This is part five of our series called “Campus Tales.” Everyone has a story, and so does every building on this campus. Read stories about NU’s campus buildings, in all kinds of shapes and forms – available in different genres for different locations.
Genre: Historical Fiction
“So, good news first,” Sidney said as she burst into the apartment with a big canvas bag slung over her shoulder and Sherry right behind her with another bag.
“Let me guess, Nixon ended the war,” George quipped sarcastically as he looked up from his magazine.
“No. Ugh, don’t even get me started,” Sidney replied as she set the bags down by the door. “We got the paint.”
“And the bad?” George asked as Daniel and Richard appeared behind Sherry. “Wait, why are you guys back?”
“I was waiting at the Rock with Richard when someone from WNUR needed help, and one of us had to go, so Richard ran over to Annie May Swift.”
“I’m really sorry. It turns out it wasn’t too serious of a problem, but they did actually need help,” Richard added.
“And so I was alone for about half an hour, and soon I realized I really needed to go to the bathroom. I ran into University Hall for like 5 minutes tops, and I came back, and some guys at Sigma Alpha Mu had shown up and were about to pitch their tents to start waiting,” Daniel said.
“Did you tell them you were there before?” George asked, already knowing where this was going.
“Yeah, but there was only me and like, eight of them, and for all they knew they came to an unguarded Rock.”
“So we lost the claim to paint tonight? Did you tell them today was our only chance?” George asked in despair.
“Sorry guys, I should have gotten back sooner,” Daniel said.
“No, don’t be sorry, we were risking it by cutting it this close. There are probably quite a few groups trying to squeeze in painting the Rock before Thanksgiving,” Sidney said.
“The irony is, Sidney and I thought we were lucky. The arts and crafts store is apparently closing up starting tomorrow through the rest of Thanksgiving break, so we couldn’t have gotten the paint if we didn’t today. But we bump into these guys on our way back and I guess there’s no rock to paint anymore,” Sherry said as she let herself fall into George’s couch in disappointment. Then a wind-up timer rang, and George set his magazine down on a table and walked to the kitchen. He had been cooking food he meant to take to the Rock, where the five friends would meet and wait for the rest of the evening to paint a tribute to their four years of friendship.
All of them were seniors, and with Daniel going home for the rest of the year and Sidney heading off to an internship for the next two quarters, it would be their last chance as a group to leave a memory before graduation.
“You guys can set another day next year without me. I don’t mind,” Sidney suggested.
“No, that’s not happening. Doing it together was the whole point,” Richard said, and the rest agreed in silence. George walked back from the kitchen with a pan of roast beef and set it on the table.
“Mmm. That smells good,” Sherry said.
“Might as well just dig in here where it’s warm. As long as we’re not heading out,” George remarked. “Pick up a plate and help yourself. Might as well bring out wine and some veggies while we’re at it.”
As they ate together, the smell of George’s roast beef encompassed them in warmth, as the wine and good company slowly helped push the gloom of disappointment away.
“What do you guys think about the new library?” Sherry asked.
“It’s alright. It’s shaped really strangely though,” Richard said.
“I’ve been there maybe twice this whole year.” Daniel answered, sinking into the couch.
“I’m used to Deering. That place is labyrinthine. It’s as complicated inside as it looks outside. Although, I guess I should visit considering it’s likely the only new building on that entire Lakefill built in time for us to use,” George said as he started clearing the table.
“The new student center might open next year,” Sherry added, swirling her glass of wine.
“Wow. Thanks, Northwestern, just in time,” Sidney said as she rolled her eyes.
“Most of Lake Campus is a little barren and boring on the northside, but it’s nice to go out on that mini peninsula across the lagoon sometimes. It’s got a nice view of Chicago,” Richard added.
“Why don’t we go right now? Our late night plans are gone anyway,” Sidney offered.
The group was again reminded of their failed plans, and they sobered up as they helped George clean. They pulled their coats on, and the two girls slung their canvas bags of unused paint and brushes over their shoulders. The friends walked out into the cold and breezy evening. From George’s apartment on Sherman Avenue, they walked northeast, shuffling through sidewalks blanketed under a layer of brown and orange leaves. They crossed Sheridan Road and passed another large building under construction, a sign proclaiming itself the new home of the economics department, Kellogg and School of Education and Social Policy.
“I swear there’s more construction going on in this school than there are actually functioning buildings,” Richard remarked, and his friends grunted in agreement.
“Do you think they’ll ever be done? Like, will some graduating class ever see a constant view of a campus their entire time here?” Sherry asked.
“Somehow, I doubt it. They’ll fill this plot and fifty years later the lagoon will house an aquatic research center and eventually there will be buildings in the lake,” George replied.
“Haha, yeah, why bother with landfills when your campus can be in the lake itself?” Richard added and snickered.
They made their way east until they saw the three towers of the new library and cut southwest down the lagoon’s western bank. They passed the future student center and headed onto the barren dirt plot north of the South Campus parking lot and across the bridge to the Lakefill strip. They looked out from the southern tip. Chicago’s skyline sparkled in the dark expanse of the lake to the east. With the lake in the foreground, it looked like the city was on an island in the sea.
“It’s been one hell of a year,” Daniel said as they stood, staring out to the city and to the dark of the lake’s horizon.
“My Lai, Kent State…” Sidney whispered.
“Beatles break up. Hendrix and Joplin dead,” Richard added.
“Shitty year for the world,” George said.
“I’m going to miss this. It’s such a crazy place out there. And soon we’ll all be out in it,” Sidney said.
“Jeez, we might even get drafted, the ways things look,” George said with a sigh.
“What were we even going to put on the Rock if we did?” Daniel said.
“I guess we didn’t really think that part through either, did we?” Richard said as he shrugged.
“Stuff on the Rock is short lived anyway. We could’ve winged it with this sci-fi dork and Sherry’s artsy talent, don’t you think?” Sidney chuckled as she gestured to George.
“Hey guys?” called Sherry. She had slid off alone along the edge of the strip. “Do you think it would be crazy if we painted one of these rocks? There are tons that line the whole outer bank of the Lakefill.”
They looked to each other. Questions like “Did people do that?” “Can we?” swept across their minds for a moment. Sherry tapped at her canvas bag full of supplies and grinned. “Why not, right?” she said.
They walked along the easternmost edge of campus following the rocks that absorbed the small splashes of the lake’s waves, looking for a spot relatively spacy and dry, beyond the waves’ reach.
“What do we want to paint?” Richard asked.
“Something worth lasting more than a day, I’m sure,” Sherry remarked.
“We’ve got the time to think of something. No plans otherwise, tonight.”