ADVENTURES AT PIERPONT

THE WATERFIGHT: OCTOBER 1976

There had been a low intensity water fight going on several floors of Pierpont for two nights running. The third night was to see it escalate into absurdity.

It was now 2am Sunday.

Details of how the latest fight started are fuzzy. A skirmish broke out again on Second Sunset not with water but with BBs. No we didn't have BB guns. We just tossed them at each other. Maybe that got boring because Karl Franzen, my former roommate and the current RA for the hall we called Second Sunset, soon got a cup of water. That wasn't a good sign. Given the water fights of the last two nights, it was a dangerous escalation.

But during the standoff I was closer to the bathrooms and able to get some water of my own. Foiled again Franzen! Obviously Karl didn't really want to get wet. The fact that I, too, was now armed seemed sufficient to make him scurry off. Where he went, I did not know. But remembering how only water counts in a water fight, I took advantage of his departure to stockpile water in my room. I used anything I could find, pots, pans, canteens. I didn't have far to go to find a sink. My room 216 was right across the hall from the bathrooms.

Once armed with a watery first-strike capability of my own I ventured out on patrol looking for Karl. I didn't have to go far. I just rounded the bend by the hall lounge when I saw Karl ready to pounce, now with a pan of water he must have filled at one of the other bathrooms. Shit!

I ran down the hall like crazy, with Karl in hot pursuit. In the hall leading to the elevator lobby I ducked left and did a quick u-turn. Karl had too much momentum. He had one shot. He threw the pan of water at me but missed. I, however, didn't miss. I scored a direct hit. I ran back to the presumed safety of my room chuckling. But was it safe? Karl was now soaked and no doubt wanted revenge.

Some innocent bystander, watching the aquatic melee with some amusement suggested Karl use his RA master key to unlock my door. Shit X 2. I tried preventing the door handle from turning but it was two against one. So I let the door open about 4" and tossed out a pan of water scoring a direct hit on Karl's accomplice. In that brief instance of shock, I was able to slam the door shut. The short, but intense, counterattack was sure to give them pause.

Since Karl and his accomplice's original plan didn't work, they decided a different approach. If they could not get to me directly behind my locked door, they'd try the indirect approach: they'd flood me out. Their second assault on my room began by pennying me in. For the uninitiated let me explain. If the top corner of a room door can be sufficiently pushed inward enough, say about 1/2", a penny can be placed between the door and the doorframe. This places so much pressure on the door bolt that the door handle will not turn. Once I was stuck inside, Karl and his accomplice began pouring water under the door. It was a curious strategy since it's not as if it satisfied the main purpose of a water fight: to get the other party soaking wet. But it was most definitely an attack. With the bathrooms right across the hall, they now had the unlimited supply. Yikes! This was going to get messy!

I packed some towels along the door and soaked up what I could. That gave me an idea. If water kept coming in, I could collect it and use it as new ammunition. But the filthy gray froth I wrung out of my towels was oh so disgusting. Hmmm... all the better the deterrent: a water fight's version of doomsday machine. Of course it did me no good if I remained trapped inside my room.

Once I was pennied in, Karl felt safe to leave. For reason's unknown he went back to his room at the south end of the hall and phoned me to negotiate. Would there be an end to the latest standoff? Or would the battle mutate into a new form? I tried to take advantage of Karl's absence to get Burch, my next-door neighbor in 218, to get the wedged penny out from my door. But Karl overheard our side conversation. This could not stand. He broke off the phone call and chased Burch back into her room with pan of water. Damn! Foiled again!

After some more negotiations I promised Karl that if he removed the penny from my door, I promised to give him a 30 second head start to escape as a sign of good faith. But letting him escape after what he'd had done was hardly the plan. I put on a water fight's equivalent of body armor: my waterproof rain poncho. I wore two small NATO shoulder ammo packs Karl and I found a few weeks before in a sub-basement of the Goodell Library. In those packs I put two extra jars of water. I also had two pans of water. As to why were there NATO shoulder packs for 7.62 Nato Ball M80 ammo in Goddell? Who knew! The sub-basement was littered with piles of military surplus electronics. Along with the old Civil Defense supplies, it looked like the last refuge of those escaping nuclear winter. Some time later I heard that military surplus electonic equipment was used at the Five College radio observatory at Quabbin. Perhaps it was the same stuff.

When I finally opened the door and headed his way I could hear Karl from down the hall, "Oh my god!". As I stomped down the hall, he slammed shut the door to his room. Now Karl was trapped with two others as water was poured beneath his door. Ha!

But I was in a bind. If I poured all the water I carried with me under the door, Karl and company could soon emerge without worry. They knew I was too far from the bathrooms to get more water. My best hope was to do to Karl what did to me. I tried to penny him but given it was three against one there was no way I'd ever push in the corner of Karl's door far enough. From inside I could head them wallowing in self-congratulations. Damn!

But I had another idea. Perhaps I didn't really need a penny. I just needed something that might accomplish the same thing. What if I used a wooden wedge doorstop? This way I would not have to push in the corner of the door all at once to get a penny in place. Perhaps I could slide a progressively thicker sections of the wedge between the door and the doorframe. Eventually it would be in far enough to act like a virtual penny. There was such a doorstop holding open the fire door to the elevator lobby. I ran to get it before they realized I was gone.

From inside came snide comments of how I was bluffing and how what I was doing could never work. Yet in theory the doorstop should work! But Karl had developed an effective countermeasure. He and the others would occasionally open the door open briefly just to disrupt what I was doing before slamming it shut again. Damn! I could not even pound the wedge in place with my hand.

Rule One for those laying a siege has to be not to let the besieged escape. Yet I risked that if I left the Karl's door to get more water. In this case it would be letting 3 escape where they could head to any bathroom in the dorm for more ammo. I didn't like those odds. I'd be in a worst situation than before. I realized I needed more force to get the wedge in place.

Burch was still watching from a distance so I asked her to get me a chunk of soapstone from my room. Since my door was locked I tossed her the keys. When she returned with the stone I started pounding the wedge into the door frame. It was then Karl realized that my plan might just work. There was another "Oh my god!" from inside. "He's pounding the wedge in!" Needless to say there was no way to conduct such a siege in a quiet manner.

By now it was 3am. Since Karl's room was right above the Head of Residence's apartment... predictably, the banging woke up Deanna, the HoR. Deanna called Ira, an RA from another floor who broke up last night's water fight.

As he rounded the corner into Second Sunset we both paused, looking at each other in shock. Oh no, not Ira again! I can only imagine what he thought of me with my poncho, army packs, surrounded with pans of water, and a large rock and the wooden wedge standing alone in the hallway. Wild-eyed as I'm sure I was, I looked like a deranged Van Helsing, the vampire killer. Poor Ira. He'd been called to break up an ordinary water fight the night before. Now it had escalated into surrealistic absurdity. Does he tell these tales to his therapist?

I eventually retreated to my room where Karl and I continued to negotiate by phone. We had to arrive at some truce to prevent the water fight from erupting again without warning. The details of that truce are lost to Time but whatever form the truce ultimately took, it seemed to hold. But then perhaps the war just mutated into new virulent forms like the rotten cucumber war that ran into November. It was a new concept in warfare that dared to ask the questions: how long can a cucumber last without refrigeration and how long would it take someone to realize a rotting cucumber was surreptitiously hidden in their room? What would ultimately give it away? The cloud of fruit flies or the stench?

Mercifully, that story is for another time.

Robb