For those of you now under the misapprehension that I spent all my time at college studying in the library, here is a story of my secret double life. A story of crime, intrigue, and ultimately, wretched embarrassment. It’s so bad, in fact, that even though I graduated almost ten years ago, I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone but my husband the story. I figured he should know the full truth about me.
(By the way, if you are looking for literary commentary on the Harlan Ellison story “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman,” you will find it here. If, on the other hand, you want to hear about the time I came closest to being Harlequin myself, by all means read on.)
Bizarrely enough, the cause of this incident was also my flagrant disregard for the proper attitude toward organized sports. Before I tell it, you should know that I have decided to reform. In fact, I read an entire chapter on football the other day. No, not American football. Football. The one where if all players exhibit sufficient speed, agility, and intelligence the result just may be a perfect 0-0 draw. Not to be confused with the horde of unhorsed teutonic knights charging a ball that doesn’t roll right. You see, I’m an Anglo-Saxon homeschooling teetotaler living in Italy. I have to do a token something to fit in. And that something just might have to end up being watching football.
But you were wanting the deep dark secret of my sordid past. So here we go. It was the week of The Big Game with Brigham Young University’s arch-rival, the University of Utah. The entire campus was dressed in blue, and anyone who happened to accidentally wear red to school was booed in the streets. Every year at this time, both teams try to come up with the best pranks to embarrass the other university right before the showdown game. Past indignities have included having the iconic “Y” on the mountainside painted red, seeing statues on campus defaced, and other travesties. The authorities this year were taking no chances. A regiment of ROTC students had been sent to camp up on the mountain and guard the “Y” every night. They were also posted at various strategic locations on campus. And best of all, every statue on the entire campus had been enveloped in dozens of layers of thick plastic wrap.
Being the heretic that I was, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. I especially rolled my eyes at the ROTC and their over-serious Department of Campus Security. And I thought the mummified statutes looked far tackier than even the worst vandalism could have accomplished. In fact, I decided that all these zealots needed to learn a lesson. And who better to teach it than myself and my roommate? Looking back, the only thing I can think of in my defense is that it was somehow all mixed up in my mind with the intensive study I was doing at the time of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I somehow bizarrely thought that I could singlehandedly effect a reconciliation between the two schools. Or at least show them all how unreasonable they were being to so carefully cultivate their animosities, and what a better place the world would be if they desisted.
Whatever the source of the idea that seemed to us both clever and noble at the time, my roommate and I waited till midnight one night. It was the night of a forecasted meteor shower and I was taking an astronomy class, so we figured we could use that as an alibi if things went awry. We were dressed in matching black shirts, black hats, and army fatigues, each with a thick roll of red duck tape and another of bright red crepe streamers. Our target was The Happy Family Statue, a life-sized bronze depiction of an idyllic mother and father, each holding the hand of the small child between them. Just like all the other sculptures on campus, this one had been liberally wrapped in layer after layer of clear plastic wrap, until the features of the subjects had become sadly indistinguishable. We intended to use our red duck tape and streamers to tastefully beautify the statue by re-delineating the obliterated shapes of the family.
Unfortunately, our chosen target was in a well-lighted little plaza overshadowed by the Kimball Tower, the tallest building on campus, which unbeknownst to us had been chosen as the command center by the ROTC, and was on triple red hot alert that night. As we gleefully circled the statues in a sort of covert midnight May dance, trailing glorious red ribbons of streamers and duck tape, the ROTC were racing down the seventeen floors of the Tower and across the grass. Would it be cliché to say we were literally caught red-handed? In a sudden interruption to our merriment, we were apprehended by someone twice our size, who grabbed the arm of each in a gigantic, vise-like grasp, while simultaneously summoning the campus police.
Although at the time I still wanted to be spy when I grew up (cyanide capsule between my teeth and all), it was obvious from my comportment during the next few moments that I was not well-suited to a life of crime. By the time the police arrived, I was blubbering hysterically. Mystified as to why two BYU students had turn-coated and attempted to forward the cause of the U, the officer completely failed to grasp the subtle nuances of our sophisticated artistic critique of the rivalry. And in my incoherent state, I was unable to explain what suddenly appeared to be a rather silly idea, even to me. The ROTC still looked poised to tackle and pummel us both, but were fortunately disbanded by the police, and sent elsewhere to guard against more competent threats to campus security. My more composed roommate sensibly apologized to the officer, managed to drive me home, and eventually calmed me down enough to assure me that I was not going to die of embarrassment, be deported to a detention camp, or be expelled from the university.
My ambitions toward an illustrious career in international espionage were cruelly cut short by this encounter, which may also explain why things like airport security, passport control, and trips to the Italian Questura still make me slightly queasy. Is it possible that they will be able to read on my guilty face the report which an amused campus police officer may or may not have written up about my one ill-fated foray into defiant anarchy? In any case, though I spent several more years in Utah, I still unrepentantly refused to attend The Big Game. But I also refrained from ever again so much as touching the plastic-wrapped statues. So in the end, I suppose we can consider it at least a marginal victory for Law and Order, Social Conformity, and Proper Respect for the Sacred Rites of University Athletic Rivalry.