Friday, April 11, 2014

Offed the bloom

Today was the first day this year that I left the house and headed for work without putting on a jacket. I'm happy to report that I transferred all of my essentials from my jacket to my pants pockets and my work satchel before I hit the road, so it's entirely possible that I have left that unfortunate annual tendency of running the "visitor badge" gauntlet every spring behind me. But I'm even happier that the deadly icy grip of this winter seems to have loosed for good. I'm sure there will still be more unseasonably chilly days ahead, but a warm-enough morning with a high-70's afternoon predicted is encouraging.

(For me, at least. I have observed an unsettling phenomenon in some of my co-workers and fellow commuters, whose small talk about the weather is now laced with dread, as if they're all shellshocked, not only by the winter we just survived but by the last few years. I swear I heard someone saying that they hoped - while sounding pretty pessimistic all the same - that this sudden turn towards warm weather didn't signal that we were in for another scorching hot summer. O, traitorous thermometer! It's as if these people expect a normal year to have a cold January with some light snow, a brisk February, room-temperature March through June, some scattered bright, hot days in July and August, room-temp September and October, a nip in the air in November and maybe a flurry in December. How they came by this expectation is anybody's guess; certainly not from actually living around here and paying attention for the past twenty years or so.)

So I walked outdoors on the sidewalk from the train station to my office, and noticed how many of the trees planted along the street were blossoming. Bad news for my allergies, but I do enjoy the visuals. And it also reminded me of something from many years ago which seems like good fodder for today's Random AnecdoteTM.

I roomed with the same guy for sophomore through senior years of college; we met on our freshman hall, but the Office of Residence Life had randomly assigned us to other roommates in suites across the hall from each other. Neither of us got along terribly well with those roommates, as it happened. It was a classic grass-is-greener scenario: I thought my roommate was spoiled, entitled and thoughtless, and that he had basically taken over our entire living space because he had never had to share a room with anyone in his life; my friend's roommate seemed like a nice enough, considerate enough guy by contrast. My friend actually agreed with me that my roommate was spoiled, entitled and thoughtless, he was simply convinced that his roommate was way worse to live with, for different reasons.

It started out with very minor tics that cumulatively drove my friend up the wall, but things took a great leap forward (or backward, in terms of roommate-relations) when my friend's roommate started dating a girl in our class. And even I had to admit that they were a fairly nauseating couple, with a tendency towards giggly babytalk and overt PDA with one another no matter who else was around. It was pretty rough. I don't remember exactly when the romance began, but my best guess is that it was right at the beginning of our second freshman semester, because they were still in the throes of making puppy-eyes at one another when spring sprung around campus. And one day they went for a hand-holding stroll, and came home (ha, I mean "home", to my friend and his roommates dorm room, of course) with a couple of branches of blossoms they had snagged along the way, which they proceeded to put in a cup of water on top of the roommate's bookcase.

I should explain that my friend was a bit of a homebody, so if he wasn't in class or at one of the dining halls, he was in his room. He had brought a ton of creature comforts from home, so he might just as easily be listening to his stereo or playing Wolfenstein on his computer as studying or drawing for fun to unwind or whatever, the point was he was predisposed to be lounging around in pajamas and slippers as often as possible. His roommate, on the other hand, was less on the extreme end of homebodiness to begin with, and was on the tennis team, as well as (I think) an intramural volleyball team, and he had the aforementioned girlfriend, so he was almost never home. This worked out well as far as I was concerned because I could escape my own inhospitable dormitory quarters by hanging out in my friend's room, and instead of being the unwelcome third wheel I was just filling the void of the busy absentee roommate.

But those tree blossoms altered the balance in a surprisingly big way. My friend hated the way that they smelled, and while his roommate was frequently out and about the blossoms and their offensive bouquet were always there, round the clock. I have a pretty stunted sense of smell, and my friend admitted to being somewhat oversensitive to odors, so I just had to kind of take his word for it on that. He put up with the blossoms for a few days (for some definition of "put up with" that involved bitching to me about it a lot) and then decided they had to go. But rather than talk to his roommate about it, he just started pouring small amounts of glass cleaner and other chemicals in the cup, hoping to poison the blossoms to the point where they would wither and die and his roommate would throw them away. I remember it taking a lot longer than he expected, which was its own source of maddening frustration, but it did eventually work, and the roommate was never any the wiser.

I think that story (such as it is) leapt to mind in part because I watched Parks & Rec last night, which included a storyline about Ben being mad at his parents for something they had done and then in the end realizing he was really just dissatisfied about something missing from his own life. That whole misplaced anger, "why don't you tell me what's really bothering you?" trope is such a staple of tv shows, especially sitcoms, that I tend to think of it as a bit of pop psychology that's so refined and oversimplified that it only happens in sitcoms, and not in the real world where people are more complicated. And yet, I can look at the story about my friend and his roommate and it begins to appear as if it's totally made up to follow that sitcom model, even though I was there and saw it happen. I was saving this for my clincher, and here we are: my friend insisted that the blossoms in his room smelled like dead fish. I never called him on that, but come on. If the reproductive organs of a flowering tree were not symbolic enough of the sex which the roommate and his girlfriend were having, at a time when my friend was definitively not getting any, then complaining about the smell of dead fish has to qualify as putting a sour grapes (and, granted, unsettlingly misogynist) bow on it. I really don't think that my friend was freaking out about having the cozy sanctuary of his half of the dorm room invaded by unpleasant fragrances, or even lashing out at the roommate-girlfriend couple for their self-absorbed canoodling, per se. I think he was genuinely just pissed about his own lack of girlie action/satisfaction, and had to vent it somehow. Sometimes truth is equally as sublime as fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment