on a fine spring day in may of 1973, i, along with 2 other classmates, kidnapped the dean of students of moorhead state university in moorhead, minnesota. along with his duties as the dean, he also taught in the humanities department and this spring quarter he was our professor, leading a class titled, “revolution in latin america.” the dean, known around the campus for his eccentricities of dress, habit and manner (a bit of the rapier wit of charles nelson reilly and paul lynde, there may have been a comb-over and a bit of dishevelment in his dress, but the details, including his name, are lost to time.)
he was a tough teacher, constantly pushing us to think for ourselves, cajoling and yelling, prodding and pulling, engaging even the most cynical of radicals taking this particular class of the importance of learning. the class was an odd lot of vietnam veterans, student provocateurs and innocent farm children from the northern plains states; it was pass/fail and for the final, as he laid it out for us, we were to plot a revolution for a small latin american country.
i’m not sure when we decided to kidnap him, but once we thought of it, the more it seemed the most striking (and reasonable) way of showing him how much he had taught us. we plotted and planned, we made maps and studied the presiding government’s troop strength and loyalty. we developed contingencies based on guerilla warfare tactics — and we wrote a manifesto. we decided to hold the final class off campus in one of the vietnam vet’s rented home–and told the dean of our plan, explaining that we could all have a beer with him as we revealed our revolution. his response, “excellent!” we set a date and a time; it was agreed among us that i would go into administration building and bring the dean down to our waiting car (he also knew me from an interview i did with him for campus television the previous quarter).
the day arrived; he made me wait while he finished some paperwork and when he was done, we walked down the stairs and out into the bright sunshine, all the while chatting comfortably with each other. we got to the car, and one of the other men involved with this abduction got out of the front seat and motioned for the dean to climb in. i quickly got into the back seat, the classmate pushed the dean into the center of the seat, threw himself hard against him, grabbing his hands as i threw a pillowcase over his head and tied it off with a rope which we then bound his hands with, forcing him to bend down so that he could not be seen from the street.
a string of profanity flowed from his mouth non-stop, warning us that we would pay for this, expulsion, and worse. once the authorities knew what had happened we would be arrested, convicted and sent to jail. he shook and fought back, but we held him down and drove in circles around and around, so that he had no sense of which way we were headed. i do not know if he was afraid for his life or not, but we eventually had to gag him so he’d shut up.
we pulled into the driveway of our destination, the dean still bound, blind-folded and gagged. he was led into the living room and we carefully released him from his confinement, revealing the rest of the gathered ‘guerillas’ and welcomed him to our revolution. much beer was consumed (once he’d stopped shaking); he was thoroughly impressed with our plan to overthrow the government and relented that the kidnapping was a stroke of genius. we passed. terror paid off handsomely.
part two: the year before
june 9, 1972. it had been raining heavily all day long and into the evening, the rapid city children’s theater had met at _____’s home on 11th st. and afterwards, five of us climbed into ________’s jeep, she’d agreed to take me home and the others came along for the ride. we headed over to omaha street to cross rapid creek, but were turned back by a policeman at the corner of ____ and omaha and directed back upstream. water, by now, was running up mid-tire, maybe a foot and a half deep, but we were in a big old jeep and really didn’t think anything of it. a couple of blocks later, a wall of water washed over the jeep (we eventually found out that it was the wave of water that had been released when the dam broke up town from where we were at); the three of us in the back seat got out and waded over to a large elm that stood in front of the grain elevator’s offices at 6th and omaha. we grabbed onto the tree, and watched slack-jawed as the jeep floated around the grain silo with our friends in it and then we saw another car floating down the street, with its occupants screaming out the windows to help them, which we were powerless to do, their car was submerged by another wave and we never saw it come back up again. it wasn’t until the next day that we found out that the jeep had hit a freight train car on the other side of the silo, our friends climbed out of the jeep to safety then, spending the rest of the night on top of the freight car. they watched as the jeep floated away, it was found three days later about two miles from there, filled with mud, a would-be coffin with wheels.
each of these massive waves (they shouldn’t be called waves, they were walls of water) were followed by a lowering of the depth of the water and we decided to make our way over to the office building and break in, where we hoped we’d be safe. we held tightly onto each other as we waded through the waist deep water (that’s waist deep on me, the tallest of the three of us, the water was chest deep for the others) over to the brick building, its windows about five feet above my outstretched hand. the first friend climbed up on my shoulders and with his arm wrapped in his shirt he broke the window, the broken shards raining down on me, opened it and climbed through. the second friend climbed up on my shoulders and in. i hesitated for just the briefest moment, considering how i might actually climb a brick wall when another car floated past, the faces of its occupants in a silent rictus of abject terror. it was motivation enough and i climbed the wall and my friends pulled me through the window. we spent the night shivering and fearful that our friends may have died. it has taken many years for me to work past my fear of deep water.
like many of us on that day 10 years ago today, a phone call in the early morning from a friend shouting, “turn on the tv now!” was how we first learned of the attacks in new york, washington and pennsylanvia. and so, for the first half-hour we stayed on the line with each other, consoling, angry, tearful, frightened. i believe everyone who was not there, could not believe that it was happening, it was just too cinematic, too novel, too much of a fiction to be true. we hung up reluctantly as i dialed my new york friends, “are you okay?”, or leaving messages, “please call me and tell me you’re okay,” and it was not until later in the day when i knew that everyone i loved was okay, did we begin to realize how terror works.