Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Beer Garden Voyeurs

As early spring arrived on the University of Texas campus, I was spending more and more time in the beer garden behind the fraternity house on those long, mild nights instead of hitting the books as I should have been.  Brian Beach and a couple of the other hardy-partiers were always there, sucking down brews and using their binoculars in an attempt to look in the open windows of the girl's dormitory that was down the hill and just to the west of our property.  We actually did see some pretty amazing things through those windows when the girls had forgotten to close, or purposefully left open, their shades.  But Brian was the worst.

Brian was my roommate during our freshman year. We were second semester sophomores at the time.  He was a varsity weightlifter with a C- average and dated a different girl every week. However, because he dated Farrah Fawcett once and was considered by many somewhat of an expert, albeit mostly self-declared, in the field of women, we occasionally acknowledged his opinion.

Brian had an overall look that attracted women like flies to honey.  Of course, once they scratched the surface of this particular Adonis and discovered the 90 IQ-like thought processes with the one-track mind, most of the flies flew off to other treats.  Although, some didn't.

On this one especially warm spring evening, Brian, several other brothers and I had spent about two hours and a case of beer out in the beer garden, “dormitory watching”.  The fact that this obvious invasion of privacy made us all, technically, voyeurs was the last thing on our minds as one particularly accommodating co-ed entertained for an exceptionally long period of time.  I was depressed that particular evening because the news reported Sophia Loren had just married Carlo Ponti in Paris, thus taking her off the market.  When I fantasized about women, Sophia was always in the scene.  She was older than me by a dozen years but she was just flat gorgeous and erotic like no other woman of our time. 

“She’s in love with me!”, Brian proclaimed, totally convinced that this girl in the window was putting on a show just for him.  The rest of us laughed at his hubris.  “I am going over there”, Brian declared.  As usual, no one paid much attention.  At this, he staggered out of the beer garden and made his way along the parking lot behind our house to the edge of the dormitory.  Downing the rest of my beer I went back to thinking about Sophia until I saw Brian on a thin ledge that was on the third story of the dormitory, inching his way toward the girl’s window, 36 feet above their parking lot. 

“Oh, my God!”, I exclaimed as we trained the binoculars on Brian.  The ledge was narrow, 6” at best, and a fall would have certainly meant serious injury or possibly even death.  These facts were most likely beyond both the practical and intellectual capacity of Brian to comprehend, especially in his current state of inebriation, coupled with unbridled lust. 

Hushed calls for Brian to get off the ledge and abandon his mission were met with waves of his arm and a slow, yet steady progress toward the window of his desire.  “Well, I have had enough of this”, I said, “Call me if he falls and kills himself…..or if he gets the girl”, I concluded, admitting to myself that once Brian set his mind to a conquest, it seldom went unrequited. 

I walked across our lower parking lot behind the house and went through the back entrance up to my room on the third floor.  As I entered, I saw my roommate, Gene McMullen, sitting on his bed, lights out, rocking back and forth as if he were in a rocking chair.  The reason I could tell he was rocking was the periodic glow from the end of a cigar he had in his mouth which weaved back and forth in the darkness.  “You're home early”, he spat with his usual dry humor, “run out of beer?” 

“No” I said, “Brian is out there trying to kill himself and I couldn’t watch anymore”.  I plopped myself down on my bed with my economics textbook and clicked on my reading light, leaving the rocking Gene mostly in the shadows, sucking the last bit of smoke out of his Corona.  Two pages into the exciting text with my eyes already starting to droop, our door flung open, crashing on the wall and bringing me bolt upright in my bed.
“If anyone asks, I have been in my room studying for the last two hours!”, Brian screamed at us and dashed down the hallway, leaving Gene and I with bewilderment on our faces.  About the time Gene was starting to ask me what the hell was going on, we heard this incredible sound of shattering glass.  My first thought was that Brian had broken the huge mirror in our bathroom.  I got up and raced down the hallway to the community restroom and showers.  The guys in there brushing their teeth had the same look of surprise and foreboding on their faces as they stood in front of the still intact mirror.

My mind racing through the alternatives, I returned to the hallway and made my way down to the spiral staircase and looked over the railing to the foyer that was surrounded by two-story high, floor to ceiling glass on two sides.  There I stared incredulously at the scene below.  Sitting in foyer at the foot of the staircase in a random scattering of large and small glass shards and a growing pool of blood was an Austin police officer.  His legs were sprawled out and he was bent over holding his face in his blood-soaked hands.   There was a huge hole in the two-story glass window behind him. Accompanying this ghastly vision was an eerie silence in the house. 

Before I could even move, another Austin officer stepped through the ragged, gapping hole in the window and started to lift the wounded officer to his feet.  At this point I dashed down the staircase three stairs at a time, my mind racing with what could have happened.  When I reached the foyer the two officers, one helping the other, were hurriedly rounding the front corner of the house and heading down the driveway to the lower parking lot.  By this time several of my brothers were on my heels as we followed them through our parking lot, down the grass embankment to the girl's dormitory parking lot below ours.

The scene at this time was chaotic.  Most of the girls from the dorm, in various states of dress, were out in their parking lot and residents of the various other fraternity and apartment complexes that surrounded our neighborhood were starting to filter into the asphalt paved area strewn with cars.  The officer, helping his wounded comrade, sat him down beside their patrol car, lights still flashing, illuminating the otherwise dimly-lit area, and leaned him against the rear wheel.  Someone offered a towel to the downed policeman and he used it to try to stem the flow of his own blood from a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose.

At this point, an ambulance reeled into the parking lot followed closely by another police cruiser, lights flashing and siren blaring, responding to the “officer down” call from the first car on the scene.  The ambulance driver wheeled his vehicle to the left between rows of parked cars and threw his transmission into reverse, planning to back up to the injured officer.  The second squad car pulled straight up directly behind the first police cruiser.  Then, as if from an episode of the Keystone Cops of silent movie fame, the ambulance backed up quickly, with people all around screaming a belated warning, and rammed the side of the second squad car with the officers still inside. 

Again, there was a deathly silence and a quick look around the crowd of people gave the impression that everyone’s jaw gapped open in a single instant.  Then the ambulance driver pulled forward and got out of his vehicle.  With not the slightest recognition of what he had done, he and an assistant proceeded to open the doors of their unit, extract a gurney and wheeled it hastily to the fallen officer.  The policeman in the damaged car just sat there shaking his head, adding to the surreal nature of the scene.  Then he tried to open his crushed door and discovered that his exit would have to be on the other side of the car.  His expletive could be heard for blocks.

All this time, Brian is nowhere to be seen and for good reason.  As the whole story unfolded, it seems Brian, making his way along the ledge to the aforementioned window of his desire, passed several windows where co-eds were not accustomed to seeing a man outside their third story dorm windows.  Several calls to the police forced the dispatch of the closest squad car and, as it turned into the dormitory parking lot, Brian made a hasty retreat back down the narrow ledge, scrambled up into the DU parking lot, sprinted around to the front of the house, came through the front door and bounded up the staircase with the officers huffing and puffing in hot pursuit behind him.  The officers began the chase as soon as they saw Brian leap off the ledge and head up the steep hill and through our parking lot.  However, as the officer leading the chase rounded the corner on our front porch, running flat out, he lost his footing and, going too fast to make the turn, crashed his entire body through the two-story window adjacent to our spiral staircase in the foyer.

A huge shard of glass above him came straight down and caught him, squarely, across the bridge of his nose, bringing him instantly to his knees and then to a collapsed position on the marble tiles, which is where I saw him for the first time.  The officer, though injured severely, was getting the proper care and was going to be all right. 

The police, who were somewhat embarrassed about how this call had proceeded, let alone the eventual outcome, told our fraternity president that if we produced the offending party, he would not be prosecuted and they would ask for a light sentence when they reported this incident to the University and the Fraternity Counsel.  The initial reaction of the bothers was noble.  We met and all agreed not to turn Brian in but, to his credit, he gave himself up for the promised lighter sentence for the fraternity.

The fraternity was suspended until the end of the semester (only 3 weeks) and we would still be able to rush in the fall.  All in all, it could have been a lot worse and Brian was back in the beer garden with his binoculars the day before final exams.

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