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The Vagabond Night Watch

By Michael E. Kinsley

HEARING that the Buildings and Grounds Department planned to save $75.000 by climinating the post of night watchman at the House, we went to talk to a night watchman and find out what his job is all about and what it feels like to be eliminated. He put down his copy of "A Dandy in Aspic" and agreed to talk to us but asked that his name not be used. "I may get in trouble with my supervisor for this." he said. "He may tell me to mind my own business."

He seemed in good spirits. "It's a pleasant job." he said. "Harvard treats me good. I've been working here 24 years. I had two heart attacks twelve years ago and they gave me an easy job. Before that I was a plasterer. Then I was a janitor in the North Yard. Threc-and-ahalf years ago I came here to this House. They give us free medical care up at Holyoke Center and I get along good with the boys.

"I heard rumors a couple weeks ago that they might do away with this job, but we haven't heard anything official yet. It really doesn't make that much difference to me because I'm 64 and have to retire next year anyway.

"I'm going to miss getting this chair." he said, patting his Harvard chair. "If you stay 25 years, they give you a brand new Harvard chair. I'll only have been here 24 years and 10 1/2 months. But I'm not worried about the chair-I'd just like to stay until commencement to see the boys graduate."

What does a night watchman do? "Our hours are 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. We're here to help the boys. They forget their keys or their fuses blow. Things come up you don't know about. Every hour we check in with the switchboard. We walk around the building every now and then and then and answer the phone. At one o'clock we lock the Senior and Junior Common Rooms, the library, and the music rooms. I have to lock the Society of Fellows room on Monday night or whenever they have a party."

Two pretty girls appear at the office window to ask for boys' addresses for invitations to a mixer at Simmons. He invites them in to look at his list.

WHAT ABOUT parietals? "I stopped two boys last night. They don't even know when they're allowed to have girls in here and when they're not. But they climinated the sign-in book last year and extended the hours, so that makes that job a lot easier."

Two boys come into the room. One asks for his mailbox combination and is referred to a list on the wall. The other needs to open one of the back gates to the House. He is given the key, and told to be sure to lock the gate afterwards and bring the key back.

"The senior tutors don't want us to be removed." he said, "because they're afraid their doorbells will be ringing all night."

The girls start out the door. "Got everything you want?" he asks. "Yes, thanks," they chime and giggle out.

Will the watchman's union fight to protect their jobs? "We have a union, but I can't remember what they call it. They don't do much. It's a company union; it's not very strong."

Maybe he should support the radical students and enlist their support in getting a stronger union, we suggested. "Oh no." he laughed. "I don't want to have anything to do with them. The supervisors have told us that if there's any attempt to take over the House or any trouble from radicals, we're supposed to leave and call the police. We aren't equipped or trained to handle these people, and I'm old and my fighting days are over. I was the one who found all those naked people in the laundry room last spring, you know. I called the senior tutor before calling the police. The boys were having a hell of a time. I tried to talk to them, but they didn't make any sense."

A boy comes in asking for change for a quarter. He is followed by a tutor wanting to know if the Senior Common Room bar has been restocked since "all those foreigners drank it up this summer." He gives the boy his change and tells the tutor there are several boxes of liquor in the entry basement.

Does he think he can be replaced?

"Well." he said, "if they can replace the president, I guess they can replace just about anybody."

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