First day of school

No photo today: as long-time readers will recall, I only post images every third blog post or so. Besides, the only photos I feel I’ve taken in the last two weeks have been of our house. Specifically, a catalog of scratches, holes, mars, gouges, cracks, mold, grime, and other unsightly blemishes. Not exactly the kind of thing to pull readers in.

So today is my first day of class. I have only one to attend: English 420, Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. It’ll be the first university class I’ve attended in twelve years, since I was twenty-two and skipped merrily out of my last lecture at Berkeley. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous. But it’s an undergraduate class (I’m taking it as English 636, the catch-all for “Directed Readings,” whereby I attend the lectures but get a grad-student-sized dose of writing and reading), and as far as I can tell, there was no reading assigned prior to the first day. Should be a breeze, nu?

The last two weeks have been somewhat less of a breeze, though by no means terrible. Our first days in Raleigh we pitched camp amid a houseful of boxes and a cramped maze of furniture. We had given away our old coffee maker in Tacoma, and had unpacked neither grinder nor beans to make use of our French Press, so I hobbled out of bed each morning and out into the glaring, sweltering daylight to pick up large coffees and pastries at Cup-A-Joe two blocks away.

Our house was a Rubik’s Cube: where do you even begin? To unpack this stack of boxes you need to first make room over here to set stuff down, but over here is filled with another stack of boxes. So you have to move the dresser to there so that latter stack can go there so you can have the room you need to unpack the first stack. But then where do you put the stuff that comes out of those boxes? The dresser is now blocked by two stacks of boxes, the bookcase is filled with other odds and ends, and this widget here doesn’t even have a home and why did we bring this with us in the first place?

Punctuating this first Gordian knot of a first week — perhaps slowing us down, too — were frequent trips to Costco, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, for necessary items like shower heads, medicine chests, toilet roll rods, and bug spray.

It wasn’t that our home was unequipped. It had the minimum necessary components. It’s charming, really. Charming is code for “old.” As with any grandparent, an “old” house comes with it a prescribed set of pros and cons: there’s charm in its age, and it will continually reveal delightful secrets in its odd and much worked-on physical structure. But so too will it have its own musk, something vaguely unpleasant, and will perhaps have unidentifiable spots and deep unwashed crevices from which sprout ancient hairs.

As we moved our bedroom from one room to another, and shifted the boxes to their appropriate rooms (the trio of movers were themselves elderly and, apparently, illiterate, having failed to read the large, bright labels we printed in 72-point color-coded Helvetica and affixed to each box), we gradually revealed more of the actual house: both its charm and its funk. We spent a good chunk of the last week cleaning, moving furniture around the oddly-shaped living-room-slash-dining-room, cleaning some more, running more errands to buy storage units and amenities that might have come standard in a more modern house, and then cleaning some more.

I mowed the foot-high grass in ninety degree humid weather, in jeans, the cuffs tucked into my socks, wearing a long sleeve  shirt and spraying every uncovered inch of myself with Deet. Angie cleaned the stove, which hadn’t had a good scrub down in at least a year. Neither had the fridge nor its befouled rubber lining seal, which I cleaned with a toothbrush and sweaty determination.

Other issues came up, and mostly we’ve taken care of them, and continue to do so. We had hoped beyond hope that the house would be in decent shape — boxes unpacked, everything in its rightful home — by the time classes started, when I would suddenly get very busy. We still have no good home for the cable box and various entertainment consoles; there’s just no good space for it. But at least the TV works. The cable works. The internet works. We have a roof over our heads, air conditioning that works, and relatively few bugs inside the house. I’m still getting bitten by mosquitoes and ants and fleas and god knows what else every time I step outside in my shorts into the balmy midsummer sun. But these are all first world problems. Put in that context, I’m happy as a cicada in July.

So now begins the new phase: my graduate studenthood. I’ve already gone to orientation. I’ve met quit a few of my cohort and others in the MFA program. I’ve gotten keys to my own desk and to the English building. I have a student ID card. I have now a North Carolina drivers license. I’m adjusting to the humidity (if not to the afternoon monsoons that deluge us). So now I just need to keep my mind and senses open, and go to work.

Speaking of which: I have to go. I have class in half and hour.

Oh. And for those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a photo I took on campus this week. A tirade of tubas. At full rest.

A tirade of tubas



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  1. Have you considered the Third World approach? All you really need is a place to sleep, running water, food, and a mosquito net (optional, if you can afford it). Throw everything else out and you’ll have the perfect house! Good luck with your classes. —”Charming” Jim

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