It was near the end of my Senior year --- early May, I suppose --- and I stumbled out of the darkness into the East Campus courtyard clutching the final copy of my Thesis. I was ready to kill, or party, preferably both.
Augmenting the dull orange of sodium vapor lights was a small campfire, built in the sand volleyball court. Around it sat the usual late-night crowd, stoned on something and talking about how Jimmy Hendrix would have transformed the world into a musical paradise if only he hadn't choked to death on his own vomit. As usual, Paul and Rick dominated this topic. Rick made sense in his passion for Hendrix, parading around campus with matted, long hair, scruffy beard and an endless supply of Greatful Dead concert T-Shirts. Paul, however, had never quite gone that far into the hippy fashion and had now retreated completely in preperation for his upcoming post-graduation job designing guided missle systems. The spectacle of someone who looked like the head of the Young Republicans pontificating about the mind-expanding qualities of Hendrix's guitar solos was endlessly amusing. Desmond and Craig, who sat on the other side of the fire, seemed dumbfounded, and sat there glassy-eyed and motionless.
Desmond was a hairy man. Big and hairy. He really looked like he should be straddling a Harley rather than perched pensively around a campfire at America's pre-eminent year-round camp for nerds, but contrast was his specialty. He attempted to keep his face clean-shaven and his valiant efforts ended at a line on his neck where his shaving ceased and his abundant body hair began. Rather than wearing motorcycle boots, as I usually did, he prefered to be barefoot and his massive feet protruded from his jeans, pink and furry like props from ``In Search of Big Foot.'' On closer inspection, one might realize that Desmond was not a wayward motorcycle gang member, but rather, a giant mutant hobbit.
If Desmond was a hobbit, then Craig had to be an elf. He was lean and sharp-featured like the classic elf. Furthermore, he had a habit of tossing out smart-ass remarks in his English accent, just as you'd expect from the elf character in the Grade B swords and sorcery epic.
Craig and his gargantuan companion snapped out of their haze as I approached, clutching my thesis in its folder.
``Have a seat; join the bloody fun,'' called Craig. Desmond, who saved his words for when he got drunk, whereupon they'd come gushing out in garralous torrents, merely nodded. Paul and Rick continued unabated, ``Hendrix could see music on a blank sheet of paper,'' explained Paul, `` You wouldn't see anything, but the music was there. Actually there.'' There wasn't any point in acknowledging me, Paul. He knew that my guitar heros only knew three chords --- or four, in the case of Marky Ramone --- and that they sang, or rather screamed, songs about what jerks overintellectual hypocrites like Paul were. I really just wanted to grab him and say, ``What? Are you some kind of dumshit?''
``I finished my thesis,'' I dropped into the sand next to Craig and Desmond.
``This calls for a celebration,'' chirped Craig.
``Why don't you read your thesis to everyone in the dorm,'' Craig swept his hand around to indicate the entire, quiet, dorm.
I shook my head in a slow, deliberate way. ``It's three in the morning and I remember what they did to Goldfarb freshman year when he tried that.'' It hadn't been pretty. I shuddered. Maybe it was getting cold. ``Anyway,'' I continued, ``it hasn't been signed yet or anything. I've got one copy for my advisor, one copy for the department and a spare copy for my files.''
``How about the circular file,'' Paul had caught a rare opportunity to get a dig in at me.
``You mean the cylindrical file?'' One of Craig's less inspired smart-ass remarks.
``I was thinking more along the lines of the spherical file, Paul, in fact, the hyper-spherical file.'' I responded. ``Why not the hemi-spherical file?''
Paul was really not good at snappy comebacks and usually resorted to ``Blow it out your ass,'' after more than two or three attempts at wit. He pondered a retort.
``Yeah, hemi-sperical.'' said Desmond in a voice that suggested he'd just remembered something important.
When Desmond spoke, it was not so much the fact that he bothered to utter words without the aid of a pitcher or two of beer, but that he was so incredibly serious in the midst of yet another blithering oneupsmanship session. We all paused and he spoke again, ``You should tape your thesis to the Great Dome.'' The mutant hobbit had issued a quest.
In my sleep-deprived daze, I essentially floated down the infinite corridor, accompanied by the looming, furry Desmond and Craig the elf. Soon I was waiting for the elevators just outside lobby 10. One descended and I lurched towards it automatically. Desmond grabbed me. ``Not that one!'' He stepped inside, pushed a button and stepped out. The empty elevator dutifully returned from whence it came and we resumed waiting. I knew that Desmond was sometimes oddly obsessive, but I failed to see why any elevator that could go both up and down failed to satify our needs. The other set of doors opened and Desmond motioned us in.
The logic of Desmond's choice became clear. I had never noticed before, but only one of the elevators had buttons all the way to the eight floor. As Barker Library only went to the seventh floor, it stood to reason that eight was the land beyond: the Great Dome.
Abruptly, Desmond began a frantic search of his pockets. It was as if he had suddenly remembered that he had left a scorpion in his jacket and now wondered what it was up to. Since I was exhausted and anxious to proceed, I pressed ``8.'' The elevator, like all good objects at rest, continued to remain at rest. Desmond, like all good objects in motion continued to stay in motion. I mumbled irritably, ``It's broken.'' I wanted to sleep.
``This will fix it,'' Desmond produced a speaker magnet which had been hiding behind his wallet. What it was doing there, besides erasing his ATM card? I had no idea. He placed it against the wall of the elevator and began pressing the ``8'' button repeatedly while moving the magnet in a slow spiral. Suddenly, the elevator sprang to action. I understood.
``A magnetic reed switch enables the eighth floor.'' Desmond nodded. Craig, one of MIT's only political science undergraduates at the time, had no idea what had happened or what I had said to Desmond, yet he grinned and said, ``Cool,'' anyway.
The elevator arrived on the eighth floor, which turned out to be remarkably similar to the basement: bare concrete and cinder block decorated with occaisional outcroppings of giant duct-work. The only thing distinguishing this floor from the one at the other end of the elevator shaft was a set of windows leading to what appeared to be a walled-in walkway encircling the base of the dome. Above us, in the duct-filled gloom, the ceiling sloped gently inward in all directions; we were right under the Dome.
Most of the windows were covered by permanently-welded gratings, except one on which the grating was fastened by two heavy-duty padlocks. ``Does anyone have lockpicks or can I go to bed now?'' Desmond grunted, somehow managing to convey great annoyance with an utterance that lasted only a few hundred milliseconds -- tops. I knew I was being rude; after all, this was supposed to be my great moment and I was supposed to be gushing with excitement, but instead I was gushing with... well, with whatever is gushing through you when you're really, really tired. I was excited, but now I knew how to get on top of the Dome, so the process had been reduced to a problem already solved. I figured if that was sufficient to declare completion in Mathematics, the purest of sciences, it was good enough for me. ``Shit! I don't have enough equations in my thesis.''
Luckily, I was not asked to explain my outburst, as Craig decided to get involved. With the cinematic flair only the British can summon in real life, Craig announced, ``I have a paper clip!'' and he held the shiny office supply aloft, arching his back slightly as he did so. ``That only works in the movies,'' I began my Introduction to Lockpicking Speech, ``For real locks, you need a torque bar and a rake...'' ``Perfect!'' barked Desmond, snatching the paper clip from Craig and marching confidently towards the intimidating metal barrier. My voice trailed off and I slumped into a posture of exhausted resignation.
I knew damn well you couldn't pick a lock with a paper clip and I was pretty sure Desmond did too. Then again, in the Hollywood context invoked by Craig, Desmond had continued the scene flawlessly. I glanced at my thesis to see if it had turned into a script; I don't think I was in this scene. The cameras kept rolling.
In a re-enactment of the annoying, technically-incorrect lockpicking scene from a hundred cheesy movies, Desmond unfolded the paperclip, inserted it into the keyhole and began frantically jiggling it about the belly of the lock. And just as in the annoying, technically-incorrect lockpicking scene from a hundred cheesy movies, the lock sprang open, obdiently, in a matter of seconds. This is the point in the movie where my will to suspend disbelief gives out. Desmond repeated the proceedure on the second lock and it became clear that indignant disbelief was not an option. The locks were open. Two miracles. One more and he'd qualify for sainthood.
Desmond smiled, well aware of what I was thinking. ``These locks only have one pin. You can pick them with anything.'' I started to speak. Desmond, efficient as ever, didn't wait for my obvious question. ``It was the Lone Hacker, he disassembled the locks.'' I started to speak. Desmond: ``You pack them in sand and bake them until they're really hot. At that point, the metal has expanded to the point where you can knock out these two structural pins and the lock comes apart. Then, when you're done messing with it, you reheat it and knock the pins back in.'' These revelations left me in awed silence.
I contemplated the concept of disassembling mechanical devices at several hundred degrees Fahrenheit while we emerged onto the walkway. After a partial circumference, we encountered an aluminum ladder. ``Last part,'' Desmond grinned demonically, ``You first.''
As I departed the top of the ladder, I was glad we hadn't turned back. The Dome was larger than I'd imagined; it was not nearly as steep as the Little Dome and I walked upright from the base to the top. When Craig and Desmond arrived, I removed my rolled-up thesis from where it was tucked in the back of my pants. ``We forgot tape.''
``Never mind,'' Craig had a better idea. He took the papers from me and began tearing them into confetti, intermittently throwing handfulls of it into the breeze. The peices fluttered away and down to the ground nine stories below. They looked like moths crash-landing in Killian court. When the last appendix was on its fragmented way, we decided it was time to go. Desmond led.
``The ladder's gone.'' It wasn't like Desmond to waste precious words on mere humor. Unfortunely, Craig and I were not witnessing the emergence of Desmond's less-furry inner child; the ladder really was gone -- carried away by the same wind that bore my shredded thesis.
Instant panic and paranoia set in. What if it wasn't the wind? What if it was the work of some surly physical plant worker who was now, as we waited, summoning the Campus Police? Even if it was just the wind, the Eastern sky was starting to turn the color of the lights that lit the campus below. Dawn was breaking and we had about fifteen minutes before we became embarassingly visible.
Desmond began to remove his pants.
The sight of the hairy gargantuan dropping his trousers instantly inspired visions of horrifying scenarios I care not to recall. What if Desmond had deliberately knocked down the ladder? He was the last up and the first down... ``What are you doing?'' Craig asked calmly.
``I'm going to use my pants as a rope and climb down,'' was the equally calm reply.
``It won't work,'' I insisted, ``Your pants will split at the seam.'' If we were spotted walking down the inifinite corridor with Desmond in his underwear, we were certain to be arrested for something or other. Still, it was our only hope, and as I had been wrong about everything else that night, I expected Desmond to ignore me. ``You're right,'' replied Desmond, resolutely re-zipping his jeans. ``I can't jump in bare feet,'' he added, voicing Idiotic Plan B.
``I'm going to jump,'' Craig spoke up. My eyes widened. ``Just down to the trench you idiot.''
``Right,'' I smiled weakly. My time of talking my friends out of stupid heroics was past. Better them than me. ``It's about five meters, though.''
``More like four. I'll hang off the ledge,'' He removed a pair of glasses from his back pocket and handed them to me, ``Hold these.'' After being relieved of his breakable cargo, he crouched down on the rim and slowly slid his legs over the drop. Soon he was hanging by his arms, only his fingertips visible to Desmond and me.
He couldn't have hung there for more than a few seconds, but in that time, I managed to invent an entirely new set of physical laws. Somewhere in my vigorously educated brain, I knew that when Desmond let go, he would begin to move in the direction of the net forces he was experiencing -- in other words, he would fall straight down. In a more immediately accessable part of my brain, I was convinced that there was a heretofore undiscovered force that acted on pale, skinny Europeans falling next to walls. This force, in the space of, perhaps, three meters would propel him at least two meters away from the wall -- just enough for him to miss both the trench and the retaining wall and plummet into the inky depths of Courtyard 13. I waited for the ensuing shriek and sickening thud. Time stopped. Death died. Luckly, Craig didn't.
Craig impacted on the gravel walkway below with a reassuring crunch. ``Ow.'' Broken ankles? ``Skinned my palm... there goes my sex life.''
``Very funny, just hand up the ladder,'' I just wanted to go. Birds began to sing in the trees far below us.
``I can't really see it without my glasses...'' Great. Just great.
``Oops, almost tripped over it.'' Craig began to struggle with the ladder. The ladder swung up. The ladder dropped suddenly. Craig groaned. The ladder swayed back towards us. It didn't make it. Craig dropped the ladder noisily on the gravel. He was out of breath, ``Just... a second. This is... a bit... a bit of a bugger I'm afraid.'' Great. Just fucking great.
The ladder resumed its spacial meandering. It's course was no steadier than before. I felt we were doomed to watch Craig laboriously wave the ladder about like a giant, unwieldy magic wand until he collapsed from exhaustion. It was at the greatest moment of my despair that Desmond completed his third genuine miracle in a 24 hour period.
He darted forward, beyond the edge of Dome, beyond the limits of personal saftey and beyond the limits of the Physics in which I had recently renewed my faith. A sprawling, simian arm scooped through the air and then the entire mass of Desmond reversed itself and recoiled onto the Dome. Desmond sat motionless for a moment, holding the ladder suspended at arm's length. With great care, he eased it down until it was leaning securely against the wall.
As I began to climb down the ladder, I finally found my opportunity to contribute constructively to the ordeal. I noticed a tattered piece of rope hanging off the end of the ladder and I pointed out that, ``Next time, we should tie this little piece of rope to an air vent or something.'' ``Good idea,'' Desmond nodded. ``Yeah!'' Craig looked up from his bleeding palm which had held his complete attention for quite a while.
My after-the-fact innovation had worked the last bug out of an otherwise elegant method of reaching the top of the Great Dome and although no one said anything for the remainder of the trip back to East Campus, I could tell that it bestowed a sense of accomplishment on the group and lifted our spirits.
When Craig, Desmond and I stumbled into the courtyard, the day was definitely beginning. ``Neurotics build castles in the sky and psychotics live in them.'' Rick was putting the finishing touches on a sand castle he and Paul had built in place of the campfire. ``And Zen Masters...'' Paul was lying in the grass as the edge of the volleyball court staring up at the firey morning clouds, ``Zen Masters are castles.'' I'd had enough already.
``Paul, you're so full of shit that if they gave you an enema you'd fit in a shoebox.'' Paul shot back the usual: ``Suck my dick!''
``Don't say that too loud,'' I let loose my entire aresenal of snideness for this one, ``they might not give you a security clearance at the bomb factory.'' In his brightest rhetorical move to date, Paul changed the subject. ``Where've you been anyway?''
``We went to the Great Dome,'' I replied with calculated disinterest.
``Yes, it was quite an adventure,'' Craig stepped forward and made sure to gesture noticeably with his bloody hand. ``While we were up there, the ladder fell down.''
Paul propped himself up on his elbows and looked at us with a puzzled expression, ``What happened to the little rope you tie to the air vent?''