Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I woke up in a panic at 7:43 am. I realized it was Tuesday. I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30. At a normal time of day it only takes about 20 minutes to get to school, but at rush hour Lake Shore Drive fills up. If I don't leave the house by 7:55, the traffic gets too heavy to make it to class.
Margo, darling popped her bird's nest head from under the covers and blinked at me, unbelieving. Then she ran to the kitchen to make me an emergency cappucino for the road. I dove for the shower, threw on a sweater and black jeans, grabbed a banana, and ran for the car. It was 8:05.
I was ten minutes late, but the students were sitting quietly. Many of them had come from the dorms. Some had been up for hours already. The pastry chefs. One walked in even later then I did. She made a funny face when I announced that next week would be movie week. I figured I'd give them a break from the monotony of discussing how to write research papers by actually watching documentaries that perform research and evaluation as part of their overall message. I chose "Supersize Me" because of its links to issues of food, nutrition, class, and politics. I chose "Fahrenheit 911" because of its easily identifiable political positions around the current war.
Later the student who had come in late lingered with her pastry toolbox. It is big and yellow, and in it are tape measures, a whole set of pastry caps, aprons, pastry bags, and other stuff I can't remember. The student is genial and slightly androgenous, with one of those big open faces that smiles naturally and often. She doesn't want to watch "Fahrenheit 911." She's just come back from Iraq and she doesn't want to think about it.
She tells me she and her fiance met over there. She thinks he probably has to go back over in May. She doesn't want him to go. She herself could get called back at any time because she still has time on her contract. I ask her how old she is, and she tells me twenty-one. I ask what happens if somebody is in school, in the middle of a quarter, and they get called up. You drop out, she says. You drop everything and go and come back to fix things when you can.
I ask her about the armament controversy, about trucks sent out with no protection and soldiers without body armor, and she laughs at the folly of installing door protection all around the outside of a vehicle that has no reinforcement underneath to soften the explosion of driving over a land mine. She is smiling when she says this, and her eyes are not the least bit cynical.
I tell her why I am showing the film and ask her if she talks about her experiences much with her friends. She nods to the row where a clump of pastry chefs sit together every day in my class, and tells me that they know her stories. She apologizes for being late. She tells me she doesn't live in the dorms because she got tired of living with women in Iraq. She laughs about her misguided attempts to move back in with her parents when she got home from her tour. I make a lame remark about how that is also a universal experience shared by most college students, and she nods politely, but we both know her experience is nowhere remotely the same.
I think about her fiance and muse about how their heterosexual domesticity must be a blessed respite for them, a private world outside the mandatory public homosociality of military service and school dormitories. So different from my domesticity, for me a private world outside the mandatory heterosexuality of offices, schools, public spaces. I tell her she can leave if the film gets to be too much. She nods and smiles and hurries off with her big yellow toolbox to her next class. I think about what it must be like to know you have until May together before you separate, not for a week at a time, or even a month, but for months on end. Months that could be forever if somebody drives over a land mine.
This morning I had the leisure to peruse the newspaper, and read a story about former employees of Enron still looking for jobs. One 50-year-old man rejoined the Marines, hoping to go to Iraq. He claimed he had patriotic reasons for wanting to go, but acknowledged that before he joined he had eaten Ramen noodles regularly to help make ends meet. Now he trains soldiers and lives, in the winter, in an oceanfront house. Come summer, when the rents go up, people who can afford it will move in, and he will go elsewhere, perhaps to Iraq. Right now he is happy just to have a meaningful job, and because his 9-year-old daughter can visit him on weekends. I imagine him making her a sandwich on a Saturday, looking out his window at the grayish ocean, happy to make a home with her, however fleeting, out of the little minutes and hours.