The Fire Alarm (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #30)

firealarm

We were in the middle of a dorm war. Every morning between one and three a.m., a resident of some enemy dorm pulled our fire alarm. Presumably someone from our dorm was doing the same at some dorm across campus.

In this war I was a mere civilian. A pacifist, a bystander, a protestor. And every night I was part of the collateral damage.

I was as young and stupid as anyone else, and I vaguely regretted that I was not out there, scheming, pranking, doing college things. Going to parties, meeting new people, heading out on unplanned road trips, horsing around in creative and astonishing ways. I did none of that, and part of me felt I was missing something important.

Frankly I was barely surviving at this place, and I was on the verge of losing my academic scholarship. Pranks were a luxury I could not afford.

And so after ten days of dragging myself out of bed, alarm horns blaring in my ear, I had had enough. Dorm wars? Not for me. I was one of the ones who demanded some action from the administration, which started with an angry meeting with our resident head, Brian.

Brian was a PhD student with a Dutch wife, a beard, and a baby, all of which impressed me. Brian was known as a hands-off resident head who didn’t care about the students experimenting with illegal substances as long as they did it in their rooms and kept the doors closed. (“I”m not a policeman,” was his resident-head mantra.)

We didn’t expect answers from Brian. Brian brought in the director of campus security, who gave us no answers either. Taking the issue seriously, measures were being taken, perpetrators would be brought to justice, penalty would be swift and severe, anyone with any information blah blah blah.

And then, on the eleventh morning, as we groaned and cursed and dragged ourselves out of bed for yet another two a.m. trip to the night streets of Chicago, a thought jumped into my head. Not even a thought. An impulse. But one with a whole wave of thoughts behind it.

The alarm was already going, the fire truck was on its way. Students were already walking out the exits. There was an alarm in our lobby. It was unpulled. And that was my thought:

I should pull it.

What compelled me to think of such a thing? In a strange way I saw it as my reward. Hadn’t I gotten up every morning for ten days straight?

A reward? Let me explain. Continue reading