September 09, 2020

Ethnographic Notes: What is Familiar?

I’m sitting in the red Ikea armchair that has become my customary seat since school started in August. This chair is located in a little bay window alcove in the dining room and sits up against a small round table that used to be our dining table. We now have a large, rectangular dining table in the middle of the room where we eat. This table, along with the red chair, now functions as my desk. I have a desk upstairs in the loft, but the lighting is poor. Down here, on the second floor of our building, the tall bay windows provide a delightful amount of natural light throughout the day, which I find necessary since we don’t leave the house except for the occasional grocery run. The dining room opens up to a galley-type kitchen; the two rooms are only separated by a counter. There is no wall.

Brian is unfurling a tangled string of orange lights. Early today, I had asked him to pull out my Fall Box from the attic. The lights were in the box. When he plugs them in, the bright orange glow is festive yet somehow haunting. When did orange become a haunting color? A third of the strand is dark, and Brain determines that the culprit is a single light missing a bulb. As he examines it, the fuse crackles. Brian unplugs the strand until he can find a replacement bulb. “I didn't think that was the case in the way they design these things anymore,” he says, still fiddling with the strand.

The dishwasher is running. The sound is wet and rhythmic and for some reason I’m reminded of the rhythm of a dryer, except with a dryer you can see the cycle spinning. I know it’s not the case, but I imagine water sloshing around inside the dishwasher like a little hurricane, small but mighty. Isn’t hurricane season upon us?

Brian has gone into investigative mode: he must fix the lights. He crouches next to the built-in cabinets on the other side of the room, and rummages through baskets for a replacement bulb. “I guess this is the rest of my night now.” He smiles triumphantly at me. I can’t blame him for his excitement. I have the advantage of school to keep me more than occupied as we continue to quarantine. There isn’t much for Brian to do.

I reach over and turn off the a/c unit that’s hanging in the window next to my chair. It’s been cooler today than it has been for awhile and I almost feel chilled. Usually, I’m sweating, even at this hour. I consider making a cup of hot tea.

Just over the sound of the dishwasher, I can hear inaudible noises coming down from the loft where Brian’s brother, Scott, is watching tv. I’m acutely aware of his footsteps as he moves around above me.
My lower back is starting to hurt from sitting in the chair. It’s late and I’m tired from a long day, and still have a couple hundred pages of text to read before tomorrow morning. I’m looking for distractions from the reading, but am growing ever anxious to begin the reading. It’s an endless cycle. Time is not my friend. There is never enough time. And yet, when have I ever had more time.

Brian has moved to the table. He’s hunched over his phone. I ask him what he’s doing. “I’m looking to see if there is any other way to fix christmas lights.” This is what’s familiar to me. This chair next to this table in this room with him in it.

scullerymaid at 8:30 p.m.

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