Monday, September 25, 2006


Many, many years ago, I used to take short road trips with a friend named Marty. He'd come down from NJIT on a lark, pick me up at my Rutgers dorm and we'd head down Route 27, which eventually became Nassau Street and downtown Princeton.

Acutely aware of the ancient history between Rutgers and Princeton, we'd gone down there a few times at night, plotting the revival of the college rivalry which had died years before. In truth, I think we were a bit in awe of the place. We were both bright kids, good grades and College Boards and all that, but had ended up at state schools. Rutgers has its share of ivy covered walls, but it had long before cut its ties to the Ivy League, and few of its students seemed to care about tradition. I, on the other hand, knew all four verses of the Alma Mater. Marty did, too, even though it wasn't actually his school. Plus I'd just read This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's chronicle of an angst-ridden Princeton boy. So... it wasn't out of character for us to travel the half hour distance to get some of the tradition back.

One late afternoon, in particular, we found our way down the road and began the unusual (for us) task of wandering around campus in daylight. We decided that we'd see if we could get into Old Nassau, the first building the college constructed. We'd long joked about what we'd do if we were able to break in.

Surprisingly enough, the front door opened when Marty tried the old doorknob, and we found ourselves in a large entryway with marble walls. We walked from one panel to the next, reading the names of the Princeton graduates who'd lost their lives in every American war since the Revolution. The room was quiet for a few moments, but for the footsteps of a campus policeman.

I apologized for being there, figuring we'd gone into forbidden territory, but he said it was okay. "I'm just closing up for the day." He led us out to the front step, asking us about our interest in the building. We chatted for a bit, and then he said he had to finish his rounds.

"They'd kill me if I lost this," he said, pulling a large, centuries-old key from his pocket. As the policeman inserted it into the keyhole and turned it, Marty's eyes met mine, and we shared a smile. He knew what I was thinking: at Rutgers' main building, Old Queens, they'd probably replaced the original lock with a new one. Not long ago, I checked and found it to be so.


Coco said...

Hmm, I;m not sure if you're old enough to say "many, many years ago..."

Just a quibble.

Tipitina said...

Heh heh.

RayPod said...

I rather like:
Lo, these many years ago....