Saturday, August 25, 2007

First and Other Impressions

I just got up from a nap. I was stretched out on a folded quilt, a folded pilow under my head, a folded blanket under my knees to compensate for the lack of padding. I was sweating, but only in the minimal way a body does in a warm climate. It is reminding me of Korea, where sweating was the norm at least six months of the year.

Indeed, in Korea we didn't have AC either. Most of Athens seems to follow this pattern; you can see window units all over the place. Is that typical of this latitude? I guess it's hot enough in Houston to merit central air in nearly every edifice, but here, a college town wedged in an Appalacian armpit, such luxuries are for renters with disposable income.

I left the house early this morning—maybe 8—to check out a garage sale around the corner and see what I could see of this new town. As luck would have it, as I was walking down Grosvenor (my street), Joey and his family were driving up it, heading to the same sale. So they invited me along for a morning of sale-ing (sailing?). Callan took to calling me "Big Grove," apparently of his own volition (though I suspect Joey had something to do with it). After a fruitless search for Joey's new kitchen table, he dropped me off on campus and I continued my explorations on foot. Athens is a college town. Downtown, just above campus, it is a mess of brick streets lined with odd shops selling the normal wire-sculpture and stained-glass, faintly drug-related, college-town paraphenalia. Between those stores are ones with familiar names—Wendy's, Subway, and Starbucks—crammed in unfamiliar spaces, as downtown doesn't provide the typical suburban architecture I normally associate with such institutions. It reminds me of Galveston with its funkiness, minus the salt-tinged air. Of Park City with its refusal to let a hill or two halt its sprawl, minus the money. Of the U, minus the space and the residual classiness of an originally Mormon valley.

As I walked back up the hill to my house, my jeans were riding low with the humidity, curling under my heals and slowly shredding themselves against the asphalt. A cloudy day, it brought back the heat of my Houston youth, a heat that travels with the water in the air, pushing into lungs and clothes and crevices with the constancy and patience of osmosis, effective even when shade diffuses the light. Four years in Utah where the heat rides down directly on sunbeams was almost enough to forget the way it makes you heavy, makes you want to sleep right where you stand, but now I'm back. At my doorstep was Emily Plicka, the Young Single Adult leader in our local branch, just finishing a note she intended to leave me. We chatted for a few minutes and she invited me to the air-conditioned comfort of her house where I got to know her husband Joe, a PhD student also in the English department.

A few hours later I was home in my room, quickly lulled to sleep by the stagnant air in my room. I was awakened just a few minutes ago by a crack of killer thunder and the beginning of a full-blown rain shower. I opened my windows, let the cool air billow in, and typed this up to the punctuation of a brilliant lightning display. Suddenly Athens reminds me of Houston—of home—with its green and its wet and its respite from the elements with other, equally violent elements. And even though it lacks family and donuts and sentient traffic signals that intuit the presence of cars and pedestrians, I could live here. Besides, even Utah lacked donuts.


Joey said...

I'll have you know that "Big Grove" was entirely of Callan's making. I had nothing to do with it.

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