Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Story of Mark Pretzel

I had a friend all through high school, Jim, who went to the same University that I did, Drexel University.

We both started out with the same major, and we both changed them to other majors around the same time.  The first term that I lived in the dorms, we both were in Kelly Hall.   Kelly was this cinder block tower that was wrapped in the same bricks that gave Drexel the nickname that it wore through the years I was there, Orange Brick University.  The buildings were faced in Orange Bricks through the construction into the 90s when they switched to a more conventional brick because it was cheaper.

Inside of Kelly Hall, the rooms were uniform unless you were lucky enough to live in one of the end units. These had the best view of the city of Philadelphia from their perch in West Philadelphia.  Behind the room doors were nearly indestructible furnishings made of metal and thick wood with veneer.  These places were built to last.

Each door in the building were solid wood.  I had to assume that these were made to last in an environment of 18 year old plus men and women doing what they would which included water balloons, bowling and football games in the hallways. 

Most of these doors had little nails or hooks in them so the students could tack notes to them so you knew what the inhabitants within had on mind. 

That was where Jim came in.  You see this particular door was directly across the hall from Jim and he got to hear all of Mark's partying, listen to his music and experience when Mark was doing things that you would not be able to do in public.  Mark was, you see a partier. 

To call Mark a partier, is probably one of the better understatements that I could make.  More like Mark was an epic partier, he raised it to an art form.  Seeing that the Residential Assistant of that day was a partier, the bookish Jim was out of luck.   Jim would disappear to the library or my room on another floor or the lobby of the building so he didn't have to be assaulted with more Album Oriented Rock at small hours of the night.

Jim was a thin person, is to this day.  I doubt he ever packed more than 140 pounds onto his 6 foot tall or more frame.  Not the type that would be doing contact sports or having your back in a fight.  Nice guy but not good at that sort of thing. 

The strongest thing Jim would do was to drink cola, lots of it, and eat pretzel rings.   If you ever had the munchies for Bachman's Pretzel Rings, no matter what time of the day, you could ask him and he would cheerfully say "That's what they're there for" and hand you the bag.

One day Mark came back to the room in the middle of the night after partying with the frats, and crashed out on his bed behind that solid door with his Led Zeppelin screaming through the night and Jim had had enough.

Yes, Jim walked out into the hall and put a single round brown pretzel ring on that nail.

With Salt.

And went back into his room and went to sleep.

The next day we walked down the hill down 33rd Street in West Philly to class and he told me about it like it was a big deal. 

I suppose to such a "Nice Guy" like Jim, this little act of defiance was a big deal.  Telling the story, I had to laugh and said "It would be such a TERRIBLE shame if it happened again!".

You know where this is going don't you... Jim continued to do this day after day for the rest of that term and into the next.

Mark would come home, drunk, probably on other drugs as well, high as a kite and collapse on that cot of a bed and sleep through his classes.  His grades suffered predictably.

Just as predictably, Mark had a fresh pretzel on his door.

We got wind that he was failing out of Drexel.  It was for the best, the partiers never do all that well.

The final straw was when he did his partying a bit too hearty on finals week and slept through not one, but two exams. 

The screaming that came down the hall and up the stair tower was epic.  Mark was cursing out a blue streak.  He said that he didn't know if he would ever make it through another term of academic probation and was livid.  This was the proverbial Hitting Bottom scene we all have heard of.

It was at that point when he turned back to the door and there, sitting on the nail was a round pretzel.

He literally went ballistic.  It was as if every bit of rage he had came out at the one same second.  He was angry at the world, angry at the school, angry at the music that was skipping on the turntable.  That little ring of pretzel became the symbol for everything that was wrong in his life.

He opened the door, leaving the pretzel there, stepped inside and closed the door.   At that point the music fell silent.

The next day he was telling the story to me and Jim and the rest there and saying that he was going to kill the person who kept putting the pretzels on his door.  But there was something missing in his voice.  It was at that time Jim said "You know Mark, it was me".  Gentle Jim was the person who did the deed as a long running joke, owned up to it.

Mark looked crushed.  He said "If it were anyone else I'd strangle them, but Jim, you?"

It was that point Mark changed.  He begun to laugh, loudly and longly at all of us assembled.  Said thank you for the joke and went back inside.

The term ended, and the partying wasn't quite so hearty.  Animal Dorm wasn't the same.  Jim moved to another room then back to his family later in Medford NJ for the rest of his schooling.  I went to what was then called the New Dorms across the walkway.

Mark was never the same.  The Power of the Pretzel seemed to help him along.  He eventually graduated from Drexel University.  He wasn't at the top of the class but he did get a degree. 

The meek may never inherit the Earth, but sometimes they will hand you that last Pretzel you need to get along in life.  I may have moved away, but I will never forget the grace that Jim had when handling difficult situations.  I can hope that those who know him still appreciate that as I do.

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