Hugh Stewart Hall

August 7, 2014

The last nights of dorm life

The four girls’ rooms faced each other across a little hallway where we often hung out and talked and planned, our laptops resting on the drab carpet. Nearby, a door opened up to the courtyard of Hugh Stewart Hall. Downstairs, Ryan lived in a room next door to the small kitchen. This little corner was all ours. But the rest of the Hall was periodically invaded by summer school groups with screaming children. For most of the summer, it seemed to be hundreds of Italian middle schoolers in a summer program to learn English. But recently, British high-schoolers had taken over in what seemed to be a “pre-college” experience week. They had thrown M&M’s at Missie’s window earlier in the week and were generally loud and obnoxious. Tonight appeared to be their last night and in celebration a dance – complete with pizza and a DJ and all of his sound equipment – was being held right outside our windows. Close to midnight on a “work-night” the noise had yet to abate. Then Steve the security guard walked in.

“Some of them aren’t right in the head, I think. A kid said
the F-word to me earlier. I don’t know. I found his teacher. And his teacher
was his mum. He didn’t really apologize. The students wouldn’t do that to me –
you know, I’m Steve.” Steve said, slightly choking back his emotions.

“You know one time, during graduation, you know everyone was
walking around with their parents. This man was with his wife and came in and
asked me about the old Warden. Well, I said, he retired 8 years ago. Oh, that’s
a shame, he said, I would have liked to tell him how I got on. That was
interesting to me, so I took him and his wife around – went into the dining
room and bar. I ask him if he remembers where his room was, and he did, so I
take him there and unlock the door and he poses working at the desk while his
wife takes pictures. A while later I get a letter with a wax seal with Rolls
Royce all embossed on the front. It’s addressed to me, at work! I mean, I never
get letters. I open it up, and it says Dear Steve and goes on and on about his
visit. And he signs it in ink at the bottom, John Rishton, CEO of Rolls Royce.
Maybe Rolls Royce doesn’t mean anything to you guys in America, but here…

…A lot of people have come through here. Alex Tew lived here.
The Queen came through here once! Do you want to see the picture?” [He leaves
for 5 minutes to go retrieve a small history book on Hugh Stewart Hall. He
insists we all take pictures of her.].

He thumbs through old pictures, remarking how “students used
to wear a suit and tie to go to the library! Now they have skateboards like
Bart Simpson or something and wear I don’t know, ball caps sideways.” He shows
pictures of when the Hall was smaller and there were fields surrounding it. He
tells stories of how Hugh Stewart Hall’s bar was one of the last remaining bars
that was student run. They made so much profit over the course of the year, but
then had to pass it on to the next year’s students, so they would throw huge,
lavish parties to spend that year’s profits and bring in the best bands. One
year, they booked Culture Club weeks before they burst into popularity – and
yet the band still honored their contract. The warden at the time was straight
laced and didn’t like Boy George’s appearance – but obviously the concert, run
out of the cafeteria where student technicians had somehow rigged up speakers and a stage,
was a hit.

He left, cursing the students had gone past their curfew,
and ensuring we had a proper plan for leaving our keys in an envelope to check
out Saturday morning. Walking down the stairs, he called out that he was on
duty the next night and would love to say goodbye. Outside, the DJ took a break
from techno-pop and plunged into a Grease melody the teens immediately followed
along with bursts of shout-singing the parts they knew. Those summer nights.

I hope everyone takes the time to acknowledge how much care University support staff often bring to their work. Students are so transitory but these people embody the living history of a place. Everyone has a story and I’m glad we heard Steve’s.


Collectively, we decided that in order to live here you need to be…strange? A little off your rocker? Maybe that’s what happens in more isolated areas?

A lot just kind of walk right up to you and ask, what are ya doin? It’s hard to explain. We can’t say geologists because then people discuss rocks with you. And really we tried to avoid anything about climate change or the forestry service. Not that either of those necessarily have bad connotations, they just have the potential to ignite some sort of opinionated lecture. So most of the time we stick with looking at Salmon habitat. Most of them like this, but then we undergo the unfortunate time of listening to everyone’s fishing stories and then having to confess that we actually know nothing about salmon. When we mentioned to our camp host that we were surveying one particular stream even though there really isn’t any reported studies of fish, he regaled us with “Bulllllshit there’s no fish in there! Now let me tell you…” and so on for about ten minutes (later he would introduce us to all of his bear statues). Others look at our surveying equipment and ask if we’re selling their land or increasing their property values. Those who don’t know what surveying equipment looks like, often ask if we’re going fishing – either the traditional way or some sort of electrocution method. Laughingly, we came up with a few sample responses (none of which we ever actually tried). My personal favorite was Jaime’s: I’m a scientist; I work for the government (has a sort of Manhattan project flair, doesn’t it?). Others included that we’re surveying for the new dam or coal plant that will be going in soon. Lol, everyone loves that.

One stream Jaime and I did, situated next to a backwoods campground, had quite possibly the best assortment. There was a family reunion, in which even though I was freezing cold in my waders and three layers of jackets, the girls bravely donned swimsuits in order to wash their hair. Jaime and I laughed at each other: it had been at least a week since we had washed ours. One girl, for no apparent reason, though I suspect it was to make bubbles, dumped half of a Dawn dishwashing soap bottle into the river. Just climbed up on a log, opened the cap, and started squeezing the bottle and smiling. Another elderly man had the longest beard I have ever seen. He randomly appeared on the rocky bar maybe twenty feet down from us, and, after watching us pick up rocks to measure, he himself would pick up random rocks and toss them aside. Another man on the other side of a wooded log jam had a newspaper bag in his hand and was just picking up rocks and placing them inside. Jaime tried to ask what he was doing, but all he replied was “picking up rocks.”