Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Random Madison Question

To my fellow TAs: anyone out there use GHC and wear glasses? I'm trying to decide if it'd be cheaper to buy glasses at the clinic, or go someplace like LensCrafters. Any thoughts or insights appreciated.

Also, if anyone knows how I can convince my landlord that it's his responsibility and not mine to pay for maintenance on the freakin telephone wires, please let me know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Brian and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

You know that your day is going to suck when you wake up shivering on the floor of your friend's office after four hours of sleep with the stale aftertaste of a cigar in your mouth and an appointment at the mechanic's to prepare for.

Some background: Yesterday, I was homeless, and had been so for about 24 hours. All my things were in my new apartment, save a few scattered throughout my car and on TGD's floor, but I could not officially inhabit my new space until the 15th, due to the persistant inhabitance of the subletter. That night, after moving all morning (on about 5 hours' sleep), several of us went drinking and cigar smoking, which was awesome. I got loopy drunk, due more to the exhaustion than the drinking, as I only had 3 drinks (well, five including the two scotch martinis before we left, but to be fair I spilled half of those). But since we were at a cigar bar, we decided to go with the pure stuff, so I had me some very nice Basil Haydens and a glass of Macallan 12 year. We were out till 2, then stayed up till 3 to sober up a bit. When I went to sleep, it was pleasantly warm in the office, and I had my comfy comfy air mattress.

What I did not have, was a blanket. That really came back to bite me in the ass when I woke up at 7:00 and it was pouring down rain and it was freezing cold in the room. So I went to the Mitsubishi dealership to get my air system repaired (apparently it was so encrusted with gunk that the switches and whatnot couldn't even move). I was already irate with these people because they hadn't called me to let me know the parts I ordered two weeks back had come in (as they promised to do after taking $150 of my money). So it was with no small amount of shock that they told me it would take five hours to replace these parts. Apparently they had to pull out the entire dashboard to do so. Sadly, the dealership is far from my usual haunts, so there was nowhere to really go, and it was pouring down rain. So I sat, in their crappy waiting room, for four hours, attempting to read, and inadvertantly watching Live with Regis and Kelly as well as The View, both of which reconfirmed my hatred of morning television, and talk shows in general. Furthermore, as I was hungover, with cigar breath and taste in my mouth, I was particularly disgrunteled to discover that I didn't have any bills smaller than a $20, and thus the vending machines, not two feet from me, were woefully off limits.

After four hours, the rain stopped. Going slightly mad at this point, I decided to walk underneath the Beltline and go to the Culver's on the other side for lunch. Which was not bad, particularly since I've been dieting and thus not eating fast food for about 3 months now (all dieting restrictions went out the window during moving time, as I had no food and no patience to look for healthy alternatives). Unfortunately, as I began to eat my burger, it began to pour again. The dealership was a good 20 minute walk away (despite the fact that I could still see it out the window), because the closest crossing under the highway was that far. And I had no umbrella, as the two I normally keep around me were both in my car (the irony of which was not lost on me). So I waited at Culver's for an hour and a half, nursing my diet pepsi and cursing the heavens. (Seriously. We had a drought for two months. It couldn't stop raining for 25 minutes more?) Finally the rain stopped, and I made it back, to see my car sitting outsite, all ready to go. Again, they had not called my cell to let me know when it was done, as they had promised. For all I know, the car had been sitting there for three hours).

Of course, for the sheer time it took to pull my car apart and put it back together, I ended up paying over $500. Only to discover, as I was driving along the highway, happy as a clam, that the damn air system still didn't work. Turns out that the motor of the blower is on its last legs. Which is ironic, considering when I took the car in originally, I said I thought the motor of the blower was busted, and they should look at that first. How these professionals managed not to hear the deafening rattle it put out is beyond me, but I basically ended up spending about $775 to fix a problem that didn't even fix the problem I took it in for. Realizing their stupidity, they agreed to put the new motor in for me at no charge, once it gets here. Sadly, though, that won't be till at least next Monday, which means that I will be driving in St. Louis weather (highs in the 100s, lows in the 80s) with a busted air conditioner this weekend. Again ironically, this is the very thing I took my car in to avoid. I could live without a/c in Madison, as I never drive far and it isn't all that hot. But in St. Louis, especially on a 6 hour drive, it's a death sentence. Oh well, at least I paid a shitload of money to get screwed and then sweat a lot.

By this time, I could finally move into my new place, which I did. I've since been unpacking and organizing, which has been going well. The only downside is that none of the phone jacks work properly, thus negating the dsl and phone service I'm spending yet more money on. So I have no internet connection, which for me is like a slow kind of death. Hopefully this will be taken care of while I am out of town this weekend, or at least set in motion to be remedied at some nearby future date. But considering that AT&T is probably up to their eyes in service calls (considering everyone moves right at this time of year here in Mad City), I'm not holding my breath.

Oh, and there are lots of cracks in the paint in my bedroom. I had wanted to paint over these, but my landlord seems to feel his only contribution needs to be a single can of paint, left outside our door. No rollers, pans, cloths, brushes, or anything. We're going to have words. Unless the cracks drive me mad in the night.

Still, I've managed to survive the past two days for pretty much one reason. I just finished reading Everything is Illuminated; or, as I'm now calling it, The Awesomest Book in the History of Books. One of the plus sides of moving is that I don't have time for focused work, so I've put my proposal on hold for a week (considering my advisor told me to take the month of August off, I don't feel too badly about this move). As such, I've been reading for pleasure again, particularly books others have recommended. Finished Atonement (very good, even if it is British and made me deal with the fact that British Lit. is fundamentally different than American Lit., my professed love), finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (quite good, particularly if you have any interest at all in comic books), and then yesterday at the dealership I started Illuminated.

Now, as a scholar of literature, I've discovered I have different modes of appreciation for literature. There are the books you recognize as great and appreciate both aesthetically and intellectually (Atonement was like this for me); there are the books you see as stylistically or technically innovative, or genreically innovative, and thus merit appreciation (for me this will always be Ulysses, just because I can get no sense of poetry from it, a statement I know many of my readers will profoundly disagree with); there are books you see as important or enjoyable because of the way they deal with a particular issue or topic (much of my reading of Vietnam War fiction falls in this category, though the best transcend it); and then there are the books you see as important in some other way, but aren't really all that good (i.e. you'd never read them outside of a class or for a dissertation).

Then there are the books like Everything is Illuminated. Reading a book like this is akin to a sucker punch to the gut. The book takes your breath away with its beauty, its brilliance, its emotional or spiritual or intellectual resonance. You don't read these books; you consume them. Even if you take breaks between sections, or go off and do other things, you still feel like you're devouring the book when you return to it. Then, when you're finally finished, you can't do anything else for the day, at least not with any degree of mental focus. Finding books like these made prelims summer enjoyable, as they would be the gems within the pile, books that you could just love even before you began to analyze, dissect, or plan responses to. The Iceman Cometh was like this last summer; Catch-22 has been that way for me since high school; In the Lake of the Woods (along with pretty much everything else by Tim O'Brien) is basically the reason I came to grad school, and shoehorned a dissertation around a specific topic. This type of book demands a lot from the reader, but it also demands an audible silence at the end, a moment when you can't do anything but marvel at the fact that you just read something so wonderful.

All this digression is a longwinded way of saying that I liked the book.

Seriously. You should read it. It's awesomely wonderful. It's funny, poignant, sad, and devastating, and it's written in a style that is both technically innovative and accessible and not showy. At it's core, it's about a young man's journey to find a woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis in 1941. It's also a history of a Jewish shtetl in the Ukraine, and the tale of another man's relationship with his family, particularly his grandfather and his dog. It's about translation and mistranslation, the humor of the everyday and the complexities of memory. It has the best joke about the Burning Bush I've ever read. It made me laugh out loud more often than I could count, which earned me many weird looks at the car dealership. I could go on and on as to what it's about. Or you could just read it. I'd recommend the latter option.

Ok, it's late, and I want to leave my office and go eat, then go home and hang a few more pictures. Hopefully I'll return next week with wacky stories from St. Louis. And hopefully my car won't explode on the way there.