My Date with Winter Carnival

What's a freshman to do when a fever foils his big weekend plans?

During my freshman year at Dartmouth, I had a Winter Carnival date with Kim Carr. To this day, when I say that to classmates, no one believes me. That’s because Kim was a brilliant young woman with a beautiful smile—and way out of my league. To be honest, it wasn’t an official date. I had tickets to the Carnival musical, and when my on-again-off-again girlfriend from home couldn’t make it, I offered the tickets to Kim and her boyfriend, Eric.

“Eric isn’t coming to Carnival. But I’ll go with you.”

Time seemed to slow down a bit. I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, but I’m sure it was something witty like, “Okay.” At that point in my life I hadn’t dated much, and the experiences I did have did little to build up my confidence.

At the time I was nothing short of euphoric. It was like winning the lottery. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t really a date, but I thought maybe it could be. Maybe we would hit it off. Maybe it would lead to another date. Maybe.

It was cold that year, made all the more so by the fact that the country was going through an energy crisis. The president had rolled back all the highway speed limits to 55 mph and the College had voluntarily done its part by shortening the winter term from 10 weeks to eight and dialing back the thermostats on campus buildings to a body-numbing 55 degrees.

The date was for Friday night, but on Tuesday I noticed a little soreness in my throat. By Wednesday it had gotten worse and blossomed into a fever. By Thursday it was a real problem. I kept thinking, “Get through the date, and then deal with it.”

Thursday night I was in bad shape. My temperature spiked. I sweated through the sheets on my bed and several doses of aspirin did little to stop the onslaught. Determined to make my date, I stumbled my way to Thayer Hall Friday morning and tried to eat breakfast.

I couldn’t even swallow.

I knew I had to go to Dick’s House, on Rope Ferry Road and—at the time—next door to Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital. Weak, bleary-eyed, and light-headed, I left my tray on the table and headed outside. Immediately the cold air froze the sweat on my body. As I stumbled my way down the street, I realized I was in trouble. Although Dick’s House was less than half a mile away, I wasn’t sure I could make it.

“You look like crap, Joey.” I don’t know who said that, but I was sure it was true.

“Dick’s House,” I mumbled and kept walking.

It was tortuous. After an eternity I staggered to the corner of Kiewit Center and threw up. I looked in all directions, praying for a friendly face or a campus police car. There was nobody. I was so cold. I put one foot forward, then another. When I finally made it to Dick’s House, I labored up the steps and tried hard to not pass out in the waiting room.

“Joe?” It was Mary, the attending nurse. She was a friendly soul who liked to chat up her patients. “Bad timing to be here!” She led me back to the examination room and popped a thermometer under my tongue. “You don’t want to miss all the Winter Carnival fun.” She took out the thermometer and frowned. “I must not have shaken it out.” With a few snaps of the wrist she tried again. She put her left palm onto my forehead. “You’ve got a temp.”

When she pulled out the thermometer again, her eyes widened and her face grew pale. She leaned out the door and yelled, “Doctor!”

In seconds I was strapped to a gurney with ice packs placed on top of me.

I woke up on the second floor. At the time it was much like the large dormitory described in Cider House Rules. (Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.) There were 10 beds on each side of the room with little, standing curtains to give patients a pretense of privacy. I was the only student there.

The doctor told me I had a severe case of strep throat and my temperature had spiked to more than 105 degrees. “You’re lucky we caught it there,” he said. “At 106 degrees you start to die.”

A couple of visitors came by during the day. I don’t know how they knew where I was. Kim showed up. I apologized for ruining the evening. I remember the doctor asking her if she was the reason I had waited so long to come in.

On Saturday night I was alone. It was my first Winter Carnival, and I was spending it in an infirmary, feeling sorry for myself.

Until I heard a tap on the window. At first, I ignored it, but it came again. I climbed out of bed and went to the fire escape window and there were two buddies from the freshman football team: Rick Angulo '77 and Wayne Watanuki '77.

“What are you guys doing here?” I whispered.

“We heard you were all alone, so we thought we’d come by and cheer you up,” Rick said, pushing his way into the room. Wayne clambered in behind him.

They sat on the bed, beers in hand, and we chatted about all the parties they had been to and how many girls were on campus. Then we heard a noise in the hallway. They hid behind the curtains.

A nurse poked her head into the room and looked around. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“No, thank you.”

After she left, they came out of hiding and we laughed quiet laughs. We talked for a few more minutes and then they stood up. “We gotta go,” Wayne said. “It is, after all, Carnival.”

“Thanks, guys.”

As they left by the fire escape, Rick leaned over and pressed one of the call buttons. A light came on in the hallway. Rick blew me a kiss, and they disappeared into the night.

After a minute the nurse came back in. “Did you need something?”

“No.” (That, right there, was my big mistake.)

“You didn’t turn on the light?”

“No.”

She frowned and went back down the hall. A little while later I fell asleep.

I woke up with the beam of a flashlight in my face. It was a Hanover policeman with two of the night nurses behind him. To say that he was angry is an understatement. He was within an inch of my face—and he was spitting.

“If you know something about what’s going on, you better own up to it,” he said. “We’ve got patients here, elderly patients down the hall from the hospital who are frightened out of their minds. Someone’s been in here stealing drugs. If you know anything about that, now would be a good time to tell me.”

“What?” I sat up. “Stop. No one is stealing drugs. I’ll tell you what happened. A couple of my friends came up the fire escape to see me. I let them in. They didn’t take anything. All they did was turn on that call button on their way out.”

“What are their names?”

“I told you, they didn’t do anything.”

“If you could see the elderly patients down the hall, you wouldn’t say that.”

“I don’t know who frightened those patients, but it wasn’t us.”

“I want their names.”

I shook my head.

“You think this is funny? You are going to be held accountable for this. I’m going to file a report and submit it to your dean. I doubt you’ll be attending this school much longer.” The cop and nurses stormed out of the room.

They released me on Sunday, just in time to hear about how much fun everyone else had during the weekend.

On Monday, I went back to class, “Calculus 101.” Unfortunately, I was hopelessly lost. I couldn’t even understand what Professor Slesnick was saying. I had struggled before my bout with strep, but now, with the missed class and the shortened term, I knew I would be hard-pressed to catch up. I needed a tutor, and the only way to get one was to visit the dean’s office.

At the time, Ralph Manuel ’58 was the freshman dean. I had met him several times, and he seemed like a good guy. I stepped into his office, and he waved me to a seat in front of his desk. He wasn’t smiling.

“I’m told that I need to talk to you about getting a tutor,” I said.

His eyebrows shot up. “A tutor? Young man, you don’t need a tutor. You need a lawyer.” He handed me the police report from Saturday night. It made us sound as though we were wheeling panicked senior citizens on gurneys down the halls against their will.

“None of this is true.” I said. And it wasn’t. It was way beyond embellishment.

“Well, I’m putting this before the College Committee on Standards and Conduct [CCSC], and I expect they will sever you from the school.”

“But it isn’t true.”

“You can tell that to the committee. They meet on Friday.”

I was furious and panic-stricken all at the same time. Thrown out of college? Getting into Dartmouth was the only major goal I had ever had. This was a mistake. And I said so.

“There’s only one thing you can do to avoid it. You give me the names of the two boys who came in through the fire escape, and I’ll recommend to the CCSC that you get a reprimand.”

“And my friends will get kicked out.”

“Yes. It’s either you or them.”

I left his office and went to see Rick and Wayne. They immediately stood up to turn themselves in, but I held up my hand. “There’s no guarantee that the committee will grant me the reprimand,” I said. “I may get kicked out anyway. This way, only one of us goes. If you turn yourselves in, it might be all three of us.”

I didn’t tell my folks. I couldn’t come up with a way to start the conversation. But as much as I was panicked about the situation, I was angry. I was angry that the truth had been so twisted so the nurses could save face. I was angry that no one even had listened to my side of the story. And I was furious that I was being asked to turn in friends who were guilty of nothing more than taking pity on me.

Friday came, and I was ushered before the CCSC. The room was set up to intimidate. Two long tables had been arranged in the shape of a “T” with representatives of the faculty, administration, and student body present. I sat facing them.

They read the police report. One by one, the faculty raged against “drunken behavior” and “vandalism” on campus. They condemned the flaunting of authority and the recklessness of our actions. The students on the committee were less judgmental and wanted to know more facts about the case. None of the administrators spoke until Dean Manuel repeated his demand that I give up the names of my “co-conspirators.”

“I won’t do that.”

Silence took the room. One of the professors spoke: “You realize that if you don’t give us those names, we will hold you accountable?”

I nodded. Grim faces stared back at me.

“Do you have anything to say to the committee?” the prof asked. It sounded like a death sentence.

“Yes, I do. If this police report were true, I would agree with you that we should be thrown out of the College. Having fun at the expense of hospital patients is unconscionable. But that isn’t what happened. Yes, I let two of my friends in through the window at Dick’s House to visit me on Saturday night. They felt sorry for me because I was missing out on Carnival. All we did was talk. They didn’t take anything. They didn’t break anything. And they left. We never saw any other patients from the hospital and never spoke above a whisper. The nurses weren’t there. The policeman wasn’t there. I don’t know why they upset the patients down the hall. All I did was open a window. If that is enough for you to throw me out of college, then there is nothing more to say.”

They deliberated for an hour before they let me off with a reprimand. I sent a letter of apology to the head of Dick’s House for inadvertently setting off a scare. I never divulged the names of my two co-conspirators, although for years—even after we graduated—Manuel pestered me for their names. I also never had a date with Kim Carr. That moment apparently had passed.

About 10 years after we graduated, Rick died of leukemia. It was hard to think of someone that full of life taken so young. For a time, he had been our class president. Our classmates took it pretty hard, and in a gesture of our grief, we donated the funds to plant a tree in his name on campus so that he’d always have a place there of his own.

When I got the notice about the tree, however, I started to laugh. And in my heart I knew that Rick was laughing, too. It wasn’t about the type of tree they chose. It was about where they decided to plant it.

To this day, Rick’s tree stands on the lawn of Dick’s House.

Joe Gleason is a public relations professional and author of the novel Anvil of God. He and his wife Mary Margaret live in Virginia. They have three married children and three grandchildren.

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