Being the college guide sounds fairly straightforward, but in fact the job was full of pitfalls – landmines in every direction.

The first pitfall arose out of the fact that I could never know who was going to be on my tour. It might be sensible people who thought the Orozco murals should be nuked, or it might be an art lover who thought they should be returned to Mexico immediately.

In this vein, there was a bleak hallway that led from the inn on the corner of the green to the student union, and halfway down that hallway was a perfectly undistinguished conference room. I was supposed to pause there and tell my tourists that the room only existed because of the inspired generosity of Mr. Muckety-muck. Needless to say, I never bothered.

One day as I was passing by the conference room a fellow in the back called out, “Young man, what is this room on the left?”

I should have been quicker on the uptake, but instead I said, “Oh, that. It’s just some boring conference room nobody ever uses.”

Naturally, the fellow turned out to be Mr. Muckety-muck himself, and this led to yet another awkward conversation between the college president and his college guide.

Another pitfall arose out of the fact that while the college administration had carefully choreographed exactly what I was supposed to say on the tour, they couldn’t anticipate what questions I might get, e.g.:

Tourist: Young man, these old college buildings are so wonderfully charming. Why would they build a new student union that’s such a modernist horror?

Me: My sentiments exactly.

Tourist: Young man, aren’t those boys a little old to be having a water balloon fight?

Me: Yes, ma’am, but those balloons are filled with beer.

Tourist: Young man, is that couple over there under the tree having sex?

Me: (Pretending not to have heard the question.)

Finally, numerous pitfalls arose as the result of two awkward facts: (1) There were 3,500 guys at the college and no girls, and (2) the college was in the middle of nowhere.

After five days without laying eyes on a female, it’s not difficult to imagine what, uh, animal spirits were unleashed on Friday afternoons when hundreds and hundreds of girls were bused onto the campus. As Dorothy Parker put it, “If all the girls at winter carnival weekend were laid end-to-end, no one would be surprised.”

This made the late Friday afternoon tours fraught with potential disaster. Anticipating this, the administration warned me that under no circumstances was I to take the Friday afternoon tour (a) anywhere near fraternity row, where numerous bacchanalia were sure to be underway, or (2) anywhere near the college gym, where dozens of buses would be unloading hundreds of girls who would straightaway be preyed upon by 3,500 lubricious boys, or (3) anywhere near any of the dormitories, where … well, I’ll leave that one to your imagination.

As far as I could determine, the Friday afternoon tour could only safely take place entirely in the underground passageway between the administration building and the library.

And that’s only a slight exaggeration. My typical Friday afternoon tour would begin at the gazebo and move one hundred yards west to the exact center of the college green. From there I would point out the main sights, without, of course, actually visiting any of them: fraternity row, the college gym, the various dormitories.

I would then lead the tour group to the student union, which was sure to be occupied at that hour only by a small handful of male and female geeks having tea.

One Friday afternoon, as my tour group was innocently approaching the geeks, a guy came racing down the hallway behind us yelling, “Gangway! Gangway! I’m late for class!”

The guy was carrying (I’m not making this up) a weathered fence post with strands of rusty barbed wire sticking out of it in all directions. He was obviously an art major and I was sure the title of this artwork would be “The Rape of the American Farmer by Soulless Agribusiness Interests.”

I need to pause here and confess that that art studio was supposed to be a stop on my tour. It was a huge, airy room, well-equipped with everything a nascent artist could require, and up at the top of the forty-foot ceiling were a dozen of slanted windows facing north, bathing the room all day long in even northern light.

Meanwhile, I would point out, important classes – like English literature or American history – were being taught in two-hundred-year-old classrooms that smelled like somebody’d been peeing on rotten leaves.

Naturally, I banned the art studio from the tour and had been ignoring it all summer. But now the guy with the fence post was having trouble getting into his art class – the door kept shutting on his fence post. Since he was interfering with my spiel I hollered, “I’ll get the damned door!” I held it open while the art major turned his fence post this way and that and finally got it through the door.

Unfortunately, my tour group then wanted to see the art studio, so I had to hold the door open again as they trooped in. Almost immediately I heard shrieks and screams and was almost trampled as the tour group stampeded out of the studio, leaving me alone with the geeks-having-tea.

I knew, of course, that modern art had gone off-the-rails some time around 1900, but in my experience it had been more laughable than terrifying. Curiosity got the better of me, though, and I entered the art studio and was promptly turned to stone. Right there in front of me was a photograph – not a painting, a photograph – of a gigantic, thirty foot tall, dark pink, engorged vulva.

A couple of weeks later, when I’d recovered from this searing experience, I found out that while the “artwork” was in fact a photograph, it was a photograph of an artwork – namely, Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde. But instead of photographing the entire portrait, the photographer had zeroed in on and vastly enlarged a critical, shall we say, piece of the whole.

After that I quit my job and went back to making urine strainers.

Next up: Goldie, Part 1

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