A Short Story

Cathy and Larry had separated. It had been nearly two years already. Even after this extended amount of time, Cathy ordered a restraining order against Larry. He called her to ask why. Then he was arrested. A friend of Larry’s posted the bail that night and he went home. But the issue was never really resolved.

On Running

On the way to our cross-country meet at Bristol Agricultural Regional High School — Bristol Aggie to those in the know — I remember reading a Spanish dictionary. This was a practice I never fully mastered and it certainly never benefited me in any meaningful way. That is not to say I haven’t quit it; throughout the years I’ve turned back to various dictionaries in various languages several times since, each time reaching the same conclusion. Tom, who doubled as a varisity footballer and runner, and who used to throw me before each match for his good luck, pulled the book away and, after some introductory conversion, concluded that I should go out and sleep with as many people as would have me. I was, after all, only young once.

Wanting to avoid the topic, Tom, and now Ryan, our captain who had by this point entered the debate on Tom’s side, I turned out-numbered and over-powered to Rachel. She explained that the only word she knew in Spanish was cebolla, onion. Years later, Rachel would earn her degree in Russian literature. Tom followed his own advice, eventually resulting in a pregnancy, a wedding, and a divorce.

Finally, the bus drove over the iron bridge marking the boundary of the school’s grounds. Our coach Mr. Langanthal readied us for the meet. He was an odd man. During practice he once asked me how old I thought he was. I believe he was about thirty-two. Despite his being the school health teacher, rumor had it he smoked. I never had any evidence of this. He did have two children, one boy and one girl. Whiel I can’t prove it, I believe each time I met them they were different children. Everytime the team had an off practice, he forced us into a game of ultimate frisbee. We were never on the same team. Take this as a metaphor for our entire relationship. In fact, I don’t remember anyone who really liked him. Everyone blamed him for Rachel’s knee injury. He had pushed her to run on a bad knee. Then it got worse. Donald [not DJ] was so angry that he spray painted a swatstica on the side of Mr. Langanthal’s car. Langanthal is a Jewish name.

Before the league meet at the end of the season I told him when asked that I had “no expectations” for the race. He was mad. He accused me of always having an excuse, that way, he explained, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I did poorly. I told him that I choose my motto so that I would be even more excited when I won. And I did win, but never at the league meet. I won at Bristol Aggie. But not that year. Later, after Tom and Rachel and Ryan had graduated.

Bristol Aggie has a very distinctive course. First of all, it is full of gopher holes, especially near the river by that rusty iron bridge. Secondly, the smell from the stables wafts through the air, alerting the everyone of the horses well before any could ever see them and causing some runners to gag.

Even now, in the autumn when the air is cold but still heavy from summer and the grass is yellow and scorched, and the crests on the river are solid white like ice rather than foam, my stomach drops and I get those pre-race jitters. I should’ve stuck with soccer instead.

My Laundry

Our laundry room is not connected to the apartment proper. Instead, one must leave the house, walk ten feet outside, and enter through a short, metal door. It is important to duck, a lesson I’ve learned several times. Everytime I go there, I can’t help but pretend I’m somewhere in a small town in England. There is a quiet though constant stream just behind the bushes that separate our driveway from the back lawn of the town library. Our lawn is always green, despite its being late winter. The shade varies from living green to straw yellow-green depending on the season, but it’s always some green. But what gets to me is the stillness and the dampness. The sky is a perpetual grey, even at night. And as I carry my clothes back through that tiny door, the pearl clouds and quiet air transport me to Scotland. It makes me smile. Living with my dad and sister is really nice; and I’m in no hurry to leave. Unless, of course, it’s two and a half weeks from now, and I have left. To live in Missouri. [I may move there temporarily to act as a live-in nanny. My cousins Merry and Hannah have to learn to drive, you know.] Yesterday was Groundhog’s Day. I don’t know what Punxsutawney Phil predicted, but my sister, whose birthday coincides with the holiday and therefore has equal authority on matters of the future on this day, at least in my book, says things are going to continue to be just fine.

Superhero.

Freshman year five girls lived upstairs from me. One was a varsity cross-country runner. In high school she had done some modelling for the specialty magazine Runners’ World. She along with the other two girls in my entryway on the team were among the five best freshmen runners we had that year. Her roommate, Julie, eventually ended up as my blockmate. Both Julie and Megan — the runner had a name, too — wound up in Leverett with me. Julie, of course, through the blocking process; Megan, by transferring in. Most of my freshmen entry did something along the same lines. We stole Rebecca from the Quad. Gabe crossed over from Mather. Matt was a compromise between the two, going from Mather to the Quad. But the superhero wasn’t in Leverett. She, Erin, was in Kirkland. During the first entryway meeting, our proctor started us off with an ice breaker. We were to introduce ourself to the group, stating name, home state, and something “interesting.” As a freshman the standard name/year/house affiliation intro was a practical impossibility. The interesting fact is a killer. Anything that is really interesting about you isn’t the sort of thing you want to offer up for first impressions. Consequently, they’re usually pretty lame as a matter of course. Thankfully, we were spared Two Truths and a Lie. (I’ve killed a man. I have an older brother George. I’m an only child and always wanted an older brother George.) My roommate wowed us with the versality of his name. Backwards it is “oD kraP.” Phonetically, as he told us, it’s funny. Erin, being from the ambiguous South, explained that she likes to hunt ‘gators. But that’s not the superhero part, either. As I said, you can’t give a truly intersting fact during these ice breaker games. Erin’s heart beats abnormally fast creating an electric charge slightly stronger than the average human. For this reason, all of her electronics break within months of her owning them. She went through two alarm clocks and one computer freshmen year. Why? They were both zapped. Indeed, when Erin was thirteen, she underwent a surgery literally to kill part of her heart in an attempt to reduce her electric personality. Think of it! So fantastic is her power that she graduated in only three years, only to continue onto Columbia architect school. Awesome is she who wields the current that flows through her veins. Behold!

Breakthrough.

I would be swimming, but the pool is closed from 215p until 5p weekdays. And rather than relearn the theory of second order differential equations — and I need to — I choose to spend my time with you, dear reader.

I begin, again, with Benoit. Bart, another boy from Leverett also at the lecture, tells me that poor Mandelbrot had been discredited by his contemporaries throughout his life and that he, Bart, not Mandelbrot, was prepared for far worse. I say this only as fact. Forty years later he should be over it. McMullen showed that the Mandelbrot set, his set, is a universal object. Some might say that’s makes it a pretty important object of study.

Last night marked the third and final birthday party this Columbus holiday weekend. Anahita turned twenty-three only hours after Kaitlyn. She reserved the commonspace in Conant for the night. Her mother even came, from Iran.

The commonspace consists of two rooms divided by a short hallway and an adjoining kitchen. In one room the Persian danced; in the other the physicists — Anahita is a G1 in the physics department, you know — they kicked each other or watched the Persians.

Having practiced my moves at Adel’s party on Friday night, I felt more at home with the Iranians than the physicists. Nina Ni came with me; she acted as a natural bridge, being both shameless and a decent dancer.

After she left and quiet hours began, a few of us walked down the street to Cambridge Commons for an end of the night beer. Jonathan, the Quebecois, noted that those of us with beards drank faster than those without. Verena, being the only girl and being without a beard, objected initially but realized that the rate at which she drinks is, as noted, a physical inevitability. Alberto, who is also from Madrid, but bearded and not a physicist, was quite nice. He easily accepted my being half-Mexican. Apparently I’ve grown more picante by means of association. I’ve never claimed to be Irish or more than one-quarter Mexican, though I do entirely believe in the integrality of mi hispanicidad.

Today at lunch, I swapped out a seat at the table with the boys across the hall for the silent sophomores. This time they talked back. All of them, including Mark. David Saunders has told fantastic stories in which Mark speaks, but I had always taken them for lore. It turns out that he has a thick North Shore accent. I tried to play up what little of a Shore Shore accent I have. By the end of the meal Alyssa had slipped into one, as well. I tried to focus mine in Hyde Park. Alyssa picked up a proper end-of-the-Red Line inflection. The polyphony was in itself magical. But the real breakthrough is this: they stayed to chat even after they had finished with their food.

April regaled us with tales of Donald, “the retard on a bike who burned things” in her town on her reservation. Donald also tries to steal cats.

But then it was time to move on.

History Table, Week Two.

At the Old Library Luncheon I was challenged though indirectly by David Slavitt to attend Leverett’s History Table. Not being one to turn down a double dog dare, this was good enough. And so, I’ve cleared my Friday schedule to accomodate History Table.

Now the name is something of a misnomer. We do sometimes discuss history, but only as a matter of course. You see, the regulars at History Table are, themselves, history. Last week Dan Aaron established only two degrees of separation between me and Presbytarian divine preacher Lyman Beecher. This week we learnt that Slavitt, once upon a time as a movie critic, was kissed by Marilyn Monroe. Jay Hooke asked, pointedly, “Where?”

For the most part, History Table is a secret meeting of a few distinguished, old, and mostly balding white men who like to talk about how disgusting their inferiors are and how terribly difficult it is to be so superior to them. I am told that subsequent meetings may include guest speakers, one of whom may have even had a woman’s name. Whether this is the case is not especially clear.

I may have exaggerated ever so slightly. Today’s conversation was monopolized and well rehearsed. At least I had heard it before, at the Old Library Luncheon, certainly. Everyone there is very quick. Jay got me out of a small, potentially embarrassing situation.

When I arrived, and late, I was greeted by a new face. I thought he said his name was Richard, but I can’t find him in the Senior Common Room directory under that. In any event, he asked me which history classes I was taking. But I haven’t taken any history classes at Harvard, I admitted. Funny thing, why else would I sneak into this secret club? Slavitt, he’s quick, immediately noted that all people my age think the world was created two weeks last Tuesday — a comment which eerily echoed something I had said the night before while ranting about intelligent design at dinner — and that nothing mattered before there was Starbucks and wi-fi. I couldn’t decide whether to tell him that I don’t drink coffee. Luckily Jay is a bit quicker than me. “Ah,” he said, “but you know a thing or two about the Big Bang.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I only know about very ancient history.”

Dan laughed; Slavitt smiled and I was in.

After lunch, I called John Boller at UChicago. He’s going to call me back. What with talking to Hubert Bray a few weeks back, I’m starting to feel connected with the larger math community. Perhaps I’ll even work up the courage to email Schoen later today. In the meanwhile, I’m cleaning the room so that I can sit for a very long time thinking about and writing my thesis. Only seven weeks to go.

Fellowships Are Like Hurdles.

The deadline for the Keasbey Scholarship, an award for up to two full years of postgraduate study in England, passed at 12 noon today. Well, that’s not entirely true. The deadline to be nominated to make the real deadline was today at 12 noon. Having gracefully and fully prepared my application essay and activities list last night, I had only to print, collate, and — oh, right — beg the kind people behind the desk at the registrar’s office to release a copy of my transcripts.

Friday afternoon I called to see if was already too late to order transcripts in time for the Monday. Indeed it was. But the rules of physics, I’ve been told, are only an approximation of the truth. Without going into too much detail about Platonist theory and human nature, suffice it to say that I woke up as early as I could — exactly fifteen minutes later than I had intended — showered (I had to wait a while for Anthony, and I didn’t dare use the girls’ shower.), dressed, checked the website to make sure that it would be as difficult as possible for me to get my grades in time. And as luck would have it, the it was just that difficult. Sorry folks, you can’t termbill or charge the three dollar fee. The registrar only likes checks or cash money.

So, it was time to go to the dining hall and grovel before my friends and acquaintances. Christie Padron gave the poor, old beggar the two dollars she had on her. Stephen Koren, after a little banter, agreed to give up one of his dollars, of which he had upwards of three, perhaps more.

Then I ventured out to 20 Garden Street find to face that voice on the phone. The trick is to remain sheepish, respectful, and, above all, to smile and nod always.

“Good morning,” I started. I had rehearsed this part in my mind before I got there. Always start off strong they say. “I called on Friday, and the person on the phone told me that if I ordered a copy of transcripts then that they would be ready by Tuesday the earliest. But my fellowships tutor told me that if I came here early this morning and asked really nicely and told you that I have a fellowship application due today at OCS that you’d understand.” I this may’ve been a lie. But I’ve also been told that if you can’t tell it’s a lie, then it’s not — at least in the world of fellowships. And she couldn’t tell.

“It’s due today?” There was some urgency in her voice. Remember to keep smiling. “I’m going to have to ask my supervisor.”

“Yes, thank you.” Things were going surprisingly well. They might even press the print button in front of me. And after I explained that I didn’t need a seal; no signature was required; hell, I don’t even need an envelope; she agreed to expedite my request.

The lady behind the desk turned to me. She was helpful, but a constant underlying peevishness showed through. When did I need the transcript by? Noon, I told her. To which she asked, and now she wasn’t hiding her discontent, “[After?]Noon; what’s that mean, one, two?”

Smile. It’s important to smile. You’ve got to reasonable. I was understandably vague. Look apologetic. Smile. “Uh, twelve noon.”

“Oh, okay.” And the crisis narrowly averted and that counts for everything.

By the time I got back to Leverett to assemble my packets, my printer had effectively quit on me. Should you connect your printer to a laptop via a USB hub, know that Windows XP installs a new copy of the driver each time you plug in the hub. You’ll need to send the job to the most recently installed copy else it won’t print at all. There, I just saved you twenty minutes which may’ve cut my lifespan a few hours short.

The copy machine at the Super’s didn’t work. I only tried to fix it four times before giving up only to storm the House Office. JoAnn was on the phone, so I was able to sneak by. Maura caught me and gracious offered up her working copy machine. Eda had already fetched for paper clips for me while I kicked the machine in the library and cried. Catherine came out to see what all the hulabaloo was about as I talked very loudly to myself. “Cover letter, activities. No transcript yet. Essay, page one. Page two. Oh, I should mark one of these original. Maura do you have a post-it note?”

After thanking Maura and Catherine both, and telling Maura that I was not suprised that he was doing very well in the fourth grade, I jogged in flip-flops a half mile to see how things were back at the registrar.

My envelope was ready. The transcript is only one page long; there may be a watermark on it, but I couldn’t tell you. My concentrated my efforts solely on finding another, working photocopier. The nice ladies behind another desk pointed me to a dark corner. There another nice lady stopped her copy job to copy my transcripts. I told her that she may’ve saved my life and ran back towards the Office of Career Services still wearing flip-flops.

When I arrived, the secretary at the main desk greeted me, “Oh, you poor man”, and then directed me to the rest room. Apparently it’s good form to towel-off before submitting your application.

On my way out, I remarked to the secretary that I had no idea that fellowships were so hard on your feet. When it’s time to turn in the Harvard-Cambridge, I’ll remember to wear better shoes.

An Admission.

It may have been a bit weird to answer the door in my hospital scrubs, no shirt, and while brushing my teeth just. That Jon Rieman trekked down two flights of stairs in nothing but boxers and white, tall socks to ring my doorbell was weirder, still. He immediately apologized after I opened the door. Wrong U, apparently. I could only point at Luke’s room immediately to my right and do my best look questioning. After all, Luke is his blockmate.

Then he turned away, then back, then asked, “Does Alex live here?”

I pointed informatively across the hall to the other U.

I’m not sure what to make of him, or Keith Lockhart. Regardless, the pool re-opens for the season tomorrow at 7am.

I’m Not a Betting Man.

Yesterday I stopped by the office after my morning swim — I’m taking today off. My left arm needs some time to rest; the usually 500 yard crawl warm-up has been replaced by a full 1000 yards, and that leaves me sleepy-tired. Naturally, Paul was there, and when he heard me rustling through the mail, he called me up to the office. “What are you up to today?” I stared at him a full second for effect. “Math.”

“Can you do math here?” This caught me a little off guard. Next, I figured he’d ask to cuddle. But he didn’t. Instead, he asked and I agreed to watch the office a while, while he stayed. He had intentions, though. Gym intentions. It was nice out, and the office is a slow place with good air conditioning. It only made sense that I should stay there while he went on the treadmill for a few minutes.

But before he left, Paul has bet me, or his brother, or someone — the matter isn’t entirely resolved — to lose twenty pounds before his October 13 birthday.

“How much do you think I weigh?” he asked. Always a dangerous question. I was immediately reminded of that time at cross country practice when my coach asked how old he was. I still tense up just thinking about it. “Uh, I don’t know, 220?”

Paul is a tall man. His old roommate called him big bird. His blond hair and montrous stature do not belie the nickname. “Two twenty,” he said, almost disgusted. He looked down at the scale and then turn to me. “How much do you weigh?”

Since I compulsively weigh myself after each swim, and since I had just swum, I could rattle of my stats stat. “One fifty-five.” “What does that scale say?” Yes, we keep a scale in the office. I’m not sure where it came from. I’m not sure anyone’s sure. But it’s there and Paul was standing on it.

“Two fifty-two.” So I was off, but then again, I’m no good at these things. I didn’t mention just how tall I think Paul is, because I know I’d be wrong. In my mind, he’s just under giant. So that puts him between six-two and nine feet. “Do you think so? No. Read it again.”

It was a game, glad we both understand the rules. “I’m pretty sure it says two hundred fifty-two.”

“No, how about now. Stand directly over it.” So he was going to win. That’s fine. I’m not a sore loser.

“Okay, it says two fifty-four.” “Right,” he asnwer satisfied at having won. “I don’t want to lose twenty pounds and have you claim that I only lost sixteen.” He’s smart. He’s right. Now I can’t do it. But why would I, anyway? I’m still not convinced we’re even betting.

Look at That.

Today is one of those days which feels distinctly New England. The temperature is such that shorts are still appropriate and you can, if you’re not thinking, believe that you can comfortably wear a long-sleeve rugby. According to a reliable weather source, the synoptic forecast is 66 degrees. I think it’s slightly warmer; I broke a sweat walking down Mass Ave after dinner just now, but then again, I am wearing that long-sleeve rugby.

While walking up Mass Ave to dinner, I grudgingly noticed that today was one of those days which might be responsible for the transcendentalist movement. Cambridge is a small town, which believes itself so important as to elevate it to city-status. But the low-lying buildings and tree-lined four lane streets belie its grander pursuits. This is small town New England. You can tell because in almost every direction, a white steeple, probably Congregational or Unitarian, puntuates the horizon.

On the corner of the street, I noticed a tiny lady walking her even tinier dog. Both must’ve been in their fifties, in the respective human and dog year scales, that is. The woman was sporting thick angular glasses and a flamboyant, large hat. Her dog was resting patiently while her owner — I’ve met this dog before — chatted to a new friend she happened upon during tonights walk. I wanted to stop to catch up but decided against it.

This sort of day makes me think that maybe I could spend a few years at Dartmouth. They have days like this with as many steeples and even more trees. Maybe too many trees. It’s hard to know. But I should check it out, the Seven Barrel Brewery is there, you should know.