11 December 2011

Atypicalgojiday (nonfiction)


I was disoriented. There was no reason for it to make THAT NOISE, tapping a loud rhythm with syncopated beats:

Chuk, chucka CHUCK, chucka CHUCK.

And then the fake guitar slid in alongside the percussion, and SO LOUD! IT WAS GOING TO WAKE UP SAM! I leaned forward and picked it up, then dropped it, then picked it up. I slid my finger across the screen.

It stopped.

The morning light squeezed in through the blinds, and I squinted. I knew I had to get up for something, or at least I had thought so the night before—or I wouldn’t have set my alarm—but I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what it was (or what I had been doing the night before, for that matter).

I stumbled out of bed.

The shower head stuck out from a black hole in the yellow fiberglass wall, a hole that was at least twice as big as it needed to be. A metal ring fit snugly around the pipe and then spread out to cover the hole, giving the appearance of a finished product. But this ring wasn’t fastened to the wall or the shower head. It just sat there on the pipe, which was flat and stuck straight out for the first inch and a half, and then it sloped downward toward the spout, where the whole fixture got wider and sprayed a shotgun spread of hot water.

Like every morning, a tarantula, who lived behind the fiberglass wall, pushed on the metal ring. It slid past the inch and a half of flat pipe, down the sloped part, clinked against the shower head, and stopped.

It sent a chill up my spine.

I turned and looked at the gaping hole. It was dark inside, and the tarantula had already pulled his leg back out of sight. I pushed the ring back into its spot, covering the hole. The chill creeped down my fingertips and into my spine again. Suddenly the world was crystal clear—Oh, yes; today is the last day of my fiction class. The semester of doom is finally coming to a close, and here we are—Shelob, you and me—at the end of all things.

I dressed, grabbed the purple jug of Goji juice from the fridge, and headed out the door with my long wool coat and plaid scarf.

The class sat around a long white-oak conference table, which was covered with all sorts of edibles: cinnamon rolls, pumpkin muffins, cake balls, krispy kremes, hot wassail, and a lot more. I loaded up one of each thing, and, as I ate, the sugar pounded me back into disorientation.

“Who brought the Goji juice?” This was the professor who had rejected my application to the MFA program—“We regret to inform you... Sincerely, Professor Tuttle.” Yet now, eight months later, I was in his fiction class, an MA student masquerading as a creative writer. This was the last day of a cautious semester, in which I had been constantly intimidated (though I’d relaxed ever so slightly because of his frequent witticisms).

“Mine,” and I boldly raised my hand from my chair midway down the conference table—not too close and not too far, as usual.

“Can I just tell you this without you getting offended?”

“Yes,” I nodded, though I didn’t really know the answer to his question.

“Goji juice tastes like the syrup of a melted popsicle.”

His comment wafted across the room, and settled on me. He meant it as a joke—one surely based on truth, as, they say, all jokes are. I don’t think I felt offense. It might have been shame. Or embarrassment. Sometimes those two are hard to distinguish. I felt like a loser; that was easy enough to tell. And I felt stupid for feeling that way too—for not just mentally letting it slide.

“Would you not be offended if I said I liked melted popsicle juice?” asked Whitney, and everyone laughed. And, luckily, the conversation continued around my swirling head, and I looked at each person in the room to make sure they weren’t looking at the me—at the boy who couldn’t get into the writing program and who also couldn’t pick a decent juice from the store shelves.

Next we critiqued Steve Haney’s (one of my peers’) “An Absent Father,” a 7-page piece about a little girl who couldn’t hear or see her own father—even when they were standing next to each other, and even though she could hear and see everyone else just fine. I didn’t make any comments. Steve, in my opinion, was Professor Tuttle’s most loyal follower and was also, incidentally, the best writer among us.

There was a lull in the conversation, and Steve graciously stood up with his red plastic cup. I’m not sure who in the room noticed, but he selected the Goji juice and poured himself a drink. He sat back down and took a sip. I glanced at him, then away, then back at him, then away. I could see no apparent reaction—neither of disgust or of pleasure.

He set the cup down on the table.

My heart sunk.

He was pretending it wasn’t disgusting.

Truth is, it was always hard to critique Steve’s nearly flawless stories. You could tell he’d already done several drafts, with huge, slashing revisions (unlike the rest of us, who struggled to complete even one draft in time). I did have one small comment though: My problem with his story was that he didn’t explain the rules of the “magical” element, and so as I read I was continually asking questions which his story never answered. But I didn’t say so out loud.

He reached for the red plastic cup and took another sip.