(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.)
we call her the Petition Lady. she is tall, nicely dressed, with stylish, very short brown hair. she stands directly in front of the engineering building where we have some of our classes, behind a self-erected booth with literature about her latest cause strewn about. “SIGN the pe-TISH-UN!” she says. she doesn’t yell, but speaks very loudly and with force. she makes eye contact with every person that passes her, which i find kind of creepy. she doesn’t offer a choice. “SIGN,” she ordered me the first time i ever saw her, pushing the paper in my face. “HELP the AN-I-MALS.” i scurried away, frightened.
the puzzling thing about the Petition Lady is that she isn’t always pushing the same cause. the other day it was animals; before that it was the “WO-MEN” who need to “END their BAD re-LA-SHUN-SHIPS with a-BUS-IVE MEN.”
once you’ve avoided her successfully several times, she becomes funny. we all joke about her in the dorms. “SIGN the pe-TISH-UN!” we say to each other at random. she’s funny because she’s such a perfect example of a new yorker — individual, uncompromising, not apologetic in the least. what you see is what you get. “SIGN.” she is like my friend pete, who insists that the correct pronunciation of “sauce” is “SOO-aahse.” no number of pronunciation guides will convince him otherwise; it’s simple. everyone else is wrong.
despite the colorful personalities, it’s been a relatively quiet week here in the big apple. the reality of school is starting to set in, and i have to resign myself to doing homework frequently. there’s even more of a tendency to procrastinate when the assignment isn’t due for a week (“a whole WEEK!” you keep thinking, until it becomes the day before it’s due). but i’ve been pretty good about it — no all-nighters so far. the wonderful thing is that (except for fridays) i don’t have any classes until 11 or 2. so, if i need to stay up late, at least i can make up for some of it.
literature is actually becoming more interesting. the work is easy, since i’ve studied it all before. (my first paper is due in two weeks, and i think i can use the one i wrote last year on the same subject — woo-hoo!) the in-class discussions, though not as lively and animated as last year’s AP english class, are fun. computer applications and shop techniques continue to be horrifically boring. i’m amazed at the amount of tedium that can be squeezed into three hours. last week in computers, we got a twenty-minute lecture on neatness. then our professor was called away, and on his way out, he yelled over his shoulder, “you guys can do e-mail or something until i get back.” we didn’t need a second invitation. upon his return, we went on a tour of all the computer facilities in the engineering building. then we were assigned homework which nobody understood. i wish i could have fallen asleep, but my boredom was keeping me awake.
that night we stayed in the studio until 10:30 in preparation for our first architectonics critique the next day. when we left, some people were just arriving; some of them had been there all day. the puzzling thing is that none of them need to be there — it’s a psychological thing. they sit there and listen to CDs and order pizzas and chat with the second- and third-year students, but they don’t do work. it’s very odd. we returned home relatively early. at around midnight, i was aroused from my homework with a terrific banging out in the hallway. i rushed out to find my next-door neighbor matt and a huge cardboard tube. he was holding it over his head and letting it fall; each time he dropped it, it made a loud crashing noise. “what is that … THING?” i finally asked.
he grinned like a kid that’s been found with his hand in the cookie jar — half-ashamed, half-proud of his behavior. “it’s a ruckus-maker,” he answered. “it makes ruckuses. see?” he hurled it like a javelin, down the length of the hallway. i had to admit, it made a rather satisfying sound. people were emerging from the elevator and the other rooms, drawn by the noise and all wanting to try making a nice ruckus. i guess even cooper kids need a break from time to time.
our first critique went rather well, i thought. abraham (the main guy) wasn’t there, but his second-in-command, professor gersten, came and talked to us. he liked our design; there were some problems, he said, but we could rework it to incorporate the main idea without starting from scratch. we were pleased, therefore, and not at all prepared for the verbal lashing we received from abraham on thursday at our second critique. he was pretty hard on everyone — definitely NOT from the suzuki school of thought. one group had misunderstood the directions and built a cube without the required extensions on each side; he refused to even look at their work. i tried to take everything he said with a grain of salt, and to hold the more optimistic view of “there’s no such thing as a bad critique.” we learned a lot, and i guess that was the point. thankfully, we don’t have to worry about grades — we don’t get any until the end of the semester. we can concentrate on learning and working hard.
art is more of the same — she said i had improved since last week, and i’m learning a lot about how to begin a drawing (we aren’t turning in finished drawings, but short sketches) and about technique. at our second nude-drawing session, she told us all to fill up several pages with scribbles to free our minds. then (being careful not to actually say it outright) she insinuated that those of us who were too uptight in our work might loosen up a bit if we had a drink or two. (“only if you’re legal, of COURSE.”) i’m actually starting to enjoy drawing these stupid bell peppers. we’re doing them again this week.
the 18th (friday) was *my* 18th birthday, and i was stuck in the dilemma of whether or not to go home. i had originally intended to, but things were going so well here that i didn’t want to chance a bout of homesickness by seeing everyone from maryland again. so i stayed — and my new friends rose to the occasion with hugs, cards, gifts and plenty of embarrassment. (i was getting congratulations from people i didn’t even know — they must have spread the word surreptitiously.) my family and friends from home called and sent gifts all day long, too.
we had a great night — a group of us went to “mars 2112,” a brand new theme restaurant just north of times square. it’s hilarious — you’re met at the door by actors who, deadpan expressions on their faces, greet you by wiggling their fingers and saying, “bah-beh-nu.” you can banter them all you want, and they continue treating you as a foreigner. (“all earthlings must form a line beginning here.”) then you’re escorted to the “shuttle,” a small room shaped like a spaceship where you go through a ride similar to Star Tours at disneyland (the kind where they jerk your chairs all around while showing you a video of a spaceship going through wormholes at light speed). you’re dumped out into a large eating area that really looks like martian terrain — the walls look as though they were carved out of red stone. eerie music plays in the background and red lights glow on the walls and floor. while you’re eating, costumed martians mingle among you and harass you without speaking. one came up to dave, who was sitting next to me — he picked up dave’s hand and took a huge sniff of his armpit. then he dropped it, jumped back and saluted him. of course, when my friends told them it was my birthday, they had to kiss my hand and serenade me with gurgling noises (the only sound they made). it was great fun. we had planned on going swing dancing at a club on the top floor of the world trade center, but it was 21-over only and they wouldn’t even let us on the elevator. (hhmph!) so dave, matt and i went to small’s and enjoyed the live jazz into the early hours of saturday morning.
so i’m now a legal adult — i can drive here, vote, enlist, become a consenting adult and purchase tobacco. i’m not sure if i like it. with freedom comes responsibility, and all that stuff. darn it.
saturday brought more homework time, sleeping and quite an adventure with Nationsbank, my bank from home. i had been with them for exactly five days when i tried to use my card to pay for some groceries at K-mart and was told that my account was not valid. a call to the bank brought the news that there was a system-wide problem, and i couldn’t withdraw or pay for anything unless the store called to request verbal authorization. they called, spent thirty minutes on the phone, and told me it couldn’t be done. i called the bank again, spent an hour on hold, and eventually handed the phone to the K-mart manager, who talked with them for another thirty minutes before finally telling me i had to wait 24 hours for my account to be re-activated. I tried to take this as a lesson in patience, and i’m living off of canned goods until tomorrow. anyway, after that adventure, it was decided that we needed to watch austin powers. it’s amazing what a cult following has generated around that movie — all it takes is a sign in the elevator to bring in 30+ people, all ready for the miracle.
one thing i’ve been missing a lot is my music — so yesterday i went to the art building basement for an hour of pure ecstasy. the room was cramped and the piano slightly out of tune — but i was in heaven. i also found out how to work my radio and located a classical music station, and i’ve been blasting it all afternoon. happiness is …
well, i have to leave in a few minutes to go to dinner and a movie with my pastor and the other college kids in the parish. (“this is on us. don’t bring ANY money,” he said sternly. it’s a good thing — because i don’t have any!)