I don't know if this ever happens to you, but it is often immediately after a stressful period in my life that I get sick. I tend to be able to keep myself together through finals or a play or whatever else might come up, but the moment I have an opportunity to rest and relax all of that calm and collected feeling goes straight to hell and there I am, sick as a dog and steadily working my way through my parent's soup supplies as I burrow into blankets on the couch and blearily watch MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's. As one does. However, considering that the past several weeks have included a whole new level of stress for me, what with the graduation and what have you, it is not really surprising that the valley after such a peak would be especially low. And indeed it is. I think I have strep throat.
Now, this in and of itself would be bad enough, because, you know, strep throat isn't exactly the joyride of illnesses. However, to add insult to injury, the truth is, I'm not actually certain exactly what is wrong with me, because I can't get a hold of my doctor. Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing but the highest respect for the medical profession. My friend Jenny is going to be a doctor, and she is going to be the best doctor ever. My friend Lisa's father is a doctor, wonderful man, lovely human being. There are many fabulous doctors out there, I believe that, I watch Grey's Anatomy and House and everything, and I recognize that this is a very difficult job that requires a huge amount of sacrifice. I even love my own doctor, I really do. DOCTORS aren't the problem here. It's the practice of medicine itself that drives me crazy.
In the space of the last 24 hours I have called my doctor's office four times and spoken to an actual human being once. I have left four messages and only one has led to an actual conversation with my doctor. I might have strep, I might have a cold, hell, I might have swine flu, who can say, really? All I know is, as much as I respect my general practitioner, every single person around her needs to learn how to relay a message. While I wait for the hospital to get it together and enjoy a life lived in flannel pants, my temperature continues to rise and even my parent's new kittens want nothing to do with me. As vacations go, this one is already shaping up to be a winner. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go stare at my phone and try to will it into ringing.
I've met someone. Aren't those the three loveliest words in the English language? They are right up there with "free drinks here" or "it's not cancer". I know the timing couldn't be worse, me about to leave not-Yale forever, or at least until grad school, and everything in my life changing, the economy in shreds, the world in chaos, but some attractions are too strong to be denied, regardless of timing or circumstance. Think of the great love stories of history, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Scarlett and Rhett, Jason and Medea, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, these are the couples of our times! Okay, most of them ended poorly, I'll admit, but the principal is sound. And so I'm not going to apologize or be ashamed of my mad love affair. Passionate, devastatingly attractive, wild about me, what girl could resist? And so, gentle readers, I must let you know. I'm in love with someone. And his name is Handsome Dan.
As you all know, there are a lot of things I dislike about not-Yale. The weather, the attitude, most of the student body, the list goes on and on. But the one element I have never ever had the tiniest little complaint against, the one part of the whole experience that has never caused a drop of haterade to reach my lips, is our mascot. Bold, brave and beautiful, Handsome Dan stands as an icon of not-Yale in all it's glory, history, and Majesty. Not-Princeton may have it's tiger, not-Brown may have it's bear, not-Harvard may have, well, nobody I've ever met really knows what a "crimson" is, but they've got it, and that's all well and good. But we at not-Yale, we stand firm, we stand proud, (insert the obligatory that's what she said joke right here), we stand with the bulldogs.
Since I first matriculated to not-Yale in the far off era of 2005, my life has been peppered with brief but thrilling glances of Handsome Dan, our sweet and cuddly mascot whom I adore. Like a celebrity stalker I have followed him around the campus like the worst sort of creepster, observing his ever drooling move. Of course this particular dog is not the original Handsome Dan, no, no. The first Handsome Dan has been dead for years, though, because this is not-Yale, after all, renowned for it's oddness, we've have the poor animal stuffed and on display so gawking Japanese tourists can take a gander. This shouldn't surprise you, really, considering not-Yale's other little quirks. We've got strange secret societies with buildings titled "tombs" as a result of their complete lack of windows. We've got a bell tower where eager students volley to play pop hits like Single Ladies. And we've got Harold Bloom. Enough said. So it isn't that odd that we have taxidermed an unsuspecting bulldog and displayed it in public, nor is it odd that I have been following his successor, who is, I believe, the 23rd Handsome Dan in a long line of dogs. Depending, of course, on your definition of odd.
While not-Yale's graduation ceremony is a long and arduous affair spanning three days, I don't want to bore you with the details of this event. What I will say is that yesterday, as I stood, decked out in my graduation robes and hat, a black spot in a writhing sea of black spots, confused and concerned, attempting to come to terms with the end of my college experience as I balanced a stupid square hat on my head, I suddenly saw a flash of fur. What was it? A bird? A plane? NO! It was Handsome Dan! Larger then life and panting in the Memorial Day heat. Oh, he was beautiful, he was glorious, he was everything I had imagined and seen in pictures and more. This was the realization of a four year fantasy, to be with him, to have our moment of perfect and unspoiled love, even as the world around me changed. What was I going to do? Let the moment pass, uncelebrated? Of course not.
In a whirlwind of wild hair and swirling black robes I rushed over to Handsome Dan and his handler, a man in grandiose velvet robes and a ludicrous hat. "May I?" I inquired, reverently. "Of course!" he responded, jovially. As I touched my hand to the top of Handsome Dan's velvety little head and felt his drool on my ballet flats, I realized, I could do this. I've struggle through not-Yale for four years, I can struggle on past it. With Handsome Dan by my side, well, what can't I do?
Still haven't found YOUR Handsome Dan? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njXV0GxKC8w
Since my return from Puerto Rico my life has been alternately boring and exciting, filled with long blurring montages and a colorful cast of characters. What have I been doing, you ask? Did I go to war? Did I get cast in a CW television show? Did I embark on some kind of madcap musical adventure with a group of ragtag lovable scamps in tow? Well, no, sadly, I did not. Instead, I was experiencing a ritual ancient as time, yet made new again in the baptizing fire of alcohol. I was experiencing senior week.
In the strange and ambivalent time between finals and commencement we here at not-Yale have two free weeks to do with what we wish. While the first week is often spent on a beach in the south of the United States (and I think I've made my thoughts on that sort of thing perfectly clear), the second week becomes a whirlwind of events designed entirely to get the senior class drunk. Every day a peppy email is sent out to the members of the class of not-Yale 2009 informing them of when and where and what they would be drinking, and how to dress appropriately. While many of these soirees seemed at the most repugnant and at the least mildly annoying, the truth is that free wine and snacks are not things I have ever been able to say no to, so despite my reservations, dragged kicking and screaming, I decided that if this was senior week then I was going to be the platonic form of senior, I was going to rock this, I was going to buckle down, alienate my liver and make some new friends.
As I sipped my drink at one of the many odd events not-Yale's money has been so thoughtfully and consistently poured into, this one located in the Center for British Art, I realized a couple of things. One, as much of a struggle as this place can be, the truth is that there are some fantastic people here, and they only get better after a few drinks. Two, it seems that British painters are only interested in making pictures of dogs, horses, horses and dogs, or dogs attacking horses. And three, I sort of resent the way that all of the events of the past week here at not-Yale have been described as our last possible opportunities to do, well, anything at all. Last drinks, last moments with our friends, last chance dance, everything seems to be positing that we really only have this brief period of time to do those things that you might want to do here, that is, getting hopped up and making some bad decisions. But Lord knows that we will all have those opportunities in our futures, and moreover, I would have to hope that our lives will not be ending on Monday afternoon at around 4pm. Because if they are, well, my life is going to end underslept and over simulated in a sea of cheaply made black robes.
Apparently in a nod to a not-Yale of years past, the police are using horses to protect us during this year's commencement ceremonies. This should come in handy what with this revolution from England I keep hearing about.
San Juan held so many struggles. And I'm not half bad at describing a good struggle, let's get real. However, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, which, incidentally, is how many I typically use in a post.
Three reasons San Juan is a huge struggle:
While not-Yale is a society of, well, secret societies, San Juan is a society of birds!:
Let him go, honey, he just wants to find his tiny baseball team in time for the big game with the pugs!
This...just seems AWFULLY against building codes. What building codes, you ask? EXACTLY. This is in a cemetery, by the way. Yeah. True story.
It is amazing how travel can exhaust you. I don't mean sight seeing or walking around charming foreign neighborhoods and pointing excitedly at locals, though of course that amount of patronizing can be very tiring as well. No, I mean the actual transport. What is it about canned air and terrible food and edited movies that makes you feel like you just ran a marathon? But of course the plane was not the only traveling I did yesterday, oh, no, not at all. The plane was one leg in a long day's journey into struggle. Highlights of the trip? Well, they would include viewing the same film we had seen on the way there, by the way, he might just be into you, apparently there are no rules for this. Additionally, I can say that in an angry moment when Becca refused to take my bag down from the air plane overhead rack I told her and Lisa that our pact to check on each other at the age of 60 should we be all alone and have cats that might want to eat our faces off was OVER. Lisa's insistence that should would never have a cat was irrelevant. I was DONE with these people, done. These people who had followed me to the Caribbean, stayed with me, stood through my odd attempts to see museums and try to make it to 12 without passing out. My best friends at not-Yale, some of the most important people in my life, yes, it was over, just like that.
Until of course a kindly fellow traveler gently removed my bag from the overhead compartment and sweetly murmured to me, I don't think you are going to die alone. As he handed me my bag I smiled and blushed. It's amazing how a stranger assuring you that a cat will not be eating off half off your face after your death can lift your spirits. As Becca and Lisa and I traveled first the shuttle from the Newark airport to the Newark train to Penn Station, then the subway from Penn Station to Grand Central Station, then the train from Grand Central Station to New Haven, all I could think was how happy I was to have them with me. Oh dear, I can't even describe how much struggle occurred between the Newark Airport and the New Haven Train Station. Let me describe it in a few words: Amazingly slow walkers, awkward homeless people on the subway, odd people from Jersey, sushi that seemed like a good idea, three very large cans of Bud Light, a copy of Nylon magazine, rooting drunkenly through ones possessions to find something one hasn't yet read.
Arriving at the New Haven Train station we found a cab driver who, obviously, only spoke Spainish. Yep. The more places you go the more they seem to blend together...
Enjoy the above picture. Clearly in Puerto Rico even the fake heads of people are struggling.
After days of being outsmarted by the weather here in the Caribbean my friends and I finally caught a break. While Friday saw us finally comprehending the rain aspect of the rain forest, thanks so much, it's a trip AND an education, Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. While I stared intently at the sky, daring it to become cloudy again, Becca and Lisa packed up our bags and we hopped the bus to the beach. Finally. I mean, you can go on and on about the beauty of Old San Juan, the historical significance of the island, the forts and the museums, the cultural experiences and the charming homes, but come on, those are just things you talk about when the weather is being mean. In reality, people come here for the beach. Let's be honest. Thousands of sunburned elderly persons in bermuda shorts can't be wrong.
As the bus dropped us off and we wiggled our toes in the burning sand the pumping sounds of reggeton could be felt vibrating through the ground. While Becca and Lisa looked around for a place to settle down, I inwardly groaned. I had forgotten, or perhaps not wanted to remember the cardinal rule of beach attendance here in Puerto Rico, which is of course, don't ever, ever, ever go to the beach on the weekends from May to August unless you want to fight the entire population of the island for a spot on the sand. At 11 am in the morning the beach was already a strugglesome crowded mess, though frankly, I've seen it be way worse. It must be too early in May for most people, and of course, most Puerto Ricans wont make the trip in anything less then 95 degree weather, deeming the 80's too cold. Observing the landscape, I could see that not only was every rule printed on the beach's signboard being broken all at once, but that the life guards were too busy flirting with sunbathing teenagers to bother to save lives. Well, that's a kind of attentiveness, I thought to myself, and slathered sunscreen on Lisa's back to the delight of the middle aged men seated to our left, who were, I can bet you, already on their third beer of the morning. Between the birds and the music and the screaming children I have honestly no idea how anyone's hearing remains intact here.
However, as much of a struggle as the beach on a Saturday can be here, the weather remained calm (amazing how important weather can be, isn't it? I understand really why people put up with California...) and the water, as always, was fantastic. Our bellies full of bacalaito, a fried cod fritter popular here, we lounged in the sun, dodging the occasional football flying by our heads. Sure, the struggle abounded around us, but it's amazing how swimsuits are the great equalizer. Something about the combination of latex and sand makes everyone seem equally ridiculous. Or awesome. You decide.
I woke up this morning with the backs of my legs looking like very oddly shaped twin lobsters. I swear, it's always the silliest places that burn.
Feeling sassy? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSg6mkCFyK8&NR=1 Shut the blinds. It's super danceable.
I don't know about your respective educational experiences, but here at the not-Yale graduating seniors have developed one of the more stupid traditions possible to celebrate the end of their time in academia. That is, until they go to law school. While my parent's and their generation probably indulged themselves in post-finals campains to impeach Nixon and support Chavez, preferably doing either of these things on some form of acid (hey, it was practically legal then) my generation has decided to devote ourselves to the lofty pursuit of drunkeness and herpes, and we flock in droves to the sandy beaches of North Carolina or Florida to get a little lose and make some bad decisions. Now, I'm sure that this event, the senior week beach vacation, is a world of fun for those who enjoy that sort of this. For example, my friend Shaughnessy is having a wonderful time, and well she should, she deserves it, poor girl spent last week frantically researching the life of Albrect Durher. Girl needs some beach time. But for me, hater extrodinare, I couldn't imagine anything less appealing, and so, with two like minded friends, I scorned the world of drunken evenings on the beach and flew to Puerto Rico. Where Lisa and Becca and I could have own our drunken evenings on the beach. World of difference, I swear.
Anticipating a bright and glorious world of sea and sun with attractive young men not burdened by too much clothing serving us mojitos and peeled grapes, I was not prepared for the pouring rain that has been flooding the island for the past week. Now, okay, my expectations MAY have been a little high, I mean, who the hell peels grapes, realistically, but still, I didn't think it was too much to ask on a Caribbean vacation to actually be able to see the sun. Color me shocked. As the rain slammed into the city of San Juan, transforming the charming cobblestones into charming death traps, I looked gloomily at my friends, as if I could apologize for the weather.
Lovely and resilient young ladies that they are, Lisa and Becca just shrugged and asked about indoor activities. So yesterday we found ourselves, after some awkward false starts and a brief trip on the wrong bus, heading towards the district of Santurce, which is a colorful neighborhood spotted with deco-style buildings and friendly homeless people. Having always wanted to do so, I dragged my friends with me into the Museum of Contemporary Art, a large building which looks like a traditional Spanish-style mansion was converted into a space station. In the future. In Sweden. Or something like that. As we walked into the museum we were immediately confronted with museum employee who greeted us and proudly shoved roughly 50 pieces of paper into our arms, none of which was a museum map. We were then lead through the museum. A curious thing about museums here in Puerto Rico is that you have to be let into each room by an attendant, who will unlock the door and follow you through the exhibition rooms, helpfully pointing out any sign you might have missed or neglected to give your full attention to. When you have finished observing and enjoying the art you look quizzically at said attendant, who then will lead you to another door, and let you out. This attended will pass you off to another attendant in front of the next room and then the whole process will begin again. It's like being on a school trip which a set of very strict chaperons. God forbid you do things out of sync, that's the worst offense you can commit here. If there weren't palm trees everywhere I would swear I was in Soviet Russia.
When we woke up this morning the sun was partially visible through the cloud cover. My standards have really slipped, because I almost shouted for joy. I guess you can adapt to anything, given time.
My father has a saying he absolutely adores, as he does all his sayings. Having grown up with these words of wisdom floating around in my head it's amazing how even a mention of one of them will set me off laughing and cringing and wildly turning my head around to see if my older brother is here, listening to this, or if my father is somewhere holding a camera. I have to say, I haven't caught either of them lurking around yet, but that doesn't mean they aren't there...Anyway, my father always says "finish the job", whether referring to a legal brief, a meal or any other task. It's not perhaps the most loquacious or elegant of phrases, but it haunts me, I swear it does. As I was wandering around the not-Yale Art and Architecture Library, were I work, and by work I mean avoid working at all costs even if that means hiding from my supervisors for three full hours, I ran into my delightful friend Charles, who has become famous here at not-Yale both for his charming personality and his glorious, leonine hair. While Charles usually exudes a debonair quality I admire and a care-free attitude I can't help but envy, on this occasion I must say he looked a little, well, shall we say, peaked. He had that look in his eyes that wild animals have when they first are brought into a zoo, that sort of "oh Jesus get me out of here I will tear this place to BITS" kind of a thing going on. Charles, I whispered, what's going on? Charles looked at me, eyes wide with whatever plateau you reach after abject terror, and said, I'm trying to write this paper. It was due last Monday. And I haven't written any of it. I could only think of one way to respond to this. What did I say? Have you seen the title of this blog? STRUGGLE.
Now, I happen to know that Charles is one of those remarkably insanely brilliant young men who is going to, in the next 48 hours, write an award winning essay and all will be forgiven. Nevertheless, it amazes me that I meet these people here at not-Yale who are so deeply smart and yet give new meaning to the term eleventh hour. Or, I suppose, in Charles' case, whatever a week past the eleventh hour is. Me, I don't play that. I am, in fact, the girl who turned in her last paper of he college career this morning, despite it's actually due date being the twelfth. Yeah, I'm that person. The one you want to shoot. But, in my defense, this isn't because I WANT to be this girl, it's because I HAVE to be. I have, what we in the Judaism business would call, a compulsion. I am not a last minute person, I am a week before person, because if I don't write the paper or prepare the presentation or study for the test way before any self respecting college student would I would be a crumbling mess of struggle blubbering and stress eating like it's my job. I have been drilled by my father, and I always finish the job.
Of course, this means that I am now stuck in not-New Haven with nothing to do for the next several days. Charles may have a point.
Song that makes the day seem better? Eric Hutchinson's Rock and Roll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h4YrBBuer8
Strangely enough, I actually tend to enjoy the act of writing a paper. For one thing, its much better then taking some sort of a test. An essay you can control, you can dictate, you can spend as much time on it as you want/need/have, it's a good deal. Tests make me itchy, all those people, all that pressure, it's practically contagious, and then there's the teachers, trotting around the room, peering, lurking, it's very uncomfortable. And all you are really doing is regurgitating information and working against the clock and wondering when this can possibly end and whether you will get carpal tunnel syndrome immediately afterwards and it's a very odd experience if you think about it. But papers, papers are great, you can relax, grab some coffee, dance around your room for a while as a study break, it's some fun. And typically I'm not bad at motivating myself on through it, but this year, well, this year was different. This year I just could not even deal with it. This year, I was going to have to try something new.
So, when my father announced his intention to come up to not-Yale and take some of my things back down home with him, I decided to hitch a ride as well. Back in the arms of my familial home, warm with the glow of not-Philadelphia and it's thunderstorms, I was ready to get some writing done. Right?
Well, sure. Eventually. At some point. The truth is that while I did indeed write what I had to get written, it was sort of a huge struggle to get there. All of my laundry was being washed, finally, and my only options for covering included several sweat-style outfits and various awkward looking t-shirts. Awesome. Decked in my KGB: Still Watching You (because come on, you know they totally are) and the sweatpants my father stole from my roommate by accident, I sat on my couch surrounded by books with titles like "Ibsen and his thoughts and feelings" or "The Surrealist Modernist Symbolist Soviet Reading of Strindberg" and trying to formulate this mythical being called a thesis from all the craziness all around me. It was deeply attractive, I can assure you. And there were times when I was absolutely certain that this just wasn't going to happen. I was just mired in the odd and wondrous world of Ibsen and Strindberg and their craziness and never going to escape. I was all for pulling up a chair and making a day of it. I figured, whatever, I'm already down in struggleville, I might as well set up shop.
However, some self-preservation instinct or the spirit of Strindberg himself, probably because he couldn't deal with my feminist attitude, decided to lead my poorly-clad self into inspiration, because I did get the writing done, and I must say, it's not half bad. As I rode the train back up to not-Yale this afternoon, curling my body into as small a ball as possible to avoid contamination from the rather smelly if kind young man who had taken the seat next to me, I was satisfied. I was also, for the first time in several days, fully and well clothed. Thanks, Strindberg. I owe you one.
Though my usual routine includes sweating on an elliptical machine daily I seem to have run out of socks lately due to my complete lack of interest in doing laundry. Therefore, I decided to be creative and do something different. But what? you might ask. Good question, gentle reader! Well, yoga was out, as I had neither the time nor motivation to head on over to the yoga studio here in not-New Haven and deal with the veiled hatred in the looks of the regularly attending yogis who can't deal with my intrusion into their healthy stupid flexible circles. So what was a healthy(ish) minded person to do? Well, the obvious choice. Go to the gym and go swimming.
Now, I used to be an excellent swimmer. I was on the swim team in high school! Though I once competed in this sport, something I think about and wince, I still look back on that dark and chlorine tinged time as a fairly positive one, and even having been made to do it for hours a day hasn't murdered my love of being in water. I've always been a water oriented person, which is useful because I'm also a huge struggle of a pyromaniac, and having water on hand has always been a great help to me. As a baby I loved the ocean, and to the day I look forward to a nice bath. So I didn't think it would be that hard to do a couple of laps in the Olympic size pool that not-Yale just has, lying around, like Fulbright Prizes. Oh how misguided I was.
For one thing, thought I do workout almost daily, anyone will tell you that swimming is some of the best exercise you can do. It's full body non-weight bearing strength, stamina and cardio training. This might be why I ended my laps breathing deeply with arms that felt like lead pipes. I mean, DAMN is that a workout. And apparently I was not the only one who felt this way. All of the people around me were moving slowly and taking breaks and mumbling...oh, wait, that's because they were all in their SEVENTIES. Yes. That's right. This was apparently geriatric hour here at the not-Yale swimming poll, and I was right in the middle of it. Swimming with the elderly, the Leah Franqui story. As I finished and prepared to get out of the pool, a contemplative looking older gentleman with a quiet demeanor, who looked at me gravely and said, "The hardest part is getting in". How right you are, sir, how right you are. OR the hardest part could be the actual swimming. I'm just saying.
As I walked down the street, glowing from my swim and the endorphins and contact high I had gained from being the only young person in a room full of very old people, I realized that people were looking at me oddly. Smiling it off, trying to remember that haters gonna hate, I strutted back to my room. Where I discovered that I had huge red rings around my eyes from my goggles. Of course I did. Isn't that perfect.
Drinking my tea this morning I realized that my hair still smells like chlorine. I really need to get some more socks.
Leah Franqui is a fairly interesting person/director/writer/reader/eater/drinker. She likes ugly dogs and dislikes her hair in the morning. She's a sucker for environmental causes and plays hardball with deals on chewing gum. She is a struggle.