schnee, eis, und scheistwetter

by John Bellairs
January 23, 1959, Scholastic #12

Last Friday I emerged from historic Sorin Hall to find the world wrapped in Hyperborean splendor. Besides, it was snowing. The virginal snow spread far into the distance, disturbed only by an occasional arm or leg of some hapless traveler. Across the way several playful students were burying someone in the snow, and as I passed he appeared to be going down for the third time. As I paused to contemplate the wintry beauty of the scene (having been dumped into a snowbank by more playful students), I was fortunate enough to observe that phenomenon before which the Aurora Borealis are as Christmas lights - the Notre Dame snow ploughs. There is nothing quite so thrilling as seeing a fleet of these Dreadnoughts sweeping the plain, transforming the snow-covered wastes into ice-covered wastes for the convenience of the student. One of these ploughs stopped near me to polish a rather stubborn section of the pavement, so I rushed to meet him, hoping for an interview.

The operator of the machine was busy spreading a fine coating of water over the area he had cleared, and was waiting for it to freeze. I approached and asked him his name, and he replied: "My name is Barnabas Oldfield Czwyz, Serial No. Z34895601/4, Company B, Army of the Main Quadrangle. My mission is to make walks and roadways impassable by coating them with a glistening sheen, to run down students when I can, and to confound the enemy in all ways possible."

I stood there awestruck by this testament to loyalty and honor and the American way. When I recovered I asked the driver about his plough. I discovered that the machine was a converted tank which had seen service at Chateau-Thierry. The blade was produced by the famous Skoda Munitions Works, and is weekly honed to razor-sharpness. All the drivers are either retired tank drivers or sports car racers who have been barred from the tracks because of excessive foul play. In years past it has been the practice to skim off the snow and leave the ice uncovered, but it was discovered that there was not enough native ice to render the sidewalks completely impassable. So now the drivers are equipped with water tanks, spray guns, and rotary buffers. As a result, once the ploughs have been through, only the most experienced senior can get more than fifteen yards without a fall, unless he travels on his hands and knees. This last mentioned method has been adopted by the prudent, and for this purpose the Bookstore is selling Knee and Elbow Pads for 23 dollars a pair.

The driver also mentioned with pride the great expense and research which had been devoted to the marble-like finish on the pavement between Gilbert's and the Bookstore. This is the only place on campus which can give the student a good whopping fall in the summer months, provided there has been a heavy dew the night before. This death-trap alone accounted for over 15,000 Infirmary hours last year, according to the Useless Statistics report. The infirmary hour is the unit which measures the success of the icemakers. The former unit, the Pratfall-Thud was discarded as being too inaccurate, since the only proof of real success is the sound of popping cartilage and gaily cracking bones.

The driver continued to describe in sparkling rhetoric the ideal conditions for pratfalls. The sneaky ice or apparently only wet pavement seemed to him to be the most effective device. On this type of ice the record pratfall was set by Melchiades Ogee last year. He emerged from Sorin one morning, fell down the stairs, and slid to the door of the Rathskeller, where he was greeted by an emissary with a tape-measure and a silver loving cup. Other records in this field:

Most Profane Language Used on Single Fall-Canute Parviform, who slopped while carrying home twelve Dresden figurines, a complete set of Belique china, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Most broken bones (one fall)-Coriolanus Pawl, who slipped into the path of a bus.

The driver paused for breath after relating his fabulous tale, and suddenly he stood still as though electrified (electrify someone someday and you will know what I mean). He had spotted a student across the way. I saw him start his engine, race across the street, and neatly sideswipe a student from behind. He pulled out a gummed sheet on which were decals in the shape of students, and cut one out. He wetted it and slapped it on the side of the machine with an air of triumph, and put another notch in his steering wheel.


Commentary

Myers notes this article (whose title translates to Snow, Ice, and Shitweather) is pretty straightforward and doesn't need much in the way of background commentary to be enjoyable. "Perhaps it helps to remember that the Notre Dame campus, in addition to being on the Midwest prairie, is not too far from the southeast corner of Lake Michigan and is therefore at least on the edge of the 'lake effect' snowbelt. Although some nearby towns in Indiana and western Michigan have it much worse, it means the campus experiences the occasional real doozie of a snowstorm. Although it's not directly pertinent to the Bellairs article, such an occurrence is generally marked by of a campus-wide snowball fight that involves the whole student body and is waged on a scale worthy of, say, the Battle of Gettysburg.

"But back to John's article. It is best to remember that Notre Dame has a pedestrian campus criss-crossed by walkways but not by streets and automotive traffic. Therefore, if a student encounters one of the snowploughs on one of these walks, he has no choice but to retreat or to dive into a snowbank. And it's true that the plowed walkways could be very slippery! One snowy evening in our freshman year, John and I were walking away from the dining hall on one of the diagonals of the main quadrangle when suddenly, in an instant, John completely disappeared from sight. I next saw him about a second later sliding briskly on his back about thirty feet in front of me, his arms and legs waving helplessly, like Gregor Samsa trying to struggle out of bed. John must surely have drawn on this memory of having been a human curling stone when he wrote this article.

"I had forgotten completely about the Rathskellar, no doubt because it was by no means the genuine article (i.e.: no beer or wine), but I think it was in the basement of the La Fortune Student Center, which was directly across from Sorin Hall on the quadrangle in front of the Administration Building. About the only other explanatory note that may be helpful is that Gilbert's was an on-campus clothing store connected to the bookstore by a small pavilion. The bookstore eventually absorbed Gilbert's and became an all-in-one book-plus-clothing-plus souvenir store, but in any event the whole operation has in recent years expanded to new quarters and the original buildings demolished."