Thursday, July 12, 2007

Around Town

Lately I have taken to walking around town at night. Kind of like Dickens used to walk through seedy parts of London at three in the morning. Only I do not have floofy hair, am not a man, and have not exhibited much literary genius since that mystery story with the oven cleaner, and this town isn’t big enough to have any habitually seedy parts, so it wasn’t actually like that at all.

On Monday the weather was cool and the air smelled like woodsmoke and flowers, and the pretty Victorian houses on Church Street shone yellow light from their windows onto their front gardens. Even the newer, boxier, uglier houses looked romantic, which is a sign I have been reading too much L. M. Montgomery.

True to my foolish human nature I thought it would be nice to keep it all, so on Tuesday I went out around 8:30 and tried to take pictures of it. Oh, what an awful idea.

First of all, I should no longer attempt to take pictures after dark without a tripod. It is not possible to stand still enough. Why I never think this will be a problem, I do not know.

Secondly, while this town may not have seedy parts, every picture I took has a distinctly creepy feel – the whole place is more or less empty at night and looks like a ghost town. An EVIL ghost town.

They suspected there was something living at the bottom of the falls, but it never came up to breathe.

Finally the townfolk passed a resolution to keep the road clear at night so they could carry their pitchforks to any house on Main Street unimpeded.

A portal to the underworld had opened somewhere in the girls’ A-wing locker room, but it went undiscovered because Kimmy always skipped gym.

Number 16 was the last thing he saw before the blow knocked him unconscious.

By the time the zombies reached West Main, they had learned how to climb over fences.

After two hours had passed and he hadn’t witnessed any crimes, he decided to commit one.

As a neighbor said recently, after hearing several unsavory stories about his other neighbors, "It ain't Mayberry anymore."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Around the House

My apartment has a bit of a slopey floor in some places. Namely, all of them. It’s a charming and characterful feature unless you have a chair with wheels. When I first arranged my apartment, I managed to do it in such a way that my desk chair ended up repeatedly rolling me into the bathroom when I was innocently sitting at my desk trying to write. I do not manufacture all of my distractions myself. That one came out of nowhere.

Since I have rearranged everything more wisely, hung some pictures, and acquired some chairs, including The Chair, I thought it might be time for updated pictures since some of you are too distant to be lured into visiting.

The Living Room

In the living room please note the following.

The Chair, featured in a photo I call The Effects of Illness.

This was taken soon after The Chair arrived, before I rearranged the living room. I was extremely happy to see it because, as the picture shows, I was miserably sick at the time, and had spent several days making do with a camping chair. Even a perfectly healthy person wouldn’t like to sit in one of those things for more than an hour, and I’m convinced that the arrival of The Chair saved my life, even if I did have to call later and ask if they could please also send the legs thank you very much.

Literary Action Figures: “Comes With Pen and Writing Desk!”

Jane Austen, a gift from my mother, and Charles Dickens, a gift from Megan, adorn the Victorian Literature shelf. Yes, I organized my fiction by time period. Shut up. Jane, interestingly, has a double-jointed elbow and can’t quite stand up straight. (She drinks.) Charles is very dapper and bends at the knee. They are fantastic and they can dance, although Charles, being sturdier, has to hold up tottering Jane.

The Kitchen

It has not really changed except that I hung up some pictures. Almost all of the pictures in my apartment are of England or France, and of those 100% were taken by Christine who has a very wistful eye and is a evidently a whiz with Hue and Saturation. That horse that is lying down is sleeping, not dead. If it were dead I wouldn’t have framed it.

Of note in the kitchen:

One Reason I Always Wanted to Have My Own Refrigerator

And the Other Reason

That is my father’s handiwork. It was in my stocking last Christmas. Before I decapitated it, it looked like this:

Next to it is my mother’s equally anthropomorphized oven mitt. I kept the reindeer around for months, but the day finally came when I really needed the spoon. Now its antlers are my trophy. I think they lend the place an aristocratic air, à la Glenbogle House. Of course I tell people I shot it myself.

I have no other rooms, so I will leave you with the answer to the burning question you’ve all been asking yourselves: Has the Change of Environment Affected Cordelia’s Delicate Complexion?

No. Cordelia had to have a new mug as a result of the move, because I wanted to use the other one, but she is taking to it nicely. However, I must remember to dust her head more often.

Memorial Day in a Small Town

My apartment overlooks Main Street, so I am witness to every foul-mouthed skateboarder, bad muffler, and thudding stereo that passes by. Having an excellent view of parades does not make up for this, but it does help.

Since my prime piece of real estate is so perfectly situated for parades, I was disappointed to discover that we don’t get them all; we are so far out in the sticks that all the nearby towns have to pool their fire trucks to get enough to make a parade, so they rotate. We get Memorial Day and Fall Weekend, and those other people get the Fourth of July and Labor Day. This is unfair because our town is very clearly the most aesthetically pleasing of all the choices, but I shall generously set that grievance aside, especially since the siren in the town hall went off two minutes before the parade, and half the trucks rushed off to save people anyway. This greatly disturbed the horses, and consequently me, as I waited for one of them to buck his policeman right off onto the pavement.

But nothing so interesting happened.

Some people went by in old, well-polished cars, the mayor walked by waving, Scouts of various persuasions wandered by with their lines badly out of form, and some volunteer firefighters and nine or ten veterans marched past. The remaining emergency vehicles followed, and then the crowd wandered up to the cemetery to hear a speech and some blanks fired.

Assuming nobody was going to deliver the Gettysburg Address of our time, I did not bother to go, so I was still around to notice that fifteen minutes later the main intersection was still blocked off, so I kept an eye on it, and pretty soon the veterans came marching back through and lined up across Main Street. I had no idea why they were doing that until the firemen reappeared, still in formation, and turned the corner saluting. Then the policeman who had been holding up traffic got on his motorcycle and drove off, a couple of passersby continued on their way, the firemen went inside the firehouse, and the veterans dispersed.

So much for the speech at the other end of the street. This was a moment of perfect eloquence.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Sins of Kalamazoo

Some of you have commented on a lack of posts in the past couple of months. My excuse is that I’ve been writing. Ivan’s excuse is that she lives in California, which always explains everything. (Actually she beat me to it, so I have to take that back.) Anyway, here is one of the things I meant to post about...

Way back in May I went to Kalamazoo. My first encounter with Kalamazoo-as-a-concept was several years ago in Washington, D.C., where I met a girl named Emily. Emily told me this joke.

Emily: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
Me: I don’t know, why?
Emily: It was dead.

Emily was from Kalamazoo and had clearly developed her sense of humor as a survival instinct. I have been to Kalamazoo twice now. It looks like Western New York, but scrubbier. As far as I could tell, it has only one thing to recommend it, and that is a sub shop on, I think, Old Michigan Ave. Last year I walked two miles in heels for that sub, and it was absolutely worth it even considering that that particular adventure resulted in my supergluing myself to a desk eighteen months later – but that’s another story. If you are thinking of visiting Kalamazoo, I recommend that you sit down with Carl Sandburg’s poem on the subject (see the title of this post), consider yourself to have been there, and go to Paris instead. Or even Cleveland.

Fearing that the city would have the same effect on me as it did on the macabre little Emily, I would not have gone there voluntarily. When I found myself there eight years after hearing that joke, it was as an exhibitor at the Medieval Institute’s annual medieval conference. Exhibiting at the conference is exhausting and it doesn’t help that getting there is exhausting, too. Kalamazoo is one of those places you can never get to from wherever you currently are. Nobody wanted to drive twelve hours this year, so we flew into Chicago, stayed overnight, and drove a couple of hours around the bottom of Lake Michigan to Kalamazoo the next morning.

Taking off.

I had never been to Chicago before. I have still hardly been there, since I only stayed about twelve hours. However, in those twelve hours I formed the opinion that Chicago is clean and shiny, and the people there seem very friendly. For example, there was a positively effusive fellow on the train who was “the nicest guy you could meet” in spite of the fact that he worked for a loan shark and was at that moment on his way into the city to break some knuckles. I was comforted to know that “if anything happened” he would protect me. Since he was probably the most dangerous person on the train, and he was reading a Dean Koontz novel, I figured my chances of making it out alive were fair to middling. Fortunately by the time he got off I had put him “in such a good mood” that maybe he’d break fewer knuckles. I guess my silence and sullen expression really cheered him up. Thank goodness I was there to serve that cosmically vital purpose.

We arrived at Kalamazoo on Wednesday morning. Any academic bloggers who have been there will back up all the seemingly ludicrous claims I make about this conference. The first year I went, I wasn’t there two hours before I was drinking beer out of the back of a station wagon with a crowd of hairy medievalists. It’s the same sort of thing as when when all the moths converge in, you know, that place, in South America or the Mediterranean or wherever, to mate or something else to do with survival (you can tell I'm really informed on the subject of moths, or was it butterflies), except in this case it’s medievalists, and they go to Michigan, and they seem to be there mainly to drink. It certainly isn’t the luxury that draws them: Sir John Mandeville compares the dormatory accomodations to a Turkish prison, and although I’ve never been to a Turkish prison, I did put in nine months at Goodricke A Block and I can tell you anything that can’t meet to those low standards really isn’t fit for human habitation. Putting a door on the toilet stalls would just be a start.

Even the conference hall is hideous.

I’ve been told it’s supposed to resemble a forest, with the pillars disguised as trees, rivers running through the carpet, and grates representing sunshine hanging from the ceiling. I have never been able to see it, myself.

The conference goes for three and a half days, and they are long, long days. Between sessions we were mobbed by eager book-buyers, but during sessions, it was so boring I started reading our books. Fortunately we just published one on leprosy, which I sincerely and enthusiastically recommended to everyone who came by, and even talked a couple of skeptics into buying it. They won’t be sorry.

The leprosy book opens with magnificently grisly descriptions which, as my longstanding fondness for the plague and more recently schistosomiasis would rightly suggest, were simply delightful to me, and not only that, but useful. There were two of us manning the booth, and the other one, when she was not singing “K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-O what a gal! in Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo . . .” was singing the lyrics to a song she learned when she was little:

There goes my eyeball
Into your highball
Oh my god I’ve got leprosy

I had never had the pleasure of hearing this song before, and I suspect she received a much higher-class education than I did, because I didn’t know what a highball was until I read The Great Gatsby in high school. The truth is I think the song is genius artistically-speaking, but I was forced to inform my colleague that according to the leprosy book, the disease may cause you to go blind, but it will never make your eyes fall out. And later, when her foot was giving her great pain, I was able to assure her that whatever else it might be, the diagnosis could not possibly be leprosy, unless she had been born under the wrong star or was egregiously promiscuous. She was very grateful for my medical advice. I’m not sure why that pony she promised me hasn’t shown up yet.

At the end of the conference we drove back to Chicago and spent several hours at the airport wishing we were dead because we were so tired we might as well have been. I took my mind off my suffering by reading one of the books I picked up, J. J. Saunders’s The History of the Mongol Conquests, from which I learned that horses had to be specially bred to have a spine strong enough to hold a rider. I always thought they’d evolved that way. Amazing.

Ever since reading that sentence about horses in a random lounge in Chicago O’Hare, my brain has forged a connection between Kalamazoo, airports, and medieval Mongolia. While airports and Mongolia are almost universally agreed upon to be two very unpleasant places, maybe just below Limbo and Siberia, the association has actually improved my opinion of Kalamazoo. Really, don’t ever go there. Unless you go for the conference. They serve the wine at five.

Monday, July 02, 2007