So, I asked Ollie why there is no black tea on campus.
"Because nobody wants any," he said.
"But nobody's asked me whether I want any," I complained.
"DO you want any?"
"There you go."
He went on to explain that they make it a rule to source 90% of our food, by weight, from within a hundred miles. 80% of our food is actually grown on campus. Obviously, a large part of that remaining 10% must be coffee, chocolate, and other things that just don't grow around here. Black tea (and green tea, since that is from the same plant) doesn't grow around here, either, so buying tea would mean buying less coffee or chocolate, which apparently no one has wants to do. If I really want tea, I could go to the store and buy some, there's no rule against that: I could buy Fruit Loops, if I wanted. They don't try to control our lives, here.
Speaking of money, I need some. I've decided to donate my car to the school so they can sell it and cover my room and board fees--maybe for the whole time I'll be here. My parents are not going to be happy about this, since they worry that this place is a cult, but I'm going to graduate college debt-free, and I may be able to keep most of my college fund intact, in case I want to go to graduate school. That's huge. A campus job will cover tuition completely; an hour of labor cancels thirty dollars, because that is how much they'd have to spend to hire someone otherwise. Payroll usually costs a company at least double what the employees actually get in wages, and I gather the average going wave for the type of work they have here is about fifteen dollars an hour. So now I need a job.
I mentioned last week that we've been going to presentations, rather than classes. Most of them have been presentations by individual faculty members introducing themselves, or talks on how different aspects of the school work, but there was also a kind of job fair. Each staff member who hires students made a short presentation and then you could fill out applications for the ones you wanted. I think pretty much everybody got interviews who wanted them, and some people got more than one job offer. The whole process went very quickly.
There were jobs in the Dining Hall, in the Office, in the Library. There were jobs cleaning, doing security, farming, and gardening...almost everything here is done by students. I really wanted a position with the groundskeeper (who is also a faculty member, oddly enough), because I worked at a landscaping company when I was in high school and liked it. But Ollie said these jobs don't normally go to yearlings--apparently, you can get academic credit for landscaping, so the groundskeeper likes to reserve the jobs for people who know that they need the credit. Or something.
So I've gotten a job with the janitor. His name is Joe, which is a bit confusing, because the security head is also named Joe, as are a number of students. Anyway, this Joe is a dancer. He works here part-time supervising his cleaning crew because he gets free room and board out of it and that frees him from worrying about his own upkeep while he leads his dancing company. I don't think anybody knows much about him. Physically, he is very graceful and rather effeminate, though apparently he does not self-identify as gay--and I'd think anybody who is gay would admit it, here, as this place seems very safe for that sort of thing. Whatever. I think he just likes being mysterious.
My job will be to help clean all areas on campus that do not have somebody else to clean them. That's a smaller area than it sounds, because students clean their own dorms (or not--there's no rule about it, but we do clean ours), classrooms are cleaned by the groups that use them, and so on. We also clean the common rooms of the faculty and staff--they have apartments on the fourth floor, and mostly take care of those themselves, but they also have a couple of common rooms up there that students are not normally allowed in. It bothered me, at first, that they have students cleaning their spaces, like we were servants, or something, even though we pay their salary. I said something about it to Ollie, but he asked me if I'd actually seen their rooms yet. I said I had not.
"They're very small," he told me. "Smaller than ours, I think. And do you know how much they get paid? $12,000 a year, that's all. Even with free room and board, plus medical and dental benefits, that's hardly anything. You know Allen? He could teach at any psychology program in the country. He doesn't need this place, but we need him. And it's a dead-end job for him, for all of them; they can't put this school on their resumes, because the school is secret, so after a couple of years, it gets hard for them to leave. And the retirement benefits are basically crap, because the school is run on a shoe-string. They do this for us. If I had a chance to do some dishes and sweep some floors for them, I'd do it."
Um, point taken!
So six days a week, I do zazen, breakfast, my three-hour shift as a janitor, then lunch, then whatever talks or presentations in the afternoons--eventually, I'll have classes in the afternoons, though they don't actually start until March. A lot of the talks and things are for credit, though--they count as mini-classes. Sunday is completely open, and that day we're on our own for meals because the Dining Hall is closed. Wednesday evenings I'll eat dinner with my therapy group, and the other evenings I guess I can do my homework, party, or whatever else I want to do. Friday is Dorm Dinner, and it's mandatory. I've had one already, and I don't object to it being required.
There are fifteen of us, counting me, in the turtle dorm (the other dorms are snake, elk, and hawk). Six of us are new this year, and five are starting their final year--though only one of them has been here three years already. The others all started out with some credit; Joe (remember, I said there are a lot of people named Joe) was new last year and will graduate this year, and he's only a year older than I am. Everyone seems more or less normal, except a lot friendlier, but it's like everybody who isn't named Joe (or Daniel--there's another one besides me, but he goes by Dan) has some sort of strange name. There's Oak and several Ravens and Otter and Arion. I imagine most of these are nick-names, but I'm not really sure. Almost everyone is older than I am, some much older; Arion is 40. It's strange, I've been an adult, legally speaking, for the better part of two years now, but I've never had a forty year old peer before. They treat me like we're all the same age.
So we got food from the Dining Hall and cooked it ourselves. Sally, another newbie, is a really good cook, and she showed us what to do--some of the senior students showed us how to keep the wood stove at the right temperature for cooking. We've had hot chocolate every evening (and, after that first day, coffee every morning), but on Friday we broke out the hard cider again. I suppose eventually dorm dinners will get shorter, because we'll have homework to do afterwards, but this first Friday we talked until, one by one, we all went off to bed, or fell asleep in our chairs wrapped in the school's huge, handmade wool blankets.