The Gingerbreadman Report: I graduated from Bennington in ’86, but I haunted the Bennington area for several years after the fact. I hadn’t bothered to formulate a good “Post Bennington Strategy”, you see. It also happened to have been the only place I had ever stayed for as long as four years and having made good friends in town I felt generally welcome. I had grown some roots, it felt like home. That following fall I got a job waiting tables at the Brasserie, and filled in the blanks playing music with my band The House Pigs, and going to parties at the college. Almost as if I had never graduated; without classes and tuition, however…
My graduation coincided with the advent of the Coleman years, and the “Purges”. The Purges weren’t just about dumping tenured faculty and restructuring the college curriculum; Liz Coleman, the new college president, was intent on changing the zeitgeist of the institution in every way. No more the wild and wooly days of yore! Let us remake the college in Liz Coleman’s Machiavellian vision! The free for all was over. Understandably perhaps, hooligans like myself (grudgingly tolerated when we were tuition-paying students) were excised from the fabric of the college. With a sweeping series of “banning” decrees, I and a lot of my nuisance wildlife compatriots were banished in perpetuity.
Actually, I did move on and away that winter, but never very far away. Bennington remained a weekend destination, and I would still come back on to hang with my crew in North Bennington and to go to parties on campus. I was friends with, and well-liked by several of the campus security guards, so my “ban” was enforced in a half-assed kind of way. It largely depended on which guard I ran into, what I was up to, and how they felt just then. I didn’t take any of it very seriously. Mike Harrington might smile and look the other way, or he might say, “John, you know you’re not supposed to be here.” (Sounded like, “Jehn, ya know ya not supposed to be heah.”) And in that case, I would exit – no hard feelings – and live to party on, on another day…
So it was on a frosty November evening, three or four years after I graduated, that I found myself in North B. with a bunch of the usual suspects, intent on crashing the Friday night party at Kilpatrick. We made our way onto campus without incident and represented at the party. I proceeded to represent by drinking vast quantities of Genesee Ale. At this point the students I actually knew were few, but no one seemed to care – except, that is, for Mike Harrington – who spotted me, shook his head and said – well you know what he said.
Mike let me fill my beer, find a roadie, and then gave me a ride in the security vehicle up to the North Gate; beers, lit cigarette, and all. He wished me well and drove back towards campus. It was a pitch black, bitchingly cold fall night. I lit another cigarette and reviewed my options. I could play it safe and go down into North B. to Percy’s, or where I was staying; however, all my friends were still at the party and wouldn’t be back for hours. Alternatively, I could sneak back on campus via the footpath behind Jennings, and …
Cigarette in one hand, and beer in the other, I was stealthing my way back on to campus when the misadventure grew legs. I was passing under a street lamp by the Cafe when I heard a disembodied voice, in the dark, near distance say, “Excuse me, sir, May I have a word with you?” A figure materialized out of the darkness – a uniform – a security guard, but someone I had never seen before, heading in my direction with dubious intent. As I backed away he said, “STOP RIGHT THERE!” “Not fuckin’ likely!”, I thought, but the jig was evidently up. I can’t account for exactly why, but I replied, “Run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the GINGERBREADMAN!” and I bolted into the darkness.
Cigarette in one hand, beer in the other, laughing like a lunatic, I scampered off across a field behind the Cafe in the general direction of North B., my adversary following in plodding, determined pursuit. I could hear him behind me, his breathing labored and his voice stuttering as he called for back up on his walkie-talkie. My “PLAN” was to get into the woods and elude capture, but it was so damn dark that when I got to the tree line I couldn’t find a way through the wall of bushes and brambles. I saw a 4-wheel drive security vehicle bouncing across the field in the distance, and my pursuer’s flashlight drawing near. I wasn’t laughing anymore. All I wanted was to get away, but now my pursuer was upon me. He was roughly my height, a little taller perhaps, and heavier; a thick brush of a mustache prominent on his crimson red, sweat-soaked face. I raised my hands and said something like, “Chill dude, I’m leaving!” but he wasn’t having it. He raised his flashlight over his head, (Maglite; an aluminum flashlight the size and weight of a billy club) and wound up like a caveman, clearly intent on making me bleed. I maintain that I reacted instinctively and understandably; I planted my fist in his face. He squealed with outrage but came at me again, and we tussled, which ended up with me throwing him on the ground and landing on his chest with both knees. I heard his lungs empty with a shocked grunt and a cracking sound. Probably his ribs breaking. By now, a couple of security vehicles had bounced across the field and found us. To his credit, the fucker managed to hang onto me. I was undone. The Gingerbreadman was apprehended.
The first guard out of his vehicle and on the scene was Mike, and the look on his face was as much about disappointment as anything else. He said, “Ah Jehn, now you’ve done it.” He led me to his truck, and the other guards went to tend to their fallen comrade. In the security vehicle, on the way to the security booth, Mike was grim and tight-lipped. All he said was, “You really stepped in it this time, Jehn. That guy is a real cop, and Bennington police are on their way.” He did not lie. The area around the guard booth was lit up like a blue and red flashing festival.
The cops who answered the call – some of whom I knew – all looked stone-faced and pissed off. Not one would look me in the eye. A cop I didn’t know took charge, cuffed me and threw me in the back of a cruiser. There was a big German Shepard in the back seat, panting and smiling in a friendly way. I mentioned that he looked like a nice dog, and the cop said, “Oh, he’s a sweeeet heart!”, delivered some undecipherable, monosyllabic command, and the nice doggie instantly turned into a slavering, wild-eyed beast, wanting nothing so much as to get through the cage partition between us and relieve me of my face. So much for introductions…
Here’s where it gets interesting. This guy proceeded to read me my rights. Then he asked me a series of standard questions that he must have already known the answer to, such as Name? Current Address? Occupation? Any ALIASES????? Of course to this question I replied, “I am THE GINGERBREADMAN!!!!”
They took me to the police station for processing; fingerprints, mugshot, etc. At some point I found out that the security guard I had assaulted was also a Bennington Police officer who was moonlighting, which was against department regulations. The upshot was that they could charge me with drunk disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, (or some such shit) but they couldn’t charge me with felonious assault of a police officer without subjecting their brother to compromising scrutiny! Their plan was to at least teach me a lesson by sending me up to the state prison for the weekend, which would have been a bit grim. They did however, allow me a phone call..
I didn’t have a lawyer. My friends were still at the party at Kilpatrick. I rolled the dice and called the security booth at the college, and they patched me through to the house phone at Kilpatrick. A girl answered, and I could hear the party raging in the background. I told her as succinctly as possible my situation and who I was looking for, but to no avail, she had no clue who they were, or where they were. Then she offered to come bail me out herself. (!)
A pretty young woman turns up and posts my bail, and takes me back to her room on campus and FUCKS MY BRAINS OUT. The next morning, I stealth off campus by the back path behind Jennings, back to Kevin Johnson’s house in North Bennington. I had not been missed.
The following day, the “incident” appears in the Bennington Banner on the police/crime blotter:
John Getchell, aka “The Gingerbreadman” was arrested at 12.30 p.m. on Friday night at Bennington College on the charges of drunk disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He will be arraigned at Bennington Superior court on such and such a date….blah, blah, blah… Mr. Getchell, a one time student at Bennington College, is also known to have resided in Washington, D.C., and Caracas, Venezuela…
I’ve never been to Venezuela. I think someone was having WAY to much fun with all of this.
Folks in the town were very amused by my antics. There was a large audience at the arraignment (which I attended) to view the proceedings. Thereafter I was greeted by people who knew me – even peripherally – as “Ginger”, or Mr. Breadman. There are STILL people in Bennington who greet me that way.
Here’s the funny thing. I paid a fine. That was my penance. However even now, when I do get pulled over for a moving violation – let’s say, a bad tail light – and the cop takes my license and registration. When he comes back, he says “So. You are Mr. John Getchell, correct?” I answer in the affirmative.
“Ya got me copper”, I answer.
Declared aliases are with you for life. Don’t fuck it up, kiddos.
The Gingerbreadman was written in 2013