I have to leave the house to check for packages.
Though I suppose it could be worse. And frequently was. Back in my college days (as though it were all that long ago) I lived in barely on-campus housing for my sophomore and junior years. It was a once-classy old house, probably built in the thirties or forties, down the road from campus proper and probably a quarter-mile walk from the nearest academic building. The Writers Institute had taken possession of the building and it was afterwards reserved for writing majors, although it from time to time was home to biology majors whose loud and possibly disease-ridden girlfriends frequently spent the night and made loud retching noises in the mens’ bathroom late at night on the weekends and every so often left a mess for housekeeping in the only upstairs sink that cannot be accurately rendered verbally. Bucket of cream of broccoli soup is the nearest visual touchstone I can provide.
Generally, the house itself had been kept in good condition, though our imaginations ran wild with the permanently closed-off attic. Nothing good ever happens in attics. And there was that one unfortunate incident with the tart warmer – a sort of plug-in candle that melts delicious-smelling wax in a ceramic dish that diffuses scent through the room. I’ll tell you it wasn’t my fault (because it wasn’t) and that alcohol wasn’t involved (because it was), but a certain friend of mine blundered himself against the mini fridge and upset the tart warmer, splashing molten, emerald green wax all behind the fridge and on the wall and the floor. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to clean wax off something after it’s been left to dry all night, but it’s about as effective as playing whack-a-mole with an Italian sausage. We scratched off what we could and then made the trip to Lowe’s to get some ill-matched interior paint to hide the rest.
But the house was comfortable, for the most part. It would get hot in the summer, what with the lack of air conditioning, and got even hotter in the winter, with the girls downstairs screwing around with the thermostat, attempting perhaps to replicate the climate of the forest moon of Endor. I frequently left more than one window open in the long winter months and slept quite comfortably.
The student mailboxes were located at the campus center – probably yet another third-of-a-mile away. Mail was not delivered directly to the house, unless it was a large parcel (like a television or a birdbath) and you trusted your housemates to let the delivery man inside and sign for it in your absence. So we had to walk that lonely walk across campus to check for mail, which even after four years in attendance at that school still arrived at a schedule that I found completely inscrutable. While expecting some parcel of great importance, I’d frequently make that trip multiple times throughout the day, knowing that the emails they send to students informing them of newly arrived packages frequently arrived several hours after the package had. And more than once I’d make the trip and even recognize the particular size and shape of the item I was expecting, piled back there in the mailroom only to be informed by the work-study student that it hadn’t yet been passed through whatever computer system tabulated and recorded the comings-and-goings of parcels, and that I would have to leave empty-handed and return in an unspecified time, despite the fact that my next class ended shortly after four o’ clock – that is, after the mailroom closed every day – and I’m here right now and I can see my package back there on the desk and why can’t you just give it to me now, damn you?
College has come and gone; my framed diploma hangs on the wall. A very expensive decoration. But I’m getting along well enough to be renting a house in a quiet little suburb and living comfortably enough, tucked behind the landlord’s house. Packages are delivered to his front porch along with the daily mail, and so I have to get shoes on and possibly fish the umbrella out of the closet because it’s of course raining at the precise moment that my preternatural parcel-sense informs me that UPS has just come and gone. Parcel-sense is 100% effective 30% of the time. Just as Amazon.com’s parcel-tracking text messages arrive when the parcel does 30% of the time, 100% of the time.
I wish there was some paradigm-altering lesson to be learned here. If anything, it’s the realization that stepping outside is frequently more trouble than its worth. I’ve also begun counting the times where I reach for my smartphone to consult the Weather app for the current temperature instead of poking my head out the front door. And I don’t take walks because I don’t like walking without a destination in mind. This is the reason I’m fond of backpacking; when it’s over, I’ve accomplished something that I can describe in the language of absolutes: I climbed that mountain. I only brought n changes of underwear.
I experience the great outdoors piecemeal, when it suits me. Any other time it’s a distraction and a nuisance and an inconvenience, as when about thirty yards of it separates me from whatever lovingly packaged book or CD or video game I’ve ordered and paid for with mere money and patience.
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