West Side Translation

One of the things I love about growing up in Fayetteville, Arkansas was the Walton Arts Center, where this small town gets big fancy plays. Whenever one of my friends becomes famous and I become a financially stable entourage member, I’d like to contribute some money. Get my name in the program as the “Stage Hand” level of financier.

The great thing about the Walton Arts Center is not only that they offer student discounts at half price, but also that they don’t really check if you’re still a student. On Thursday, forty minutes from my house, I realized that a) I didn’t have my old student ID, and b) I may have thrown it away in Turkey when I was packing to come  home. Every ounce counts for those airlines.

As I jogged to the box office in the rain, I quickly created a story about how I was taking one Tuesday/Thursday class and would graduate in December. Abstract Algebra with Dr. Xidong, which is a class I actually took and then withdrew from, so I still need it. I made it to the desk and said, “I’ve really messed up. I forgot my student ID and -”

“That’s okay. What’s your name?”

“- Dr. Xidong in Abstract Algebra -”

“Xidong with an ‘X’?”

“Yes. Wait – my name’s Trumbo. 010179495.”

“It’s okay. Here’s your tickets.”

It’s been a year and a half since my ID worked, but this is the fourth play I’ve used it for a student discount. I figure that I have less money now than I did as a student; it’s intention, not legality. Plus one of the Walton’s just got arrested. Plank in your own eye, authority.

Holly and I saw West Side Story, which starred a number of look-a-likes as Sharks and Jets. I just know I went to high school with A-rab and Anybodys. They didn’t seem to recognize me shaking hands after the show.

The play has been “updated” to convey the reality of the cultures. All the Puerto Rican songs were in Spanish, which happened very subtly. At first, I thought – “How amazing is it that Stephen Sondheim was bilingual?” After the second song I didn’t understand, I slowly began to realize that the other times I’d seen this play, I hadn’t had this problem. After Maria sang “I Feel Pretty”/”Me Siento Muy”, I snapped in victory and shouted, “It’s been translated!” The woman behind us said, “Of course. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish.” Earlier she had let it slip that she was a drama major, and we should respect her authority on this.

Despite the growing Hispanic demographic in Northwest Arkansas, maybe two percent of the old, rich white people in the Walton Arts Center on Thursday spoke or understood Spanish. Maybe another 5% had read enough about this play to expect Spanish. So though everyone exited the theater exclaiming how thrilled they were with both the play and its modern edginess, at least all the husbands were thinking, “Why weren’t there subtitles?”

It was enjoyable, though. There was a heavy emphasis on ballet; the fight choreography was less believable and more stylizied, with a lot of high kicks and pirouettes. The character Action was still as frustrating as ever (I was hoping whoever did the translation might kill him off in the first act finale – alas, he survived through the end, again).

Action, far right, may never learn to make right choices.

Someone’s Motorola went off during Tony’s swan song. It ruined the moment for me. I was primed to really feel sad and then all I had was anger for that old person. And still Action. I can never forgive him.


The Place I Used to Live Was Destroyed

On Sunday afternoon the city I used to live in was rocked back and forth by a 7.2 earthquake. I found out about it after a woman from my mom’s bible study group called to ask about my friends. I had spent that day attempting to slay a dragon on the XBOX. It took me seven tries.

My nieces came up to visit. Zuzu and Coco. Yes, I know. One is three and the other a year and a half and we watched Carebears twice, even though Zuzu claimed the second time never to have seen it. Coco had the flu.

Two days later both my parents, my fiance and I all had the flu.

I lived in Van for a year while I taught English at the city’s university. Turkey has always had a problem with earthquakes and buildings in Van are cheaply built because the area is so poor. They’re all colored like they’re at a cocaine party in 1982. Everyone is wearing pastel suits with wide lapels.

I haven’t talked to many of my students since I left in May, but on Sunday I sent everyone emails asking about their families and the university. “We are okay but we are outside now,” which sounds like a tweet but Cihat’s home was destroyed. We played cards together every Monday but the Ezgi Cay Evi is gone now. We’ll have to find a new place.

Murat, a biologist in his forties with little English skill but no shame for mistakes, said, “Thank of God anyone was no hurt at the university from my relationship,” which caused some initial uneasiness but upon rereading turned out to be positive. No word on the city cats yet, but I’m assuming they’re fine. The university’s famous cat house was the more lavish than most eastern Turkish homes.

Over four hundred people have now been declared dead. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the earthquake; it’s opened up communication with old fraternity brothers and other Fulbrighters that I haven’t talked to since my Kindle was stolen in the Istanbul airport. The major lesson I’m learning now is how little I would’ve cared if I hadn’t been there. But when I read news articles now I ask, What about Kebabistan? Or the nice old man who made me ground beef sandwiches. I hope the university guest house was destroyed. I hated that place. But I liked the workers – I hope Deniz made it out before that place was sucked into the earth. It’s odd to think about how many people I came to know by sight if not by name, and how I’ll never know if they are still alive.

But today during the car ride home I made up a new joke:

What did the librarian say after the comedian finished his set?


Top Three Things to Start the Week

Camp is preparing to hibernate. We’re hording acorns and building huge nests of grass and mud, as well as pumping anti-freeze through the pool pumps and removing all liquids from the bathhouses. I was in charge of acorns.

I was told to round up every water hose in camp, bleed it dry and stack it in the lumber barn. I’ve never realized how many hoses we have in camp; we use most of them for irrigation. Either that or green spray paint. It took all of Tuesday to unroll each hose down the hill behind the maintenance facility and cinch it back up with zip ties. Most of the skilled workers at camp – our heating and cooling guy, Joe the Polish carpenter – leave an hour earlier than me. Joe turned off the lights in the barn as he left. I organized a good portion of the hoses in darkness. Tomorrow I’m sure as I arrive my boss Rob will run up and say, “Come quickly! The face of Jesus has appeared to us in the form of hoses!”

Yesterday during our last pre-marital counseling session, Holly and I were told by our marrying pastor that even with consistent birth control, sometimes people still get pregnant. Okay, but that’s one in six billion, right? “No,” he said, “We got pregnant eight months in.”

WHAT? Why has no one ever told me this? We can diligently use expensive birth control and there still may be a baby? There should be a law – or an action movie. He was the CIA’s greatest asset. Now he’s their target. But the one thing they didn’t count on – was ineffective birth control. 

However, the rest of the session went quite swimmingly.

Joe the Polish carpenter is 76; he’s got quite a few rough-and-tumble stories, though I’ve never heard any. Most of the stories I hear are about geo-thermal heating. But he can’t hide his gritty and badly-done tattoos. During one of our breaks at work today, Joe was snacking on some sausage when I spoke to him for the first time in seven weeks.

“Joe, I like the tattoo on your forearm. What is it – the Polish flag?”

“Bridget Bardot,” he said. What? “Film actress. Back in 70’s – no, 60’s – I get her face on my arm.”

It has not stood the test of time.

Conversational Maintenence Worker

To make it to work by 7, I usually get up at 5:45 and am out the door by 6. On Monday I work up at 7:26. In a panic I threw on the closest pair of clothes I could grab. Later on, in the car, I realized that these were the clothes I wore to church on Sunday. That day I reorganized the lumber barn.

War Eagle is always looking for good deals. We have another grease stove vent hood in storage because it was on auction for peanuts. We gave them a bag and said, “You have to shell them yourselves!” The auctioneers were all elephants. ANYWAY – there’s a vent hood next to the old pontoon boat in the oversized carport. We also bought 50+ rolls of 18 inch wide carpet. Each roll weighs about 130 pounds and, in my Sunday best, I stacked them all in an empty corner of the lumber barn. Halfway to lunch Neal, the other guy on the job, disappeared and came back with a stick of Old Spice. “I’m sorry,” he said as it gave it to me. “But you smell terrible.”

“No,” I said, “I’m sorry.” Not sure, but I think he threw the deodorant away after I used it. Besides, it was mostly gone.

Lunches with the maintenance crew are enlightening. I’ve learned a lot about a) hunting and b) machines and machine maintenance. Usually we sit down and whatever we’ve been doing will influence conversation. If Daniel’s been using a torch to cut metal, we’ll talk about the differences between propane, gasoline, and acetelyne before sharing our preferences. If a car needs to go to town to be painted, Rob will regale us with the sad story of a man who did a good job painting his car, but was arrested for operating without proper ventilation (his ex-girlfriend turned him in). Then it will turn out that every other maintenance worker knew or had a beer with that man at some point.

Last week we spent an entire lunch arguing about the best type of weedeater from our childhoods. The consensus winner sounded like a swordfish.

The same can be said of deer feeders, tree stands, duck blinds, methods of dealing with poachers, and the aggravating over-population of deer on camp property. No one’s allowed to kill an animal at camp, and the ruffled deer that graze on the edge of the road really gets these guys goats.

But on Monday when Terry pulled out a cheese sandwich, Daniel and Rob began to argue about the proper way to cook a grilled cheese sandwich – namely, which side should be buttered. Rob obviously thought the outside should be buttered but Daniel argued that the heat will pull the butter through the bread, if buttered on the inside.

The argument was rocked when Rob the Second (there are two of them) stepped in with a screwball about his experiments with gouda and homemade garlic cilantro mayonnaise. As it turns out, he has an elementary interest in exotic cheeses. And as they began to argue the more delicate points of fine sandwiches, I realized that they had found yet another topic to which I could add nothing.

Lucky in Life, Unlucky in Second Life

Every morning on my forty minute drive to work through Hobbs State Park I listen to KRUZ 94.9. Sometimes I get so lost in it that I drive straight past my turn off and into the city limits of the next one over. Oh no, I usually think – I’m going to miss coffee pot talk. But I listen to KRUZ because it’s a lot less talk than other morning shows and KFAY talk radio doesn’t really get a clear signal until 9:30, when I go on my first break.

A couple times each morning KRUZ will run a “Name that Song” contest. The host will play a five-ish second clip of whatever song she was humming on the way to work and people call in to guess it. I’ve called in several times, but usually the song is either too obscure or one that everyone knows (any Michael Jackson song, and there have been three since I started). On those days the phone line rings busy. But on Monday I got through and guessed correctly.

The song was “Here it Goes Again” by OK GO. The absolute only reason I knew the song was because we played the music video once a week during the summer at Camp War Eagle. It’s pretty nifty. They dance on treadmills. So I won twenty bucks locked in a gift card to a Mediterranean restaurant.

When I was in eighth grade I won second place in a raffle for mall gift certificates. First place was an old skinny man who, now that I think about it, is probably dead by now. He got a thousand dollars. I won five hundred and they took my picture for the paper. I wore my Woodland Jr. High letter jacket, bent rimmed glasses and metal smile. Later I threw down all that money on DVDs that are now all scratched beyond use or missing. What do you do with a movie case whose movie is gone. You bury it, for the soul of it is in a better place, my ex-roommate’s DVD binder.

When the hostess of the morning show picked up my call, we had this coversation.

HER: KRUZ Radio, who is this?
ME: Cass.
HER: Cats? As in, meow?
ME: No. C-A-S-S
HER: Oh, like Mama Cass.
ME: Yes. Yes, like an old woman.

I’m supposed to pick up the gift card on Friday. After laboring on a post-wedding budget where I will eat used coffee filters and drink old car oil, the thought of a career in winning prizes is appealing. But you know what they say – give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Give a man a million fishes, and you probably feed him for a lifetime.