Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paige - Mass observation

Sunday 9/6 Afternoon walk

It’s about 2 pm and across the street from my building a girl in an old car appears to be stalled at the intersection. The car smokes out the back and the engine roars in protest, but she manages to peel out of the stop. The day is hotter than I expected, and the sun beats down from the west. A few blocks from home, a homeless man with a blue cap staggers out of an alleyway and lingers pensively at the sidewalk. At the Guadalupe intersection, an older man calls “hey, Jean” to alert his wife, when the pedestrian light turns. They’re both hesitant and ambling when they follow behind me. Two bikers in matching uniforms come down the intersection in the opposite direction, wobbling slightly as they swerve to avoid the dense crowd of pedestrians. I don’t take my usual route, instead cutting through the square in front of the Union. A pair of girls walking ahead of me discuss Facebook stalking – one has been studying the listed interests of a guy, presumably, and doesn’t know how to mention it to him.“How do you strategically bring it up without sounding creepy? ‘I heard you had these three interests and guess what? I also have those three interests.’” The hand-painted student organization signs in front of the Union are collapsed haphazardly; there is one lone promoter who propositions me about something concerning Schlotzky’s. A woman passes, carrying a two-by-four over her shoulders like a yoke. At the cul-de-sac behind the Flawn Academic Center, another pair of cyclists and the man makes a show of riding with no hands. Passing the turtle pond, a group of three take pictures, and one man steps out of the frame and into my path. The turtles are piled up on the rocks to soak in the sun.

The campus is quiet, and the construction site empty. The CAT vehicles are abandoned; some appear halted in the middle of a dig. The iron skeleton of the new building towers over the street. I catch my friend Aaron on his way down 24th street - he’s headed to the Fine Arts library to study – and we note on the coincidence of running into each other on a Sunday afternoon. Our short conversation is punctuated by an acorn that falls onto the hood of a parked Honda. Down the street, two workers swing open the long fence door to the second construction site, which blocks the path down the sidewalk, so I cross to the side running along the Service Building. At San Jacinto I take a shortcut to the art building through the path up to the Texas Museum – on the stairs a man plays with his three children racing up the steps, one announces his victory as I take off down a dirt path up the lawn.

I come down the stairs to the first floor. Behind the double doors into the Art Lab someone is playing opera. I’m inspecting the flyers as a girl with a Chelsea hair cut emerges – the aria is clear for a few brief moments – and gingerly shuts the door behind her.

Wednesday 9/2 Morning walk

A garbage truck unceremoniously deposits a dumpster in the middle of the back alley – its fork rises over the top of the truck. Down the street a biker swerves to avoid me, the bike is covered in colorful tape. There are a few runners – those in jogging clothes and others with backpacks, tardy to class. One man sits on his bicycle in a parking space, seemingly lost in thought. At Guadalupe, an androgynous kid with a wooden surfboard-shaped skateboard glances at me from the other side of the pedestrian crosswalk. She jumps on it and takes off in front of Sutton hall, not long before the bell tolls 9.

A janitorial crew in tan uniforms saunter, laughing, through the parking lot into a low floor of Battle Hall. The square in front of Main is quieter now, there’s a student organization stand set up for something I can’t quite make out, and a UT utility truck parked on a walking path. At 9:13, a tan-shirt crewman heads towards the parked truck - he lowers the back platform and rises with it slowly. It’s 9:15 when the man returns from inside the truck with a dolly, and the student stand breaks out into an indistinguishable school cheer. The flags are at full-mast again, at half-mast only two days ago. There’s a discarded beer in a paper bag at my feet. The sun beats down on the unshaded concrete and a student mumbling into his phone walks, unperturbed, in aimless circles, scuffing his feet.

An old man with a great Santa-beard walks with a gimp and a blue eco-bag, lumbering up the slope. 9:30, a girl with a massive TI83 does homework on the edge of a plant bed. One girl lays prostrate on a bench, immersed in a book. A group of girls at a table chatter something difficult to make out above the incessant noise of the construction across the way – a whistle and a shout from the site. A street lamp knocked over, lying in the gravel.

There is buckling in the brickwork where the ground seems to lurch up – dirt and pebbles collect in the shallow valleys. I pass a deep trench of mud in the otherwise pristine grass; it’s 9:45 when a man with a guitar case passes. I stop to talk with a friend heading to work – she tells me about her anonymous Q & A sessions for her class; instead of geology questions she sends in drawings of dinosaurs, much to her TA’s frustration. She goes on ahead of me.

The fountain is off and the water stagnant and green. One girl coming up the stairs remarks “OOH that water’s nasty,” but it’s all the same to a crow perched on the edge of the fountain, who ruffles his cropped feathers. In the shade of the theater building, a man discusses the Johnny Carson show with a friend. A parked truck has some motorized device in tow – it churns out a low hum. The intersection of San Jacinto and 23rd is a practiced routine of hurried students half-jogging down the crosswalk as long lines of cars and buses wait for their turn to go. It’s hot and my clothes are beginning to stick like a second skin.

The bell tolls 10 when I make it to the Art building. “ST” is fingered into the dust on the sign labeled “ART” (it spells “START”). A construction worker inside screws a circuit board into the wall panel between the two bathrooms. Another worker walks by, happily humming an odd tune, and the vending machines whirr into life beside me. A sour-faced girl emerges from ARTL with a moleskine - I follow her upstairs.

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