a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Breaking the falls
Youthful highjinks and highwires on campus
By Hugh OBleary
A helicopter hung in
the sky above Princeton one night last week, just hung there in
the dark, its red and green tailights flashing, the thumpa-thumpa
of its rotors going on and on. A quick drive around town, neck craned
out the window to keep the chopper in view, produced no obvious
focus for its ominous, hovering attention, though a rescue vehicle
was parked, lights flashing, in front of Maclean House and two Borough
squad cars sat dark and empty near Firestone. After maybe a half
an hour, the helicopter moved off, the night went quiet and sleep
The following morning
the papers revealed what had been going on. A young woman, a Princeton
senior, had fallen from a ladder high inside the north turret of
the University Chapel. According to the report, she had fallen about
20 feet and was lodged for more than an hour before rescue crews
could bring her down on the outside of the Chapel in the bucket
of a hook-and-ladder truck. It was feared that she had sustained
a broken leg. And just what was this young woman doing in the upper
reaches of the Chapel an area closed to the public
at 10:00 at night? According to reports, she was leading a friend,
another Princeton student, up to the bell tower. The young woman
had been there before and she wanted to show her friend the view.
just ------- typical.
The speaker was Mikey
Grumpatto, and he was sitting next to me on the train that morning,
evidently reading about the incident in the paper. He actually snorted.
These Princeton students think none of the rules apply to
them least of all the rules of common sense.
Shes lucky she didnt break her neck.
It was the sort of charitable
observation for which Mikey was known. A native of Boston (who,
to judge by his customary voice level and vocabulary, must have
grown up in the vicinity of a shipyard, or perhaps a boilerworks),
he has lived in Princeton for more than a decade. He is quite decidedly
neither an alumnus nor an adopted son of Old Nassau.
that kid who climbed on top of the Dinky He jabbed
a finger above his head without looking. damn near
got killed. And then he sued the university.
By the time we reached
the junction, Mikey had touched on clapper-caper falls and Washington-Road
jaywalkers and Nude-Olympic vandalism, all accompanied by snorts
and the sort of expletives that were deleted from the Watergate
he said, as we parted company at the Junction, that the world
belongs to them and that nothing can hurt them. fools.
had depressed me. Maybe the young woman who fell in the chapel was
foolish, I thought, as my train pulled out of the station bound
for New York (Mikey, of course, had waited for the Amtrak). I was
just glad that she was going to be all right. I thought of my own
daughters. Egad. I decided that I didnt think that the womans
risk-taking was really related to being a Princeton student. I thought
that probably it was related to being young. I remembered my sophomore
year in college, when my friends and I all considered it easier
(and, okay, cooler) to walk around the corner of our dorm roof,
our toes barely gripping the old copper guttering, than it was to
walk down three flights to the courtyard, over one entryway and
up three flights. I remember a couple of illicit belltower visits
as well. And plenty of oblivious crosswalk near-misses.
Im older now
firmly into fogeyhood and such memories make me feel faintly
queasy. I certainly dont encourage such actions. (Once again,
egad, I think of my own daughters and I want to install safety belts
and guardrails and air mattresses pretty much everywhere.) Nor do
I think that students ambling across the road against the light,
the music on their headphones so loud that the headphones actually
jump cartoonishly from their ears, is particularly endearing (there
is a place for common courtesy). But I do think that those of us
Mikey and me and all the fogeys who move through this
or any campus every day should remember that we pass through a land
inhabited by another species: the young. They are, after all, supposed
to be climbing up to see the view. Give them, as the traffic signs
say, a brake. Protect them, as best we can, from themselves.
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary
at "Hugh O'Bleary" email@example.com