I hate it when I’ve been humming a tune for half an hour and I realize it’s one I wrote.
Where did my inner lieder composer/opera-scribe-wannabe/coffeehouse performer go?
I’ve got a nylon six-string in the corner of my living room, a spinet in the basement and an electronic keyboard that too-kind friends picked out for me last Christmas, the last hooked up to the computer, and my forearm muscles are too farblondjet from wringing out four and five bodies a day to enjoy playing them, that’s where.
Most often, I catch myself murmuring “The Night The Lights Went Out In College Hall,” which, with a nod to “The Ball of Ballynoor,” kept me from going crazy when I worked as an administrative assistant at the local college. This was, at the time, a Catholic institution of higher education for working teachers, nursing- and business-folk, and children of naive devout parents who didn’t realize that their cosseted daughters were setting a beeline course for the bars and abortion clinics of Washington D. C. as soon as they got well settled in their dormitories.
I used to clock four-milers on my lunch hour (we are casting our minds back to 1983 here, begorrah) and polish the limerick-metre verses as I speedwalked:
Some say it was liquor, the staff inclines to dope,
Some say Bill Brock’s encounter group had turned into a grope
(Bill* was a New Agey gestaltey touchey feeley guy on the Psychology faculty. I got some priceless reading recommendations from him, but he used to answer his phone in a smarmy dulcet uplilt that made him sound like a twat.)
The nuns all called it Original Sin
But all I know is there’s never been
An orgy like that night in College Hall.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, from search engines.
Charles Cook was in his office, and I’m told he was asleep
Charles was the fellow who interviewed me for my job, and a decent chap.
And dreaming he was safely out at Airlie counting sheep
Airlie Plantation was where the college used to have retreats and conferences and things in a bucolic setting in the Virginny hills.
When they knocked on his door and said “Join in!”
He just called out for more lanolin
And never got it on in College Hall.
The nuns beheld the ribaldry exposed beneath their view
Mirella said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Sister Mirella was the college President, frequently mentioned as the longest tenured college President after the mook who headed up Notre Dame, for whatever that was worth.
But one of the sisters with keener sight
Said “It looks to me like they’re doing all right,
No amateurs down there in College Hall.”
It was one for all and all for one and sometimes two for three
In every combination you could ever wish to see
The College Infirmary filled by turns
With sprains and strains and friction burns
Sustained upon that night in College Hall.
Eric from Security went down to check the fuss
We had a zealous young-Turk head of Security who wanted to be on the cover of Time.
And the state in which we found him was too frightful to discuss
With a Denver Boot locked onto his knees
They were going at him in twos and threes
In the parking lot in front of College Hall.
Security was always zealous about parking enforcement.
Sam Levey came to rescue him — he thought it was a fight —
And he stood and issued tickets just as fast as he could write,
Saying “Pardon me boss, that girl’s in pain,
I think you’re parked in her exit lane,
You can’t do that in front of College Hall.”
Sam was a Security veteran and he looked like a Sam Levey — balding and hook-nosed, with a patriarchal paunch and eternally disapproving gaze.
John Hare was heard exclaiming as he nibbled at his nails,
Dr. Hare was the Chaucer professor in the neglected Arts department, and a timorous reedy thing.
“This must be what they were doing in the Canterbury Tales!”
And they found him at last in the morning light
With his clothes in rags and his hair turned white
Beneath the Exit light in College Hall.
There were tons of other verses, ending up with:
The dawn revealed some students in a catatonic state,
John Landi with a profit of a dollar ninety-eight
John was one of our grad assistants and thought well of himself.
A camera van with the hubcaps gone,
A Dominican priest with no cassock on
And this writing on the wall,
“Good God, we had a ball
The night the lights went out in College Hall.”
One morning I parked in the north lot of the campus, scuffed up a pair of lacy panties from the asphalt on the way in to my office, and push-pinned them to the department bulletin board with a scrawled note: “Are these yours?”
I probably shouldn’t think about my past if I can avoid it.