"Shut up! Here comes the R.A.!"

I heard the familiar muffled whispers and watched the small crowd quickly scatter as I came into view. Ten pairs of eyes followed my back as I walked toward the stairs at the end of the dimly-lit narrow hallway. something was up.

The cry "He's gone!" was followed by a commotion louder, and wetter, than Niagra Falls during a monsoon. As I rushed back into the residence hall, I was nearly drowned in the deluge created by 20 of my college floormates, gleefully splashing each other and everything thrown from wastebaskets, bowls, even a garden hose.

As the waves from the flash flood gently lapped at my feet, I wrote down the names of the lawbreaders for my violation report. The carpet squished sickeningly beneath my soggy shoes.

Becoming a resident assistant, or R.A., had been my goal since my freshman year at St. Bonaventure University, a small Catholic school in western New York. In my innocence, I dreamed of the glamor of those prestigious initials following my name; of being one of the select few chosen from the hordes who tried out for the scarce positions. I imagined the respect and admiration of my peers, the awe and fear of the underclassmen, the approval of my instructors and the administration, who would be helpless without my vital aid.

As usual, reality didn't fulfill my fantasies. My first few days on the job were eye-openers. Sometimes I think I should have kept my eyes shut! (The seasoned R.A. must know how to do that from time to time.)

We R.A.'s had our rude awakenings -- many of them, in fact. A female friend, also an R.A., woke one evening to the sound of a human stampede in the hallway. Pulling her robe around her, she threw open the door to be confronted by 15 collegiate types trampling by, clothed only in baseball caps. Never one to mince words or act coy, she took off after the midnight intruders and chased them off the floor. One hapless gentlemen, not quite quick enough to escape, tried to hide in the ladies' room.

As she marched in, undaunted, to throw him out, the unhappy streaker cowered in a shower stall, covering himself with his baseball cap.

It wasn't all cops-and-robbers, though. My primary role was to keep the students sane and happy and the building in one piece.

I was on call 24 hours a day, subject to the wildly varying schedules of the students, opening the accidentally locked doors at 4 a.m., soothing the homesick and the broken hearts, calming the crazies, in general, keeping the peace.

It was not, of course, without its benefits. I was paid the equivalent of my board and single room in monthly checks.

I faced the scourge of the all-night parties upstairs, and the many battles of the sexes, such as the one in which a men's floor invaded a women's floor, armed with shaving cream for the attack, only to find the women ready for them with baby powder. That conflict resulted in a zero-visibility blizzard that took hours to settle and three days to clean up.

It was hard work. Minding the dorm on the night of a big dance or basketball game; arriving on campus early and leaving late; running floor programs and meetings while my grades suffered and my schoolwork formed mountains on my desk; and losing my few precious moments of quiet and privacy when someone wanted to talk.

We resident assistants had our problems living up to our august image.

A fellow staff member loved to tell about the time he dated a freshman. He returned her to her room after a pleasant evening, expecting at least a chaste "good night" kiss.

As he leaned toward her for his reward, she recoiled violently.

"But, but you're an R.a.!" she gasped, startled and disillusioned.

I had my own troubles with high flown standards.

My residence director (the R.D.) came up to say hello one night toward the end of the year. I was on duty, and she presumed me to be lonely and bored and in need of some company. Lonely wasn't the word to describe it.

More than 30 people were stuffed into my cramped quarters, drinking vodka "slurpees" and beer, dancing on my desk, chairs and bed. People were spilling out into the hall, laughing and talking, lights were flashing on and off, and a small puppy ran frantically in and out of the room. (I was relieved, that the two rabbits, the cat and the boa constrictor had decided to stay in their rooms that night!)

Since no amount of explaining was going to get me out of the trouble I would be in in the morning, what else could I do but invite her in and hand her a beer?