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That is Not the Fire Alarm

that is not the fire alarm

Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

Congratulations on your admission to Oak and Ash Academy, one of the most exclusive private academies in North America. You are part of the largest incoming class since our founding in 1763. Although this is a unique opportunity—consider that in any ordinary year, three out of four of you would not have been admitted—it does mean that you will need to learn all the important rules and traditions of our alma mater without the model of older classmates.

That is why I was asked, as the sole graduating student last year, to write you this introduction. I owe my success in large measure to hard work, resourcefulness under pressure, and strict observance of all the particular rules of Oak and Ash. Some of them may sound obvious, some frivolous and silly. All I can say is, many of my classmates did not take them seriously. I am graduating. They are not.

#1: If anyone is absent, do not ask why.


#2: Do not investigate any cries for help.

Many people object to this rule, but there are three good reasons for it. A) It probably isn’t someone in need of help. B) If it is, there’s probably nothing anyone can do. C) If there is anything anyone can do, it will be easier for them to do it if they don’t have to save your sorry ass at the same time.

#3: If there is water in the pool, there is no swimming.

At this point, every year, some incoming student thinks he’s very clever, and makes the same joke someone has made every year since the pool was built in 1927: “Does that mean we can go swimming if there is no water in the pool?” To which the answer is, of course, “Yes. But no diving.”

#4: If the fire alarm sounds, line up and exit the building in an orderly manner, proceeding directly to the rec field. No running, no pushing, no talking. Do not look behind you.

#5: Do not enter the basement at any time.


I’ve been advocating that the official rules should be amended to include: “Especially if you are assured it is okay by anyone claiming to be maintenance staff.” The headmaster thinks the simple statement is best, and my qualification superfluous. He has a point: if you don’t enter the basement at any time, you won’t go when the janitor says you can. But you only have to once hear a classmate’s dying gasp, “But he said it was okay…” to speculate if any clarification would help. Call me a softie.

#6: Bring a large handful of rice to school with you, everyday.

If you are scoffing, I recommend you attend some lesser school with lesser standards. M2C.

#7: If any member of the school community attempts to follow you home, scatter a handful of rice behind you.

It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it, anyway, on account of one student my sophomore year who did not graduate because she thought “scatter” meant “Dribble one grain at a time in a clear path leading to your home.”

#8: Do not walk down any hallway where the floor is bulging, swelling, rolling, sagging, or otherwise in motion.

Okay, seriously, that’s good advice anywhere.

Speaking of general advice, there are some things that are good ideas that are not spelled out specifically in the rules. For instance, shrieking or yelling in the hallway is a bad idea—especially on the ground floor. In some schools there’s an allowance made for days the sports teams have important victories. At Oak and Ash the rules do not bend even for our august sports teams. Even though this isn’t, technically, a rule.


Another non-rule has to do with your weight. Apparently, up until 1986, Oak and Ash had a policy of not admitting any student with a Body-Mass Index over 25. There was a lawsuit, and discrimination alleged, and now the rule is gone. But still, large students have trouble graduating. How can I say this? It’s not about being attractive. On the contrary, it’s about being unattractive to those who start salivating at the thought of well-marbled meat.

If you want a seriously unnecessary rule, I would submit this one, out of order:

#12: There is no spitting into the garbage disposal.

I would think the general principal of “no spitting” should be enough. But we had a kid—Martin, I think his name was—who thought he could prove how audacious he was by chewing tobacco. I have to say, if you want to prove you have the courage to do something mindlessly stupid, it’s hard to beat chewing tobacco. But… the outcome was so sudden, tentacled, and messy that a new, totally unnecessary, rule was written.

#9: If the fire alarm sounds like a loud trumpet rather than a bell, that is not the fire alarm. Do not exit by any door or window, they will be expecting that. Proceed directly to the roof and await rescue by crane or helicopter.

#10: The headmaster is always to remain on the ground floor.

#11: If the headmaster is found on an upper floor, immediately pummel him with hard objects, repeatedly and continually, until he reverts to a liquid.


Many people find it hard to take these rules seriously. For instance, many students disregard rule #10, thinking it has nothing to do with them. But an occasion arose just last year in which rule #10 was broken. The junior class then promptly failed to observe rule #11, which prompted the rest of the senior class—apart from me—to forget rule #2: Do not investigate any cries for help. A loud trumpet sounded, and the freshman class ran for the exits—in violation of rule #9, and the sophomores… well, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what happened to them. Even though rule #9 says quite clearly, “That is not the fire alarm,” I thought it wise to observe as much of rule #4 as I could, and I did not look behind me. You know what they say: once you’ve seen something, there’s no way to unsee it. And hey, not only did I graduate without having to sit for final exams, I got a ride in a helicopter!

I regret that I cannot recommend any teachers and classes to you, because the staff, as well as the student body, is all new this year. But I can assure you that if you follow the rules, your Oak and Ash experience will be full of memories that will be with you for a lifetime.

I should know. I’ve tried everything. Therapy. Sleeping pills. Hypnotism. I can’t get rid of them.



Credit : Eugene Fairfield

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1 thought on “That is Not the Fire Alarm”

  1. Commenting for “That is Not the Fire Alarm.” I enjoyed this. It strikes a really good balance giving us the info we need to fill in all the messy blanks

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