The Eye continues Ogle: a series dedicated to celebrating the everyday and the ordinary.
Barnard Hall 304 desks
I’ve had a miniature liberal arts education in Barnard Hall 304. In history classes, I’ve learned about everything from atom bombs to aristocrats, from the Bracero Program to Betty Friedan. In Urban Studies classes, I’ve covered the impact of Georg Simmel and the imminent threat of gentrification. I’ve taken down notes about all of these topics at the same desks.
If you haven’t seen these desks, I’m sure you’ve heard them. When someone moves a notebook ever so slightly, the entire desk recoils and whips into place under the chair. The sound punctuates the professor’s sentences and, for a brief moment, the booming sirens racing outside and the shouts of Broadway meet their match.
The desks have your everyday, bread-and-butter graffiti: initials, hearts, initials in hearts, and expletives. So many expletives.
There are also conversations between strangers:
BOYZ ARE LAME
YES, YES THEY ARE
I DEF AGREE ALL THE WAY
These anonymous and, in many ways, beautiful conversations between students show what some people are really thinking about during lectures: trivialities that veil important topics.
The artwork takes over every part of the chair. I once saw an “R+” etched into the armrest—perhaps the artist feared a particularly poor performance on an exam.
A lot of the etchings look like lines from angsty beat poems or tributes to Avril Lavigne. There are a lot of “HELP”s and “CHAOS”s and “PUNK”s in black and green writing. Some of the grooves are so deep that I admire the perseverance it took to penetrate the desk’s surface. Perhaps the student went over and over and over that “8” in blue pen while listening to interpretations of Shakespeare or theories of self-esteem.
Unlike the intended plaques outside Barnard Hall that acknowledge the gifts from particular classes of alumnae, these markings are more informal thank-you’s. As anonymous as the sweeping signs of gratitude from the class of X or Y or Z, these woodcuts are simple: SH ’14, TT ’12.
There are few blank desks, and, while learning about many of the aforementioned topics, I daydream about what I want to scribble, into which conversation I want to insert myself. Perhaps add to the many hypotheses about boys? Try my hand at a cartoonish drawing of the professor? Commemorate a particular passage?
Until I decide and manage to mute the voice inside me that never fails to repeat things I’ve learned about not drawing on surfaces, I will settle for being an avid observer. And hope that I have class in Barnard Hall 304 again.
For months, a brown spot had been developing between my two front teeth—two front teeth, I might add, that had been forced together by a determined orthodontist. They had been perfectly sandwiched up against one another and finally, finally, shared one surface.
Perplexed by this blemish, my dentist offered a variety of possible causes. Small ones: coffee, soda, fruit. Medium ones: chocolate, cigarettes, chew. And one large one: crystal meth. After vigorously shaking my head after this final suggestion, I posited a guess: “Balsamic vinaigrette?”
The solution she offered was Stim-U-Dent, a brand of mint-flavored plaque removers. Promised to help fight gingivitis, prevent tooth loss, and remove plaque as soon as it even brushes past a tooth, Stim-U-Dent sticks would, she promised, prevent any more tiny brown spots from appearing, let alone growing.
The honey-colored wooden stick looks a lot like a splinter of wood. In fact, according to one dental enthusiast website, Stim-U-Dent sticks are just that: “The Most Recommended Little Piece of Wood in Dental History.” You could make your own out of anything. Found a twig in Central Park? Rub it in some mint gum. Leaving a restaurant and spot a perpetually full container of toothpicks? Grab some and smash ’em with a hammer.
Using the tool is quite simple: gently move the pointy end up and down between the teeth. The motion is a lot like using a spatula to move grease to the top of a griddle.
The instructions are brief and simple, but I disobey one of them: “Do not force into tight spaces.” Challenge accepted. Fearful of the spot returning, I adopt a compulsion I do not have in any other sphere of my life. I move the stick with the tempo and excitement of tapping your foot up and down to a catchy song.
When I first moved to New York City, I noticed the abundance of floss picks on the street. I had no idea that so many people used floss picks, let alone used them outside of their homes, but they litter the streets—archaeological proof of American attitudes toward dental hygiene.
But Stim-U-Dent sticks look like little wooden shards or remnants of a visit to the park. They cannot even tarnish New York City’s sidewalks.
I am an avid oatmeal consumer. It was one of the first solid foods I ate and, since coming to college, I have eaten it almost every day for four years. The evolution of my oatmeal has almost mirrored the evolution of my life. Just like my hair, skin, height, and weight have changed, the contents of my oatmeal have changed, too.
As a child, I used sugar to make my porridge taste something like Cap’n Crunch or Corn Pops. My lump of porridge waded in a pool of milk and sugar. The sweetness and consistency resembled a milkshake, save for the temperature.
When I was 17, I earned an M.B.A.—a Masters in Blending Arts—while working at my local Jamba Juice. While earning the degree by memorizing the ingredients of Razzmatazz or Peach Perfection on flash cards, I stopped saying “porridge” because of the company’s nomenclature.
My idea of porr—oatmeal changed. Forget milk and sugar. I now smothered my hot oats in the company’s blueberry compote and pumpkin seed granola. I added brown sugar and, if I was feeling especially lethargic, a boost of powdered energy or two. My entire concept of oatmeal changed yet again when, as happened quite frequently, someone came in asking us to blend an order of oatmeal for someone they were nursing who had just had their wisdom teeth removed. Blended oatmeal with bananas and apple compote and coconut milk wasn’t really even oatmeal; it was velvety, decadent pudding, or panna cotta.
And then reality struck. At Hewitt Dining Hall, without blueberry compotes or cinnamon crunch cereal as toppings, I tried to replicate the sweetness of my premium Jamba Juice oatmeal with peanut butter by plopping a heaping spoonful of it into my bowl and swirling it until it dissolved. One day, after being told that that much peanut butter was not great for my body, I tried that all-natural sunflower butter that never gets any action. I can see why—I soon returned to peanut butter.
Throughout my college career, I have reduced the amount of peanut butter from a heaping spoonful to a dollop to, in culinary terms, a hint.
Now, I eat my oatmeal plain. It is comforting and simple. Whereas I used to shovel porridge, and then oatmeal, into my mouth while I watched TV, I now eat it reading the newspaper.
I wonder if this will be my final rendition of the dish. Maybe my plain oatmeal is a portal through which to enter an adult world, often sprinkled with phrases like “calorie-conscious” and “no-sugar” and “nonfat.”
Or I might, as so many adults do, long for my youth, and end up saturating my oatmeal again with sweetness.
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