Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Endless Ring

I've been inconsistent about this over the years, but time for the MLK holiday to be a no posting holiday. Back on Tuesday.

Today was a monochromatic day. Full grey overcast skies hanging over just enough snow cover to obscure the ground, all the while at some degrees below freezing, where the temps are predicted to stay for a while. We're entering the pit of winter. But at least the days are slightly longer now, just enough to be noticeable.

I wrote this recently about a dorm -- I mean, a fairly new student housing community near, but not on, a university campus: "[It] is comprised of two‐ and four‐bedroom units. Amenities include outdoor basketball and volleyball courts, a fitness center, game room, computer lab, tanning salon, pool and spa. [The property] also includes... retail space, and is also near [shops], restaurants and entertainment venues."

It sounds like an excellent property and a fine place to live. But the description also inspires curmudgeonly thoughts. Students need all that? They're students. They ought to be pretty good at inventing their own diversions.

I'm reminded of an amenity we had in the dorm I lived in exactly 30 years ago, a place called East Hall. That is, we had a telephone in the room. Bet most new student housing doesn't have that.

The box was fixed to the wall, of course. It had a rotary dial and, remarkably, there was no way to disconnect it, either the receiver from the cord or the box from the wall. That's not important unless it starts ringing in the middle of the night for no understandable reason, which is what happened periodically. And I don't mean a regular series of rings, but a constant ringing. One time we let it ring just to see how long it would ring, and the thing went on for about five minutes, until our next-door neighbor, a fellow called Spoon, banged on our door demanding that we stop it.

Usually, we would take it off the hook, which would stop the ringing (and there was nothing but silence in the receiver). But then we'd hear a fairly loud zzzt! zzzt! zzzt! to let us know that the phone was off the hook. That was just as bad as the ringing. Hanging it up again usually brought back the ringing. Soon we settled on putting the receiver into a nearby drawer, wrapped in towels. That usually muffled it enough, especially if the room's steam heat or the air conditioner were running. (We had those amenities, too; it was toward the end of the 20th century, after all.)

I'd forgotten about that damned phone until I paused today to think about my accommodations all those decades ago. Sometimes it's good to have an adversarial relationship with part of your dwelling space, as aggravating as that can be at the time. It teaches, or hones, problem-solving. Students living in a resort-like community might miss out on that kind of experience.

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At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in college, nearly ten years before you, we didn't have an elevator in our four-story dorm. For that matter, we didn't have stairs either. There was a pole, like a fire pole, in a shaftway at the end of the building. The thinking was that having to climb up the pole to get in would keep us from going soft. We were told that that's what they were doing at Harvard and Yale, and that settled the matter. We didn't have rooms either, just floor space. For a bit extra a month, you could rent a straw-stuffed pallet, but most people didn't since some joker would invariably set it on fire in the middle of the night. You could wet it down before bedtime, but that wasn't especially comfortable. Even now, I'd rather not think about the sanitary facilities. The year after I graduated I understand that they put in windows and running water - a pump on the ground floor. After that, it was just one luxury after another. ANK


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