Classes have started at Northwestern, where I work as a pharmacy tech. This means that I'm actually busy during the day. The phone is ringing. Kids are confused about insurance. How do they pay for stuff without their parents? How did they get here and where are they going? After several long days of smiling and helping students, my immune system crapped out on me. I caught that stupid, "first week of school," head cold. Right before my first class of American Literature, from 1965 to present.
So, steeped in the fog of a sinus headache and overall crummy feeling, I struggled to focus on the first 2 paragraphs of The Crying of Lot 49. I counted the lines that the first sentence took. Seven. Seven lines and each word seemed vitally important. But why? Was Pynchon just playing a game with the reader or is he trying to say something meaningful?
I knew what I had gotten myself into. I'd read a few short stories by Thomas Pynchon. I'd gotten the inside joke on the Simpsons when he played his alter-ego, a cartoon character with a paper bag over his head. I had started the book a week ago, reading it alongside a study guide. I'd almost finished the book by the time class started. But, as the other students brought up some interesting ideas about just the first two paragraphs, I couldn't think of a thing to say.
I had thought it was an introductory class period. You know, when you get the syllabus and scope out the other students and leave way early. This was not to be the case. My head was stuffed full of mucus and I just wanted to curl up in a little ball.
I can make it, I told myself. I was interested, at times even fascinated, during the first hour of lecture about how the culture of the sixties influenced the literature. But 2 hours later, I had lost my grasp on even a fraying string of mental concentration. So I let go and waited for the professor to end class.
Then it happened. My phone rang. I quickly shut it off. I knew it was my dutiful husband, letting me know that he was waiting at the street corner to pick me up. I told him that I was positive class would be out by 9. It was not. And my phone rang again, letting me know that I had a message. I felt my face turn beet red and my heart raced. Oh, god. I hope everyone didn't hear that. But I was sure that they did.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again. Poor David. He has no idea where I am. Why am I not at the corner where I said I would be? But I wasn't thinking of him. I was thinking of myself. Here it is, the first day of class, and I will be known as "the cell phone girl." As the girl who didn't turn off her damn phone before class started.
I tried to breathe. My stomach was churning. The cold chicken wrap that I had scarfed in a hurry was not sitting well. Why had I made myself go to class when I so obviously was not well? Definitely not well enough to discuss Pynchon. Not even well enough to remember to turn off my phone.
Sigh. Next week I'll be prepared. I'll study all the obscure references in The Crying of Lot 49 and I'll say something smart. Something so smart that people will forget that I was "the cell phone girl."