Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Captain's (B)log: 4th February

The last two days have been almost entirely uneventful, actually. Aside from patenting a new indoors sport (banana standoffs, see above) that's not so much sweeping across Utica as limping across a small corner of it, the past two days have been an exercise in how much I can possibly nap in a forty-eight hour period between shifts of study. Which hasn't been very unpleasant.
    I did have a pretty awkward moment the other day, though. I was booking a room in the college library for the student literary journal, of which I was elected editor-in-chief for the year when I slid out of the first meeting for a bathroom break. Anyway, the poor lady at the library information centre had lost her voice, yet was striving to communicate with students anyway by way of fierce little whispers and hand gestures. I didn't realise I had begun to whisper back at her in that same way until about fifteen seconds after I'd softly wished her a good day and waltzed nonchalantly out the building. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd put the hit out on me by now.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Captain's (B)log: 2nd February

Sat down with a group of students to watch the Superbowl today. People tell me that the Superbowl is a big deal but, alas, my knowledge of (American) football is only a bit more comprehensive than my knowledge of basketball. I know that for basketball, the aim is to shoot a ball at a hoop, I know for that football, the job of one one team is to get the ball across a field angry obstacles and the job of the other team is to take on the role of said angry obstacles. Still, it was an enjoyable time, even if I - pretty skilfully, I'd say - managed to avoid gleaning any sporting intellect at any point across the four hour time frame.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Captain's (B)log: 1st February

Had a rather pleasant day today. And, judging how that first sentence went, one straight from an Enid Blyton novel. I spent the first hour or two of the early afternoon - often referred to as 'morning' by students - chatting with some friends gearing up to play some variant of Dungeons and Dragons. I have, incidentally, discovered I'm only a little less clumsy living out an imaginary life than my actual one - the whole idea of Dungeons and Dragons is based around the idea that a team of players can act out in their minds anything they can conceive of, but I always seem to be five fictitious miles away from any action and cowering from anything more fear-inducing than a particularly toothy gerbil.
        Later, I wandered down to an art exhibition put on by UC and for which I'll have to write about for the college paper, and after that wandered down to a Lebanese restaurant with some of my fellow international students.
        I spent the remainder of the day seeing if I could take artsy shots with my camera-phone, but packed it in after realising with some dismay I'd skipped so far into pretentiousness I'd need some rations and a serious rope ladder to get back out again.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Captain's Blog: 31st January

     If you want to eavesdrop, you go to the Utica College cafeteria (hereafter, Utica College will be replaced with UC. As is said by faculty, it takes 'UC' to spell 'success'. As one of my lecturers pointed out, it also takes them to spell 'sucks'). The cafe - pronounced calf over here - is, for whatever reason, the area where people tend to lower their conversational guard to somewhere just below the earth's crust an let all their hitherto unvocalised thoughts out for an airing. Take, for instance, the conversation I overheard at lunch, where an issue regularly stumping philosophers since Plato was broached:

"Hey guys, so if a girl has a great body, can she still be a zero out of ten?"
"How d'you mean?"
"Well, if she's got a real ugly face, for example." 
"Hmmm. Tricky one."
"I know, right?"
A few second's pause. Then:
"I don't think so. I think no matter how bad her face, that can't cancel out all the other stuff, can it, really."
Another pause.
"Yeah, I'd agree with that."
"Cool. Coffee?"

     Eating aside, I spent the majority of my Friday evening watching my first college basketball game. The players involved moved rather fast - I slowly came to the realisation that if I'd run onto the court at any point during the match I'd have been reborn and as human roadkill and then peeled off the floor- and I also wasn't entirely sure of the rules beyond the standard ball-meets-hoop love story, so I grew a bit tired of the sport after the first, say, four minutes. To try and amuse myself, I turned to my friend and asked if he wanted to place an innocent wager on whom the victors would be. The loser, it was decided would have to fetch the other cups of cocoa for the weekend's duration.
  I'd have said it was a silly thing to bet on. Had I lost.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Captain's (B)log: The Return!

If a hypothetical friend came up to me one hypothetical day (preferably a day where large, hypothetical doses of coffee and biscuits are being freely and un-hypothetically consumed), asking me what I thought the biggest disadvantage to living in upstate New York is, I'd have to set down my mug and explain that one of my major disappointments is that nobody at home seems to actually know upstate New York is here at all. 
   Of course I'm exaggerating a tad. Most people do know there is a New York that exists outwith New York City. Problem is, it's rarely referred to in the United Kingdom outside of the context of the city and, as such, I've found it often treated as a sort of amorphous blob that everyone knows is out there somewhere and will be found when somebody actually wants to go look for it.

       This is a shame. NY the state, if a little barren of life in spots - barren like the moon, actually - has lots of fun little quirks that generally tend to make up for it. Take the town names strung throughout the place, for example, either blatantly titled after other cities (here you can jaunt from Syracuse to Rome or Paris and be back well before lunchtime) or else holding a definitely half-hearted feel to them. My favourite examples of the latter from my scanning of Google-earth has included Friendship, Otto and the completely adorable Wirt. Can you even imagine how Wirt came about?

"Hey, Greg, what d'you reckon we should name our new town?"
"What did you say?"
"'Wirt', did you say? Yeah, that could work."
"Oh, that's good too! Write it down for tomorrow."

    But I would also confess to my hypothetical inquisitor, if they hadn't by this stage wished they'd never asked and were already away and looking for some hypothetical decent conversation, the lack of information is partly my fault, at least in terms of the people who I've left in Scotland. It's been four or five months since I've last posted a blog - you can chalk that up to several reasons, as varied as they are dull  - and though some people have probably responded to their absence with a miserably lengthy sigh of relief, I've decided to fling the blog back into cyberspace. It's going to be in a different format, though: I'm going to aim for a daily short posting (you have to set up the standards before its possible to let them slip, after all) of a diary of sorts. Some days such a diary that might entail a half page of meandering, some days a perhaps photo or two, some days a pair of sentences standing on their own wondering where the party's got to. We'll find out as the semester progresses with the workload.

I'm also stop stabbing absolutely every post onto social media. You know where to find me.
Until tomorrow!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Of Pickles and Crossbows - Variety and American Superstores

You’ve got to understand: we don’t have anything like Walmart in the UK. We have superstores and supermarkets, sure - huge, square slabs of buildings where you can pick up some food or pencils or toothpaste or whatever else - but we don’t have anything like the sort of variety that you can find a five minutes’ drive away from Utica College. 
I made my first pilgrimage to the store of stores about a day or so after arriving in the US on exchange. Jetlagged, disorientated and in dire need of some coat-hangers, I picked a cart from the entrance and rattled it on inside and, immediately, was distracted by a colorful BACK TO SCHOOL sign that was looming overhead. I started rummagine through all kinds of flashy but entirely unnecessary products. Where, by the way, have rainbow colored pencils been all my life? 

After a few minutes stationary with the stationery my eye was caught by some other aisle, then another, then another - before I knew it, I’d been sucked up in the irresistible materialistic pull of all the weird, wonderful, and often pretty nasty items on display. Craving a quick snack? Ty one of our pickles, sealed in with its juices in a handy ziplock bag! Take a look at out new range of ‘wildlife’ bathmats - step out the shower and onto the stinking beast of your choice today! Feel your firearms are missing the mark? Set your sights on one of our new crossbows, available online!

I couldn’t really buy much of anything, of course. Student budgets don’t usually tend to accommodate croquet mallets or inflatable bounce houses. Even so, it’s not so much my wallet I’ve been fearing for. My wallet has a picture of Batman on it anyway and can probably take care of itself. No, what I’m all too conscious of every time I rumble my cart through the doors of Walmart (and other stores like it) is how much time I could spend exploring in one trip. Truth is, every time I go in I can’t help but get sidetracked and go off exploring. It’s not safe, really - there’s a real danger that one of these days I’ll pop in for some cereal and emerge fifty years later, blinking at the sun, waving a box of fruit loops and apologetically mumbling something about “getting a bit distracted”.

Moral of the story, then. If you ever see me half-submerged in the box of discount DVDs, spending half an hour contemplating what kind of thickness my pillow should be or something else entirely unproductive, do me a favor and drag me out of the store. I pay in pickles and crossbows.
Since my last post I've been reading:
Last of the Mohicans - James Cooper
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Memories of Ice - Steven Erikson

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Captain's (B)log, 7th - 13th September

Because every day should be meaningful, except Tuesdays.

Saturday 7th September
Spent my first eight hours playing Dungeons and Dragons with some new friends and, seeing as I slept in until the back of noon, didn’t manage to do much else. I played as Cain - a middle-aged half elf ranger who had spent the majority of his life roaming oriental plains, eliminating varieties of dangers for less experienced explorers. As it turned out, Cain spent most of today messing around in taverns, interrogating locals in his stilted B-movie monotone way of speaking, and staying away from action for the sake of self-preservation.

Overheard a guy having a chat on his phone while sitting in a bathroom stall. “Yeah, I’m doing great, man”, he said down the line as his bowels took off in such a way as to make the Apollo missions hang their heads in shame, “what about you?”

Sunday 8th September
International department hosted an event - ‘Meet and Greet over a Sweet Treat’ - their way to get older, full-time international students meeting those who’ve newly arrived (with sugar as bribery). Thirty or forty people showed up, and each of us were made in turn to stand and tell the sugar-high group their name, nationality and one interesting fact about yourself. I muttered something about enjoying books. It’s quite painful coming to terms with your own banality, though someone suggested later that I should’ve opened with ‘My name is David, I’m from Scotland and I actually quite miss the colonies’.

Speaking of reading - cracked the spine of Moby-Dick today, which I have to read in the next two weeks for class. It’s a monstrosity; I wonder why Captain Ahab didn’t just take the darned whale down by cracking it over the head with a set of Melville’s complete works.

A friend asked me to write a column for the school paper, perhaps about my experience in Utica as an International. I agreed while immediately starting to wonder what kind of stuff I could get away with...

Monday 9th September
Created a new game today, though still needs a name. It goes like this - whenever I take the lift (sorry, elevator) up to my floor, I stand to attention and salute just as the door is about to swing back. Had a couple of strange looks so far, and a few people who’ve laughed at/with me as we walked past each other. Still waiting for the hero to return the salute but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.

Passed page 100 of Moby Dick. Established so far that we’re to call the protagonist Ishmael and that he needs to sit down and define the relationship with his buddy Queequeg. 

Finished the day by playing some night-time ultimate frisbee on the football field. In other news, recently uncovered a hidden fear for fast, disc-shaped objects.

Tuesday 10th September
A  small part of me died at lunch today when I overheard a girl at the table behind us say through her nose “I’m telling you, calculus is literally a killer”.

Aside from that, studied. I can be wild sometimes.

Wednesday 11th September
Baking hot today. There was a clubs and organisations fair on at the student lounge which I only managed to attend by peeling myself from shadow to shadow and stopping every fifteen paces for a water break. Somebody brought a snake along with her (“She’s from the bio lab, we were going to bring the tarantula but we thought that seemed a bit much”), which got passed around as people signed up for a few different bits and pieces. I put my name down for the Reading Society and the League of Extraordinary Nerds (you know you’ve found a solid group when they name themselves League of Extraordinary Nerds). 

Also, got a new mattress today after I complained that the old one felt as though I were resting on the bones of the previous occupant. This new one feels a bit moist. Might just sleep on the floor for a semester or two...

Thursday 12th September
On a mission to convert the floor to Doctor Who - sat a friend down tonight and made them watch Matt Smith’s entrance episode. I think they enjoyed it, but it was hard to gauge their reactions over my giggles and squeals of delight at every third line of dialogue.

Was informed in a breezy, off-the-cuff sort of way in one of my classes that we have a ten page essay due in a fortnight.

Was a bit late for dinner tonight (meals are fully paid for at the start of each semester)ended up being told the place was closing up ten minutes after I sat down. Smuggled a full loaf of bread out in retaliation. A crime for the ages.

Friday 13th September
Page three-hundred of Moby-Dick has been breached, and I’m proud. Found out that the Flesch-Kincaid test (which measures the readability of a novel, the lower the number meaning the more difficult the text is to read) measures some parts of the book as low as -146.

Got a chance to write up my column for the school paper, a piece about Walmart and how they have to stock everything under the sun and then some solar winds just to show off. I had quite a bit of fun writing it, almost entirely because I got to use the line ‘It’s not my wallet I’ve been fearing for. My wallet has a picture of Batman on it and can probably take care of itself’. My number one fan is pleased, at least.

Since my last post I've been reading:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
The Last of the Mohicans by James F. Cooper
Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson