I should be writing on the tragic summer we have been having–the slaughter in the Orlando LGBT dance club, the uncalled-for police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota, the murder of police officers in Dallas–but I decided that I would give my readers a rather self-indulgent respite from all the tragedy that has dominated the Facebook pages and other social media this month and last. (Undoubtedly, I will write about these at some point in the near future, but I am waiting for another shoe to drop. I am afraid yet another tragedy is about to happen.)
Last Saturday, I made another of my now-legendary walks down the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. In the past, these have been for the traditional “because it’s there” reason. But last week, I was a man on a mission. I was going to come back from Athens with bricks.
This spring, I learned from reading The Athens News online that Cady Hall, as well as Foster and Brough Houses, would be demolished. These were three dormitories on the New South Green at Ohio University. I had lived in all three of them at one time or another. (My second quarter at O.U., I lived in Foster House. It was rare for a freshman to live in a single room, but the director of housing permitted it because I was a freshman at 21, and older than my fellow dormmates would be had I lived in a freshman dorm.)
The buildings were not architectural jewels, and were not aesthetically pleasing. Their allure was that they were the only three dorms that were exclusively single rooms. They were small rooms, and in my more cynical moments I described them as resembling a cell in a minimum-security prison, especially because of the stucco cinderblock walls. Many students coveted them because they had individual cable taps in each room, as well as for the chance to live without roommates.
I was not happy at the news that these dorms would be demolished. I didn’t know what O.U.’s timetable would be, until a Facebook friend mentioned that the demolition had begun. I had been ready for another walk, so I decided that this time, my project would be to bring back a brick.
My significant other, Laurie, drove me to Nelsonville, as she has the last two times I’ve made this journey. After some bison burgers at the Boot Factory Grill, I stepped off at the beginning of the trail, and got off at Currier St. on the West End. Laurie and I met for tea and banana splits at Whit’s Frozen Custard. Then it was off in search of bricks.
I would normally be amused at someone grieving over a building, but my throat caught as we drove down S. Green Dr. Sure enough, Cady and Foster were still standing, but they were gutted. Brough House (I just learned, while researching this blog entry, that I had been pronouncing its name wrong all these years. The correct pronunciation is bruff. I, and everyone else I knew, always pronounced it to rhyme with show.) was a pile of rubble.
Although I never graduated from O.U. (or anywhere), it does have a special place in my heart. If it were logistically practical, I would like to end a walk in time to hear Cutler Hall’s chimes play “Alma Mater, Ohio” at 9 a.m. and noon. I am always touched to hear that (and I text, read, or talk on my cell phone during the national anthem with impunity), and miss hearing it.
The workers had erected a chain link fence around the whole complex, but there were wide gaps that were not chained. They had, I suppose, in their eyes, done enough to cover their liability. While Laurie waited in a nearby parking lot (she said she would, if asked by O.U. Security, “disavow any knowledge of [my] actions,” in Mission: Impossible parlance), I slipped through a gap between two sections of fence and came away with a chunk of three or four bricks cemented together. I came out of the fence waving this chunk over my head like a gladiator brandishing his opponent’s head.
Despite the blandness of the architecture (some people called New South Green the Monopoly board), I was proud to live in these three buildings. Nowhere was this more evident than when I wrote letters from Athens, and on the return addresses, I used the full names of the buildings–John F. Cady Hall, Israel M. Foster House, and John Brough House. (Cady was a longtime history professor at O.U.; Foster was a Republican Congressman representing Ohio from 1919 to 1925; and Brough was, for just over a year and a half, the 26th Governor of Ohio.)
There is some precedent in my brick quest. Earlier in this blog, I wrote about my long search for a Cisler brick, from the long-gone Marietta brickyard. As much as I ridicule and speak ill of Marietta, I would not rest until I owed a Cisler brick. Finally, a former classmate, probably tired of my bombarding Marietta High School alumni Facebook pages with requests, boxed up two of them and mailed them to me. One is in my dining room, the other on my desk at work.
My guess is that O.U. knew that many other people would probably want bricks from these dorms, and that was why they were lax in securing the foundation. Cady and Foster will probably be gone before the fall semester begins, so I am sure there will be many more brickcombers (maybe one day that word will be in the OED!) who will be coming away from Athens with–literally–a piece of their college memories.