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Slough; Fridays

I sleep wearing my base layer because I can't quite bear to expose my bare skin to the cold room in the mornings. This way, I don't need to strip down to change from my pajamas to my day clothes. I carry the lingering warmth of sleep to the kitchen and it keeps me company while I make breakfast.

There's a layer of ice that slowly grows on the inside of the kitchen window. Occasionally, it becomes heavy enough that it pulls away and drops in a sheet into the sink. The drain moves sluggishly in the cold, sometimes filling the sink with four inches of old soap and floating coffee grounds before I lose my patience and manually burp it with my fist until the water slides away.

My knuckles are a mess of burst seams and cracked edges, and I rub beeswax and grapeseed oil into the sores so I can bear to tie my bootlaces again. Every minute I am late for work is punished, corrected, by going to bed that many minutes earlier.

The crows are struggling to maintain their order in this weather, though they have been quieter than recent meetings. I see small bands of them, a dozen at a time, pressing through the blowing snow. Little by little, patches of blue spread through the sky, and there is little else I can think of except the screaming pain of my fingertip nerves thawing enough to realize that, yes, it's cold out.

Fridays are quiet, a five hour contiguous block of time for me to clear my palate and my workbench and reconfigure my life so that I can have a new week. Months of catastrophes taper away, allowing room to knock over to-do lists neglected on the back burner. It takes twenty minutes of running a damp sponge over the counters to remove debris built up from a week of photograms.

A girl stands in front of the office door and frowns at the posted schedule, which only contains dates for Sunday through Friday. "Do you know if this room is open on Saturdays?" she asks me, while I have my head cocked to the side and watching her from my desk across the hall.

"It's not. The only weekend hours are Sunday nights on the schedule." I'm the only one running office hours; all the ones posted are mine. She does not pass her inquiry to me, only turns and walks away with disappointment.

I leave my bicycle in the hallway now, letting it slough off the layer of road salt and slush that coats it every time I ride. People observe the puddles with alarm after I move it, wondering if there's a leaking pipe or another flood threatening to wash away our labs again.

I can never get moving on time.

24 January 2014 17:03

Dish Duty

In my paternal grandmother's house, I was told that the rule for all meals was that the last person to finish eating had to do the dishes. This happened as I was the last person to finish eating, when I first visited as a child. It was the first time all of her five grandchildren were in the same place at the same time, so it was a massive family dinner with as many of her descendants as possible. I was eleven, and didn't understand the nature of complicated Chinese family structures, and still stumbled over addressing my relatives with the correct title that acknowledged their position in our hierarchy.

My uncle, the baby brother of his generation (fourth born out of seven), covered me on dish duty; at age eleven, my own parents still had not required me to wash dishes, so the task seemed impossible to me. As the sole representative of my branch, the embarrassment stayed with me for years. Later in that trip, my youngest aunts, my father's two baby sisters, cornered me and told me I wasn't doing my duty of taking good care of my father because of how much he had aged since he left them. They hadn't seen him in almost a decade and a half, during which he immigrated to a different country, had a child, and finished his doctorate. His greying hair and tired face in the photographs I brought, the only appearance of him I had known, became my shame.

I returned to my grandmother's house with my father thirteen years later, and offered to clear the table after lunch. My father put out his hand to stop me and repeated the rule of his childhood: the youngest present cleans up after meals. My cousin, less than a year behind me, dutifully carried all the bowls to the kitchen and washed them. Later, we fought for the right to clean my grandmother's kitchen for her; him, because it was his job indefinitely so long as the baby cousins weren't visiting, and me, because I wanted to erase a burden I carried from my first visit.

These are the things I remember whenever I am doing dishes. In my kitchen, the rule is much simpler: dirty dishes are forbidden. Anything in the sink becomes the problem of whoever sees it. It is permissible to ask to be excused from dish duty for a variety of circumstances, such as hand injuries, occasional time and energy constraints, or in exchange for having done a significant amount of food preparation. But, in general, dishes do not remain in the sink for any longer than it takes to clean them.


With a quiet smile, the electrician stared calmly at the cockroach that scrambled around his boots as he walked, carefully stepping to avoid smearing it all over the floor.

"Whoa. You know there are some big Madagascar cockroaches down in the steam tunnels." Maybe he was talking to me, since I was the only one within earshot on my way to the stairs, watching him in the same way he watched the roach, but the words seemed more for himself than anyone else.

I laughed while he let the roach escape under the machine room door. "Yeah, this guy's not so big as the ones I've seen."

23 January 2014 18:47


It was below zero when I left the house this morning, bundled in layers of wool and down and leather and nylon and cotton and plastic. The ride was not unpleasant, somehow, even if I had to stop twice to scrape out the inside of my goggles. At the first stop, it was condensation from my breath, carefully controlled in little puffs that still wasn't enough to keep the hot steam from sticking to the inside of the cooled plastic. At the second, it was frost, and my fingers were already too numb to be bothered by touching ice.

My thumbs were the coldest part of my body, separated furthest from my central source of heat by virtue of their opposibleness, their one virtue that makes them such a special appendage. My other fingers implemented the buddy system, bound in pairs inside my cycling gloves to minimize loss of heat while still retaining some amount of dexterity. Together, all of my fingers were the vanguard, the forward-most part of my flesh and blood perched on top of my bicycle. The faster I dared to ride through the slush and slipping cars, the more my fingers suffered, but I knew that it meant less time in the cold.

When I got to my building, I dismounted and walked my bicycle through the first floor hallway, dripping salted snow onto tile floors that are impossible to keep clean in this season, numbly opening doors by inserting my hand up to the wrist through the pull handles. I punched the elevator button with no regret; I felt that I earned my ride of two floors down into the basement.

A man stopped as he passed me and watched as I impatiently peeled off layer after layer; the heated indoors air was warmer than the bubble of cold now trapped inside my well-insulated attire, and I was desperate to thermoregulate again.

"I normally bike to work, but today I was afraid of frostbite."

"Well, sure. It wasn't that bad out."

I smiled and gave him a nod as the elevator doors slid open. He was only passing through to the next building.

22 January 2014 19:40

meta-meta and routine living

I'm flopping between desiring the accountability that comes from blasting content into the unspecified void, and fearing the stage of my life when I did that as a pure expression of adolescent ego. I've gotten past the point of self-importance that let me think everyone and their mother wanted and needed to read my drabbles, but I still wish I had that importance.

The winter this year has been colder than most that I can remember, and I'm grateful to be in a house with functional heat. The thermostat maintains a comfortable 57F in the center of the house, but the old radiator system means that my room hovers somewhere in the upper 40s. Swaddled in blankets, I can bear it to work at my desk for a little while at a time, but eventually I have to move back to the dining room table to warm up. My shins press against the radiator grid and I wrap my blanket around my chair so the heat builds inside.

Sometimes, I want to delete everything I've written as soon as I've performed the act of purging the words from my mental palate, and sometimes I don't believe I have the right to make that decision. The present I should not be permitted to perform acts that a future I would find distressing, and there have been countless times when I have been glad to have the opportunity to scan over archives of the past I.

I'm settling into a routine of waking, breakfasting, biking, working, exercising, eating, cleaning, and sleeping that is not displeasing, but I wonder how long it will take before I get restless. I can keep maintaining my productivity indefinitely, especially as I continue to improve my ability to compartmentalize and assign blocks of time to certain tasks. A problem I have always had is my inability to switch gears smoothly, and perhaps that is the one thing I can correct at the moment, and then I will see how things are.

21 January 2014 21:25

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