Bruce Hall Memories

Some of these are memories of my time in UNT’s Bruce Hall, while others are facts I’ve remembered from the years:

  1. I was the only person (I know of) to nearly hold every position in Bruce Hall: fire buddy, wing representative, RHA Representative, Vice President, President, Resident Assistant, Assistant Hall Director, and Hall Director, and Bruce Award reciepent. I’m not sure how I let Treasurer and Secretary slip from my grasp.  Besides this, I was also RHA Vice-President, Special Assistant for Programming, and RLAC Vice-President.
  2. Between the boiler room and the basement of the cafeteria was a dark, winding hallway, which terminated in a small doorway that noone had a key to. It creeped me out most particularly, especially while performing late-night rounds on weekend shifts.
  3. Several of the old activity rooms in Bruce Hall no longer exist, because of the need to make way for resident housing. These include: The Lorena Lounge and Art Room (A400 wing), the Computer Room and Assistant Hall Director office (C200).
  4. There are actually two elevators in Bruce Hall: the one everyone knows about at the base of the B wing, and the other in the cafeteria. It is used to shuttle supplies from the basement.  It’s a classic old-school elevator, where you get inside an open car and slide closed a wooden railing.
  5. Contrary to urban legend, TAMSters never snuck into Bruce Hall to shut off the power. Attempting to shut off the main power transformer was incredibly dangerous, and it is highly unlikely anyone could have done it with extreme frequency without cooking themselves. It’s likely that the power overloaded because all of Bruce Hall’s wiring was old, with the exception of the new wiring put in for air conditioning in 1994.  The Bruce Jam equipment was a massive power drain when running late at night.
  6. The RA who wrote up the most people got the moniker “The Impaler”. This nickname would swing back and forth between myself, Germaine, and Rob. Rob usually won out, which made saying “Casper the Impaler” all the more interesting.
  7. I invited myself along a roadtrip to California with Germaine, Capt’n Courville, and Halee. From Denton to San Pablo Bay, CA, it took 28 hours of non-stop driving through the desert, including the detour towards San Diego to drop off the girls. Germaine drove the entire way without sleeping, stopping only for gas and to kiss the ground just past the California state border.  I remember going down IH-10 in L.A.; we were looking for the exit to IH-5; Germaine’s eyes blink and he shakes his head, as if coming out of a trance.  He then asks, “Where are we?”  After 20 hours behind the wheel, he seriously didn’t know.  I just leaned back and enjoyed the ride.
  8. The Bruce Hall lobby used to be hardwood, just like the Bowling Alley that goes north-south on the second floor of Bruce and the Concert Hall on the north side of the building.  In 1996, a lone contractor was hired to remove the old hardwood flooring and replace it with new oak.  He was a Vietnam vet with a nasty temper.  One day, Jim Casey asked him if it was OK to walk on the floor, as it was being varnished.  The contractor didn’t say yes or no.  He said, “You’d better not walk on the floor or I’ll break your fucking neck!”  From that point, he became known as Agent Orange.
  9. Once when I was BHA President, I held a staff meeting that only one member showed up to: Jason Bunch.  The goal of the meeting was team development.  We spent the time prank-calling everyone on the RHA phone list.  We convinced Rachel, the president of Clark Hall, that someone was after her for mowing down their dog on the highway.  We convinced a tear-stricken “Grandma” that after a recount she was not indeed elected to RHA.  One person who shall not be named picked up the phone while they were having sex, which made for an interesting conversation.
  10. In 2000, I participated in Bruce Hall’s Jell-O Wrestling program.  I accepted a challenge from Slappy, with the condition that the loser would have to wear a dress to that night’s BHA meeting.  During the match, we were tag-teamed by two wrestlers who pinned us both.  Since we both lost, both of us had to wear the dress.  It was the last time I cross-dressed at Bruce Hall.  Apparently video of the most-famous incident (Bruce Secrets) is roaming around, looming over my political career.
  11. I can remember the names of all my R.A.s, as each of them had some major influence on my life.  Dave Claiborne taught me to have fun my freshman year.  Willy Golden taught me magic tricks.  Guillerme taught me that shitting in the shower is not cool as we have no water pressure.
  12. Before the wing baths were redone, taking showers was hazardous to one’s health.  Bruce Hall’s hot water came from a boiler in the basement.  One flush of a toilet several wings over was enough to melt your skin like biting into a freshly-microwaved Hot Pocket.  It was common courtesy to yell, “Fire in the hole!” when you flushed.  Over time, one became very aware of minute sounds in the pipes and water stream, which gave you split-second warning about impending scalding.  It was like  Spidey Sense!
  13. My freshman year, I had three roommates.  The first was Greg, who left school early to play saxophone for a country-and-western band.  Following him was James, who would perform psychological experiments on my when you wasn’t dropping acid and encrypting his emails.  James met Karen, whose father was one of the more-prominent instructors in the School of Music; when he heard she was having roommate conflict, he invited her to live in our room at Bruce without my permission.  I didn’t mind this because I thought Karen was cute and cool.  What college freshman would object to co-habitating with a woman?  Exactly.
  14. For awhile, it seemed if your name was Dave, it must also be prefaced by an adjective.  Sleeping Dave, Smoking Dave, etc.  For awhile, it seemed that everyone nicknamed C.J. was gay.
  15. For a period of time, everyday I went to the 7-Eleven on Oak Street and got as 32 oz. Dr. Pepper Big Gulp.  Most of these trips involved Jim Casey and/or Mark Peterson.  During my Assistant Hall Director days, a trip to 7-Eleven in Jim’s truck was our equivalent of a daily staff meeting — in the quiet confidentially of the cab, we would discuss the business of running the building, who required extra attention or discipline, how programming was going, etc.
  16. One of my proudest moments as an RA was winning the Housing Department’s Outstanding Resident Assistant award in 1997.  It was important because it was the first time in my professional life that I cared about being the best.  It also meant so much because I knew the award represented the respect of my peers, some of whom are still my best friends.
  17. Before cell phones were common, I would have to call long-distance but stay on a budget as the minutes would add up.  In the Union were two phones on the top floor, in tiny windowless rooms, where you could call anywhere in the nation for free.  You would sign up, wait in line, and make your calls.  The phones were taken out because some students from India were able to rig them to call Asia, and the costs of those calls were a hit on the SGA’s budget.
  18. Bruce Hall opened in February 1947, and at the time it was the largest building on campus.  It was designed by George Dahl, a prominent Dallas architect who also designed the building next door Masters Hall.  It was intended as relief for Music Hall, a dormitory to the south.  It was originally thought of as two separate halls within one building; they were called Bruce Hall North and Bruce Hall South.  The front desk of BHN was where the old weight room was (just inside the exterior doors).  The building remained all women until sometime in the 1970s.
  19. Before the window units were installed in 1994, there were only three places in Bruce Hall that were air-conditioned: the lobby, the cafeteria, and the practice modules.  Just before that time, you could smoke in the cafeteria.  Instead of a TAMS/Bruce division in seating, it used to be a smoking/non-smoking division.
  20. The Aryan Nation-looking mural in the cafeteria was originally in Marquis Hall, which itself was a dormitory.  It was later moved to storage in Terrill Hall.
  21. One day, Jim and I were contacted by a parent who wanted permission to get into their son’s room and move him out early.  We came to find out the son, who lived on D400 above the loading dock, had withdrawn from UNT earlier in the semester and not told anyone, including his R.A. or roommate.  Upon further inspection, we found out he was lazy about his trash: he removed his window screen so he could dump his trash directly into the dumpster below.  One day, while throwing out a heavy bag, he got caught up with it and flew out the window himself.  He fell three stories to the ground below, breaking his leg and hip.  He slinked away and quit for the semester.  We suppose he didn’t tell anyone because of the embarrassment.
  22. The sound of those emergency exits alarms blaring is still echoing in my head
  23. The best bathroom graphitti was in the D300 bath, in the second toilet stall.  To read it, you had to sit on the john, lean forward, and almost turn your head upside down.  You would then be rewarded with the words, “You are now shitting at a 45 degree angle.
  24. Shara was the RA for the female wing B300.  At the time, it seemed like everyone on B300 was dating someone on D300, my wing.  Shara resigned between the fall and spring semesters, leaving an opening on her wing.  I volunteered to be R.A. for B300 until we could hire a replacement, which we were slow to do because we didn’t want to hire just about anyone.  I remember holding the first wing meeting of the semester, the one where the RAs gather everyone and read them the rules.  I told the girls if they needed anything, and I mean anything, just ask.  Soon enough, they took me at my literal word, as they asked if they could borrow any tampons.  Sadly, I had none.
  25. I was known for having an original Bill the Cat doll (from Bloom County fame).  I would hang it from my ceiling fan by a homemade leather noose.  Later on, when I was an RA, I never locked my room during my entire time at Bruce.  This would annoy Jim Casey very much, but it was a boon to many of my friends that used my room as a nap location between classes.  One day I came home to find my room filled with smoke.  I freaked out thinking that everything had gone up in smoke.  Instead, my Bill the Cat doll had gone up in smoke.  My friend Sarah had catnapped earlier in the day, and she left my eiling fan light on when she left.  I later received a note drawn in crayon that said in several ways, “Sorry for burning down your dorm room.”  For several months, I was able to guilt her into buying me lunch.
  26. The telephone numbers for the RA rooms are grouped together, starting at 369-6360 and running through 369-6369.  This equals 10 numbers for 11 wings.  The lone exception to this sequence was my RA room (D321), whose phone number was 369-5276.  I still remember that phone number, although I don’t remember which order the 369-636* sequence went.
  27. For several years, T.A.G. (The Assassination Game) was Bruce Hall’s most-popular program.  In one semester I competed, I made it to the final four by spending copious amounts of time eating at Kerr Hall (on the opposite side of campus) and hiding out inside the Information Science Library (on the opposite side of a wormhole).  I was ambushed while eating a late night hamburger at the Clark Hall cafeteria.
  28. T.A.G. worked by pitting participants against each other in one large Circle of (Anti-) Life.  Assassin A hunted Assassin B, who in turn preyed upon Assassin C, and so forth until the final participant targeted the first.  During Spring Break one year, the RAs entered each resident room to ensure that anything dangerous wasn’t left plugged in.  I entered Victor and Cory’s room in The Ghetto (B100) and came upon an amazing discovery: on the wall of their room was The Circle, all laid out in giant detail.  The two of them had been researching every assassin’s assignment and put the pieces together.  I later discovered that word had gotten out about their research, and the two of them became quite particular who they let into their room to share their knowledge.  My first thought upon seeing their efforts: “It likes to put the lotion in the basket.”
  29. The best semester of my Bruce Hall life was the spring of 1997.  It was my final year as a Resident Assistant.  I had one of the most-active wing communities thanks to the freshman of the D300 Rebel Alliance.  My boss Jim Casey was also my best friend.  I was almost done with my undergraduate degree.  I had gotten beyond several cycles of depression.  And for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I knew what I was doing.  The worst semester was the Spring 2000.  It was my final year at UNT.  I was in graduate school, although each passing week increased my doubts that I was actually doing the right thing by staying in school.  My girlfriend Rebecca, the RHA President, broke up with me on Groundhog Day.  For several painful months, I had to see her on a regular basis because my job as BHA Advisor required I attend nearly every meeting together.  By the time I left town in August, I was in serious need of some spiritual healing.  Thankfully all of that is far, far in the past.
  30. The Bruce Hall staff was required to return to campus a week before the building opened for new residents in August.  As a reward for our attendance at RA training and getting the building in shape quickly, Jim Casey would permit us to play flashlight tag.  All exterior windows would be covered in blankets and/or trash bags, creating a pitch-dark environment for RAs to sneak about the in the dark armed only with flashlights.  Imagine the zaniness and mortal fear of being snuck up upon without warning, or having an RA who was hanging from the ceiling jump down at you.  One favorite memory is when Dora was sneaking around D400 and bumped into an unexpected object.  She flipped on her flashlight and yelled over and over, “You’re dead! You’re dead!”  She had bumped into Rolly’s bicycle.
  31. As part of the ceremony for burying my own time capsule, I left letters all around the UNT Denton campus in locations that were meaningful or significant.  These locations included all of the dorm rooms I live in, inside of books in the library that changed my life, and miscellaneous places where important events happened, both good and bad.  Each letter contained a self-addressed, stamped postcard so that the finder could send me any message they desired.  To date, I have received two out of twenty of these postcards.  In retrospect, instead of postcards, I would have created a website, as each postcard is addressed to my parent’s old address in Southlake.
  32. You are invited to the opening of my time capsule.  Mark your calendars for April 9, 2022.  You can meet me in the Bruce Lobby.

Fupid Stuckers at the 1996 Bruce Jam

Above may be evidence of the most-glorious day of my life: the day I walked onto a stage and played lead guitar in a rock-and-roll band.

By “stage”, I mean “corner of the Bruce Hall lobby.” And “played lead guitar” is admittedly misleading. To be frank, I was rocking a pretty mean air guitar.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Fupid Stuckers!

Background

When I was in college, I served several semesters as a resident assistant at Bruce Hall, the oldest dormitory at UNT. Part of our duties included regular shifts at the front desk, where we kept an eye on security monitors and loaned items to residents, such as keys to the soundproof practice modules.

In “real life”, I can play two songs on guitar — “Civil War” by Guns N’ Roses, and “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC — but I could always fake it on a broomstick. During my shifts at the Bruce Hall front desk, I would bring along my massive CD collection and spin tunes on a jambox. Air guitar worked itself into the routine, and it was an especially good way to pass time — and stay awake — during graveyard shifts.

Also working at Bruce during this time was Derek. Our resident music expert, he was famous for many creative activities, including his encyclopedic mix-tape anthology known as “Digital 80s”. If a game show ever asked me a question about popular music of my youth, Derek would be my lifeline.

Derek and I started jamming together on the air instruments, and that led to the idea of creating a band. One that played only air instruments.

The Bruce Jam

Every semester before dead week, the dorm hosted the Bruce Jam, a 9-hour showcase of in-house music talent, with an emphasis towards electrified sound. Novice acts headed up the lineup starting at 3pm. Acts then increased in popularity & audience as the day wore on, climaxing with a big headliner act at 11pm.

We decided we had to get into the Jam. To do so, we needed a band. Luckily we found some willing players, and our roster became the following:

We ended up being the second act that day. Which means that the act before us was deemed less popular/worthy than a band whose keyboardist was playing an ironing board.

For our setlist, we each picked one song that reflected our musical interests at the time:

  • Van Halen’s “Unchained” was my choice, as I was knee-deep in pre-Hagar love of their older catalog.
  • Daxx chose Toto’s “Rosanna”, as it was a great showcase for his “keyboard”. Our harmonization of that song sounds just like the CD, doesn’t it?
  • Shupe’s name was written all over Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.  Besides, we either did Bon Jovi, or we’d be forced to do Petra! The part that stuck with me these past 15 years, even before seeing on video again, is how fun it was to sing back-to-back in the same mic!
  • Derek’s contribution was Rush’s “Limelight”.  When you see how intricate his “drum kit” was, it totally deserved a song that flowed well in terms of percussion.

It didn’t make it onto the video, but we did one encore featuring Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato”. It was a perfect fit for me: it reflected my status as world’s biggest Rush fanatic (then and still) and provided a great outlet for some inspired “guitar” work. Who needs a real guitar to knock out multiple time signatures?

Anyway, enough with the “VH1 Behind the Scenes”. Hope you enjoy the combination of bad sound, poor video quality, and the stage presence to overcome both.

Maybe if we’re lucky, we can put together a reunion show!

Miscellaneous Observations

  • Look in the upper-right — does anyone know whose Lobby Lizard interview that was?
  • Is anyone else bothered by the instability of having keyboards during a pre-1984 Van Halen song?
  • Why did I wear all of my t-shirts in XL back then, when I weighed 165 lbs.?
  • On top of my “guitar” is my infamous can of Spam, then just 10 years old at the time. And yes, of course it is a double-neck “guitar”!

Golden Grahams: The Currency of the Realm

Image credit: Dalboz17

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I deviated from my regular Food Nazism and purchased some Golden Grahams. Kind of like how you take pride in the sheer number of years since you last threw up, it dawned on me that over a decade had passed since I last owned some.

I was taken aback by the box artwork — a slathering of cartoon characters and a bastardization of the logo. It bore no resemblance to the monolith of packaging depicted above. I remember as a kid how Golden Grahams stood out because of the crisp lines and the focus on the cereal itself. In other words, Golden Grahams had lost its way, at least in terms of advertising.
Continue reading “Golden Grahams: The Currency of the Realm”

The Stars at Night! Are Big and Bright!

Our plane landed just one hour after leaving Busan.

I looked outside my window and laid eyes on Jeju-do, the largest island in South Korea.

Travel had been a whirlwind ever since we arrived in the country, less than one day before the United States squad started their first round World Cup schedule.

I was still coming to grips with how small South Korea was compared to my home state of Texas.   In fact, it occurred to me this might be just the second time I’d ever been on an island, the first being Honshu just a week before.  Up until that point, life had been spent 100% on continental masses.  Although Jeju-do was only 50 miles away from the mainland, I felt a sense of remoteness and isolation.

As we taxied, I looked out my tiny window.  Although the hazy weather thwarted any attempts to survey all but the landscape closest to the aircraft, I still strained to pick out features like the new World Cup stadium or the island’s famous volcano.

Soon we arrived at the terminal, and I started to get excited.  Waiting for us inside was Shupe, an old friend of ours from the Bruce Hall days.  He had been in South Korea for several years, living simply while teaching English and scuba-diving.

Jim and I deplaned and found ourselves in a moderately-crowded terminal.  As expected, a majority of those present were Korean, although we did encounter some of our fellow football fanatics.  We had just touched down before a separate plane carrying the Slovenian squad, which was scheduled to play Paraguay the next day.  Their fan contingent was gathered just outside security, waving all sorts of banners and signs written in their native language.  Despite all of my years learning Spanish, Japanese, and German, I was fascinated at how foreign Slovenese appeared.

We still hadn’t encountered Shupe.  Jim and I started to question if we had gotten something mixed up.

Suddenly, a leather-jacket-wearing dude with sun-bleached blonde hair and glasses jumped out from behind a thick column.  It was Shupe.

Thrusting his forefinger high in the air, he belted out at the top of his lungs, “THE STARS AT NIGHT! ARE BIG AND BRIGHT!

And like any good Texan, Jim and I instinctively dropped our bags and responded. Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! “DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!!!”

All surrounding Koreans turned their heads and looked upon us with wonder.  Awe-filled whispers of “Ahhhh! Texas!” filled the room.  Flashes went off as some captured the moment in photographs.

April 9, 2022

Everything was loaded in my truck Kilgore. I returned to my vacant apartment to perform one last survey and ensure that I didn’t forget anything before hitting the road to Austin, my next in a long string of hometowns. Just as I thought, nothing remained — except for my time capsule.

A petty cash box purchased from Office Depot, I had spent the past several years collecting the flotsam I intended to bury the day I finally moved out of Bruce Hall for good. Each item represented both my current time and place in the world:

  • One of my laminated ID cards from the North Texas Premiere Soccer Association, within which my team The Mama’s Boys competed
  • The operating manual to my first computer, a Intel 386SX with added math co-processor
  • Various photographs of family and friends, all of which I hoped I would remember
  • A VHS video cassette featuring a Kenmore advertising campaign, a separate contribution from my ex-girlfriend and fellow creative Margo
  • Tassles from both my high school and college graduation mortarboards
  • A small tin of Spam, my calling card
  • A black spiral-bound journal filled with sentiments from cover-to-cover

One by one, I added the items to the box, never pausing to consider their symbolism. After all, I had stared at these trinkets for over a thousand days, ever since I decided to create a time capsule on April 9, 1997, the day that the population of Bruce Hall buried a time capsule in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. With so much time cohabitating with such trinkets, they held no more intrigue. However, the last item in the list forced me to pause and ponder its contents.

In my hands was the black journal, whose insides I never once saw. For the past three years, I carried the journal everywhere I went, asking everyone I met to write whatever they wanted inside. I promised them I would not read the journal until I opened my time capsule a quarter of a century later. Contributors were not bound by my self-imposed trust, and in fact I encouraged them to read it. Sometimes, the journal would disappear for days, as my friends took the time to read it cover-to-cover. On occasion, I would hear a report that some daring things had been written inside. I know that some of the authors were girls I liked at the time, and for years I wondered if they used my journal to confess any romantic sentiments.

My mind returned to the present and the journal before me. Right before I was to hide the book for decades, I was tempted one final time to sneak a peek. Doing so would spoil the wonderful treasure I created and the joy I would feel when rediscovering it,. This chance to preserve a slice of my youth was too precious. With a grin, inside the box went the book. I gently closed the lid, turned the lock, and slipped the tiny key into my pocket, where it sits to this day mingling with my other keys.

Nearby was a stack of white vinyl stickers, each adorned with the green University of North Texas logo. Leftover as spirit giveaways from years of attending student housing conferences, I peeled the backing off each and adhered them to the outside of the time capsule, layering them like shingles on a roof. Soon enough, the entire box was uniform in outward appearance and quite well-sealed against the elements. The only feature exposed was the clear plastic window behind which I slipped the following note:

Ahoy, fellow spelunker!

This is my time capsule that was buried during the ancient 20th century. It is intended to remain closed until April 9, 2022, twenty-file years after I first began to amass its contents. Please do not remove or open this time capsule, as I plan to return that Spring day to retrieve my belongings. So if you are reading this, please put it back where you found it — and consider yourself invited to that day’s opening festivities. I look forward to meeting you then.

As ever,

Matthew

My time capsule was complete. Now came time to secret it deep within the bowels of Bruce.

Because I had already turned in the master key, the prime regalia of my recently-vacated job as hall director, I borrowed the submaster key from the key box downstairs. It would prove good enough to get me where I needed to go. Soon enough, I was on my hands and knees, crawling in dark passages, hiding my treasure in a dark, dank location known only to myself and Jim, in case I am personally unable to return 22 years from now.

I emerged from the expedition with caked dust on my shoulders and the musty smell lingering within my nostrils. It was a melancholy scent, as the fact I could smell it meant all of my work, my purpose, at Bruce Hall was now complete. It was time to leave Denton behind, and along with it the bittersweet memories of the past year spent trying to ride things out.

I returned to the key box both the submaster and my apartment key. Then I headed out the back door, hopped in Kilgore, and drove away to my new life.