What To Do When You’re Locked Out

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 06, 2010
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I am an office rat. I spend my days, many of my evenings, weekends and holidays in the humble, obnoxiously cluttered wooden hovel that serves as my office at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu.

But not this holiday - nor any days or evenings or weekends since Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. In an economy move, the university closed its campuses.

It’s been tough on me, so tough that on the Sunday after Christmas I snuck in for a couple of hours. The following Monday I tried it again. An alarm went off and a metallic voice from the fire alarm blared: “There’s been a security breach in this building. Leave by the nearest exit.”

I grabbed my book bag, looked around furtively for a security guard with truncheon, and left by the only exist.


So what did I do with two weeks without my beloved office? Napped a lot, saw some UH basketball and finished reading John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History. A British professor, Keegan is the world’s preeminent military historian, but this book is his first sustained effort to deal with America’s bloodiest conflict.

It was well worth the read. Keegan puts our great national tragedy into the context of countless European conflicts. And he sees lessons that European soldiers ignored:

“The bellicosity of Civil War armies led to the expectation that clear-cut result would terminate sooner than actually happened.

“Yet Civil War battles, fought so fiercely though they were, were strangely inconclusive. That was not because the soldiers were half-hearted. On the contrary, they fought with chilling intensity. What robbed their efforts of result was the proliferation of entrenchment, thrown up on the battlefield at high speed in the face of the enemy.”

The effect of entrenchment, argues Keegan, was stalemate. It should have served as a warning to those who fought the long, brutal, entrenched stalemate that was World War I in Europe.

Exiled from my office, I saw a couple of movies as well. No, I didn’t see Avatar. But I took the Missus to a couple of films - both of which I would heartily recommend.

Invictus tells the tale of Nelson Mandela’s embrace of the overwhelmingly white South African rugby team. He did so against the wishes of his triumphant black political party in an effort to unite his racially and economically divided country through sport.

Two of our finest actors, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, play the principal roles. Freeman catches the quiet, resolute magna-nimity and wisdom of Mandela. Damon, as the rugby team captain, demonstrates the understanding of cooperation that too often eludes politicians. Together, in the 1995 World Cup, Mandela and South Africa’s rugby team willed their country toward greater unity.

It’s an inspiring story. I teared up three times, maybe four - come to think of it, maybe five. The Missus was sniffling too.

We also saw Up in the Air, a film about a man who - in America’s era of downsizing - flies around the country firing people for corporate bosses too cowardly to do it themselves. George Clooney plays the lead role. He is, as usual, beautiful; but I think the role is about five steps outside of his range. Two women - Vera Farminga and Anna Kendrick, the first his occasional bedmate, the second his trainee - steal the show.

Not entirely. At the beginning and end of the film - and at several points in between - affecting interviews with real people who’ve lost their jobs remind the viewer that the film is a tragi-comedy.

With university libraries closed, I spent time reading in coffee shops and bookstores. At Border’sWaikele, I also eyeballed the bargain shelves and found Kevin Phillips’s 2006 American Theocracy. For only $2.99, it tells a rich tale of the “southernization of America” through the efforts of expansive Southern Baptist Convention and various Pentecostal preachers.

The result, Phillips argues, is that the Civil War has come back to haunt us - a point of view with which John Keegan agrees.

As you finish this, dear reader, rest assured I am back in my office. Ah, happiness.

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