July 18, 1995. The day we went to Jeromeville with Rick and Miranda.

One of the major annual events in Santa Lucia County was the Gabilan Rodeo, a legacy of the cattle ranching in the area’s past, which had mostly given way over the years to various fruit and vegetable crops.  I was never a big fan of rodeo, but my mom’s sister had married into a family that was very involved with the Gabilan Rodeo.  So, for me, the arrival of the rodeo every July meant getting to see my cousins Rick and Miranda.  They were in between me and my brother Mark in age; Rick would soon begin his last year of high school, and Miranda was just starting high school.

Last week, Mom had been thinking of things we could do when Rick and Miranda were here.  She asked me if I wanted to take a day trip to Jeromeville, so that Rick and Miranda could see where I was going to school.  I enthusiastically approved of that idea. So, on the morning of the day before the rodeo started, Mom had been driving north for the last two and a half hours, I was in the passenger seat, and Rick, Miranda, and Mark were in the back.  Mark had been listening to music on headphones, and Rick had been showing off a fancy money clip that his dad had gotten him recently. Dad stayed home; he had to work.

“Greg?” Mom said as we approached the exit for Highway 117.  “Tell me where to go. Do I take 117?”

“Where are we going to park the car?”

“I don’t know.  You’re the one who lives here.”

“Are we going to start from the MU?   Or from where I lived last year?”

“Let’s do that.  Start from your dorm.”

“Turn here, then,” I said just in time for Mom to move over a lane and exit on Highway 117 north.  I guided Mom to the Davis Drive exit, and then to the parking lot next to the South Residential Area.

“Where do I go?” she asked.

“There’s a little yellow machine where you can buy a parking permit.”

“Do I do that?”

“Yes, Mom.  That’s how parking at places like this work.  You buy a parking permit, you put it on your windshield, and then you park.  The permit tells the parking police that you paid.”

“I know that!” Mom shouted as she bought a parking permit from the machine.

“Then why did you ask?”

“I don’t know!”

“Sometimes you don’t make sense,” I said, suddenly feeling tense over the way that something simple like parking the car had to become a major ordeal.

“Well, sorry.”

We stepped out of the car.  “It’s hot!” Mark exclaimed, the first thing he had said in quite some time.

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s what it’s like here in the summer.”

We walked north on Dairy Road toward the South Residential Area, across the street from the dairy, which was exceptionally aromatic today.  I stopped in front of Building C. Pointing to my window on the second floor, I said, This is where I lived last year.  And that was my room.”

“Nice,” Miranda said.

“It was a tiny room,” Mom said.

“Yeah, it was, but I was by myself, so it was all right,” I added.

“You got your own room?” Rick asked.  “No roommate?”

“Yeah.  It just happened.  I didn’t ask for it.  There were only six single rooms in the whole building.”

I pointed out the dining commons as we continued across the South Residential Area.  We continued walking as I pointed out campus buildings and narrated anything interesting I had to say about them.  We walked past the engineering buildings and the buildings where my chemistry and physics classes were. Heading toward the Quad, I pointed out Wellington Hall, where many of my classes had been held, and Kerry Hall, the location of the mathematics department offices.  We passed the tall cork oaks lining the Quad, where I pointed out the Coffee House and the Memorial Union and the campus store. We walked around the corner at the campus store, where I pointed out the gray, oddly-angled building on the other side of the street.

“They call that building the Death Star,” I said, “because of all the steep concrete and metal canyons.  One time, a bunch of us from my building played Sardines there at night.”

“What’s Sardines?” Mom asked.

“Isn’t it kind of like hide-and-seek?” Miranda asked.

“Yes,” I explained, ”except when you find the person hiding, you hide with him and cram in there like sardines.  Taylor was hiding, and I wandered around this crazy building for over an hour looking for him. I hardly saw anyone the whole time.   I thought everyone else was probably wondering what took me so long. And then when I finally found Taylor, I was the first one there.”

“Oh my gosh,” Mom said.  “No one else had found him?  After an hour?”

“I know.”

“College sounds fun,” Miranda said.

We continued walking toward A Street, which divides the campus from downtown.  I pointed out the field where I had learned to play Ultimate Frisbee and the small, unimpressive football stadium.  “I can see where all the parties are,” Rick said.

“Huh?” I asked.

“All those frat houses.”  Rick pointed across the street from the football stadium.

“Oh, yeah.  And there are a bunch more around the corner on Fifth Street.”

“Do you ever go to fraternity parties?” Miranda asked.

“No,” I replied.  “I don’t hang out with that crowd.”

“Rick!” Mom said.  “Put that away! Someone’ll steal it.”

“They’re not gonna steal it!” Rick argued, playing with his money clip and the large wad of cash it held.  I decided to stay out of this argument.

We turned around and walked south on A Street.  I led the group back toward the Quad, past the brown buildings with shingle exteriors which were the oldest buildings on campus.  I pointed out the library as we headed around the corner back to Davis Drive.

“What in the heck is that?” Rick exclaimed loudly.

“What?” I asked.

“That!” Rick pointed to a large metal pipe, suspended about a foot above a concrete slab in the ground.  The pipe curved a few times, ending in a section pointing about ten feet upward, like a chimney. On one of the pieces of metal attaching the pipe to the ground, ominous letters proclaimed YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.

you've been here before (yoinked)

“It’s art,” I said.

“What the heck kind of art is that?  It looks like scrap metal!”

“You know how it is.  Anything can be art. It’s a university.  There’s weird stuff here.”

We got back to the car about ten minutes later and drove all the way across town to McDonald’s.  Mark was a very picky eater, and I had not explored the Jeromeville culinary scene (other than the dining commons) enough to recommend anything, so we went with something familiar.  After we finished eating, I stepped outside to find a pay phone. I stared at the phone for a minute, trying to compose in my head what I would say. I took a deep breath, knowing that I was being ridiculous and that there was no reason for me to be nervous.  It was not like I was going to get rejected or anything.  I was calling a guy. I quickly dialed the number.

“Hello?” a familiar voice said on the other end of the line.

“Taylor?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“This is Greg.”

“Hey, man!  You’re here?”

“Yeah.  Is this a good time to stop by?”

“Sure!  I’m just hanging out, and Jonathan is studying.”

“655 Andrews Road?” I said, repeating the address I had written down.

“Yep!  That’s it!”

“I’ll be there in probably around 15 minutes.”

“Sounds good!  See you then!”

“Bye!”

After we all got back in the car, Mom asked, “Where are we going?  I directed her toward the house where Taylor and Jonathan were living, going a different way than we went before, crossing over Highway 100 and working our way to Fifth Street.  “And who are you going to visit?” Mom asked.

“Taylor Santiago, from the IHP last year.  The one who hid in the Death Star building.  And Jonathan, who was also in the program, is living there too.  I didn’t really know him as well.”

“Which one is Taylor?  Is he the Filipino boy who waved to us from the balcony that time we came to visit?”

“Yes.  That’s him.”

“Weren’t you going to try to visit someone else today too?”

Megan McCauley.  But she emailed me back late last night and said she was busy today.  She had a midterm this morning, and then she was going to do something with her family tonight.”

“Does her family live in Jeromeville?”

“Oak Heights.  Just past Capital City.  About half an hour away.”

“Which one is she?  Didn’t you say she did something funny with her hair last year?”

Cut it off and dyed it green.”

“You have too many friends,” Mom said.  “I can’t keep track of all these people.”

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s a good thing.  Remember how in high school you always felt like you wanted to have more friends and a social life?”

“I guess.”  Mom was right, but it felt embarrassing to talk about this with her, especially in front of Mark, Rick, and Miranda.

As we approached Taylor’s house, Mom asked, “So we’ll leave you alone to hang out with Taylor, and we’ll be back in an hour.  Did you say there was a park somewhere around here where we can go sit and walk around?”

“Yeah.”  I gave Mom directions to get to Maple Drive Park, about a quarter mile away.  As the rest of my family drove off, I walked up to Taylor’s door and knocked. I waited nervously on the porch, even though I knew Taylor well and had nothing to be afraid of.

“Hey, man!” Taylor said.  “Come on in!”

I walked into the living room and looked around.  I sat on the couch. Jonathan was sitting in a recliner with a textbook, which he put aside to say hi to me.  Taylor sat on the other side of the couch where I sat. “So whose house is this?” I asked.

“A guy I know from church.  He’s away working at a summer camp.”

“That’s cool.  How are your classes going?”

“Pretty good.  I just got a midterm back.  I didn’t do as badly as I thought.”

“That’s good.”

“How’s your summer?  How’s life back in Plumdale?”

“Pretty boring, honestly.  I’m working at an old lady bookstore.  My mom knows someone who works there, so I didn’t have to go out and find the job or anything, but business is kind of slow.”

“When you say old lady bookstore, do you mean they sell books for old ladies?”

“Oh, no.  It’s just a bookstore.  But the owner is an older woman who listens to classical music, and not a lot of people our age come to the store.”

“That makes sense.  Are you hanging out with your friends a lot?”

“Not really,” I said.  “Plumdale is so spread out, I don’t really have neighbors, and most of my school friends aren’t near me.  I’ve really only seen two of them. Some of them didn’t come home for the summer. I’ve been going to San Tomas Mountain Lions roller hockey games, though.  That’s been fun. I went to two with my family and one with a friend.”

“I haven’t been to one of those yet.  My sister and a bunch of her friends went to one.  She said they kept showing her on the camera and made her Fan of the Game.”

“I saw that!” I exclaimed.  “I was at that game!”

“Really?  That’s funny!”

“Jonathan?  What about you?” I asked.  “How’s your summer going?”

“Good,” he said.  “Just studying. Trying to get some more classes in.”

“You came here with your family, right?” Taylor asked.  “Where are they now?”

“They didn’t want to get in the way while I was visiting you guys.  They wanted to go find a park and hang out for a while. So I pointed them toward Maple Drive Park.  They’ll be back to pick me up at 2:30.”

“That’s cool.  Are they having fun?  You said someone else was here too?”

“My cousins Rick and Miranda.  They’re visiting this whole week.”

“Where do they live?”

“In the middle of nowhere.  A little town about four hours north of here.  But both of their sets of grandparents live in Gabilan, so I get to see them a few times a year.”

“That’s cool.”

Taylor and I spent the rest of the time talking about his classes, our plans for next year, things he had been doing with Jeromeville friends during the week and friends back home over the weekend, and friends from our dorm whom we had heard from over the summer.  Jonathan talked a little as well, but eventually went to study in his bedroom.  Taylor told me that Bok and her family went on a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest, and Caroline was visiting her relatives in Australia. (Both girls would send me postcards from their trips eventually.)

At 2:30, I looked outside the front window and saw the rest of my family sitting in the car waiting for me.  “I need to go,” I said. “My ride’s here.”

“It was good seeing you,” Taylor replied, standing up and walking to the front door, which he opened for me.  “Let me know when you move back up for the fall. Or if you’re up here again.”

“Definitely.  I’ll see you then.”  I raised my voice and called toward the back of the house, “Bye, Jonathan!”

“Bye, Greg!” Jonathan’s muffled voice called out from his room.  “Good seeing you!”

“You too!”

After I got back in the car, Mom asked, “How are Taylor and the other guy?”

“Jonathan.  They’re doing well.  Just studying. And Taylor goes home on weekends.”

“Where’s he from?”

“El Arcángel.  North of Bay City.”

“Oh, okay.  So what are we doing next?  Looking at your new apartment for next year?”

“Sure.  Head that way,” I said, pointing north and continuing to direct my mother to Las Casas Apartments.  When we got there, we got out and began walking around.

“This is where you’re gonna live next year, Greg?” Miranda asked

“Yeah,” I said.  “Apartment 124. Right over there.”

Miranda looked where I was pointing.  “This looks nice.”

“I like it.”

“Can we walk around a little?” Mom asked.

“Sure,” I said, I turned the corner of the building where my apartment was.  I pointed out the path that led to the Greenbelts. “That’s a great place to take a walk or go for a bike ride,” I said.  “Like a trail connecting a long park area.”

“That’s cool,” Miranda said.  I pointed out the swimming pool and the laundry room.  Miranda seemed the most interested; Rick was playing with his money clip again, and Mark was quietly listening to music with headphones.

After walking around for a while and returning to where we parked, Mom said, “Well, we’ve done everything we were going to do here.  Is there anything else we’re doing here? Or is it time to go back home?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  I could not think of anything else we were going to do, and I knew we still had a long drive ahead.  But I enjoyed being in Jeromeville again, even if only for a day, and I was kind of sad to see the trip coming to a close. “I guess.”

We stopped for gas and got back on the freeway.  About ten minutes later, we were approaching Nueces, the next town to the west, when Rick exclaimed, “I lost my money clip!”

“Oh no,” I said.

“I told you not to keep getting it out,” Mom said, sounding slightly exasperated.

“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

“Do you know where you lost it?” Mom asked Rick as she exited and pulled over.

“I remember seeing it at Las Casas Apartments,” I said.  “So either he lost it there, or at the gas station, or in the car.

“It’s not in the car,” Rick insisted.  “I’ve been looking.”

“Do you want to go back and look at the apartment and the gas station?”

“Well, yeah, if we can.  Duh.”

Mom turned back onto Highway 100 east, the way we came.  She took 117 north to the Coventry Boulevard exit and remembered on her own how to get back to Las Casas.  We parked in the same part of the parking lot where we were before and began looking around. I could tell that Rick was upset, and that Mom was annoyed.

After walking around for about two minutes, I saw a glint of metal in the parking lot.  I walked closer and saw a $20 bill with other bills folded behind it, held together by a metal clip.  “Rick!” I called. “Isn’t this it?”

Rick came running over.  “Yes!” he shouted. “Found it!”

“Good,” Mom said.  “Mark! Miranda! We found it!”

“Can we go home now?” Mark asked, sounding like he would rather be anywhere else than here.

On the drive home, Rick played for us a CD of his new favorite comedian, someone named Jeff Foxworthy who made jokes about the South and rednecks.  I thought he was somewhat amusing. Mom told me later that she thought Jeff Foxworthy was stupid.

After having been in the car so much that day, I felt a little relieved to be home, knowing that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night.  But I also felt disappointed. It was disappointing that I did not get to see Megan. But, more generally, today I had had a taste of what it was like to be back in Jeromeville, and I was ready for more.  My life in Plumdale really was going nowhere. I was more ready than ever to return to Jeromeville. I had been there for a year (YOU’VE BEEN THERE BEFORE, I thought, like that weird sculpture), and I would be back someday.  My friends were there. I had new people to meet there. And I felt so much more free there, not having to wonder if my family would question my every move. This boring time in Plumdale working at Books & More would pass, and six weeks from now I would be free to continue living my new life in Jeromeville.


Author’s note:  I apologize to whomever took the photograph of YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.  I stole it from a Jeromeville local wiki site.  As soon as the COVID-19 lockdown is over, I’ll go to Jeromeville and take this picture myself and replace this with my own picture.

Thanks to Mom and Taylor for helping me out with a few details relevant to this day.

This episode kind of feels like one of those TV shows where they keep showing clips from previous episodes.  I told tons of stories about the previous year in Jeromeville and linked to all of them, for the benefit of new readers who might have missed those.

And, I doubt that she will ever see this, but from one writer to another, happy 104th birthday today to Beverly Cleary.  I often forget about her when I think of my favorite authors, since she writes children’s books and I haven’t read anything of hers since elementary school.  But I loved the Ramona books and the Henry Huggins books as a kid, and somewhere back at my parents’ house in Plumdale I have an autographed first edition copy of Ramona Forever.  From what I have read about her as an adult, and what I remember of her books, she really did a great job of capturing what life is like for an ordinary child, and as someone who doesn’t always relate well to popular works of fiction, that’s important to me.  And besides all that, just living for so long is pretty awesome in itself.

— Greg

May 6, 1995. Sardines in the Death Star.

In the nine decades between the founding of the University of Jeromeville and my arrival on campus, enrollment had grown from 112 to over 21,000.  During that time, as the university added more departments and fields of study, many new buildings have appeared, and some old buildings have been torn down.  Because of this, some people have criticized the UJ campus for its lack of unifying architectural style.

That’s not me.  I’m not some people.  I don’t know much about architecture, and I think the different styles and time periods of the buildings on campus make it more interesting.

A huge concrete monstrosity known as the Social Sciences Building stood out the most architecturally.  It had not yet been named after an important person in the history of UJ, as most other buildings had. (As of this writing, late 2019, it still has not.)  Social Sciences was the newest building on campus, having just opened at the start of this school year. The building had one large lecture hall, room 1100, the second largest lecture hall on campus.  (Today, it is the fourth largest.) The building also contained three other classrooms and many academic offices, including the departments of economics, history, political science, and sociology.

The extremely modern building felt very out of place in its location at the east end of campus between the Memorial Union and A Street, surrounded on three sides by the oldest parts of campus and on the fourth side by the oldest part of the city of Jeromeville.  For that matter, the building felt very out of place on planet Earth. Students had already given it a much more fitting nickname: The Death Star, after the giant moon-sized battleship in the movie Star Wars.  The lower levels of the Social Sciences Building, with steel and concrete towers rising five stories high, remind students of the scene from the movie where Luke flies through the canyon of metal on his way to destroy the Death Star.

I had spent the entire day studying and doing homework.  After dinner, I walked back from the dining hall to Building C, my dormitory, ready for a fun-filled Saturday night full of reading for pleasure, flirting with girls on IRC chats, and maybe Tetris or SimCity.  I hoped that I might have a Saturday night filled with actual fun and doing things with friends. My hope came true this time, as soon as I walked into the common room.

Taylor Santiago, Sarah Winters, and Pete Green were sitting in the common room.  “Greg!” Taylor said. “I was just looking for you.”

“Yes?” I asked.  I didn’t know why he had been looking for me, and I wasn’t sure if it was for a good reason or a bad one.

“We’re gonna play Sardines in the Death Star.  You wanna come?”

“Sure,” I said.  “What’s Sardines?”

“You’ve never played Sardines?” Sarah asked.

“No,” I replied.  I tended to get that often.  Someone would find out about some normal childhood experience that I didn’t have, and their reaction would come across as incredulous because of it.  It always made me feel sensitive about my deprived and sheltered childhood, although on the bright side, having new experiences as an adult makes me appreciate them more.

“It’s kind of like hide and seek,” Sarah continued.  “But only one person hides. The rest of us all look for the one person and then cram into that hiding space like sardines in a can.”

“I see.  So hide and seek, but when I find the person who is it, I hide with them?”

“Yeah!  You got it.”

“I’m in.  Who else are we waiting for?”

“Krista, Liz, Ramon, and Charlie.  Danielle and Caroline and Jason said maybe.”

“We’re not going now,” Taylor said.  “Meet down here at 9. It’ll be pretty dark by then.  Does that sound good?”

“Sure.  I’ll see you guys then.”

 

A few hours later, Taylor, Pete, Charlie, Sarah, Krista, Liz, Ramon, Caroline, and I were walking east toward the Bike Barn and the chemistry building.  Apparently they didn’t know the shortcut through the temporary buildings north of the dorms, because that’s the way I would have gone. I hadn’t exhaustively studied which way was actually quicker, though.

“Have you guys ever been to the Death Star at night?” Ramon asked.  “Winter quarter I had a class there at 5pm, and I stayed after class to talk to the professor one time.  I got lost getting back to where I parked my bike. It was kind of scary.”

“Everything about that building is kind of scary,” Pete said.

“I’ve never really been inside the building,” I said.  “I’ve never had a class or office hours or anything there.”

“That might be a good thing,” Taylor said, laughing.

It was 9:10 PM, according to my watch.  The sun sets fairly late this time of year, but the last glow of twilight was just fading by the time we made our walk across campus to the Death Star.  It was a clear night, and a few bright stars were mostly visible despite the glare of streetlights and the occasional light shining from within a building.  The campus was relatively quiet as we walked around the chemistry building, in front of the library, and diagonally across the Quad, occasionally seeing a student walking or cycling past us.

We stopped in front of the door to room 1100, the large lecture hall, across the street from the main campus bookstore.  “Give me five minutes to hide,” Taylor said. “Does anyone have a watch?”

“I do,” I replied.  “And it has a timer on it.”

“Perfect!”

“Ready?” I said as I set the timer on my watch for five minutes.

“Ready,” Taylor said.

“Go!” I started the watch as Taylor walked around the far corner of the lecture hall and disappeared into a corridor between the lecture hall and another part of the building.  The others made small talk.

“How is physics class, Greg?” Sarah asked at one point.  “You said you didn’t do well on the midterm, right?”

“It’s going okay,” I said.  “I’ve been studying harder. I don’t think I gave the class my best effort at first, because I expected it to be easy like high school physics, but it’s not.”

“That’s good.  I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

A few minutes later, my watch beeped.  “Time to find Taylor,” I said. I switched my watch back to the time display; it was 9:22 PM.

“Let’s go!” Ramon shouted.  He and Liz went in the same direction that Taylor had gone when he hid; Charlie, Krista, and Caroline walked north along the street and turned along the north end of the building; and Pete, Sarah, and I walked along the south end of the lecture hall.  This path descended a long stairway, curving slightly to the left, next to a terraced area that resembled very large stairs. At the bottom was a courtyard, with doors leading to the stage side of the lecture hall, one story below ground level; across from the lecture hall was a large wall of tall glass panels with three doors leading to classrooms.  Beyond this, a large five-story section of building crossed over the below-ground area, with the ground where I stood forming a sort of wide tunnel under the building.

“I guess we need to split up eventually,” Sarah said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  Pete and Sarah continued through the tunnel, and I climbed up the terrace back to ground level and turned in the direction away from where I started, with the Social Sciences building on my left and Younger Hall on my right (ironically named, since it was more than 50 years old, although it was named after a person, not descriptively).

In the name “Social Sciences Building,” the word “building” is used somewhat loosely.  The building was actually a complex of jagged concrete and steel structures both rising from the ground, at varying angles and heights, and embedded into the ground below street level.  Some parts of the complex looked like one detached room, and other parts were soaring towers up to five levels above ground. There appeared to be no main hallways or walkways and little consistent patterns to the room numbering, although the thousands digit of the room number did indicate the height above ground level, similarly to other buildings on campus.  

I walked past the five-story tower toward another five-story tower that rose almost, but not quite, parallel to the first one.  I was at ground level, but on the other side of me was a low wall overlooking a courtyard below ground level, giving the illusion that I was above ground level.  Below me were bushes in planters, and a bridge to my right connected to another building. I crossed that bridge and then climbed down a set of stairs to the courtyard below.

I walked around looking for hiding places.  I looked behind trash cans and under benches.  I found a wall with deeply recessed windows where a college student of small stature like Taylor could hide; he was not hiding in any of those.  I turned a corner into a corridor between two concrete walls that led into a locked door. No hiding places there and no Taylor. I came back the way I came and then turned to walk under the five story tower.  I figured I must be close to A Street by now, but I was surrounded by walls and tall buildings, so I couldn’t tell.

To my left, a two-story section of building crossed over the courtyard like a bridge, with a terraced area that looked like large stairs, similar to the terrace near the lecture hall.  I got a running start and climbed those large stairs; at the top I found myself facing the football stadium, with North Quad Avenue in front of me and A Street on my right. I turned left back on North Quad Avenue toward the bookstore, then turned back into the Social Sciences complex of buildings, checking behind every corner, trash can, utility box, and tree for Taylor.  He wasn’t there.

I found myself in a new below-ground courtyard.  It was not any of the same ones that I had seen before, but it looked similar: bushes and small trees in planters, narrow stairways leading up to ground level, towering concrete structures around me.  I climbed the stairs and walked along the walkways until I reached locked doors and turned around. I climbed a different set of stairs, which appeared to spiral around at right angles and connect eventually to all five levels of the building next to me, yet none of these stairs led to any unlocked doors.  More importantly, there was no sign of Taylor anywhere nearby.

I found a path I had not taken before which led back out to North Quad Avenue, near the bookstore.  I turned down East Quad Avenue past the lecture hall and walked back into the Social Sciences Building complex the same way I saw Taylor first enter the building.  About fifteen minutes had passed since Taylor entered the building. I found myself back at the five-story staircase I had climbed earlier. The stairs climbed upward turning at 90 degree angles; in between this right-angled spiral was an elevator shaft.  I pressed the Down button, not sure if the elevator was actually running at night. It was, and Taylor was not inside it. I got out at the basement level and walked to the glass wall of classrooms where I had been earlier.

I wandered around the building, trying to find new places I hadn’t been yet, new places where Taylor might be hiding.  I climbed every staircase I could see. I tried opening every door; almost all of them were locked, and the few that weren’t did not lead to Taylor’s hiding place.

During my third time passing the glass wall of classrooms, I saw Liz approaching me from the other direction, coming down the stairway between the lecture hall and Younger Hall.  She was the first human being I had seen since parting ways with Pete and Sarah at this very spot some time ago.

“Still searching, I see?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Liz replied.  “He must have found a really good hiding spot.”

“Good luck.”

I climbed the stairs that Liz had just come down, finding myself back at ground level on East Quad Avenue facing the bookstore.  I looked at my watch: it was 9:49 PM. Eight of us besides me had been wandering around that strange alien building for the last twenty-seven minutes, and I had not seen any of them until now.  Was the building actually so labyrinthine that I would not have seen anyone for so long? Or, perhaps, did everyone else except Liz find Taylor quickly and hide with him? Were they all waiting for me and Liz, wondering why we weren’t there yet?

As my search continued, through a nearly endless post-apocalyptic alien landscape of steel and concrete, up and down stairs, across bridges, and through tunnels, I felt my frustration growing.  Where else could Taylor be hiding? What was left to search? Why was this so difficult for me? I looked behind the same trash cans and planters I had searched twice already. I climbed up and down the same stairs over and over again.  No sign of Taylor, or anyone else.

I sat on one of the benches that Taylor was not hiding under or behind.  I looked up at the dark night sky. I was lost, I was frustrated, and I had no idea what to do.  I took a deep breath. I checked my watch. 10:26. I had been searching for Taylor for over an hour.  For all I knew, my friends might have all found Taylor and gone back to Building C and left me behind. I wanted to trust them, I didn’t think they would do that to me, but at this point I didn’t know anything for sure.

I walked back across the courtyard with the glass wall of classrooms.  I had lost count of how many times I had been here tonight. I wasn’t even sure that all the times I had been here had actually been the same place.  Maybe there were two courtyards with glass walls of classrooms. I didn’t know anymore.

I climbed the staircase that made 90 degree turns spiraling around the elevator shaft for the fifth or sixth time.  How long would I stay out here? What if I never found Taylor? Would Taylor and the others come find me when they went back to Building C?  How would I know? How would they even find me, if I had only seen one other human being in the last hour? This was my life now. I was going to roam the stairs and tunnels of the Social Science Building forever.  Someday a new generation of Jeromeville students would tell ghost stories about me, about the time they walked down the haunted staircase in the Social Sciences Building and saw a tall dark-haired guy with a Jeromeville sweatshirt looking for some mysterious person named Taylor, and then disappearing into thin air.

I climbed more stairs.  I knew exactly where this stairway would lead: a locked door that was part of the third floor of one of the five-story towers.  On the other side of this stairway from the tower was the roof of a two-story part of the building.

Roof.

Two stories.

I was climbing to the third floor.  The roof was below me. The roof was just on the other side of this low wall on the right side of the stairs.  Just three feet below me.

I hopped the low wall and jumped down three feet, landing on the roof.  I turned around to look behind me, on the part of the roof under the stairs.

Taylor was sitting, hunched over, out of sight of anyone on the stairs.

“Hey,” he whispered when I made eye contact with him.

He was alone.

“Am I really the first one to find you?” I whispered back, crawling under the stairs out of sight.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve been here for over an hour?  This is a brilliant hiding place!”

“I know!”

“I thought I was going to be last because I’ve been looking–”

“Shh!” Taylor said, cutting me off.  I stopped talking, suddenly aware that I was supposed to be hiding.  I thought I heard footsteps approaching, but they quickly went away.

About five minutes later, Sarah found us.  With three people hiding, it became more difficult to stay out of sight, and it did not take long for everyone else to find us after that.  It also became harder to stay quiet as more and more people hid under the stairs in close proximity. After the last person (it was Ramon) found us, we emerged from our rooftop hiding place at 10:48.

As we made our way out of the Social Sciences Building complex and headed back across the Quad toward Building C, Pete asked, “Who found Taylor first?”

“Greg did,” Taylor said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” I said.  “I’d been looking for over an hour, and I only saw another person once.  I thought for sure I was the last one and you guys were all hiding with Taylor and wondering where I was.”

“And we were all just as lost as you were,” Sarah said.

“I was starting to worry that maybe I would never find you guys.  How would I know if it was time to give up and go home? What if I was wandering around in that crazy building all night?”

“Greg,” Liz said.  “We would never leave you behind.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate that.”

A few years later, I would read more about the Death Star building.  The architect intended much of its unusual features to be a metaphor for the natural geography of the surrounding region.  If one looks at the building from above, the patchwork of buildings and courtyards represents the patchwork of farms in the valley.  The two five-story towers represent mountains rising above the valley, and the crooked paths between buildings represent rivers winding through the valley floor.  The problem is that most people don’t fly over the building, they have to find rooms within it, but I was told that the building was intended to be confusing on purpose.  People would have to interact to help each other navigate the building; the interaction fits with the building’s purpose of housing social sciences offices and departments.

As we walked back toward Building C, I looked up at the sky again.  I could see more stars now than I could from inside the Death Star. Life is confusing, just like finding someone or something hidden in the Social Sciences Building, or like the Social Sciences Building in general.  Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. But then I look around and realize that a lot of other people are just as lost and confused. Maybe someone is less confused than me about some things, but more confused about other things.  And that’s okay, because we always end up getting somewhere somehow.

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In April of 2019, after Spring Picnic, I walked around the Death Star trying to find Taylor’s hiding place.  That’s when these pictures were taken.  When I found the hiding place, I noticed that there was a locked glass door in  front of it.  I don’t remember a glass door in 1995.  Someone probably added it later, once it was discovered how easy it was for silly college kids to sneak into the building and get on the roof.
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