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, November 24, 2013

Part 7: Post 8: Cool Cats and Warm Friends

It's very cold today, with some wind, but no snow. Everything is grey and brown and silent outside, except the sky is blue and fleecy white. I'm headed home tomorrow--I'll come back Friday night. There are so many people headed home that I can't just borrow one of the school cars, so I've gotten a ride with, of all people, Kit and her husband. I'm not sure where they're going, but it's in my direction, so they're taking me.

But today I still have my ordinary schedule and chores. After breakfast I
Simplified Diagram
was supposed to do an in-depth cleaning of the Great Hall--dust the ledges, clean the ashes out of the stove, clean the little bathroom under the stairs, sweep the rugs, and dust-mop the floor. I'm also supposed to clear the black water screen--that's not as gross as it sounds. It's not actually gross at all.

(The way it works is that all the black water from the building's toilets goes through a chamber in the basement divided by a micro-perforated barrier that catches the solid fraction of the waste. The liquid fraction then
passes through a series of charcoal filters on its way out to the septic system. Once a day, someone has to close off the pipe, let the collected waste drain for an hour, then throw a pair of levers that open the screen and dumps the waste into a modified Clivus Multitrum composter. Then you reset the system and everyone can go back to using the Mansion toilets, if they want to. There's a separate gray water system, so you can keep using the sinks and everything the whole time. It's a pretty neat system. Other than clearing the screens and adding bark chips every day, the whole thing requires no maintenance at all.)

Anyway, I walked into the Mansion around ten, ready to work, and there was Greg, asleep on the couch. I don't think he meant to be asleep there--I'd seen him reading there after breakfast, and he still had his book, lying there on his chest. His glasses were still on. I went over to look at him and his eyes were closed and his mouth was open. He looked almost unrecognizable, in comparison to his stern, waking self. I had the most intense desire to drop something into his open mouth, steal his glasses, or otherwise take advantage of the situation. I'd never do that, but I'm not sure the cat sitting on Greg's chest believed me. He, the black and white cat, looked up at me with defiant, protective suspicion.

The black and white cat. He's not supposed to be in here. He's not supposed to be upstairs in the masters' quarters, either, but I know they've given up and let him him come and go as he pleases now, but he's not supposed to be down here. I mean, I like cats, I think we all do, but we could get a new student who's allergic or something. I think that's why we have the rule. So who let the cat in? And how is he allowed to say here?

He's allowed to stay because no one has evicted him, I suddenly realized. Was I going to evict the cat? No, I wasn't. Not with him looking at me like that. The anonymous "someone" who enforces rules and chances toilet paper roles suddenly became me. I sighed and sat down on the other couch. Looks like we have a cat.

I wasn't going to evict the cat and I wasn't going to wake Greg up by moving around and cleaning, either, but I didn't have anything to do in the afternoon, so I figured it could wait. I shut off the black water pipe, locked the Great Hall bathroom, and fetched my book. I've learned that the way to get through my reading list is to never pass up an opportunity to read.

I finished all three books in the Earthsea trilogy. Now I'm reading "A Reason for Hope," by Jane Goodall. I'm almost done with it, actually. I've heard of her, of course, but I've never thought of her as especially spiritual--she's the chimpanzee woman. But I really see why Charlie put it on the list.

I was reading about how after her second husband died she went back to the forest at Gombe, not to do research (she has assistants for that, now), but just to feel better. Not just because the forest was peaceful and beautiful and familiar, but because, as she said, "death is not hidden--or, only accidentally, by the fallen leaves." Chimpanzees live and die and new ones are born and everything just sort of is, and somehow that helped her accept her husband's death and restored her faith in God, gave her "the peace that passeth all understanding."

That's so different from the ideas I was raised with, but it's kind of like some of the things Greg says in his Dharma talks on Fridays. Except Goodall isn't Buddhist; she's Christian. I expect she was raised Anglican, being British. I'm not sure I understand it at all...I've never heard about Charlie talk about this sort of thing, but somehow it seems like him. I'm not the only person to think so--there's an inscription in the front of the book--


I read this and thought of you. It sounds like you, so I'm giving you my copy. Merry Christmas.

--love, Mary Anne

Who is Mary Anne? A girlfriend? I've never heard of Charlie having a girlfriend. Would I? I suppose I might not. But he lives on campus. How would he hide her? And the book only came out last year, so this isn't someone from long ago.

But, thinking about it--Charlie's sister introduced herself as Maria when I met her at Litha, but when I asked her how she seemed so much more ethnically Italian than Charlie is she'd laughed and said her ethnicity is "an act." She learned to speak Italian in school, not from her parents. The culture is an interest of hers. The family really is Italian-American, and their last name sounds Italian, but like many immigrants, their parents did their best to assimilate. They named their second son Charlie, after all. That's not exactly a traditional Italian name. Is it possible they actually named their daughter Mary?

I was looking out the window, thinking about this stuff, when movement caught my eye. Greg had shifted in her sleep. The book fell off his chest and hit the floor with a thump. The cat leaped free and hit the floor with no sound at all. Greg's glasses had fallen askew on his face as he turned his face ti the side, towards the couch. I was afraid he'd crush his glasses, but he didn't wake. The cat paused in his escape and looked back at Greg, one paw in the air. He turned, returned, and stood for a moment, forepaws up on the couch, his black and white body all long and muscular, staring intently into the face of the sleeping man. After a moment he hopped back up on the couch and began to lick Greg's face and hair, licking and licking, the way cats groom the heads of their friends.
[Next Post:November 29th: Thanksgiving]

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