So my last exam is over as of today. I would comment about this -- maybe reminisce about the past year -- but mostly my brain is still going aGAKSGhsjkhurr over and over and being generally useless. Two hours of scribbling about George Eliot's science fetish and Heathcliff's Basket of Psychological Issues That Are Actually Not-So-Veiled Social Symbols has that effect on me.
So. Now I have to start packing.
So obviously by now I have reached the Point of No Return in which, if I attempted to chronicle all of the events of the last three weeks and my myriad impressions of This Foreign Land, I would die of exhaustion before I finished. Instead I offer an account of my first foray into The Kitchen.
My Culinary Catastrophe
This comes first with the necessary background that I have been shopping in various markets and department stores for two weeks straight (well, between classes and all) and have yet to supply myself with the basic necessities of cooking. Like a baking pan. Or a mixing bowl. Or knives of any kind besides the long-suffering and none-too-versatile butter knife. So perhaps you get an idea of my frustration and general feelings of cooking unworthiness.
But! I set out regardless determined to make food, any food, so long as it was edible. I settled on a stir-fry, as it sounded quick and -- more importantly -- I actually had the basic ingredients. I got out the cooking oil, chicken, and vegetables and reached for the cute little metal measuring spoon set I had unearthed in the basement of a bargain store. I could not find it. I emptied the cupboards; I scoured the counters. No shiny little measuring spoons in sight. Despite my notorious trait of being measurementally-challenged, I grimly decided to guess how much two tablespoons of oil looked like in the frying pan.
Two gallons of oil later, I decided maybe that was enough. I began the cooking.
Things sizzled quite satisfyingly and the fire alarm didn't go off and I was beginning to think that maybe this was going to be okay. Disappearing measuring spoons notwithstanding.
I threw in some soy sauce and decided that yes, things were 'cooked' even if they weren't pretty and turned off the burner. This being a communal kitchen, I knew that others would soon arrive to begin their own meals so I decided to clean up a bit. Quickly. This involved taking the bottle of oil and putting it neatly back in the cupboard. Tragically, I had forgotten that in my estimating procedure, a fair amount of oil had actually ended up on the outside of the bottle. What followed was as inevitable as it was painful.
The bottle immediately slipped out of my hands as I belatedly understood what the phrase "greased pig" felt like. It splashed spectacularly upon impact with the floor, dousing myself, the cupboard, and a good portion of the rest of the kitchen. In oil. Slimy, horrible, greasy oil. All over everything, including the only decent pair of pants I owned.
I did not know how to clean up oil. I knew that water + oil = bad, but besides that I was clueless. And slippery. I tried to mop most of it up with paper towel, but the oil simply cackled and refused to be absorbed. I kept trying, scrubbing and wiping and trying not to spread any of it. Somehow, impossibly, it just got slipperier. And then I realized that my shoes were coated in it; I was actually tracking it around the kitchen in my frantic containment attempts. I imagined one of my flatmates coming in to discover me, drenched and sprawled mad-eyed in the growing lake of oil, waving a paper towel and croaking, "You can't stop it. It won't ever go away."
I was not making America proud.
And then I had a thought. Salt! Upon second thought, this made no sense, since you salt icy roads and what does that have to do with the Evil, Terrible Oil? But I did not stop for second thoughts, and simply upended a canister of salt upon the whole mess. And then I waited. And then I tried to sweep it up. The results were slightly horrifying, but at least now I had more of a damp smear than a lagoon. Having decided that there was only so much one girl could do (and remembering that Tuesdays the staff comes in to clean the kitchen) I placed a chair over the danger zone and made a sign cautioning about the OIL SPILL.
In my shamed retreat from the kitchen, I left a greasy trail upon door handles and light switches, no doubt providing an easy identification of the culprit for the cleaning staff. I suspect they will come in the night to attack me with mop handles and dustpans. Shaking and dripping in my room, I assessed the night's performance. I had succeeded in cooking a stir-fry. I had also dumped out a full quarter of a bottle of oil, stained my only good pants, and turned the kitchen into a hazardous zone in the process. My only consolation was that nothing had actually caught on fire -- although I feared I would spend the rest of my natural life as the Swamp Monster of Slime.
Kitchen Lesson Learned: Beware the Cooking Oil.
The Kitchen: 1
So I am here. In Britain. City of Norwich, County of Norfolk. There's an awful lot of Nor here, is what I'm saying.
I have been doing things in the past week, like orientation times twenty and such, but will have to talk about that later as my Hot Pocket is cooling (if it is not Hot, does it cease to be a Hot Pocket? Is it just a Pocket?) and I need to have something resembling dinner now.
And no, since you ask, the food shopping has not gone especially well. ;)
A random moment in my life:
I saunter down to the neighboring CVS to forage for dinner, due to a lamentable lack of funds and foresight.
After a few minutes of desperation, I find the frozen foods section and rejoice silently. I have snatched up a cheese pizza (microwavable!) and am about to scram when I notice that the boxes stacked behind the others on the shelf have curiously different labels.
Me: [ponders to self] What could this mean? Is there possibly a pepperoni lurking amongst those boxes, cleverly hidden by the salespeople? I must know!
Hunched down and leaning three-quarters into the freezer, I discover that there is indeed a pepperoni in the back.
With my natural grace and common sense, I immediately attempt to extract the pepperoni box from the stack in the back, neglecting to first clear away the other pizza boxes in front.
Pizza boxes: [crash and skitter madly along the shelf]
Salesperson: [wonders from a distance] Are there rats in the freezer again? Damn it, let me get the baseball bat...
Panicked, I fumblingly attempt to set things right, only to send more boxes reeling. The freezer (angered at having its door propped open for so long) roars into overdrive, making the shelves rattle, along with my hands. This contributes nothing to the restoration efforts. Eventually I am able to put things to a semblance of order and beat a hasty retreat before any salespeople come to investigate.
All this for a pepperoni pizza. Sometimes I really do worry.
Yesterday I smiled at a coworker in a novel attempt to make my annoying requests for help/clarification less annoying. It went something like this:
Me: *smiles in a hopefully apologetic yet endearing way*
Coworker: *stops dead upon seeing The Smile* Wow, that's...uh, kind of scary. Are you okay? Do you need help?
Me: *crushed* Yes. Yes I do need help. In many ways.
So that is yet another thing to go on my list of Workplace Rules: Do Not Frighten Your Coworkers With Your Teeth.
In other news, my roommate has gone on to the gentler, milder climes of Washington, leaving me here to wander alone and lost in the vast shadows of my room, losing my socks and forgetting to brush my hair. Incidentally, my hair has now reached critical mass -- that length where it no longer hangs about my face in any attractive fashion but instead grimly clings to my head like a determined dishrag. A haircut may be in order, if I can actually work up the motivation to plan that sort of thing.
Things I have learned this past weekend:
--the clubs here absolutely will not let you in if you are under 21, and may not let you in unless you are, as my friend said, "fully pimped out."
--trying on $600 dresses is nearly worth the sneering salespeople if you find something that actually looks good. However, most of the places that sell $600 dresses only carry them in size -2. Life is cruel.
--going to a fancy hat shop and trying on most of them is so much fun it should be illegal. Also, I was meant to be born back in the 1920s.
--Only 11-13% of pedestrians actually wait until the Walk signal to cross the street. Oddly enough, there is also a high pedestrian mortality rate here.
--Free Shakespeare in the Park is brilliant, even when the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream are wearing feather boas and spandex. Perhaps especially then.
--When you walk so much your feet go numb and you begin to stagger slightly, it's time to stop.
I have a new hero. He is tall, dark, works part time as a housing officer here, and wonder of wonders, he has managed to silence the Night Bunnies. My roommate told him of our predicament over dinner and later that night he paid a quiet, discreet visit to our neighbors. And Lo, That Night There Was Silence and It Was Good. I do not know what he said to them, but I think maybe it had less to do with the actual words and more to do with the air of barely suppressed violence radiating from his person. I have never actually seen a person turn dangerous like that in real life. I thought it was all a myth of the movies, the gimlet eye and taut shoulders and the soundtrack rumbling to let you know They Mean Business. But no! It happened right before my eyes and it was both terrifying and awesome because, and only because, he was on our side. So now I must throw garlands at his feet and sing his praises in the halls because he has given me the gift of sleep and that is a treasure beyond reckoning.
So last night was Attack of the Killer Night Bunnies, Part II. We had talked to the office after the last performance to complain, and they said they were drafting a letter (Dear International Students, Don't Be Annoying So Hard) and we could call the security desk if they got loud again. Oh, and quiet hours actually did exist, starting at 11 pm. Armed with this knowledge, my roommate and I settled into the trenches, waiting for eleven o'clock to roll around as the banging and banshee wailing raged outside. Secure in my foxhole, I eagerly looked over to my roommate as the clock ticked to the fateful hour, wanting to coordinate our triumphant lunge to the phone...only to find that my roommate had tragically fallen silent. Somehow, with the aid of sheer despair and exhaustion, sleep had taken her.
I was overcome by panic and considerable envy. Bravely pulling myself together, I resolved to continue the good fight to the bitter end!... by pulling the covers over my head and pretending I was unconscious. I listened miserably as the enemy maneuvered into their rooms, thus removing my last hope of calling the security line, since I could no longer complain about Noise in the Common Area and they would certainly hush up (temporarily) if they heard someone outside.
And then this morning the password-protected women's bathroom door (which is ever so secure, as it has the code taped to the outside of the door for anyone who can, you know, READ) refused to open. I poked buttons again; I wrestled with the handle; I even slammed myself against the door once or twice just for fun. Surprisingly, the force of my wrath failed to reduce the door to tiny toothpick splinters. Which meant I got to set off In Search of Bathrooms in order to take my shower. And then traipse back down the stairs in a towel, coming thisclose to tripping and making a horrible, yet hilarious, corpsified sight for the next stairs-taker.
Next, I put in my contacts and my eyes immediately started to itch. Blinking heroically through the pain, I stumbled back downstairs to get my ID. ITCH ITCH ITCH, said my eyes. I decided to take the mature approach and ignored them. On the elevator ride down, I tried to think of cool, soothing things: ice cream, cucumbers, snow. STINGING PAIN, retorted my eyes.
The elevator dinged for the first floor and I waited for the doors to open...and they didn't. This wasn't terribly unusual; certain elevators are notoriously sluggish when it comes to the sliding open/closed maneuver. What was unusual is that the elevator began to move again. I had a brief moment of complete disorientation (Whaa? Where? Who?) until I realized I was being taken up....and up....and up to the sixth floor. Then the door opened, allowing me to tumble out.
I am no expert on elevator functions, but I thought that when you got on and poked a button, the machine took you to that floor and let you disembark there, instead of, say, stopping there for a breather and then shooting back up to above where you started.
So I climbed the stairs down.
The rest of my day has been full of staring at a computer screen, listening to an earnest conversation about the legitimacy of articles in Playboy, and admiring the lovely new Out of Order sign on the bathroom door. I have a feeling the stairs and I are about to become much better acquainted.
You know what's not especially fun? Being kept awake until 2 am by a bunch of Spanish matadors who are practicing their leaping, bounding, and door-slamming techniques right next door. At least, that is what my roommate and I have decided they are doing. It is rather an eerie thing, actually. When one opens the door around, say 8 pm, one encounters a few international students demurely seated around the common room table, seeming to be studying or reading with great concentration. By 10:30 pm, one opens the door to view a mass of roaring, giggling, shrieking hooligans, whose numbers have increased sixfold.
My roommate and I tried to puzzle this out last night, since sleeping was suddenly taken off our schedules by the BANGING and the SLAMMING and the TEE-HEE ing. After carefully considering and discarding owls and bats, we came to the conclusion that our neighbors are secretly Nocturnal Bunnies. Because they come out at night and they multiply. They also have the memory of amnesic goldfish. We come out and yell (I sort of quaver miserably, actually), they are silent for three minutes, and then -- bing! --- the collective egg timer in their heads goes off and the noise starts right back up again.
At times like these you really discover the untapped murderous impulses deep within yourself. I am quite grateful that my roommate shared my homicidal leanings, as it made me feel like less of a terrible person for enjoying the small movies of carnage that were playing in my head. Anyway, we tried to keep things light with humor, but I really do think we could have fit a body through that gap in the window.
And now I get to work and to try not to fall asleep and drool on the keyboard...fun!
So yes. The layout has been changed, as part of the Get Excited And Not Terrified for England Campaign. This will probably also ensure that by the time I actually arrive in England I will need to change the layout again because Big Ben and Underground signs will be haunting my nightmares.