I park a good ways up the west parking lot next to the trailer park entrance, since my Math 24 class is not meeting in the usual classroom but instead in the Applied Science building. I de-rack the bike, throw on me backpack, and coast down there. About 400 yards later I am very wet, and have a damp, spotty stripe spackled up one side of my body from the kick-up of the bike tires. If I hadn't leaned to one side the entire time I would have had grit in my face. I lock my bike at a rack, realizing bitterly that I haven't seen a single set of racks anywhere on campus that has been built under a roof or some eaves. Rain and biking just do not work together. I yank the seat off my bike so it might dry off inside the lab, and follow my teacher who has just walked by.
Blooie, it's a computer lab! Who woulda guessed! The teacher distributes a sheet of paper meant to be a lab exercise, but it turns out to be an exercise in futility. Mathematica was supposed to have been installed on each and every computer in the lab, but half of them ask for a password. The teacher fumbles for a bit and yells at the lab attendant and they conjure a password that works for most of these computers. Those of us who managed to get Mathematica to actually launch the first time are now busily typing in the first program.
The first line of the program loads library `graphics`, but about half of us type it in as 'graphics'. See the difference? Neither do we. The word is quoted with backticks instead of apostrophes. Next we type the second line, which defines a structure known as 'pt1', using some structures contained in the 'graphics' library. But since 'graphics' wasn't actually loaded, the line defines the structures instead of referring to them. When we try to use 'pt1' in subsequent lines, we get weird errors.
Twenty minutes later, the instructor figures out the problem and writes a sentence on the board explaining the use of backticks. So we dutifully move up to line one of the program, and change it from 'graphics' to `graphics`. Now, Mathematica actually tries to load the library, but it can't, because our 'pt1' line has already defined the structures in it!
Since many of us are Computer Science majors, we are used to programming environments that execute whole sets of commands from a uniform starting point. Mathematica does not work this way. Mathematica is playing horrible tricks on us, and the class instructor is unable to cope. He finally tells everyone to close Mathematica and re-launch it, then start over again.
So we do. As soon as we type the first line, we get the same error.
The teacher pores over a manual in grim silence for another ten minutes. Finally he drops his forehead into his hand, grits his teeth, and closes the book. He stands up and announces, "Okay, here's what you do. Type the 'remove' command to destroy the labels we defined in the last session."
We do. The errors get worse. A whole menagerie of things are now undefined -- labels we've never seen before. The teacher bends over the nearest console and reads the messages. "Oh dear," he says, and walks back over to the manual at his desk.
I try to use the help files. Why did I get a window saying that I had this undefined struct? The help files provide a perfectly valid but useless answer: Because you set the program options to tell you of such errors.
I smash the monitor in. Well, no, not really. I poke around and discover that Mathematica consists of two programs. One is the front end and the other is the 'kernel', which executes all the commands. I select options and click buttons until I have killed the 'kernel'. Then I open a new one, and name it 'barf' instead of the previous 'default'. Then I paste in the assignment from a notepad session I have open. Oh joy; release the party balloons. The program finally works. But now I'm out of class time.
I decide to screw with it on the weekend instead of now, either because I love procrastination or because this lab is cursed.
Biking back up the hill is a struggle. My bike seat hasn't dried properly. The rain is really coming down, and I put the bike on the back of the car and hop in as fast as I can. I peruse some papers and get myself organized, and then decide to walk down to Brent's trailer.
Tanya is inside, and she tells me that Brent is probably studying in the library. She gives me directions, and then I hang around while she shows me the photo album she'd assembled for her trip across the country. She'd made the journey with a friend, in a large car with two cats as co-pilots. Traveling with the cats was fun, though they had a tendency to try and sit on the drivers' lap, and their litterbox in the rear occasionally stank and had to be cleaned. A good half of the pictures are of spots in the "Precious Moments" park, a maze of buildings and gardens infested with hummel-style cherub figurines of endless size and situation. A place that I encourage all sane people to avoid. Tanya had a blast though. Funny how even the most outwardly sane people can be totally wacky in certain hidden ways.
Chris (trailer park Chris) shows up to use Brent's computer for a while, and I shake some hands and set off down the hill to the Science Library. By the time I get there the rain is battering the pavement. The library is a three-story steel-and-concrete behemoth, painted blood red and riddled with big square windows. The main stairs are wide and quiet, and submerged in somber outdoor light beneath an impressive grid of glass, running from the ground to the top of the building on two walls. Starting from these crazy stairs I cover each floor in a large circle, following the perimiter. A lot of my fellow students are taking naps here, in a quiet that even the rain outside can't penetrate.
No sign of Brent. I stop near the entrance and examine a poster describing future construction projects for the campus. Uh oh, in a few years the trailer park will be bulldozed. What will happen to their way of life? Sob sob! Et cetera.
I walk and jog back up to the trailer-park lot, getting terribly damp on the way. Chik-chik-chik-chik-chika-chika vroOOM goes the car. My stereo starts up. It's Bjork! I'm listening to a dance tape I'd dubbed at four in the morning the previous night. Why the dance tape, you ask? Well I'll tell you, kids. In two hours there is a birthday party at Jen and Eszters dorm apartment for Beth. I'd hung around there yesterday and quizzed Jen about the type of music she likes, and assembled the mix tape accordingly. To get mileage out of my work, I'm listening to it in the car.
I have some time to waste before I show up there, so I drive down into Santa Cruz and knock on Skot's door. I drag him out of the house to the falafel hut, and consume yet another falafel. We have a subdued chat about random subjects, make a few crayon drawings, and arrange to drive by Skot's bank so he can deposit his check. First we have to stop by his apartment again, though.
On the way I play some Weird Al from my mix tape, which he enjoys. Back at the apartment, Skot excuses himself from the car to grab his paperwork. A few minutes pass. Skot opens the door. "Look what I found!", he says, and Torrey hops into the car with him.
Torrey is having a low-quality day. The legend 'handle with care' is stamped across her face, followed by some fine print: 'or else!' We cautiously do the bank thing, and I drop the gang off at their apartment again, eager to be back at UCSC and Merrill.
I drive all the way up the the Merrill lot. The rain subsides for a little while, and I take the opportunity to disassemble my bike and stuff it in the back seat of the car. I grab a package of car tapes, my mix tape, and some other items. Off I go to Jen and Eszters' apartment.
In retrospect, the best way to cover this event is to focus on the people, one at a time.
At the maximum, there were 21 people in the small apartment, forming a web of acquaintances. The most centrally located people in this web were Jen, Jeremy, and Beth. The nine or ten people that were their immediate friends formed a cohesive group that I would be spending almost all of my social time with over the next three years.
Jeremy was a nut for the entire evening. When he arrived he ran and leapt into my arms, almost knocking me back into the floor-lamp. (As an aside, floor-lamps are illegal in these dorms, a rule that sucks, since the lamps we had in Davis were the only source of light that wasn't florescent and disorienting.) He had already decided that we were best friends, and so had I. Jeremy bounced around the room like a rubber ball, then spent several hours manning a post on the couch, wrestling with various people and sitting on various female laps. At times he seemed as much a pet mascot as a person; everyone knew him, everyone loved him and those who didn't know him knew of him.
Phaedra was a favorite of the men in the group, despite her confession to Jeremy that she has a boyfriend some 400 miles away. It was an interesting sight seeing her sprawled comfortably across the laps of three or four guys at a time, sitting in a row on the sofa. Her impromptu harem. Each boy selected a piece of her and massaged it, or simply held it in place, and chatted away. At the time I remember thinking to myself, "And what of all those physically attractive women I've known out there, who subconsciously shy away from contact because their bodies contain exploitable value by it? Perhaps they pay a price for that value after all." Phaedra is gorgeous and she knows it, and here she is lying on four men she barely knows (who are happily enjoying the pursuit of making her comfortable), grinning and relaxed.
For all the "enlightened feminism" I was exposed to as a teenager in a west-coast town, no one ever told me - no one seemed to realize - that putting a woman on a pedestal does not mean putting her in a display case, under glass, with a lock on the inside. Most people just tacitly assumed it, because it simplified things. Like wrapping head-to-toe in a burka simplifies things for a Muslim woman. But now here's Phaedra on a couch, and I have one forearm beneath her ass with the hand on her outside flank, and the other hand on her shin, and from a man's perspective, I not only get to have my cake, I get to touch it, and be appreciated for it too. Where I grew up, women who did this sort of thing were considered "naive" by adults, or worse, "slutty" by their peers.
Phaedra sat on my lap for a good hour or so, and when she complained of cold feet later on, I leaned her back and gave her a foot massage. Two laps over, she arched her arms up over her head, and said "Oh yeah. Is this the life, or what?" to the room in general, as I worked the corners of her feet. A lot of my enjoyment of this came from her acute resemblance to Tori Amos, of whom she has ironically never heard. It's her general shape and especially her smile that do it. Our contact had no repercussions, and it was just this aspect of it that made it so extremely valuable to me: Here is where I learn that a man touching a woman does not have to be either entirely innocent, or entirely sexual. It can be something in between: Pleasant. And not a big deal.
You hear that, all you damned religious alarmists? Not a big deal.
Jeremy brought out a Twister mat, and Phaedra was volunteered by others to play. She lost her socks, and then reached down into the neck of her sweatshirt and drew out her bra. It sat in someone's pocket for a while, until Ken, who had been reduced to his underwear by Twister, complained of feeling 'naked' and put it on. We all laughed at this and he felt inspired to do a catwalk routine around the living room.
After Twister we played Truth or Dare, another staple of these kinds of parties. When it was my turn I pointed at Phaedra. I had been intending to ask her what she does with her cold feet when she's with her boyfriend, but she chose dare. I received some whispered suggestions from others in the crowd, thought for a while, and spawned a very large grin. I got up, said "I dare you to change clothes ... with him!" and patted Ken on the head.
Once the laughter died down, Ken and Phaedra whispered for a while, then Phaedra grabbed Ken by the arm and said "Back in a minute!", and pulled him into the bedroom. After some muffled thumps (which elicited numerous catcalls from us), Phaedra pushed open the door and emerged. True to her word, she was wearing nothing but her bra and Ken's underwear. Nice. Ken was quite warm in her sweater, though he wasn't allowed to wear the sweatpants so that others could verify that he actually wore Phaedra's underwear.
Later on that night Ken and I had a discussion about - of all things - leg shaving. Above and beyond his wacky behavior, you get a sense from Ken that no matter what he's doing, it's all good clean fun. Perhaps it's the force of his personality that makes it so. He was the first person I'd ever seen parade about in women's underwear, then curse a foul blue streak about how uncomfortable the seat was ("Ow! Fucking hell, these are going RIGHT up my ass!"), then sit down, in that clothing, and have a perfectly typical conversation about say, local cuisine, or the varying dialects of English in the midwest. He was unshakably comfortable, and I admired that. I knew we were going to be good friends.
I spent Truth or Dare sitting next to Lisa, whom I met at the first gathering. The short, brawny girl with the interesting nose. There's something very interesting about her face in general; when she smiles her eyes flash a deep black, contrasting with her skin and hair, eliciting an impression of coals in a fire. Her Truth or Dare question was "are you a natural blonde, and how far would you go to prove it?" Her response, delivered with a very red face: "Yes. I have pictures of me when I was a little kid. My hair was very blond then. I'll show you the pictures. And THAT's how far I'm willing to go!"
We talked about study habits and surviving UCSC classes in general, as well as the cosmology class I probably won't switch into, as it conflicts with my sabre fencing class. Though to tell you the truth, I'd rather take the cosmology class.
I can't understand how it happened to me over the last couple of years, but I went from being a complete hermit at gatherings to being a happy participant. Or maybe it's just this group. Is this what self-confidence is supposed to feel like? Jokes at the Provost's dinner, performances of Amish Paradise before a crowd, random conversations with people... I guess I have to change my impression of myself from an antisocial freak to at least a socially capable one.
But anyway. Ken was probably the least directly inhibited male of the group, and the least inhibited female was obviously Beth.
Beth lost everything over the course of twister. She was overweight, and few overweight people have the sheer guts to get naked to a crowd, but Beth is one of those people who can stand up and say "Fuck you, Jack, I'm fine. And I'll do what I like." And that she did. She eventually lost because she couldn't hold her boobs in place and perform "right hand green" at the same time. After Twister she put her clothes back on, only to remove them during Truth or Dare, when she was asked to do a striptease for Jeremy all the way through Madonna's "Like a Prayer". We fetched a wooden chair and planted it on the living room floor, then ordered Jeremy to sit there. Beth knew some pretty good moves, and when it was over Jeremy complained of being sent into shock by it.
It was a fine night for Beth in general. As the birthday girl, she was treated to two renditions of Happy Birthday(tm)(c)(r), and blew out the candles on a cake so large it was made on three separate dishes. The cake was served when the most people were around, so most of it actually did get eaten.
Note: Turns out I had given the name Dominic to the wrong person during our first gathering. Today I met Dominic, who is Jen's boyfriend. He lost everything but his pants during Twister.
Though it probably clashed with her cake, Beth, Jen, and some others had servings of a green concoction in a plastic bottle, containing vodka, dissolved Jolly Ranchers, and the extract of a certain toadstool. Absinthe. Silly people. Jen was called upon to direct Twister, but had to do so from a sitting position since she couldn't stand reliably. The drink wore off over the course of the evening, and when Truth or Dare was underway, she was running around Merrill with the rest of us. We had to be outside to observe several of the various 'dares'.
Someone - Lisa, I think - ordered Jeremy to run around the dorms in his boxers, banging two pie-tins together and yelling "I am the sasquatch!" as loud as possible. About half an hour later, Ken was made to chase Jeremy around the dorms, banging the pie-tins, screaming "I want the sasquatch!" I enjoyed tasking him with that.
The folks liked my mix tape too. I was very impressed. They sang along to "Whip it", "Fashion", and three other people even knew the lyrics to Weird Al's "Everything You Know is Wrong". Ken was one of them.
As the party was winding down, Eszter did some cleanup in the kitchen, then wandered over to the couch and sat. I walked and talked with Ken to the door, saw him out, then walked to the far corner of the room and sat down on the couch near Eszter. Lisa was sitting backwards on a nearby chair, her chin propped on her elbows. Jeremy was leaning against the far wall, giving a back massage to someone else. Phaedra I think. Slowly these guests made their goodbyes and left, emptying out the apartment. Eventually I reached out a hand and touched Eszter's back, petting her cautiously. To my delight she scooted closer, and turned her back more directly to me, so I began that most effective of all college-only social gestures, the Impromptu Back Massage. We made chit-chat and she slouched more and more until she fell gently backwards and laid across my chest with her arms across her stomach. I petted her short, soft brown hair with one hand, and held the base of her elbow with the other.
The last guest to leave the apartment was Beth. She'd put all her clothes back on, plus a warm jacket. When she saw us she got a very impish gleam in her eyes and walked over and bent down. "Take care of my little Carpathian Love Pixie," she told me, and patted me on the head.
Now it's true I'd had seduction on my mind the instant I reached out and touched Eszter's back. I'd been stealing glances at her all night, enchanted by both her lithe, toned body, and the calm, sophisticated mind I sensed resting behind it. The sense of an inner ocean one could swim in.
But I'd had no idea my intentions were so obvious to others. Beth, for example. Beth seemed to know exactly what was going on ... and where it would lead, too.
She walked out the door, and it was down to Dominic, Jen, Eszter, and I. Eventually Eszter sat up from the massage, then turned around and stuck her face close to mine. In a low, slow voice, she asked me "So. What is going on vith us?"
A brief but meaningful conversation took place.
Dominic and Jen went into the bedroom to sleep. Eszter got up from the couch and followed them in, then told them she was going to sleep in the living room, to "give you guys some privacy." She came out with an armload of blankets, and threw the heap on the floor. I untangled it and found two pillows and two sheets. Not 100 percent sure what was going to happen even now, I set out one sheet and one pillow on the floor, and waited for her to come out of the bathroom. I was ready to be assigned to the couch. When she came out, she was wearing pajamas. She walked over to the laundry pile, picked up the other pillow, and threw it down right next to the first. "You're welcome to sleep here," she said.
I don't remember what I said in response, if anything. The next thing I remember is holding her in a light embrace, standing with her in the living room, with my head bent down towards hers, lost in the slow immolation of a first kiss.
... We ended up getting about four hours of sleep, though we spent the next twenty hours in bed. Half the time on the living room floor and half the time in her own cozy bed, after Dominic and Jen left in the morning.
We talked about each others' families, the places we'd been, our philosophies. I learned about her brother and sister, her mother, and the rest of her family. She asked me if I believed in God. I told her that it was a hard question to answer, and that I currently believed in some higher power, though I'd likely consider it to be an all-encompassing force of nature, or a spiritual aspect of humanity much like the Confucian idea. I told her I was attracted to the nature ceremonies of Paganism, the ideas behind Confucianism, and the independence and cynicism of Buddhism. We laughed at how silly it was that some cultures insisted that women shave their legs, and I hypothesized that it was due to a misconception in men that the hair goes all the way up over the butt. Nah. Stops just above the knee, and if you never shave it, it retains the same fine quality that the hair on your forearms usually has.
I complimented her on the hair on her legs. She complimented me on the hair on my forearms, making me laugh. I complimented her on her haircut and the shapes of her hands. We spent a long time exploring each others' hands. I was amazed again and again by how much smaller and slimmer her hands and arms were. She works almost as hard as I do, but she ends up quite differently despite it.
She remarked that I had a guy's hands but feminine fingers, with strong nails. We held our arms side-by-side, and observed that our skin was exactly the same color and shade. "That's my indoor, computer-geek tan," I said, and she laughed. We read each other stories from a Ray Bradbury collection. The first was titled Kaleidoscope, a very emotional piece about the occupants of a spaceship flying away into deep space after their ship explodes, talking through radio contact that slowly diminishes, leaving them isolated. In one of the stories an old man stabs his palm with the opposite hand to make a point just like I'd described Brent doing days ago.
I wondered aloud what she looked like as a kid, and we went looking through her picture collection. I particularly admired a photo of her sitting on a log during a hiking trip, and she said, "You can have it, then," and handed it to me. I set it on the desk for later and we rolled around in the bed for another while.
She confessed to me that for her, the best part of sex was the long part before and after, when she could cuddle. "It is a safe feeling." she said. I told her that, to me, it was a different feeling, a feeling of completeness and goodness. A warm feeling. I spent a long time thinking about this difference. Here we were doing exactly the same thing and feeling subtly different things for it. I kept asking myself over and over, is this difference a general thing, or is it specific to us? Is this related to how I was attracted to her in the first place?
So many questions.
We agreed to spend some time apart and figure things out separately; figure out what we were getting into. I drove her to the taqueria at about 8pm on Saturday and we had a burrito. We excanged a final kiss when I dropped her off, and I drove home dazed and slept for 14 hours. Now here I am.
A funny thing happened this weekend. I was so unreserved the whole time that there was little private space left in my head to take note of things. Has this ever happened to you? You go through an experience that is radically different from the days surrounding it, and is holistic and comfortable, but it seems to leave no impression afterwards? It's frightening, because it means that the best times, the times when I feel the most complete, fade from my mind faster than anything else. What does this say about the contents of my mind ... and the purpose of our memories?
Maybe it's hard to remember because it's too different for me. I don't know. Things seem very strange. I'm not the same person I was on Friday.