the living room
i was a little wound up, as they say.
also, i think that classes can never seem more pointless than when there is only one week of them and that week directly follows pesach. you move heaven and earth to get to a classroom only to find that the professor is unfortunately still dwelling, bright and crisp, on the dregs of a topic you probably couldn't even remember when it was fresh three weeks ago. you kind of want to burst into the room with your arms out to a rousing round of applause, but instead, you are met with more weary and bedraggled faces of other students who have been unapplauded for their amazing escape from the airport, and who unlike you have already fallen into the shadows of Final Exam Blahs.
there are many ways of combating the FEBs. theoretically. stern suggests ice cream; my point is, you need more than a half a scoop of cherry vanilla to conquer the whole three-papers-in-two-hours thing. however, i am not one to talk, as my strategy is to scrupulously avoid finals into they crash, avalanche-like, over my head, at which point i revert to expresso.
today i was living up to my ethos as usual by diligently focusing all my attention on a trivial and minute task which had no timely relevance whatsoever, chiefly: ironing.
i was never much of an ironer. back in the day, my mother would force me to iron. subscribing to boot-camp-parenting as she did, she would sometimes force me to iron clothes that weren't even mine. i spent the rest of my teenage years and the first half of college attempting to avoid ironing at all costs, and i must say that i excelled at it.
but then this year i started working in an office, and slowly, the shame began to creep up on me, like the grey on the guy from the 'just for men gel' commercial's head. wearing the same one presentable outfit to work everyday. it being wrinkled and frumpy all the time. being regarded as a sixteen-year-old with cause. so i gathered my reserves of courage and ventured into the manhattan shopping world and emerged victorious with three blouses, a black skirt with a belt, and a tabletop iron, with which to keep the black skirt and the blouses from crumbling into dust in my closet.
now let me tell you something about tabletop irons: they are perfect for ironing handkerchiefs. not so good for anything involving more than one panel.
when i first got the iron i would try to negotiate the board around my room. the board stands all of three inches off the surface of wherever you put it. i would hold it on top of my dresser and climb on a chair to iron that way. i would put it on top of my steamer trunk and kneel on the floor. at one point, in exasperation, i forewent the board and held the blouse up with my hand. i felt like mr. mom. i felt like a fool.
so, in desperation, and feeling slightly illegal, i resorted to ironing in the back lounge, where - you might have heard this - they have tables.
it was embarassing. i had never seen anyone else iron in broad daylight (or poor wattage, whichever.) i am not a great ironer and it takes me forever to reduce the shirts from 'entirely wrinkled' to 'slightly less wrinkled', which is where my standard currently sits. everybody would be able to see me. perhaps i would look even more like a fool. but when i fitted the board on the table i determined that it was infintely better than kneeling on the floor to iron, and so my ironing ritual began. and so i took half my wardrobe downstairs tonight to smoothe out so i could immerse myself in the nonwriting of various things.
but i am glad i did, because i think that when i iron here, it allows me to touch a layer of life here at stern that i can't always recognize for what it is.
tonight, like every other time i've ironed, there is another girl i know sitting at one of the tables. not someone i'm particularly friendly with; just someone i know. she's writing a music paper. she smiles when i stagger in with my board and iron - they all smile, as though i am a quaint relic of some other era. but i don't mind anymore.
as i prop up my board and spread out my blouses, she moves a little closer. she plays a song for me, asks me what i think of it. another girl we know comes in and drops dramatically onto a couch. they smile and greet each other, greet me, start talking about an event i didn't go to. i move the shirt and press down the iron. another girl seats herself at the piano and pumps out a ragtime jazz, and the girl writing the music paper grins dreamily, asking me again what i think of it.
i drift in and out of the conversation, working methodically, my hands busy. i listen. i listen to one acquaintance talk about her upcoming trip to india. i listen as another girl reads me, shakily, the paper she has written, commenting, questioning, turning my shirt. i listen to the music winding out of laptops, from the piano, from a friend as she sings. i listen to the diligent scritching of the girl who lives across the hall from me as she winnows her woodwork (say that five times fast). sometimes they glance up at me and draw me in, and i'm glad to be drawn; sometimes there's no need to talk. the five of us, six of us, seven of us are just down there in the lobby, where the guys and the dates can't go, focused on our separate tasks, but together in one unique, lovely moment of calm. we belong. not friends, but a community - a little town where anything can happen and any topic is relevant and no one needs to be what they aren't or anything more than what is.
i had been aware of this feeling in some of my earlier ironing days - just this thought that flitted through my head like sunshine: "this is so nice, to be here now - i am so happy right now - but i'm ironing - how can that be?" - but i hadn't concretized it until tonight, when one of the girls i was listening stopped talking, abruptly, and laughed.
"it's like this is your living room, perel," she said. "isn't it like a living room?"
i paused for a moment and looked at her. i looked at the other girl by the piano, and the one curled up in the armchair with a notebook and flat pretzels.
i thought about chol hamoed, when i had done just the same in my house. my brothers playing videogames and me in the armchair, watching them. not because i wanted to see the games. just being with them. being around them. absorbing them and what their lives, of which i ultimately know so little because i am away, are about. and i realized how truthfully this strange existence in the lobby was not so different; here we were, more or less strangers, not so much interacting as steeping in each other's presence. not like strangers do here, unacknowleged and unnoticed, but with warmth and comfort.
there are many kinds of stern experiences floating out there. blogs, stereotypes, whatever. i want this experience to be one of them. i want it to be remembered.