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The butler frowned down Dale's weak protest about having George Washington hanging over his nightstand. "That painting was donated by Mister Pinkbrow when he was a student living in this house. He gave it to the house when he graduated. It had hung in the Hall since then."
"But it's ugly." Dale protested.
The butler studied it carefully, evidently looking at it as a work of art on its own merit for the first time. Neeman Georges smiled a broad toothy smile at Dale. Then the smile was gone. "Yes sir, it is a very ugly picture. From what I understand President Washington wasn't much better looking than that in person."
The butler closed the door behind him. Dale was left with George, the eyes following him around the small room. Dale discovered if he sat at the desk George couldn't see him.
So Dale sat and looked over a workbook. He was reading in the Greek Math book when Peggy knocked on his door. "Come in." He said.
"The butler said you ended up with Washington. It really is a bad picture. It doesn't even look like him."
"Maybe its Eleanor, aaahhh, you know, the one from the war." Dale offered as he walked over to stand by Peggy and look at the picture.
"Eleanor Roosevelt?" She studied it. "No. She didn't have a chin that big, and I don't think she had eyebrows that met in the middle."
Jack was relegated to running up and down the stairs, and in and out of the house. Hairy sat in the kitchen and kept Jack informed as to who was hollering for him now. He took beer outside, and boxes upstairs, then he took delivered lasagna upstairs and brought the vacuum cleaner back in the house when Bud was done with it. The three girls were almost done with his room. They had done four full loads of laundry, and sent five trash bags down, there was a full milk crate of overdue library books, one of the books was years overdue from a high school library in another state. They had found stuff that nobody could identify. Jack didn't know it, but there was a footlocker under his bed with mail in it to somebody named 'Josh Redding' from his brother serving in Vietnam.
Maggie sat on Billy's bed and read the letters to the other girls as they cleaned. They were chatty, mentioning family things, and a few saucy details of a leave spent in Tokyo.
The last letter was postmarked from California, it told of his pending discharge, but breaks some news to Josh, Maggie found hard to read, tears making it tough to see. "You might have heard from Mama that I was hurt." She read, the others stopped cleaning, "I'll be home soon, but we won't be able to do some of the things we used to. Josh, I don't know how to say it, so I'll just say it. Josh, my legs are gone."
Peggy had heard a lot about the Greek math class, and she knew Dr. Harrison of course. But she didn't know what it was about, so Dale showed her the book. He was reading through chapter 11, He had already found three misspellings and had circled them, he showed her how he found mistakes in the equations.
"If there is a symbol in the text relating to the equation, I check to see if its actually in the equation. One time I found a place where three equations had all been switched around, and another where one had been repeated when it shouldn't have been."
Peggy asked him why nobody else had noticed.
"Dr. Varscroft thinks everybody else was too embarrassed to say anything. Like maybe they thought it was supposed to be like that."
Cindy sat down at that.
Maggie continued reading the letter. "I'm still your brother, but I'm not the same." The letter went,
"Josh, this war has taken more than my legs, it's taken all the fun out of me. I think I've forgotten how to laugh since I've seen men chewed up by artillery. But I want to laugh with you again, I want to go fishing in Blue Creek like we always did. I'm glad your in school and won't have to come over here. I would die if this happened to my baby brother." Maggie stopped reading, her chest was heaving, tears ran down her cheeks.
Mary was sitting on the floor, her head in her hands, Jack had been standing in the hallway' listening to the last part of the letter. He walked in and put his arms around Mary, she clung to his arms.
Maggie wanted to finish the letter, she wiped her eyes and took a sip of the wine. "The Red Cross man said I'll be flying into Chicago in two weeks or so, Mama can get the time from them, I can't wait to see everybody. If you see Karen try to tell her what's happened to me before I get there You know how much she loved to dance. I haven't had the nerve to write to her since it happened."
The others looked up when the silence continued.
Maggie had broke down again. There was only one paragraph left, but she couldn't go on. Jack reached for the letter, he found the place.
"She has every right to dump me, I'd been looking for a Dear John letter since I got here. Josh, I don t want my old room back, you stay there, I'll probably be at the VA for awhile. But when they let me out I'll find someplace to stay, I don't want to be a burden." Jack took a deep breath. "Last sentence. 'Josh, they want me to go get treatment, so find my fishing rod and get me some new tackle, I'll be home soon. Your brother. Ken."
Everybody in the room let out a sigh. Without a word they all got up and went downstairs for some more wine.
"You mean everybody else who used this book was too smart to say anything." Peggy kidded. "Now you're stuck in a class you'll never understand."
Dale decided to defend himself. "I had an idea the other day that Dr. Harrison liked. Something about light decay in space."
Peggy laughed. "You don't even understand what your own idea was about!"
"I did too. Well, I sort of did. It was very complicated, about the, ah...." His brain was trying to come up with the words Bilbo had used. He got it. "The formation of photons of light between the event horizon and photosphere of a star, and something about the relative time inside and real time outside the photon." Dale caught his breath and smiled triumphantly.
Peggy almost whistled at that. "Dale," She said softly, "You've been in that class too long."
Dale thought about it. "You know, I think I understand what they are talking about, sometimes I even get in the discussions. But a lot, well all the mathematics is over my head, but I understand the theories sometimes. You know, it's not really that far out."
Peggy thought it was all pretty far out. She asked Dale if he wanted to go down and get some popcorn.
She might as well have asked an old hound dog if he wanted a cheeseburger.
They were standing around the kitchen for a few minutes before any of them spoke more than a word or two. The letter from the wounded soldier in Vietnam had really changed their moods. Hairy tried to kid with Maggie but sensed immediately now wasn't the time and went outside to check on the mechanics.
Cindy spoke up after he was gone. "Why do frat houses always serve wine cold like the beer? I can't drink ice cold wine."
"Just slightly chilled is best." Maggie followed her lead.
"We buy those boxed bags, they keep better in the fridge. I'll show you." They followed him through a side door into the house pantry. Cindy was impressed, she had never seen so many number ten cans of beef stew her life.
There were two refrigerators, huge older models, and a massive upright freezer. Jack opened the second fridge. Inside was a mismatched collection of beer cans, and three-gallon bag-in-box containers of wine with the plastic faucet-like taps hanging out the side, ready to go.
Maggie insisted on trying all of them. First the burgundy.
"That's not bad cold." She judged. Cindy nodded, Mary wanted to try it again just to make sure.
There was one thing Peggy absolutely loved about living at the Rozbilski House. At about seven thirty every night somebody in the house fired up the small movie theater type popcorn machine. The smell was the clue to the rest of the people that the nightly popcorn fix was ready.
No matter what was going on, everybody descended on the utility room near the kitchen for a bowl of popcorn. Dale had only been down there once or twice, but Peggy was a regular. Keith Miller, the physical education assistant professor now sports law student had even showed her how to run the machine.
It was the one time of day the butler wasn't around, and the group was as informal as they got, people wore bathrobes, Kalley had her hair in curlers, the conversation was about the new painting, or the dedication of the Hall homecoming weekend when the house Alumni would be there. Dale realized this was almost like the crowd in Kremin's room when Benjamin pulled out a deck of cards and some of them started playing blackjack.
Cindy was curious. "Why would you guys have this much wine, why not a bottle or two?" She asked while Jack poured the light Rose.
"We do have a couple of bottles, there's a peach wine right here, and I think there's some cheap stuff in the kitchen."
Mary gave the rose a taste, it was very lightly colored and she could only describe the flavor as flat blush champagne. "I don't like that one, Its like it wants to be a wine cooler."
Cindy thought it was all right cold, "I couldn't drink this at room temperature. It'd taste fuzzy." She said about the peach.
Maggie poured hers into the janitor's sink. "I want more of the burgundy, that was awful. Who drinks it?"
Jack had to admit he had no idea who drank it. "It does get drank. I see the empty box on the floor every so often. It's not as popular as the other two. A lot of guys drink the burgundy at supper. The white is popular with the girls."
They heard a burst of real live cussing and general confusion out back.
Jack grabbed a partial twelve pack from the fridge and followed the girls out to the work area.
Ramsey was holding his left hand tightly, dancing around Mary's car, Steve was arguing with the shop manual, Barry was trying to get Ramsey to stand still so he could look at the wounded hand. Mary ran to her car while the rest got Ramsey to settle down. Jack handed him an open beer, Maggie took his bad hand and Barry wiped grease away so they could find out what he had done.
"I don't think its serious." Maggie said. "Just a little blood."
"You're not on this end of it." Ramsey said draining the beer.
Dale ate popcorn and lost playing cards. He could never decided when to draw to 15 or 16 to get to 21. Peggy talked to the other girls and they giggled almost constantly.
Dale was being coached by several of the card players. But his memory didn't operate on that level, he had no idea how many face cards were left in the deck after two hands had been played, he couldn't remember if the dealer always drew on a high teen hand if somebody was already showing 20, and he had no idea how to add his cards up with an ace so it came out his way. In short, a Vegas-bound high roller he wasn't.
The party always broke up by itself after about an hour. The break was over, time to get back to memorizing Latin, polishing a report, or back to sleep, whichever was more important. Dale had no intention of getting back to the Greek math book, and everything else was already done.
"Hey Peggy, I found something else neat about this place. Wanna come see?" Dale remembered the last time they had went to a library at night. But he knew they couldn't get locked in this one.
Peggy accepted, and so did three of the other girls. Dale was a little disheartened, but he led the way down the back stairs to the first basement. The library door was open, a man Dale only knew as Rob was in there, he was sorting through a file of photos of old buildings.
"Hi!" He said, but he didn't stop digging. "This place doesn't get too many visitors. What'cha looking for?"
"I was just showing the girls around." Dale said.
"What is this place?" Julie asked.
"This is a collection of old textbooks, forgotten magazines, and like this, pictures of things nobody remembers taking. But if you need something obscure and strange, it's probably here. I'm looking for a photo of the first press box over the football field for an article on our stadium for homecoming. Nobody else seems to have one." Rob saw interest on their faces. "Sure, you can help."
They had evaluated Ramsey's hand and decided that there was no permanent damage done, though it would probably be sore for awhile.
"Go put some ice on it and don't use it for awhile." Maggie told him.
Steve had figured out what had went wrong. "The book is wrong, it says the threads are left handed on the fuel filter, well they are, but they are left threaded in relation to the body of the injector, not to you when you're trying to take it off. He was turning it the right way, but it was the wrong way. He didn't damage your car Mary."
Barry looked at the book, then at the fuel line. "Ok, so how do get it off? Chainsaw?"
Mary almost fainted.
They talked and sorted through file after file of old photos, some were identified on the back, most weren't. Rob told them stories of things that had happened in the house since he had been there, and a few that he admitted were probably tall tales from long ago.
The girls asked question after question, how did Rozbilski set this place up to be part of the university without being part of the university, where does the money to operate this place come from, is the butler a robot since he is always around no matter what time of the day or night she was up and around, she always ran into him at least once, and so on.
Rob had to admit he didn't know some of the he did know were several partners in the house, one of which was Miss Alice's family, they owned extensive property in several cities, as well as holdings in France.
Rozbulski's cockroach money had been invested in such mundane things as public utilities in the early part of the century, then in small but promising businesses as various auto makers, retail companies, and even treasury notes. The original Rozbilski hated the railroad tycoons, he considered them worse than robber barons, which they really were, and he would not buy one share of their stock, this trend continued.
Rob turned a page on the report he had found written a few years ago about the house and its history. The others were listening intently. He continued on the high points.
Now the trust fund that fed the house money was an international interest, with several different programs, like this one, overseen by money people that never made a move unless it was iron clad secure. For example, they owned stock in IBM but not AOL.
The work proceeded on the car. Ramsey had calmed down and tried to help out with one hand while his left hand was wrapped in ice. Even handicapped, Ramsey was more help than Jack with two good hands. They got the offending filter off and put the new one in. Then they all stood around and made noise about being hungry and when would little green men from Mars land with a bucket of fried chicken.
Mary took the hint and asked where the house supply of charcoal was, she volunteered Maggie and Cindy to help her cook supper for the pit crew.
"Wait a minute Mary. I didn't show up here to cook for them." Cindy protested.
"There is a big thing of wine in that cooler that need drank." Mary said softly. Cindy seemed to consider this carefully.
"Get Jack to start the charcoal, I'll see what they got in the freezer." Cindy started toward the back door. Maggie shrugged her indifference and followed her friend to the house.
Mary had to kiss Jack twice before he agreed to fight with the old open pit brick grill and get charcoal burning. Mary kissed him again and the following chorus of whistles and hoots signaled that the guys working on her car had noticed. She kissed him again for effect.
Rob was reading to himself a paragraph at a time then highlighting the points of interest for the others while they sorted pictures. Dale had thought there was only one or two small files of old pictures. He was wrong in a big way, there was file cabinet on top of box under album next to shoeboxes full of old pictures. Tintypes, old black and whites, photos cut from old magazines. It seemed that everything here was at least twenty years old, most of it much older.
Peggy asked, "So did old man Rozbi, Roscow,...Anyway, did the old man leave this place to the school, and all the money?" She had almost stopped digging through the pictures.
Rob told her he was getting to that part. They sat in silence and sorted more pictures. For some reason there were no pictures of the original press box. There were pictures of the field, stands, players, what looked like a pole barn over a tennis court, and everything else all piled together in no particular order in
Without a word the butler brought in six glasses of cold soda-pop then turned to leave. "How did you know?" Julie asked. The butler turned, evidently he was unaccustomed to having his efficiency questioned, his jaw tightened.
"I always know, Miss." He finally said slowly, quietly.
Teresa asked a more relevant question. "Where's a picture of the old press box?"
"Look for President Reagan back in the middle 1930's when he was a radiobroadcaster." The butler said and walked stiffly out the door.
The university had many strange and unique traditions associated with it's homecoming. Except for the pre-homecoming
costume and spirit contest a few weeks before which determined the order of the class floats in the parade, there was no hype, discussion or even silly buttons and posters before the week of homecoming. It was almost as if since that minor one-day competition, everybody had forgotten about homecoming.
Then, suddenly, the Sunday night of that week and continuing until noon Monday every house, dorm, tree and fence post was subject to be decorated without warning to within an inch of its life. Many students and staff parked their cars several blocks away to avoid having it covered with gold and green toilet paper before dawn. Maggie, Cindy and Mary got to watch the transformation of the independent house from a huge unsightly white clapboard monstrosity into a gold and green clad, poster and banner bearing, thing ringed in spotlights with a set of loudspeakers on the roof blaring the school fight song.
Mary and the others kept the charcoal going, simply because some slightly heavyset man came up and said, "HI I'm Doug, '76." Which, of course, explained everything. "I'll go get some eats. Keep the fire burning. We're gonna whip them Cyces. Boy its good to be back."
Doug, '76, returned, loaded with an ice chest full of hot dogs, pre-made hamburger patties, chips, and all the fixings. Doug was immediately welcomed like the long lost brother he claimed he was. He swapped stories of the baseball team he had been on with the current residents, and somebody asked him what room he had been in. Mary was glad when he said his room was on the third floor, she had been afraid he had stayed in Jack's room and would want to look for pair sneakers he had left under the bed. She had thrown out a pair at least that old.
Doug was extremely friendly, seemed to have money to spend, and was now the official reception committee for anybody that came by, whether they belonged there or not. He made the same speech to everybody, at one point producing tickets to the football game and a card showing reservations to a class dinner dance.
"It's not my reunion, but I couldn't get time off work a couple of years ago, so here I am." Somebody happened to mention' yearbook' and they were off to the meeting room to find Doug, '76, in the books.
"Mary, if I ever get like that, smother me in my sleep." Jack said seriously as they loaded the smoking hulk of a grill with food.
Rob told the story of how Rozbilski managed to have the house under the protective umbrella of the university hierarchy, without having the house under the armpit of university bureaucracy. The younger Rozbilski made arrangement for a board of governors to be appointed by the university trusties to manage the house with an oversight committee of trusties who were appointed by the stockholder members of Rozbilski family, the combined panels to sit on all house business with three house managers handling the day to day operations. Which inserted enough layers of insulation and confusion to keep everybody with 'great ideas' about how to run the house at arm's length. The day to day people were described as a master of the house, a master of the residents, and a master of the fiscal portfolio. The portfolio manager was now some vice president at a mega-bank in Switzerland.
"Master of residents?" Peggy asked. "Either the butler or Miss Alice." She surmised to answer her own question. "Maybe both."
"Then who would be the Master of the house?" Teresa asked.
The question didn't get debated right then. Wanda had found something in another filing cabinet. "I found Reagan. And your Press Box Rob!"
They all jumped up. The file was disassembled in a hurry, Rob had several pictures that showed the press box, some of them had a very young Reagan in them, from one angle or another, others didn't, the place was empty, but it was the same old box.
"I thought his first name was Ron, this picture says 'Dutch Reagan from WHO radio', but it looks like the same guy." Dale said.
In case you didn't know it, Dale was confused again.
The girls giggled at Dale, Rob said nothing but gathered the pictures back into the file, then he started packing the other photos and stuff back into the boxes they had come out of. The freshmen had heard about the homecoming tradition of nobody mentioning homecoming or even doing the smallest bit of decorating until the Sunday afternoon before the homecoming week, but they really didn't believe it.
Until they walked back upstairs and saw a hurricane of activity. The house homecoming committee had concentrated on taking the theme and twisting it to fit the idea of a revival of the fine arts. The homecoming had the theme of "Prairie Dogs are People Too!", which was billed as a subtly environmental theme.
The homecoming committee had achieved new heights in silliness with several animated films showing on a screen outside of real prairie dogs starring in operas, Broadway shows, and ballet. There were banners advertising prairie dogs as the leads in 'Les Miserables' and 'Evita'. There was huge plywood cutouts of the rodents in costume like 'Paliachi' and 'King Henry', there was a stage where house people would dress up as prairie dogs to act out scenes from Shakespeare and other classics for the judging. All of this consuming the free time of several residents and friends for the last two months or so.
The Rozbilski house had won before in the 'house: frat, sorority, or other; under thirty-five residents' for best decorations within the theme. This year they hoped for something other than the 'honorable mention' that every participating house got, they were up against about a dozen other residences of one type or another.
Other categories included big Greek letter houses, dorms, private houses, academic buildings, administrative buildings, flower beds, and fire hydrants, and then some, all competing for the one top 'best spirit' prize, or at least top in their category.
Doug, '76, was irrepressible. He was everywhere, happy, chatty, and just so glad to see everybody he was starting to make people ill. Jack managed to get Hairy and his cousin Connie to take Doug to see Bonker.
Doug, '76, was delighted to go when he heard the story of the wrestler who got sick after competing in a match against doctors orders. Doug started a story about how he played in a baseball game with an infected toe... Mercifully Doug got in Connie's car and the rest of the story was cut off.
They cooked and cooked. Too soon, it seemed, Doug was back, he grabbed food and bounded into the house to make a phone call.
"How's Bonk?" Jack asked Hairy.
"He's alright, they were getting him ready for more surgery early tomorrow so we couldn't stay."
"More surgery?" Mary asked. Ramsey and Steve looked over.
"Not like that. They're going to take his tubes out!! He'll be fine."
Dale caught the van to class with Peggy Monday morning. Most of the buildings were already decorated, some were just finishing up, by contest rules only mending could be done after noon on Monday until the judging Wednesday, Then general craziness took over trying to top each other for the Spirit prize judged Friday.
They were amazed at the transformation of nearly every building in sight. The main administration building was nearly smothered under huge signs showing profiles of famous prairie dogs through history, a sorority had been transformed into a temple to the Olympic prairie dog goddess Athena, with statue of the armed animal posed as the goddess in front of the building, Dale sat and stared, this was wonderful!
It didn't stop at buildings. People were running around in well-worn animal costumes, some of them vaguely looking like a rodent.
Since Dale hadn't thought to wear something with at least the school colors in it he was seized by a flock of cheerleaders and covered in buttons, ribbons and paper, and had his face painted with gold and green war paint while Peggy stood and laughed. He had wondered why she was wearing green slacks and a gold sweater. Now he knew.
Everybody gathered by the grill to hear the news.
"Bonker's going to be OK. Prof Wilson and Coach Jones were there when we got there, he said Orleans had been there this morning and told Bonk about Mary and Jack, that made his day. Then they told him they were going to take that tube out of his gut and do something else about a drain. He thinks he'll be at the Homecoming game!" Connie said. Everybody cheered, Doug, '76, danced out of the house, he was waving an old school spirit-flag singing a silly song about how...
"You can't keep a Prairie Dog down sport! Can't keep them Dogs down!"
Doug, '76, was not a very tuneful singer.
"Com'on!" He shouted from the stairs, "01' Bonkers gonna be home soon! Let's do a round for him! WHIP THEM CYCES!!! ... You can't keep a Prairie Dog down sport..."
It was an old unofficial fight song, most of them had at least heard it before, the singing was a little ragged, but recognizable. The decorating crew had heard the news about Bonker and decided to incorporate the idea that he was a prairie dog you couldn't keep down. It didn't take long, and Doug was better at decorating than he was at singing.
"I thought we were playing Southern, where does ol' Douggie get 'Cyces'?" Maggie asked.
Connie filled her in, "At the hospital he asked Bonker if he had pinned that Cyce in the match. He said something about how they lost a tournament to a bunch of Cyces when he went here. I think he's nuts."
Cont in Two Dorms Part 22
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