J and I walk to the front of the school building and wait for the rest. It is dinner time and I cannot wait to get in. The food is fantastic. The vegetables are fantastic. This is ridiculous. I would never have liked it otherwise. I would never have anticipated a vegetarian dinner otherwise - but the food just makes you want to tuck those safe and healthy things right in.
The rest of them, of course, don't like the food and think walking back and forth for meals is a complete waste of time, and the food is horrendously below par as compensation. The air-conditioning goes on unstopped. The classroom computers stand frigidly on tables, clean, pristine and very decorative. They look better in disuse than they ever would. It serves the purpose, all right. It's difficult to see how far behind the others are. It's almost late and they should be coming along. But they're all on a slothful walk and it's difficult to hurry them up. Promenading is what some people like to specialise in. The walk is purposeful, but slow, very, very deliberate. For a teacher, who out of habit prefers brisk walking, or prefers to walk briskly when in the vicinity of unruly kids, this is intriguing. The speed isn't the problem. It's the unintended creepiness. The dreadful accompaniment - kids with contraband in hand.
J is significantly different. Well, not in that drastic, special kind of way. He is, though, in an understated way. He doesn't believe in very different things or doesn't have a very different way of talking. He'll expound on any of the coolest-things-to-do that qualify you for alpha-male supremacy. He'll tell you any number of sites that contravene the server-surveillance. He'll let you know about all the women who have been purportedly wanting to chat you up in class. He'll do all of that, and in exactly the ersatz American twang you've come to expect. The accent grates, bad American is hard to get accustomed to, but he has a quiet way of doing it. He doesn't let you think he knows it all, but he puts out every statement like a question; as if everything has a question mark at the end: Do you know she thinks she can get you to flirst with her on a daily basis? Do you think you can not tell that guy what an asshole he's been today? Do you even recognise the person you've been talking to all this time? Why do you even bother pretending to like the food?
Yes, the food is fantastic. But there's nothing that will stop the critics' harangue. There's an intemperate dog that barks near the other entrance, the one to our right, on a slight elevation, and we both know he's not permitted here. Someone needs to call the guards and set off the intruder-alert. "It's horrible having dogs ruin the cleanliness of our campus, darling," says the inordinately good-looking matron. Well, that's very unfortunate for someone who could do with an additional pair of puppies herself.
J looks around. He looks bored. I'm tired from a day of classes and an hour of consistent working-out. I ask him what he thinks there is for dinner. 'Who cares, man? You don't have to pretend to like the food, sir?' But I like the food, you spoilt brat. 'You know what?' Yes. 'What?' I don't know, why don't you tell me. 'So we should go out drinking this Sunday? I mean, of course I'm not allowed to be drinking and everything, but if I sneak out and change out of uniform and meet you outside the mall, we could go someplace?' It's not a bad idea, but I'm not willing to take charge of the sabotage of school-rules, and I'm not willing to be taken privy to under-age drinking-fantasies. Or witness juvenile pretend-drunkeness, which is very boring and hardly funny, so, you know, no. 'I love drinking?'
But the thing is he loves it all: he loves drinking but he hasn't really drunk so much. He has, obviously, meticulously memorized the names of a lot of interesting drinks, several unknown to my unpractised mind. He has the combinations and suitable hors d' oeuvres in mind. He knows all of that, exactly. But theoretically. There is something attractive about the half-baked world he's created in his mind. It's a legitimate, interesting world of names and formulae, tastes and occasions, ideas and impressions he could never possibly testify to having used practically - ever. Not that it upsets the usefullness of it; it's just as useful now as ever. The beauty, though, is in the immutable zeal for wanting to know. The quest for knowledge. For booze.
J waits for the rest to catch up, but they're still sauntering. The path is fairly long. The walking is fairly slow. The eagerness to tell me illicit things is still fairly pretty-much-there. I'm upbeat too.