Saturday, June 25, 2011


256. Screening flatmates. Act 3. 
12:30ish pm. Flatmate #1 looks at the time, turns off the alarm clock for the fourth time, and tries to get out of bed; Flatmate #2 quickly gets into his morning shower, although technically it can no longer called a morning shower if the morning has already gone; and, unbeknown to both of them, Flatmate #3 discreetly says goodbye to an overnight guest who leaves the flat unnoticed, then starts madly scrubbing the kitchen stoves.

1 pm. Living room. The half-eaten banana, Tintin's unfinished breakfast, is covered inside the banana peel, hidden behind the pink Brita. A pretty, 25 year-old primary school teacher is sitting demurely on the couch. Screening flatmates is a two-way street: as we try to figure out whether she might be a good fit, the girl probably has her own checklist to determine whether we might be total nutcases. Standing near the dining table, I am leisurely sipping coffee from my George Clooney mug, an attempt to appear awake; not in his usual weekend morning attire (some matching PJ invariably with cartoon characters on both the top and the bottom parts), Gaston is properly dressed, sitting on the ubiquitous IKEA Kinsta relax chair, every now and then secretly eyeing his half-eaten banana; Tintin is casually leaning against the radiator, calm, a personification of Zen.

The current score for Flatmates at Rue So-et-So: 10/10.

"...So this is Gaston, he works at the social department of...," Tintin starts the obligatory introduction. "You do?" I ask Gaston, feigning surprise, an in-joke between us along the line that I never know what it is he does, professionally or socially, but because of the collective Saturday morning afternoon grogginess and of the very nature of an in-joke, I come across as actually not knowing what my flatmate does for a living. 

Flatmates at Rue So-et-So: 9/10.

"...and Gazpacho, she works at...," it is my turn to be introduced. "What do you do there?" the primary school teacher asks me. "I'm a researcher," I reply, assuming an air of vagueness that is a practiced habit from encounters at parties and social gatherings. The primary school teacher does not press on, but she does not have to. "In mathematics," Tintin adds helpfully. "I usually avoid the elaboration..." I mumble, and even as the primary school teacher laughs, I can see our total score goes down further. 

Flatmates at Rue So-et-So: 8/10. 

" you have three months off!" Still in the role of a semi-enthusiastic MC, Tintin tries to initiate a normal conversation. "Yes, but I still have to work. This past week, I was at school everyday, finishing my reports. There were not many students in my class, but I helped other teachers with their reports too..." "That's nice of you," Tintin says, while Gaston and I nod approvingly, and the primary school teacher smiles. Then, a period of silence. Gaston studies the air, I look at the sky and Tintin examines his feet, thinking about the next sentence. He probably should have put more efforts into it, because what comes next is, "Sorry, we are a bit quiet... late night..." At Tintin's understatement of the week (two thirds of the flat were not home by 2:30 am), we all burst out laughing. Well, all but the primary school teacher. 

Flatmates at Rue So-et-So: 3/10.

I hope she is still moving in next weekend.

257. When not busy writing books, my nephew draws. Below is the pencil sketch of his perpetually incomplete family, based on a photograph taken last July.

258. Le Cap. "How is your date?" reads the text message. Okay so far, I suppose, apart from his being married with kid, and that when we first met again at the hotel lobby, I had no idea whether to go for a cheek kiss or to shake hands, and after standing around for a few seconds, I almost leaned over at the same time he extended his hand, prompting me to cover up the embarrassment by asking, "So what do people do in Poland...," an awkward question made even more awkward by the fact that I spent two weeks seeing him almost every day earlier this year. 

Fifteen minutes into the dinner and I am already breaking my first rule of the evening: no alcohol. The plan has been to order flat water, what with the self-imposed soft drink strike and there is only so much alcohol one should consume per fortnight. Nevertheless, the walk from St. Catherine to Grand Place seemed particularly long, and the first conversation in this candle-lit, semi-romantic restaurant was about numerical integration, so when the waiter came, I asked for a glass of white wine. Putting the phone back to my bag, two things occur to me: I am not looking forward to a particular July date, and whatever I do this evening or in July, I will not break the second rule: mentioning the past. Certain pasts make even worse a conversational topic than numerical integration. Right on cue, I am asked how my boyfriend and I are going. The dinner companion and I got to know each other through a chain of academic connections; not wanting to spread stories in a small world, I have not discussed personal changes back in January. But, today is no longer January, so I give him an update, and ask the waiter for a second glass.

Delirium. "...see, I have interesting stories too!" he smiles, finishing his second glass of beer. The plan was for me to just show my "date" Jeanneke Pis, a small statue of a girl elegantly peeing in public, but, as demonstrated again and again, things do not go accordingly to plan tonight, Delirium was just nearby, and sure, why not one beer in the pub with more than two thousand types of brews. I smile back, and, on a whim, decide to tell P. about One day, the book that I have been reading. Discussing books, for me, is as tricky as discussing religion to a stranger or telling someone about your children: it's personal and I can get very passionate about it. Nevertheless, there is something in the coconut beer that I have been drinking, and I already know that we both enjoyed immensely the book Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, so as Led Zeppelin blasts in the background, I describe the structure of and my thoughts on One day. As soon as I finish, "Give me this book!" P. exclaims. "It's exactly what I am saying... It's like weight gaining. You gain one kg each year, and then fifteen years later, you look at yourself in the mirror, and you think, ****, how did this happen?" The analogy, while not particularly literary or romantic, is actually quite accurate for the premise of the book. 

Next thing we know, it's almost midnight. "Another beer or another bar?" I am asked. "Actually, I should go home..." P. wants to know how I am going to get home. "There is a Polish rule, that you have to accompany the girl back to her home before you can go to your home..." I assure P. that these sorts of rules are more like guidelines, and that I am perfectly capable of getting the metro home by myself, after walking him back to the hotel. As we leave, AC/DC's High way to hell comes on the speakers, and I congratulate P. for having guessed correctly the band for a previous song. Strangely, the walk from Grand Place back to St. Catherine does not seem as long as its reverse.

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