Truth Is the Perfect Disguise
There was no way the guard at the gate wanted to let me onto the campus. It would make his night, maybe his whole week, if he could force me to turn around and park in the lot across the street so I would have to make the long walk back up the entry drive. Chances are he'd give me a hard time again when I got to him on foot. It was like I'd never been away. Twenty years, and still the same old bull.
"I have an appointment with Father Hanlon."
"Nobody told me nothing about no appointment."
He looked at me skeptically. Not entirely without reason, I suppose. The university was less than a ten minute drive from the playground. All I had done--after somewhat childishly but with great satisfaction waiting until O'Brian left so he would have to wonder if I would accept the command from on high--was throw on cutoff sweatshirt over my tee shirt and shorts. I was still damp with sweat and an unlikely candidate to meet with anyone of any import at ten at night, much less the best known and most respected university president in the entire Philadelphia area. Not that it would have mattered if I'd been in a three piece suit. Guys who ended up in jobs like this guy had enjoyed making things difficult for anybody and everybody, as if that somehow made their own miserable lives more tolerable. For all I know, it did.
"Look, call the office. He'll tell you it's okay."
"No reason to call the office. 'Sides, Father ain't there this time of night. He back in the monastery."
"Just call. See if anybody answers."
He shook his head. "No need."
It wasn't like I really cared if I got on the campus or not, I told myself, even as I belied that comforting lie by taking a more direct approach. A bully would always understand bullying. "Look, friend, I'm either driving up this driveway or turning around and going home. Either way, I won't be here two minutes from now. And if I go the wrong way, you can bet your ass you won't be here tomorrow."
For a moment I thought he was actually going to get physical about this whole silly business, but instead he spun around and went to the booth. He picked up the phone and dialed. Talked. Listened. Wasn't at all happy about what he heard. He came back out and, without looking at me, lifted the gate.
He stood scowling in the roadway, shrinking in my rearview mirror as I drove up the campus, moving slowly between the dark old stone buildings where the wisdom of the ages was imparted to a new generation which increasingly did not care and could not learn. At least this guy was black, rather than one of the alcohol-reddened Irishmen who manned the barricades during my youth. Progress of a sort.
a novel in progress
"Nobody drives on campus without a permit."
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Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin