I’m not really sure anymore what a day that was all about me would look like.
Let’s see: this morning was all about me having a conference with one last student. This morning was also all about me preparing for my Wednesday-afternoon seminar. The afternoon was all about me going to that seminar. The late afternoon – 4:30 to 6:00 – was all about me going out for a few beers with some of my colleagues. Then there was some time that was about me commuting home.
Once I got home, well, the real fun started: it was all about me finally finishing the installation of our new hot water heater. I had to re-solder the one connection that had to be soldered – and, amazingly, it took. No big deal. I came, I saw, I kicked its ass.
Of course, I thought it had taken the first time. It had waited to start leaking, the sneaky little bastard. So I watched it: ten, twelve minutes. No leaking. Success! I proceeded to attach the vent, to connect the gas line, to light the pilot light. I allowed myself to think that I would be able to take a hot shower before bed.
That was a mistake. Not just a normal mistake: it was the sort of fatal mistake that Greek tragedies are built on. One of the hoses – the one that connects the cold-water feeder line to the heater – spontaneously disconnected itself from the short brass pipe it was attached to, gushing water everywhere. I said lots of bad words, but on the inside, because my wife was listening, and the things I wanted to say were worse than the things she’s used to me saying.
I dried things off. I cleaned the connections, and reattached the hose and the pipe. I cautiously turned the water back on – slowly at first – and I kept my hand on the knob of the shut-off valve for a moment, watching the offending connection. It behaved, for about thirty seconds: as soon as I removed my hand from the knob, the hose removed itself from the pipe.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
By that time, the big-box home-improvement store that I bought all this shit from had closed. I’m going back in the morning, pipe and hose in hand, to get new ones. Then I’ll come home, install them, turn the water on, and watch as some other part of the system gives me the finger totally loses its shit all over everything.
So yeah. Today was about me, but it was about me failing. Not exactly what I had planned when I got up this morning.
The results of this experiment were, as I think we all expected, wildly inconclusive.
Yesterday was a more-or-less neutral day, luck-wise. Sure, there were some minor inconveniences early on — I was lying about the hat, though, by the way — but not nearly enough to count as bad luck. It was a day: a long day, a day in which I got some work done, but not all the work, a day in which I drank more coffee than is probably good for me, and didn’t sleep enough – and so on.
I managed to get out of bed on my left foot this morning, because I stayed last night at Lorna’s cousin Jared’s house – Jared very graciously lets me drink his alcohol and eat his food and sleep in his guest room the nights I have class until later than people should have class – and the bed is positioned in the room in such a way that one has to get out left-foot-first.
Today has been not that different from yesterday. It’s had good moments – like having fried egg and avocado sandwiches for (late) dinner with my wife – and it’s had the tedium of commuting and traffic, and there has been working and not getting everything done and there will be not-getting-enough-sleep again tonight. It’s raining, and it was overcast and cool today, which has been nice.
Nothing’s happened, though, that I would consider lucky or unlucky. I didn’t find money. I didn’t break my fingers in a freak stapling accident. A bottle of bourbon did not spontaneously appear in my office. My car was where I left it, with all its windows intact. I made it home safely. Et cetera.
I didn’t expect anything lucky to happen, of course, because I get out of bed on one foot or the other every fucking day, and lucky or unlucky things don’t happen every day. If they did, they would cease to be lucky, wouldn’t they?
Except Lucky Charms, I guess. They’re always lucky. And now I want a bowl of them, dammit. I’m going to crave them for weeks until I finally break down and buy a box, and the first few bites are going to be awesome, but by the end of the first bowl I’m going to regret buying them, but I’m going to have to finish the box, because I can’t let them go to waste – and it’ll take four or five years for me to forget that they’re not worth it, and then I’ll buy another box, and do it all over again.
This two-day task is an experiment — not a particularly rigorous one — designed to determine which foot I ought to get out of bed on — which of them is my “lucky” foot.
My right foot is my default foot; it’s the one closest to the edge of the bed, so it hits the ground first. That’s the one I’m testing today, mostly because I was too groggy to think when Jack woke me up this morning.
I’ll give a full report tomorrow, but today has not gotten off to an auspicious start: a bad night’s sleep, a wife who got a worse night’s sleep, a son who woke up in a less-than-pleasant mood before seven, a broken toilet handle, a really (really) bad parking spot at the train station — and, consequently, a missed train and a twenty-minute wait for the next one — and, finally, a hat that blew off my head and into traffic on the walk from the train station to campus.
And that was all before eleven. Since then, things have mostly leveled out, and it’s been an average day: reading, answering emails, thinking about papers, thinking about teaching, drinking coffee.
The one good thing that is bound to happen today, though, is that I’ll have to go to bed tonight, at least for a few hours, so that I can get up tomorrow on my left foot — assuming I remember to get out of bed on the wrong foot, that is.
This was almost too easy.
I lied to my students, naturally: a captive audience, predisposed to accept what I say as true (they’re learning, though, that this is a mistake). The story below – the lie I foisted off on them – contains, as all successful bullshit of this sort must, some amount of truth. I’m not going to tell you which are the true parts and which parts are not, but at least you know going in that some of it’s bullshit.
“I had to drive my mom to the airport this morning,” I say to the students, by way of transitioning out of random chatter and into class. Someone asks the obligatory “where is she going” question, and I tell them Canada – Toronto, specifically. I ask if any of them have been to Canada; non-committal answers come back to me.
“It’s a nice place,” I say. “The summer after I graduated high school – when most of you were in kindergarten – I took a roadtrip there with a friend of mine. We had three weeks to get from north Texas to southern California, and decided to go by way of Canada. Ken – which isn’t his real name – tried to convince me that we should go as far north as the Arctic Circle – because why the
fuck hell not? – but I overruled him, because I was doing all the driving, because he couldn’t drive a standard at the time, and I was a poor teacher of the skill.”
Blank looks at this point – they don’t know what I mean by “standard.” Digression on manual vs. automatic transmissions.
“Anyway,” I continue, “it took us a few days longer than we anticipated to get to the border – and, looking back, I realize we must have looked pretty shady. Two teenage guys – Ken with long hair, me with no hair – who had been living out of my car for four or five days, camping here and there, except for the night we stayed in that hotel in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, after I’d hit that deer – so my car was missing the passenger-side mirror and had a huge dent down the passenger side – we looked, on the whole, less than respectable. So it makes sense, I guess, that the border guards gave us some shit.”
“They didn’t have to arrest us, though.”
Stunned silence, at this point. A moment of misgiving on my part – well, shit, now these kids are going to tell their parents that their English prof once got arrested by the Mounties – but you have to power through that shit. So I did.
“They profiled us, obviously – we looked like we should have drugs, which dictated the course of action they had to take. We didn’t have any drugs,” I add quickly and, I hope, reassuringly. “We just looked like we had them.”
“Anyway, they took Ken inside to question him, while another officer stayed with me and made me unload the trunk. Which took awhile, because we had a lot of shit crammed in there. No drugs, though, which didn’t make them happy. Once I’d gotten everything unloaded, and the dude seemed to be done poking around in my trunk and in our luggage, I started to re-pack the trunk – which was a mistake. In a rapid series of motions that I can’t reconstruct, the officer removed the bag from my hand, got me to the ground, and handcuffed me – all before I was aware of what was happening.”
“Two dudes hauled me inside, put me in a cell with Ken, and left us there, without saying anything to either of us. We ended up spending the night in that cell – no charges pressed, they just wanted us out of the way while they unpacked all our luggage and dismantled my car. They released us the next morning, and we didn’t have everything re-packed, re-loaded, and the wheels back on the car until after noon.”
“Anyway. The point is, you should always have your shit in order when you visit Canada. Or when you come to my class – so pass forward your final paper outlines, and let’s get started.”
Office space in the department is at something of a premium, and grad students are at the bottom of the pecking order – which is, I suppose, as it should be. I currently share an 8′ x 10′ office with two other people – or, rather, I shared that office with two other people until today.
The group of grad students who started back in the fall have been without offices up to this point, because there hasn’t been (and, really, still isn’t) room for them – but, since they aren’t teaching, they’ve been able to muddle by without a permanent place to stack their books. But they will be teaching next fall, and a new group of bright-eyed, as-yet-uncynical students will be taking their places as the departmental nomads, and so the current nomads will soon need office space – and that soon is now, apparently. Why this couldn’t wait until the summer, I’m not sure, but nobody asks my opinions about anything.
We all got an email from the departmental secretary to this effect this morning – “blah blah blah, limited space, appreciate your cooperation, &c” – and I scanned it briefly and moved on, having more important things to do (like catching up on Dinosaur Comics).
But then I got another from said secretary, informing me that I was going to have to move out of my office, because one of the soon-to-no-longer-be-nomads was moving into it.
Not “downsized” in the sense of being asked to leave the program – nothing that bad. No, I’m just being asked to move out of my office, and into a closet. That’s right: a closet. It’s so small that I can touch one wall with my right elbow and the opposite wall with my left elbow. There’s one shelf, barely deep enough for my laptop and too low on the wall anyway, that will serve as a desk. No room for a chair, obviously, and no way to hang more shelfs, as the walls are cinderblocks. There’s a door, but it doesn’t lock. It’s unbearably hot with the door closed, and there’s an unidentifiable and incredibly, pungently unpleasant odor that seems to be coming out of the walls themselves.
Also, did I mention it’s in a building on the other side of campus?
It is at least in a building, though; I heard that a few people will be officing in tents on the lawn.
This was difficult for me: my default setting is to just ignore superstition, and I didn’t really know what to do to: I didn’t have a mirror on hand to break; I cross paths with my parents’ black cat all the time; and it’s not a Friday the 13th (although February 13th was a Friday in 2004, the first “year of the Book”).
What’s left? Walking under ladders, spilling salt, opening umbrellas indoors. I was going to spill some salt at lunch, but we were at a restaurant, and I felt bad about making more of a mess than was necessary. I walked under a ladder in my in-laws’ garage – but I’m not sure if it counted, because nobody was working on it at the time. I refuse to open an umbrella indoors – not because it’s “bad luck,” but because it doesn’t fucking rain inside.
The Book had a few other suggestions – letting milk boil over, whistling in the house, putting keys on the table – I didn’t know these were a thing. Seeing as I never boil milk in the first place, and I can’t whistle, and I put my keys on tables pretty frequently, I decided to let them alone. I mean, I’m trying to get unlucky, but I’m not trying that hard, alright?
None of it helped. Or hurt, or whatever. The worst thing that’s happened to me today is when one of the dogs got stuck in the garage for an hour, and that was only bad for me because I spent ten minutes looking for her.
If I want bad luck, it seems, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands and make it happen. It’s nearly midnight: I’m going to strip down to my boxers and head out on the town with a bottle of bourbon. On foot. Maybe with a stupid hat on, but no shoes. And I think I’ll walk in the direction of the police station downtown.
What’s the worst that can happen?