Oberlin Blogs

Desk Quest

September 7, 2009

Will Mason ’10

For my first three years at Oberlin, I lived in the same part of campus. North Quad, a spacious grassy field framed almost entirely by dorms, treated me well, and I liked that north campus was a ways removed from the library, the conservatory, and my classes. The clearly delineated geographic boundary between my living and working spaces generally made me more productive - I'd rather practice for one big four-hour chunk than four one-hour chunks dispersed throughout the day, and so eliminating the opportunity to go between my dorm and my practice room helped with that. The downside, of course, is that North Quad is quite insular, and I most certainly missed out on a great deal of community interaction.

Not so this year; I live in a house on Cedar Street, near campus but unambiguously a part of the town of Oberlin. Professors live on this road; children go biking on the sidewalk out front; there are gardens and manicured lawns (an environmental no-no but a childhood nostalgia yes-yes). I have spent part of almost every night for the past three weeks sitting on my porch doing absolutely nothing except listening to crickets, reading, and talking with friends. My housemates are three of my best friends since orientation week freshman year, and now we happily cohabit this beautiful old home in a beautiful neighborhood. Life is good.

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An Oberlin yard sale

We continued our foray into the Oberlin community this past weekend, during the town-wide yard sale. I am no stranger to yard sales, that most curious of American traditions. But perhaps because of the indelible memory of my mother towing my very unhappy 5-year-old self around from yard to yard during spring, or perhaps because I am not one for shopping to begin with, I find yard sales to be something of an unpleasant phenomenon. They seem to be immensely intrusive, the family's house disemboweled, its porcelain viscera laid out on tables and priced to move. These are people's private items, imbued with sentimental value, with memory. What greater insult can there be then to spend all day watching innumerable friends, neighbors, and strangers inspecting quirky old trinkets with careless hands, often with an inexhaustible supply of put-downs: "Honestly, I've always thought these plates were just incredibly tacky." "Come on, who ever would buy a complete set of Simpsons-themed Pez dispensers?" Then the caravan moves on, intent on its search for nothing in particular.

Regrettably, our house's need for a desk in our designated "study room" outweighed my irrational dislike for yard sales, and so I hit the streets. My most immediate observation is that the town of Oberlin is truly beautiful; it's littered with old houses of all different architectural lineages, not to mention the distant cornfields and farm silos. We struck gold at the first yard sale we visited, and ended up with a wonderful antique desk, albeit in need of some sanding and perhaps some more varnish. We have added it to our study, where it will no doubt shoulder the considerable physical burden of volumes on Shakespeare, Eastern European Political Development, Dependency Theory, and Post-modernism, while we four hapless housemates are left to decide how best to shoulder the mental burden.

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By special request, here's a photo of my desk (where the magic happens) and bookcase. I have not accumulated too many textbooks since I tend to OHIOLink them, and as a result my library is a tad scant. Nevertheless, I'll draw your attention to a few items:

1) The Sound and the Fury, which on most days is my favorite work of fiction
2) The complete stories of Franz Kafka, to be read during the dead of winter in low lighting while listening to Ligeti or Kurtag or some other Eastern European 20th-century modernist composer. Just to make sure my disposition is never too ebullient.
3) Moby Dick. Unfinished. For five years.
4) Music Downtown, a generally good collection of essays by Kyle Gann, including one which, hilariously, disparages my great-grandfather, who was a musicologist.
5) Ibuprofen. Perched neatly next to some of my reading for this semester. A more fitting bookend could not be found.

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Responses to this Entry

Loved this entry. I hear you on yard sales. But admittedly, I like the voyeuristic edge to rooting through other people's stuff. And the intensely useful acquisitions, like the deck of holographic-pet playing cards I picked up a recent yard sale here in Seattle.

Ahh Cedar Street. Enjoy! A few of my good friends had a house there last year, and I was forever envious. I love that street.

Posted by: Yitka on September 8, 2009 8:44 PM

Best thing I found on yard sale day: an undetonated practice bomb turned floor lamp. I wonder if someone purchased it.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on September 9, 2009 12:45 AM

Ma'ayan - I'm sure this says something about my guilty conscience, but the first thing I thought of when I read "practice bomb" was some device designed to explode in your face when you are supposedly a studious conservatory student who HASN'T PRACTICED ENOUGH. Lazy fingers? HOW ABOUT NO FINGERS HAH TAKE THAT.


Actually, though... what is a practice bomb? And how does one turn it into a floor lamp?

Posted by: Megan on September 9, 2009 11:15 PM

Megan - This concept blows my mind. Not in the bomb way, but that conservatory students fear the wrath of not practicing with this sort of fervor.

Upon Googling, I have found that practice bombs are everything a bomb is except explosive. They are the same size, shape, and weight, and will explode off smoke when it hits something. They are used in practice maneuvers and training. They are also apparently bright blue.

What it looks like: Imagine the tail end of a bomb on the ground as the pedestal. The rounded upper part (this one was about 3-3.5 feet off the ground) had a round halogen light mounted on top, but with no lampshade or cover, just bare lightbulb.

It was the most impractical, ridiculous, and interesting thing I saw all day.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on September 11, 2009 1:00 AM

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