Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dormitory ramblings . . .

This summer, because of some personal problems and the high cost of gasoline to and from Corpus Christi, I asked to stay in university housing. I was assigned to the University Village - the UV and the newest dorm to date on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Some 40 years ago I also lived in dorms in what was then Texas A&I University. I stayed in Cousins, Baugh and May Halls and we ate a central cafeteria located in what is now the Connor Museum on Santa Gertrudis Ave.

My return to dorm life was full of surprises.

First, back then in the dark ages, there was no air-conditioning in the dorms I was staying in. The rooms came with large windows, sans screens, that we would open up to let in air and nature. At night, if your room was facing south, it would get the cool breeze from the Gulf of Mexico and you could sleep comfortably. If your room was facing north, you were just out of luck. Not only would you not get the cool breezes at night, but you would be the first to feel the sting of a blue norther biting the South Texas night.

Another thing I noticed was that the walls between the rooms were thick, very thick. Solid concrete separated each room. That was good, for privacy, and quiet study time. Aside from the usual youthful dorm shenanigans, we were comfortable and led a good life in the dorm.

Oh, did I mention, the dorms were segregated and not co-ed and in some instances Mexican Americans and Negroes could not stay in certain dorms. It was okay. We could live with that for a while, but we called for change and it happened. But, that's another story.

For now, let's continue on the segregation of the sexes. As I said, women were assigned to certain dorms and men to other dorms and never the twain shall meet, well, sort of.

Being separated from the opposite sex in college is not nice. Then, there were these silly rules: Doors at women's dorms close at 11 p.m,, young ladies must be inside the dorm and in their rooms by 10:30 and 10:45 p.m., respectively; no men would be allowed in the dorm lobby after 9 p.m. and in no way can you have a man in your room, never, ever, ever, never or you shall be expelled and forced to wear a scarlet letter of the dorm mother's choice on your university vest or blouse. Yes, we all had dorm moms, even the men. They were wonderful women, I'm sure. Most of us however saw them as something akin to the Wicked Witch of the West or Frankenstein's daughter. Ayyyyyy!

We men had to do something to stay alive. We had the urge, you know, to see women. In the dorm in Kingsville, where there was really nothing to do then and less to do now, you scheme things. We schemed. We formed the SOGW and joined the national organization. Oh, SOGW stands for the Society of Girl Watchers. Girls back then here at the university wanted to sun bathe and they would gather at the top of Lewis Hall and just meander to and fro on the roof in their bikinis or two-piece swimsuit.

The SOGW membership would have "lookouts" and the alarm would go off when the girls were on the roof. Armed with the best hunting binoculars one could find in those days, the SOGW membership would scout the game. It was a good way to pass the time.

Then, we had what we called "panty raids." Every now and then, usually during a full moon, the hormones and heat would get to the male population of A&I. Someone would say, "Let's have a panty raid." In case you don't get it, it would happen after the women's dorms closed and the men would clamour outside the women dormintories on University Boulevard and yell for the women to "throw out" their panties. Really, that happened. It must have been the heat, or maybe the fact that there was nothing and there still is nothing to do in Kingsville for the university crowd. Panty raids were a national phenomena that caught on after WWII and lasted into the 1960s and 1970s. At a number of colleges, panty raids functioned as a humorous, ad hoc protest against silly curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women's dormitories. Here at A&I, I think it was just the thrill of the hunt - for panties. And, generally, the A&I girls welcomed the raiders. They were just as excited as the men. Must have been the heat or the hormones.

The panty raid would start with someone ringing the bell of the USS Corpus Christi located in front of the Student Union Building. Soon, at least 100 to 150 young men would be in the streets and organizing for the raid. Word would get to the girls. The University Police would be alerted. Dorm moms were at full-watch and the girls were in lock down. The men would position themselves in front of Lewis, Lynch and Eckhardt Halls and later Martin and start the chant .... "panties, panties, panties..."

Other young men would try to break in to the women's dorms. Yeah, we had to break in. Ha. I still remember one of the guys in our dorm was caught in the air conditioning vents at Lynch Hall. He was expelled, of course, and so were several other non-content panty seekers.

Soon enough the Dean of Students would show up and ask us to disburse and go back and study or something like that. Just then (and it never seemed to fail) some young women, or two or three, would open a window and wave panties in the air, bringing a loud whoop from the crazed men. Some escaped the grasp of the dorm mom and her monkeys akin to those in the Wizard of Oz and make their way to the moonlit roof of Lewis Hall and throw their panties into the night air. They would flutter down onto the grass below and brave young men would scurry hurriedly to pick up the valued prize and run like the wind, disappearing into the night past Santa Gertrudis Ave. Other panties would flutter in the air with the strong breeze from the Gulf for a long time. One landed on top of a palm tree. Again, some brave young men who must have trained with a chimpanzee somewhere would climb the palm to gather the valued prize and descend down to the cheers of other young who had not been as fortunate.

Mission accomplished, we went back to our dorms where supervision was akin to a Lord of the Flies life.

So, now in the new dorm in 2011, I can see the changes. Men and women stay in the same dorm. There is traffic of both sexes to and fro it seems 24 hours a day. Yes, there is security, but where's the dorm mom?

Maybe she melted.

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