Monday, April 27, 2009

a beard's tale

I go home in two months. This is something I've been saying for the past month, probably because no matter how many times I say it never feels more true. And I've let my beard grow out to prove it. Last night a few of us (to the right) were walking through an underground mall when we walked by a popular clothing store called "Septwolves." Sprawled out and inanimate lay a life-size gray plastic wolf with sparkling eyes in the corner of the store. Its head was tilted upward as if to meet the gaze of the shoppers and entice them to assume a wilder clothing style, but when I looked at it all it did was remind me of my old bedroom. Our family's part-husky mutt, Darla, used to sleep in my room when I lived at home a few years ago. I used to close the door behind me when I went to bed to keep the cats from creeping in at night (I hate cat hair); so poor energetic Darla would always have to wait for me to wake up to let her out. By morning she would have always left her dogbed and found a fresh spot on the carpet to lay down and wait on. Whenever I would roll over and open my eyes for a moment in the mornings, Darla would already be staring at me, and when I'd meet her gaze, even if just for a moment, her ears would immediately tilt back and her tail would start to wag. She never figured out that it was usually a false alarm. But there she'd lay, patient and poised. And on I walked in an underground mall in Baoding, Hebei, China, thinking about how my dog used to patiently watch me until I woke up in the mornings when I used to live at mom's house in Norfolk, Virginia.

I wouldn't say I'm homesick, but I was. My western body never expected me to spend any extensive amounts of time this far east, so when my blood cells or neurons or whatever it is that gets things done in my immune system built my immune system it didn't take Chinese colds into account. But they should have and hopefully they've been paying attention this past year because I've been hit hard. Two weeks ago I caught one of my worst, and I cancelled two classes, something I haven't done yet. I made the call to cancel my classes in the morning before I went to bed; so when I woke up it all of a sudden hit me that I had no obligations that day and I became euphoric. How should I use this glorious day? Which movies should I watch? What book should I finally finish? I quickly went to pour a bowl of cereal and make coffee. This almost made me forget I was sick, until about a minute later when I... well, let's just say I was pretty congested in just about every hole in my head. Actually being sick really takes the fun out of staying home sick. Every minute my head seemed to gain more weight and my morale slowly plummeted. Somehow that day my cozy room became dull and suffocating and my quaint apartment suddenly seemed just plain small, and I wanted to go home. I imagined my response if I had gotten a call from my boss, Newt, that day with the opportunity to do just that:

"Hey, Bubba! (he says bubba a lot) I got some strange news for you. You've been fired from the Financial College... something about telling a student she was a hermaphrodite? (I'll explain later...) Anyway, I've got a flight home for you tomorrow. Can you make it to Beijing by the morning?"

"Hot dog! I'll be there in an hour!" I would've shouted in ecstasy. I would have then grabbed my gray hoodie and macbook and left the scene of the crime like a bat out of hell, congestion and all.

Eventually I soothed my sore heart by watching Heat (for the first time) and an episode of Jeeves & Wooster, but not even Bertie Wooster's dopey humor could lift me out of this hole I had suddenly found myself in. Sickness and sadness seem directly tied somehow, and it wasn't until I really recovered from my sickness that life here became exciting again. Now I truly believe that that sickness was a divine thorn in the side, the squeeze I didn't know I needed to get the splinter near the threshold of the skin, to a place where I could see and deal with it. The homesickness had been there, probably for a while, but I didn't know how real it was until I was holed up in my apartment for two days with a congested head and an overwhelming amount of unwatched movies taunting me from my dvd booklet. Now it seems that the splinter isn't gone, but that home has taken its right place in my life; something I miss dearly, but I wait patiently for its arrival. I'm still excited to go home and make Darla wait for me to get up every morning this summer. I'm excited to live with Austin and Graham for two weeks and wash dishes at Austin's restaurant for some extra money. And, holy cow, the beach...

I need to shave.


A few Wednesdays ago, I had just finished teaching the first half of one of my two undergraduate English classes (my two favorite classes) and I was getting my supplies together during the break when one of my generally shy students named Nancy called me over to her desk.

"Hey, Jon," she said anxiously with a big smile, "I have a question."

"Okay, what is it?" I smiled back.

"What do you call it when it's a boy and a girl at the same time?"

My smile vanished, afraid of what she was asking me.

"Um... it's called... (my voiced lowered) a hermaphrodite."

"How do you spell that?" she started to look suspicious about my answer.

"Sorry, I've never actually written this word before, so I don't know to spell it." ...which was true, even though I could very well have looked it up in my ipod's dictionary. I just didn't want her to learn this word. "But it's called a hermaphrodite."

She thought for a moment. "I thought it was called twins."

It all made sense.

"Yes, yes, you're right. It is called twins. Yes, this is the only word we use to describe this. I thought you meant something else. Yes, twins." I quickly went back to my desk. It was one of the loneliest awkward situations I have ever known; I was the only one in our conversation who know how awkward it really was.


For anyone who doesn't have a mom to do this for him: