I think it’s funny that driving on the Thruway scares me. I’ve done it before. I drove on freeways all the way across the country. But I haven’t done it much since then, more than a year ago. So yesterday I was trying to look and sound cheerful, la la la, no big deal, with my sisters in the car as we headed towards Rochester, an hour away. Every time I switched lanes I felt that jolt of “eeeek…” We made it to Deanna’s safe and sound, though.

Deanna and I have kept each other around since forever, since those mixed-up high school days when having a crush felt physically painful. She talked for a bit with my sisters and, after we left, they commented with surprise: “Wow. She’s really cool.” Well, yeah. I guess since they’re in high school now, they’re actually old enough to get along with my friends.

Driving back in the dark and rain, I told my sisters stories about how Patrick and I met, to stay calm.

Have you ever seen Trading Spaces? Two couples fix up a room in each others’ houses, any way they want to. It sounds a little Martha Stewart-style boring, but it’s good television in the grand tradition of the Price is Right. Super-enthusiastic people have a task, and the show’s hosts have to keep it all running smoothly. Plus it’s also just slightly dorky friends hanging out. There was also a very similar show on Danish television that I used to watch with my host family. My host dad had to narrate the whole thing, of course. “And now that man wants to wallpaper that woman’s kitchen with empty milk cartons… She won’t be happy.”

slow is me
Sometimes I have conversations where, no matter how hard I try, I’m still digesting something surprising or shocking that the other person said ten minutes ago. So for the rest of the conversation, I sound like I’m a million miles away. Really, one piece of my attention is lagging behind the rest, like that kid in gym class who everyone keeps lapping as they run the mile.

just wondering
On the cab ride to the airport last week, I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of a 9/11-caliber disaster happening on my flight. Except I didn’t think about the actual events of 9/11. Instead I thought about all those T.V. movies where the hijackers storm a plane with huge AK-47s or something. And I had this image of one of the hijackers shooting random passengers before doing any “real” damage. And I wondered, what would it be like to be one of the people who gets killed before anything else happens? Suddenly you’re out of the picture. Suddenly the rest of the movie keeps going, and you’re just… well, what would you be? Sure you’d be dead. But that’s not really very descriptive. Do you get to watch the rest of the movie?

cool thing
Deanna used to say that people should wear signs that said who you liked. And if they didn’t like you back, no one would care, and you’d just change your sign. She also thought that we should all come with tags, like laundry instructions, but about our personalities. So people would know what we’re all about. Well, someone else has come up with poem tags.

I am home. This is how I know:

  • So far I’ve only spoken to my father on the phone. Although there’s that added intimacy of local calling, I suppose.

  • My grandfather told the story about how Catholic school gym class meant opening the window, standing up, and breathing deeply. And the nuns pulled him around by the hair behind his ear all the time. We know, grandpa.
  • My sisters spent fifteen minutes composing the most expensive orders possible at the breakfast restaurant that we went to.
  • My mother spent two hours holding five samples of wallpaper up to the dining room walls, and thinking.
  • My Italian grandma called at 10pm to know if I wanted any waffles.

Why is this apartment so much squeakier, creakier and creepier tonight when I’m here alone? Ah, paranoia.

an age-old conflict
I lost the keys to my bike lock. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if my bike hadn’t been locked up at the student center. So I had to call Northwestern’s Department of Facilities Management to come and cut the lock off. A kindly middle-aged locksmith sliced it off with something that created many sparks. And then I asked him about being a locksmith. This question was the, uh, key to the vault. He told me about how he had to be part social-worker for people if they’ve just had their car stolen or house broken into, giving them advice about life in times of tragedy. He seemed to genuinely like locksmithing because he gets to help people. But sometimes, he says, students don’t see the department is trying to serve and protect them. He paused, and thought for a minute. “There’s a deep-seated conflict between the city of Evanston and Northwestern, right?” he began earnestly, without a trace of irony or sarcasm in his voice. “It’s like that. Or it’s like…. the Catholics versus the Protestants. Or the Israelis versus the, the.. Palestinians. It’s the students against Facilities Management.” He continued, “They put quarters in the locks, they steal keys to give to their boyfriends and girlfriends…” He’s right, of course. We always tried to screw the system. Maybe someday there will be peace.

“Accolades or not, we’re all going to end up on that big ol’ Albany Times-Union crime beat in the sky.” — Mark

cool thing
When you have no idea what to do with your life, and you don’t have much hope, and your family’s mad at you and you’ve hung up on both your mother and your sister, gummy peach rings can really cheer a person up.

publicly transported
I’m going to see Sarah. I have to take the bus to U. Chicago. I’ve never taken the bus in the city before. So uh… how do I do this gracefully? A study in the mental processes behind taking the bus.

I get off the El with my hand on the compass in my pocket. I need to be on the west side of State Street, so I read where west is. But the stop is easy to find — a mass of people waits there. Soon my bus pulls up, the 6 bus. It’s impossibly packed. No more people can fit. But they do, limbs and backpacks all fitting together like Tetris pieces. Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze. A bald man in a black leather jacket, talking on a cell phone, chats happily in front of me as I am mashed against his back. We are off with a lurch. My grips slips because I’m wearing wool gloves. I switch grips again and again. A large woman wearing a once-white fake fur hat is taking up two seats and snoring lightly.

I inspect the wire running the length of the bus, along the wall, that I will pull to request my stop. I envision myself pulling it successfully. It seems awfully far away. Will I be able to reach it? What if my reaction time is too slow?

The bald man pulls a Mentos commercial and squeezes between two affable older woman. One of them chuckles at him.

A white man in a knit cap reads a Guardian Monthly. How pretentious, I think. Well, no, actually I think, how cool, he is reading the Guardian Monthly. And then I think some people would *think* he were pretentious.

Another stop, more people get on, they jam into the stairwell. That would *not* be allowed in Copenhagen, I think to myself. They would just speed on by that bus stop full of people. I shift positions, regret my backpack even though it’s small, and switch grips.

The bus starts its express run, no stops, down a highway, and it flies lightly over small bumps, making our stomachs skip. A crunchy college guy smiles at a girl he knows when this happens.

A woman reads a newspaper, with an obituary headline reading “Helped develop Formica counters”. How sad, I think, that that’s the headline of a man’s life.

What will my obituary headline read, I think. Perhaps: “Wish fulfilled, girl gets to ‘sleep all the time'”.

I can’t understand what stop the driver has announced. His words were garbled, perhaps in Portugese. I ask the man reading the Guardian if we’ve passed 53rd Street yet. “It’s just round the corner,” he says in a lilting Irish accent. My eyes beg for specific directions. “It’s either this or the next one,” he continues. The driver announces 52nd Street. “So it’s the next,” he says. I am relieved. I feel like he and I know each other. We have bonded. When I hear the driver say 53rd Street, I jump to pull the wire. The bus grinds to a stop and I call to him, “Thank you! Have a nice evening!” The doors almost close on me, but I push them apart. Ha!

I pull out my compass, wait till the needle stops spinning wildly, and walk west on 53rd.

“There’s nothing like not meeting a plan for knocking your ego to the ground, so make sure you set unrealistic goals for yourself every day. When you leave work, say, ‘Tonight I will work on writing my play, then do my laundry, and finally, clean my apartment. And do 100 situps.’ Chances are, you’ll play Tetris or watch TV until 2 AM, with your hand down your jeans. It only goes to show you’re too useless to get anything done.” — from Ftrain‘s guide to self-loathing