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Monday, May 23, 2016

Alarm 444




Alarm 444


I have a good friend, Lin Hunnicutt.  He and I met when we were both attending the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina.

Lin is visually challenged.  I point this out because that is important to this story.

Lin had signed up for a media arts class in basic recording. One of his assignments was to edit, rather extensively, a recording.  Back at that time, we did not have anything like Audacity or other editing programs.  We had to break out the razor blades, editing block, and the demagnetizer in order to edit a recording.

Editing a quarter-inch wide tape is difficult for a sighted person.  It would be next to impossible for a blind person to do. Because of this, Lin’s professor told him he could get help from someone. I had taken the class before.  Lin asked me to help him.

Lin lived with his grandparents.  They lived very close to the University.  It was decided that Lin, our friend Tommy Branton, and I would stay the night at his grandparents’ house and I would edit the tape.

Lin’s grandparents were out of town that evening, so we guys had the house to ourselves.  We ordered a pizza and I went to work editing this tape.

I don’t remember much about this tape except that it was supposed to be a radio program.  The only thing that really stands out was a spot where a guy said, in a mock Irish accent, “includin’ me clothes.”  We had to have heard that line thousands of times during the course of the evening.

Sometime fairly early in the evening, Tommy Branton, a constant practical joker, excused himself for the evening and went to bed or so we thought.

A quick note about Thomas Edison Branton, Jr.  Tommy was one of those people who knew a lot of trivia.  He could play Name That Tune with no notes.  Lin is pretty much the same when it comes to an awesome knowledge of music. 

Tommy was also a practical joker of epic proportions. 

Lin and I chatted while we edited.  We discussed the play to which we were listening. By the time we were done, it seemed that we had the entire play memorized and were going to puke if we ever heard it again.  This is a common thing when one is editing a project.  By the time you have completed the project, you never want to see or hear anything about the project again.

About 3:30 AM or so, we finished up.  We had a final edited version of the tape copied, labeled, and ready to be turned in. Lin went to his bedroom, which was in the basement, and I crashed on a couch in the basement.

I did not see where Lin actually went because he did not turn on any lights. There was no need to turn on any lights. We went to sleep.

All of a sudden, I heard an unfamiliar automated voice saying, “Alarm 444” repeatedly.   I also heard Lin thrashing and crashing in his room.  We were both dealing with exhausted minds.  I was in an unfamiliar place and had no idea what was going on.

It seems what had happened was that when Tommy went to bed in the guest room, which was upstairs, he first made a stop downstairs in Lin’s bedroom.  The twerp had rearranged Lin’s bedroom and set his talking alarm clock to 4:44 AM.   Tommy then hid the alarm clock somewhere in the bedroom.

Lin and I decided to go back to sleep and deal with Tommy in the morning.  We both figured that if we went upstairs at that time we would do Tommy great bodily harm.

The next morning, Tommy got up and left before Lin and I woke up.  Smart move.

We plotted our revenge.  I was more mad that Tommy had rearranged a blind person’s room than that I got woke up from a sound sleep when I was exhausted.

Revenge is the dish that is best served cold.  The Alarm 4:44 episode took place towards the end of the Fall 1983 semester.

We brought my fiancĂ© into the planning.   Suzanne arrived for the Spring 1984 semester and we made plans for a “Special Spring Break Party”.  That party had few guests. There was Lin, my roommate Barry, Suzanne, me and, of course, Tommy.

I fried chicken in my room in an electric skillet.  Suzanne baked a chocolate cake in her dorm kitchen.

Barry, dear sneaky Barry, consulted with the pharmacists in training who lived on our floor.  There were two brothers living on the fifth floor of Snowden in the Towers dorm that year. These brothers were both studying to be pharmacists. Their father, and his father, and so on back for several generations had been pharmacists.

The brothers checked with the Physicians’ Desk Reference, and consulted their father as well as their pharmacy advisor to see exactly how much Exlax Tommy could tolerate. ]

I took the recommended dose of Exlax unflavored pills and ground them up into a fine powder.  I mixed this powder into a small amount of water.

We invited Tommy to have a piece of cake, after we had already taken slices.  Tommy did not suspect anything because we were eating the cake and he saw me slice it.  As I was turning to get his piece of cake, I quickly sprinkled the liquid Exlax onto his piece. He scarfed it down.

The next day started Spring Break and we had to go home for the week.  I got a phone call from Tommy soon after I got home.

You see, Tommy left to drive home just after the party.  For him, home was in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.  This was just over a 100 mile drive that would take approximately 2 hours.

Tommy drove this at night.  Back then, all night stores were uncommon along the interstate.  There were exactly two places he could stop along the way to use the restroom and Tommy stopped at both of them.

Both Lin and I got similar phone calls.  They went something like this.  “I thought about you at 1 AM, then again at 2 AM.   Around 3 AM, I got over thinking about you and proceeded down the road again.  Not very long after that, I thought about you again. I thought about you from right around 4AM up until around about 9 AM.  I made it home shortly after that." 

"By the way, you guys owe me a pair of shorts."

As I said, revenge is the dish best served cold.

Tommy was a great guy and a very fun loving person.  He loved to square dance.  Quite a few years ago, Tommy was engaged to be married.  The week before the wedding, Tommy and his fiancĂ© had a square dance to celebrate their upcoming wedding.

Just a week before, Tommy had a physical examination and everything checked out fine. I heard that Tommy had the time of his life that night.  I was told that night that when the music stopped, Tommy stopped.  He had a heart attack and died.

I don’t think I have a picture of Tommy to share with you.   But now, Tommy is square dancing up in heaven and having a grand old time.



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