And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around


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Tales from Work: Checking In or Checking Out?

As with other TFWs, I’ve changed the names of my coworkers.

After a challenging (read: crappy) summer of job searching, I landed (settled for) a full-time job at a hotel downtown as a front desk agent. Not exactly using my English major, but it’s a full time job with a starting wage that’s a respectable distance from minimum wage, so in this day and age, I can’t really complain.

And, as I’m quickly learning, my work is going to be chock full of story fodder. And that’s what matters, right? I was flung right into the flurry of the hotel. They’re so busy that nobody had much time to train me on the first day. With 234 rooms to check in, check out, and keep happy, my main task was staying out of the way and watching saucer-eyed, giving guests apologetic smiles when they saw my nametag and expected me to be able to help them. I looked the part, but this wasn’t exactly a situation where I could “fake it till I make it.”

When the chaos died down a bit, a manager, Nora, made a few introductions. She calls Jennifer “Juniper” and the introduces me a man a couple of years younger than me. “This is Ben but I call him Andrew,” Nora says.

Andrew-who-is-actually-named-Ben started 5 days ago. He looks overwhelmed. “Brace yourself,” he tells me, and Nora whacks him on the arm.

I was soon shuffled into a small office with Nora, who paused in her training every 20 seconds to answer the phone. It’s funny how everyone’s voice goes up to a higher, sugary tone when addressing a guest on the phone. “Thank you for calling [hotel name], how may I direct your call?” The front desk agents will practically squeak. If it’s another employee calling, their voices immediately drop an octave and back to their normal voice. “Oh my God, what do you want? …Well, they need to tell me these things earlier! Ugh, I hate you!” They’d then slam the phones down and mutter about housekeeping.

Nora got several calls from employees while I sat in, most of them dealing with yapping dogs in room 400. “Those pooches are still barking? What kinda dogs are they? Well, should we just get the pooches out of there? And you can’t contact the guest?”

The hotel is dog-friendly, but, as Nora explains to me between phone calls, you have to sign a pet waiver in which you agree to keep your dog with you at all times. The guests in room 400 evidently hadn’t told the hotel about the dogs and hadn’t signed a waiver.

“Well, can’t we just take the pooches out of there?” Evidently other guests were complaining about the barking. Nora grumbles as she hangs up. “Why would they bring their dogs to a wedding anyway, unless they were going to be the pallbearers?” I guess that she meant “ring bearers”, but I don’t say anything.

“Have you worked in a hotel before?” Nora asks me. I tell her I have not. “Ohhh, boy, I tell you. You will see things. No matter how many stories you’ve heard, no matter what’s happened to you, you’ve never seen everything.”

I am intrigued and terrified. What have I gotten myself into?

 

 


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Tales from Work: Off to the Rat Race

A while ago, when I was bored, I made a list called “Every Job I’ve Ever Had.” It covered quite the variety of minimum wage pursuits, some degrading, some boring, some life-changing. Being 24 means I’ve been in the work force for 10-odd years now, so I thought the list was worth sharing. Especially since I just started a new job today, one that is a real, actual, factual, Grown Up Job, departing from everything else on this strange little list. But more on that at the end.

Every Job I Have Ever Had

  • Detasseler (Age 14. If you know what detasseling is you probably also grew up in the Midwest like me, and perhaps you too know the anguish of a cornfield on a sweltering July day with a bunch of swearing junior high kids in sweaty gloves)
  • McDonalds employee (Age 16-18. My high school career, which allowed me to work around marching band practice and late night play rehearsals. I’m still amazed at how many good stories I’ve managed to milk from my time at that McDonalds.)
  • Brunch server (Age 18-19.)
  • Cafe worker (Age 18-19, carrying on my food service prowess as queen of the late night pizza assembly line.)
  • Amusement park attendant (Age 19. Dumbest job ever and best summer ever. I met amazing coworkers from Bulgaria, Turkey, and Russia, a couple of whom I got to see in Turkey several years later.)
  • Custodian (Age 19. Very short lived. For a few months I would roll out of bed twice a week to listen to my “Music for Midnight” podcast of chill music and vacuum the science building hallways.)
  • College newspaper writer (Age 19-22, on and off. Proudest moment was having my own comic strip in the paper. Much wit! Wow! Such popular!)
  • Camp counselor and canoe guide (Age 22. Best summer job ever. Lived in a tent, was uncomfortable 80% of the time, was joyful 100% of the time. I learned a ton, felt like a badass, didn’t earn a ton of money, and was totally okay with that.)
  • Baker (Age 23. Baked enough muffins, cookies, scones and bars to cover Mt. Rushmore and heard enough gossip and trash talk to fill up an hour of air time on MTV.)
  • Gas station cashier (Age 23, a brief stint. Lordy. Met some beautiful ugly people and some ugly beautiful people and one very sad alcoholic homeless man.)
  • New age gift shop salesperson (Age 24. Always nice to support small businesses, but it’s also nice to get paid more often than once a month, and to have a computer instead of having to hand-write every purchase in a little notebook. The bookkeeping methods drove me crazy and for a store filled with singing bowl, crystals, and calming music, I was surprisingly on edge all the time.)
  • Tea salesperson (Age 24. I just finished up there last week, which was bittersweet. On one hand, the mall is hell and most of the people in it are vapid hellions. And the more I worked in retail the more I could relate to Bernard Black from Black Books. On the other hand, my coworkers were anything but, except for that one dreadful girl, and I learned SO much about tea and how to connect with customers one on one.)

10 years, 12 jobs. Not bad. Not that any of them really look good on a LinkedIn profile or a resume, but that insane patchwork of places and people and odd skills has, I like to think, made me a more interesting person. (Imagine if I did put everything on my resume–

“Job-related skills:

-Frantically sewing up broken stuffed animals to use as prizes behind a games booth

-Being an ambassador for feuds between the Turks and the Bulgarians at the theme park

-Wrangling cookie dough out of a 60-quart mixing bowl (oh, and lifting said mixing bowl onto a counter)

-Explaining the many benefits of cast iron teapots

-Learning the many (bullshit) uses of crystals for healing and energy channeling and telling customers about them with a straight face” )

Longest parenthetical ever. The big news of this blog is, of course, that after ten years of bouncing around between the strangest mix of jobs available, I have finally landed an editing job–a real, grown-up job that uses my major, and that has a regular Monday-Friday schedule in an office with desks and a water cooler–a water cooler!  It’s funny. The only experience I have with jobs in offices like this are from TV shows like, The Office or movies like Office Space, which all have sort of wacky-but-contained characters and gossip and self-loathing. I’m sort of amazed at how much truth there is to that. Except, I hope, for the self-loathing. People at my work seem to be enjoying their job for the most part.

My supervisor is a woman with messy dyed hair and framed pictures of cats by her computer, who will stop into the editorial office to show me and my two coworkers a “Beatles vs Rolling Stones” book or to talk about the video game she got addicted to this weekend. The office, though small, is a mixture of Arab speakers from several countries, a couple of Kenyans, and Iowans. I share an office with two other editors, and I already feel like I’m starting to fit into this strange little family. We shall see what new Work Tales arise. Onward!

 

 

 


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Adventures of a Living Statue Part 3

The hardest part is first getting settled. People already have their eye on me because I’m in a flower-covered, 15″ tall wig. My newest addition to your costume, a vintage veil from Goodwill, is aesthetically stunning but also makes my wig tilt back precariously. My biggest fear today is that I’ll tilt my head wrong and the wig will just come toppling off, and the illusion of some mystic statue fortune giver will melt into a frozen bald girl with a white face.

This doesn’t happen, though. Instead I get settled, full jar of fortunes at the ready, folding fan in the other hand. Then it’s the waiting game for who will be the first. This is my first time being a statue at the evening farmers market. I’m hoping people will come once the market is in full swing, but for now I’m just being watched by a couple old guys on a bench by the burrito truck.

My glazed-eye stare rests on the Local Burrito truck. Local Burrito has a Facebook and a Tumblr, I learn. Then a woman comes toward me, bends and drops a dollar in my basket. I  smoothly shift to life, bending and offering out my jar of fortunes. She takes one and smiles at me, and I am energized.

I GOT A DOLLAR, I GOT A DOLLAR, I GOT A DOLLAR, HEY, HEY, HEY!

The market ends up being a great choice because of one big thing: KIDS! Toddlers and children are at the market with their parents, and point and gawp and sometimes, sometimes I come to life for them and I see their look of astonishment. Some come up to me with a parent-given dollar, afraid of me at first, but when they shyly came up and I bent, smiled and met their eyes, they were usually delighted. That was worth it all.

One young girl stopped with her mom to give a dollar, then they sat on the bench in front of me because the girl wanted to keep watching me. “You think she’s pretty?” The mom asked. “Yes, she does look like she is at a wedding with her veil. …No, my hair wasn’t that tall when I got married. It was a bun at the side of my neck.” And I listening as the mom had a conversation with her daughter.

Something about being a living statue is addicting. Maybe it’s moments like when the man stopped for a fortune, read it, then came back and gave me another dollar. “One for me and one for the horses,” he said. “This is really wonderful. You made my day.” I wonder which fortune he got.

Or maybe it’s just getting to overhear conversations, to stand still and watch people and soak up humanity like a sponge.  1262890_10100299544438059_1617618150_o

I couldn’t do this every day, and possibly not even every week, but it is a singular experience to look at yourself in a street window reflection and see a rather magnificent doll instead of a human being, to interact with humans as an Other, then to come home, pull off the beehive that Marge Simpson would envy, and grab a beer, talking easily with friends in white face paint and enjoying the luxury of being you, a human being.


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Adventures of a Living Statue Part 2

For real this time. I struggle with the white makeup consistency, but I roll it around until my face is white, then on goes dark lipstick, darker eyeliner, five times more mascara than I wear on a night out. It doesn’t fully come together, though, until I pull on the 15″ high black beehive wig, which I have adorned with fake flowers and greenery and a bird. I literally put a bird on it. I look in the mirror and I’ve transformed into something other than me, something unusual and striking and what might strike some people at a glance as a statue.

The most awkward part of the entire morning is walking to my spot in the ped mall, but I just try to keep my teetering wig balanced and march down the street. I feel a bit better as passersby glance at me and then bust out in a grin. This is it, I think. I am doing this for real. 

It’s a sunny Friday morning, breezy. School has started back up, so all the kids except for the tiny ones are gone from the brick-paved ped mall. However, I find myself in that frantic week of university students moving in to prepare for the start of the school year, so the place starts bustling. Once I’ve found a good spot, all I need to do is put down my donation box, get my jar of fortunes at the ready, and stand still.

Standing still is hard. I’m sure that surprises no one. Things were slow at first, and there were long periods of standing. When people put a few coins or a dollar in my donation box it not only meant that I was getting a nice little tip, but it also meant I got to stretch a bit as I bent at the waist, pulled back my folding fan, and held a jar of fortunes out so that they could take one. Then it was back to the pose, trying to remain still, still, still.

The thing about standing still is that it is the ultimate meditation. You are forced into the moment and into what you are doing because you have one unblinking view ahead of you, and your brain is focused on keeping tabs on every single muscle and making sure it doesn’t stray too far from its position.

The other thing about standing still is that you become this strange mixture of very noticed and very invisible. You can stare blatantly at someone, watching them intently, and they will walk right past as if you are an inanimate object. And until someone drops a coin and releases you from your spell, you are an inanimate object. As physically taxing as that may be, it does make for the ultimate in people-watching.

I noticed how so many people walked with their faces glued to their phones. I realized that I was guilty of that so often–texting back a friend as I tripped over sidewalk cracks and electrical cords, and for all I know I could’ve passed by something unusual, something beautiful that I completely missed. I vowed as I stood there to pay attention to my surroundings more as I walked, if only just to soak up the beauty in the mundane. 

It was hardest to stay still at the reactions. The first person to drop money into my box was a friendly older lady. “You look beautiful,” she said. “Well done.” And in dropped a dollar. A dollar! Someone had given me a dollar just for standing, just for being.

A lot of people asked, “Wait…is that real?” “Oh, no, she’s real. I saw her blink.” 

“Oh my God, I love you!” An exuberant man came up to me, headphones around his neck. “Another street performance artist! Together we’re going to save this town! I love you! You’re awesome.” He tipped me, I bowed, gave him a fortune, and he called a friend. “Hey, man, you’ve got to come to the ped mall right now and see this street art! It’s awesome!” It was hard not to grin at that.

I made a concession for my rule that I would only move if money was dropped–when I saw little children I would bend, raise my fan, and wave it at them, then return to position.

Standing got more and more exhausting as the time went on. During long periods where nobody would stop, holding a position started to be unbearable. I could feel sweat trickle down the backs of my legs, and sometimes when a stronger breeze fluttered my robe, I could make tiny tiny movements to ease the tension a bit. 

Every time someone stopped or commented or dropped a moment, though, I got an energy reboot. Every time I was about ready to say, “Eh, it’s probably about noonish. I could pack up,” someone would come along in a few minutes and would stop to take a picture, to smile, to grab a fortune out of my jar and read it. Maybe they’d read it out loud to a friend, or maybe they’d just slip it in their pocket and go about their day. Either way I felt this bubble of happiness and connection.

It was four hours before I finally packed up and started back home. The arm that had been holding the jar was so sore I could barely rotate it, and my shoulders and neck were stiff, but it was all worth it. As I walked home, I slowly started to shed my statueness. Wig tucked under my arm, robe billowing out behind me. My ghost-white face still got some stares, of course, but I was me again, and I felt like a better me, a kinder me who noticed more.

And, when I went home and counted through the cash, I found I’d made about $32! $32 for 4 hours…that’s better than minimum wage. And no taxes deducted.

It wasn’t the money, though. That kind of money wouldn’t make it worth the time, the effort, the sore muscles afterward that carried into the next morning. The whole experience was transformative. I was able to connect with strangers in a far more intimate way than I ever could just observing from a park bench. And I really saw people, and heard them. I felt engaged, alive, and energized, even through the tedium of not being able to move a muscle.


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SP Adventures: Find That Uterus!

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Like the weirdest video game ever.

Today four people gave me a trans-abdominal ultrasound and about four million people (note: this might be a slight hyperbole) gave me a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

It’s been a while since I’d done any work for the university hospital as a simulated patient,and what better way to dive back in than by stripping off my clothes, getting into a gown the could double as a circus tent, and letting a bunch of medical students poke around in my vagina, trying to find my elusive uterus?

This was my first time being a model for any kind of ultrasound, so I was as interested as what was on the screen as the students. I nervously lifted my gown up so students could take turns pressing above my pelvic bone, sweeping back and forth. I’d forgotten just how far south the wand goes, and I felt bad about how unkempt it was down there. Hi, strangers. Sorry that you’re getting a glimpse of my untended bush that wouldn’t look out of place in a 70s porno. Then again, who knows what kinds of characters they will encounter on a daily basis once they’re out in the real world? Also, I quickly remembered, they are medical students. Young and nervous they may be, but they’re not exactly flustered about seeing the more intimate parts of the body. In fact, some of them seemed to forget I was a person at all, ramming the wand against me like I was made of that unforgiving rubber on some medical models. Fortunately, you can press pretty hard into the belly above the pubic bone and not feel anything.

The main concern they had for me was, “Doesn’t that hurt?” “Nnnope, push harder.” “Harder?” This was particularly true once we got into the trans-vaginal ultrasounds. The men especially seemed hesitant about pushing the wand downwards, but as I learned before when observing the female program pelvic exam lessons, it takes about 30 lbs of downward pressure just to look at the cervix.

“Is this hurting you?” “Dude, these things are designed to push out softball-sized heads. It’s fine.”

After a while, though–maybe around student #11–it did start to get taxing. Certain pressures hurt more and more, and my legs were starting to cramp in the foot rests. The weirdest, though, was that the teacher could see my bladder filling up on the screen, and so she knew that I probably could use a bathroom break before I did.

When I shifted my attention from the weird probing and uncomfortable position, though, what was happening on the screen was fascinating. And, I learned, taking ultrasounds is much, much harder than it looks. A couple rare students found the uterus right away, but most had to hunt and hunt for it.

“Now, she’s got a retroverted uterus, which is a bit unusual, so you’re going to want to go down more,” the teacher would instruct. Retroverted. Aren’t I special?

“Hey, Nina [the other model working that afternoon] has a retroverted uterus too! What are the odds?” Maybe not that special, then. It is unlikely that the students would have two retroverted uteruses in one day, though.

Students would use what the teacher called the “Battleship method,” sweeping side to side and up and down when lost to identify and scan things. Sometimes they would encounter arteries and vessels, and when they turned on the color on the screen, a section of my insides would turn into a psychedelic, pulsating party of blue and red. Each student took a turn hunting down my uterus and scanning through the whole thing, then finding each ovary and the venous plexus ( I think. I might’ve gotten that wrong. Sorry, any medical readers. Feel free to correct me), which you could see pulsating on the screen.

I also learned that my stuff moves around. “Her uterus was down here, but things have been moving around in there,” the teacher said. “Ta-da,” I said. “Just to make it more interesting for you guys.”

But seriously, stuff moves around? I have a whole new respect for the good folks who do ultrasounds, especially when there’s not even a big honking baby in there to give the uterus away.

“No, see, that’s the ovary there. It’s bigger than the left. Things can vary. It’s not going to always look like Grey’s Anatomy,” the teacher said to a student at one point.

“I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy,” he said.

I really hope my laughter didn’t screw up the uterus hunt.


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A Catch-Up and a Blissful Week of the Mundane

It’s been a while. I feel like before I write about anything I should update about my dad. After the surgery I was so drained that I didn’t feel like writing. But the good news is, everything went well! It was a long surgery. Grandma and I were there waiting for maybe six hours before we heard anything, and Grandma grew increasingly nervous. “I have a bad feeling. It shouldn’t take this long.” “It look a long time last surgery,” I pointed out. “Not this long.”

But Dad is okay! Our badass Norwegian neurosurgeon, whose first name is Thorer (I know. I. KNOW.) said everything went really well. Both tumors came out, and when we finally came in to talk to Dad, he was sensical and cognizant and all there. It’s hard to explain the relief that comes with knowing that the bad stuff got removed from the brain and yet the good stuff is still there. I so often wonder about the holes. They must fill in eventually…but it’s odd to think of our grey matter as rearranging around foreign objects, then getting used to their absence. 

My dad’s mind was all there immediately, which was a relief, but his body is a taking a bit longer to recover, especially his left leg. He is out of the hospital now and able to walk with a walker. Recovery is slow, so we postponed our Scotland trip to 2014 which is a relief and so sensical. Dad needs this time to heal and, as it turned out, I need this time to sink into summer life with my new housemate Pumpkin. 

Pumpkin is my friend’s older sister, and even though I’ve spent far less time with her, we clicked instantly because I already knew her sister and that bloodline and I get along, apparently. She is in love, she smokes on the porch, and she reminds me why having the a great roommmate makes the mundane so awesome.

This week I worked every night from 3 pm-10:30 or so. And every night I get to come home, sit out on the porch and drink wine or whiskey, play my ukulele, watch Pumpkin’s cigarette smoke billow outside the halo of our porch light, and share our thoughts from the day.

It’s more than just this great time with Pumpkin, though. I have finally, finally come to a point where I am able to be happy with what I have and abide in whatever I’m doing, fully and joyfully. I’ve stopped wanting things to be different. Every moment is a good moment. It’s the complete opposite of when I was depressed, when even the good days were bad. Now it’s the opposite. Last weekend I went on a short camping trip out on a nearby lake with a few friends. I was so stoked to go, and while it was a great time, I wasn’t any happier than I was working at the bakery. This wasn’t to say that I was unhappy. I just attained a steady happiness that doesn’t seem to waver whether I’m having an awesome experience or a “mundane” one.

I think three-months-in-the-past me would’ve been shocked that one of my happiest weeks was this week, where nothing particularly amazing happened. I went to work at the bakery, enjoyed my time there, singing along to music when there was nobody else there, or getting to know my coworkers better. Bonding with the muffin batter, finding satisfaction in mopping the floor. Admiring the oven burn on my arm, that red stripe stinging in pain. And then coming home and laughing myself silly with my housemate. I realized, finally, that I’ve been wanting all these experiences that wouldn’t make me any happier. I have it all right now. The age of 23 is one big lesson in experiencing the present. I dance from paycheck to paycheck. Pumpkin and I paint our bodies and wash our warrior designs and smeary swirls off in the shower. We line up our empty wine bottles by the trash can and wonder what else we can scrounge to eat from the freezer. I feed my rats and let them run under my futon and then try to find them again when it’s once again cage time.

Three months ago I thought that happiness was somewhere else, in the mountains, with a group of people I wasn’t cool enough to meet, within a finished book. Now I finally am free to exist where I am, and while that may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, it was such a revelation that everything feels different now. Nothing has changed outwardly. But my perception has. And wow, what a difference that makes.


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The Diner Where It’s Always 1959

This morning at the bakery my coworker informed me that her neighbor has a TARDIS in their backyard. It took me about ten minutes to stop hyperventilating. My logical self knows that there is not an actual 900-year-old madman Timelord with a blue box that picks up plucky young women, but as a 23-year-old with ambitions and travel lust who also happens to be stuck in some dead-end jobs, I can’t help but feel like a viable companion candidate. I know it’s not possible, but there’s still that tiny part of me that still looks in the postbox (or fireplace or between window panes) for my Hogwarts admissions letter or that magical doorway in an abandoned garden. In reality I know that the “TARDIS” in the neighbor’s yard is probably a clever shed paying homage to their favorite sci-fi show, but that didn’t stop me from hyperventilating for a few minutes.

 

Back to mixing cookies, back to reality. Today was a heavy dose of reality: an eight-hour shift a the bakery and a six-hour shift at the gas station. Nothing brings you back to reality like selling cigarettes, lotto tickets, and 30-packs of Busch Light. Except when a bearded man in biker gloves and those pinstriped conductor overalls came in and was writing a check. It started out so normal. He took his sweet time writing the check as I idly folded old receipts into paper cranes, an old habit. 

“Let’s see…today’s still the 29th?” “Yep, that’s still happening.” “And it’s still 2013?” “Yep. Unless we entered some kinda time rift,” I joked, but he looked up at me in shock.

“You know about those?!”

“Uh….?”

“That was what my research was on!! Time rifts and dimensional vortexes. There are eight spots they’ve discovered where there are dimensional vortexes. Used to be they’d pick people off the streets and send them through, but now they only send government people through.” 

He is in earnest. He is dead serious. He goes on to talk about how time travel is real, how people have been time traveling since the 1930s. “Who knows what the government is doing? Changing the past…changing the future…but really, the past and the future are the same thing.”

I can only say, “Huh.” Until I decided to just roll with it, that is.

Maybe it was a bit unfair of me to say, “Yeah, it’s crazy. There’s this diner in Kingsley where it’s always 1959. No matter when you step in, it’s just 1959.”

“1959? Really?” The man looks fascinated. “What town’s this in? Man, I would go back there and live in 1959. Back in 1959 I was about 8 or 9…those were good times.”

Then he started talking about Roswell. “I want to get into Area 51…make some connections and get in to see the vortex they’ve got there. Man, if I could travel in time I’d go back to Roswell and watch the crash, see what actually happened. There were three aliens on that craft, and two of them died, but one survived, did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” I said honestly.

“I don’t know if they knew what species it was.”

“Well, it’s alien. How could they know?”

“Oh, they’ve identified…what is it? 17 or 18 different species of aliens now? 17 or 18 that we know of.”

I’d never met someone so into the UFO and time travel mindset before. It seemed silly to me before, and it still does…but listening to this old guy talk about wanting to escape back to the past, wanting to see something extraordinary….maybe we weren’t so different. 

Hell, maybe there really is a diner where it’s always 1959. It’d probably be in Iowa if it existed at all.

 


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Holy Elvis, That’s a Pelvis!

            I mentioned earlier that one of my three odd-jobs is being an SP (standardized patient). I’d expected it to be an interesting little side operation, which it is. I never expected it to lead to me standing in a room with four male medical students, one of which was pushing two shaking fingers into a beaming woman’s vagina as a brisk old lady told him what to do.

            Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the strange world of the female program at a medical school. I’d heard about it from Lena, the woman who runs the whole SP operation.

            “If you like being an SP and you want to get more involved, they’re always hiring for the female program, which is a whole separate thing. It takes a…certain kind of person to do it, but the pay is excellent.”

            The certain kind of person that Lena meant included Pi (Pai? Pye? Pie?), an olive-skinned young woman with curly hair and an easy, crooked-toothed smile, who was there when I arrived to observe a female program session to see what it was like.

            Pi showed me around the cluster of rooms where just hours before I’d been psychoanalyzed and pretending to have life-ruining seizures (I swear, I’ll write a blog about being an SP soon, because it’s a blog of its own). I hadn’t, however, been to one of the small rooms where an eerie rubber pink torso sat on the exam table, sliced off just above the bellybutton, the two short stumps of the thighs spread to reveal a rubbery slit where students could practice inserting their scapula or fingers in the correct way.

            A bowl full of scapulas, metal beaky things that have caused discomfort and awkwardness for women worldwide, sat next to three flattened, rubbery models of breasts. Pi demonstrated how to hold and use a scapula, and how to insert. “You have to push down hard, about 30 lbs of pressure.”

            “Umm, ow?”

            “Oh, no, it doesn’t hurt, but you need that pressure to get below the cervix. The worst is when students don’t get it low enough right away, so you have to let them try again…and again…” She beamed at me and laughed. Everything seemed to be a secret cosmic joke for her.

            This lighthearted attitude spread over to Janet, the aforementioned brisk old lady, one of the main instructors and organizers. She came in, greeted me, then ushered Pi and I into the examination room. “When we did this last week, we got to laughing a lot. We had a lot of laughing and it was really fun. That’s sort of what we aim for. We still want to be informative, of course, and professional, but also…not like a professor.” Suddenly she’s peeling off her swater. “Sorry, I’m not a very modest person,” she said, baring her breasts. Definitely not like a professor. Pi just grins at me and looks away. “But then the next class was so grim! It seemed to stretch on forever.” Janet pulled on a bra then put her sweater back on. “How far into your cycle are you, Pi?”

 

            The groups in these sessions are never larger than four students. I supposed that when I pictured Ob/Gyn students I pictured a majority of females, but instead four athletic, tall white males came in and settled in front of the DVD player.

            “You’ll need to either tuck in your ties or take them off for the examination portion,” Janet said, then played a 15-minute video featuring her and an acting doctor going through an examination. The close-ups of vaginal examinations made me think back to puberty classes in elementary school, although none of those videos were quite so candid.

            After the video, the doctors-to-be practiced holding the scapula, then moved into the examination room to watch Janet demonstrate an exam on Pi, who grinned the whole time, baring her vagina to four pairs of men’s eyes. It might seem nerve-wracking, putting your body on display and letting people touch it as well, but as someone who took a life drawing class, I understand the medical students’ perspective. There’s nothing pervy going on here. If they wanted to see something sexual, there are millions of hours and pictures of things far more erotic than seeing a woman get a flashlight shined on her cervix through a metal thing shaped like a duck’s bill. The medical students just want to make sure they get things right. It was the same way in art class. You didn’t sit there with your charcoal thinking, “Hot damn! A naked man!” Instead, the instructor was telling you that you had two minutes to gesture draw the figure before he changed poses and you were too busy thinking, “Is this proportion right? Shoot, I didn’t draw the load-bearing leg first. How am I going to add tone? Does this even look like a person?”

            Then again, I haven’t modeled for a pelvic exam demonstration yet. I’m sure I’ll be nervous when I do it for the first time. Especially when everyone in the room takes turns sitting on a stool and peering through the scapula like a telescope to look through the tunnel to my cervix.

            Once Janet was finished with her demonstration, she broke away so that each of the medical students could practice the exam. The first volunteer’s hands were shaking as he did the breast exam and I could see him growing more frustrated as Janet or Pi corrected him.

            “Remember, we want to minimize touch. Ask her to move the gown instead of moving it herself.”

            “I’m going to feel under your arm here—“ “Examine. Remember, neutral language.” “Examine,” he’d correct, sighing.

            Once he got to the pelvic exam, his hands were shaking even worse. It was strange and oddly funny to see this tall, wide-shouldered man with the neck of a football player and an arrogant personality to get shaky and fumble over his words and procedures as Pi grinned down at him and offered advice. Poor guy. Vaginas are complicated things. I would much rather be the one spreading my legs for a doctor than to be the one staring into the abyss and trying to figure out where the hell everything was and if it was functioning properly. No wonder my gay friends are afraid of them.