Friday, April 29, 2016

College memory: the birthday shower

Like many other decent people at my college, I was a proud member of Kirby House.

Kirby House was a men's living group that served as an alternative to the Greek system, occupying a residence hall that had been endowed in the name of Allan Price Kirby. There were no demeaning pledge activities, no silly rituals or prentensions about our importance and secrets, and not nearly as much philistine behavior.

We did, however, have the shower.

The shower was many things in Kirby House. It was a place to get clean, obviously; less obviously, it offered more privacy in our bathrooms than the toilet stalls did. Legend has it that when the Kirby family endowed the building, they insisted that "real men" didn't need doors on the stalls. That stipulation remained in effect at least as late as 1992, when I graduated, more than two decades after the college admitted its first women.

I don't think I've ever had the chance to express to the Kirby family how much I appreciated the experience of doing my business only to have the door open while people of each sex walked past in the hallway. So thank you. Thank you all.

Anyway, the shower.

In addition to keeping us clean and offering us privacy, the shower did allow us some college-age shenanigans. We often used it for celebrations. Whenever it was someone's birthday, we would celebrate by dragging that person, fully clothed, to the shower and throwing them in once we had turned it on. We also used it to welcome new members once they had accepted our invitation to join. For at least one semester, we also threw the rush chairman in every time we got a new member. (For some reason, this did not deter Gabe's enthusiasm for recruiting new members, though I recall seeing him grab a chair to hold people back at dinner one evening after the third new member had joined that day.)

We also used the shower as a form of house discipline. When someone acted in a way enough of the rest of us found annoying, we would suddenly declare it that person's birthday, and off they would go.

This happened to a number of people, but I chiefly remember it happening one night after dinner to Ted Morris. Ted, in the way that he would do, had decided to to treat "The Rose" as though it were a dramatic monologue. He was halfway through declaiming the second verse, when David McCandless said, "Isn't it your birthday?"

It was a spontaneous signal. Ted had been sitting at the table by himself. Now, without warning, there were a half-dozen Kirbs standing all around him. In less time that it takes to tell, Ted was borne out the dining room doors, down the hall, and into the bathroom, where the shower was waiting. Fortunately for everyone, the toilet stalls were unoccupied at the time.

Ted later complained that the shower treatment had been unfair and unappreciated, but I don't think anyone felt the least remorseful over it. I know I still don't, and it's been 26 years.

Addendum: As I recall, I was thrown into the shower exactly twice during college. Once was a spur-of-the-moment action by my roommate and a mutual friend, who snatched me off my feet during happy hour before dinner and threw me in. I recall the other time with great fondness, though I doubt anyone else involved felt so.

You see, Bill Dowling and a few others had noticed that while I often wished other people an impromptu happy birthday, I was never on the receiving end of such wishes. Bill was correct, and I knew it. So when he and his cohorts came to pick me up, I didn't fight. I went limp. They dragged me to the shower, complaining the whole way that I was taking the fun out of it. (Duh.) When they reached the bathroom and put me down for a moment, I stood up, walked into stall and turned the water on myself.

The posse groaned and walked away, disappointed at how un-fun the experience had been, and they never tried again.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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