Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cardiff is for lovers

There is more to the story of English Major.

I finished my overpriced tea and walked over to the library for a bit of tedious Welsh-language post-modernism. It is a genre that annoys me in the Welsh medium. I think that is because it didn't arrive until the late 80s, which is about when most people elsewhere were starting to think that postmodernism was dead. Welsh-language culture has a bad habit of jumping on the band wagon only after the wagon has actually stopped and been abandoned. Grunge is scheduled to take the Welsh music scene by storm next year.

The library and the humanities building are within a stone's throw of each other, separated by a small green area with trees and shrubs and a wee hill that seems to be the exclusive domain of cute girls when the weather is nice. In the library, I found a study area near a window and was able to look down and see that English Major was still out there with his Chinese yo-yo: swinging it around his leg, popping it into the air, dropping it and having to chase after it into packs of passing students.

Eventually he grew tired of really only being able to do two tricks, packed the yo-yo into his bag (if you guessed olive green over-the-shoulder bag, you guessed correctly!) and started to head off. But a group of girls called down to him from the first floor (FTYPAH: "second floor") and clearly asked him to perform for them. Man of my own heart, he set down his bag and started at it again, this time trying to pop the yo-yo up as high as the girls' window.

Appropriate to my earning-a-Welsh-degree nature, I felt a twinge of jealousy toward English Major. I wished I had some kind of talent that would cause girls to lean out a window and call to me. Damn it, why did I never learn how to Chinese yo-yo, or play harmonica, or do anything impressive? The closest thing I have to a talent is my ability to (poorly) imitate James Hetfield.

Pop into the air, around the leg, around the leg, pop, pop, around the other leg. The girls clapped and then closed the window, turning their attention to the class inside.

They had stopped English Major directly in front of a bench, the occupant of which was a red-haired girl who had been poring over a book that looked overly large and boring even from 50 feet away. She smiled at him and laughed at some little joke and he decided to keep at it with his Chinese yo-yo.

I went back to my reading. Occasionally I would look out the window and see that English Major and the red-haired girl were still there. She tilted her head and smiled at him.

If you look out for it, you see this sort of thing a lot on a university campus. All the stages of love play out in front of you in looks and glances and smiles and hands held and hugs and kisses. A university campus is filled with that, and so many of its occupants bumbling madly foolishly through it. Love is so desperately fragile, and yet so often we run at it with lumbering intensity, as if we are riding a piano down a flight of stairs: Love me! Crash! Thud!

Here, though was the gentle stupid beginning wrapped in the golden late-winter sun. It was like watching a film.

English Major and the red-haired girl talked for about 50 minutes. She laughed. She played with her hair. She held up her boring book and said with body language, at least, that she would much rather be talking to him. He kept at his Chinese yo-yo. The greatest challenge of talking to a girl is knowing what to do with your hands.

Eventually it was time to move on. He put the yo-yo back in his bag, gave that silly floppy-hand wave that is more an excited and nervous "thank you" than "goodbye," then turned and walked away at high speed, trying not to look back. Looking back would be uncool. He walked in the wrong direction -- opposite of where he had been headed before talking to the red-haired girl.

She put her book in her bag, got up, looked back in the direction English Major had gone, and then started walking toward the library. As she passed under my little library window vantage point I could see her face clearly. She was grinning.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OK, that's more like it...

As if to make up for the intelligent kids of last week, standing outside the humanities building Tuesday was a bloke with one of those Chinese yo-yos that are the staple of a music festival, renaissance faire, cannabis legalization rally, or any other event where long hair and a goatee are the look de riguer.

This bloke was relatively clean cut, though, wearing the internationally recognised uniform of the English major. I'm not really sure what an English major is called in the UK; they don't tend to use the word "major" when referring to university courses of study. But you probably know the look: sport coat or velvet jacket, T-shirt or untucked frumpy dress shirt, corduroy trousers and trainers (FTYPAH: "sneakers"). Often the look is accentuated with an oversized scarf worn in such a way as to not actually be all that warm.

This is video of a bloke doing Chinese yo-yo tricks. English Major wasn't nearly that good, although he had mastered the around-the-leg trick seen 14 seconds in. Perhaps the chap in the video is an English grad student.

English Major was stood just outside the main entrance of the humanities building, sort of half-performing for the steady stream of students moving to and from their late-afternoon classes. His being there struck as a statement on what a degree in English is actually worth. Doing a bit of Chinese yo-yo was a CV-enhancing activity.

As someone earning a degree in Welsh, I appropriately stood just to his right, quietly sipping my tea and wearing a look of disdain as I thought: "Typical arrogant bastard -- showin' off like tha'."