It was a typical Thursday night in my college dorm. I was studying–specifically reading A Streetcar Named Desire–and my roommate was cutting apart bed springs and twisting the bits into a chainmail shirt since he belonged to a medieval reenactment group, although I didn’t think it was entirely accurate to use stainless steel bedsprings, but that’s another story. Naturally we had our door open when Carol, who lived on the girls’ side of the dorm stopped outside our door and said, “Hey guys, would you help us celebrate Gary’s birthday party?”
My roommate had just finished a chainmail sleeve so he was at a stopping point and while normally it’s difficult to tear me away from Tennessee Williams I felt like I needed a break. I’m also kind of a fan of birthdays and try to have at least one a year myself. Carol explained that
she’d be back later because Gary’s birthday was actually the next day and the plan was to give him a surprise party. Well, it wouldn’t be a party actually–mostly it was just a surprise.
At two a.m. Carol came back by to get us. This was not a problem: my roommate and I were both insomniacs, and it gave him time to get started on another sleeve and I had moved on to The Glass Menagerie. Gary’s roommate assured us he was sound asleep and the door was unlocked when we all burst in, screaming at the top of our lungs. We surrounded Gary’s bed, someone used a tie to blindfold him, and we carried him out to a car. He was squeezed into the back and we set off for parts unknown, not screaming now but jabbering, making up nonsensical chants, and, once we got out onto the highway, throwing out random non sequiturs–”Cheese, that’ll really block you up”–and vague hints about where we were. “Did that sign say ‘Welcome to Canada’?” Of course even Gary knew we hadn’t been on the road long enough; southern Indiana is a long way from Canada. We contemplated driving Gary to Gary, Indiana, and we also pondered how far we were from Normal. In a metaphorical sense we were all a long way from Normal. I’ve told you about my roommate and his metalwork. I was sitting next to Carol who wrote a weekly column for the school paper called “Out Of My Mind”. I’m sure I was weird in my own way, as were the other three or four people in the car. In fact Gary was probably the most normal of the group, which made him pretty weird. He went along blithely, never bothering to remove his blindfold. When we got to the state line and posed him for several photographs under the “Welcome to Indiana” sign he just stood there with a lopsided grin.
That’s a strange thing about this whole experience. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect intimate friends to do to one of their own but neither my roommate nor I knew Gary–until we burst into his room I wasn’t even sure what he looked like and there was only a brief glimpse between the initial entrance and his blindfolding that gave me a chance to say, “Oh, that guy…”
We would, in fact, never really get to know each other and on occasion when I’d pass by Gary and say hello to him he’d say hi in return but there was a look on his face that told me he wasn’t entirely sure who I was. All he knew was that he could depend on the kindness of strangers.