To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Part 2: Post 7: Personal Things

  I think I've mentioned that the Masters live on the fourth floor of the Mansion, though I'm not sure even everyone here knows that. Certainly none of us ever sees them coming in or out, and none of us are allowed up there, even by invitation, except to clean. No one has said so, but I get the feeling I'm not supposed to talk with other students about what I see up there.

Not that anything I see up there is all that different from what the rest of us see everywhere else. They have a dorm very much like ours, and like us what they have is minimal, but carefully and expertly made. They do take it a step further than we do; if they have luxury, it lies in the details of their space. The floors are some kind of honey-colored wood and mostly covered with hand-woven rush mats or wool rugs. The furniture seems to be all custom-made, by hand. It feels good to be up there.

They have two hallways that form a kind of backwards L shape, with private rooms along one side of each hallway, storage rooms and such on the other, and larger, common rooms at the corners. The common room on the west corner is a kind of library/sitting room, filled with the most wonderful rare books and these awesome couches that look like they were framed with polished driftwood and upholstered with abstract needlepointed panels. There are deep, comfy chairs near sunny windows and bean-bag chairs hidden in nooks behind bookshelves. There's a globe like the one I had when I was little, only, unlike mine, the tape that shows the equator has not fallen off. There's a woodstove, like ours, with a kettle on it for tea any time you want. I think they must spend a lot of time here; I can imagine parties, the masters drinking and talking beside the fire when none of us are around to bother them, like the dinners my parents had that went on and on, hours after we had gone to bed. Sometimes there's a tea cup or an empty wine glass left sitting somewhere, or a book I need to put back on its shelf. I've found popcorn on the floor, just a little, like somebody spilled a bowl full and didn't quite pick up all the pieces.

At the southern corner, the elbow of the L, is a space that I guess must be a dining room. There are pantry shelves and cupboards and a sink. Sometimes I've found tables set up, but usually they're folded away and there's this big expanse of open floor. Nobody wears shoes inside without a very good reason, because shoes track in dirt, and sometimes when I'm alone up there cleaning I skate across that smooth wood floor in my socks. The big windows face south and east, looking through the sill bare branches of the elm to the forests and out over the valley and the lake to the distant hills and I imagine Kit doing her yoga here, on the mornings she doesn't teach, sun salutations before the rising sun. But of course I don't really know.

The northern corner has a small gym, a weight-room. We don't have one, though there are free weights in the martial arts studio downstairs. They also have a kind of outdoor courtyard or patio, in the angle of the L, because their floor is smaller than ours. Does that make sense? I mean not all of the fourth floor is enclosed by walls and a roof, there's an open space. Part of their courtyard is a skylight for the stairwell below, so they can't walk on that, but the rest of it is a kind of garden, with raised beds in boxes and chairs set here and there. In the summer it must be a lovely spot. I don't know what they grow in the boxes, but whatever it is must be fresh.
They mostly clean up after themselves. There are some dishes to do, sometimes, and the aforementioned popcorn, but mostly we just have to sweep and dust. If a light bulb burnt out we'd change it, but they never do; they're all long-lasting fluorescent things.

But we never clean the rooms where the masters actually have their private space. Never...until today. I guess they're having some kind of event and they want everything extra clean, so two of us went to clean the apartments while three more did everything else. Those two were me and Ollie.

"Don't feel bad about snooping," Ollie told me, grinning. "As long as you don't open any drawers or anything like that. They invited us in here, so they will have moved everything they don't want us to see. If you want to poke into every room, go ahead. Then we'll start cleaning at either end and meet in the middle."

So, I looked in all the rooms. Not that I learned anything, in most cases. The rooms aren't labeled, and aside from something obvious, like the baby's things in Sadie's rooms, I couldn't guess who lived where.

It turns out what I thought were rooms are actually apartments; each is sixteen feet square, and is divided into three rooms: a small living room and two tiny bedrooms. There are ten apartments, five along each leg of the L, and each is apparently designed for two people, though some are obviously unoccupied. The first room I went in I just stood there, slack-jawed, very moved by the thought that these people, most of who could have taught at any school they wanted to, have to private space of their own except a single bedroom smaller than some college professor's offices.

Of course, they don't all live there; some of the rooms are made up like offices, though all have beds, I guess in case their occupants want to stay over. Others look entirely lived in. I started at the gym end and went poking into rooms, poking into rooms, on down the hall. Most are painted plain white, but some have color. Some were obviously normally a mess, given the haphazard way things had been shoved into boxes and under blankets, while others were clearly always neat as a pin. I kept trying to guess who belonged to which room. There was one with a small shrine in the corner, with a little Buddha, and incense holder, and a spray of tiny flowers. Could that be Greg's room? Except I thought there was something vaguely feminine in the air, pheromones, maybe. So who else is Buddhist? Karen, maybe, the martial arts teacher? I hardly know her. In one room the living room is painted a kind of orangy-red, and contained, of all things, a TV. I hadn't seen a T.V. the whole time I've been here. That's strange--I haven't watched T.V. in over two months and I haven't thought about it until I saw this one. A T.V just wouldn't fit here, but here one is. I tried turning it on; no signal. I guess it's just for movies. But a TV? That room has a plastic popcorn maker, too, the kind that uses hot air. So somebody sits on this couch and watches movies and eats popcorn. How wonderfully, incongruously, mundane. Who does that? Two people, evidently, as both bedrooms are occupied. Kit might be one of them, as one of the bedrooms is full of Wiccan symbols and books, but then Wiccan symbols are a lot like New Age symbols, so it could be Joy, or one of the others whose religious affiliations I don't know. I can't tell who the room-mate might be--a guy, I think, but that's all I can figure out. He's hidden anything obviously personal.

The last apartment in the row is totally unoccupied, but in the next to the last the living room is painted blue. It's peaceful and space, no couch, just some equipment and bookshelves. For whatever reason, I went into the farther room first and met, of all things, a cat. A handsome black and white fellow, sitting on the bed, he looked at me and meowed in that way cats have, like they're asking "what are you doing here?" Then he got up and ran out the door and I followed him out into the hall where I met Ollie.

"I thought we can't have pets in the Mansion?" I asked him. "The masters have a cat?"

"Yeah, I don't think he's official. He's one of the barn cats, but he keeps coming in here. I think they gave up and let him stay. He likes that room especially."

I went back to my snooping, going this time to the one room I hadn't seen yet. It it also painted light blue. The floor is covered in deer skins, not just rugs or mats like most of the others, and it has a curious mix of clutter and order to it, as though everything has a place, even the apparently random natural items and knick-knacks, though darned if I know what the organizing principle is. The bed is very narrow, like a hospital bed, with a sheepskin on top over the red and blue wool blanket. The desk had clean spots in the dust, I guess where personal items had been removed and hidden before I came to clean. There are shelves and trunks and yet another bookcase.
I looked over the books. The two bottom shelves are entirely dedicated to serious scientific books, mostly on ecology, but there were two very heavy-looking botany texts, another on mushrooms, and another on beetles. Another shelf was dedicated to field guides—trees, shrubs, birds, scat, bird’s nests, tracks, wild flowers, and so on. Then there was a shelf full of books on writing, dictionaries, thesauri, guides on style and punctuation, collections of essays, and so forth, and another shelf taken up by horticulture and popular-market books on wildlife-friendly landscaping.

Charlie. By his books, I recognized him.
Obviously, he had organized his books by topic, but the top two shelves seemed to be rather mixed, comprising several topics, or maybe none. At first I thought they were catch-all shelves for whatever he happened to be reading at the moment, but Charlie is pretty short and even I had to reach to get to the top shelf. Anyway, I've seen him sitting on the porch happily reading a field guide cover to cover like a novel, so his catchall would be much more mixed than even these top two shelves are. So these books are in a pattern--but what's the pattern?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek sat next to Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Two translations of the Bible kept company with Sand Country Almanac, Desert Solitaire, and Honey From Stone. Two books by Rainer Maria Rilke stood next to translations of The Bhaghevad Gita and the Tao Te Ching.  I saw books by Gary Snyder, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Henry David Thoreau  sat next to Jack London. Tom Robbins rubbed shoulders with Tom Wessels, the only one I'd never heard of, and whose book was the only one of the lot not smudged and cracked. Evidently, that book is new. What's the pattern?

"Suddenly it dawned on me" is a cliche, but that's exactly what happened. The way light and color come up so slowly and gradually that you can never quite be sure when night ends and the day begins until suddenly you see the sun and the day is clearly here, that’s how I realized that these two shelves are dedicated to Charlie’s understanding of Spirit.
I looked slowly about the room I was supposed to be dusting. I saw birds’ nests and pine cones, dried flowers and smooth stones. I saw a photograph, framed in silver, of a small dog, but no human images. I saw blankets, knick-knacks, a walking stick, items made and given by a lifetime of students. I saw both pairs of Charlie’s shoes, the work boots and the sandals, meaning that wherever he was at the moment, he was barefoot. I saw the hammock swung on the balcony and lined with a sleeping bag, where Charlie sleeps when the weather cooperates.
And on the desk, I saw a tin whistle 

[Next Post:April 12: The Boogeyman Cometh]

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