Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Broken Silence

Because I've been a wee bit busy for the past few months, I've missed posting. Yeah. Sorry. So in the 2 months remaining of my the summer, I will attempt to chronicle my 10 months here in Berkeley: graduate school, ballroom dance, the whole bit. But since I never really got into the habit of journaling or keeping track of it all, it's going to be hard to do this. Plus, I very much doubt that the vast majority of my loyal readers would appreciate the degree of excruciating detail my full account would entail. So , I'll attempt a monthly digest of events. I intended to post those weekly, but after doing the math, I discover that 9 weeks is almost more time than this summer allows, and since I'll almost certainly interrupt it for weekly posts while I'm in Japan, I'll probably post a few times a week, as I write them. You all know the rules: very few people will be named by name, and only in the most innocuous circumstances. No gossip, no drama, no matter how significant it might have been at the time. I know you're all crushed. Read it anyway.

WARNING: I was too lazy to actually write the August post, so it's just a couple of e-mails I sent to people. So it repeats itself. Much like I do, come to think of it. And yes, it's intentional.


trapped in the airport
trapped in the airport all night long
we steal blankets and pull chairs together
dad sleeps on the floor
like in “the terminal”
i should have known that shedding my old life would never be as easy as getting on a plane
shearing off the ground
landing only slightly wilted
i have to be stripped of all the trappings
almost forget how i used to be

Speaking of new homes, I've landed in mine. Sort of. I'm in Berkeley, after a hellish trip from Baltimore to Atlanta to Memphis to San Francisco (instead of Oakland), a VERY uncomfortable night on the floor of an airport (I forget which one. Atlanta, I think), and the (hopefully temporary) "misplacement" of every stitch of clothing and other article I own (at press time 2 of the 4 bags had been returned, and the other 2 located and on their way, I think). But Liz and Dierdre were very welcoming, and Dad is just as happy as a clam to be "home" back on the West Coast and in Berkeley. He was taking great lungfuls of air as we climbed out of the subway and exulting about it all.
Myself, I'm uncomfortably chilly most of the time, and mildly distressed about the seeming lack of consistent sunlight. Maybe if I thought of myself in England I'd cope better. But honestly, right now England would seem less foreign. The lay of the land is different, the people look different, even the squirrels are a different color. I can't shake the feeling that I'm not here permanently, despite spending most of yesterday afternoon apartment-searching as soon as we got here. Frankly, I'm probably a little behind on most of my university stuff, so I don't feel prepared. My aunt is pretty helpful, but she's in athletic administration, not academics, so her advice is pretty general.
As for the apartments, a lot of them are "lacking in charm", as Liz said. Cheap, to be sure, and I'm sure I'll find one I like, but. Yikes. I know it's only the first day, but my dad's leaving for the mountains tomorrow, and he's so helpful when it comes to apartment searching and inspection. It's the contractor in him, I think. And he always remembers the questions I forget :-) So I want to be installed before he leaves. Plus, Dierdre's having a baby, so I can't crash on their couch forever.
But this is my new home, so I'll get used to it and like it eventually. I always do. It's just that I've never been in a place I didn't know inside out already (Japan is an exception, but Japan was so crazy far away it doesn't count. Plus, I knew I would be walked through just about everything, whether I liked it or not). Even at Haverford, I never felt like I didn't belong, I was never homesick, and I already knew the campus from visiting during my dad's reunions.

It's chilly here.  It seems to be always this way.  I cannot shake the
feeling that this is only a temporary visit, not a semi-permanent move.
 I've moved 5 times not counting college and Japan, and this feels the least
like a move.  No boxes.  No fresh paint.  No posse of friends coming over 
drink beer and haul furniture and go out for Indian afterwards.  Just a new
laptop and a pile of suitcases, and my aunties and my father, each one
falling over the other to ask, ask, ask.  Have you seen this apartment, 
about that one, did you call the luggage tracking service, when do you sign
up for your courses, are you sure that place is too far away, hey, do you
have a cell phone yet?

Aren't you excited?

Well, no.   Unless you mean, excited in the sense that people who are
kidnapped and then dropped by the side of the road in some godforsaken spot
are said to be "excited".
I try to lose myself in the minutiae of packing and apartment searching to
disguise the fact that when we drive out somewhere and I imagine myself BY
myself, walking and studying and independent, my bowels loosen.  I've never
been somewhere I didn't already know inside and out (same school for 12
years, and I picked the college my dad went to, so I had already seen it
several times at reunions), with the exception of Japan.  But that was so
different I couldn't be faulted for my terror.  Here, everyone expects me 
be wild with joy at the prospect of at least six weeks of getting lost,
overpaying for things,  asking questions every five minutes, and buying
furniture off the side of the road.

I am adrift.
I don't have a bank account, a cell phone, a student ID, a real home. All of my things (my luggage was mercifully returned to me, in full, yesterday afternoon) are piled in bags and crates in my aunts' spare room, and it's all in different places and I can't find anything. Getting dressed and groomed requires rooting through just about every bag: underwear in this suitcase, pants in another, shirts in another, toothbrush and jewelry in yet another. The Cal bureaucracy is a typical one: huge, creaking, rapidly antiquating and staffed by underpaid, overworked drones who have seen everything and whose greatest wish is to see none of it again. I keep getting shunted from office to office clutching my forms and registration. It makes me homesick for Haverford's cute little system, with the offices no more than 5 minutes away, and secretaries who knew your name and fixed your problems before you knew you had them.
I am the world's most clueless graduate student.
The apartment search is going. Not well, not poorly. I've visited a lot of fairly grim, drab boxlike apartments, some close to campus, some far, all for about the same price. The one I really want--a huge place, minutes from campus, all the amenities you could want, seemingly really nice people--is the only one whose tenants I can't get in touch with :-(

(the next day)
Now I'm 3 for 4 (bank account, cell phone, student ID—all acquired within 3 hours in and around Berkeley), I'm registered for courses, and the apartment search is looking up. After a parade of grim, drab little rooms and apartments--and, of course, Julian*--I seem to have found a pretty little room close to campus, cheapcheapcheap and generously sized for what it is. And they'll let me paint the walls.
Mustn't jinx it, though. It's in a "rooming house", which I guess is Cal-speak for what I would call a boarding house, and it's a little isolating. Most of the drawbacks of a dorm--shared bathroom, creaky old everything, kind of cramped--with few of the advantages, like camaraderie. Then again, I'm not sure I'll have much time for that.
But I just want to move in SOMEwhere. I still don't feel permanent(ly) here.
Tomorrow I won't have nearly as much to do as before, since all the business-y things are taken care of. So I'll write in my journal, maybe get a few posts up on the godforsaken blog, and walk around trying not to spend anything.

*Julian requires special mention. CraigsList is, of course, a student's best friend in finding apartments (and just about anything else, I suppose), and it was extra helpful to have my aunts around so I could yell out the street address for a prospective apartment (“Ward and Dana?” “MLK and Stuart?”) and have them give me the bullet on location, proximity to campus, general quality of the neighborhood, likelihood of things like drug busts or frat parties. When I discovered a dirt-cheap room in what sounded like a lovely condo on Northside, with an eloquent description and the possibility of sharing it with a “European artist”, as he described himself, I had to take a look. After receiving a slightly disturbing e-mail (he went on a little too long about the personalities of other Evelyns he had known), I took my long-suffering aunt along as backup and went out one evening to inspect the place. The building was indeed in a nice, quiet, woodsy part of town, set on a hill but close to campus (although, as it turned out, if I had taken it I would have been at least 20 minutes away from any of the buildings I would end up taking classes or practicing in), and I knocked on the door with only mild trepidation.
Which quickly turned into serious trepidation when the door opened and I was confronted by a short, hairy troll of a man wearing a black faux-snakeskin shirt of the kind available at Hot Topic and (I'm weeping as I type) beige denim hot pants. There's no other word for them. I must say, they showed off his abundant leg hair to great advantage. The hair on his head was lovely, long and black and curly and framing the face of a wizened, degenerate 50-year-old. Decorum prevented me from turning around and running back down the steps, although I did consider faking a seizure. Liz and I should have had a signal worked out. We were ushered in.
Liz says his little lizard eyes never left me, and he came down $100 on the asking price after seeing me. Also, he asked if I wanted to “model” and “help out” with his “art”. While going through the motions of asking about utilities and rent and inspecting the applianes (honestly, this was over the moment he opened the door. I'm sorry if it's lookist or something, but a girl can't take chances on this sort of thing), stole a glance at a few of his photographs, which seemed to feature naked women draped against rocks and looking either blissful or catatonic. And that's just what was on the walls. Tasteful, but not the sort of part-time job you can tell Grandma about with alacrity.
I think it was the pile of stuffed animals—big, fluffy, bizarre in their very presence and number—in the dining room that really did it. I rushed through the standard thanks-so-much-it's-lovely-I'm-looking-at-a-bunch-of-other-places-I'll-call-you-soon wrap-up, threw one last longing gaze at the porch with its gorgeous view of the city and the Bay (not worth it, not worth it, not worth it!), and left, with my aunt, who had been pretty quiet, in tow.
We made it down the steps, out the door, and into the car, which we locked. And lost it. We laughed and laughed and laughed until my sides hurt and Liz was crying. Somehow we made it home, where we told Dierdre and lost it all over again. I managed somehow to stay optimistic about the househunting after that, called Julian two days later with polite apologies and a lie about moving in with some friends, and signed the lease on my cozy little nest on Southside exactly two weeks to the day of arriving in Berkeley.


Cad Grublygold said...

Sounds like an adventure, life often is. I hope you are having a good summer.

jgf said...

You do know how to live. Glad to have you southside. Though now, of course, you're no longer a block away.

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