In 1987, residents of Newcomb Hall pulled what some consider to be the greatest Oxy prank ever. Rob Cunningham ’88 spills all
On Oxy’s Facebook page in February, we issued a call for alumni memories of classic campus pranks. Bill Cohen ’89 promptly replied: “April 1 will mark the 25th anniversary of the ‘Newcomb Used Car Lot’—by far the greatest prank ever pulled at Oxy. So I’m a little biased.” We went to prankmaster Rob Cunningham ’88 of Danville—who now uses his talents for good in IT solution sales for Hewlett Packard in Northern California—for the details.
There used to be an area to wash our cars between Newcomb Hall and the entrance to the College. After washing my ’68 Mustang one day during the fall quarter, I decided to wax it. There was a wide cement walkway behind Newcomb at that time, and as I was waxing my car in that area, I noticed that the pathway led to a very large sliding glass door that led into the TV room of the Newcomb lobby. That’s when the idea first hit me.
Around 11 p.m. on March 31, I was standing at that large sliding glass door and eyeing the size of it when Tino Ramirez ’89 walked up to me and said, “You have that look in your eyes. What are you thinking?” I turned to him and said with a grin, “You know, if we popped the sliding glass door off, we could easily fit a couple cars in here.” He looked at me and said “Oh, no.”
From there it quickly snowballed. We didn’t want cars that might leak gas or oil, so we needed models that were newer and somewhat small or at least thin. By 11:30, we had several people willing to offer up their cars: Carey Marks ’90’s brand new Toyota MR2, Kevin Hattori ’89’s Datsun B210, Tim McLean ’90’s shiny red Toyota pickup, and Tino’s VW Bug. (The latter sported a price tag that read “Cheap Piece o’ Sh*t $29.99.” “We were bold enough to roll four cars into a dorm,” Marie “Mikus” Barber ’90 recalled recently, “but not brave enough to spell the word sh*t. Go figure.”)
We rolled up all the carpets and moved all of the furniture out. Someone got ahold of several rolls of masking tape. We started taping signs on the windows: “Newcomb Used Cars,” “One Day Sale Only,” “No Money Down,” and “3.9% APR Financing.” We brought the cars around to the wide cement path, killed the engines, put the cars in neutral, and pushed them into the lobby. Gary McMillan ’90 drove his Toyota 4x4 up the stairs onto the front patio. (I was sure Gary was going to come through the front doors or take out the wrought iron railing.)
By now it was 2 a.m, and about 15 of us were looking at all this—four cars in the lobby, and two 4x4s on the stairs outside—with a sense of shock and satisfaction. We were sure we had followed all the rules in the Oxy handbook and were not going to get into any trouble. RA Lance Friedman ’88, a good friend, took several pictures, and we all finally went to bed around 3 a.m.
Lots of people came by the next morning to take a look at our handiwork. Most of them were amused. Dean of students Brig Knauer was not one of them. She wanted to know why Erich Marx ’87, who lived in the head resident’s apartment right at the front steps, had not reported this.
“Brig,” Erich calmly responded, “I have opened my door in the morning and found tree branches, sofas, and furniture mazes blocking my door. I have seen our lobby turned into a hockey rink and the downstairs turned into a nightclub. A used car lot just did not seem very far from ordinary.”
Brig had every car ticketed for parking illegally. (Newcomb resident Owen Clayburgh ’87, in his role as student head of security, had all of those tickets pulled and discharged.) Brig requested that everyone involved appear before dean of housing John Zacker. John asked Erich to write up an incident report, and Erich asked for those who participated to come forward. When he turned in the report, there were more than 100 names claiming responsibility!
The only people who were brought in were me, Tino, and Bill Cohen. John told us that we did break a rule—storing flammable liquids illegally in an enclosed area—but we got away with a stern talking-to on this one.
Contacted by Occidental Magazine, John Zacker replied: “I’ve spent the last 23 years managing student conduct at the University of Maryland and have long forgotten the Oxy hijinks. If I could remember the details, I’m sure I would have portrayed the serious administrator, but inside would have been laughing at their creativity.” Maybe he really doesn’t remember—or maybe he’s just pranking us.
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