Here’s your problem, right here

The background to today’s adventure is that I have a day-job as a secretary in a private college. Dorm damage is something of a hot topic among the students of said college, since the cost of repairing any damage done to a dorm is shared equally among the residents of that dorm, whether or not they had anything to do with the breakage. This is, I gather, supposed to teach people to “police themselves.”

For the last couple weeks, as graduation — and the semester damage invoices loom — there has been an increasingly frantic discussion on the student list about damage, the people who do it, why people do it, and how people go about “policing themselves.” These are useful questions, and following this afternoon, I am in the position to provide some insights.

I work inside a library building. Normally, it’s a quiet place. There are occasional loud noises and the acoustics of the stairwell are really interesting, so that some conversations kind of waft up three flights and directly into my office, but, hey, it’s an old building and I like the stairwell, which is kind of Escher-esque. You can stand on the landing of the third floor and have a (loud) discussion with someone standing on the ground floor, aka The Street.

So, my office, around about 2:30. It’s quiet on my hall, with a slight buzz of voices rising from The Street, where many students are studying for exams.

Suddenly! A metallic bang rang out!

Followed by more bangs, and laughter, and even more bangs. This goes on for a couple minutes before I decide to see what the devil’s going on and walk down two flights of stairs to the point where I can overlook the vending machines.

As I’m walking down the stairs — two flights, now, and I’m walking briskly, but not running — I see students coming out of the library, looking over the rail to the vending area, obviously curious about the noise, and move on. There is from time to time still some laughter at the banging, which is continuing at a goodly pace.

I arrive at last at the proper landing, and look down into the vending area, where one young man is whaling the hell out of vending machine, while another young man is calmly purchasing a drink from the machine beside it.

Since I’m obviously the only adult in range, I lean over the rail and ask a leading question: “What the hotel are you doin’?”

The boy — I’m supposed to refer to students as “students” “men” “women,” but in this case I’m making an exception for truth in reporting — the boy who’s whaling on the machine looks up at me.


Since I now have his attention, I decide to cut to the chase.

“Leave,” I tell him.

He blinks and pulls the sound plugs out of his ears.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, I’m serious. Leave.”

“No — wait, just listen. I swiped my card twice and the machine deducted the money and my Doritos are still stuck in there!”

“Leave,” I said.

“You’re really serious.” Said with a look of utter disbelief that I could find his explanation anything but reasonable and his actions objectionable in any way.

“Yes, I am really serious. Leave.”

At which point the guy who had been buying the drink, and who had remained by that machine, muttered, “She said leave, man,” and so the boy did that.

I went back up to my office and fumed.

But I promised an insight, and here it is: The way to police yourselves is not to laugh when some fool is breaking something. The way to police yourselves is not to walk away, because it’s somebody else’s problem. The way to police yourselves is to do something, to speak up. If you’re little and they’re big, or you’re sober and they’re drunk, take a friend or three to help your present your case. Call Security for ghod’s sake! But don’t do nothing.

That’s it. No, that’s not it. One more thing — If that vending machine is broken, every person sitting in The Street, laughing, or pretending not to notice, has earned a piece of the repair bill.

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