One of my all time favorite books is 1984. In the book, one of the places that characters whisper about in hallways is Room 101. In the Ministry of Justice, Room 101 is the designation of the torture chamber where, after weeks of psychoanalysis, your deepest, darkest fears are brought to life. For our hero, Winston Smith, it was rats. When he was brought to Room 101, his head was placed in a cage with a dozen rabid rats, and several gates separated the rats from his face. Every time he answered “incorrectly,” a gate was opened and the rats would come closer to his face. Now that you know the proper context of this reference, you’ll know why I was often smiling as I roamed the halls of Augustana University in my student days. I always got a chuckle when I noticed that every door leading outside was labeled “101.” I guess, according to the university’s designers, that the college student’s deepest darkest fear is the real world.
I recently had the fortune of returning to Augustana for a vacation. With a few hours to kill before meeting up with my friend, I decided to roam the halls once again. I’m sure I looked just like another student, and with most of my former professors having never known me without my beard, my clean-shaven face gave me a certain degree of anonymity. I was there just to roam, and remember.
The first thing that struck me was the number of changes that had taken place. Across the ravine, at the senior dorms, there was this place called “The Dish.” In my day, it was nothing but a study lounge; a general purpose meeting hall. Now, when I tried to get in and sit in my favorite beat-up chair, I found the doors locked. The new hours were six to midnight, and now it is a coffee house/hangout of sorts to amuse the bored students. If I remember my history correctly, that’s the function the Dish had 10 years ago. (That’s even how it got it’s name; it had a satellite dish on the roof to provide satellite TV.) In retrospect, I should have drifted by the Coffee House to see how it’s been affected. It seems as though everything old is new again.
While waiting for my friend, I picked up the latest copy of the student paper, The Dagligtale, to leaf through. What I read shocked me. No long, rambling editorials. No silly fake advice columns. No disjointed diatribes on sex. No cute graphics. A drastic reduction in the number of comic strips. It had returned to what it was in my freshman year: a serious, real, newspaper. It was everything I told Brad Goertz it should return to. It was everything I fought to restore. And you know what? God, was I wrong. It had been ages since I read such a humorless paper. Everything had gotten so serious. Where was the humor? Where was the fun? Where was the youth? It seemed that everything that Kenten Bowick, and then Lucas Warren & Brad Goertz, tried to establish had been wiped out by an editor far too mature for the job.
When I began doing my radio show on the campus station, I had only one goal: to be remembered. To establish a legacy. But now, in the hallowed halls of AUC, if you were to mention the name “Scarecrow,” you would only be met with bemused expressions and befuddled shrugs-of-the-shoulder. It seems that the contributions that the students try to make, in the form of radio shows or submissions to the paper, will only be forgotten as we all graduate off and begin new lives in the real world. As time progresses, the Scarecrow is forgotten.
Brad Goertz. Forgotten
Kenten Bowick. Forgotten.
Kevin McDonald. Forgotten.
Karen Leblond. Forgotten.
David Shield. Forgotten.
Jen Ripley. Forgotten.
Christine Walko. Forgotten.
Christine Walko. Whatever happened to her? I first met her on that fateful day in January of 1996 as I began my studies at AUC. Actually, she was the first person I met on campus. Here I was, this lost freshman stumbling into the dorms with only one piece of knowledge: my room was in some place called “2nd East.” And there, in the lobby of freshman, was her. She was an R.A. over in West and, spotting that look of confusion and fear that all freshmen have on their first day, came over and offered her help. I told her that I was new here, and that my room was on this “2nd East.” She showed me up there, and hooked me up with one of the 2nd East R.A.s. I ran into her again about a month later. I was quite shy in those early days, and was eating supper by myself in the cafeteria. She came over to my table, sat down, and ate with me. We made idle small talk, and I eventually revealed that, on that night, would be the first episode of my radio show. She immediately put in a request for the Tragically Hip. (You know, throughout the entire history of my show, I don’t think I ever played any Tragically Hip. Oh, well, c’est la vie.) My last encounter with her was in the Fall of 1996, as my second year began. We ran into each other on the bridge. I had moved on to Moi, and she told me that she was now in…Ronning, if memory serves. She invited me over to her place, but I never went.
Christine Walko. She never told me her name. I eventually learned it by stumbling upon her picture in the student directory. What brought her name back to me after all these years? As I roamed the halls of AUC, I’m pretty sure that was her that was working behind the desk in the Career Resource Center. I walked by quickly, it sort of looked like her, and I didn’t have the courage to walk in and confirm my suspicions. Maybe it’s best that I didn’t. Maybe it’s better that I just simply remember her as this angel who helped out a lowly freshman.
Right now would be the perfect time to slip in some kind of cliche about how I didn’t have to work my ass off to be remembered, and that if only one person remembers me the way I remember Christine, then my legacy is secure. But I’m pretty sure you’ve figured that out by now. It’s as simple as 2+2=5.
2+2=5. The simple question asked of Winston Smith throughout his torture. When his torturer asked what 2+2 equals, he knew that Winston’s spirit would be broken when he answered 5. Winston left Room 101 forever changed. He saw the world in a different light. It wasn’t long before he left his lover Julia, herself haunted by a Room 101 experience. Perhaps that designer who labeled all the doors wasn’t that far off. Returning to AUC after my time away, everything did feel different. The campus had come under the grips of new people, busy trying to establish their own legacies. And as long as one student out there remembers you, and keeps you in that special place in their heart, your legacy will live, and both of you will have the strength to survive Room 101.