The Boys in the Boathouse
A Novel -- really, none of this ever happened -- by Dr. Frank Emfbo
The Connie was outfitted with three telephones. They were all in phone-booth-size closets, heavy wood doors closing out the world for a private conversation. But not too private. Little windows confirmed there was no phone sex going on. Two were for outgoing, local calls only. For a place with a hundred guys living in it, this meant keeping calls short so the line of guys outside could use the phone.
A pay phone, set to the side of the dining room, took all incoming calls, plus any outgoing long distance. Which meant anyone from farther away than Lynnwood better have a roll of quarters if they wanted to call home. It also meant they better make it short, because anyone who wanted to call the Connie had to do it on that one line.
Not only did we not have cell phones, texting, or email to stay in touch. We didn’t have call waiting, voicemail, or caller ID. We felt lucky just to have three phones. We were at the top of the high tech food chain.
But it also meant the phone better get answered quick when someone called. And Husky Tradition told us who that would be… the nearest gruntie.
There were plenty of reasons for getting tossed in the lake, especially for grunties. Miss your housejob. Get caught stealing the cereal prize at breakfast. Let someone find out it’s your birthday. Get five letters in the mail in the same day.
No shit, a gruntie named Woody once got hauled from his room at night, carried down the road to Ravenna Creek Swamp, and tossed in the muddy shitty marsh. For taking the toy surprise out of the Capn Crunch. Doctor Frank may have had something to do with that one, but Doctor Frank is a grown man now and might not admit it in public. And we digress from our story.
Those were all pretty obvious violations. When the rule is “nearest gruntie has to answer by the third ring,” all kinds of weird shit happens.
Am I just walking by, and happen to be the nearest gruntie when it starts ringing, but dammit I gotta eat and get to class, and two more steps means Silver is the closest gruntie? Will anyone notice? If Silver calls me on it, and I tell him to fuck off, and we stand there arguing until the fourth ring, will we both get laked? Pretty much so.
If I’m in the next room, watching Saturday Night Live, and Belushi is in the middle of another Samurai skit, can I just ignore the phone? Well no.
That damn pay phone was an education for a gruntie. We learned to deal with interruptions. To multi task. Or it made us ADD. If you need a solid routine, uninterrupted by the unexpected, don’t go near that phone. Take the long way around to the dining room. Sit as far as possible from the phone on those grey tiles. Or get used to having your meals and your day interrupted.
In a hurry to eat breakfast and get to class? Tough shit. Answer the phone, “Conibear Shellhouse,” be nice. If guys are eating, holler the person’s name. If you don’t know what room they live in, check the chart on the bulletin board. Go knock on his door. Tell him he has a call. If he says OK, you’re done. Go eat your meal and get the hell out. So far it’s only cost you five minutes.
If you can’t find the guy, you gotta tell the caller you can’t find him, grab the chalk and write a message on the big green board under the “Every Man A Husky” cartoon. By that time you’re going to be late for class so you better grab a couple pieces of toast to eat on the way up to campus.
Or if you’re eating dinner, nice big steak in front of you, and you’re dumb enough to be the closest to the phone… oh shit.
You learn fast. Fuck it up and you get tossed in the lake. So avoidance was the best move.
Speaking of which, whoever invented the phone bung was a fucking genius.
Who has earned the righteous anger of the whole freshman class? Some upperclassman who’s just an asshole? One of your classmates not pulling their weight? Or maybe some poor guy’s just having a bad day and they decide to make it worse. No problem.
This is best done during a meal, with plenty of willing participants . Tell a few guys, preferably guys close to the phone, what your plan is. Then calmly walk into the outgoing phone booth. Dial the crewhouse number. Guys who are already on the phone are exempt from answering the incoming line. When the nearest gruntie answers, politely ask for your victim.
It’s best not to have the nearest gruntie in on your scheme. Most guys can’t contain themselves. “Hey Hendel, phone call” would be accompanied by a smirk that would give away the whole thing. The guy that can call Hendel to the phone with a straight face is a key part of the scheme.
The door to the phone booth is a key part of the timing. If Hendel has time to close the door – either because he suspects something or just for some privacy – it really complicates things and might just blow the whole deal.
The door doesn’t lock and can be forced open, but by that time the victim knows enough to duck under the shelf in the booth, leaving, once again, the First Man Down syndrome to take effect. Bunger becomes bungee in a matter of seconds.
The art of the perfectly timed phone bung is an amazing thing to see. It’s major league, like the hit and run. A double reverse. A dance of chairs and bodies.
Those big wood chairs squeaked like hell when shoved out from the table. When twenty of them slid at once, it was like a fire alarm. Something was about to happen.
So our guy Hendel wanders innocently into the phone booth. He’s more concerned with seeing who called him than with shutting the door. He doesn’t notice the deafening squeak of all those chairs, because a flying wedge of guys is shoving in with him at lightning speed. First Man Down – or In, in this case – has the critical job of holding him up against the shelf.
Once the lightning quick part is over, the rest is all meat and muscle. All those guys pushing into that phone booth. Hendel yelling “Get out, I gotta take this call!” just makes everyone shove harder.
The duration of the phone bung may depend on the number of guys, or the level of transgressions. Hendel often got named “most hated varsity guy” so if twenty grunties had him in a phone bung, they may not be letting him out any time soon.
Bung piles in general, and phone bungs in particular, were exempt from the status quo of varsity gruntie hierarchy. See “ladder bung” and “library bung” in later chapters. Meanwhile stay out of that phone booth.