May 13, 2011

Nye Clinton and His Infamous "Mariah"...

Last week I was visited by a gentleman named Thomas A. Taylor, who is a Regional Director in the Office of Regional Advancement for the University of Rochester.  I knew another fellow years ago who did the same thing and his business cards simply read, “Professional Beggar.”  Tom is a very nice guy and we get together for lunch whenever he is in town.  It’s always nice to get caught up with the news from the campus where I spent four years.  During the course of our conversation, Tom mentioned a name out of the past, Dean of Students Frank Dowd.  As so often happens, the name of Dean Dowd triggered a recollection.  In this case, it was a state-of-the-art water weapon, a water cannon called a “Mariah.”  Pronounced as Mariah Carey pronounces her first name, I was first introduced to this remarkable tool by a classmate, Nye Clinton.  Nye hailed from Watertown, New York.

Burton Hall in the Fall
In the fall semester of the 1960-61 school year, I had moved back into university housing, after having lived off campus my sophomore year.  I actually enjoyed dormitory living.  I had managed to get a “suite” with a couple of friends.  These suites were a clever scheme on the part of the university to increase the capacity of the older dorms (Burton Hall and Crosby Hall) by putting three men into two adjacent rooms that had previously been single accommodations.  It worked out quite well.  We were in Burton Hall.  And two of our neighbors were Ed May and Nye Clinton, two really great guys that I had gotten to know in my freshman dorm.  At that time, Frank J. Dowd, Jr., was Associate Dean of Students.  I wouldn’t have had his job for anything.  He was the university’s point man for all the unpleasant assignments, and there were plenty of those.  It was, after all, a period for "activism."

Nye Clinton would contribute generously to one such occasion.  

It was a warm spring evening.  The natives were restless.  Lots of the dorm residents had started to play their hi-fi or stereo systems out their windows.  Then some genius decided to start a bonfire on the dorm quadrangle.  Dean Dowd was sent to quell the uprising.  Naturally, that  caused even more anonymous shouting.  We were watching the developing situation out of our window.  It was time for Nye to enter the Fray.  He started by producing what I recall to be about a 10-12 foot length of the tan 3/8” natural latex thick-wall surgical rubber tubing.  I suspect that at one time it might have resided in one of his chem labs.  He tied a tight knot in one end of the hose.  Someone asked what he was doing.  Nye responded, “I’m making a Mariah.”  We knew that we were about to learn something very special.

Nye proceeded to the sink, where he stretched the open end of the tube over the small faucet.  Holding this very tightly, he filled most of the tube with water.  We were all amazed at how much the tubing stretched without bursting.  It looked exactly like a l-o-o-o-ng tan balloon.  He doubled the open end and pinched it as he removed it from the faucet.  While still holding the tubing doubled, he inserted the tip end of a ball point pen (the old push-button Pentel type).  This  apparently served as his nozzle.

Now, he draped the tubing (which is quite heavy when full of water) over both his shoulders and around his neck and waist.  He put on a tan trench coat and, holding the tubing closed with a tube clamp, carefully threaded the nozzle end through the right sleeve.  With the coat on, Nye could now hold the nozzle closed with one hand.   Nye, who had the physique of a string bean, made good use of the space within that trench coat.  We helped button up the coat as he departed to join battle.  We watched from the second-story dorm window…

Nye appeared in the crowd and gradually worked his way toward the Dean’s entourage.  The testosterone in the crowd was evident.  Shouts of “Go home, Dud!” could be heard.  And then we could see the high arch of a water jet coming out of nowhere.  It was the last thing any one expected.  It gushed for several seconds.  The Dean got drenched.  He eventually turned the mob over to the Campus Security Officers.  Nye disappeared into the crowd as quickly as he had appeared.

I hope the statute of limitations has run out.  Unfortunately, Dean Dowd passed away in 1997.

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