You wouldn’t think you’d see a lion strolling around UC Irvine unattended on an ordinary day.would you>  But as it turned out, it was a rather extraordinary day.

The UCI campus at that time was small. The hill we students had dubbed ‘Camelot’ for the great view of the beautiful scenery around the newly formed campus, lay beneath a clear blue sky. Camelot also reminded students of the ideals that the civil rights movement embodied, the hope for science and humanities to intertwine to better the world, to solve the problems of environment and hunger, war and space. These are not yet solved, nor are they yet accepted goals of all nations of the world even though it’s been decades since my university days began .

On that particular day, our Romance Literature class was full. This was not usual, It was not anyone’s favorite class. Our teacher loved the subject, but we students were just not as enthusiastic. When our critiques and discussion of a poem by Wordsworth were nearly complete, the room was shocked by what sounded like a bullhorn announcement from outside the building. We were on a first floor, flat building and the door led straight out into one of the fields that surrounded the campus. The voice kept saying ‘Students! Stay inside the classroom. There is a lion outside the door. Do not open the door. Stay inside the classroom.’ The sound of the bullhorn was accompanied by the sound of a helicopter. Neither the helicopter nor the bullhorn were unusual because, we had had the President of the USA land across Jamboree Road in a helicopter one day and since then, helicopters with announcements were not as rare as before.

What was unusual though, was that we thought we heard the voice on the bullhorn say ‘lion outside the door…’. Did we hear that correctly or did Romance Literature put it into our heads? We asked the professor. Did they just say that there is a lion outside our door? We searched for rhyming words..What rhymed with ‘lion’? However, our professor, a younger man, older than any of us, but really young if I think about his age from my, now senior, perspective, confirmed that he also had heard the word ‘lion’ as in a large mammal usually found on an African savannah.

Our brains ran amok. We were university students. Brainstorming was expected of us. But, all we could come up with was that something went wrong with the bullhorn which caused the speaker to issue a word that sounded like ‘lion’. Maybe  it was actually about someone named ‘Brian’ who had escaped from…somewhere…or had stolen something…or. Our thoughts trailed off.

However, the voice now said that it would tell us when it was safe. That safety was our first concern. That the lion seemed to be taking a nap. That animal handlers would be arriving soon. We should stay inside and wait until we got an all-clear announcement.

So, of course, we all went to the windows to see whether we might catch a glimpse of the supposed lion napping in front of our classroom door. We were not successful. The doorway was inset and the windows could not be opened. We speculated about the existence of the lion. It was not an existential literature class but we Literature majors had all encountered science fiction and existential philosophy. This was a piece of cake. Except, if there really was a lion outside the door, no wonder the University authorities were telling us to stay inside.

Conjecture about an escaped lion from a circus going through town was the most popular of the ideas that floated through the room.  A circus was the only real option we considered, because, Newport Beach was not usual lion habitat.

This went on until one bright student remembered reading the newspaper in the library which had mentioned a developer looking into obtaining more land for a Wildlife Park Safari. We went to the windows again. But still no lion. We tried looking under the door. Maybe? You’d think we could smell the lion or lioness, if It was there, but maybe he’d just had a bath. Maybe lions don’t have a strong odor? Maybe our door was just sealed really well. None of us knew anything really about lions, but we all agreed it must be a ‘he’. That was just too great an image to deny. This huge male lion with a massive mane – lying outside our door waiting for nightfall. And there we were, trapped.

Our professor said he was not aware that actual animals had been put into the space that was designated for the site. Apparently, this was underway. And apparently, this lion did not know that our shady doorway was off limits.

That’s about the end of the story. Eventually, the lion woke up, stretched, and was coaxed away from the door. We didn’t know what they used to lure him away. Was it a cow? Was it raw meat? Was it catnip? We didn’t know. I did get in trouble for being late to my part-time lifeguard job at the pool The coach didn’t accept my reason “There was a lion taking a nap outside our Romance Literature Class door and we had to wait until he moved.” I didn’t blame him, but the next week, he did apologize for not believing me. (^^)