The Fire Alarm

My Sophomore year at university, I lived in a dorm called West Eggleston Hall. There were many charming features of said dorm — for one, it was constructed back when dorms were segregated by gender, so there were no women’s bathrooms. When I stayed there the dorm was co-ed by floor in order to work around this problem. It also, as is required by law, had a fire alarm system.

It was not entirely uncommon for dorms to “prank” each-other by sneaking in and pulling the fire alarm in the middle of the night, forcing all the residents to stand outside in the frigid air until the fire marshal cleared the building. Fortunately, that year our dorm was not involved in any feuds with other dorms and this only happened to us a couple of times.

(I put “prank” in scare quotes because this practice is obnoxious and illegal and not at all a good prank.)

A bigger problem with the fire alarm was that the alarms themselves were behind a plexiglass shield. This shield could be removed, but when it was removed a buzzer sounded throughout the hall (this was the same as the door alarm buzzer that sounded when a door had been propped open for too long). It was about as loud and annoying as the actual fire alarm but, critically, it did not actually summon the fire department. It was very possible — I might even use the term probable — for these plexiglass shields to get bumped, setting them ajar enough that the buzzer goes off. This was a nigh-monthly occurrence.

One day, I was in my dorm room alone. The entire dorm was basically empty. The reason for this is because there was a home football game. Unfortunately, there are more students than student seats in Lane Stadium, so while tickets were free to students (and by “free” I mean covered by the mandatory “athletic fee” every student pays as part of his or her tuition), there was a lottery system to actually get said tickets.

I had not won the lottery that particular Saturday, so I was sitting in my dorm room. I was watching a movie (Gattaca, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. Good movie, by the way) and had the football game on in the background.

Suddenly, the buzzer went off.

“Whoever set the buzzer off will fix it,” thought I. So I kept watching my movie. But the buzzer kept going and going.

Finally, I paused the movie and went out to the hallway.

The building really was empty. I thought I was the only one in the hallway. But as I walked toward the doors, there was a girl walking in the other direction.

“What are we supposed to do?” she asked. Not living on the first floor, she was less well-versed in the procedure for resetting the alarms.

I told her that she should walk around to each door and make sure it’s properly shut. I would walk around to each fire alarm and make sure the plexiglass shield was properly seated.

We went through this activity as described, though she seemed reluctant to go off too far by herself, so I had to basically walk to every set of doors with her as well as every fire alarm. Not too much of a hardship, since the fire alarms were usually pretty close to the doors.

Eventually, I found the correct fire alarm and seated the shield. The buzzer stopped. Sweet, sweet silence.

The girl walked up to me and stammeringly, bashfully, started to introduce herself. At the same time, I said something like, “Well, thanks for your help. I’m gonna get back to watching the game.”

We made the appropriate parting pleasantries, and I walked back to my room. I checked the score on the TV, and then sat down to unpause my movie. Then the background process in my subconscious managed to grab my attention long enough to say, “You idiot, she was trying to introduce herself before you talked over her!”

I had a long, no-doubt comical moment of “ohhhhhhhhhhh!” while the realization dawned. I got back up from my chair and stuck my head out the door to see if she was still there, but she was nowhere to be seen (not that I expected her to have hung out by herself on a boys’ floor after I unceremoniously dismissed her). I had nothing to do but shake my head at my own social ineptitude and walk back to my movie.

After reading this story, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I was single throughout college.

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