Everybody wants to be somebody and, once, I was. For a little while.
The girls from Love two and three walked down to the Cather-Pound-Neihardt dining hall together. It wasn’t an unusual sight. Whoever was around at dinner time would eat together. Sometimes, they would hang out and wait in the TV lounge until a few people had gathered. Tonight, however, was different.
A few days prior, several of the residents of Neihardt Hall, Love 3, were hanging out. The conversation drifted toward the lack of quality food in the dining hall. Someone suggested a food fight. It was the only useful thing for the food anyway. I thought it was a good idea. And so I suggested the day and time and some guidelines. We were to only toss things like mashed potatoes and hamburger buns. Things that would funny. Stuff that would make for a good time.
We walked down the long hallway, past the ballroom and over the the walkway that ended near the entrance to the dining room. The lines split in two, left and right, to each dining room. We split up to appear as if we were just going to dinner. Some in one room. Some in others. But as soon as we entered the line for food, we all went right.
Thee was once you through the line, you couldn’t come back. So we stocked up. I took enough food for at least three people and headed into the dining room. I wanted a seat close to the door. We all did. Chuck some food around and then head out before anyone knew what was happening.
The table closest to the door was taken, so I sat at the next one. One by one, my cohorts sat around me. Dinner went on as usual. We chatted about our classes.
When we had eaten our fill, we gave each other nods that we were ready. I stood up and chucked some food across the table, three seats down. Most of us tossed food at each other, but someone in our group went to the next table. Withing ten seconds, half the dining room had joined in. Thirty seconds later, everyone in the right dining room was fully engaged in warfare.
Mashed potatoes, bread and even salad items flew through the air. The din of laughter echoed off the walls. Resident Assistants (RA) eating in the room yelled. They screamed for people to stop. But food kept soaring across the room. Everyone was having fun, then it happened.
Someone chucked an orange at the RA from Love 2. It hit her in the head. I believe the words, “Oh shit,” came out my mouth. I dropped everything in my hands. My partners in crime didn’t say anything. We all headed for the door. Once outside the dining room, we high-tailed it out down the walkway. Instead of following everyone else into Neihardt Hall and up the stairs to Love 3, I turned right into the Ballroom. Students reading there gave me a funny look as I ran through the room and down the hall, past the computer lab and meeting rooms. I turned left and momentarily paused before running down the supposedly haunted hallway.
Skipping every other step, I ran up to the third floor. I could have gone to my room, 1316, but I didn’t think that would be a good idea. I figured that would be the first place anyone would look. The bathrooms were out. Too public. So, I did what any good leader of a food fight would do. I hid in the closet in the TV lounge.
The walls are thin in Neihardt Hall. It was one of the first dorms on campus. It was a dorm for proper ladies back in the day, so I suppose no one really thought about how thick walls should be. This changed by 1988. Most nights you could hear everything in the next room over. And if you hid in a closet, you could hear speech in the hallway. The sound was even better if the closet door was open and people were talking just outside the room.
The RA’s were not happy. They were rounding everyone up. Someone had ratted us out. Plus, we were all covered in food. Fortunately, no one ratted me out. When the yelling was done, the RAs forced every girl covered in food back to the dining hall.
“They’re gone,” Anne said. “You can come out now.”
I came out and sat down next to Anne. She was watching Charlie’s Angels, I think. She looked at me and chuckled.
“I think maybe you should go get a shower,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied. By the time I finished showering and rinsing food out of my clothes, some of the girls were coming back. I figured they were taken to the authorities, threatened with expulsion, but they weren’t. They spent about an hour cleaning up the dining room. They did get written up. We laughed about the threat of, “this is going in your permanent record.”
I thanked the gals for not ratting me out. It wasn’t a big deal, they said. The thought never occurred to them to do such a thing.
The next day at lunch, people I didn’t even know gave me glances and nods. Some half smiled. I was a hero. I got mixed glances from the folks in the dining hall. Some gave knowing glares. They probably had to stay late and clean up. At the time, I didn’t care. I was 18 and, for the first time in my life, people liked me.
Over time, it faded, but I became a legend. Each time someone found out who I was, the story had become grander, more embellished. For something that lasted a few minutes I was elevated to the pedestal for the champions of the little guy.
Six years later, as I was working in the first group of Community Service Officers – glorified security guards – someone I knew asked me if I was really the one who started the food fight. I was cool again for a little while. Then I moved away ad the memory of flying food faded away.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has announced Cather and Pound Halls, and the dining hall will soon be demolished. The memory of that glorious day will soon be gone, only to be remembered by someone who once was legendary.
Credit: Cat Photo, dorm room, somewhere on UNL’s website. I can’t find the link to the photo anymore.