Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Last Pirouette

Standing in front of my classroom this morning, I felt nauseous.  It was that icky yellow feeling up and down my belly, from about my esophageal sphincter to the Main Exit.  While we were talking about how to evaluate a web site, I was thinking about whether or not I was going to throw up.

I put me on Auto-Teach so that my mind could briefly run down the possible reasons why I was feeling this way.  What had I eaten?  Not much—my fridge was broken.  I was living out of my pantry, freezer, and a cooler with some food in it, but to be honest, I was so pressed for time these days that I’d been living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt, nuts, and apples.

Yogurt.  I wondered if that could be the cause of my icky feeling.  The last cup I’d taken out of my dying fridge had seemed kind of warm, so I ate it because I didn’t want to waste it.  Maybe it had been too warm.  I don’t know.  Could just as well have been the string cheese.  All I knew was that I’d had this uncomfortable feeling on and off for a couple days.  I would put all the warm food from the fridge into the garbage when I got home, and only eat the cold stuff from the cooler until my new refrigerator arrived.  

Problem solved.  Resume Teaching.

Driving home, I wondered what my cats were doing.  I was pretty sure they weren’t fighting anymore because Sara had handed out The Pecking Orders a few nights ago, and everybody signed.  It was Sara, Leo, then Lucy, poor Lucy.  There was finally peace in my house.  But Sara had even made me sign: I had to waive the rights to sleeping alone.  No longer would my three cats be banished, together, to their room at precisely 9:15 every night.  Instead, they could sleep on my bed or not, roam around or not.  My only rule was “don’t bug me”.

I got home and noted the absence of a paper in my driveway.  My heart panged a little for it. I canceled it because I don’t have time to read it anymore.  I’ve also been meaning to cancel my membership to Costco and Netflix, and pay down my second mortgage more.  These things fall under “Financial” on my to-do list though, so they got put away as I walked from my garage into my house.  There was enough to do right now without worrying about that.  

My next immediate task was moving Leo’s litter box out of my bathroom and back into the cat room.  I couldn’t wait.  I’d been stepping out of my shower, clean, onto kitty litter for the last week.  He also seemed to choose my purest moments for taking a dump, like when I was doing my final gentle pirouettes into bed, made up with fresh linens.

I walked through the door with two bags of ice and said hi to everybody, then walked around the corner into the kitchen.  My refrigerator was still there, looking beat-up.  Some of my magnets were knocked off and even broken during Sara and Leo’s skirmishes in the kitchen, so there are bare spots, and now you can see the dust next to the shiny patches uncovered.  I put the bags of ice down, picked up the cooler and let it drain in the sink, then put it back down and opened it up.  The sight of yogurt cups pushed the yellow ribbon of ickiness up from my esophageal sphincter more towards the back of my throat.  I poured the ice on top and shut the top.  I wanted to get to Leo’s box.

I strode down the hallway because I’ve been feeling confident lately, back through my bedroom and into my bathroom.  My poor bathroom.  It has the same midget toilet and “vanity” that came with the place in 1984.  The vanity has a newish wooden toilet paper dispenser screwed to the side, just two posts and a spindle—somebody trying to spruce up the place.  The two posts are installed too far apart, so the spindle always falls out.  Finally, I just left it out.  I put the toilet paper wherever I felt like it.  

After looking at those two wooden posts for about six years—and having recently spent more time than usual in this bathroom, with the toilets backing up and Leo being in here and for other purposes too— I got the bright idea of sticking two rolls of toilet paper onto the posts themselves, suddenly supplying the toilet paper user with twice as much toilet paper as before.  The more I tested it, the more I realized that I was also cutting down on waste.

This, I think, is worth having to wait six years for, especially because it was my dad who installed those posts, at my request.

I might leave them up forever.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Constant Professor

Click here, then read.

For those of us who leave home and stay gone—who graduate from high school and get a job, who get pregnant at 16 and go to college early, who maybe develop a drug habit that keeps us on the run for awhile…for those of us who maybe go to college and drop out and join the military, or who maybe just graduate from high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and just keep going and going until the idea of going home for Thanksgiving becomes stressful and complicated because before we can do that, we have to figure out what “home” really means—there comes a day when we finally look in the mirror hanging on the wall of the structure where we’ve been eating and sleeping and collecting stuff, raising our kids and paying to stay, and we ask, “Isn’t this my home?”

When I started college in 1986 at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota (Go Beavers!), I spent the first couple of Thanksgivings at my parents’ house simply because kids didn’t stay on campus over the holidays.  My parents had recently moved, so the house they lived in was new to me.  I had a hard time thinking of this place as home, but if my parents lived there, then it was.  I would take the Greyhound from Bemidji to St. Cloud and it would stop in every tiny town along the way.  It would take all day and I’d read a book for English class or sleep.  Poor people rode the bus back then, lots of Indians and old ladies and moms with little kids, and drunk guys.  We’d all ride that freaky ride from Bemidji, Minnesota, down highway 371, south to wherever else we were going. 

I’d finally make it to my parents’ house, where incidentally there were always more young moms with their kids: my sisters, and sometimes Indians too, and sometimes drunk guys, and once in awhile an old lady named Grandma Lotus.  When time came for the big meal, I’d head to the card table to sit with my nieces and nephews; I had been assigned to the kids’ table for many years.  My mom wasn’t quite ready to take the reins from me and hand them over to Shanna (rhymes with “Ghana”), my oldest niece at seven, lest the six-year-old and the four-year-old and the two-year-old started messin’ around. 

But after those first couple of years of busing it back to my parents’ house, I was gone.  There was the very first Thanksgiving I spent away from home: I was an honor student at Washington State University (Go Cougs!), participating in an exchange program called Adventure in Excellence.  Of course we understand the idea of exchange programs, and I was truly surprised that no one wanted to go back in my place to Bemidji State to spend their junior year in my moonboots.  In fact, no other honor student in the entire nation wanted to exchange places with me, but Washington State University took me anyway.  I met Seattle for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend of 1988; need I say more? I < 3 Seattle.

How I segued from sight-seeing in Seattle from the back of a station wagon with two other twenty-year-olds and somebody’s mom driving to—just one year later—bringing a man twenty years older than me home for Thanksgiving, and yes! to meet my parents for the first time…I can’t really say how that happened.  I was literally set up for that one; thank you, former college roommate.  This was the man who would remove my wisdom teeth and fly me around in his airplane and introduce me to The New Yorker, Leo Kottke, hiking in the Rockies and fish served still with the skin on it in Key West.  He gave me many rides on his pontoon under the moon on the Mississippi with wine, my dentist/pilot/Mr. Natural Minnesota boyfriend who lived right on a lake, so lucky. 

But when I started to hate it, I moved to Alaska for graduate school, UA Fairbanks (Go Nanooks!), and that’s all she wrote about goin’ home for Thanksgivin’.  I moved to Arizona shortly after (Go Sun Devils!) and became The Constant Professor. Instead of the year being divided into seasons, it was divided into semesters and summer sessions.  I taught all the time and overtime. 

Thanksgivings became a day to go for an early run, clean out a closet I’d been meaning to get to, grade papers if I had them, then mix up a couple of Jim Beam and diet Cokes and talk on the phone to every member of my immediate family, all six of them, and sometimes to the grandkids too.  It was always, “See you soon!  See you at Christmas.”  I would be on school-year time for the rest of my life.  I mean, at least I still am now.

It’s not a perfect schedule, nor do I expect it to be.  But there is no disputing that the academic schedule favors Christmas over Thanksgiving by giving us several weeks off at Christmas.  For Thanksgiving, we only get two days.  You can’t fly home and get a good visit in over just a few days, so inevitably, and for better or worse, we begin to have our own Thanksgivings in our own homes.  At least that’s what happened to me.  It was 1998, they were letting me be a professor at ASU, and I had met a guy who I thought was the perfect man.  Suddenly I wanted to make a turkey.  I did, the boyfriend and a neighbor came over, and boom, I was a grown-up.  I was thirty years old and there would be no more runnin’ around.  A full-out Christmas happened at my house that year too.  I was being an adult without even knowing it.

Which brings us back to the present, as I sit on my lovely patio with my own yard in full bloom, waiting for the little girl who took the reins from me at the kids’ table in 1987, when I was 19 and she was 8.  She is driving here from Sahuarita, where she is a brilliant high school chemistry teacher, and she’s bringing a quinoa salad she made all by herself.  I’m making Cornish game hens and having licorice for dessert.  She’ll probably have chocolate.  We’ll drink lemonade.


It’s a few hours later and the Cornish game hens are devoured.  Shanna and I are splitting a bag of miniature peanut butter cups and doing the dishes together.  Other than the crinkling of candy wrappers and the clinking of my Fiestaware, it’s quiet.  I ask Shanna a question that’s been on my mind.  “Hey, have you ever hosted a Thanksgiving at your house?”

“No,” she says. “Why?”

“Because I was just thinking what I was doing when I was your age, and if I had hosted a Thanksgiving yet.”  I pause.  “And I had.”  I don’t add, one with a boyfriend who turned out to be gay and the other with the man who robbed me blind.  “You’ve done better in this area than I have,” I say.

“I don’t know about that,” she says. “I like Thanksgivings at your house.” 

My heart does a little flip-flop thing it’s only supposed to do when I’m falling in love.  I am in love with the moment; I am in love with Shanna.  She may as well be eight pounds and bald again for as much as I will adore her during the rest of her stay.  “Thank you, sweetie,” the grateful adult in me says, while the child in me still wishes there was a grown-up table where I could run to brag.