Sunday, January 11, 2009

For Love of Puritans and Dunkin' Donuts

Written Saturday, Bristol, RI

I paid $95 to see a doctor for half a minute this morning in order to get a prescription for antibiotics. It's been 9 hours since I took the initial double dose, and I am still in a world of pain. Indeed, I am running a fever right now. I can feel it--my eyes are glittering and my cheeks bright red. If this were the nineteenth-century, I would be uttering tremendously pious things and would die of consumption in a few pages. Instead, I missed a get-together today with a very dear friend whom I met eight years ago while buying indoor soccer shoes. To console myself, I made the Russian stop at Ocean State Job Lot (which he did not mind, since it is owned by Russians) where I paid 20 cents for a package of three surgical face masks. I've been wearing a mask off and on all day. I'm not sure why this makes me feel better, except that I get gratification from giving other people something to puzzle over. The teacher in me, I suppose. Or the budding exhibitionist. Or maybe I just like feeling woozy from the CO2 overdose, since it seems like I'm sucking in the same damned, hot, moist, oxygen-depleted air over and over.
Today, unlike yesterday, the Russian is in a frugal mood. We've had to talk about the economy before every meal. I don't know what to think about the economy at this point, but I'm not going to eat fast food the entire time I'm in Rhode Island just because I may be starving next year. True, I am unemployed after May, and the Russian is effectively unemployed as well, since Medevyev raised the import tax on automobiles by 30 percent. But I am not afraid. I like an ethic of spareness. In fact, of all that I will miss about my academic life, among the top contenders must be the Puritans. At least once a year, I have had the opportunity to teach Thomas Shepard, Edward Taylor, John Cotton, Jonathan Edwards, and sometimes, if I feel brave and can sneak them in, less well-known separatist figures, to undergrads. There could be nothing more at odds than the instant gratification and pat-me-on-the-head outlook of an American undergraduate and the doubt-piled-on-doubt, the wickedness-piled-on-wickedness of Michael Wigglesworth. I know that I have at least managed to trigger interest and wonder in a few students on this count. Certainly, there was a baroqueness of doctrine and behavior underlying the plain talk of the Puritan New England world. And Wigglesworth must have enjoyed a kind of luxuriousness in the excess of his self-abuse. Still, the stridency of address, the virtue made of suffering and misfortune, and the call to temper all desire is enormously attractive to me. I've always fancied a cloistered life and the Quakers for similar reasons. I guess I've still got Walden on my mind, but even that was just Thoreau's variation on a much older way of living. People should make more of an art out of living--design their lives, live out an aesthetic. I could live a life of spareness if I could make it feel elegant. I might be able to bear suffering if it seemed part design. It wouldn't help the economy much, but it might help me keep my head together. What wicked decadence I am disgorging today. People are out of work and cannot pay their bills. Poverty is not performance art. I saw the other movie by the Super-Size-Me guy. Anyway, to get back to my point: I'm sure I will miss teaching the New England Puritans when I no longer have a job next year and can't pay for my expensive anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. I am always feeling elegantly simple when in the throes of a an anxiety fit.

So, the Russian and I are staying in the home of a good friend of mine, one of the most likeable, inspiring, generous people I know. We can call her "N." N gave me a home when I was in the middle of a crappy divorce, and she made sure I laughed more than I cried during my last summer in Rhode Island. She is now 6-months pregnant, still working full-time, and has welcomed us into her home for 7 days as house guests. Every time I am around her I have this weird compulsion to do nice things for others. That's enough about N. I bring her up to mention some disturbing incidents involving her coffeemaker. She and her husband are not drinking much coffee themselves these days, but she knows the Russian and I like a lot of strong, black coffee in the morning, so she dug up a regular drip coffeemaker for us to use. The first morning I make coffee--something I do every day of my life--I pour in the water, insert a filter, and find that I cannot open the vacuum-pak envelope of coffee. I tug and pull and finally start looking for some kitchen scissors. Failing in that, I tug some more. The coffee finally bursts open, sending a quarter cup of ground coffee into the open utensils drawer (where I had been looking for scissors). There is a lot of ground coffee in all eight compartments of the drawer organizer, most of it in the compartment holding baby spoons. I don't know why N has three dozen baby spoons. She's pregnant with her first, but she has a gazillion, tiny rubberized baby spoons. My first thought is "hand-held vacuum," but I didn't know where to begin looking. Plus, these are baby spoons. I picture three dozen, wired babies sucking on coffee contaminated spoons and acting cranky. They all have my face. I feel ill will toward these babies as I wash the caffeine off each baby spoon with soapy water and dry them one by one with a clean towel. That done, I realize the other compartments are also filled with ground coffee and so I take all the utensils out of all their compartments and rinse out the organizer. I forget in what order I removed the six or seven piles of utensils and so I don't know where each should be returned. I imagine N and her husband wondering, "why are all of our utensils in the wrong places? did Amanda rearrange our utensils drawer? did Amanda clean our kitchen?" I finally resolve to tell N later if I can remember. Then, I get the Russian out of bed and go directly to Dunkin' Donuts. This would not be worth blogging about if it weren't for the next morning, when I fail to push the glass descanter fully beneath the drip basket and then go back upstairs while the coffee brews all over the counter. I return to find half a pot of coffee on the countertop and feel sort of awed by my own stupidity but also lucky the mess is not greater, until I realize that a thin, steady stream is flowing--not dribbling--over the edge of the counter, over the front of the drawer behind which lay the site of the prior day's disaster, and on into the cabinet below. With great foreboding, I open the cabinet door and find this morning's coffee pooled in a pull-out shelf that holds N's large collection of plastic storage containers. Dozens of lids, bowls, and boxes of many colors and sizes sit in a cooling millimeter of coffee. I feel numb, bemused, chastened. I rinse and dry each piece of storageware. While replacing everything--no doubt in the wrong places, I fantasize momentarily that I am suffering uncontrollable urges to clean N's kitchen, and that I have been succumbing, guiltily, secretively, cabinet-by-cabinet, day-by-day, the coffeemaker snafus, merely a ruse. I think, "I have an illness whereby I am driven to go to other people's homes and rearrange their drawers and closets. I cannot help it. I am sick." But then I wonder if the truth may not be worse, that I cannot focus on making a pot of coffee without causing a minor household disaster. Why do I drop and lose things, knock them over, and forget so often. Is this a species of dementia or have I possibly been exposed to an environmental biohazard in South Dakota that has compromised my cognitive abilities? Finally, I get things dried and put away, rouse the Russian and head for Dunkin' Donuts.

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