Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome Home! You Are Underwater.

We came home to Green Bay last night after a 1.5 hour delay in the Chicago airport (our plane was late to arrive and so late to leave, and when we finally did leave, was queued up behind dozens of other planes), weary, lagged, awake--more or less--for over 36 hours, but happy to be home.

Happy, that is, until we found a puddle of water waiting for us in the middle of the kitchen floor. That leak in the stucco on between the kitchen addition and the rest of the house? Well,
it's gone nova. And what else? Oh yeah. The sump pump quit working.

It's been raining for the last few days, the woman in the supermarket told me this morning, as I bought donuts at 5:30 AM and stocked us up on coffee, fresh fruit, milk and cereal.
Wonderful! Dave's been up since 3:30 AM (maybe he never really went to sleep), sucking water out of the defunct and filling sump pump well with the wet-dry vac.

I'm making myself the Angel of the Hearth, but I seem to have forgotten how to make coffee. Yeah. I forgot to put a filter in... (Oh. And just now, while I was trying to heat a little milk to put into my groundy-coffee, I managed to spill it over in the microwave. All cylinders are NOT operating to full capacity.)

Lizzie's upstairs, though, happily sleeping her way back to a normal home life.

The only other consolation, and it's a cold one, is that the dog and cats are still at their kennel, so they're not wandering around getting in the way of water removal. But I do confess to missing their noise and busyness. Home just isn't the same without their low level of chaos.

All in all, however, it's great to be back. When I hopped into the car at 4:30 AM and headed out to the supermarket, under my own steam, the heater on and toasting me as I navigated the silent, mostly quiet early morning streets under the spitting rain, I thought about how lucky we all are to be back here, puddles and all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

While I Was Away

Here are some of the things that have happened here since I last wrote:

--Pepeng, another typhoon, has entered, left, and reentered the country. In the process, it has managed to nearly submerge an entire Northern island, Pangasinan. It has sparked more floods and mudslides, killing 130.

--Some of the 300 pairs of shoes in the Marcos museum, the one that we were supposed to visit with Beng but never got around to, have been waterlogged. Most, however, were saved by a quick-thinking guard, who trucked them upstairs as flood waters rose.

--I found 16 Trojan infestations on my laptop and over 300 viruses on my flash drive. As I wondered how they managed to worm their way into my life, I confessed that I'd taken my flash drive to an internet "cafe" at the UP Coop to get a few copies. "Ma'am, that's the source," my students told me. There's dirty ice cream, and dirty computers, over in the Coop. And dirty food, they say.

--I've run my anti-virus software twice. I've added two Malware-killing programs (and they found at least 100 instances of Malware). I'm supposed to be clean now. But Firefox just froze and crashed. And though I'm typing this note into Notepad, it's going very slow, and hanging up, letters and phrases behind my fingers. None of this can be good.

--I taught my last classes. Now all that's left is to meet with students for individual conferences on Tuesday, October 13, and to read their final essays and portfolios. Oh, and to assign grades.

--Lizzie's classes were canceled after she got to school on Thursday because of rotating power outages in the city. (A substation was damaged in a fire on Wednesday.) She spent over an hour on the bus, trying to get back here. Around 8 pm that night, I got a text from her school: classes canceled on Friday, too.

--I bought tickets for all three of us to travel to Philadelphia for Christmas. I've got to train in to Center City for December 28 and 29, when we will be interviewing candidates for a position during the dreaded MLA conference (that's Modern Languages Association, for those of you lucky enough not to know that ackronym).

--My hair has been falling out at a faster rate. I think (hope) it's just my regular shedding season, autumn for my head. Alarmingly enough, many of the strands that wrap themselves around my fingers and drift onto my chest are silver.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This Connection is Freakishly Slow

First, let me just say that I'm annoyed. I can't sleep. Someone in the shanty town underneath my bedroom window ("Oh, the UP slum," said the driver who brought us home from the airport on Monday) has been having a raucous birthday party for hours now. They started with firecrackers, which I have decided are ridiculous, adolescent, and unnecessarily male. Then they progressed to singing "Happy birthday to you" over and over again, at random intervals. They're also burning things that are smoking up the atmosphere in my bedroom and making it hard for me to breathe, even though I've taken an allergy pill.

Now it's raining. And even that natural impediment is not sending the revelers inside. If anything, it has incited them to set off another barrage of firecrackers.

Ironic, then, that I wrote the following earlier this evening, thinking mostly about the costs of modern(ism) and big cities on the psyche...


Looking for Dave on Tuesday morning, I called the house via Skype and listened to the phone ring and ring, until finally my voice answered: "We're not home right now. Leave a message."

Was he walking the dog? I imagined him striding briskly down Reed Street, then Oregon, then Oneida, then back up Reed, the mile-long block, the air already turning October brisk, his ears reddening a bit, the leaves overhead rustling and drying, getting ready to burst into color and then fall.

I left a message, something like "Hello, it's me. Just wanted to tell you that we love you, that we got home safe, hope you're out enjoying the evening, maybe walking the dog. I'll be online for another 45 minutes or so, checking email, if you get this message."

After messing around on Facebook for far too long, and learning that everyone in Green Bay and the surrounding area suddenly hates Brett Favre (what has he done now?), I tried calling home again. Got the same message.

Where is he? Then it hit me--everyone hates Brett Favre because he's no longer the Packer quarterback. Now he's the Vikings' quarterback, a turncoat traitor throwing for the enemy. Monday night football back home, everyone huddled around the electronic hearth, screaming, drinking beer, pounding each other on the back. Dave must be over at Brad and Diane's.

I called Brad's cell. He'd pick up--Dave was iffy with the cell. Who knew if he'd even taken it with him? But Brad can be counted on to take his cell with him wherever he goes, and, if it's humanly possible, to answer it.

"Hello?" Brad said. The sounds of revelry crowded around his voice.

I'd hit the motherlode. Everyone was at KC and JP's house, watching the game: Dave, Brad and Diane. I got to talk to everyone nearly all at once, as if I were already home.

"Are you going to be sad to come back to boring, white middle class America?" KC wanted to know.

"Let me tell you a little secret," I said. "I will be very glad to be home. Give me boring, predictable, white middle class small town life," I said, "where all the crises are small." A man throwing his cigarette butt out of the car window: jerk! A long line at the Target register. The small red *bing* of the engine light coming on in the Toyota. The pilot light going out on the hot water heater. A trickle of water snaking in over the basement floor after a particularly long fall rain. The dog chewing on a favorite pair of shoes, eating the expensive wool socks.

I've learned a lot about myself over the past going on 5 months. One of the things that I've learned is that I'm old and set in my ways. What's more, my adventure gene flickers--there are moments when I'm awed by the scope of the world, by its sheer variety, the sizes and shapes and sounds and tastes of it, and there are moments (usually coming right after) when I'm terrified by its overwhelming particularity. Perhaps I miss my white, middle class, midwestern American tribe, the vast herds of us grazing in supermarkets and shopping malls in our brand name jeans and unmarked T-shirts, our hair predictably coiffed, highlighted in haloes around our innocent blank faces. Maybe I want to be surrounded by the similarly guilty, our food divided into large portions, hermetically sealed, poverty hidden behind concrete walls and polite facades.

Our visit to Bohol showed me that I'm not a big city girl. I like the slower pace of the countryside, the province, the "povertyesque" of the small, neat hut with its scratching chickens and single white pig rooting under a gnarled tree. Life moves a little more slowly. The faces that come at me smile, the skin around the eyes wrinkles, and the grin doesn't slide into a grimace. People are poor there, certainly, but their poverty doesn't cut into me like a knife, doesn't slice down to my quivering, silly core.

It occurs to me that my mythical homeland may not exist. I turn on the TV and am bombarded with apocalyptic imagery. It seems that the earth no longer wants us, at least as we are. It's chewing us up with earthquakes, burning us clean with wildfires, vomiting us out with tsunamis, spitting floods on us. I might want a land that only exists in memory, the imagination, a kind of nostalgia that's sickeningly sweet.

Or maybe Manila is, in some ways, more real, more alive--and thus more threatening--than Green Bay or De Pere, Wisconsin. Here the costs of the slow, middle class float of home are more apparent, our semi-ignorance, our dazed complacence, our small bubbles of self reality like astronaut's suits to protect us from an airless moon. Haven't we somehow contributed to this city with our consumerism, our restless shopping? Manila is the city gone supernova, like the Mexico City of my childhood. People crowded on people in the worst conditions, squalor, mounds of trash, decay and death jumbled together with screaming children, babies, men and women sleeping on slips of cardboard under dirty overpasses, traffic snarled into itself like matted hair. Desire and despair, hunger and greed, are the hum, whistle and honk, the odd music, like a mechanical sea, that fills our ears. The modern city builds and builds until it implodes.