(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing. Introduction here.)
about a week into the school year, i walked into the dorm building with my friend, raphael (a fellow architecture student at cooper; he and raquel are the other two members of my group for the cube project). since he doesn’t live in the dorms, i had to sign him in. the guard on duty was poking fun at us. we didn’t know him, but that didn’t stop him from trying to play the matchmaker. “you raphael?” he said in a thick accent (i later learned it was nigerian, although it sounded jamaican at the time). “and you” — here he pointed at me, his mouth fixed in a wide smile — “you his haahtbeat. you raffy’s haahtbeat. boom, boom, boom!! when he see you his heart staaht beating — boom. boom.” he chuckled with pleasure at his own joke and continued amusing himself as we slinked down the hall and out of earshot: “boom. boom. heh-heh. raffy’s heartbeat.” once in the elevator, we exchanged nervous smiles. “that guy’s weeeeeird,” raphael observed.
we totally forgot about it until about a week later, when we met each other — purely by chance — in the lobby. “heeeeey, raffy! here’s your haahtbeat. she beating for you.” he beamed. “she yo’ angel.” then he thought of an even better joke — since raphael’s last name is charles, he is known as “charlie” to some of his friends. “chahlie’s angel.” i was branded for life. or until i graduate. whichever comes first.
for a few weeks we just tried to avoid him. if we were walking together, we’d separate and go into the building ten minutes apart. i’d scurry in with my jacket over my head, hoping to avoid a comment. it only grew worse. “CHAHLIE’S ANGEL,” he’d scream, attracting the attention of everyone in the lobby. “why you so embarrassed about chahlie? he’s yo’ heartbeat. ‘sokay. we all know he’s yo’ haahtbeat. ha ha ha.” we grew irritated, then annoyed, then angry. finally, reluctantly, we learned to accept it. now, we even play along. abel calls me up during slow spells and tells me elaborate stories of how he’s going to propose to me someday. “then you be mrs. charlie’s angel,” he predicts confidently. “charlie’s heartbeat, that’s me!” i exclaim brightly, before the words can even leave his mouth. for my birthday raphael addressed my card to “mah haatbeat,” and one day he brought in a paper coffee cup with a reference to “charlie’s angels” on it.
the abel story is a perfect example of the attitude one must take here to avoid becoming a stereotypical new yorker. if you want to be cynical, bitter and rude, just keep getting annoyed when someone isn’t doing EXACTLY what you would want them to do. if you can laugh at life’s little quirks, though, you’ll have lots of funny stories for your friends back home.
the early days of my week were spent in furious preparation for the final crit, which was to be on thursday. on tuesday, though, professor abraham (who can be SO endearing sometimes!) granted us a five-day reprieve. he also informed us that there would be no “final crit,” only a display of the completed projects. (in other words, if they hate our work, we won’t know it. at least, until the end of the semester. ) so we’ve been drawing and re-drawing all week long, taking new photographs and enlarging them, and making the last modifications to our joint. the final cube will be assembled during the “presentation” on tuesday, and they plan to videotape it for posterity. if any of you want to come, there are scalpers lined up all along 3rd avenue …
we had a scare on tuesday afternoon when mersiha, an exchange student from bosnia, hurt herself while sanding steel in the shop — her hand slipped (she wasn’t wearing gloves) and she was rushed to the hospital for a skin graft. a sobering incident for the class that was called “the most responsible in the last ten years” — nevertheless, we’re all ten times more careful in the shop now. when she arrived back at school after two days’ absence, there were piles of flowers, notes and gifts on her desk from all of us. it sounds so clichd, but i think we’ve really learned to work as a team now.
one great thing about being in an art school is that there are shows here fairly often. and, at the shows’ openings, there’s always plenty of free food. somehow, we don’t find out about it until halfway through, and then the entire architecture studio — and any other students that happen to be in the building — descend like ravenous wolves upon the caterers, ensuring that they stay insanely busy until closing time. last week, there was the opening of a huge photography exhibit (which sara and i, unlike some of those ungrateful wretches, actually looked at). the menu was homemade soft pretzels with melted butter and sesame and poppy seeds, and cases and cases of Jones soda — the one carbonated beverage that can truly be called artistic. despite names like “fufu berry” and “pineapple upside-down soda” and garish colors (bright blue, red, green and pink), it actually tastes decent. but the real creativity is found on the labels; there are about 350 different styles, all of which feature black-and-white or color amateur photographs taken by Jones soda fans. anyone can submit one, and the best of the best are published, along with the photographers’ name and hometown. apparently, it’s only sold up here in Bohemia — a shame, because it’s such a neat idea. the students of cooper union, though, were only interested in the fact that it was free — many of them filled knapsacks and jackets with bottles, or took multiple trips to the table. the bartenders were feverishly re-stocking the rows just as fast as the greedy kids could carry them off. it was a testimony to the hoarding instinct of mankind — being the paragon of virtue that i am, i took a modest three bottles. (kadar, on the other hand, returned home that night to discover one hundred twenty-six of them gracing his dining room table.)
ben, milos, sara and i have formed the unofficial foreign film club. thursday we watched “mediterraneanio,” a movie about a group of italian troops during world war two that get marooned on a Greek island. although sara’s mom warned us that it was a bit “risque” (is that a “mom word”, or WHAT?), it turned out to be more of a comedy. we even learned some choice italian phrases, which i won’t repeat in case any of you know the language.
and i was finally able to go to a real poetry slam — something i had been wanting to do ever since i moved here. a group of us went to the “nuyorican poetry caf” on friday, led by RA’s anthony and kerry — five bucks to get in, and you can enjoy original poetry and smoke-filled air all night. despite the usual crowd of aggrieved victims, there was some phenomenal work read. some of it was akin to mike myers’ poetry from “so i married an axe murderer” (woman! WHOA MAN!), but that made it all the more funny. the audience was surprisingly sophisticated, and knew how to spot trash. a panel of six couples gave scores to each poem read; there were three rounds. the winner got a whopping ten dollars, plus one fleeting moment of fame. it goes on my list of “things to take my friends to when they visit.”
on All Hallows Eve, i sought solace at rod and julie’s apartment in midtown, in a furtive effort to escape the hordes of freaks (even *more* than usual, if you can believe that) that swarm east village in anticipation of the annual drag queen parade. they (rod and julie, not the freaks!) made a delectable dinner — homemade tuscan pizza, mesclun salad and apple crisp — and rented two movies. one was a delightfully cheesy old horror flick called “the haunting” in which the main character holds an inner monologue that lasts for most of the movie. the other was “a man for all seasons,” the story of Sir Thomas Moore, who was martyred during the reign of Henry VIII for keeping silent on the issue of the king’s divorce. it was really powerful — emotionally draining. these wonderful people even let me crash on their couch, reasoning that the yuckies would still be out, doing their yucky thing, and it would be safer for me to stay there until the next morning.
it’s been a lazy day in the Village — all of the yuckies are recovering from their Halloween Hangovers, and we’ve been doing light (EXTREMELY light) reading and napping. tonight and tomorrow will be spent in the studio, in preparation for the FINAL “thing” on tuesday. and, after that, i can look forward to a visit home on the weekend. dave will ride down with me — he decided he was missing his family, too, and since we live about 40 minutes away, i can have some company on the greyhound.
well, we’re planning dinner — a multiethnic feast: kadar’s homemade guacamole, my tabouli and sauted chicken breast with italian penne pasta. i think i hear an avocado calling me.