How You Can Tell You Are Being Controlled

I got booted, declared Mark as he abruptly walked through the door into our campus apartment.  I nearly fell from my perch on the sofa; not because he had been booted, but simply because he had opened the door so abruptly, and as always, he was very loud.  But I managed to play it cool and keep watching “Magnolia”.  I was at the part where everybody sings the Aimee Mann song.

This was our apartment at Seavers Apartments, the place to live at Shippensburg University in the 1990s.  Whereas the other dorm buildings were your typical high rises housing hundreds of tiny, identical rooms meant for two roommates each, Seavers was a more modern building that had the appearance of an actual apartment building.  Each unit housed six students, in two bedrooms of three each, with a large central common room.  Each bedroom had it’s own full bath–a huge change from the communal public showers of the standard dorm towers.  Seavers was also (and this was huge) the only dorm with cable TV.  This was the 90s.  Things were different then.  I remember when I still lived in the regular dorms, being invited to a gathering at Seavers to watch “ER”; it felt like going to the movies for free.

So Mark, one of our six in our apartment, had burst in claiming he had been booted.  What this meant, of course, was that the campus police had had just about enough of giving him parking tickets and had decided to “boot” his car, which entails locking a bright orange apparatus onto one of your tires, making it impossible to drive.  You have to go pay your tickets and then someone comes and takes the boot off your car and your car becomes yours again.  I still find this to be questionably legal, but it’s something that happens everywhere.

This was bad news for Mark.  He worked off-campus and needed his car to get there and back, but if he had money to pay his tickets, he would have already done so.  Not that this wasn’t completely the result of his carelessness–it was, but none of us were diligent, willful people at that time in our lives.  How we perceived the booting was, this was the system making things more difficult for us than it had to.  The system was toying with us.

There were four or five of us in the apartment at the time–I can’t remember who or exactly how many.  But I do know that Mark’s rage over his booting was intense and pointed enough to rouse all of us out of our various stupors, get us to put shoes or at least slippers on, and make the trek out of our apartment, up the small hill and staircase to the nearby resident parking lot to gaze upon the bright orange monstrosity that was now attached to the rear driver’s side tire of Mark’s car.  I don’t remember what kind of car it was.

On our way up the hill we had pounded on the doors of some of our fellow Seavers residents (these were pre-cell phone days) and had gathered more people with us, so by the time we gathered around the car, we had a group of fifteen or so riled up college boys, all mad at the system and rallying behind Mark.  We stood in a semi-circle around the car, shouting obscenities and slogans in the general direction of the campus police station.  It was hot and we were starting to sweat and I know personally I was very thirsty.  Suddenly somebody said something amazing:

Let’s take it off!

It had certainly never occurred to me and probably none of us there that such a thing might be possible.  This was an apparatus employed by the authorities, the very point of which was that it was not removable.  That was the singular reason for its existence.  But once it was said aloud it seemed oddly inevitable that we would at least make the attempt to remove it.

Before there could be any discussion on the topic, half of the guys assembled (yes, they were all males) darted off in the direction of their apartments to locate some tools with which to undo the authority’s handiwork.  I did not have tools but I ran to my apartment with a few of my roommates so I could get an ice cold Dr. Pepper out of the fridge.  I was so thirsty!

When we reconvened at the car a few minutes later, the more mechanically-inclined of the group (which did not include me) huddled by the tire.  It was an exciting venture, but not one I expected to succeed.  You couldn’t REMOVE A BOOT, everyone knew that, but it was nice to be out of the apartment in the sunshine with a Dr. Pepper and engaged in some sort of mission against some sort of invisible foe.

Ten minutes passed, twenty minutes.  Some of the less-interested guys wandered off, went back to their Super Nintendos.  Every now and then I would poke my head into the work area by the tire–there was lots of futzing with screwdrivers and pliers.  It just didn’t seem plausible.

But then suddenly I heard a gasp, then a clanging sound, and then a whoop.  Improbably and amazingly, Mark stood up with the boot in his hands, then held it above his head.  The bright orange of the object somehow seemed out of place with the scene, one of youth triumphing over authoritarian evil, but this color swinging around over Mark’s head seemed to indicate an innocence, a folly.  Mark released a barbaric yawp, a howl that somehow included the words screw and parking authority all in the same syllable.

Mark started jogging with the boot still above his head, much like an Olympic athlete circles the stadium displaying their national flag.  We trotted behind him, feeling victorious by proxy, probably imagining all the other Seavers residents were somehow looking out of their windows at that moment, cheering us on, telling us we had won for them, too!

We ran all the way around the Seavers building once, then stopped back at Mark’s car.  The momentary thrill of the victory was subsiding.  Mark stood holding the boot at this side, and we were silent.  We all looked at each other as a wave of realization slowly came over the group, the true reality of the moment and the truth of life within any tightly-governed environment.  I was the first one to say it out loud.

We have to put it back on.

2 Responses to “How You Can Tell You Are Being Controlled”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    To remove it was it broken, or was it more of a picked lock situation? If he wasn’t able to get to work I think it’s safe to say parking authority was 100% the reason for the recession during the Bush years.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      As far as I can remember, it wasn’t broken. They somehow dismantled it, although I wasn’t really involved with that part. Lol that Shippensburg University parking authority was VERY involved with the Bush administration

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