Wednesday, November 07, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day Seven

Gerald walked through a part of campus built in the 1970s. Walls of textured concrete surrounded him, rusting Steel sculptures, all angles and curves, reminiscent of the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza in the city, so much of Bonneville a cheap echo of the big city. Much of the architecture here was designed by people either trying to make a name for themselves breaking into the city, or those rejected and who came cheap and heartbroken. So the campus had a mixture of earnest brilliance or hack job work. The social sciences wing was of the latter. The architect's futuristic vision was ponderous and dystopian, concrete and rebar arches, deep, inset windows, tall and arrow, unopenable, of course. Inside open, but like a crypt, stale and soulless. And this was a place for social science, where the nature of depression was dissected and analyzed by those unconsciously being oppressed and depressed by their surroundings.

This will be the last time I borrow money from Ament, Gerald thought. I've got to use this return to school to live the old college grind. Ramen noodles and studying until all hours. Austerity. Simplicity. Gerald, too, like Ament, did not have a desire for material gain. But where he lacked in desire in that regard, he was ever restless for new experiences. Gerald had never held a full-time job longer than 18 months his entire adult life. As soon as things got settled and easy, he was on to the next big thing. Good thing graduate school takes a couple years, Gerald thought. Just enough time to get bored with it and move on.

Gerald pulled the wallet out of the pocket and looked at the blank check. The property management wanted $750 to settle him in to moving. Gerald knew it would take up to six weeks for student loans to be settled. He might not get a job for a few weeks, and then have to wait a couple weeks more after that before he got paid. Would Ament raise hell if Gerald wrote out the check to himself. Ament said, "Get a decent enough place, but keep this check around $1,000."

Austerity. Gerald repeated it to himself. He ran the numbers around in his head. $750 due now. Another $250 due four weeks later in the middle of October. I should be settled in by then. He settled on an amount. A change of plans was in order. Instead of going directly to property management directly, he'd find a bank and open an account. He checked the time on his phone - 4:30 p.m. Class was at 6, the office closed at 5. He'd have time to just do one. Or neither and wait until tomorrow. With no classes tomorrow, he'd just come back first thing in the morning and take care of everything.

Gerald walked out of the shadows of the social sciences wing, continued past a dormitory and recreation center, until he was back in the center of campus, the quad, an open courtyard surrounded by the library, another dorm, the library, and the medieval flying buttresses coming from the law school, whose foyer looked like the inside of a cathedral. On the dorm side of the court yard was a grassy hill. It was on the east and in full sun. Students milled about, talking in small groups of reading, cross-legged. Others played frisbee. A group of sorority girls stood nearby passing out pamphlets, inviting passerby to pledge.

Whereas the courtyard Gerald had just come from was in perpetual shadows, lifeless and cold, absent of company, this courtyard not only was in the center of the campus, but seemed to possess its beating heart as well. The tumult and youthful energy of his surroundings lifted Gerald's spirits. Austerity. He repeated to himself. And then he looked around at the beautiful young co-eds. And a little fun, too, perhaps? His vision of monk-like contemplation and concentration on his studies was replaced again by memories of undergraduate days, the rush to Fridays, sometimes not even patient enough to wait until then and starting the drinking on Thursdays.

A slight pang of regret. In some ways, Gerald was paying for the folly of his undergraduate partying. If he'd adopted an attitude of studiousness then, he wouldn't be a student-at-large now, but admitted directly into his major. But his undergraduate GPA was a paltry 2.95 (out of 4), and Northwestern wouldn't even take him back. In many ways, Gerald was like the unfortunate architect of the social sciences building. He was a reject of the big city. And he wasn't alone. Most of the students at ISNU didn't make it their first choice. Or even their second. If a student at ISNU came from the north shore, Evanston, or, say, Lake Forest, they were likely an idle, lazy, spoiled rotten trust fund baby here to drug their way through a few semesters, to eventually straighten up with the help of rehab and/or tutors and take on some aspect of the family business after graduation.

If a student came from the south suburbs or anyplace further west, they were likely blue collar, many first-generation college students whose parents had never set foot on a college campus, much less the public library in their hometown. Many were junior transfers from community college. These were the studious ones, desperate to escape a life of squalor or of a gifted mind that didn't want it to go to waste in the service sector or at some dead-end factory job. For all students at ISNU, to fail here at this second-tier state school was to fail utterly. The fall back option was a trade school, like the kind advertised on afternoon cable television shows.

ISNU, and to an equal degree, Bonneville, itself was a nexus point in the universe. Many of the failures of the world stopped here on their westward fall from grace, like a tumbleweed caught in a fence. Or they were on an eastward rise, and this small cow town would be remembered fondly, and with idyllic grace, over skyscraper cocktails or career seminars at convention centers.

Gerald, continuing on his pang of regret, placed himself in the drifter demographic. Although he'd never desired to live in the big city, he now didn't have the choice. Finances dictated that. There was no way he could afford to live in Chicago. But he couldn't abide living in his hometown either. If Bonneville was a nexus, a place of coming and going, Rockford was a cesspool. Rumor had it Chi-town bussed its indigent and mentally ill to Rockford and dumped them on their social service programs. A survey of the vast and colorful population of homeless and mentally ill who hung out in downtown Rockford seemed to confirm this theory. No, Gerald thought. Staying in Rockford wasn't an option.

The rooming house would help Gerald immerse himself in his studies. He would succeed. There was no plan B. Or at least none that Gerald wanted to entertain. He would get his degree in anthropology, and after that serve a couple years in the Peace Corps. And after that? Who knew? Who could think four years in the future. What about marriage? Children? A house? A settled job? Gerald chuckled at the idea. He just wanted to get laid. A long-term commitment would divide his energies too much at this time.

Gerald looked around. The women around him were so young, most 10 years or more younger than him. They would either be ripe for the picking by an experienced older man, or laugh him off for his lecherous folly. Gerald was still in decent enough shape. He had all his hair, no grays, and only a slight gut that could be reduced by a return to a regular running regimen. He was a social drinker, an episodic pot smoker. Although he was no prude, he was neither no slave to flesh or desire. In every respect, he was a drifter, but not a tumbleweed. Lighter. A dandelion seed, perhaps, blown to wind as part of a child's wish. Light, yes. Serious and introspective, to be sure, but always with a touch of whimsy.

The afternoon light was at its deepest golden. Gerald's eye caught the title of the book first, Dostoyevsky's "Notes from Underground," and then noticed the pale hands holding the book, a small, petulant mouth, chewing pensively, unconsciously. Glasses staring down, eyes focused on the page. High forehead. Wispy hair pulled back into a ponytail. Gerald lost himself in looking at her and was caught unawares when she looked up, directly into his eyes. He looked away, embarrassed to be caught in his idle voyeurism, and when he looked back she was gone.

Gerald checked the time, rose, creaking and stretching, and walked back towards the Country Acres, back to where his mom's car was parked on a side street, to pick up his bags and get on to class. Tomorrow would be a busy day. Another move. Another transition to complete.

Chapter Three

Leo Hartwig's office on the top floor of the public safety building in downtown Bonneville was as cluttered as his patrol car, bearing the detritus and debris of 27 years of police work. Rarely did he entertain any company, other than the odd detective or two who peaked his head through the door. Hartwig was not one for entertainment, or to engage in long conversation. Get to the point or get out. Hartwig did not suffer fools. And aesthetics was not a top priority.

His thumb rattled across an aged and crowded rolodex, the frayed ends of post-it notes jutting off the edge of the cards.

"Teee, tee, teee," Hartwig droned, unconscious that he was even speaking. "Ah, ha, here it is."

He picked up a phone, cradled it between ear and shoulder, and dialed the number, on the card. It rang twice before a voice on the other end answered with a curt "Yes."

"Thibodeux!" Hartwig said. Bart Thibodeux was the officer in charge of the drug enforcement task force, a good cop, devoted family man, dedicated to his job and resolute in the belief he was doing good for the betterment of his community and world.

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