Birthday: 23

I awoke on this, my day of birth, to darkness and quiet.  It was five-thirty in the morning, a time I prefer to sleep through unless I’m doing something particularly important such as going to the airport or being born.  I was born twenty-three years ago around five-thirty in the morning.  I was ten days late, which is a little more characteristic.  I suspect that I wished to avoid the great spectacle of emerging into the world for as long as possible, and then perhaps decided all at once to get it over with.  Perhaps it was getting uncomfortable in there.  Perhaps my lower back was twingy even in utero.

It was just too magical that I randomly woke up twenty-three years later so close to the time when I was actually born, so of course I wasn’t going to go back to sleep.  I tugged a blanket off my bed and wrapped it around my shoulders as I staggered to the living room couch.  Ruby was there, dozing on the rug.  She summoned some enthusiasm to greet me, and then settled back down.

The sun began to rise.  A thick orange stripe appeared from behind the tree line, padded above with grey sky and below with grey lake.  The bright globe at the middle of the stripe seemed to burst before my eyes, coloring the leaves of our backyard ash tree.  The stripe lightened to peach and then to pale yellow.  Orange flecks fell onto the lake, tracing a path from my window to the sun.  And then it was over, or at least I stopped watching because Ruby whimpered to be let outside.

Mom and I went to church later in the morning, where we were prevented from leaving our pew at the end of the service by two elderly barricades who had knelt to pray for the next person to die in the parish.  We couldn’t interrupt, so we stood still and considered vaulting over the shorter of the two.

Then came the all-important Vikings football game.  I feel asleep briefly in the second quarter, but was roused at halftime to help Dad remove a dead mouse from its dusty mausoleum in an air duct.  Because sometimes, even when you’d like to prance around in a plastic tiara that reads “it’s my birthday, spoil me,” dirty jobs have to be done.  And decomposing mice have to be discarded.

Dinner and dessert, as per tradition, were at the birthday girl’s request.  I chose ribs (we’re entering those last few precious days of grill-conducive weather, after all) and this cake.  Amy went off to college a few weeks ago, the skunk, so poor Mom and Dad were left to harmonize a happy birthday by themselves.  Luckily, musical expectations are low in my family clan.  I opened presents, the contents of which I will likely detail in Friday Favorites, where I can be openly materialistic.

This year’s birthday was a little different from last year’s.  But as always, I felt the satisfying weight of another year’s worth of lessons and discoveries.  I’ll try to use them wisely.

Grendel Cometh

I folded brochures at work today, lining crease up to crease and chatting with Sharon about dark chocolate versus milk.

I walked to Humanities, after, sat down in my professor’s office (although I would have preferred to stand), and gave my Beowulf recitation.  It was the scene where Grendel comes up from the mist, and spots the wine hall where men are drunk and sleepy and cannot prevent an attack.  Here’s the thing: I had to recite the passage in Old English.  Ergo, this is what the text looked like.  It sits forward in your mouth when you say it properly, rounded like a German umlaut.

I researched my first and last name for an onomastics paper due Monday.  “Holly,” as I already knew, means “plant with red berries” (fascinating), but my last name means “valley dweller.” My persona, then, the very essence of my being, is a prickly Christmas plant growing at low altitude.

Flocks and flocks of geese were qnacking overhead as I walked home from campus.  V’s overlapped against the sky, almost blocking out the sun.  I considered putting my hat on in anticipation of free-falling feces, but instead plodded onward, bare-headed and bold-hearted.

There was an email in my inbox when I got home.  Teach for America has selected me to participate in a final interview.  Which means that they must have really liked my application, because usually, they require several interviews/activities before the final.

My gentleman caller and I had our second intramural badminton match, and were victorious.  There was a moment when I dove for the birdie at the same time he did, and I thought all was lost.  We were both on hands and knees and writhing in agony over floor-burned shins, but somehow, somehow, we kept up the volley and won the point.  Even now, I can’t think of how we must have looked without laughing out loud.

Night, friends.

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

We’ve all wondered about the Man Behind the Curtain at the movie theatre, haven’t we?  Who’s watching from the projection booth, we ask?  Who sees when we make out with our significant other in the back row?  Who frowns down on us when we pull a box of Walmart Charleston Chew from our purse? Who knows when we put our feet on the seat in front of us, when we spill popcorn and neglect to pick it up, when we’re on our cell phones for the duration of the movie?

The answer, from this point on, must of course be me, although having done much of the above myself, I assure you I won’t judge too harshly.

You see, last night I worked my first shift as a projectionist-in-training.

I have photos to prove it (sorry about the poor quality; it was dark in the room):

Here’s the projection room. It’s small and very hot, due to the large, very hot equipment filling it. As you can see, the theatre I work at uses old-school film reels instead of digital projection. We’re working on raising the money for digital, but until then, I feel lucky to have a chance to learn the old ways of the reel before it’s gone forever.

The projector. In case you’re not sure how it works, a projector basically shines bright, intense light from an inner-located bulb through film that is moved rapidly in front of it.  The scenes printed on the film are then projected onto the screen.

In order for the film to keep moving quickly and steadily, it is threaded through a series of gates at the front of the projector. If something goes wrong, and the film slips out of place, the gates will catch it and stop the movie so that the projectionist can make necessary adjustments.

After being threaded through the gates, the film is unrolled across the room to be threaded over and under several pulleys. The clear film, which I call leeway film (not its proper name), is film with nothing printed on it that is attached to the black movie film. The clear film is what is initially threaded through the gates and pulleys; if it gets a little crumpled in the process, no part of the actual movie is damaged.

The turntable (again, probably not its official name). The large roll of movie film sits on the middle tier. As the movie plays, the film unrolls from the middle, runs through the projector, and rolls back through the pulley system and onto the top tier.

Rolls of film that are mailed to us by the film companies, and then sent back when we’re done with them.

To my delight, I received a short history lesson as I was being trained. The theatre was built in 1940, and at that time, film was extremely flammable. Pair that with hot bulbs, and you have a huge fire hazard. Aware of this, projection rooms were designed carefully: if you look at the first photo in the post, you can see small brown windows with attached doors that fall shut if the string holding them up is released (the window is down in the photo). If a fire broke out, the idea was that it would burn through the string, closing the windows and preventing the flames from spreading to the rest of theatre. Along the same lines, the heavy door to the projection room (shown in the above photo) was also attached to an elaborate system of strings and pulleys, which would release when burned, causing the door to slam shut. Old-time projectionists, then, were told to leave the equipment and save themselves in a fire; if they didn’t hurry out of the room, they would be barred in by the shut door and windows.  Needless to say, things are a lot safer nowadays.  Flame-resistant film is standard.

This has nothing to do with projection, but this is where we keep the letters for the marquee. Sometimes we’ll run out of black, and then whoever’s turn it is to scale the ladder to switch the film title has to make do with the odd red letter instead.

A carton of movie posters for upcoming films. It took all of my willpower not to snatch one to hang up in my bedroom.

The sole screen at my theatre. Despite severely limited seating, no moviegoers (to my knowledge) have ever been left out in the cold, even at the final Harry Potter premiere, when the line wrapped all the way around the corner of the building, so that the last poor sop was jammed up against the ATM at the bank. It’s actually kind of magical in that everyone somehow manages to squeeze in.

Life is Beautiful

Life is beautiful.

I’m a five job lady right now:  office work, research with prof., theatre volunteering, babysitting (or nannying I suppose, as it’s a regular schedule), and now, cat sitting.

Here’s what I love about living in Morris for the summer: I’m nannying for two philosophy professors, and cat sitting for a political science professor.  Furthermore, the political science professor told me she’s put in a good word for me to the Chancellor, who also has cats.  And a Rottweiler.

Here’s what else I love about Morris:  it’s ideal for bike travel.  I always suspected that cars are the ticket to freedom: they’re fast, they can go long distances without wearing out, and they’re safely enclosed.  I was wrong.  There’s just something about biking around, using your own steam to get to work or to the grocery store.  There’s something (forgive me) about the wind in your hair, the bugs in your nostrils, the burn in your calves that is utterly exhilerating.

Here’s the third thing I love about Morris: On my bike ride home, I was standing on the pedals, huffing up a hill, when two shadowed figures loomed in the twilight.  They were lurking in the middle of the sidewalk, and I didn’t have time to veer off.  Fearing that I was about to be mugged, and mentally clinging to Mac, who was sheltered in my backpack, I bravely hurtled forward.

And then I realized that the shadowed figures were two fellow juniors and English majors.

We spent the following twenty minutes discussing everything from Irish history, to street performing (look for us on YouTube.  Search “Yoko Ono Stomp”), to Natalie Portman.

Then I rode the rest of the way home, muttering “I think I can I think I can” all the way up the last big hill.  And I thought about the fact that I worked nine hours today (split between three jobs), and that somehow, the best endings always close the longest days.

Life is beautiful, friends.  Enjoy it.

Here’s What’s Happening

Here’s what’s happening:

1.  I’m desperately trying to figure out what to do with my summer.  So far I have research that will last until the end of July, a few hours of an office job that will last until the end of June, and a solar systems class that could potentially kick my butt (but that would get rid of my very last gen. ed.).  But I don’t have an official job that will earn me a decent amount of money.  And this, for a girl who’s planning on graduate school, is problematic.  I’ve had two interviews so far, one for groundskeeping and one for a crazy job that would entail peddling gas cards to various local businesses.  I didn’t get either position, which I guess is good as neither of them sounded like they were up my alley, but still.  I think my only option may be to beg for a library position.  I just want to get this all straightened out because I have bigger fish to fry right now (see below).

2.  I have six papers to write before the end of the semester.  The semester ends on May 11th.  I also have two large final exams to take.  I also have a presentation to put together.  I also have to do basic things, like eat, sleep, and attempt social interaction.

3.  As my Politics and Film class is two hours long, we traditionally have a ten minute break after the first hour.  During said break this evening, half the class (led by the professor, I might add) went into an informational session that was taking place down the hall, and stole leftover pizza.  And cookies.  And no one stopped us.

4.  My second short story for Advanced Fiction Writing has progressed exactly a paragraph.  It’s about cannibalism in space.  And when/if I ever get a large chunk of time during which to sit down and write it, I will be absolutely thrilled.

And the Job Gets Odder

Ironically enough, only a few days ago I was bragging about the randomness of my work, and gleefully posting my fourth-grade-esque microwave poem.

Today, I’m back to tell you that I hadn’t seen anything yet.

Because today when I walked into the office, the first thing my boss told me was that I would be “going down to the post office to get the sheep’s brains.”

Blank stare, deciding whether or not to laugh.  But honestly, who comes up with a joke that random?  Or did we have a sheep neurology inside joke I had forgottten about?  Doubtful. Then whaa…?

Both office ladies were in front of me now, talking about sheep’s brains, and how they’re used in psychology lab experiments.

Apparently, they were serious.

The woman at the post office laughed when I told her what I had come for.  “Lucky you,” she said, sliding a forbodingly large box across the counter.

It smelled faintly of formeldahyde, and something sloshed inside when I lifted it.  I imagined purple-grey brains slapping against their jars.  I imagined the box sliding through my strained fingers, imagined watching the river of preservatives rush to poison the grass, while the brains shriveled in the afternoon sun.

I clutched the box tightly, willing my biceps to hold out until I got to the lab.