You know how some days just don’t start the way you think they will?
This is what everybody in the English Department saw this morning as we scrolled through our emails; it came from our senior administrative assistant, the marvelous Doreen, and went out to the department’s listserve:
“Good morning: I received a call this morning from mail services. Apparently, there was vegetable oil being delivered to a department at UConn that broke and spilt over lots of mail. Mail services has confirmed that it’s just vegetable oil. They wanted us to be aware that some of the mail may look ‘different.’ Bon Appetite!”
Having returned at 2 a.m. from delivering a lecture out of state, I wasn’t feeling too hot this morning. The thinning-of-the-skin-and-blood-sense-of-exhaustion is still new to me; I used to be able to go without much sleep for days, or nights, at a time. Since I hit 50, however, it caught up with me, meaning that I feel every hour of lost sleep in my bones. I miss being able to do those marathons, but I’ve accepted my new limitations. Like the days when I could run to catch the subway while wearing six-inch heels, those times are gone.
In addition to running on mere sleep-fumes, this morning I was also feeling the kind of stomach-churning pressure you get only when the delivery of a ms. is overdue, and I’ve got that gnawing on my entrails because the final drop-dead proof of Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like to Drink was meant to be delivered to UPNE last week but—guess what?—it wasn’t. Notice the passive voice. I use the passive voice only when I am being particularly craven.
So when I turned on the computers, hours later than usual, and saw Doreen’s e-mail about the oil, I laughed into my coffee. It was the kind of gesture Danny Thomas made famous as a “spit-take” whereby a beverage being expelled unwittingly indicates shock. I did that all by myself in the kitchen without an audience.
For 24 years now I’ve been getting emails about power outages, missing books, emergency-procedure testing, infant children delivered from members of the department I’ve never met, missing computers, unlawful use of the photocopying machine, changes in parking availability, and the chronic of supplies (“Please be advised that rubber bands from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are to be used ONLY for College of Liberal Arts and Sciences research, scholarship, and teaching, according to rules set out by the Auditors on page 278 of the handbook…”).
This is the first time I’ve ever had a note advising me that, if I brought a little balsamic vinegar to work, I might be able to eat a flier from the Athletic Program.
Yes, it was sad to think that somewhere on campus a poor soul performed a test in order to assure us it was “only” vegetable oil and not a contaminating substance but—security issues aside—Doreen’s note sort of made my day.
I want the narrative. I want to know who was mailing vegetable oil to an academic department. Was it to Nutrition? Was it to Agriculture? I could think of many, many bad jokes to make about how other programs on campus might use it, but I won’t. I want to know—was it olive, canola, corn, or some more exotic blend? Did it spill ONLY on the English Department mail, or did it get all over the Humanities? Can I now read everybody else’s mail because it made all the envelopes transparent?
Okay, I know: I need to get some sleep. But I’ll be dreaming about word salad, and oily literary transactions, and slippery colleagues, and laughing even as I snore.