Because it’s only 3:30 Denver time and it’s already apparent this is one for the record books.
6:00 AM. All 17 alarms go off at once. Fortunately, my senses are still whiskey-dulled from the night before. I am surprised to learn that it’s still dark at this hour.
9:07 AM. Clear security at O’Hare. We are through security and 100 feet from our gate 1 hour and 57 minutes before the flight leaves. I am never letting the Germans make the travel arrangements again.
9:13 AM. Woman in line behind us at Starbucks asks if she can cut the line, because her flight starts boarding in 15 minutes. Joela agrees before I can say something rude. She orders a venti skinny French Vanilla latte with no foam, clearly the drink of choice for someone in a rush. (She is not in a rush).
9:15 AM. Waiting for coffee. Same woman asks, apropos nothing, “if I’m the tall and dark”. I smile serenely and reply “No, just handsome.” She gestures towards my coffee on the bar (tall, dark roast). I smile. Remarks are made to the effect that the Indian man standing next to me is both taller and darker. He nods his consent, no doubt numbed to the casual racism of the American Midwest.
10:45 AM. Everyone else has brought manila folders with printed and stapled documents. Alex reveals that he went to CVS last night to buy travel-sized toiletries. I realize I have forgotten to bring deodorant. I am a failure as a graduate student.
11:17 AM. Seated on plane. The man across from me attempts to engage me in a discussion on the relative merits of Nickelback and Lincoln Park. I demur.
1:09 PM (Denver time). Arrive at Denver airport, see the following mural. This is the first major indication that this is going to be a bizarre trip. An adjacent plaque informs us that it was painted in 1994. Dumbstruck. The first image contains a stylized English translation of a letter written by a child who died in Auschwitz.
I’m not even sure how to describe this. Death, stylized in an SS Uniform but brandishing a scimitar and an AK-47 (??) is carving up the Dove of Peace. A number of women and children are cowering, which seems appropriate given the situation. The sole white child in the picture appears to be the source of an expiring rainbow.
This is the counterpart, in which a young Hans Castorp appears to be reforging Death’s scimitar into a scythe. Not sure if this is terribly clever or artist is oblivious to fact that that’s what Death usually carries. The left side of this mural (unshown here) contains an enormous Israeli flag. A quick spin around the airport reveals a number of Free Mason symbols and the ominous declaration that this airport was funded by the New World Airport Commission. I have no idea what that might mean.
1:50 PM. We board the shuttle to hotel. Joela begins to detail the horrors of the job market, and the woman on my left offers an occasional knowing smile. Joela suggests we play buzzword bingo; I suggest interdisciplinary. Woman on left reveals she is on an interdisciplinary committee for the GSA.
2:26 PM. Woman on left engages us in conversation. She is evidently an aging psychoanalyst — crushed velvet pants, leather boots, cigarette wrinkles and overbroad lips. I attempt to discreetly count her shawls. At least 3. She might be wearing a fur scarf.
2:28 PM. I ask if she’s presenting. Chair of organizing something on kinship, she says. I do my best impressed whistle. “I heard you have to be related to someone important to get that job.” She ignores my joke and asks what panel I’m taking part in. “The narratology seminar.” She whistles back. “I didn’t know people still did narratology.” Feisty. I feel as if someone has just blown smoke in my face. I ask her what she does then. “Oh, nothing much for long. I’m fickle.” She smiles. Her English is better than I initially thought. She asks where we are from. Chicago. She is from Michigan, Comp Lit. Have we brought our faculty with us? Unclear if this is a slight or a test so I pretend not to understand. She repeats the question. “Have you brought your faculty?” “You mean in my carry-on? No, not this time. We usually trust them find their way to conferences on their own.” She is intrigued. Smoker smile. I explain that DEW has been a cyborg since 1997, and that it’s the task of the graduate students to assemble and oil him before every major conference. She is more intrigued. “Tell me your favorite philosophical sentence. Do you have one?” I begin with Nietzsche. “Voraugesetzt, dass die — “. “No, no, it has to be in English” (She is obviously German). She shows me a text message on her phone, where someone named Stefan has written her something about betting and knowing the odds and being out in front. I explain that that is a fortune cookie, not a philosophy. She agrees. Stefan is not as clever as we are. I tell her she should never trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders — man can’t even trust his own pants. This is clearly a superior sentence. We are now definitely flirting (she is performing — for me? No, for herself. It must be stressful to be an older female psychoanalyst). The shuttle arrives at the hotel, and she removes her bag. It’s zebra print. She immediately lights a cigarette. We drive off.
3:13 PM. We are dropped at our hotel. Or at least, we think we are. Upon attempting to check in, the man at the counter informs us that we are at the wrong hotel. There are 2 with the same name in this area, some sort of chain. Extended Stay North and Extended Stay Central. He asks if we have a car. No. He looks pained, like this is a great difficulty. Joela asks how long it takes to walk. 10-15 minutes, he says. He seems surprised by our relief.
3:25 PM. Arrived at next hotel. Learn that we are once again at the wrong hotel — or at least some of us. We learn that there are 6 (!) Extended Stay hotels in a 1 mile radius. I ask what happened after they ran out of cardinal directions and central. Is there Extended Stay Distant? The woman at the desk seems confused by this question. She explains to Alex that we have one less bed than we thought. Alex explains that he reserved two twins and a sofa sleeper. She counters that there are no twins available. I joke that this is not what I had in mind when he told me he reserved two twins for three nights. In the background, Joela says “We can’t take you anywhere!”. Wrong, they can take me everywhere. The woman at the front desk looks puzzled, so I repeat the joke in various permutations until she leaves to get our room keys. Upon her return, she offers us a basket of free amenities.
5:00 PM. Peter arrives. He notes the lack of sufficient beds. Alex and I shrug.
5:17 PM. On the way to dinner, we note that our hotel is located next to a three story Lexus dealership. Architecturally, it is a cross between a Buddhist temple and a Santa Monica fitness studio. There is a 3-story tall waterfall inside the building. We walk to the light rail to save money on cab fare.
6:38 PM. We take the light rail downtown. The conference is being held 20 miles south of the city center (“cost-effective”), so it takes hours. I lead the troupe towards a Japanese restaurant, Domo. At first, Mirjam thinks she has seen an advertisement for it painted on an abandoned building. Naturally, that’s the building. Fortunately, it is very pleasant. A young man named Jupiter invites us to try the spicy maguro. He is wearing a kimono and, in repeating our order to us, subtly corrects our pronunciation of Sapporo. Joela drinks too much sake and tells a confusing pick-up line which involves “your eyes” and “Uranus”. Or at least, that’s what I understand. I have also drank too much sake.
9:18 PM. I insist that we go downtown. We cut through a number of public parks and maybe a backyard. We have all drank too much sake. On the walk back, Alex whispers to me that Joela is being funnier than usual. Joela turns around. Alex has not whispered.
7:15 AM. Determine that “Continental Breakfast” means Quaker oatmeal bars and individually packaged muffins. If this were really a continent, I would never live on it. At least there’s coffee. (It immediately runs out).
7:47 AM. Sleet and snow. I suggest taking a taxi. Everyone else thinks this is decadent. I agree, but in a secret internal dialogue I mount a coherent defense of decadence.
8:02 AM. Arrive in seminar. A quick survey of the room confirms my suspicion that academics have made some sort of sartorial politics out of dressing poorly. I count 4 separate pairs of brown shoes with black pants or socks.
9:00 AM. Our discussion is interrupted by a glib administrator who apologizes for interrupting, then proceeds to spout inanities (with great gusto) for 15 minutes. I keep a mental list of actionable items in what she has said: 0. I look on the internet and see she is a chair at an Ivy School and has published one book, a “paramemoir”. Despair overtakes me.
10;15 AM. Wander into my first talk — Epistemological Environments (1). The first two talks are good, the third mumbly. A quick survey of the crowd suggests that unbeknownst to me, this is the trendy session. Afterwards, I hear people referring to the series as “sexy”.
12:37 PM. Lunch. A flash of zebra and I spot the woman from the shuttle ride. She smiles.
12:48 PM. In line to order at the deli. An elderly woman offers to let me cut her in line. I demur politely and we make pleasant small talk. She has 4 grandchildren but expects more soon. Later, I see her pocketing four sets of steel silverware and a salt shaker, then leave.
1:18 PM. Alle reden vom Wetter. Ich nicht.
4:00 PM. Session 2 of Environmental Epistemologies, one historical and two intriguing talks. I will never understand this academic fascination with dredging up minor figures: it’s opposed to the laws of intellectual gravity (gravitas?) and the system reasserts equilibrium almost immediately. By the time of the Q&A I can no longer remember the name of this person. Sisyphus’s is a fruitless task.
5:46 PM. I attempt to ask a question in the Q&A. The general look of confusion and soaring temperature in my cheeks makes me think that spontaneous combustion might, in fact, be possible — although perhaps not so spontaneous. I briefly recall the scene from Kleist where Penthesilea fashions a psychic dagger out of shame, in order to off herself. I attempt it, but achieve only indigestion and a brief coughing fit.
6:38 PM. Cash bar. I am introduced to someone from a SLAC and asked if I am “one of [DEW]’s boys.” Chest slightly inflated, I respond that I am nobody’s man.
8:17 PM. Dinner at strip-mall Thai restaurant. Jokingly, I tell Joela that I expense my haircuts and consumer electronics. I immediately recognize that this is a mistake.
12:16 AM. Alex is hogging the blankets. I point this out and he becomes defensive, accusing me of being childish. If I’m so childish, how come he’s the one hogging the covers? I roll myself into a blanket burrito to prove the point.
7:49 AM. In line to get coffee, a man accuses me of “existentialist post-fashion fashion.” He is wearing cargo pants and a cowboy hat.