SPRING POINT RESIDENCE HALL, South Portland — If you wandered into the dorm’s common area at the end of October, you saw a place fundamentally changed. Kyle Thayer, a fixture of the lounge scene, explained the situation to me on the evening of the thirtieth:
“It’s just like this depressing, f***ing gray, drab place. Usually, there’d be at least a small crowd around the table, and now there’s, like, nobody … I mean it’s empty. And quiet. It’s bizarre.”
So that was it: the pool table. A large paper sign now covered up its felt: “POOL IS CLOSED.” Cues and balls were locked away somewhere to drive home the point. The ping-pong table was closed too. Judgment, swift and final, had been meted out by management.
Nobody I spoke to then knew when the tables would reopen. A pessimistic rumor circulated: Not till after Thanksgiving. Lounge regulars were dismayed. The ban had unglued their community.
I was reminded of the rug that “tied the room together” in The Big Lebowski. But this was a serious matter; the pool and ‘pong tables had tied people together. Lifelong Mainers and cosmopolitan immigrants; the sporty, the studious, the gamers, the gossips: all had mingled there. But now, without the gravitational pull of a common pastime, they spun apart like satellites lost in space.
In their boredom, some students turned to alcohol and partying — on or off campus. Many others, Kyle guessed, were “hibernating in their dorms like polar bears.” Indeed, one told me he had slept more since the ban.
The effects weren’t all bad. That same student said he’d been finding more time to study. “After this sh** got closed, my grades went up! I’m surprised,” he remarked. Others expanded their social spheres by joining campus activities, from Gaming Club to Bible study.
Most, though, wanted their tables back more than anything. An indefinite shutdown seemed like an over-the-top response. Sure, there’d been some litter on the floor. Then there was that one little fight, but so what? Eyewitnesses told me it had barely been a tussle, just a drawn-out bear-hug and a couple half-hearted blows. Only two people were involved.
Kyle gave a voice to popular opinion: “Can we get rid of those two f***ing blockheads and open this place up again? Please and thank you.” Mukesh Wassick, another Spring Pointer, recommended, “Just punish the people that were doing it, don’t punish the rest of us.” He did, however, acknowledge other points of view: “I understand that the place was being trashed and everything … I understand both sides of it.”
Being a journalist, I had to get both sides of it. So I sought out Katie Rose Gergosian, Spring Point’s resident director and the force behind the ban. (As fate would have it, she had already reopened the tables by the time I got in touch.)
Ms. Gersosian provided some much-needed backstory. In fact, she told me, the fight had little to do with her decision. For a while, she had been considering taking away pool and ping-pong in response to “excessive trash, equipment being mistreated, and a general lack of respect for the space.” When the altercation forced her to clear everybody out of the lounge, she took the opportunity to lay down the law.
She explained that the custodial department had been understaffed and overtaxed. There are only 16 custodians on the South Portland Campus, she said — and they’re responsible for 40 buildings. She went on, passionately making her case:
“When I come to work in the morning and see our custodial staff on their hands and knees under the pool table picking up trash … it’s a sign to me that we need a few days to slow down and remember our values.”
Has she ever taken such measures before? Yes, she said — at least once every semester.
“I don’t see it as a punishment, but a reset. It’s a few days to quiet our space, clean it up and get back on track. Sometimes, moments of quiet contemplation can help us prioritize what’s important.”
So there you have it. I had to wonder, though: Did self-reflection really happen during the three days of no pool? It was quiet in Spring Point, and Spring Pointers did seem to have a newfound appreciation for their table-top privileges. (As a certain pop tune puts it, “You never miss the sun till it starts to snow.”) What remains to be seen is whether they got the message. Hopefully we won’t need another ban, and maintenance can sigh in collective relief.