Monday, October 20, 2008

A Little Night Music

I attended a small liberal arts college in Southern California, and the dorms were coed in the sense that one floor was inhabited by men, and the other by women. We all shared the kitchen, activity room, TV lounge, etc.

Back in the day, when first constructed, it was an all-female building. The office (now the Resident Assistants' office) was next to the lounge (now the TV lounge). When a gentleman called to visit a lady, the office had an intercom system that connected to every (female's) room in the dorm, and the lady would be informed that so-and-so was waiting in the lobby to see her.

Thirty years later, and all that was quaintly passé. But much of the hardware was still mostly intact, a fact which bears greatly on what follows.

The dorm, by my occupancy, was confirmedly and overwhelmingly the "freshman" dorm, other than a bare few holdouts and the junior and senior-level R.A.s, one of whom had the duty in the office each night, to check out keys to the small kitchen, loan out ping pong paddles and such, and adjudicate disputes when they infrequently arose over what TV program should be watched.

Occasionally, this would require the R.A. to leave the office, as would the necessity to use the bathroom, get a book from their room 1 or 2 floors up, or settle loud music complaints upstairs, etc. So, the R.A.s would be only too happy to trust the few upperclassmen in residence to mind the store for them on those infrequent trips away from their duty post.

Foolish, foolish mortals.

Because the year I lived there as a new freshman, two of the upperclassmen were Jeff and Steve. Jeff and Steve were, in a word, nerds. Geeks, in fact. The honestly hyperstudious, pocket-protector wearing, slide-rule toting ubergeeks of lore and legend. Super-nice guys, if rather socially challenged. The kind of person who could actually build their own C-3PO, at least partially because they needed the company.

So naturally, they were, more often than not, asked to mind the store when one or another R.A. was momentarily called away for one emergency upstairs or another. Being the inquisitive sort, they soon discovered the 1950s era intercom console tucked under the counter in the office. And they'd seen the presumably useless speakers in their, and every other dorm resident's room. Then their inate techno-geek combined with being just disreputable enough to be truly evil geniuses.

They experimented.

Over the course of one and a half semesters, they trouble-shot the sytem, and worked out the arcana of its functions. They replaced tubes, rewired transistors, and generally brought the large metal box back to full life.

Then, the night before spring mid-terms, they struck.

They put a timer and a top-drawer amplifier and tape deck under the cabinet, wired to the intercom system. But importantly, only for the speakers on the 3rd (women's) floor.

Set for 3:30 AM.

'Twas the night before midterms and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Then, at the tic of an LED at 0330 hours, the first faint strains of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (with cannons) began to filter into every darkened dorm room on the 3rd floor. Gradually and inexorably it built in volume, enhanced to get even louder by Jeff and Steve's tape, as it whirred quietly under the 1st floor counter of the R.A. office, where they'd surreptitiously placed it earlier that evening.

Jeff and Steve knew about the reaction, because they sat watching on the hillside opposite one side of the dorm, bundled up, waiting for Chaos.

One by one, lights on the 3rd floor clicked on, until they were all on. The culprits heard the screams, shouts, and wails. They heard women pounding on the previously unhated speakers. And they heard the roar and boom of taped cannons.

Joy warmed their hearts.

Unbeknownst to them, a mob was forming. Three score of enraged pajama-clad women formed an ad hoc lynch mob.

Unfortunately for himself, meek and mild freshman Alex was just returning from an all-night cram session with friends from another dorm. He had just alighted the landing to the 2nd floor when the leading edge of the mob spied him, up and about, as they descended from the floor above.

"There he is!" rose the accusative cry. "Get him!"

Alex had a defining moment. Faced with a wall of homicidal women, he ran like the wind. Down the hall. Into his room. Locked the door. Pushed the dresser in front of it. "What the @$#@?" asked his roommate. Then the thunder of approaching teenaged fury. Then the pounding on the door. The screams. The frenzy. The utter angst.

Other dorm room doors opened. Insults were exchanged. Flash bulbs went off, as photos were taken. Laughter ensued as the plaintive story unfolded. R.A.s sought to reintroduce the rule of law, and eventually, the unsatiated mob returned sullenly to their bedrooms. Where they methodically ripped and clawed every last now-silent speaker from their decades-old homes in the walls.

Jeff and Steve basked in the glow of the Chaos they created. The next night, they quietly removed their equipment, carefully unwired the intercom box so it couldn't be used on their floor in retaliation, and crept back into oblivion, their perfidy undiscovered.

They revealed the origins of the stunt the following fall term to a select few former dorm residents, including this writer.

They are, and ever shall be, prank gods.

No comments: