Focus. I'm only going to tell you about the place I lived for the bulk of the past three years. No, I need a narrower scope. Today I'm just going to write about the kitchen in the place where I lived for the bulk of the past three years. That place is the Writers House, just off campus, where I lived with seven others at a time. Look at that name: Writers House. Study it. What do you notice about it? The first thing I observe is that this place shares my initials, WH. I refuse to take this as coincidence, which explains why I also feel a deep connection to Whitney Houston and the White House. Regardless of my name, what else to you see in the words Writers House, or not see? Correct, there is no punctuation mark, and one might expect an apostrophe. The Writer's House. Or, since eight people lived there at a time (usually writers), the Writers' House. But there's a sign beside the front door (which is a recent installment, after years of waiting and fighting) which reads "Writers House," no apostrophe, because presumably the people behind its creation could not agree where to put it. Surely, you must think, a location called the Writers' House, of all places, should have a grammatically correct sign. Well, I've learned to play a little more fast and loose with the quote-unquote "rules" of grammar, and to go against the sign would only create more confusion, so I will continue to type "Writers House." None of that was about the kitchen. Already I'm off track.
I'm starting with the kitchen partially because I want to start small and the kitchen will probably pluck the fewest heartstrings for me as I recall near and dear memories. The kitchen is at the back of the house, where the back door is (go figure). As you enter through the back door, the sitting area is on your left, including a small round wooden table and four very blocky chairs that look more like they were made to be stacked than sat upon. On your right is all the kitcheny stuff crammed into one small space: the sink, the cupboards, the fridge, the stove, the oven, the microwave, the dishes that never got cleaned, etc. Now that my friends and I have all moved out, once and for all, I'll discuss how often I cleaned my dishes. Sometimes. There were many times I dropped something in the sink and left it, but I almost always made it a point to go back and clean what was mine later, even if a day or more passed. It's a chore so quickly and easily done, it seems ridiculous I would procrastinate in that area, but I hated the smell of my hands after I used that sponge. We probably needed a new sponge.
Sophomore year, I'm living in the upstairs double with my friend, Ryan. Second semester, I had the privilege of leading a reading board for one of the school's literary magazines. For our second meeting, I invite my readers over to the Writers House and order a couple of pizzas. I did not get as much money as I would have liked from my peers to pay for those pizzas, but plenty of slices got eaten. All but two, if I remember correctly. So I put the pizza box, containing the two pepperoni slices, into the fridge. The box stays there overnight. The following day, I'm looking forward to that cold pizza all day. I think I probably had dinner in the cafeteria, but hours later I was really counting on having those pizza slices. I open the fridge door, and the pizza box is right where I left it. I open the pizza box, and it is empty. I'm not sure how to capture how upset I felt in that moment, but it was something like what Ross experienced in that episode of Friends where someone ate his sandwich, I think. I found it particularly offensive that the empty box was put back in the fridge, as if the thief left it there to trick me, to keep my hopes alive just a moment longer. I had only two suspects. Dan and Drew lived upstairs, each in a single room. I marched upstairs, holding the empty pizza box like a piece of evidence, brandishing it like a weapon. I don't remember if I knocked on Drew's door, but I know I had words with him. I tried not to accuse him prematurely, but my voice was decidedly stern. He claimed he didn't eat them, neither did Dan, but I saw no sensible alternatives. Everyone else in the house was either too trustworthy or too unlikely to eat pizza to be the culprit. It was later that week, maybe the next day, when I found out that a few so-called "friends" of mine, two of them reading board members who did not pay me enough to warrant entitlement to the pizza, actually broke into the house (one climbed in through an unlocked window) in what I will call the dead of night and ate my pizza. I haven't let it get in the way of any friendships, but I still remember it, and always will, and I think that's the definition of "grudge."
This past spring, I took a horrible class, just awful, because it was a requirement for something. I'm being vague because I don't want to hurt any feelings, burn any bridges, or generally get in any trouble. But I could gripe for a very long time about what a waste of time this course was, and I would consider that griping a better use of my time than the class itself. One little good thing to come out of it was a discussion about literary critcism, during which I got a handout with the poem "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams on it. If you don't know it, here's the entire poem: "I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox // and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast // Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold." I've known this poem for years, and I still find it so charming. Met with it again, I thought, I know what I'll do, and so I did it, which is to say I ripped the handout into a little square containing just the poem, brought it back to the Writers House, and put it on the fridge with a magnet. I thought that was pretty damned clever. (I still do. The poem is now on my fridge at home with my parents.) My girlfriend asked me about it, but I don't think anyone else in the house ever mentioned it, so I never got the credit I felt I deserved for bringing such a literary thing into our writerly home and placing it in such an appropriate place. I am starved for attention. At one time the fridge also had baby pictures of everyone who lived in the house. I think I left mine there over summer or Christmas break and the cleaning lady threw it out (if it wasn't stolen by thieves in the night looking for pizza). I remember someone who didn't live in our house, but who spent a lot of time there, put up her baby photo on the fridge, and I thought that was weird. I didn't like it. It's a silly thing to get upset about, but I felt she was intruding upon our family, disturbing the sanctity of how we decorated our refrigerator.
A lot of what I have to say about the kitchen pertains to what we've put on and in the fridge. For instance, every year, during the Welcome Week that kicks off each fall semester, each department has a picnic where new students are encouraged to gather and meet people who share their major (because cross-breeding among the disciplines is verboten). The creative writing picnic generally takes place on a big lawn not far from the Writers House, and there's always loads of burgers and hot dogs prepared by the campus dining service and delivered in big aluminum trays. It's free food, so you'd think it would get gobbled up licketity-split, but on more than one occasion trays of leftovers were carried back to the Writers House and put in our fridge. For a week or so afterward, I would microwave a burger or hot dog sometimes, as would my housemates. This habit, somehow, would seemingly never make a dent in the supply, as if Jesus himself handed us multiplying mediocre leftovers. The vats of meat would, inevitably, get left in the fridge far too long, where the burger grease would congeal and harden into a thick layer of lard. This is an image that is tough to get rid of, memory-wise.
We weren't always eating dubious neglected meats and disappearing pizza. This past semester, my friend, Kim, who lived upstairs, brought a waffle iron from home. Then she went out and bought way too much waffle mix (two boxes?), so for a while we had waffles in bulk a few times a month, Kim always making them for us, me always dragging my half-awake body into the kitchen around noon or later because it was Sunday. Then, very close to the end of the semester, Kim's waffle maker went missing, presumed stolen. I'm sensing a theme, that you shouldn't put anything in the Writers House kitchen that's valuable to you, because apparently the place attracts thieves like a 24-hour convenience store. (Was that a solid simile? I'm not too pleased with it.) But I don't want to give you that impression. The Writers House was never a place for looking over one's shoulder or even locking one's doors. It was (and hopefully will continue to be) a place of love and friendship and sharing gossip and making everyone laugh. I wish I remembered this more clearly, but there was a time recently when, inexplicably, everyone who lived in the house was hanging out in the kitchen. There's hardly enough room to fit all eight of us, but more and more kept showing up until we were all there, unplanned, just talking about whatever, cracking jokes, relaxing (while one or more of us probably tried and failed to do homework). I distinctly remember saying, "Now we have an outside cup," because someone put a cup outside, and some laughter. That evening is a short, simple stretch of time that I'd love to relive.
Oh, and this isn't technically in the kitchen, but I mentioned the back door before, which leads to the little blue back steps, which is where house-matron and my friend, Liz, was walking (just walking) when she tore a muscle or something in her knee, then needed surgery and walked with crutches for months afterward. More nostalgia and happy memories to come!