Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Locked Up

In the Fall of 1966, my fellow sophomore and good friend Tommy Barton was the props manager for the Drama Club’s upcoming play. In that capacity, he had with him, one day during lunch period, a pair of key-operated handcuffs, which he was showing me as we stood at the bottom of the main stairs in the Ball Building. As it happened, the newel post for the stair railing was capped with a wooden ball, the base of which was just about the size of someone’s wrist – a perfect place to check out how the cuffs worked. In a burst of enthusiasm, I snapped one of the cuffs closed just under the newel cap – only to realize, too late, that the keyhole for unlocking it was on the underside, flat against the top of the newl post itself. With only about a quarter inch of play to raise up the cuff, there wasn’t nearly enough space to fit the key in. Barton and I spent a frantic ten minutes trying, without success, to manipulate the cuff into some sort of position to be unlocked. But then the period changed, and we both had classes to go to. We decided we’d come back at the end of the day and figure out something then.

So off we went, leaving the cuff firmly locked to the stair rail – and the other cuff dangling, open and unlocked, in the most public place in the Ball Building, during a lunch period. Anybody but a sophomore could have foreseen what was coming. Not fifteen minutes into my class, there’s a senior knocking at the door, and telling the teacher that he needs to see Bruce Crabtree, to get the key to the handcuffs. Why? Because Arthur Noel (an eighth grader at the time, I believe) had been unable to resist the dangling handcuff, and so had unwittingly cuffed himself to the Ball Building stairway. If you’re interested in the visuals, Arthur’s plight is preserved for posterity on page 147 of the 1967 Bell.

I didn’t actually have the key, but everyone seemed to know that it was me who had actually done the deed, so they naturally assumed the cuffs were mine. As it happens, another class (Tommy’s) had to be disrupted, but by the end of the period, Arthur was set free, and by the end of the day, the dangling cuff was somehow uncoupled from its mate, so as to prevent any further unintended imprisonments. But the cuff clamped around the stair post stubbornly remained for several days – unlocking it proved as baffling to the adults as to the sophomores. Ultimately, the wooden ball had to be sawed off the top of newel post to remove that cuff. Mr. Carter, I heard third hand, was not at all amused.

I had to buy a replacement set of handcuffs for the play -- my first experience in a pawnshop (and surely my mother’s, as well). And I got five demerits – my first and only – which I had to serve off in demerit hall that Saturday morning. I don’t recall exactly what the charge was, but it effectively amounted to reckless conduct. At the time, I was deeply embarrassed and humiliated by the entire episode. But my father later advised me (only after I had graduated) that it would likely have represented a material failure of imagination if I had gone through an entire career at MBA without accumulating any demerits whatsoever. You might say I stumbled into those demerits without fully “earning” them – but in the end, I have come to treasure them, and the story that goes along with them. 

submitted by Bruce I. Crabtree, III '69