When the hour is up, I walk over to the dorms. I find Chris propped up in her dorm bed still half asleep. I dig my recently developed set of pictures out of my backpack and show them off to her. After admiring them, she mentions that a group of people are going to "Kiva" this evening.
"Kiva?" I ask.
"It's a bath-house, with saunas and hot and cold fresh-water jacuzzis and stuff."
"Cool," I say. "I'm there."
We chat for a bit more and I agree to come back some time in the evening, so I can go with them.
I exit the lounge and climb one flight of stairs and knock on Jen and Eszter's door. Eszter opens it, smiles, and says hello. We chat about our classwork, and I pull the second envelope of pictures out of my backpack and show them to her.
"So," she says, "are you going tonight?"
Thanks to Chris's information of twenty minutes ago, I know what she refers to, and say yes. She seems pleased.
I ask, "Are you going to Chuck-E-Cheese tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure, but probably not. There's some multicultural event taking place all day Saturday and I might go to that."
We sit amicably down to some food, on the living room floor. She is eating cut cauliflower and broccoli out of a big plastic tub, and I chomp down the broccoli from my tupperware and eat some of the crackers and cheese. Jen and her asian-jock boyfriend are preparing to leave, so I hand the packet of photos to Jen for perusal.
Eszter is doing long division of functions, and has only had about three hours of sleep. We discuss the finer points of procrastination. I reminisce about the last time I had to do long division. She writes out one of the problems on a piece of paper and gives it to me, and after a minute of experimentation I remember how it's done and complete the problem. She uses the result as an example and works the rest of the problems with it. I coach her for a bit on the process -- putting polynomials in descending order and inserting unused powers as placeholders. In the back of my mind I realize that I really enjoy helping Eszter, and on the heels of that comes the realization that whatever my workload is, Eszter is probably working three times harder.
She completes the few remaining problems with ease. Meanwhile I read my book, "Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics". Where was this subject when I was in high school? It holds my attention much better than the meager, too-easy programming assignments I've been wading through in my college career so far. Has my major and class itinerary been a mistake? Do all students feel this way at some point?
Jen and Jocko-Homo™ leave, and at five minutes to twelve Eszter and I pack up. We walk to her next class talking about random people and ideas. In parallel to the conversation I observe that she and I have some comforting similarities in the way we see things. This feeling is accompanied by kind of helplessness, as I am at a loss to interpret the relative value of this discovery, given the near-nonexistant state of our relationship.
She is about to enter a building, so I shake hands with her and leave. On the way to the bus stop a punk-dressed girl comes hopping by me in socks. Dark blue socks. Eyebrow ring. Loose green trenchcoat. Suddenly we're discussing how she'd gotten a sunburn from hiking in a skirt, and wasn't wearing her shoes because they were screwed up. Just before she nabs a bus, I get her name and we shake hands. I've forgotten her name already, but I remember how suddenly she and I had been talking. It's strange sometimes how easy it is to meet some individuals, and how impossible it is to get to know some others, and how little these individuals are aware of their relative difficulty. Standing around waiting for another bus, I space out for a while, until a thought occurs to me: Some people have reactive personalities. Those people are mostly what you ALLOW them to be when they're around you.
I take a bus going in the other direction from the punk girl's bus, down to the east remote, and my car. I drive to Skot and Torrey's, but they aren't home. I pull my head back from leaning on the door to discover a shiny grease spot. ... So I write BLARGH on their door before going back to the car. I am a greasy individual. As I'm walking past the trunk I notice my car's busted rear speakers, and decide now's a fine time to make repairs. Out comes the duct tape. A few minutes later Skot walks up and waves through the car window. Yaay!
We hang around outside for a bit as I continue my pathetic attempt to repair my pathetic speakers, and I take Skot's picture on the lawn to use the last of my film. We head indoors to wait for Torrey, and lounge around talking. Torrey comes back from a three hour workday, aggravated, as we all are, over the intrusive effects of work on an otherwise productive day. I snap a picture of her standing around her plants.
I hear of their plans involving Mexico, and we discuss various artists and authors. They are both very well read people. They feed me a very hot but very delicious italian-based dish, polenta with sauce. Errands must be run downtown, and Torrey would rather walk than drive, so we all agree to stroll through the Pacific Garden Mall.
First we infiltrate the library and pick up some videos, including a live-action version of The Little Prince, and an oversize book showcasing Skot's Artist of The Month™. Then we hit up the New Leaf Grocery for split peas and other staples. Back at the apartment I'm feeling hungry again, so I wish Skot and Torrey a fond adeiu, and grab a piroshki and a drink from the gas station while I fill up my car. Thank goodness for the gascard.
My wanderings lead me back to UCSC. This time I park up at Merrill, since it's reasonably late on a Friday and the [expletive] TAPS officers don't ticket on weekends. Ken and Jeremy are back from wherever the hell they were, but are feeling tired. While they nap, I answer my email on the computer, then begin an FTP search for a copy of Grand Theft Auto, as a birthday present for Ken. Half an hour in the most recent warez sites renders no leads, so I start poking around on the campus computer network.
Whoah. Seems like one of every ten people has their computer set up hosting something. I stumble across thousands of MP3 files. A demo cut of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. A concert bootleg of Wish You Were Here. Rare Tori Amos songs I'd only heard rumors about. An ocean of tracks by the damn Spice Girls and Notorious B.I.G. Dozens of South Park directories, including Kyle's Mom is a Bitch in D Minor, and Mr. Hanky's Christmas Classics. Theme songs to the Prisoner, the Saint, Shaft, Bubblegum Crisis, Macross Plus, Akira, First Strike, the Paw-Paws, the Monkees. Buttloads of Monty Python clips.
Here's a student with his CDROM drive on the network, with the Starcraft CD sitting in it. Here's a directory full of zipped install files for Photoshop, Cakewalk, Premiere, Director, and CoolEdit Pro. Oh look, fifty-two bitmap scans of some strangers at some party last year. And here's a 210 megabyte file named 'stare_decisis.avi'. My Latin is bad; I can only make it out to be 'before deciding'.
After about an hour and a half of clicking and tapping, I give up only 3/4ths of the way through the network groups. I've already amassed shortcuts to enough stuff to fill Ken's hard drive twice, including a copy of Grand Theft Auto. I transfer that over and install it.
I walk out into the lounge and watch a bit of TV with Chris, who is parked on the couch. After a while people start showing up. Phaedra and Mike sit down with us, and Colleen walks in to play with Jeremy. Then more people start showing up. Kristine, Scott, Alex, Lisa. Then SHITLOADS of people show up. Jen and Eszter arrive. Most of the people I know at Merrill are here, and a half-dozen people I've never seen before but heard of.
Probably because of the noise, Ken and Jeremy wake up. Then, because it's Ken and Jeremy, UTTER CHAOS ensues. Over the next hour I get in a wrestling match with Colleen, a light-sabre fight with Scott, a pillowfight with Lisa, and chase Jeremy on a circuit around the Merrill dorms twice. Somehow we generate enough order to get us all packed into various cars and on our way to Kiva.
Jen rides in the passenger seat of the Tracer, and Colleen and a girl I don't know take the back. On a hunch, I pop in the tape with God by Tori Amos on it, and my hunch is confirmed when Jen and I both sing along.
We park quickly and people pile out of cars like Keystone Kops and go fumbling into the lobby. At first, everyone is wearing clothing. Then as we make our way back through the dressing rooms and pass from pool to pool, people strip down to nothing. Jeremy and I end up being the only men who wear clothing at Kiva. A pair of shorts each.
Jen wears a suit because her boyfriend made her promise to. Lisa wears a suit because she wants to, as well as because her boyfriend wants her to. Neither of these boyfriends have the guts to go themselves, apparently. Colleen wears a suit but Eszter doesn't. More accurately, Eszter dresses down to a swimsuit underneath her clothing, and then takes it off almost immediately.
I have to exercise caution. I keep wanting to look at Eszter; to take in the features that I'd been so intimate with only a while ago. She really is the most attractive woman in the building. Out of deference to her sense of security I try to mix it up between the sauna and the hot and cold baths, and keep away from her. Then a funny thing happens. I am in a back-massage train, between Alex and Ken, and Eszter breaks into the line behind me and starts in on my back. I am surprised, and keep it in the back of my mind as a sign that her ideas of me may not be what I think they are.
After Kiva, some of us plan to go to a restaurant, while others arrange a shuttle back to the campus. I end up driving Ken, Lisa, and her boyfriend (who is here for some reason though he wasn't at Kiva), and this time when I play the Tori Amos mix tape, Ken joins the sing-along. Cool.
The restaurant is Jeffrey's, and the wait for food is long. Through some crafty miracle of positioning I end up sitting next to Eszter and Jen. I amuse myself and others by constructing geometrical shapes and cartoon figures out of a bucket of chocolate wedges that Chris brought in. Eszter tries to set up a domino rally, and makes a contest of stacking the wedges for points. I am secretly pleased with her creativity. In fact, this one emotion is the only event I remember about the whole restaurant trip. For a boy who thought he was merely screwing around with her, I am rather obsessed. The contradiction fails to resolve in my mind, so it festers. On the one hand, I said this. On the other hand, I'm thinking this ... What does it mean? Wouldn't it be better if it just went away at this point?
These thoughts only occur in retrospect, hours after the restaurant. For the time being I'm simply chatting with friends and chowing down on greasy food. On the way out we kow-tow in the lobby arranging rides, and I tell Ken that I'll probably spend the night at Merrill, though the lounge is most uncomfortable. Eszter overhears this, as I'd been hoping she would, and says "Well you know you can always sleep in the living room, since Jen's boyfriend won't be over tonight." What this means is that the reason I can use the living room is because Eszter doesn't have to use it. When Jen's boyfriend comes over, Eszter respects their privacy by sleeping in the other room on the couch. The long and short of this, as I add it up in my head just then, is that Eszter is making a point of the fact that we would be sleeping apart if I were to come over. She knows the train of my thoughts, and is keeping me from getting too optimistic.
On the way back to UCSC, driving only Ken this time, I ponder it. Would I be able to deal with sleeping in her apartment, so nearby, but off limits? It would be easier on me if I just slept on the floor in Ken and Jeremy's room. But that is DAMN uncomfortable and cramped. It all comes down to an instant, standing outside the door to the Merrill lounge. Eszter has opened the door for Ken to walk in, and if I walk in behind him I will have made the choice to sleep with him. If I step out of the way and let Eszter close the door, I'll be following her up to the apartment. For the life of me, I can't make up my mind!
Eszter even asks me. Will I be sleeping here or there? I glance from her to the door, struck dumb. "Well, come on up if you don't want to sleep there", she tells me. I stumble into the lounge, for lack of anyplace else to go, and sit down on the couch. It only takes a few minutes to realize that I would rather be sleeping at her place with or without intimacy. So I climb the stairs and enter, without bothering to knock.
Eszter leans out the bedroom door to see who came in. "Where's Jen?" I ask her. She makes a shushing motion and tilts her head in the direction of the bedroom. "Ah" I say. So we're not alone. Oh well. Eszter rummages around in her room and brings me a sleeping bag and a pillow. I unroll the bag on the floor and lay my sweater over the end. I think to ask for a blanket, but Eszter anticipates it and hands me one. I prepare my bed in a haze of silent confusion.
Eszter appears at the bedroom door again, wearing one-piece pajamas with some cartoon character on them. "Is there anything else you need?" she asks. Once again I tread thin ice as I consider saying "Just you", but wince it back and instead mutter "No, I'm fine, thank you." She switches off the light and gets into her bed with the door still partway open, and reads a book with the light on.
I fidget on the floor. The floor is hard. I move my sleeping bag to the couch. The bag comes unzipped. I zip it up and the zipper breaks. I curse and fiddle with it in the dark for about 20 minutes before giving up. I put in earplugs, and am alone with my thoughts for the rest of the night, wondering where the division is between what could be and what isn't.