Sophisticated Sissy in Baltimore

From the unpublished papers: written at a Baltimore hotel, and at an airport bar in Cincinnati.

There's an amazing amount of men who've obviously been laid over in airports for hours without even loosening their ties. They just loiter, bluetooth earpieces tucked into their faces, denigrating their rivals to allies over the airwaves. "Sell sell sell! Buy buy buy! That guy's an asshole." It makes them look like schizophrenics, talking in circles and walking in baggy loops.

I spent the last couple days in Baltimore visiting Hopkins, being emphatically reminded of how much I've forgotten, and how much I don't know.

The first day of meetings and talks and hobnobbing and glad-handing was capped by an academic mixer, which means red wine, red wine, red wine -- plus a slightly highfalutin foreign beer bucket. I talked at length about the NCAA tournament with a group of fifth-year kids who knew a blessed preponderance about basketball, given their hectic schedules.

Life is the same in all spheres. The moment our herd, the newbies, merged with the students, the most attractive new girl and the most attractive seasoned veteran dude, scruffy grad student half-beard and all, came together like beads of mercury. It was, in some small way, reassuring.

I had fancifully thought, before this trip, that I could spend the coming summer cramming and then stroll into Baltimore with a bit of a head start on the workload. I now realize that this is a bit like thinking you'll be able to beat Super Mario 3 blindfolded, but with one less winged-shell duck creature in my path.

I exactly split in my meetings. There were four professors I was able to deflect with charm and good cheer and self-deprecating wisecracks. There were four whom I was not at all able to deflect, and they splattered all over me on impact. Nobody I talked to seemed at all familiar with me, my work, my reputation, or my credentials, but more than a few of them apologized and told me that, generally, they would have been familiar with me, and not being familiar with prospective students is completely unlike them, and that any other year they would know me far better than they did. Which leads me to wonder, naturally, how on earth I actually got into the program.

I expected Baltimore to be somehow differently cold than Iowa, but the cold feels the same, and the wind seems stronger.

Sometimes the best thing you can say about a hotel is that there's not somebody in the closet waiting to yell "ooga booga!" at you when you open the door.

I'm at the Hopkins Inn, which ironically is owned not by Johns Hopkins, but by Baltimore International College. It's old, like from the '20s, and it feels like the kind of place a modernist would have had a breakdown while trying to write an allegory about meaninglessness. I'm on the second floor. The only windows that are above ground level are three feet above my head, and have let in the same amount of light since I got here. It is now dark.

The blankets smell like a dog lays on them. There's a ball of someone else's hair under one of the pillows. Dozens, literally dozens of individual hairs coating the floor of the shower, so that it really looks like somebody tried to bathe a struggling soluki with a bottle of single-use shampoo/conditioner. Virginia's Garden single-use shampoo/conditioner. Oh, you've never heard of it? How odd...

The towels smell like bleach, but I dare you to touch your crotch with them.

Civic areas are developed by city planners in collusion with cab companies. It cost me fifty dollars to get here from the airport.

Flying into Maryland, there's a vast carpet of brown trees. It's a necroarborophiliac's paradise. I got to have some of that dead tree love.

The hotel that I'm at is on a street that runs parallel to the eastern border of Johns Hopkins University, and according to the Mapquest legend, they are never farther than 100 meters away from each other. But I just went outside, into the metropolitan wind-tunnel that I've never understood how urbanites learn to cope with, and I couldn't find the eastern border of Johns Hopkins University.

Two window seats. During the first flight I shared a row with a man who immediately whipped out his laptop and played chess against himself for the duration of the flight, cocking his arm to manipulate the mouse and planting his elbow three encroaching inches into my seatback. The second was even worse -- a polite woman who fell asleep immediately before I realized I had to pee or I was going to start wimpering like a cat in space.

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