Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Science, Everything is Automatic


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During my first consignment to Georgia State University as an M.F.A. student three years ago, my stroll from parking garage to class provided a scenic tour of two empty lots strewn with skull-sized chunks of broken concrete. From one of these has since evolved a ginormous glass-and-metal structure called the Science Building. I’m sure it has a prettier name than than, but as an aside, I’m amused by students commonly referring to campus buildings by their disciplines without the definitive article—as in “Where are you going next?” “Oh, I’m headed to Science,” or “I’m on my way to Law.” I most envy the ones who get to say “I have a class in Recreation.”

The designers of the science building conceptualized their work in the contemporary style, where all the insides are visible from the outside. Glass and metal, sharp angles and inverted shapes, all emphasize the nasty bits like foil-wrapped duct work and gray industrial boxes with blinky lights on them. It’s like seeing the black lines and garter straps of a hard-edged German streetwalker. I see London, I see France, I see Science’s underpants.

I followed a group of students into the ground-floor lobby, which looks like something out of a Bruce Willis movie. A young black kid sat at a big desk watching a bazillion security camera scenes and munching on a chicken biscuit—completely unaware that by scene two he’d be trying to shoot his way out of a broken elevator. One set of elevators sat behind a heavily guarded cardkey swipe entrance; elevators for Real Scientists, I imagine. These lifts must lead to the floor where they are decoding the gene marker for Lady Gaga appreciation.

Because I am turning into my mother, the first thing I thought when I entered this place I’d never been before was “oh, I have to pee.” I followed a student onto one of the commoners’ elevators. She looked at me and said “Three?” I said “yes,” like of course three—who wouldn’t be going to the third floor? All the cool kids go to Three. We stepped off on what was apparently the Chemistry floor (failed it in high school, even failed at cheating at it in high school) and I wandered around looking for a spot to mark.

The bathrooms in Science offer water-saving, energy-saving, automatic everything. This means the toilets automatically and repeatedly flush with the motion-sensitivity skills of a trained ninja. The soap dispensers automatically ignore you. The sinks automatically start to dribble a weak stream when you have finally given up waving your hands around in the invisible water like a crazy person. The dryers automatically shoot out a blast of air so violent it’s like drying your hands under the hot end of a shuttle launch.

Campus rumors hint at a construction of a Waffle House on the ground floor of this new building. Interesting, if true. In the meantime, Science continues to be a friend of a friend for me—we’re not entirely comfortable around each other. I’ll nod as I stroll by on my way to Literature.

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