My first serial plot grew out of a very trivial thing. It had just been decreed that food-delivery people could not be allowed to roam the residence halls after 8:00 p.m., thus germinating the long and rich tradition of deciding who has to abandon the party for the lobby and keep a lookout for the pizza. This, of course, was established in the interest of security, which meant that anyone who had gone to the trouble of acquiring a bag full of subs and a hat reading "Joey's Pizzamania" for the purpose of molesting or assaulting someone in the building would find his choice of victims limited to the bored, hungry souls loitering in the lobby.
So, I asked myself: What would happen if the rule-makers' worst fears were realized? How would they overreact? Thus was born what seemed to be a ludicrous premise... at the time.
You can see where this is going. Especially if you remember the first World Trade Center bombing (the one that didn't bring it down) and how the "security" business boomed directly afterward. This story was three years before then. After that, Tim McVeigh showed us it wasn't even necessary to get inside a building to blow it up, but it still produced another flurry of sales of cameras, key-cards and front-desk guards. Today, we're pretty sure the problem is that we're not confiscating enough nail clippers.
If there's one thing a bureaucracy can do, it's locking the barn door after the cow has burnt down. Yet, even in such paranoid times, it would take a lot to disabuse people of the idea that crime only happens at night. Most of the post facto precautions depicted are self-explanatory, if somewhat sloppily drawn, but allow me to shed some light on the whole fence thing.
At the time, the plans had just gotten underway for replacing the useless Phelps building in the middle of campus with a great big muddy hole. The first step was to fence off the site of the proposed hole, and anything else it might be fun to fence off. The erecting of the fence itself was more complicated than one might imagine, for this is what we witnessed: The poles went in. Weeks passed. The poles were removed and left to lie beside the post holes they had occupied. More weeks passed. The poles were put back exactly where they had been. Apparently, they must have been installed incorrectly the first time, perhaps the wrong way up. Nobody could think of a better explanation.
Decker Dining Hall was a singular phenomenon. It was a caricature of the quintessential bad cafeteria, in that the things said only in jest about most cafeterias were actually true of Decker. Wood Food Services, who was the sole supplier of all meal facilities on the TSC campus, claimed that there was no difference between the dining halls, because it supplied the same food to each of them. This was a fallacy that ignored such factors as preparation, service, selection, and refrigerated storage. Since the dining halls were officially identical, it was deemed unnecessary to allow students to choose between them. The dormitory in which you lived determined where you ate. A resident of a dorm linked to the Decker meal plan did not have the option of switching to the more sanitary and diversified (but pricier) Travers/Wolfe meal plan unless he could conclusively prove that Decker served nothing that would not kill him. A number succeeded in this, largely due to the fact that the "spaghetti sauce" used in nearly every dish of Decker's limited menu was actually clam sauce dyed red (information that was given only on a need-to-know basis, i.e. when a particularly allergic person would return from the hospital feeling inquisitive). So, the idea that Decker pizza would have a chemical composition distinctly different from real pizza is not as far-fetched as it might sound.
Perhaps this isn't such a satisfying conclusion as it would be if you had been eating Decker food all year.
This was the first defining moment of the character of Jay Raven.
We weren't sure at the time exactly what was going on at the Phelps Construction Site (no one had even heard the name Community Commons yet), but we were sure that whatever it was, it didn't justify the conquest of separate territories. Many small, isolated chunks of land became satellites of the construction area proper, for no other apparent reason than to use up the leftover fence. Now that they knew which way up the poles went, the fence guys were unstoppable. Every day, more trees would find themselves imprisoned, even the celebrated evergreen at the center of the Allen Circle. The news photograph at left (with the anonymous question taped to the fence) is an image burned into some students' minds as indelibly as the eerie visage of President Eickhoff, or the oft-photographed statue of the Lion of Trenton State College crushing the Serpent of Knowledge.
Note for people squinting at the screen: The book Biff is reading is "Dreams and What They Mean."
Bonus note for people who have never been to college: The advertising brochures for any institution of higher education always have at least one photo of someone reading under a tree. Nobody ever really does this at college.
"Fight the Final!" was the rallying cry of the mass of students and faculty that gathered at the steps of Green Hall. The administration had decided, in order to give the college a more Ivy-like image, that every class must base 30% to 60% of its grade on a final exam. Any professor with progressive teaching methods not rooted in short-term memory evaluation would have to do away with them. The student body wasn't going to take this; the privilege of attempting to graduate from a more "competitive" school wasn't worth the frustration of knowing that a semester's worth of work and learning was worth less than one weekend of cramming. So, the whole campus converged on the administration building to make some noise.
In the end, no amount of noise was good enough. Green Hall always had a talent for ignoring people, and the challenge of ignoring them all at the same time was easily met. The new policy was set in stone, and the wiser members of the faculty, secure in the knowledge that they were being ignored, subtly neglected to implement it.
Notes: "The Green Farm House" is a landmark ruin on the outskirts of campus, far away from anyone.
The person delivering the pizza is not Jay or Biff or anyone we know. Really.
"Peter" was the Senior Vice President who, a few years later, allegedly paid for his own swimming pool with tuition money, among other misappropriations of funds, and got away with it. Very few people protested; we had learned our lesson.
If this worked, I'd be doing it.
That's right, comic-strip crossovers weren't invented on the web. The Adventures of Mike was another feature that stepped in to fill the Signal's comic void early on. I got to know Elena in class, and we decided it would be fun to have the two worlds cross paths.
For those who missed it, the plot of Mike was running thus: Mike was continually encountering snags in his attempts to even merely speak to this particular girl with which he was smitten. The characters of Absurd Notions only play a sort of cameo role, but it started an excellent tradition: Every prominent and talented Signal cartoonist in the years to come would collaborate with me at the end of the academic year to produce a crossover of some sort.
Alas, The Adventures of Mike were not resumed the following year. If you are still anxious to know the outcome of Mike's story, here is an epilogue for you. Mike finally did get to meet Elise, and they hit it off just great. The two of them later decided to run off together and become Bob Ross groupies, following the TV landscape artist on tours all over North America. Jude, Mike's roommate, joined the cast of BeatleManiaMania.