Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love on the Roof

It wasn't generally known around the English department that I lived under a desk up in the junior faculty office garret , but only the most abstracted prof wouldn't notice me - barely four feet tall without my prosthetics - as I shuffled around Goldwyn Smith Hall, sat in on writing workshops, or appeared among the plaster casts of broken statuary at the Temple of Zeus open readings.
When I stood on a chair that first time to recite "Tripod, the Three Legged Dog" , people bent lower and fished in their coffee cups, but at the first line - " I'm going to hump your leg "- Archie Ammons let out a big country guffaw, and immediately the place echoed with laughter which resurged each of the three times in the poem's six lines that I threatened to hump their leg. It was a lame poem, but a few months later, crudely revised and worse yet, it would make me so infamous I would decide to disappear.

After that first reading, there were those who called me Tripod and made the obvious third-leg jokes, but Tripod was a real dog, truly famous on campus in the fifties, and long forgotten before most of them had appeared there. He was a malamute -half wolf- sled dog who had lost a front leg to gangrene as a result of a fight injury. He was useless as a sled dog after that, so some student had brought him back from a trip to Alaska, but it was not all that hard for Tripod to become top dog on the soft-dog Cornell campus.
At that time Cornell was an institution where it was a matter of pride and unofficial policy that any dog could attend any class. Dogs walked to campus with their fraternity boys, stayed and strayed all day, and hardly created more than a ripple of chuckling when they flopped down beside the lecturn or mated in the back of the lecture hall.
The beginning of the end of the dog years came when Tripod killed a couple of other dogs and was deported back to Alaska , but still in the early seventies when I was living in the desk , If anyone had suggested that you should not let your dog outside unless you were attached to it by a leash and that you should pick up its turds with a plastic baggy, that someone would have said, "pick up turds with a plastic baggy? What's a plastic baggy? What do you want with dog turds?

I wandered with a frisbie and Pike's dogs during the day, and I became a regular at old Professor Cole's introductory Geology lecture class they called "Rocks for Jocks." I liked the big story of the geological landscape, and the ecstatic phrases that rolled through it, like " glacial erratic boulders" .
I wrote it down in my tablet and drew pictures of glacial erratic boulders on page after page , some the size of houses and with pine trees growing on the top.
A slight girl with pumpkin colored hair was sitting two seats from me and because of her powerful aura of garlic, everyone else was at least three seats from her. I had also noticed her at the Zeus readings, and around about when I was throwing the frisbie for the dogs . I always sat fairly close to her in the Rocks lectures because there was always plenty of room around her ...anyway I have always been a dog for strong smells, so we were alone frequently in our private garlic bubble.
She wasn't more than five feet tall, with that pumpkin hair and big freckles mostly covering her pale skin like leaves on water. She was thin and superficially ethereal.... except for the heavy smell of garlic. She ate it by the whole clove from a Cracker Jack Box.
Her eyes were so pale green or gray that it was hard to see where they were directed, but she had obviously been watching me and my doodling .
One day before old Professor Cole had finished shuffling the notes that he never looked at because he had been giving the same scintillating lecture for years, the garlic girl, who had sat down only one seat away from me that day, tore this poem out of her notebook and pushed it onto the writing arm of my chair:

" That Glacial Erratic is nothing ecstatic,
or a god-egg that fell from the sky.
But it's not so mundane as if it fell from a train:
a garden stone imported from Shanghai.
Its purely symptomatic of ice in the Arctic
Which built up in the Great Bye and Bye."

It was very cute , but all I could say was thanks.
She offered a grin and a garlic clove from her cracker jack box. I put it in my shirt pocket instead of eating it right there, and that is all that passed between us until the class was over, but the deal was done, and after class, we walked out in our private bubble of garlic mist.

The garlic, she would tell me, was to keep predators off, and Garlic was the name she went by. She never told me her real name, but she said her father was an ornithologist, a specialist in raptors. I never heard about her mother. Garlic said she could see that I was no predator. This was true....a scavenger , but not much of a predator, certainly not a sexual one, and at that point, I was a twenty-some year old virgin who had never humped anything but trees. Garlic took me down to a place in the gorge where she kissed me and told me that I was an elf or a the magical sense......we took garlic together and she came with me to my desk lair. We pulled out all the drawers to make more space and that evening she discovered my General Dinglehammer - she was the one who came up with that name for it.
From then on Garlic sat with me in Zeus, called me Pan the Man and Boneypart in public, was with me privately every night, insisted on climbing with me on the rope rigging through the skylight to the G.S. roof where, ecstatic, we rang the dingle bells in the copper valley , held on and came through it , even as we slid half way to the eves and scared the shit out of me.

That outrageous behavior didn't have consequences or get noticed, but we were becoming conspicuous. Davey said I should stop bringing Garlic to the office...maybe some envy involved. I doubt any girl ever told him he was a magical being. Anyway, I think some of the other junior faculty up there were beginning to sniff around and talk. Global forces were at work. Erratic love had to go.

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