Batten Down the Hatches

Life at Fort Harvard During Head of Charles Weekend

When droves of non-Harvard students descend on Cambridge for the annual autumnal ritual of Head of the Charles, the Square to them seems alive and exciting. But for Harvard students, the weekend brings little more than a sigh of relief that the flood of warnings and flyers from house superintendents is finally over.

As thousands flock to Harvard today and tomorrow for the Regatta, the yearly routine of strengthening the Yard's ramparts and turning the houses into veritable bunkers begins. After all, we Harvardanians must be protected.

But wherein does the real security threat lie? Not with Harvard students. In fact, Harvard University Police Officer Lawrence S. Murphy emphasizes that most of the trouble is caused by outsiders.

"Generally, the problems occur when individuals from all over the country and the world start roaming Harvard Square looking for something to do," Murphy says.

And what deviant behavior might one of these rapscallions engage in? Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III is quick to answer with a sinister suggestion. "In the past people have used the College grounds as bathrooms, and people have slept in corridors and the like," Epps says.

The "Head," apparently, is nothing more than an opportunity for the world to watch boat races, visit a prestigious university, and yes, urinate and defecate in public. Such scatological reasoning may seem shocking, but it is the sorry truth.

It is at times like this, when images of transients puking their guts out in the Lowell House courtyard abound, that I like to think back to a more idealistic time, when my cynicism about Head of the Charles weekend was markedly less...

I remember my first Head of the Charles weekend. Some first-year friends and I had found out about a "Heaven, Hell, Purgatory" party in Winthrop House (in fact, we had seen posters for it, though this fact was later denied by the party's hosts). We headed over to check it out at around 10 p.m., and as luck would have it, we were the first ones to arrive.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a sign bearing a gentle reminder: "Rember, this is Head of the Charles, not Boot of the Charles." This couched, clever reference to vomit baffled me until some of my friends explained the cryptic term to me later on. Who would have thought that Head of the Charles weekend could have been such an intellectual experience?

But I didn't fret. My friends and I were overwhelmed by the idea of being in the same room with copious amounts of alcohol. We didn't think twice about striking up a conversation with the three large male residents of "Hell" who wanted to know how we had found out about the party (since none of us knew any of them). We liberally filled our cups to the brim with some homemade Bloody Marys, into which one of our thoughtful hosts had poured salsa.

Gradually people trickled in one by one. There was the girl from my math class, the guy from my dorm, the myriad of upperclasspeople I didn't even know, followed by the friendly police officer. Before the party even had a chance to get going, it was busted.

Disappointed, we trudged back out into the street, sat on the grass and watched the stars for a bit, and though I can't remember precisely what happened next, I'm sure we ended up scarfing down greasy pizza and guzzling sodas at some local joint.

This year's Regatta will most likely not resemble the pastoral print I have hanging on my wall. The tents that line the banks of the Charles seem more suited to house refugees than vendors. And the hordes of people crowding Memorial Drive will no doubt make a walk to Mount Auburn Cemetery seem that much more attractive.

But the weekend has potential. Perhaps it is the sudden, overwhelming nature of the event that makes it more of a trauma than a pleasure for Harvard students. Perhaps if the races were spread out over a few days, and if, unlike that party my freshman year, the Regatta didn't seem like it was over as soon as it began, we all might enjoy it a little more.

Until then we must endure. We must shelter the huddled masses yearning to drink. We must take these urinating, defecating, vomiting vagrants under our wings.

And hopefully, we'll make it to tomorrow night.

Ethan M. Tucker '97 is going to get plastered this weekend.