Look at the Naked Man

 From the Halifax Daily News, August 17, 2001

Just one more tale from the midlife misadventures of a college drop-in… Next week I’ll get back into my serious socialist columnist’s role and be shocked and appalled by all that I survey.

I will, I promise.

(If you feel I have to further justify my mindless midsummer madness, just let me point out that on Monday, Adesmeftos, the Greek daily newspaper, ran the following in the space normally occupied by its front-page banner headline: “Seeing as how everyone has left for the islands, the beaches and to their holiday houses, we are unable to choose a headline for today’s front page.”)

Anyway, when last we talked, I was telling you about how I decided to go back to university to get the degree I never quite earned the first few times around.

There is, of course, more to university learning than getting a degree.

There is . . . well, there is living in residence, for example.

In my previous academic incarnations, I’d never lived in a dorm. So there were some basic rules I didn’t understand when I moved into Room 203, Alcock House, Froelicher Hall, Goucher College, Baltimore, a few weeks back. Such as the obvious-to-everyone-but-me fact that you need to carry your key at all times, especially those times when you don’t happen to have . . . uh, a pocket in which to put said key.

I discovered this one morning after – unfortunately after – I had stumbled down the hallway for my wake-up shower. I was returning to my room, clad only in my college-issued teensy towel (the towel is teensy; I am – unfortunately again – not quite so) when I realized I’d closed the door on my way out and it had been set to automatically lock behind me. It did.

I was alone in the residence hallway, my fellow students having already left for class. (I will confess that in my own quest to savour the full college experience, I may have tarried a tad too long at “study hall” the night before and thus woken up late for class this particular morning, but that, as they say, is another story for another day.)

Somehow I had to get a message through to Campus Security – inconveniently located on the other side of campus – to come open the door for me.

But how?

Perhaps, I thought, if I surreptitiously slipped out into the residence’s central courtyard, I’d find another slacker who would agree to call Security for me. There was indeed someone in the courtyard. But he was no slacker. He was a young man so deeply immersed in the first stages of his daily Tai Chi routine – perhaps Number 8 of his 108 moves on the path to Nirvana – that he was not about to save from humiliation, let alone acknowledge, some chubby middle-aged pale guy standing in front of him in a towel.

That’s when I remembered there was a campus Emergency Phone just outside the residence lobby. If I could just slip through the lobby and –

I forgot the lobby had been turned into a daycare for the summer. As I opened the door, a dozen kids, most under five, streamed past me. “Look at the naked man,” one said to the others. “Look at the naked man,” he repeated again, more loudly, perhaps for the benefit of any passing policeman.

Visions of newspaper headlines – “Aging Canadian Student Arrested For Flashing At Kiddie Daycare” – danced in my head.

I plowed on, past the children, through the lobby and out into the –

Why had half a dozen burly construction workers decided to take their morning coffee break this morning sitting on the sidewalk next to the Emergency Phone?

We looked at each other and wordlessly agreed to pretend none of what was happening was happening. They were better at this studied indifference than me. Short of pressing the big red Emergency button – did getting locked out of your dorm room in your towel really qualify as a bona fide emergency? – I couldn’t even figure out how to use the phone. After a minute or so, I gave up and retreated back into the lobby where the daycare’s office was located.

I approached a young man behind the desk. “Excuse me, but could I use your phone?” I said as casually as I could muster.

He stared at me, stunned, and ran straight for the exit. “I don’t work here,” he declared, a get-me-out-of-here urgency in his voice. “I’m just a kid.”

By now, I was beyond embarrassment. The kid – I realized belatedly he was just a kid – was gone. So I grabbed the phone and dialed the operator.

They came, they laughed, they eventually opened the door.

“You should wear your key on a chain around your neck,” the Security Officer said with an aren’t-you-the-dumb-Canuck tone to his voice.

And I did. For the rest of my stay in residence.

And that’s what I learned in university this summer.