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Tom and I fling each other panicky looks. Team building exercise?
“Sweet Mother of God,” Tom breathes. “No. Anything but that.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Kilgore, with whom both Tom and I have had the misfortune of working closely in the past, overhears this. She sends us both a glance so sharp, it stings.
“Participation,” she says, her enunciation crisp, “is mandatory.”
But apparently not for college presidents, since President Allington abruptly excuses himself, saying he has an important appointment (with a scotch bottle, if he has any sense at all) and leaves. I expect Muffy Fowler to follow him out—she’s not part of housing staff, after all. But then I notice she’s managed to get her three-carat cocktail diamond snagged on the front of Reverend Mark’s sports jacket, and she decides, oh, what the heck, she might as well stay, since it might be a hoot.
Seriously. These are her exact words.
The team building exercise turns out to be even more horrific than either Tom or I could have anticipated. Dr. Flynn brings out a pile of unclaimed newspapers he’s snagged from behind the front desk downstairs. Then we’re told to divide into teams of five, and each team is handed a stack of newspapers. Tom and I instantly grasp one another, so we can be on one another’s team—“She’s been through so much already today, she really needs me,” Tom assures Dr. Kilgore, when she raises a skeptical eyebrow at this, since the goal of the exercise is to get to know staff members with whom we might not otherwise be well acquainted. Somehow, our other teammates end up being Reverend Mark, Muffy Fowler, and—because she assigns herself to our team, undoubtedly to keep an eye on Tom and me—Dr. Kilgore.
“Now,” Dr. Flynn begins, when each team has assembled on their assigned love seat… though, none of the love seats being large enough to accommodate a whole team, Tom and I find ourselves, once again, seated on the floor. “I’m sure you’re asking yourselves, what are we doing with these newspapers? Well, people, I want you to work together with your team to use these newspapers to build a free-standing structure large enough for your team to seek shelter in it.”
Simon, the director of Wasser Hall, looks furious. “How are we supposed to do that? We don’t have any scissors. Or tape!”
“I am aware of that, Simon,” Dr. Flynn says calmly. “You do, however, have a master’s in sociology, and four equally well-educated teammates, all of whom excel in their people skills. I think, by working together, you should be able to construct some sort of structure into which the five of you can fit for at least the moment it takes for your work to be scored—”
“We’re being GRADED on this?” someone else yells, clearly outraged.
“I hardly think that an event meant to build team spirit should be scored,” someone else chimes in.
“Now, now,” Dr. Jessup says. “It’s all in good fun. Dr. Veatch would have wanted it that way.”
I don’t think anyone in this room actually has any idea what Dr. Veatch would have wanted, since no one here—including me—really knew him. Maybe he would have thought that making houses out of newspaper was fun.
He definitely would have been in favor of scoring the houses, if you ask me.
“Isn’t this a riot?” Muffy asks, as our team gets to work on our house.
“Oh yeah,” Tom says. “I’d much rather be here than in my office.”
Tom is totally lying. His office computer is loaded with Madden NFL, his favorite video game. He plays it all day… when he isn’t busy busting up keg parties and attempted date rapes. He’d play it all night, too, if his boyfriend Steve would let him.
“Me, too,” Reverend Mark says cheerfully. Then he looks at me and stops smiling. “Although of course I’m sad for the reason why we’re here.”
Muffy stops smiling, too. “That’s right,” she says, looking at me with her big dark Bambi eyes practically tear-filled. How does she do that… and right on cue, too? “You two worked together. You must be devastated. Just devastated.”
“You were Dr. Veatch’s secretary?” Reverend Mark asks, looking at me with concern… coupled with the sick fascination everybody feels for someone who’s recently stumbled across a corpse.
“Administrative assistant,” both Tom and Dr. Kilgore correct him, at the same time.
“Why don’t we get started on our structure,” Dr. Kilgore adds, holding up our pile of newspapers between a thumb and forefinger, clearly not wanting to get ink smeared on her clothing. The New York Times is notoriously smeary. “How do you propose we do this?”
“Well, it’s got to be free-standing, right?” Tom takes the newspapers from Dr. Kilgore, clearly losing patience with her girlishness. “Why don’t we make four supports, like this”—he rolls a few sheets into a thick, stick like object—“and use them as props, and just stick another sheet over it, as a roof.”
“Bingo,” I say, pleased. “Done and done.”
“Um,” Reverend Mark says. “No offense, but I did some mission work in Japan, and I was thinking if we folded each piece, like so—here, let me demonstrate… ”
Reverend Mark takes the papers away from Tom and begins to do some kind of fancy tearing and folding technique thingie. Muffy and Dr. Kilgore watch him, clearly impressed by the way his fingers are flying over the newsprint.
“My goodness, Mark—may I call you Mark?” Muffy asks.
“Of course,” Mark says.
“Well, my goodness, Mark, but you do that so well. ”
“In many cultures paper folding is considered an art,” Reverend Mark says conversationally, “but it’s actually more closely associated with mathematics. Some classical construction problems in geometry, for instance, can’t be solved using a compass or a straight edge, but can be solved using only a few paper folds. Intriguing, no?”
Muffy’s dark eyes are wide and admiring. “Totally. The Japanese are so great. I just love sushi.”