To be a graduate student is to live a life teeming with paradoxes. When I am not pontificating questions of relative insignificance, I often wonder: How can I read so much, yet feel as if I am getting stupider? How can I think so many thoughts, yet think that I am not thinking enough thoughts? How am I becoming older, yet simultaneously so much poorer?
For the latter question, I compensate for my inverse age-purchasing power relationship by swiping miniature cups of half and half from departmental refrigerators and attending formal lunches hosted by my graduate institution no matter the topic of roundtable “discussion”. To do so successfully, simply refrain from writing your full name on the sticker tag, silently eat a salad, nod strategically with dire concern, speak with your hands, make grunting sounds indicating vague agreement with someone speaking with his or her hands in dire concern, leave inconspicuously with three cookies and five packets of Sugar in the Raw in your jacket pocket.
This past week, I was delighted to attend a lunch in which I could actually, without the aid of Wikipedia, define all the words in the title of the event – a discussion on philanthropy, non-profit and public entities, and the world of foundations. Of course, this piece of writing has absolutely nothing to do with the actual content of said roundtable discussion because that, in fact, would be practical and educational. I didn’t go to school to become more practical and educational.
The lunch takes place in a large room located in the oldest building on campus. The room, with its chandeliers, fanciful off-white trimming, and paintings of women sewing thirteen (THIRTEEN!) stars on an American flag, is, at once, timeless and exceedingly gay.
I divert my attention specifically to the lunch spread. Immediately, I notice that there is only one can of Diet Coke left. Predicated by this lone can of Diet Coke, I know this room is full of old white women who wear turtlenecks tucked into their pleated pants. I, on the other hand, am wearing a button down shirt – a shirt wrinkled by my idea that taking a really, really hot shower and letting my shirt hang on the towel rack is equivalent to an iron that civilized people use. I suddenly become concerned with my concern in the sole can Diet Coke as it confirms that I truly am an old lesbian soul named Bernadette who likes to spend her Friday nights petting her (literal) cat while watching Antiques Roadshow. In spite of this anxiety of my true, authentic self, I cut two other old white women wearing turtlenecks tucked into their pleated pants and grab the last can of Diet Coke.
As I move towards the salad and I contemplate, who do I want to be today? This question is imperative because it determines the selection and arrangement of my plate. I pile the Styrofoam with salad because I am adult – specifically spinach because romaine lettuce is for peasants (not indentured servants like myself). I am afforded three types of dressing, but I am not fooled by the idea that these are options. Light on the vinaigrette and never heavy on the ranch dressing – this is Georgetown University not Rick Perry’s dude ranch in west Texas.
Sandwiches are a food that I have very explicit, personal rules for, particularly when it comes to public consumption. In meetings, I avoid anything in baguette form since I have learned from painful experience that I am incapable of completely biting through the bread, thus rendering a scene of my tugging at a piece of sandwich in my mouth as I attempt to dissect the 7th pie chart on the 87thslide of this 362-slide presentation. I opt for a meat that is in one uniform mass – ham, turkey, roast beef – since anything with “units” (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna) consistently results in said “units” splatting loudly on my agenda, leaving concrete evidence of my inability to eat like a successful product of natural selection.
In the dessert section, there are two options. There are the tiny square brownies topped with a chocolate emblem in the shape of something akin to the pattern on Marie Antoinette’s wallpaper – or the GIANT COOKIES covered with M&Ms. Truly, this is a test – choosing this GIANT COOKIE with M&Ms over this ampersand brownie means…ah, fuck it. Just give me giant cookie.
The murmurs of casual conversation overlaying the sound of scraping plates the splatting of chicken salad on agendas halts upon the entrance of the esteemed speaker. Suddenly, everyone raises his or her hands. Suddenly, when chosen to speak, everyone’s voices lower by two or three octaves. Suddenly, we all begin to sound like undergraduate American Studies sophomores wearing oversized plastic glasses and analyzing Avante Garde film. And suddenly, I turn over the agenda and begin to…
Note: Which scribbles turned into paragraphs in this piece?