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Exercise #15: Carrying Something Heavy

The week before school started in my freshman year of college at the University of Dallas, I was hanging around with some new friends in the University Center when someone—I no longer remember who—came looking for strong boys to help with something. As the biggest and tallest in the group, I could think of no face-saving way to beg off, so I volunteered, along with three or four others. We followed our taskmaster out the north side doors of the UC, across the patio, down the hill and through the woods to the Art Center. There, in one of the workshops, we saw the object for which our help was needed: a huge three-sided bar built of plywood and particle-board covered with black laminate. Our mission: to carry it up the hill to the UC and wrestle it into its new home—the “airport lounge”—an area that was now to become a cappuccino bar.

Espresso-based drinks were still a few years from becoming all the rage, but the University of Dallas was ahead of the curve because of its popular Rome program. About 85 percent of UD sophomores spend a semester at the university’s campus in Rome, soaking up Italian and Catholic culture, learning Italian, studying art and architecture at ground zero for Western civilization, and, for the most part, returning to the Irving campus addicted to strong coffee drinks. In 1981, someone finally realized that coffee-addicted sophomores and returning juniors were a huge untapped market at UD, so the university planners decided to put in a cappuccino bar.

To keep costs to a minimum, the university commissioned a team of industrious sculpture students to build the bar. And it was a beautiful construction—smooth and black, an asymmetric C-shape roughly nine feet by eight feet, coming up to about mid-torso on a tall person like me. No one ever made clear to us volunteer workhorses whose brilliant idea it was to complete the assembly several hundred feet downhill from the final destination of this massive piece of furniture. All we were told was that our job was to get it up the hill and into the building.

But between the Art Center and the UC, the hill was steep, and irregular stone staircases were the only way up through the dense mesquite thicket that covered the side of the hill. So instead of going up the hill toward the UC, we had to start out from the downhill side of the Art Center. We had no trouble getting it off the ground and out the barn-like doors of the studio, and the first few dozen feet weren’t too bad. We moved over fairly level ground, skirting crabwise around to the east side of the hill, where the incline was much less steep and the ground was mostly grass crossed by a smooth, wide, concrete sidewalk.

But then began the climb up the hill. The weight hadn’t seemed too bad at first, but every couple of minutes, we had to stop and rest, and every time we had to pick it up again, the bar seemed to get a little heavier. The increments of our travel up the gradual incline of the east side of the hill got smaller and smaller with each stage. By the time we were approaching the side doors of the UC, we were having to stop every 15 or 20 feet. Finally, we reached the doors, only to realize that no one had had the foresight to remove the center post of the double doors, so there was no way for us to get the bar inside.

Note: The prompt called for a story about any of the “different kinds of ‘weight’—physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, etc.” I went the the literal option.

If any of my readers were at UD in the fall of 1981 and have more to add to this story, I’d love to hear from you. My recollection of the event is sketchy. (And I’ve been known to make stuff up to fill in narrative gaps or to make my personal history seem more exciting or virtuous.)

© 2009 Edward F. Gumnick

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