Mudd Library café
Sunday, May 29 2011
location: Burton Hall, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
I had earplugs in my ear canals last night, and it made all the difference in the world. If there were fireworks, I didn't hear them.
The weather had been cool when we arrived on Friday and significantly warmer yesterday. Today all indications were that it would be a scorcher, so when we set out this morning, one of the things Gretchen and I hoped to find for me was a pair of shorts (or, as I call them, "short pants"). We got our morning coffee at Slow Train, and for breakfast we also got a lentil pub pie and a dish of hummus and pita. The pub pie was delicious (and added a pithy new expletive of excitement to my vocabulary) but Gretchen thought the hummus had been made from a powder.
There's a thrift store called Ratsy's on South Main that we walked to, but it was closed, so we ended up at an more upscale store selling things like socks made from bamboo fiber and teeshirts dyed with all-natural pigments. For some reason we got sucked in and I bought a high-quality $28 teeshirt embazoned with an international recycling symbol comprised of bicycles. The song "Imaginary Lover" played from the store's media system and I asked Gretchen if she remembered it. She did not, indicating that my three years of seniority makes a real difference with regard to having heard 1970s pop music played repetitively on the radio.
Eventually Ratsy's opened and we could get in to look around. They had some great stuff (including a beautiful old wood cookstove for only $300), but no men's shorts (and I had no interest in joining Mr. Kilty in his one-man jihad against male pants wearing in Oberlin).
For dinner, Gretchen and I went to Weia Teia, which looked to be the fanciest restaurant in all of Oberlin. Gretchen had seen tofu on the menu, so it seemed promising, and the prices weren't any higher than those at, say, a midtown Kingston diner. We ordered the two tofu dishes: one a salad and the other a burger-style mushroom sandwich. While that sandwich didn't end up being strictly vegan (it contained some sort of creamy green sauce that could have easily been made vegan), it was all very delicious. I also had the Edmond Fitzgerald, a porter-style beer produced by Great Lakes, the local Cleveland microbrew (which I remember vaguely from the end of my student days, during the very beginning of the microbrew revolution). I'd been unimpressed by the Great Lakes lager, but the porter was pretty good. (Sadly, the IPA revolution has not yet reached northern Ohio.)
While we ate, I discussed with Gretchen something that has gradually dawned on me and which had been brought front and center with this trip back to Oberlin: how abandoned I'd been by my parents when they'd sent me to Oberlin. Unlike everyone else I knew in college, they hadn't taken me to see colleges before I selected one, and neither of them had accompanied me when I set off for college. I arrived in Oberlin bewildered, excited, and with no system of support except for the one provided by the college itself, of which I was too self-reliant and shy to take advantage. At the time I'd thought everyone else was being spoiled by my parents and I didn't have the perspective to know better. It's hard to thrive in college without parental support, and eventually I came to whither. I got what I needed out of Oberlin, but that didn't include a diploma. Oberlin helped me realize there were other people out there vaguely similar to myself and that it was possible to live in a community surrounded by like-minded souls. That realization ultimately led to my life in Charlottesville, which prepared me for my life in California. Of course, I also met Gretchen in Oberlin, and the dividends from that acquaintance keep rolling in.
We wandered through Allen Memorial Art Museum (where nearly all the art had been taken down for building renovations) and through a few art studios. At 1:30pm we went over to Harkness because Gretchen hoped the OSCA president would be part of an OSCA walking tour that had been scheduled, and she really wanted him to get a chance to meet me (I, on the other hand, was not so enthusiastic). It turned out, though, that the walking tour was being led by a couple women whose actual OSCA jobs are "historian" (or so I remember). The tour began in the Harkness dining room and was mostly attended by alumni who had once eaten in Harkness, and they were mostly older than us. Our guides encouraged us to tell any stories we had of our days in Harkness, and in addition to the familiar yarns of nude dish washing crews and okara wrestling, one woman told us that Robert Krulwich (who, among other things, cohosts Radiolab) was himself once a wild and crazy Harkie eager to fuck shit up. Supposedly his big thing back in the late 1960s was belching very loudly.
Gretchen and I broke away from the tour as it left Harkness and went off on our own to Mudd Library, where Gretchen was eager to show me yet another thing the spoiled little shits of Oberlin get that we didn't have when we were students: a café right there in the periodical section of the library. You can order a latte and then leisurely read the latest print edition of Pravda or The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. The idea is brilliant and I'm sure the café makes a shitload of money. I guess it's just as well it didn't exist back when I was a student; remember, in those days I couldn't do or have anything that wasn't free. Indeed, it's a little troubling to see the many ways that now exist for rich Oberlin students to flaunt the fact that they actually have spending money. Twenty years ago it was mostly impossible to distinguish rich students from poor, partly because the rich were embarrassed about their privilege and concealed it by wearing clothes bought at thrift stores and acting as if they were raised by a homeless unmarried woman.
Later in the afternoon, Gretchen and I went to a wine tasting down at the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. The tasting was being held in the great room near the pond of what might have recently been toilet water. We hadn't bought a ticket and the event was sold out, but Gretchen convinced the ball buster at the door that all we wanted to do was say hello to a friend. The friend in this case was Evan Spingarn, who had been good friends with a guy named Mikey back when Gretchen and Mikey were roommates in Harkness (Spring, 1989). Later there had been an off-campus house I remember referring to as "Spingarn House." These days Evan is a oenologist, and today's wine tasting was his baby. Though the only thing I remembered about Evan was his last name, when I went off to the ecobathroom, he told Gretchen that on one occasion I stole his bike and that he'd retaliated by stealing my bike. Of course, back in those days, "my" bike wasn't technically "mine" either.
The wine tasting ended up being the go-to event of the reunion. It was a sellout crowd through which it was impossible to move. I ran across a couple people from the class of 1989 and 1988 who had come to "crash" this reunion. One of these was a guy named Phil who could remember antics from my freshman year, back when I was still a skinny bewildered wallflower and not given to doing anything more memorable than taking delivery of my mother's homemade mead.
We drank a little wine but didn't stay long because Gretchen wanted to go to an open house at the English Department. So I went back to Burton for another beauty nap.
When I next saw Gretchen, she was upset because she'd had the time wrong for the open house and had completely missed it. She'd ended up going back to the wine tasting and getting her drink on.
For dinner, Gretchen and I went with Gilley to Tooo Chinoise, the place where one can order pad thai (among other things). Our food ended up being a bit too sweet (actually cloyingly so), though it would have been great had it been less so. Another observation applies to restaurants in Oberlin generally: what is up with the TGI-Fridays-trained waitresses? At both Weia Teia and Tooo Chinoise we had chirpy young waitresses wearing too much makeup who introduced themselves with their names and the phrase "I'll be your server today." These waitresses were clearly not Oberlin students and their mechanical cheerfulness was a constant annoyance. Maybe it works for some people in some places, but it seems completely wrong for Oberlin.
When we spilled out onto College Street again, we were soon caught in one of those static reunion knots, joined by first one and then another long-lost friend. None of these were people I'd known in the deep past, but I felt like friends with some of them anyway because of the good times we'd shared only yesterday. After the passage of more than a half hour there in front of Tooo Chinoise, a group of us wandered out into Tappan Square, which was being illuminated by many dozens of paper lanterns (this is a customary ritual on the night before an Oberlin graduation; I believe it is called "Illumination"). A thunderstorm had threatened to ruin the whole thing, but there must be just enough abstemious Oberlin students to placate the angry God of Abraham, because the clouds had thinned out and fled. The only real problem with Illumination this year was that, with the exception of the brick-paved walkways, Tappan Square was a bog. Since nobody likes to walk through mud puddles, everyone was crowded together on the walkways, where there wasn't nearly enough room for the people who had turned up. It was so unpleasant that one of our new friends suggested we go to Agave Burrito for shots of tequila. Remembering our recent time in Rome, I proposed a hypothetical café where one just stands at a bar and does shots of tequila, much like one does shots of Espresso in Italy. "That's exactly what it is!" my new friends exclaimed. And sure enough, Agave Burrito has a bar with no bar stools where one can stand and do shots of tequila. It seemed very civilized in a way one seldom encounters in the non-Portland bulk of the United States. Amusingly, in Oberlin, three shots of top-shelf tequila can be had for only ten dollars.
Eventually Gretchen and I returned to Burton, where we sat outside with others at picnic tables. Each picnic table was attached with chains to four chairs in such a way that the chairs from one table could not be relocated to another. In a reunion situation, where unspecified numbers of people tend to crowd around only two or three tables, the result is that four lucky people get to sit while everyone else had to stand. A couple people we didn't know randomly sat down at our table and we ended up having such a good conversation that Gretchen later befriended them on Facebook. [REDACTED]
Speaking of Facebook, the sun hadn't even set this evening when we heard via our Facebook friends that the Oberlin College Facebook entity had posted a picture of what looked like Gretchen and me standing in front of Harkness earlier today.
At some point someone passed the guy at our table a joint and, after taking a puff, he tried to pass it on but could find no takers. In the end I volunteered to take it and then we just snuffed it out. I guess that says something about the kind of crowd that comes to Oberlin (yes even Oberlin!) reunions.
Gretchen and I would be leaving tomorrow morning, and since we wouldn't be seeing most of these people again, the prospect of turning in for the night seemed daunting. How to say goodbye to so many people? One guy came by our table to say goodbye and we didn't see him actually entering Burton until over an hour later. I joked to the people at our table that the only way to leave a reunion was to sneak off, and they agreed, saying maybe a bathroom excuse would be the best way to cut out. When I finally did turn in for the night, I said goodbye to only two people (one of them being Gilley) and then I tip-toed off.
The ceiling of Allen Memorial Art Museum, which will soon be cleaned.
A mural that has been part of Harkness since before my time.
Someone added an octopus and some colorization.
Gretchen (floral sundress) and me (greenish teeshirt and black trousers) with the other OSCA tourists in front of Harkness. Picture by Ma'ayan Plaut, posted in Oberlin College's Facebook photo gallery.
Me at today's wine tasting. I'm the one in the greenish teeshirt in the left background. Picture by Abby Nardo, posted in Facebook.
Me screwing around late this afternoon with my camera and the webcam on my netbook.
Unusually right wing sentiments tonight on one of Tappan Square's several "graffiti rocks." I know it's Memorial Day tomorrow, but the guy who died for the sins I would one day commit had nothing to do with it.
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