The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back in Iowa (Scenes of Crimes Past)

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This is Mayflower Hall:

photo (3)

This is what it looks like when you take pictures from your bike.

It’s under construction right now, but you can see that it’s a typical utilitarian dormitory.  Not much flash or substance, but certainly functional.

Function:  Suite-style dormitory rooms for graduate students at the University of Iowa; until at least 2004, it also housed adults attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.  This is where I stayed when I attended the festival in 2004.

Set-up:  You have your own room adjoined with another room by a kitchenette and a bathroom.  Mine was on the 4th floor; room 403b.

Substance policy:  None allowed.  No alcohol, no tobacco, no other substances.

The situation:  I had been in Iowa City for two days and was eager to make some new friends.  My weekend class was over, and I was riding the CamBus back to Mayflower along with 30 other festival attendees, all of whom were waiting for their week-long workshop to begin.  I spotted my suite mate Ashley, and we decided to invite a few people over for some drinks and conversation.  By “a few people,” we meant the entire bus.

We didn’t realize that the entire bus would actually show up.  Plus more.  The only “rule” was to bring your own beverage, though Ashley and I knew we’d kindly sling whatever drink we could for anybody who asked.  By ten o’clock, music was streaming through my laptop, cocktails were being mixed with abandon, and the social aspect of campus life was in full swing with a few dozen strangers brought together through their interest in writing.  A few people were smoking cigarettes in the kitchenette and politely blowing the smoke out the windows, a few people were dancing to Stevie Wonder’s “Misstra Know-it-All,” and eight or ten people were milling around outside the 403 suite, mindless to the chaos inside.  There was absolutely no hiding of what was going on—the noise, the fun, the loads of cans and bottle scattered throughout the room—and nobody really felt the need to hide it.  U of I can’t be serious when they place such a far-reaching ban on adults, can they?

Nobody thought to close the doors to Ashley’s room or mine, so it became de regueur to keep things wide open to everybody.  A guy named Jim from Ocean City, New Jersey, brought down an acoustic guitar, and before long there was a jam session happening in my sleeping area.  I mixed my fourth cocktail of the evening and rejoined a group I was socializing with in the hallway.  Amongst them was Marilyn, a psychologist taking the same personal essay class I was taking, along with a substance abuse counselor named Steve who was taking the same fiction writing class as Ashley.  Inside my room was a woman named Brooke who had adopted a stray kitten she found on campus and was nursing it in her room, and another guy named Mike who was a college professor in Florida and a Vietnam veteran.  They mingled with a few women enamored of Guitar Jim who had decided to show up, along with a bookish woman from Boston.  Another woman named Cecelia, from Utah, sat on my bed and conducted a deep conversation about which I knew nothing.  She, too, was in the same workshop as I.

Somehow, this eclectic group kept the party going until 2AM.  Nobody called the residence hall staff to report anything, and nobody in the neighboring rooms complained.  For all we knew, the neighbors were in attendance.

It was a great start to the week-long writing festival workshops, but it wasn’t destined to be merely a start.  The same episode replayed itself the next two nights.  Each night between 2 and 3 AM, Ashley and I dumped watery drinks down the drain, extinguished old cigarette butts, and threw our windows open wide to release all the party smells.  I told Ashley after Monday night that I thought we had more people than we had the first night.  He told me Wednesday morning at 2AM that at one point he had counted 35 people in our two rooms.  Perhaps oddest of all was the fact that Ashley and I both retired to our respective rooms each morning and managed to write from 3-5AM.  I write about this now, still with no indication of how I managed to do that other than the process was still braided into my DNA from undergrad.  We were up at ten or eleven, and on to class in time each day.  What’s more, I was really liking what I was writing.  I hadn’t come out to IC with anything to workshop, so I was kind of putting the screws to myself to produce something.

Ashley and I stumbled to class Wednesday afternoon through the thick July heat of Iowa City.  We reached the top of the hill on Dubuque Street and heard a man call out to us from across the street.  We looked to him as he waved and shouted, “Great party last night!”  Ash and I looked at each other with no clue who the guy was.  I confided to Ashley that at one time I had been president of my residence hall at Ball State University, and it was a good feeling to know that I hadn’t lost much of my touch over the previous twelve years in regard to socializing on a college campus.

Our alcohol supply was almost dried up by that evening.  We decided to make a run.  Before we left, I fashioned a sign for my door that included a list of all the guests expected to be present at that night’s party:  Jose Cuervo, Ron Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Jack Daniels…  the stereotypical banal list that every 18-year old thinks is clever when they discover college.  We got a good chuckle out of the corniness of it and headed out in my car with a list from the frequent flyers from the suite 403 nightlife.

We returned to the Mayflower parking lot an hour later.  A black and white police cruiser was parked outside the dorm; its blue lights were flashing off the building’s brick facade and first floor windows.  I quipped to Ashley:  “¡Un policia!”  As a measure of respect, we rolled down the tops of our bags before we stepped inside.

We walked to the elevator and pushed the button.  After a minute, the elevator opened.  Ashley and I were standing eye-to-eye with an Iowa City police officer and the man who I recognized as director of Mayflower Hall.  They were locked in a conversation, and thus were turned to each other.  The only bit of their talk I heard was from the police officer:  “The guy’s name is Jeff Burd, right?”

The director nodded his head.  “Yep.  He’s in 403b.”

“Okay,” the officer said.  “Call us if there is a problem.”

Next to me, in the corner of my vision, I saw Ashley’s eyes pop wide open.  We were within three feet of the cops and carrying armloads of incrimination.

The director and officer turned to face us.  I offered my politest “Good evening, gentlemen,” all the while trying to restrain my bladder.  They responded in kind and stepped out of the elevator.  Ashley and I stepped in, and the doors closed.  The stream of cuss words that flowed from both Ashley’s and my mouth would have made David Mamet proud.  We thought for sure we were busted.  Regardless of how freaked out we were, it paled in comparison to what we saw when the elevator doors opened.

Steve the substance abuse counselor was practically running up and down the hall.  His face was red, and his eyes were crazy.  He saw us and ran directly up while he launched into a monologue.  “Jeff!  Ashley!  The cops were here!  And they’re pissed!  Some dude was with them…  they were asking me if I knew you.  I was like, ‘No,’ and they took your sign down…”

They had taken the sign down and replaced it with a list of residence hall rules.  It was the same list tucked into a folder of information I had somewhere on my desk.  The particular rules we were suspected of violating were highlighted in yellow.  There was a lot of yellow on the paper.  Ashley looked at me and said, “That’s it.  We’re done.”

We retreated to Steve’s room on the third floor.  Somebody said that it was the 4th floor residence supervisor who had dropped the dime on us; the same person whose suite was three doors down but who nobody ever saw and who was obviously doing a poor job given the nightly bacchanalia that unfolded practically in her lap.  Somebody had seen her milling around 403 and then walking to the elevator with my sign in her hands.

Everybody pretty much agreed that we had to go the director’s office and set things right.  Nobody wanted to get in trouble, or at least nobody wanted to get booted from the dorm and shack up at a hotel.  I volunteered to sacrifice myself since they knew my name directly.  I told everybody to sit tight, that I’d be back.  I went back to 403b for a minute before heading downstairs, and again saw the yellow highlights on the list of rules.  Where was my sign?  Sure it was immature and juvenile and flaunted authority and was generally unnecessary, but it was MY sign!  Besides, the cop and the residence hall director were within three feet of me, closer even, and didn’t know who I was.  They looked right at me and spoke to me—and didn’t know who I was.

I returned to Steve’s room and announced my decision.  “They don’t know who I am.  If they want me, they can come and get me.  Until then, we can relocate.”  We did relocate that evening to Steve’s room, but couldn’t draw the crowd or stoke up the same amount of fun.  It was getting late in the week anyhow, and maybe some people realized that full-on partying is more of a young person’s game.  We chilled out and nobody got arrested.

The day after the ICPD visited Mayflower, Cecelia approached me in workshop with a sympathetic look on her face.  “I heard you and Ashley got arrested last night.”  I laughed.  The rumor persisted, though.  We were now the rogues, despite the wild exaggeration behind the label.  Friday afternoon rolled around, and everybody had to leave.  I fashioned another sign, this one twice as ridiculous as the first, and taped it to the 4th floor residence supervisor’s door along with the list of rules highlighted in yellow.  I took the elevator down to the entrance, secured a few last items in my car, and drove back to Chicago with a grin so huge that it was falling off the sides of my face.


Written by seeker70

July 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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