The Sims and Predestination

Friday, March 24, 2012

Oh, it's been a long, dry silence from me, both on Twitter and at Sycorax Pine.  A gaping maw of a silence, yawning and swallowing so many potential brilliances.  It was a perfect storm that took me from you: a strange concurrence of March Madness, D's sudden and unexpected arrival from Honolulu, the rash of home improvement projects that result in the copresence at Farfara of both her owners, and the semiannual looming of Mt. Grademore.

Let me start my blog-penance by telling you a wee tale, just as I told it to my Introduction to Literature class while it was unfolding:

Many years ago, when we were in college, there was a brand new game that went by the name "The Sims." (Murmurs of recognition from my students, who are encouraged that they understand this reference from technological prehistory.) Being hip and spendthrift college students in the prime of life, we acquired this game, and although our roommate (I'll call him D. Vert) quickly populated his Sim home with his avatar and dozens of sexually profligate floozies, I took the riskier path of social experimentation and prognostication.  You see, I built a house next door to D. Vert's porn pad, and into it I sent a SimSycorax and SimD designed to replicate our real personalities as exactly as possible.  Then I sat back and waited to see how SimSycorax and Sim D would get along in their life together.  SimSycorax quickly got a job, and a fancy suit.  She left early every morning, and returned each evening with stacks of cash to beautify their home.  SimD, on the other hand, slept a lot, although rarely at night.  He took to wearing a great deal of tie-dye, and developed a pot belly.  From time to time he would get the urge to be helpful, but he often lost interest in his task halfway through, with the result that SimSycorax spent a lot of her time putting out fires, and not just metaphorically.

The sinister thing about this was that I held real D responsible for the irresponsibility of his SimSelf. "You've burnt down our house," I'd yell at the poor perplexed soul, who had just graduated and immediately acquired his first job, "Again!".  Our roommates must really have enjoyed this spectacle of crazy. 

As the years went by, and D became ever more fiscally stable and intensively career-driven, SimD faded slowly from my memory. 

~   ~   ~

Shortly after D arrived last week, I turned to a friend from work and said, "It's strange and really kind of delightful to have a house-husband, when I'm used to being completely on my own.  Today I realized on my way to work that I'd forgotten to put out the trash for collection.  So when I got here, I just wrote to D and asked him to take it out for me!  Amazing, right?".

"I often wish," my friend replied, "that I could train my cat to be an old-fashioned faculty-wife." (You know, the kind of spouse who silently, and often without acknowledgement, made many a tenure possible by taking care of 100% of domestic labor. Domestic labor that most current faculty take care of while also pursuing more extensive teaching and research demands than in the days of yore.  There needs to be some kind of memorial of respect and sympathy for the unsung faculty wives.)

"Are you kidding? If you asked your cat to take out the garbage, he'd say, 'Fuck you.  Take it out your own self.'  Cats produce domestic labor, they don't practice it." (I'm desperate for a cat, and trying to convince myself otherwise.)

Two hours later, I got a strange message from my own faculty-spouse.  "We need to hide a spare key in the garden again," it read. "That's true," I thought.  And then: "Wait, what?". 

"I locked myself out of the house when I went to take out the garbage.  I knew you wouldn't be home for several hours, so finally I took a large rock and broke one of the windows.  Except the first rock didn't work.  Now we've got a dented door.  And a window to replace."  This had all been unfolding even as I crowed about the glory of having a better half to make up for your oversights.  Oh, the dramatic irony.

"Er.... why didn't you knock on the neighbor's doors?"

"All the ones I know are away in Spain and Florida!"

"This is Nova Scotia, love: you don't need to know the neighbors to throw yourself on their mercy."

From the desperation in his eyes and in his voice, it quickly became clear that this was a moment of survivalist desperation for D: he needed me to agree that this was the ONLY choice possible for him.

~   ~   ~

A few days later, D came with me to the office, and busily telecommuted with colleagues in Hawaii while I taught various classes.  As I swung my office door open after my last class, heaving a gusty sigh of relief that the day had been successfully endured, a voice wafted from just out of sight.  "The important thing," it said to me in cheery tones, "is not to panic." 

My shoulders tensed, because panic is clearly the only rational response to that sort of utterance.  And that's when I saw it: all my papers, the whole of Mt. Grademore, spread out across the office's floor.  Soaking wet.   "There may have been a glass of water on your desk," the voice behind me continued, sounding an awful lot like D, but falsely cheerful in a way that I've rarely encountered from him, "And it might have been knocked over.  The good news is... your computer was saved."

Never trust a passive voice that extensive. 

~   ~   ~

Thursday I spent two morning hours teaching a section of a Great Books-style community course (delightful, enthusiastic, articulate - if only every teaching experience could be this compelling and student-motivated).  It was Ibsen's A Doll House, and we leapt right in, despite the sullen irony of talking about Norway at Christmastide (in a windowless bunker of a room, no less) during a freak outbreak of unseasonably summery weather in Halifax.  I traipsed out of the class in a brilliant mood. ("I'd love to read more drama," one of the students said to me, "Where should I start?".  "I think I'm going to cry from joy," I nearly replied.)  Flinging open the door to the Barge She Sat In (our new[ish] car), I grinned at D, irrepressibly. "The good news," he says, looking at me frankly, "is that our jumper cables work."

"WHAT THE FRAK?" I finally cried, "Get back from whence you came, SimD! What have you done with the original, you cheery simulacrum of terror??".

~   ~   ~

But everything's gone much more smoothly since then.  Like a champ, D's fixed the generator (luckily we had a very mild winter with almost no blackouts), grappled unsuccessfully but valiantly with one oil change and two dead batteries, and hung a clothesline with only a few conversations like this one:

D: "Of all the things mankind has to face, who would've guessed that hanging a clothesline is the toughest."

SP: "I would have. It is our tragic struggle."

I sent a fervent prayer to the literary afterlife: "Thank you, Samuel Beckett: if D hadn't been forced (by individuals who shall go nameless here - let's not point fingers) to sit through at least one production of Godot, where would he find the strength to understand or endure this situation?

Also, a further shout-out to you, Edward Albee, for making me breathlessly grateful that our tragic struggle has nothing to do
with a goat. Seriously, D, we're not getting that goat you've been coveting. Stop coveting it.

Yes, we are frivolous whiners. Seriously, though, we've been trying to hang this clothesline for as long as it takes to gestate a human being. It reflects badly on our combined resourcefulness and intelligence.

But at least there isn't a goat in the picture.  So what do I have to complain about?

One Response so far.

  1. JW says:

    From the last line of your "day in the life," I got the feeling that the next disembodied voice from SimD might be intoning: "But THIS goat is so low-maintenance! Just think, no more getting locked out during trips to the recycling and compost bins... AND we no longer have to worry about that clothesline."

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