear myself away from it.

Somebody goaded me into rendering my famous impression of Piper Laurie as Carrie’s mother from the Stephen King horror flick, Carrie, right out the seventh floor window where my voice bellowed electronically magnified into the “U” made by the Studebaker West towers and echoed back.

I just couldn’t help myself. At the time I wondered how many people could really hear me.

Future Husband was at the LIBRARY (you know, the library, a big building full of books where Future Husband spent a lot of time. I went to the library once. Future Husband was walking home from that building to Hurlbut that night. And he heard me from about half a mile away, which answers the question, “What is the range of an electronic megaphone?” (Amazingly, he married me anyway.)

The dorm director came to my room for a “little talk.”

Now thirty years have passed and I am reformed. I only do my shouting on the Internet. Happy reunion, everyone. Quoth the raven.