Halls of Montezuma

So, I was talking with Gus again, the old marine fighter pilot from WWII at the senior center. In the movies and cartoons, “Gus” was always the mechanic, a wizard in salvaging shot-up airplane parts to “keep ’em flying.” But my Gus said he was a pilot, and that’s good enough for me.

That all reminded me of a lifelong puzzle: the Marines’ Hymn. It starts out with, From the Halls of Montezuma . . .  What are they? I have a hall in my house and the bathroom comes off of it. Does the song refer to Montezuma’s bathroom?

But once I started looking it up, the other meaning of “hall” was so obvious, it was embarrassing. A “hall” is a building where people gather, often a residence. At Penn State, the residence buildings, as a group, were even called “residence halls.” The main women’s residence hall was “Atherton Hall.” Of course! I should have remembered that. The Halls of Montezuma refer to his residences.

Then, too, there is Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

In my freshman year at Penn State, I lived in the Nittany Dorms, temporary barracks hastily constructed to house the many male students enrolling on the G.I. Bill, each low, single-story building with maybe ten rooms on either side of a central lounge area and a central bathroom, sink, and shower area. (Far, far different than the current, posh Nittany Apartments.) Each room housed two students. A common mess hall (there’s that “hall” again) was in the center of the complex. I would guess there were maybe 50 buildings in the Nittany Dorm complex.

The dorms may have even been designed to look like the barracks the returning G.I.s were used to. The toilets and sinks were lined up on either side of the bathroom area, just like in the old Gomer Pyle movies. But the buildings were called “dorms,” never “halls.” “Halls,” to me, suggest a grandeur the Nittany Dorms did not have. The few women students lived in halls (most of the student body was male, by far).

The toilet stalls had no doors. One comedian smeared some toilet paper with chunky peanut butter and left it on the floor.  Later, he came back, picked it up, and grossed out everyone by conspicuously licking off the peanut butter. (Hey, we were in college!)

The lounge had the only phone, but no one used it much.  It was easier just to walk to the room of whoever you wanted to see. If they were not there, someone would know where they were. A phone call to a store would be confusing to whoever answered it, probably a sales clerk who just happened to be walking by. We were not a phone-oriented generation.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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