3 Days Earlier
Campus was a paradise. But lately some seemed intent on ruining that. Florida South Coast University was an oasis surrounded on most sides by thousands of square miles of the parks and preserves that make up what’s left of the Everglades, and on its southwestern border by Chokoloskee Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and the Gulf. The university was formed when its conglomerate of wealthy donors purchased Plantation Island and much of the bayfront land adjacent it in the 40s, later acquiring Chokoloskee Island and eventually snagging back Lumber and Rabbit Keys from the hands of those intent on preserving them for the national park, and changing the names of these two to Sand Tiger Key in the 60s to fit with the school’s new mascot.
A lot of colleges out there didn’t take much pride in a beautiful campus, but FSCU was different. The grounds crews worked tirelessly to keep the greens manicured, the palms trimmed, the schedule of blooming flowers staggered throughout the year, despite campus being beaten up every so often throughout its history by hurricanes. The architecture was rooted in the Spanish Renaissance of Old Florida, but with plenty of modern, environmentally conscious design too. Courtyards and fountains and bench setups and nooks and crannies with statues from art students were numerous for reading or contemplating the great questions of existence or playing Frisbee golf. Miami was an hour and a half drive east, but despite all their big plans students actually went there very seldom. Naples was a 45-minute drive northwest, but it might as well have been three times that for how little most students wanted to go there or, more importantly, for how much they hated it when anyone from there or any of the little towns or patches of suburbia or camping grounds dotted throughout these woods and wetlands came and infested their private world. This was their world and they didn’t want any outsiders—old people, rednecks, biker gang losers, or children—coming in and messing it up. But now, some of their own were messing it up.
At the heart of their oasis lay the vast lawn of The Campus Commons, and this was where the mess started. The Commons were the entryway between campus proper and the small, very small, town that serviced it with bars and bookstores and coffee houses. About half of FSCU’s 29,000 students lived “off campus” in and around the town, which meant they’d trek their way through The Commons several times a day to get where they needed to go. And, for many, this morning was business as usual.
The sun beat down on a hive of students pushing their way to class, to food, to practice or home for more sleep after dreaded 8 AM lectures. But clogging the main arteries of these sidewalk thoroughfares was a bit of mayhem caused by two distinct groups that set up camp, some literally, on either side of the chokepoint of passing students to solicit or soapbox stump or just put in their required service hours.
The latter, on one side, were mostly fraternity and sorority kids whom, after a few particularly egregious incidents, the Administration decided to force to do so many good deeds a year. And there were also a few true believers mixed in with them. Student Dems and Reps, the handful of Federalist Society members and whatnot. They all had their different Get Out The Vote tables, banners, fliers and clipboards. Up until last week, the GOTVers were trying to get every student they could (or at least those of their kind) to register before the deadline. Now there was vote-by-mail and early voting info and reminders of the date and polling places and petitions for and against online voting and fliers and stickers and buttons for every conceivable subcategory of identity politics. But, of course, the biggest issue of all was the war. And there was no forgetting that—it was being yelled at them from bullhorns across the sidewalk.
Here, on the other side, were the Occupy Campusers. They’d been there about three weeks now. But compared to the Occupy Wall Street movement that happened when these kids were still in middle school, this was pretty lighthearted. Their tents were set up and spray-painted with every symbol from peace to anarchy. Their protest signs and banners and face paint and t-shirts covered the gauntlet of political minefields too. But even so, all but the most hardcore of them would still go to class, walk back to their apartments for a shower and change of clothes or a good night’s sleep—and it wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of soda bottles mixed with booze or one-hitters or sneak-a-tokes disguised as pens or highlighters or cigarettes snuck and toked.
And it was among these tents that the well-padded belly of a University Police Officer meandered through with a face of slight disgust above it taking in another day of the filth a liberal university president’s leeway had wrought on this fine lawn. His eyes scanned the students for any of those illegal soda bottles or marijuana paraphernalia or other illicits. But then they were yanked to the site of one of the tents, which was moving in a certain rhythmic fashion. He walked over. His ears confirmed his suspicions with faint sounds of grunts and breaths that could only be from one thing. He paused and listened to the sounds for a little while. Then he pulled his ridiculously large flashlight out of its holster, gave the side of the tent a few good whacks, and with the cockiness of needing to do little more than this, cleared his thick throat.
A voice from inside the tent shot back, “What the fuck?!”
“Campus Police!” he said with all his authority.
After some more grunting and shuffling the long arched zipper of the tent unzipped halfway, and out of the hole popped a head of shaggy, dirty blond hair. This was Tristan.
Tristan looked up at the cop and knew him as soon as his eyes adjusted to the sun behind the douchebag’s head. It was “Sergeant Chubs,” the guy who was always showing up at parties and taking his sweet time talking with the pretty girls before they could rush away at the sight of his entrance. Chubs deluded himself into thinking the young girls liked him, blind to the fact that they were clearly being as nice as they could be so as not to get arrested for underage drinking. Then, when he’d had his fill or whatever, Chubs would suddenly announce that the party was over and for everyone to go home. The nickname was for the obvious reason and for the chubbies some thought they saw him get when talking to these girls.
“Morning Officer,” Tristan said with a voice that gave precisely two shits.
“The University gave you people permission to voice your freedoms of speech out here, not … engage in public,” he made a lewd gesture with the length of his flashlight through a couple of circled fat fingers. Tristan had to close his eyes for a second in disgust for this man’s still-stuck-in-middle-school loserdom. It was clear to everyone who had met the fool that he had grown up miserably friendless and was now using his badge, his uniform, and his dripping-with-psychological-maladies choice of a campus cop post to get back what he could of a sense of worth that never matured from the needs of a 5th grader.
But Tristan knew what he had to do, the game he should play right now—you had to choose your battles.
“Sorry, Officer. Just getting in some morning pushups. Keeping up my physique,” and gave a sly, we’re friends, right?, smile, which he hated every millisecond of having to produce.
Chubs grunted an “uh-huh,” re-holstered his flashlight and continued on his wandering beat.
Tristan sneered at the back of him, then took a moment to look around at his friends and fellow protestors. He was proud of them. More and more people were starting to get it. But there was still so much to do—and so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their way. And, then too, far more concerning, so many people who still didn’t get it—who needed to be shaken awake.
But first, Tristan needed to finish what he started. His messy head re-submerged into the tent. The arch re-zipped shut. There was some giggling inside. And then the tent resumed its rhythmic movement.