Title for this chapter: Settling In
Okay, inspired by my friend and mentor Jim Harstad, and encouraged by his being encouraged about his own writing, I'm posting the latest installment of a saga I'm working on that charts my journey to the Ph.D program in English at the University of Hawai'i. Hopefully Bamboo Buckaroo won't remove this from the site due to language or boredom concerns. This too is a rough draft. A little background: I arrived for grad school in Madison, Wisconsin around two in the morning. I called my folks from a payphone in the parking lot of a Dunkin' Donuts, then found a church parking lot I could sleep in for the rest of the night. The 100-book list is a list of books I was required to read to get ready for my M.A. comprehensive exam at UW Madison.
So I woke up not dead, and proceeded from the church back to Dunkin’ Donuts, the place that would become a permanent reference point for me, a little bit like a compass, or a kind of mauka-makai directional bearing. The day I left Madison for good, I intentionally drove past that place, that payphone, for one last look for old time sake.
I purchased a paper to peruse while I drank my coffee and dunked my several donuts. Thanks to the time of year, there was a whole section dedicated exclusively to student rentals and, never having lived anywhere but in my parents’ home, I marveled at all the possibilities for houses and apartments and dorm rooms, shared and unshared living rooms and bathrooms, and places that had yards or common green spaces.
If I’d been an undergrad, I might have been naïve enough to be tempted by the dorms, but from my experiences partying it up at the University of Hawai`i dorms, I pretty much knew dorms were not going to help promote serious study habits.
Horrors to the possibility of shared bathrooms. That was out. Way out. I was not going to come all the way to Madison to catch some kind of weird disease due the germs of others. And just imagining people spitting in a shared sink made me ill.
Screw shared bedrooms. I already knew I snored at some volume, and there was no way I wanted to get stuck with someone who had the same problem. Also, the idea of being attacked by some psycho bedroom mate, or even housemate, for that matter, meant that there was only one possibility: It would be either a one-bedroom apartment or a studio, depending on what I could afford.
The hunt thus narrowed, I scanned the columns again. Actually, the one-bedrooms looked pretty affordable. RecentIy checked out Madison one-bedroom apartments on the web, and they still look affordable, especially compared to Hawai`i rental units geared toward students at UH.
It was cute the way lots of the buildings were named, but after traveling a few of the columns it dawned on me that all the buildings in Honolulu were named as well. This killed the charm of the thing, until
Jane Huston House. I couldn’t believe it. Jane Huston was the place where my mom had lived, in the only apartment on the first floor of the building, when she had attended UW. It was a women's dorm back then. Hopefully co-ed now, they had one-bedrooms, and the price looked great actually, especially since it was a mere four blocks from campus.
Cooper Apartments, the company that owned Jane Huston, turned out to have quite a few buildings scattered throughout the downtown area. I went outside to the payphone and called them. The woman who answered, I found out as we spoke, was Mrs. Cooper herself. Jane Huston was indeed co-ed now. She loved that I was from Hawai`i, and she found the story of my mom having lived there very cool.
“That bottom floor apartment isn’t available, but we do have one last one-bedroom. You’d better hurry over there to see it before it’s gone.”
I don’t know why, but I panicked. All of a sudden, it became imperative that I live in Jane Huston, my mom having lived in this place. “I’ll get there as quickly as I can.”
Boom, the phone hit the hook and I left the smell of burned rubber behind me. I’d told Mrs. Cooper where I was, and she said I was only about three miles from Jane Huston. Her directions were perfect. I screeched into the parking lot maybe twenty minutes later.
Bounding to the front door, I rang the bell. Whoa. This very attractive, I assumed Mid-Western, maiden came and opened it. “Are you Mr. Lee?” she asked.
“Yes, yes I am. I guess Mrs. Cooper called you?”
“Well, ah, I’m not psychic,” she said laughing. “Although my mom and I do have a pretty close connection.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Cindy. It’s nice to meet you. Let me take you upstairs to see the place.” She pointed to the elevator. “The apartment is on the second floor, so the stairs are usually faster than that thing.”
I stopped on the first step. Sitting off in a corner was a room with glass running from about midway up the walls. It looked like a tropical forest. Huge Boston ferns hung in pots from the ceiling and there were orchids all along the window ledge. I could also see other types of flowers and some tree ferns further in.
“That room is spectacular.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said. “That’s my apartment.”
I looked at her. “The only apartment on the ground floor then, right?”
“Why yes, it is. How did you know that?”
“My mom lived in there when she went to school here.”
“Wow! That is amazing,” Cindy said. “Up until I started attending UW, it was still being rented out. I’ve been in there for three years now. I love that apartment.”
I asked why there was only one apartment on the ground floor.
She pointed to some very ornately carved double doors across from us, just past the elevator. “That whole side used to be a dining hall and a common living room area. They even had a small library in there with a huge fireplace. Right now it’s just storage for all kinds of stuff, beds, chairs, tables, whatever. My mom always talks about converting it to more apartments. One of these days I suppose it’ll happen.”
I followed her upstairs. Great legs. She swung open the door and I was in love. The door opened onto a very large living room, dining room, and kitchen area. Cindy explained the layout to me, showed me the bathroom and the bedroom, and explained that all utilities were included, except telephone. She pointed to a cable running out of the wall, a wire that hooked up to a gigantic antenna on the roof. I spent many a night up there playing guitar, drinking beer, and smoking dope. Even better, I was always the only person up there. It’s as if I were alone, like Cindy, down there in her Garden of Eden.
“I have no TV,” I said. “I think it would kill my studying.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, looking at me a little oddly, I thought.
She beckoned me to the middle one of the three windows. Once she opened it, the sound from the street poured in. I came to her side. We were sort of squeezed together, our heads sticking out the window. My body heated up a tad.
Although not too bad, the noise surprised me. “As you can see, you’d be right above the front door. Sometimes people hang around out there on the stoop, more likely on a Friday or Saturday night. If the noise bothers you, you can always close the windows and run the A.C. In the winter, of course, you won’t have a problem.”
We pulled back inside. What a beauty. She closed the window. Instant silence. Like deep in the bowels of the library type silence. “That’s amazing,” I said. “This place is pretty soundproof, huh.”
“It’s awesome,” she said. “Living here is like being in your own home. You won’t hear any of your neighbors, either on the sides or above. It’s like the tomb in these apartments. They just don’t build ‘um like this anymore.”
I was sold. Cindy directed me to the downtown office of Cooper Inc. I met her mom, filled out the paperwork, put down my deposit and first month’s rent, then headed back to my place. My now home away from home.
The summer heat is pretty brutal in Madison. It has two somewhat large lakes on both sides of it, actually nearly surrounding it, so the humidity on the worst days is unbearable. Thank goodness for air-conditioning.
I went down the block to State Street, the main campus drag. There was a store on the corner. I bought the makings for sandwiches and went back to my apartment.
I entered the building and saw Mallory conversing with a young man. She was obviously upset. See saw me. “Oh Lanning, let me introduce you to my husband." No name. We shook hands.
So much for that happy possibility, I thought while I munched down two salami sandwiches.
“I gotta find a woman.”
This became my mantra. I would chant it for more single-guy days than I had hoped.
Fed, I hunkered down to the job of further knocking off the daunting 100-book list. I can’t remember what I read that first night in my little Madison abode. All I do recall is that I’d finished Shaw in Oakland, and that I now dug into something I did not enjoy at all to that same extent.
Like a good number of the books on the list, I remember little about it. It’s funny how you find authors with whom you resonate. You run across someone you love, and you can remember his or her work as if it were a movie you could run through your head.
And then there are those that you struggle your way through, and it’s as if the second you finally finish, the thing is gone immediately, disappearing into thin air like Keyser Söse.
I’d brought my own set of sheets and a towel with me. I don’t know. I don’t know why I assumed that I would sleep in a twin bed, but that’s what was there. I had not, however, brought a pillow or some type of spread or comforter, nor had I packed a frying pan, plates, and utensils. As soon as I could, I would seek out some mall where I could purchase all the necessary items, but it would probably not be tomorrow.
Tomorrow was registration. Tomorrow too I would meet up with Kelvin Masuno and his wife Sally.