Tuesday, May 17, 2005

BLOOD ON THE WINDOW: COLLEGE FLASHBACK

My sister Elizabeth’s birthday was May 9th. She’s in Edinburgh getting her PhD now, but somehow her birthday brought up a memory from about 15 or 16 years ago. At the time, she and I shared an apartment in a complex called Fox Hollow in Gainesville, Florida. We were both going to the University of Florida and trying to conserve funds.

Fox Hollow was a dismal place—our upstairs neighbors were always arguing and stomping around--and our lot as starving college students was somewhat dismal, too. I had a temporary OPS job on the campus working as a writer for an insane vampy boss who scared the shit out of me, and Elizabeth was working somewhere on the university, too. But it wasn’t enough money, so we were always scratching around for the rent. We did have student loans, but the student loan people were like some kind of secret police. They'd haul us in for questioning and delay our money for months. One time they even audited me, making me provide the contracts for the short stories I'd sold, most of them for $20 to $50. ("But you're a published writer," the dumb-ass behind the glass would say. "You must be making money." "I'm publishing in Shithole Quarterly and Trucker's Crack Journal," I'd reply. "You don't make money publishing there.")

To help us survive food-wise, we used to make this insane pasta dish. It was either long noodles or little pieces of pasta in a white cheese sauce we simmered in a pan first, and which almost always congealed or burned and then became all loopy and salt-water-taffy-ish when applied to the pasta. Then we’d add mushrooms, broccoli, and squash to it and heat it all up in one huge pot. Then that pot would last us a few days. We’d kinda just eat off of this big congealed ball of white pasta. It literally might last a week (although we didn’t eat just it exclusively the whole week—that would have been too gross).

The apartment was also kind of sad because it housed three dogs and four cats at one point. We were a little too sympathetic to strays. I remember that we used to try to pretend the three dogs were actually two or one, because they were all Samoyed mixes, and we didn’t want to pay the fee for having three dogs, and weren’t even sure three dogs were allowed. (Although one of them, named Puppy, turned out to not be the full-breed Samoyed I’d been promised but, somehow, a cocker spaniel/Samoyed mix. Elizabeth got no end of enjoyment out of me insisting that “eventually he’ll get bigger.” He never did. He did, however, eat spoons and forks, with no ill effects, for whatever that's worth.)

So it was a crowded, small apartment with a lot of animal smells in it. And one day we’re standing there by the kitchen window eating from our ball of hardy white pasta—the Death Star of pasta dishes—when we hear a commotion upstairs and suddenly blood starts streaming down the outside of our window. We just kind of stood there, holding our forks of impaled pasta with our mouths open, watching the blood come down in a wave. In our crappy little apartment full of animals. I'd never seen anything like it. Was the world coming to an end?

And I turned to Elizabeth and said, “There’s got to be a better life out there somewhere.” I can’t remember if we thought that was funny at the time or if it was too grim to be funny.

Turned out that our neighbors had had a fight on their balcony above us and the blood was from somebody’s head wound. We didn’t bother to go outside and check on them. After all, they’d bled all over our window. The bastards.

It’s kind of funny now that we’re all grown up and pursuing successful careers. Although whenever I see that kind of pasta in the store, I think about that apartment and the blood on the window.

JeffV

11 Comments:

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Heidi said...

For me it was (sort of still is) strictly rice and beans, ramen noodles with peanut butter added, and all in pot lasagna. I measure financial stability by how much protein appears in my dinner.

As an recently graduated and unemployed humanities PhD with a staggering amount of student loan debt (the amount doubled while I was in school), I don't often buy new books and have to feed my book-a-day habit with tattered but cheap specimens from the local alomost-ready-to-throw-it-out store. However, I don't find your books in such places - clearly it is uncommon for anyone to part with them. I've been reading your fictions for some time, and am enthused enough to read more than the fiction. I actually sent off for "Why Should I Cut Your Throat." I'm about halfway through it. Your comments about the interstitial remind me quite a bit of the academic morass of "interdisciplinarity" and I chuckled at the end of the essay. The book, as always, was well worth the cash - but I'm headed back into more of your fiction after this is done.

Although the yellow streak in me is as large as it was for you toward Ellison back in 1990, I hereby perform a deep bow in your general direction. Thank you.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

"I'm publishing in Shithole Quarterly and Trucker's Crack Journal," I'd reply. "You don't make money publishing there."

LOL. Do you still have the submission guidelines for these two fine publications? ;)

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Heidi:

Thanks for the very kind comment--I really appreciate it. Yeah--I think your parallel to "interdisciplinary" is appropriate. I also checked out your site--very cool stuff. I like the whole virus in fiction thing. In part because the new novel I'm working on--Zamilon File--actually deals with that, in part, both through the surface of the text and the subtext. An intentional and unintentional virus. I'll check your site out again to see if your thesis is published there. If not, I hope I can persuade you to email me a copy.

Best,

JeffV

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Heidi said...

Be happy to - but I warn you that it isn't a very fun read. I tried to take on too many books, and the writing is uneven. It would take serious revision to be published - but perhaps it could be helpful in some small way. Can't wait to read the new novel!
Send me yr email and I'll send it to you - let me know if you prefer pdf or word files.
heidi (at) virushead (dot) net

 
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