Lots of Leaps, Not Much Faith

It happened the summer after my junior year in college. I was interning in the L.A. office of Hughes Aircraft Company (or, in intern parlance, “Huge Aircrash”), which had arranged summer housing in Loyola Marymount University dormitories. LMU dorms were nothing like ours back East. They were more like the set of Melrose Place, two-story apartment complexes surrounding a pool.

Three summer hires and I shared an apartment which had dozens of unsightly nails protruding from the walls, a gift from the previous occupants. Beer was our dietary staple but because we weren’t very enthusiastic about lugging empties to the recycling bin downstairs we used them as interior decorations. Specifically, we impaled the cans onto the exposed nail heads, solving two problems at once.

Our living quarters now comfortably appointed, we moved to the next order of business: discovering new and dangerous forms of recreation. One option beckoned. I thought it just might be possible to shimmy from the railing of our second story apartment onto the roof of the complex and leap into the pool.

Two physics questions loomed: (1) Was it possible to clear the twelve foot wide walkway below and (2) Would three and a half feet of water decelerate a jumper enough to avert broken ankles? There was only one way to find out: Persuade Bob to jump first. Bob, native Californian, surfer and all-around wildman, hesitated for three-tenths of a second before accepting the challenge. On his first jump his back came skull-clutchingly close to hitting the cement lip of the pool. Clearly the key was to take a running, rather than stationary, leap.

Our lemming routine quickly earned us a visit from the Resident Assistant. But upon entering our apartment she discovered a problem far more serious than courting shattered vertebrae—ohmigod, we were, “nailing beer cans to the walls!”

“No we’re not. The nails, they were… We just… It’s not what it looks like,” I stammered.

Too late; she was already out the door. The eviction notice, effective immediately, came that afternoon. Our suave roommate, C.J., decided to fight this judicial travesty and spent all day in the law library dredging up terms like “unlawful detainer” and “eviction subpoena.” Evidently, LMU could not summarily evict us. We were entitled to a warning, then, if we continued to act unruly, the law allowed us one month to vacate. Armed with this information, C.J. got us a second chance. But first we had to appear before a panel of LMU administrators to apologize, grovel and generally portray ourselves as upstanding residents who wouldn’t even line beer cans on the windowsill, nevermind nail them to the wall.

Contritely we filed into the RA’s apartment on Judgment Day and did a double take. There she sat with three nuns in full habit. Uh-oh, who picked this jury? It never occurred to us that LMU, as a catholic university, would have catholic administrators, that they would be nuns, that we would have to justify ourselves in front of a group whose idea of raucous behavior might be very different than ours, that we would face a Holy Inquisition. We began supplicating. “My name is Ken. I’m an electrical engineering major at MIT and I’m very sorry…” and so forth. I was last in line.

But first, the sartorial situation: I was dressed California casual—knit shirt and my only clean shorts, an all-cotton pair that had shrunk quite a bit in the dorm’s industrial-grade dryer. Pivotally, I also happened to be freeballing. Just as my turn came, I nervously clenched my hands into fists in the pockets of my already-stretched-to-their-tensile-limit shorts. “Hi, my name is Steve and…” Kapow! My zipper ruptured and a certain organ—not the kind commonly seen in church—unfurled.

Mortified, I bolted from the room, ran to our apartment and collapsed in a fetal position in the closet, half laughing, half crying in shock. We were supposed to charm the panel, not whip it out. How many Hail Marys are required for flashing a group of nuns?

Just as I was considering joining the French Foreign Legion, the guys found me. They said everyone had a big laugh about my exploding zipper, our request to be reinstated was approved and all was forgiven. One nun even asked me out on a date. Okay, that didn’t happen. But the rest is true.

So to recap: number of times in my life my zipper has burst open exposing my genitalia: one; number of times I have stood before a tribunal of nuns asking for clemency: one. I still can’t believe those events happened simultaneously.


This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in the Fairfield County Weekly.

About Steve Altes

Steve Altes is the author of several humor books, dozens of humorous adventure essays, and the comedic graphic novel Geeks & Greeks, set at MIT and inspired by MIT's culture of hacking and Steve's own experiences with hazing.
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