Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chapter 40

       Tech eked out a victory on Saturday over Nevada, and made us all crazy for three quarters and fourteen minutes. But it was an exciting finish. I spent part of the game with Sharon and Doug and part with Colin. And once again had too many corny dogs. 

But the day after the library fire last week, I almost got fired. 
   At 10 p.m. last Monday night, every news station had the same story with Bennett Boyle on camera, lying to reporters and to the world. Then each reporter had interviewed students, whose reactions swung the gamut from panic to amusement to annoyance that they’d had to leave in the rain. I called my staff, briefing them and asking them to come in early the next morning. Once home, I set my alarm accordingly then took that long hot bath. 
  Sure enough, early the next morning while staff answered the angry calls from television reporters who had been lied to, I was summoned to Boyle’s office. “What is the meaning of this?” he shouted angrily, throwing a copy of the A-J newspaper on his desk as I entered his office. 
   “Just doing my job, Mr. Boyle. I don’t believe in lying to the media. It wasn’t an electrical fire, it didn’t trigger the alarm and it wasn’t minor damage.”
   “How the hell do you know?”
   “I was there, on Stack Level 5, and tried to put it out. I actually think it was arson, although I didn’t tell the reporter that.”
“You’d better be damn glad you didn’t tell the reporter that!” 
   Now I was angry, too, and quickly dismissed the tactic of remaining calm. My new way to deal with him definitely wouldn’t work in this situation. Looking at him defiantly, I said, voice rising, “I know how to do my job, Mr. Boyle. I know what to say and how to say it, and I know you should never lie to the media. Whatever where you thinking?!”
   Boyle blanched. No one talked to him like that. No one ever questioned him like that. Yet he must have felt the need to explain, for once, and did so with extreme displeasure. “That if there was no story, they’d go away. You’re inviting them to write about a possible arson, for God’s sake. How can you be so reckless?”
   I took a deep breath and with my voice now calmer, but defiant and strong, said, “I am not reckless, and the media always finds out the truth, so better to tell them up front than to have them make us out to be liars. So, I told the truth. The fire is under investigation.We’ll provide more information as soon as the investigation is complete. I’ve talked with Chief Callahan and as soon as he knows anything, we’ll put out a statement. Much better for the reputation of the university.  
“And,” I said pointedly, “why did you go on camera when you didn’t have any facts or couldn’t say anything positive?”
“What the hell is positive about a fire in the library?”
“Several things. You could have talked about the heroics of the Campus Police, about the calm way the students evacuated with no injuries, about Saddle Tramps and library personnel directing students away from danger. Any number of good things instead of lies we’ll now have to refute.”
   He stood there, staring at me in disbelief. 
   I continued, undeterred,  “My staff is now upstairs fielding calls from irate TV stations who last night reported misinformation. My staff is cleaning up your mess, again. And I should be up there helping instead of trying to explain my job to you ... again. Good day, Mr. Boyle.” I turned on my heel and marched out, leaving a bewildered and decidedly annoyed Chief of Staff looking after me. 
   I barely heard him say, “Again?!”  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chapter 39

    Sunday night’s weather forecast predicted rain in late afternoon—at last—and I was glad I’d listened and brought my umbrella to work yesterday. Dark clouds rolling in from the southwest were starting to spit as I headed home through the Administration Building parking lot. I sneezed, my nose stuffed and irritated from a slight cold I am trying to shake. The wind kicked up and the rain came harder. Even if I hurried, I’d be soaked by the time I walked all the way home—definitely wouldn’t help my cold. Should I turn around and go back to the office?
   I decided I could wait out the storm at the SUB or the library, both closer now than the Admin Building. I opted for the library. Earlier that day, Ricky and I had worked on the design of a brochure and neither of us thought the typestyles available were exactly what we were looking for. I envisioned a classic typeface I couldn’t recall the name of, and told Ricky I’d look it up. Here was my chance to do my research while waiting for the storm to pass. 
   I hurried up the library steps, and closed my dripping umbrella upon entering the terrazzo-tiled foyer. Designed in the late 1950s, the university library is still an anomaly among ornate campus buildings — the architecture is not much more than a huge rectangular box set up on a smaller box of windows serving as the ground floor — the façade a series of tall white stone arches reaching from the ground to the top floor across all four sides. Each six-story narrow arch frames sunscreens made from thousands of 8-by-8-inch red clay octagonal cylinders stacked horizontally, set back close to the windows and walls on all four sides of the building. 
   Presumably, supervising architect Nolan Barrick was “modernizing” the distinct Spanish-Renaissance style of the main campus buildings, but I have read a history of campus buildings where Barrick said the stark geometric form was a result of “a spectacular increase in enrollment coupled with severe limitations on funding for required expansion of facilities. Building costs became the major controlling factor, and continuity of character in newer structures through the use of similar materials rather than traditional forms was necessitated.” 
   I think it was his way of apologizing for the building that looked so out of place. I wish they had found the money to stay true to the classical architecture of the Memorial Circle area. One thing is certain, area birds loved the horizontal cylinders. They make perfect birdhouses. Sharon’s mother would no doubt love it.  
   The library’s interior hasn’t changed much since my days as a student, either, at least not the large east entrance with its sunken fountain and study areas, still crowded with comfortable black leather reading chairs.
I was pleased to see plastic umbrella bags available for patrons at the entrance, and took advantage of one. When wet, the marble floors are definitely slippery.
   Still on the ground floor, I headed for a computer rather than the old manual card catalogs, which were nowhere to be found. I miss the sturdy, beautifully made catalog cabinets with their multitude of small, narrow drawers and brass hooked pulls. These days, card catalog cabinets are mainly found in antique stores, the price tags normally too high for consideration. Maybe the thrift store might get one in. I might leave a note to be called if one was donated. They probably won’t ask as much as an antique shop, and a cabinet of it’s design would be great for my studio. 
   My brief computer search revealed several books about typefaces and settings on Stack Level 5, under Z.  I wondered if that meant the subject was not as important as those listed earlier in the alphabet. Not really understanding the logic of the Dewey Decimal System, I didn’t have an answer. But I was glad someone at least considered typography interesting enough to write a few books on it, no matter where they were shelved. 
   The west elevators, still located in the east part of the building but facing west, took me to the sixth floor, or seventh, depending on whether you counted the administrative mezzanine as a floor — the first floor was labeled G for Ground floor. However it was labeled, Stack Level 5 was still the top floor, and offers a spectacular, if limited view of the campus. The thousands of shallow cylinders on the façade break the landscape into small segments with rounded edges, like looking through hundreds of ineffective telescopes. I have seen some interesting student photos utilizing this unusual architectural feature. 

   Many of the stacks, or shelves, in Stack Level 5 are moveable, another innovation in the last decade or so. All books are there as promised, but not visible at the same time, because shelves can be moved, separating or collapsing aisles, thus allowing for more stacks when needed in the limited space of a still growing library. Stacks, or bookcase shelves, are made of metal and sit about two inches up off the original floor, raised on metal tracks, with hinges on top of each shelf to help open or close the stacks. Presumably more hinges are attached at the bottom, but they are hidden by the raised platform floor where metal tracks are evenly spaced to move the rolling shelves. Walking from the rows at the ends of the stacks required a half step up to the raised aisles.
   Z — let’s see, turn north, U, V, farther back ... ah, there, Z. In the farthest northwest corner, after 37 stacks, I found the right area, but the needed stacks were compressed. Control panels state whether it was safe to move the huge bookcases, obviously triggered by some sensor to keep the shelves from shifting if obstructions are in the aisles — such as students. Good thing, as crushed students would make for unwanted headlines. Following the arrows on the controls, I easily manipulated a stack to the left to open an aisle. The movement, preceded by a single ping, was barely audible, suitably quiet for its environment, and made me marvel once again at the wonders of technology. (I am still amazed by a fax.)
   Typography — at the northern-most end of the stack. I chose a few books, noticing the numerous signs posted imploring patrons “Do not reshelve books.” Taking my bounty to a nearby table next to the north windows, I settled in for a leisurely journey into all things Gutenberg while I waited out the storm. Wonder what the inventor of moveable type would think of moveable book shelves?
   It was then I noticed just how quiet it was up on Stack Level 5. Was I the only one up here? With stacks pushed against each other, my line of sight was limited to the ends of the shelves, a few tables around me and an exit door behind me I assumed opened to stairs. I hadn’t seen anyone during the book search, nor did I remember hearing anyone. The elevator was quite a distance away, yet in this silence I certainly could have heard it open if, in fact, it did. “Eerie,” I said out loud. “Bet it’s not quiet like this during finals week.”
I returned to my books, and for the next twenty minutes searched and found several examples of what I wanted to show Ricky. Marking pages with scraps of paper, I took them to the copier at the other end of the floor, next to the elevators, and decreased my Red Raider account card by several dollars. After checking on the weather, I returned to her table. It was still pouring, so I decided to look more closely at “The Typographic Book 1450-1935,” published in 1965. The largest book I had pulled from the shelves at almost tabloid size, it contained fold-out copies of type used by Gutenberg himself, looking like well-scripted calligraphy. 
   Fifteenth-century illuminations gracing the pages were captivating, and I recalled a study of illuminations I’d made for one of my master’s classes. It had been, as Jim quipped after reading it, “Quite an illuminating paper.” I smiled as I thought of him and then suddenly turned my attention to the right as I heard a noise. I thought the exit door in the southwest corner had closed, or was it a stack being moved? I heard nothing else. No footsteps, no shuffling of papers. Probably some student had fallen asleep and just left quietly. Tables were placed on the south wall, too, close to the other stairs. A great place to nap. Although the sudden noise had startled me, hearing nothing else I quickly dismissed it and returned to my treasure.

   I read, “Letter forms may well begin with geometry, but only the sovereignty of eye and hand can transmute a diagram into a work of art.” That’s what Colin does with his blueprints for furniture. Even if he didn’t build the pieces, the blueprints would be works of art in and of themselves. I wonder if he realizes he’s an artist in that respect? I sat back, thinking of him, picturing him tall and all masculine, sweating in his workshop over a chair or bench he had designed, sans shirt, of course, blueprints on the wall next to where he worked. With a decided smirk, I thought maybe he’ll just let me watch him work. Or even let me sketch him working.
Goodness, I’m getting sidetracked. As my son would say, I’m too old for that sort of thing, but gracious, the man is definitely all man. I sighed, and tried to ignore the sudden sensations deep inside. I forced my attention back to the book and resumed exploring each page with the thrill of discovery.  
   Several  minutes later, I was startled from the silence again as the elevator dinged. I heard the doors open and then close as a squeaking sound headed her way, stopping, then starting again, and stopping, starting, again and again. Within two minutes, a pimple-faced young student came into view, pushing an ancient squeaky-wheeled library cart filled with books. Obviously, WD-40 was in short supply around here. 
   He looked startled to see me, but smiled shyly, then shrugged at the nearest “Do not reshelve books” sign, disappearing down an aisle, apparently attending to the proper placement in the Dewey Decimal System, squeaky wheels notwithstanding. 
   Hunger made my stomach growl, and deciding it was time to head home before it got dark, I glanced out the window again. “Yep, still raining buckets,” I said to the walls. “At least I have an umbrella.” Yes, I’d be soaked by the time I got home, but I had accomplished my research.
   Putting the copies for Ricky in my briefcase, I picked up my books and moved toward the stack, then remembering the signs, turned back around to leave them on the table. I guess it’s job security for the students, or else they just don’t think patrons are smart enough to put books back where they got them. Now that I think about it, most libraries ask the same. But with a reminder every two feet on the walls, it seems a little like overkill. Oh, well. Saves me the trouble. 
   Just as I placed the books back on the table, I heard a crash. Turning to face the stacks, I heard, “No, no ... um, help? HELP!” 
   “I’m coming!” I yelled as I hurriedly zig-zagged through the aisles, turning up one row, down the next aisle and up another row. “Where are you?” 
   At the opposite side of the floor I found the young student librarian standing stock still against the south wall, dropped books at his feet, one hand over his mouth, the other clutching the book cart, looking wide-eyed at the ceiling.
“What?” I said as I, too, looked up. Dark gray smoke was rolling along the ceiling, appearing to come from the center of several stacks that had been moved together. “Fire!” I yelled at the boy, as I became acutely aware of the distinctive smell despite my stuffy nose.   
   “Where’s the fire extinguisher?” He didn’t move or speak. “Go get help! Use the stairs and go get help!” I yelled, pushing him toward the southwest stairs. I quickly moved down the row next to the wall. Where is it? Is there no sprinkler system? Of course, not ... it’s a library ... it would ruin everything ... there has to be an extinguisher ... there it is! 
   Opening the small bright red door, I grabbed the canister of fire suppressant and headed back to the stacks, smoke now threatening to come down the side walls. The pungent smell was becoming overpowering. 
   I pushed aside my panic as I hit the control of the outside stack, knowing I would have to move them in succession to get to the middle where I thought the fire was — at least that’s where the smoke seemed to be thickest. Nothing. It didn’t move. Was it stuck? I set the extinguisher down and pushed, but the shelf didn’t budge. I can’t get to the fire, I thought, panic rising. 
   Maybe the other end? I raced there with the canister. That stack wouldn’t move either, not with the controls nor with brute force. I fell back against the wall, trying to determine my next move when the sudden loud shrill and blinking lights of a pulled fire alarm had me dropping the canister on my foot. “Yeowch!” I cried, reaching for my injuried foot. Then I heard coughing, and realized the student librarian hadn’t left after all. He must have found the alarm and pulled it. 
   I made my way to him, limping slightly, eyes watering, lungs beginning to sting. He was huddled on the floor near the stairwell door, covering his head with his arms and sobbing between coughs.  I got down on my knees in front of him, pulled his arms down and cradled his head in my hands to make him look at me. 
   Calmly, but firmly I said over the screeching alarm, “We’re going down the stairs together. You and me, right now. It will be all right. Get up and come with me. Now!”    
   Not taking his terror-filled eyes off me, he allowed me to help him up. I steered him quickly to the door. I opened it and heard the thunder of footsteps on the stairs below as hundreds of students evacuated the building. Apparently, other floors weren’t as deserted as Stack Level 5.
   I pulled the metal door tight behind us and guided my charge downward, taking gasps of fresher air. Reaching the next landing, the student librarian halted abruptly to cough violently. Twisting around, he then vomited up his dinner, scoring a direct hit on my slacks and shoes, even though I’d tried to jump back out of the way. Oh, well, nothing to do about it now, I thought, and turned him back around, continuing down the stairs. 
   The closer we got to the first floor, the slower the going was because the number of those leaving increased with each floor. I have to say I was impressed with the orderly manner of the evacuation. I glanced back up the stairs, and saw no signs of smoke. 
   The students in the stairwell proceeded rapidly down the steps without pushing or running over one another. Most had taken their backpacks with them; and most were on their cells, phoning or texting a friend about the excitement. Good thing they can’t see or smell the smoke, I thought, or it might be a different story. 
   Once outside in the continuing downpour, I looked around for someone to take the young librarian. Scanning the crowd through the rain, I noticed the back of a tall student, Saddle Tramp patch on his backpack, and realized with surprise it was Jamie Chavez. He was helping guide the others safely away from the building and didn’t seem panicked. 
“Jamie!”I shouted. He turned, spotted me and pushed his way to me.
“Mrs. Grant! Were you in there? I was in the basement when the alarm went off. What is it? Did you see anything? Ugh, what’s that smell?” Looking down, he pulled back from me in disgust.
   “Don’t worry, the rain will wash it off. Listen, Jamie, I need your help.” Explaining that the young librarian needed to see the paramedics, I confidently left him in Jamie’s care. Turning away, I glanced up to the top floor as I began to make my way through the throngs of people to the main entrance on the east side of the building. Was that an orange glow through the tile cylinders, or just the alarm light? I thought it would make an interesting picture. Amazed that something like that would pop into my head in the middle of a disaster, I chided myself and focused on the facts. When I heard sirens in the distance, I pushed harder through the throngs of wet students.
   Campus police were arriving at the east entrance as I climbed the front steps. “It’s on the top floor,” I said quickly to the first officer I reached. He looked at me questioningly. “I work in Communications here at Tech. I saw the fire. The stacks are pushed together and wouldn’t move so I couldn’t get to it. I can show you where the firemen need to go in.” He grabbed my arm and took me into the lobby. 
   It didn’t take long for the Lubbock Fire Department to put the fire out completely. As per established procedures, and because I told Campus Police exactly where the fire was, they had sent eight officers up elevators to the floor beneath the fire and then over to the back stairwells with crowbars, fire extinguishers and oxygen masks — standard equipment, carried for just such emergencies. 
     Because of their training, they’d not only had been able to search the entire floor for any victims — even though I thought the student librarian and I had been alone — they’d succeeded in moving the stacks apart and were containing the fire when the city firefighters arrived.
Although the library didn’t have a sprinkler system, it did have several fire-hose wall units on each floor connected to the water main with stout hoses long enough to reach all areas. Campus police knew their locations and how to use them, and their quick actions kept the damage, although considerable, contained to the southwest quarter of the floor. City firefighters did the rest.
   I was asked to stay in the lobby to speak with the authorities when things settled down. My phone was still upstairs in my briefcase, so I couldn’t call my staff. I wished I’d asked Elaine to order a belt holster for my BlackBerry. First thing tomorrow, I thought. (And I did, this morning.)
   Through the glass wall, I could see the barricades police had set up outside below the library steps. Photographers and reporters were gathering despite the continuing rain, and shouted questions to the officers. Great, I thought, I’ll look like a drowned rat on camera. But at least I can give them a first-hand account.
“Ma’am,” an officer said, and I turned my attention to him. “The chief would like to talk to you upstairs, if you don’t mind.  The elevators are useable and most of the smoke is cleared. Will you come with me, please?” 
I looked wistfully at the wet scene outside, wanting instead to do my job out there, but it would have to wait. I accompanied the officer to Stack Level 5. 
   A long half-hour later, after extensive questioning, I was allowed to gather my briefcase and umbrella. I’d told my story twice, to the Lubbock Fire Chief, and to the arson investigator, and then was asked to repeat it for the head of Campus Police, Chief Callahan. 
   The tall, gray-headed mustached man with ostrich boots and crisp, immaculate uniform under his rain slicker, eyed me slowly, then drawled, “Tell me what you saw, Sweetheart.”  
   I was leaning on the edge of a library table. I looked up at his cragged, pockmarked face and decided he didn’t fit the stereotype of a West Texas lawman. In fact, with his menacing stare he looked more like the proverbial bad guy. But even though his presence and demeanor commanded respect, I wasn’t in the mood to give it. 
So I replied wearily, “I’ve told it twice already, and don’t call me Sweetheart. I’m wet, tired and hungry and not in the mood for male chauvinism. I also need to go downstairs and talk to the reporters.” 
   “Do you know who I am?” Chief Callahan asked me, moving closer to my face. “Not playing nice with the police chief can make for lots of parking tickets, Miss ... Miss ...”
  I drew myself up and looked at him squarely. “Margaret Grant, Tech’s Director of Communications and Marketing. And, Chief, not being respectful to the person who writes about the university’s various departments can make for lots of bad publicity for the Campus Police.”
   He studied me with surprise, seemingly pleased to find an administrator with some backbone.  He took a step backwards and held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, let’s start again, shall we Margaret Grant? I’d appreciate it if you could briefly tell me what you saw and did, and we’ll call it a draw. Then you can go talk to your reporters. Is that acceptable?”
   I gave him a wry smile, and quickly recounted the scene one more time. I also told him I’d call him early tomorrow with questions about his investigation. He said he’d be pleased to help.

   When I finally got outside, there were no reporters to be found. So I checked on the student librarian — he was fine and had been sent to his dorm to rest. Returning to the lobby, I glanced at my cell phone. One call, from Sharon, of course. Quickly calling her back and filling her in, I refused an offer to come right over for a large glass of wine. Instead, I would opt for a hot bath and something to eat when I got home. I headed out once again.
   The rain had stopped, and only a few people were still outside. Then I spotted Jake, the A-J reporter, finishing an interview with a student, and headed his way. 
   “Jake,” I said as he stood alone now, scribbling in his notebook. “My favorite reporter. Where are the others?”
    “Hey, Maggie. They’re all gone. They got their interviews and left, I guess to make the ten o’clock news, although it’s not much of a story.”
   “Not much of a story? What do you mean?”
   “Your Chief of Staff briefed us all about 15 minutes ago. Took us next door to the Student Union and set up a news conference of sorts. I wondered where you were.”
   “I, uh, I was in the library.”
“No kiddin’? Well, Boyle said ... let me look at my notes ... yeah, he said, ‘a small electrical fire triggered the alarm. No injuries and minor damage on the top floor.’  That’s it.”
   That bastard, I thought, then made a quick decision. “Um, Jake, you probably don’t want to print that.”
   “Why not?”
“Because not one word of it is true. Buy me a cup of hot tea and I’ll give you an exclusive.” 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Part II ~ Hearts to Be Broken Chapter 38

     Working carefully, I have so far managed to avoid further explosive encounters with Boyle. He sent up two more news releases ostensively from President Parker, each badly written and poorly constructed. My staff dutifully sent them out with discreet apologies, and newspapers across the state dutifully ignored them. I then dutifully documented every directive from Boyle and every action by the staff–except the apologies. 
      And I waited patiently for my chance to turn things around. I am too committed to quality communications to allow someone like Boyle to do harm to the university I love. With a good staff, with supportive friends, and an increasingly interesting personal life, I can afford to bide my time.  

When our busy schedules permitted, Colin and I are seeing each other at least once a week, for dinner or a movie or a trip to the Cactus Theatre downtown to take in a live show. One night last week I invited him for a light supper and a rented movie. He’d laughed heartily when I put on James Cagney in G-Men, a 1936 black and white film. 
Often we have met just to talk about our days, enjoying each others’ company, as two old friends might. It is all casual and comfortable.
A favorite place to meet is the J&B Coffeehouse, 26th Street and Boston. With the typical mishmash of furniture in small intimate seating groups, free Wi-Fi, and great coffee, it’s a comfortable hangout for students as well as professors. 
Last Friday night, I sipped honey-almond tea as I waited for him. Normally punctual, he was running about 20 minutes late. Had I gotten the time or place wrong? My cell rang and it was Colin apologizing, saying he’d gotten caught up in his work at the shop. Would I like to meet him there? He still wasn’t finished for the evening, and I could see his latest project. So I took my tea to go as well as his usual coffee with cream and drove to the west side of campus.
   I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d expected, but this well-lit workshop was huge, the smell of fresh-cut wood mixed pleasantly with aromas of coffee, glue and sweat. Three students were in their respective workstations, concentrating on drawings or fitting pieces together on their latest projects. Colin, his back to me, was in the far corner next to a large drawing board and tacked-up blueprints. And a half-completed dresser, which he was sanding by hand. He was covered in sweat and sawdust, even though the air-conditioning seemed to be working fine. 
   I admit without any shame, I stood there and watched him work a few minutes, not wanting to disturb his intense concentration—(yeah, right—he was just good to look at.)
Finally, he stopped and ran a hand over the corner he’d been working on, moving around to the other side of the piece, seemingly satisfied that those three square inches were smooth enough. 
   He saw me and smiled, “Hi,” he said, walking toward me and placing a light kiss on my cheek, raising eyebrows from his students. If he noticed their interest, it didn’t show.
   “Sorry about this, but I couldn’t get myself to a stopping point and lost track of the time. Oh. You brought coffee. Thanks,” he said as he took it, tasting.
   “Not a problem, Murphy. This is beautiful work,” I said admiring the craftsmanship of the five-foot high oak dresser with multiple drawer openings. “You’re making yourself furniture?”
   “No. It’s ... it’s not for me.” When I raised questioning eyes, he shrugged, “My mom asked me to make it for dad, for his birthday in December, so I’m taking the opportunity to do it here while using it for demonstration purposes for my students. I buy all the wood, and most of the tools are my personal ones, so it’s kosher to use the space. 
   “Anyway, I need to get it finished and sent to Chicago, but it’ll take me until Thanksgiving at least to get it done. I’m way behind. Haven’t even started on the drawers yet. Was planning on doing most of it those two weeks in July, but ... well, you know.” 
   “It’s beautiful. I’m sure he’ll love it.” I walked around it admiringly and then noticed the drawings on the wall next to the drafting table. “These the plans for it?”
   “They are,” he said, taking another sip of coffee. “I make the kids create complete blueprints for their projects, so thought I needed to do that myself ...” 
   “They’re quite accomplished drawings, Murphy. The perspective, the detail. It’s remarkable for someone without a degree in art or design. Maybe you should’ve majored in design in college instead of law?” I asked in all seriousness. How could he have ignored this talent when he was younger? Then realized I’d done exactly the same thing ... ignored my art to raise a family. 
   “And miss all the fun of hunting down the bad guys?” he laughed but then turned serious. “No, I’m content to do this now — at this stage in my life. I needed those years of adventure and movement. I don’t think I would’ve been happy teaching and staying in one place when I was younger. There’s so much of the country and the world to see. I needed to see it, and I did.”
   I smiled at this new insight. Wow, is this what blogging is for? To let the world know your innermost thoughts? Not sure I’m ready to tell everything I’m thinking. But, here goes some of it. Now don’t laugh.
He is indeed an interesting man, and I am enjoying the new friendship. It is a friendship, isn’t it? It certainly isn’t a romantic relationship. He’s never offered more than a quick soft kiss goodnight — and for now that suited me just fine. I’m not sure what I would do if it headed to something less platonic. Yet, the desire is certainly there. It’s just pushed to the side while I get to know more about him ... and about myself. It is comfortable, and I like comfortable almost as much as Colin.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chapters 36 and 37

      Doug led Sharon and me through the excited crowd, which got louder the closer we got to Jones Stadium at the northeast corner of campus. One of the first orders of business when I’d arrived last spring was to purchase a football season ticket next to Sharon and Doug’s usual seats. Deciding to walk the mile from my house to the stadium, knowing it would be quicker than fighting traffic in and around campus on the day of the first home football game, we were caught up in the enthusiasm as soon as we stepped on campus. The Goin’ Band from Raider Land marched smartly across campus with throngs of cheering, hopeful red-and-black-clad fans following in their wake, Sharon and Doug and I included. 
   This was the first game I’ve attended since my college days and I wondered if the magic would still be there. The ever-changing West Texas weather had cooperated, and the forecast was for sunshine and clear skies into the evening hours. In fact, it was still hot and dry. The little rain we have had lately came and went with the same haste, and every other system that moved our way seemed to split just before it got to Lubbock. Oh, for cool, wet weather! 
The game was scheduled to start in late afternoon, but it should still be hot enough to leave jackets at home. 
   As we were crossing Memorial Circle, I looked once again at the Will Rogers statue. Late Thursday evening, Saddle Tramps had wrapped the legendary man and horse in flowing red crepe paper, covering them head to hoof without so much as an inch of bronze showing. A close-up photo of the wrapping graces the latest issue of the alumni magazine, Texas Techsan. The photo, Soapsuds Dressed for Fall is by O’Jay R. Barbee. 
Wrapping is a tradition begun after my graduation, and on Friday I had stood by my office window to admire the transformed statue and watch Saddle Tramps, posted at each campus entrance, hand out red and black streamers for entering cars. They were fulfilling their roles as spirit leaders. 
   Steven had walked in at that point and I remarked on the Will Rogers’ wrapping.
“Yeah, it makes for great pictures. We just hope it doesn’t rain between Thursday nights and game times,” he said with a smile. “When wet, crepe paper can get pretty ugly pretty fast.”
   “Not much chance of rain this year. But with this drought, I bet they’d be willing to sacrifice the crepe paper. Do they always use red?” I asked.
   “For games, yes. But they wrap it in black for special mourning events, like the campus shooting at Virginia Tech a while back. It really symbolizes the mood.”
   “And no one ever messes with it? I vaguely remember Will being splashed one year with maroon paint when the Aggies came to town, but that was a long time ago.”
   “Nope. Saddle Tramps guard it 24/7 along with the Masked Rider statue closer to Jones Stadium, and of course the real Raider horse. No pranks in at least a decade, although I’m sure it’s not for lack of trying by some rival teams.” 
    On Saturday, once in our seats near the south 35-yard line, I scanned the crowds behind for Colin and Sean. Monsignor Fitzpatrick was probably at the game also, more than likely in a luxury suite high above the masses with one of the wealthier parishioners. Being a part of the crowd in the open air was more appealing to the Murphy brothers, who also had season tickets. I had agreed with them wholeheartedly and settled into the crowd, happy to be part of the enthusiastic unwashed public. 
   Still not seeing the brothers, I left my seat to find the nearest corny dog stand. I hadn’t had one since July the Fourth, and I hoped the stadium corny dogs were as good as I remembered from years ago, or at least as good as the ones from the street fair. 
   Concession stand lines were long, but moving quickly. When I reached the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to see Fern Arbuckle on the other side, sprightly stepping to fill orders. For a small lady in her late 70s, Fern was surprisingly quick, much like Jonathan Long, Boyle’s second-in-command, but in a calmer manner. 
   I gave Fern my order and asked about Russ. “He’s up in our suite with Tom, Julie and the boys,” Fern said. Then to my questioning look she added, smiling conspiratorially, “I don’t really care for football, but I love the excitement and the kids, so I volunteer at the concession counter while he talks football with the guys. It’s great fun! That’ll be seven bucks, please!”
   I returned to my seat to find Colin standing talking to Doug. Turning, he smiled at me, then noticed my corny dog. “You really like those things, don’t you?” He pulled a napkin from my hand, reaching up to gently wipe away a spot of mustard from the corner of my mouth. 
   Sharon noted the gesture seemed natural for both of them, as if they had been together for years. Interesting, she thought, tucking that piece of information away for later exploration. 
   I had already eaten half of the corny dog and swallowed my mouthful before answering in the affirmative. “Love ‘em. Where’re your seats?” I asked. 
  “Three rows up and in the next section over. Why not come up for a bit?” he asked hopefully. “Sean’s not here yet. Should be along mid-quarter, though.”
Pleased with the invitation, I looked questioningly at Sharon, who said, “Go ahead. We’ll see you when the priest kicks you out.”
   It was closer to the middle of the second quarter when Father Sean finally showed up, and I had spent nearly an hour comfortably next to Colin, enjoying the game, joining in the singing of the school alma mater, cheering the Red Raider black stallion racing across the field, and whooping with the crowd for two Tech touchdowns. I also groaned at the points scored by the opponent, Texas State. But there was plenty of time, and Tech had one heck of an offensive passing game. But mainly I was enjoying being with Colin, and marveled at how relaxed I felt.
  One of the long-standing traditions at Tech football games is the Saddle Tramp participation before and during the games. Before the game started, I craned my neck to spot the two Tramps I knew, Jamie and Josh, and found them easily among the red-shirted men on the field. They rang their cowbells as the team entered the field through the traditional Bell Circle. Standing at attention, they then led the students and fans in the Tech Alma Mater, guns up, another tradition that began just after Carol, Sharon and I graduated. The Raider Red mascot carries a six-shooter, so the Guns Up sign — thumb and forefinger extended in a pistol shape — is Tech’s answer to the rival University of Texas’ Hook ’em Horns sign. 
   As the band was leaving the field, Saddle Tramps fanned out to the sidelines to toss miniature red Tech footballs into the crowd, a tradition newly revisited from decades before.
   I stood, ready to catch one, but they weren’t coming anywhere near our section. “Will you reach for one if it’s close, Murphy?” I asked.
   He laughed. “I would, but the guys know where my seats are and make it a game to not throw any this way. They think it’s hilarious that I’ve never caught one in all these years.”
   “Poor thing,” I said feigning pity. “I caught one more than three decades ago. Want me to dig it out of storage for you?”
    “Thanks, but I can live without one ... Threw them way back in the dark ages, did they? Ooff!” he said as I elbowed his side in reply. 
    “Colin, do you know why they’re called Saddle Tramps?”
“I do,” he answered. I looked at him expectantly, but he was silent, ignoring me.
   Stomping my foot, she cried, “Murphy! Tell me why they’re called Saddle Tramps!”
“Oh, you wanted to know why? I thought you just wanted to know if I knew,” he teased.
I readied my elbow again, but he quickly said, “Mercy, woman! I’ll tell you.”
   “Today would be good, Professor,” I said as we sat down with the crowd to await the  impending kickoff. 
   “Saddle Tramps were started in 1936 by student Arch Lamb. He was a cheerleader and along with two others conceived the organization to channel students’ sometimes overly exuberant and unruly nature into more positive and productive activities. They thought the school needed a men’s organization to boost school spirit. It has grown in to a school spirit and service organization.”
   “And the name, Murphy?”
  “Oh, yes. Early Texas ranchers would hire a nomad saddle tramp for his ability and willingness to tackle any task assigned. Then he would move on after a while, having done all he could to contribute to the improvement of the ranch. That’s why Lamb named the group as he did. Saddle Tramps would be hard workers when in school at Tech, moving on after their college years were done.”
  “That fits,” I said. “Sounds like you recited it, though. Did you?”
“Most of it directly from the Tramp’s website.” He shrugged, “I have this extremely non-useful talent of being able to memorize text after only one or two readings and recall it at will.”
“Non-useful? You’re kidding, right? Didn’t it help in school?” I asked, immediately jealous of his peculiar talent.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, and at other times later, but not much need for it now. Anyway, that’s the history. Let’s see, the website also says,” he put his hand over his heart, sitting up straight, “ ‘Saddle Tramps attend all men’s home football, basketball and baseball games. Our primary focus remains to further the spirit and uphold the traditions of Texas Tech University. Some of the traditions that we uphold are: Raider Red –the mascot – Wrapping of Will Rogers and Midnight Raiders, Homecoming Bonfire and Parade, Bell Circles, Victory Bells, Shotguns, UT/A&M Watch, Carol of Lights, Bangin’ Bertha –the traveling bell– and many more. Along with attending sports games, Saddle Tramps are also very involved in the Lubbock community by helping out with several local charities and ... and’ ... oh, yes, ‘philanthropy events annually.’ Hmm, think that needs to be changed to ‘philanthropic events,’ doesn’t it?”
“Fascinating,” I said, laughing.
   “Yeah, they’re a great bunch of guys. I enjoy working with ‘em.”
“No, I mean that you can memorize like that ...” 
   Colin shrugged as he stood with the crowd for the kickoff. 
Chapter 37
   By the time Father Sean arrived close to half time, and I returned to my own seat, I was stuffed with half of a second corny dog. Midway through devouring it, Colin, who had consumed his own dog quickly, eyed mine saying, “You gonna eat the rest of that?” I laughed and gave it up happily, knowing the calories would be distributed better on his large frame than on mine. 
   At the end of the game, a huge, almost embarrassing victory for Tech, Sharon and Doug asked the twin brothers to join us for a late casual dinner at the Nest, but Sean begged off, saying his sermon wasn’t quite ready for the next morning. Colin accepted, though, and walked with us as far as the Administration Building before heading in the other direction to his truck. We passed the tower where the victory bells were ringing, and would continue for 30 minutes, two Saddle Tramps fulfilling the duty call. 
   Once at home, I waited for Colin to get through traffic while my friends went to the Nest to light up the grill. I also fed Miss Priss. She still hasn’t let me touch her.
   This time, Colin’s truck was fairly clean on the outside. Still pristine on the inside. I climbed in, directing him to the home on 19th Street, on the way answering his query as to why my friends called it the Nest. 
   “Sharon’s mom is an avid birdwatcher,” I explained, spending every spare moment with the Houston Audubon Society, looking through binoculars to find and confirm new sightings, traveling to exotic places around the world hoping to discover new species. Her home is filled with everything birds, from photos to cutely decorated birdhouses, with expensive porcelain bird figurines on every possible flat surface. Old nests and jeweled birds with bright colors were the decorations for the family Christmas trees, and their back yard was the feeding station for hundreds of migrating species that enjoyed the pounds of birdseed put out each week, even though the Audubon Society frowned on the practice.    
   Sharon had grown up in the world of Audubon, and although she loved birds, too, she refused to decorate their Lubbock house with them. There was only one small bird feeder on the premises sporadically refilled by Doug.
At Christmas, birthdays and on her infrequent visits, Sharon’s mother inevitably presented bird-themed gifts, but they were all put away somewhere in the attic, gathering dust. To pacify his pseudo-mother-in-law, Doug started calling their home the Nest — a cozy, comfortable place to come home to after a busy day flying around campus, he’d told her.
   “That makes no sense,” Colin said. “I mean, how does that pacify the mother?”
   “You’re right, it doesn’t make sense. But some things about Sharon and Doug you just have to accept without questioning. Maybe Mrs. Phelps gets some satisfaction thinking of birds whenever they mention their Nest? I’ve no idea ... you’d have to ask Sharon, or Doug, or Mrs. Phelps, though she rarely visits since her husband died about five years ago,” I said, shaking my head. “Oh, and never bring them anything to do with birds. I made that mistake once — found a great Audubon print ... just a small one at Christmas one year. Sharon was speechless, but apparently not from joy. Never hung it up, at least not in any place where I’ve ever seen it. Probably in the attic, also gathering dust.”
  “So ... references to our fine feathered friends are out?’
   “No, ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ ’’ 
   I grinned, “No, definitely not.”
  “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?”
  “How about ‘The early bird catches the worm’? ‘As the crow flies?’ ” he continued.
“No!” I said, giggling. “That’s enough.” “ ‘One swallow does not a summer make?’ ”
“Stop!” I demanded, stomping my foot and laughing.
  “Wise as an owl. Naked as a jaybird. Sitting duck?”
   “Colin, please!” I sputtered.
   “Out on a lark? A feather in your cap? Eagle eye? ”
   I was clutching my stomach and laughing hard. “Colin, sop!” I begged between gasping breaths. “It hurts!” 
   “Okay, I forgot your penchant for splitting your sides. I’ll stop,” he said with a straight face.
I took deep breaths and composed myself, or at least tried to until he added, “Guess my goose would be cooked if I tweeted more, huh, Grant?” I was too far away to elbow him, but vowed revenge.
   Casual dinner for Doug meant thick grilled steaks and baked potatoes, with juicy grilled corn on the cob. Since it was so late, the corny dogs were no longer an issue, and we all ate as if famished. Settling comfortably around the pool after dinner, we talked of Tech and our different departments — Music, Engineering, Communications and Design. Comparing challenges, I won the prize for having the most difficult boss, an honor I was not pleased to accept, but nevertheless did. 
   Lately, though, my new way to work has sort of worked, except that I still have no access to the new president. Hope that changes some day soon!
Cool front came in late last night... at least cool enough so it’s not over 100. Thank God for small miracles. Prayers, though for the families near Possum Kingdom Lake and near Bastrop who have lost their homes to wildfires in this drought-stricken state. 
Please, God, we need rain so badly.