Friday, September 19, 2014

An Open Letter to the Universe

Dear Universe,

I generally assume we're on pretty good terms. I am a born and raised Unitarian Universalist, after all, universe is in the name. Sometimes I stare, wild eyed, into the void and wonder what it is that you require of us, but for the most part, I tend to just take things as you throw them.

Recently, you've thrown quite a lot at me. Moving, classes, running a club, working for the girl scouts, bed bugs, infections, an inability to find a job that pays more than $100 a week, constantly washing and re-washing every article of clothing I have while wrapping everything else up in insect-proof plastic...but, you know all this. You gave me all of this. And I'm sure that, somewhere down the line, I will learn a tremendously valuable life lesson from all of it. I'm not here to ask you to change your MO. I would just like to ask for a simple amendment, to whatever cosmic plan you may have in place for me.

Have you ever listened to Janelle Monae? Her talent as a musician is such that I am skeptical that she originates from this universe to begin with. So, I thought I'd ask. If you, in fact, have not, take a look.

Did you see that? That is a life changing experience in three minutes and forty-four seconds. That is the face of the woman currently occupying a significant chunk of my ipod; the song I have sung so many times in the shower that I'm surprised even the bedbugs are willing to live with me. This is a performer who wrote an album so good that I once spent three days trying to download it from a mountain in Peru. Her lack of a grammy nomination makes me physically angry.

What I'm saying is, her music is important to my life.

And you know that, as the universe.

And yet, for reasons I'm fairly certain I'm not supposed to be able to fathom, you have yet to give me the opportunity to see her live.

Now, I understand that you are an ever changing force. I currently inhabit a world where pictures and videos are often more important than the experience itself. I get that. And, I understand that you have provided me with a wealth of such things to keep me going through the good times, the bad times, and those times I hear that she's going to be in New York when I'm with my family/in another country/at a wedding/showing turtle skulls to girl scouts. You know I'm grateful for this.

But, I suppose I'm somewhat old fashioned. I am rarely of the opinion that the "good old days" were actually as good as people say they were, but I do find myself with a distinct attachment to live performance. I like the thrill of standing in front of a stage, the feel of over-amplified music aggressively chipping away at my sense of hearing - I'm even a fan of that strange, awkward moment when you accidentally lock eyes with a random stranger beside you and you realize that he has no idea what's going on. You can't get these things from YouTube. Not without expensive sound equipment. And kidnapping. Probably.

Tomorrow, sometime after two, Janelle Monae will be performing at my school. This is the one time I have ever had any real interest in a visiting musical guest. It is my senior year. There are many, many reason why I should be in attendance. But, of course, I understand. I understand that, especially recently, you've had a lot for me to do. I understand that there is purpose in seemingly random things. I understand that I am supposed to be learning.

But given that you have been interacting with me quite a bit recently, and I have, in fact, been doing the best I can to carry out the things that I am supposed to carry out, I would like to - with great courtesy and respect, of course - ask for Saturday evening to myself.

You can have the morning. You already have the morning. But once the exterminator leaves, and I'm finished with the three hours of Spanish homework, and I've washed everything own for the third time in a week, is it at all possible that you could just give me those last few hours? Just those. Just while Janelle Monae is onstage. I don't need the rest of the concert.

Thank you, Universe, for taking the time to read through this. Should you need me, I have a feeling you know where I live. I have not enclosed a resume since, again, I'm fairly certain you know all that, and most of it isn't really relevant.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Nelly Nickerson

Friday, September 12, 2014

Time Is Kind of An Illusion, Sometimes.

I may or may not have become unstuck in time.

Granted, I live in an apartment where, if not for the use of clocks, it is impossible to tell whether it is night, day, or anything in between. Clocks are, of course, imperfect - with the very distinct exception of that atomic clock my grandfather once showed my mother that one time when she was five and having a brief crisis over the existence of measurable time. Sometimes, it seems, PM can be accidentally switched with AM, and you find yourself awake several minutes after your class started, but with the space around you looking, for all the world, like it was the middle of the night.

Admittedly, this environment does make it easier to deal with the ensuing panic.

I threw on some clothes. Once outside, confronted with the somewhat later than midday sun, it became apparent that I was late. I had not, in fact, been dreaming when my alarm failed to go off and I wandered my bedroom in a haze looking for socks. The real world is alarmingly real when you can feel its breeze and see its clouds and hear its too-fast New York cars in the distance.

The walk to class is a short one. It's about the length of "Way Down Hadestown". Sometimes, if I'm walking towards that other part of campus where the language and science classes are, I can get through "Hey, Little Songbird". On days when I'm distracted and I've been known to stop and contemplate the colors of a leaf, or an abandoned piece of paper on the ground, I get all the way to "When The Chips Are Down".

These are from Hadestown, by the way. It's a concept album by Anais Mitchell, and you should definitely look it up.


I climbed the steps of Breslin Hall, frantic and sweaty, still trying to shake the dreamlike feeling from my surroundings. At this point, I had only been to this class once. I knew where to go purely from muscle memory, as it was in the same room as the Nerd Club I had been attending for four years. Consciously, there was a good chance I was completely unaware of what I was doing or where I was going. I opened the door. I was expecting a classroom of people. I expected to find myself on the wrong side of a room full of eyes - interrupted, and perplexed.

Instead, the room was empty.

I closed the door. I took a step back. I took a deep breath, shook my head, and opened it again.

Still empty. Still strange.

There are several steps that must be taken when arriving at an empty classroom that should not be empty.


Or, alternatively, the blackboard. Often, an empty classroom just means that class is being held outside. In this case, the board revealed only the details of a class on marketing. Or economics. Or, possibly, existential terror. I've never been very good at business.


There is a good chance you have missed a sign on the door saying that class has been cancelled or moved. These signs are usually small, half-unintelligible, and complicated. The only thing on the door of 211 Breslin was a spider - small, white, and quick moving.


This is when it get truly complex. Both the general step, and in the context of my story.

Professors like to e-mail you during those moments you are least likely to check your e-mail. It's different for everyone. If you check your e-mail before bed, they will write in the morning. If you check your e-mail right before class, they will have e-mailed you last night, and the message will be lost. All of these e-mails will be to the school address you never use. They will then complain that students never check their e-mail.

If you have a smart phone, this step may or may not be easier. If you have an old, fairly temperamental smart phone, this step will only be slightly easier. In my case, I spent a good twenty minutes standing awkwardly in the wide, cavernous hallway of Breslin, desperately trying to convince my four-year-old iPhone 4 that it would be a good idea to log into my portal. It was only after this task was completed that I noticed a poster on the wall announcing that the Hofstra smartphone app had finally been rebooted and updated.

The poster was literally at eye level. An impressive feat, considering I'm only just under six feet tall.

My inbox contained three new e-mails. Out of the three, only one of them said "I am sick, and therefore will not be able to teach class today." It was from my Eastern Philosophy professor.

The Eastern Philosophy professor I had three years ago.

I opened the e-mail.

Sure enough, it explained, apologetically, that my professor would not be in class today, and that we would continue our discussion of Taoism on Tuesday. I remember this discussion on Taoism. I remember jumping back and forth between note taking and a film pitch about trailer parks and Freddie Mercury. I remember it being moved from a Thursday to a Tuesday. I remember being a sophomore with cherry red hair and pants that were too big for me.

I checked the date. It had been sent today.

I looked around me. The hallway was empty. Faintly, I could hear other professors giving lectures on things I couldn't make out. I heard the sound of an elevator. I heard someone order coffee from the coffee stand downstairs. There was nothing strange about this space. There was everything strange about this space.

I sighed. I put in my earbuds, and returned to Hadestown. I walked back to my timeless apartment. I tried to watch The Daily Show, but the only full episode that would load was one from a week ago. I contemplated the past. I ate breakfast at two in the afternoon. I wished, not for the first time, that my grandfather was still alive to take me to his atomic clock, and reassure me that time was, in fact, real.

The next time I left my apartment, it was dark. I hadn't noticed it change. I sighed again, itched a bed bug bite, and went to class.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bedbugs or Vampires? Is There Really a Difference?

There are a number of similarities that can be made between bedbugs and vampires.

The obvious one is, of course, the fact that they are both active only at night. As the sun sets and you slip into a deep, dreamless sleep, a vampire emerges from the shadows and stands silently at your helpless, unconscious form. You cannot see the vampire. Even if you were awake, the vampire would not want you to. Similarly, and simultaneously, a bed bug emerges from the dark folds of your used mattress. It ponders your skin. It creeps soundlessly around you, until it stops.

Both the bedbug and the vampire see you as their prey. Their perception is accurate.

In the case of both creatures, the lore that is associated with them is often difficult and contradictory. Can a vampire be killed with a wooden stake, or do you have to set it on fire? Can you use a bug bomb to save yourself, or do you have to call a professional fumigator? Is it possible to sleep with your mattress encased in plastic while you wear a chain of garlic around your neck - and will either of these things actually protect you?

The short answer is that there is no answer. The only answer is possibly. Rituals, in their many and complex variations, are never guaranteed to be successful. This is as true in black magic as it is in insect extermination.

Returning to your bed, both the bedbug and the vampire are feeding. Blood is, of course, life. Your life. And at present, it is being drained from your body to feed the life of another.

Routine is important. The vampire drinks from the same place on your body it always has. It will return to this place - your neck - over, and over, and over again, never straying from this fixed place. It is both practical and a compulsion. Vampires are, by nature, compulsive beings. They have a long, ancient history with obsession - obsession with numbers, with counting, with practice.

Bedbugs are similar. In the morning you will wake up covered in red marks. You will notice that these marks tend to cluster. There is never only one. Once the bedbugs have learned how your blood travels through your body, they will find a place and feed again, and again, and again. The marks they leave will pile onto you, change you - the layers of enflamed sores distorting the familiar topography of your skin.

What happens next varies in both cases. The sun will rise. The bedbugs and the vampire will retreat into the shadows, quenched. You will wake up and somehow things will be different. You may itch in places you did not itch before. You may be lightheaded, pale, with a thirst for something you can't entirely put into words. You may not even be human. Or, at the very least, you may not feel like you are.

I should mention that I have it under relatively good authority that my apartment is, in fact, infested with bedbugs and not vampires. But you can never really be sure, can you? Tomorrow I could begin the last year of my undergraduate education as an entirely different being. Either way, I will certainly be an itchier one.