Sunday, December 25, 2005

Random Christmas Memory

One of my presiding Christmas memories comes from my freshman year of college. In the weekend dividing the end of regular classes and finals week, my dormmates and I gathered at Prentice Hall cafeteria and broke bread for a Christmas-type feast. There must have been 20 of us huddled around three tables we pushed together. For the passers-by, it must have looked utterly obnoxious, we 4th-floor Verder denizens laughing and conversing as if we were a family from an Olive Garden commercial.

I had not been that close with my floormates that semester, nor would I be any time afterward, but for that one evening, we drew together and acted as a familial unit. Afterwards, we adjourned to the 4th floor lounge for a collective viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life." In retrospect, it remains the only Christmas-type atmosphere I've had since leaving home and coming to college. The next semester was one of melodrama and fracture of our communal unity, but at least I can cling to our seasonal bout of peace and goodwill.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Stale Cookies and Warm Milk

It had been years since I stopped believing in Santa, but, at age 10, I was still going through some of the motions. In particular, I kept the tradition of leaving out the cookies and milk. I found it kind of funny to wake each Christmas morning, post-Santa naivete, to find the crumbly-crumbs on the plate and the crusty milk residue clinging to the empty glass.

Of course I knew the big-man wasn't responsible for the consumption, but I never really continued the thought any further. It wasn't Santie Claus, for sure, but anyone else in the world was suspect.

However, the Christmas morning of 1994 left me blinking confusedly at a full glass of 2% and 4 utterly untouched chocolate chip cookies. My recently-single mother, sleepily emerging from her bedroom, had no good excuse as to why the foodstuffs stayed the course into daylight.

I would be in err to say that the lingering stale cookies and warm milk ruined my Christmas. Sure, I tore the gift wrapping and grinned ecstatic as any 10 year-old boy at finding the hottest Sega Genesis game in my sweaty paw. Still, I couldn't help but feel that something had irrevocably changed, that a corner had been turned and faded hazily into the distance.

Years later, I would come to the realization that my parents marriage was that which had changed my Christmas. That previous June, they had separated, eventually to be divorced, and my dad had not been there that first Christmas of their separation, 1994. It had been my dad that had so diligently obliged to consuming Santa's cookies and milk. My mom failed to realize his slight-but-significant role in my Christmas enjoyment, and so my charity to Santa/dad remained unreceived.

It was just a small alteration of my self-indulgent, pre-adolescent Christmas mythology, but one directly resultant of my folks splitting. It took years and years to digest the BIG changes that accompanied their divorce. Yet, I still come to realize these little things that happened to me in the early days of the parental rift.

Following that December morning of '94, I never left Santa cookies again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Architecture recollection

I stared at my nearly complete model of the Kent Center for Contemporary Art, a second year architectural design project. The lights on the 4th floor studio of Taylor Hall dimmed and ceased. I reached for my desk lamp and clicked on its 60 watts of progressive brilliance.

The studio was empty, the rest of my class having handed in their projects the last Thursday. This was early Tuesday morning, 3:00 a.m. I had been given an extension, as my grandma had died eight days prior, during our final project production week, and I had to flee to Florida to attend the funeral with the rest of my grieving family.

My studio professor was understanding of the whole thing, giving me as much time as I needed to finish. Yet, the overwhelming workload outside of studio did not ebb as I spent those five days in Florida. As it were, I greeted my grandma's death with an undulating numbness, as if the architecture program had permeated into my soul and removed any emotional aspect from my being. Whereas my cousins cried at the sight of our beloved grandma laid out before us, I stared stoically, blankly, my mind and heart and body being pulled in too many directions to focus on the event. I was distant my whole time in Florida.

But by Tuesday morning at 3, ten hours before my belated project was due, emotion started to catch up. It was as if my life had been on hold until I finished my art museum, as if my life was manifest in its design.

Surrealness gripped me as I was instructed by campus security to leave Taylor, which closed at 3. I walked past the May 4th memorial in the chilly February air, headphones blasting Radiohead or some other music of similar ambience. I focused upon a figure clad in a black cloak, hood up, with black gloves and boots. His back to me, he looked out from the platform of the memorial over the campus commons. His arms were hung at his sides, as if at the ready.

I did not view this occurance as any type of abnormality, as we were both out at three a.m. on an absolutely frigid Tuesday. I just figured he was a guy doing his thing, his surreal thing.

I entered Verder Hall, my dorm, with the intention of working on an essay about my design until four, then heading back to Taylor to break back in, as security stopped patrolling at that time. Upon setting up my laptop in one of the lounges, the power abruptly went out. As I went to the window, I saw that all the lights on campus had failed.

Working on battery power, I finished my paper by the light of monitor and headed up to my room to change clothes and head back to studio. I ran into my friend Justin, in an all-too-common 4 a.m. Verder occurance. He was just as perplexed as I at the power outage. He asked what I was doing up so late.

'Finishing my studio project. Leaving now to break back in.'

'How are you going to work in the dark?'

'I have a light on my desk.'

'The power's out.'

'Right. Can I borrow some candles?'

'Sure, dude.'

With a satchel overburdened by hippie candles, I made the trek back to Taylor, circa 4:30. It amazed me how much more peaceful the campus looked in complete darkness, as if the world had been put on pause and only I could pulse through it. I could see so much in the dark, as there was no light-to-dark contrast, and my eyes adjusted easier. I wished to walk about this environment until dawn, but my architectural obligation beckoned as it had for the last week, waving a finger at anything that evoked emotion.

Now, breaking back into studio is a process that requires cunning and brute strength. While slamming the handicap button which automatically opens the doors, one must yank with all strength on the doors, forcing the weakened latch to yield to the unrelenting architecture student and fling drastically open. This is very illegal.

As I approached the entryway in the dark, I had to wonder if this procedure could be executed without any power being fed to the handicap release. This contemplation had not even finished processing when a severe hum filled my ears and Taylor lit up like a huge brutalist lantern. The doors in question opened in front of me seemingly on their own congnizance, or rather, as a result of the surge streaking through every building on campus.

Surreal? Absolutely.

I glanced up beyond the beacon of 4th floor studio and into the sinuosly sooty NE Ohio February sky.

'Thanks grandma.'