Monday, August 27, 2007

another year at hogwarts

i know it's strange, but every year, as i slump beleaguered in the cab on the way back to manhattan, i feel a little bit like harry potter.

you see many of the same people you've seen the last three years, a little older, perhaps slightly more independent, but on the whole still engaging in the same activities they were when you first met them. oh, how my heart swelled with nostalgia as i watched the girl who used to come into my room and demand a human escort as she went around her errands bicker with her mother over whether or not the mother was obligated to carry all of her things for her, effectively blocking traffic so that i couldn't get out of the taxi. it used to make me dig my nails into the seat. now it has all the trappings of tradition. yep, i'm back!

and then there's the staples of first-time-on-campus orientation that recur throughout the college experience in a way i can only imagine acid flashbacks must resemble. (massive wheelie-carts you could hide multiple bodies in, check; t-shirts with upbeat slogans such as 'yu is your passport to the future!', check; bubbly bunches of shrieking girls who are going to get free food, check.) harry potter watches hagrid romp around with the first-years; i watch excited and startlingly well-rested-looking students flock merrily to school-sponsored broadway shows and amusement parks. there is a certain satisfaction in finally feeling old.

of course, that satisfaction chiefly comes from being, at long last, in the upperclass dorms. actually, the dorm i'm currently in is a converted pscyh ward, but that is what they call poetic justice for you. there are many doors you can open and walk through but not return through, and the corridors are all built in crazy, tilting mazes to prevent the psyciatric patients from escaping.

they certainly have nothing to worry about from me.

i was suspicious from the moment they announced at the gate in milwaukee that not only was the plane on time but - get this - it was early. perhaps once, in my first youth, i have witnessed a plane that departed and landed relatively near its scheduled times, but early? i just sat there in the minneapolis gate (tricks you learn when flying international - sit where no one else is sitting), gaping at the midwest display. i was even more shocked when they proceeded to board us at the time on the ticket, and my palms started sweating when, exactly two hours after we took off, the pilot announced that we were landing. this should not be, i thought to myself. aren't we going to circle for a little? or run into bad weather and have to turn around? is this some kind of trick?

we landed at sunset, and the plane scooped what i deemed to be dangerously close to many of the towers in manhattan. but in many ways our descent rivaled the guided tours of the city. we were so close to shea stadium i could see which team was batting (although i couldn't identify them. i will never understand baseball.) i saw the fountains in central park and people wining and dining by the riverwalk in the financial district. i saw the empire states building and i could almost swear i saw the stern girls double-parking by the first-year dorms from that altitude. all of it in a searing orange-scarlet light.

i didn't really want to look at it first. i was so nervous, and i have so many memories, good and bad, from my years in manhattan. i've been through the whole gamut of emotions here in ways i never truly experienced in milwaukee, and i am equal parts excited and afraid of what this year holds in store for me. what will happen to me? what will i do? how will i change?

what will i lose?

see, harry potter would understand.

but the man sitting next to me saw me burrowing into my airport penguin-popular-classic, determinedly ignoring the view, and scoffed softly, "you don't get to see new york like this every day."

so i bookmarked my page and succumbed, and i'm glad i did. he was right; it was dazzling. it doesn't have the natural beauty and warmth of israel's landscape, but there is a cool man-made glitter to new york that is a kind of polar opposite. it is pretty, in a large and impersonal way.

but yesterday was the day of wonders, for not only did my plane land on time, but i got all of my luggage and a cab within three-quarters of an hour. i was floored. and to be honest, i was psyched. if you've read this blog before or know me in any capacity, you probably remember that i like my space, sometimes to the point of defending it with a broom. one of the hardest challenges of the past few years for me has been dorming - trying to conform my schedule and privacy needs to those of four or five sweet but vivacious and occasionally maniacal roommates. they are good people, for the most part, and i'm glad i got to know them; they convinced me to do and try things no other force on earth could have moved me to. but when i turned the key to my room in the new dorm, my hands were shaking.

my own room.

i don't even have that at home!

i can turn off the light and go to sleep whenever i want.

i can lock the doors and no one i don't like can come in.

i can decorate it however i want. i can put my stuff wherever i want. i can turn the air conditioner up or down as i want to.

i can be alone and think!

an ex-roommate of mine who is in my cluster now (a group of singles connected by a bathroom) laughed as i fumbled with the keys, lounging in her doorway in pajamas and slippers. "it's like a jail cell," she said. "don't get so excited. it's the tiniest room you ever saw."

but i didn't see anything small about it. there was a desk, a bed, my own dresser (i don't even have my own dresser at home!), my own closet, a door straight into a bathroom which only the three of us have to share, and there was a window that was partially exposed to actual light from the street! in my old room, our windows faced a sort of alley where all the buildings on the block dumped their garbage. so what if the floor isn't wide enough for you to lie down on end to end? who cares? i was walking on air.

but unless i wanted to sleep on air, i had to pick up my bedding and suitcases from where i'd hidden it uptown. so i closed the door and allowed myself a small dance where no one could see, and, hands still quaking, i locked the door behind me and raced to catch the quickest shuttle so i could get my stuff.

this was my first mistake.

i returned later that night, balancing my things precariously on both shoulders, under my arms and tucked under my chin, and proceeded to search my purse for the key to my room. when i found it, i was amazed to discover that not only didn't it open the room, it didn't even fit in the lock.

i frowned. weird.

i dumped all my stuff on the floor and looked again, wondering how i had managed to lock the door with a key that i couldn't even jam into the lock. i tried for a good half hour before someone wisely pointed out to me, 'you've got your mailbox key there. where's your room key?'

my stomach dropped out. 'what's a room key look like?' i asked pathetically.

she held hers up. it was about three times the size.

i had locked the door, which means i had definitely posessed the key at some point during the past two hours. and it also meant that, two hours on campus, i had also lost it.

three cheers for me.

i got security to open the room for me and wearily began to retrace my steps, calling myself all kinds of unpleasant names. so caught up with my own idea of freedom, how did i somehow manage to lose sight of the key? chances are some hobo picked it up on the street, or that it fell into a train grate and bonked some unsuspecting scenester on the head. while i derived a certain amount of satisfaction from that, it hardly justified the miserable fine i would have to pay to obtain a copy. at this point i would like to call to the stand the first harry potter movie, in which hermoine granger enunciates: "what. an. IDIOT."

by a little past midnight i had managed to trace my way back to the first year dorms, where the shuttles pick up, and i was scrounging around under the awning, thinking about rebbi meir bal ha-neis. now, perhaps you, like me, never had the good fortune to learn his story. i still don't know the details, but after visiting his kever in israel, i knew that his name is mentioned in prayers to help find missing things - he must have a special merit for that. so it was rebbi meir bal ha-neis that i was thinking of, even though i didn't know the prayer, as i muddled around on the dirty sidewalk, squinting at glinting things.

the inter-campus shuttle driver saw me, and said, "don't tell me you're going back up."

"nope," i said definitively. "i've lost my key. i ain't going nowhere." then it hit me: "you drove me up before?"

"i drive you up all the time, young lady."

"true enough," i admitted. "thanks. do you think i could look on your bus? you think maybe it might be there?"

"you could look," he frowned, "but there's no lights in the bus. even if it was there, you ain't never gonna find it." then his face brightened. "but i'm used to looking for things in that dark. you stay here, i remember where you were sitting."

when he returned, he was grinning, holding up an ungainly chunk of metal which i have no idea how anyone could not have noticed falling from their purse.

"you lose something, lady?" he said.

i grabbed the key and thanked him as if he had saved my life, which, in an odd way, was what it felt like. actually, i kept thinking, rebbi meir came through for me! these people really know what they're talking about! while the shuttle driver demured and made grand philosophical speeches about the necessity of helping your fellow man and how everyone in the yu shuttle system is family, even the passengers. then he took me back to my dorm even though he wasn't a local and by rights i should have had to wait a half an hour. i was, once again, walking on air. this is the day of miracles! i decided, dragging myself back up to my dorm room. my plane landed on time, i like my room, AND potential tragedy has been averted. i could sing.

but i shouldn't, because it was really, really late, and everybody in the dorm was being - oh, wonderous day - quiet. and i could sleep! yes i could. i could go to sleep right now and do all my unpacking in the morning. i turned the bathroom door handle so i could brush my teeth and take out my contacts.

it didn't turn.

puzzled, i knocked, fiddled with the lock, and tried turning it again. maybe i hadn't had it quite right.

nope. nothing.

i was locked out of the bathroom.

normally i would have been ticked off by this; that night, it seemed only natural. something had to go wrong for real. i sat down on my bed and thought about my options.

the other girls were definitely asleep. i could call them and asked them to open the door, but it would be rude. so the only thing left to do was troop around the building in my pajamas, toothbrush in one hand, contact case in the other, looking for a public bathroom that wasn't locked. it was as i was walking around like this that i realized i hadn't eaten anything since lunch. whoops. that ship had sailed. i passed someone in the hall and asked them if they knew which caf was open tomorrow.

she looked at me as if i was batty and said, 'none of them are open for the next two days. they're not expecting non-ftocs to turn up until wednesday, and the f-tocs get catered meals on all their events.'

'oh,' i blinked. 'are the convenience stores going to be open, do you think?'

she shook her head. 'i run those. they aren't.'

i continued down the hallway, grinning in spite of myself. yup. starvation and bathroom-hunts; another year at stern.

(ps: tune in later for part two, where i impersonate a freshman at all the catered meals to sneak bagels and bottles of milk into my purse.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

the pt gets a work ethic

the pt (brightly, munching a cookie): well, i sure am a helper today!

me: that's right, you certainly are.

the pt: i made the cookies and i peeled the carrots. i guess i'm just doing all the work in the house.

me (washing dishes): you said it.

the pt (reflectively): i have an idea. how about we don't give cookies to anyone except people who finished their jobs. like iguana can only have a cookie if she finishes the laundry, and rafiki can only have a cookie if he makes the cholent, and mommy can only have a cookie if she...

(she frowns)

me: what's the matter, pt?

the pt: mommy doesn't really have a job.

me: um...

the pt: she's always just doing stuff for us because we never do anything.

me (to myself): leapin' leopards, batman!

(out loud): do you think that's fair?

the pt thinks about it, then concludes brightly: well, at least i do a lot of work!

me: that's right!

the pt: when i'm not busy.

me: ...?

the pt: with the playstation.

me: ah.

the pt: playing alien demos.

me: i see.

the pt: cause you know, abba gets a new demo cd every week, so there's always more i have to play. but i don't think you'd like them. the aliens are really ugly.

me: right.

the pt: actually, i was gonna go play that right now. (looks at the cookies) but i have to finish the carrots first.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

you may return from the edge of your seats

i've just had a breakthrough. these three weeks have left me too exhausted to be brilliant, but in a nutshell, here is my discovery:

it was impressive to see the herodian walls of ma'aret machpela. it was daunting to see the kotel, the machon mikdash, the tunnels. your eyes wept with gratitude for the sight of the long sand beaches and warm oceans at ashdod.

but what i loved most about being in israel, what i loved most that was in israel, was the family here i never knew i had.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

the benefits are chintzy

i know i should be writing about my experiences in israel, but it's all vague notions floating around in my exhausted brain. until then, please enjoy this clip, which i have found to be alarmingly reminiscent of my many job applications.