Below is part (2/3) of The Doane Group. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.
Wait, what's that you say? This just isn't enough to satisfy your weekly short-story itch? You want more? Very well. It just so happens that you're in luck this week. Head on over to my friend Grinia's blog mirrorsoul.org and check out the short non-fiction piece that I wrote about my mom.
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The Doane Group - part 2
‘I’m Alexander James. I believe I owe you some documents.’ I padded the side of my messenger bag.
‘Yep, Alexander James. We’ve emailed back and forth a few times.’
‘Yep. James is my last name.’
‘James is your last name!’
‘Yep.’ I shook my head and waved it off. ‘Don’t worry. That happens all the time.’
‘Ooh.’ She flashed a quick look of dismay on her face. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘No problem.’ I shook my head and waved off the comment once more. ‘Like I said, happens all the time.’ I looked over at the receptionist, who was now standing and propped up on her elbows on the counter in front of her. She looked back at me and shrugged her shoulders and have me a, kind of, eh, she makes a good point, kind of look.
‘Please.’ Tammy said, as she opened her hand out towards one of the two metal chairs facing her desk. ‘Come have a seat.’
I wasn’t like this when it came to paperwork. Usually I would have every form perfectly type-faced and formatted and with signatures in all the places that required signatures and initials in all of the places that required initials. I learned to be meticulous with paperwork from the military and from being a landlord. I don’t know what it was, but, as much as I was excited to finally being going to grad school, I found myself completely uninspired when it came to my visa and graduate school documents. I just barely got my paperwork in on time and complete enough to get into the country. But now I was here with Tammy to shore up all of these loose ends that I’d overlooked.
‘Hi.’ I shook Tammy’s hand from across the desk and pulled my bag up into my waist as I rocked down into one of the seats. There was a barely-audible sssss as the vinyl cushion underneath let out enough air to conform to the shape of my ass.
‘So,’ she turns and looks towards her monitor and starts clicking her mouse. ‘You’re coming in from the States, right?’
‘Yes, that’s right. From Boston.’
‘So, when did you get into the country?’
‘Oh, I got in, uh, late Saturday night.’
‘Goood. What did you, did you fly in or did you drive?’
‘We drove. We drove up in a U-haul. I got a moving truck and my mom flew up from Georgia and rode with me up to Halifax.’
Tammy turned towards me and leaned back in a stance of slight shock. ‘Well, that was awfully nice of her. Must be a good mother.’
‘Yeah.’ I raised my eyebrows and nodded. ‘Yeah, she’s pretty great.’
Tammy scrunched her chin and looked over at me. ‘It must be hard sending your son off to another country like that. I can’t imagine.’
‘Yeah.’ I nodded my head and looked down. ‘Yeah, it got pretty emotional when she left off for the airport.’
‘Aww.’ Tammy sucked her teeth and made a pouty expression with her mouth.
‘Anyway.’ I waved out in the air in front of me. ‘So, uh.’ I reach down and unsnap the plastic clips at the bottom of my messenger bag. ‘So, I am so sorry about all this hassle about my paperwork. I don’t know what I was; I was just confused, I guess. But,’ I said as I fished out a folder with a BFU logo on it that was stuffed full of papers. ‘I think I finally have everything here and filled out and signed and ready to go.’
Seriously, though; what was up with my paperwork? I remember when I applied to Kennesaw State. My application was perfect. I spent hours pouring over the webpage for their registrar’s office. I was in Iraq and I was going back to the US in February and I was getting out in May and I was going to be in school in the Fall and nothing was going to stop me. Everything was perfectly in order. All of my documents were there on time in exactly the form that they were supposed to be in. Same thing when I transferred to Georgia Tech. I had the transfer requirements and dates memorized. Same thing when I first applied to grad school. I kept an extensive spreadsheet of all the different schools and their required documents, and their deadlines, and their GPA requirements, and their application fees and I would constantly update it with the status of each. I submitted everything flawlessly and in accordance with every requirement and timeline. The only thing that kept my application from being perfect was my GPA. I got rejected from every school that I applied to except for one.
But, here I was, only a couple of years later and I now had an offer to get my PhD from the most prestigious battery research group in the world, and I couldn’t even hone my attention enough to read all of the admission requirements on the BFU website.
What was up with that?
There was part of me that knew that I knew the answer. Or at least part of the answer. I knew enough Freud to know that there was something in me, deep down in my subconscious, that didn’t want to me come to grad school. Something pulling me to keep my life in Cambridge. I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to think of a few reasons why I wouldn’t want to leave: my dog, Edith, my career, making money, my friends. I gave up a lot and I guess it was a little more than my subconscious was willing to accept. Either way, regardless of whatever ulterior motives my subconscious had for me, I was here now and had somehow managed to at least complete enough documents to get in the door, so there was little else standing in my way. This was my future. This was my life now.
After finishing my administrative obligations, Tammy led me upstairs to a public school style door at the end of the hallway on the third floor. She pulled out one of the three keys that she was holding in a fist in her left hand. It was a clunky key with a rectangle on the end with curved corners. She stabbed it into the door handle and, after an elaborate series of wrist motions, she succeeded in cranking the doorknob clockwise and opened the door.
The room was carpeted and had a group of small cubicles arranged in four columns, front to back, six deep, with the last row of cubicles up against the large paned window in the back of the room. Outside of the window one could make out a metal lattice, like the kind that they use to paint buildings, and, just on the other side of this, an off-white tarp that completely obstructed any hope of a view.
‘So your desk is gonna be…’ She yanked off a sticky note from the palm of her left hand and held it out in front of her. ‘Three A. Which should be…’ She looked up from the note and pointed her finger and counted each column of cubicles, from left to right, whispering the number of each as she counted. ‘Riiiight…here.’ She walked over and stood behind the chair of the first cubicle in the third column. The chair was angled out 45° and she patted the back cushion of it. ‘Right by the door.’
‘Awesome.’ I patted my belly, ‘closest to the bathroom.’ Tammy put her hand over her stomach and let out a light chuckle. I walked over to the desk and pulled my messenger bag over my head and lowered it onto the chair. ‘Oh? What’s this?’ I look down and there, under the narrow table of the cubicle, over to the left, was a black leather portfolio briefcase. I look up and notice a few scattered pens and pencils and a highlighter on the desk. ‘Looks like somebody left their stuff here.’ I open up the cabinet at the top of the cubicle to find a couple of books on electrical engineering along with a spiral notebook and a Rubik’s Cube®.
‘Huh?’ Tammy studies the open cabinet containing the books and the notebooks. ‘This should be…’ She looks back down at the sticky note, which is once again on her left wrist, and takes a few steps back toward the entrance. She counts off the columns again. ‘…Three A. This should be it.’
I waited while she went downstairs and found the seating roster. After a little asking around she realized that a summer student had taken my spot by accident. But then he’d only taken my spot because someone else took his. And then that guy had only taken his spot because…. I was eventually assigned a temporary desk in an office in a tucked away part of the third floor that was being torn down at the end of the summer to make room for Jim’s lab expansion. I shared the room with a post-doc in Professor Gold’s lab that was not too keen on having an office-mate for the remainder of the summer. ‘It’s okay,’ I said, after Tammy introduced us. ‘I’ll mainly be doing literature review this summer, so I'll be spending most of my time in the library anyway.’
Tammy informed me that Jim was in DC at the moment and wouldn’t be back until Thursday, at which point he would be the keynote speaker at a materials symposium that was being held on campus. Another speaker at the conference was going to be Prof. Xander de Groot, my former boss at MIT and co-founder of MagTech. What an introduction to grad school! I’d just had my exit interview with Zan last week and now it looked like he was going to be on-site for my first formal meeting with Jim.
Once we’d gotten the room situation sorted out, Tammy walked me around and showed me where all of Jim’s labs were located throughout the building. As we got to each room she would try out each of the keys in her hand until she found the one that worked. Then she’d open up the door and let me take a quick look inside before handing me the key. At the end of the tour I had a pocket full of loose keys and zero obligations until Thursday.
A couple of days from now I will be sitting down and discussing my project with Jim and then that will be my life for the next four years. In the mean time I had three days of total unaccountability. I’d been part of the working world long enough that I’d learned to appreciate brief moments of no-responsibility like these whenever they came up. I decided to head over to the library to read the Richard Feynman book that Natalia had given me as a going-away present. I didn’t feel too bad playing hooky on my first day of grad school to run off to the library to read the Feynman book; it was a collection of stories and interviews and it was actually getting me pretty pumped to start my research. Richard Feynman was the kind of renowned, eccentric genius that I wanted to be. Coming here was my first step towards that.
-- to be continued...