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The Poison Ivy League Part 38-Interlude on the Nile

May 3, 2011

Kimel’s junior year at Harvard was a time of some interest beyond his life as a debater. He had his first girlfriend, albeit briefly, and starred in one of his favorite plays and directed another. As all of this was happening, he lived in a three-room apartment with Sulla A and Apuleius, the former’s best friend from high school. Kimel and Sulla each had his own bedroom, while Apuleius stayed in the common room.

Poor Apuleius’s personal hygiene was absolutely shocking; he slept on a bare mattress without so much as a sheet under him, and putrid vapors were given off by his body and whatever came into contact with it. He kept the room in a horrifying state of disrepair, filling it up week by week with huge, broken computer monitors from the 1980s—God knows where he found them. He explained that he was planning on donating them to charity, but ultimately, he graduated without moving them. It was left to Kimel and Sulla to haul them off one by one to the local dumpster, an act which they performed with some relish, since they had long been hoping to avenge themselves against the eyesores.

In the Fall, Kimel won the part of Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to be performed in the “Fishbowl” auditorium of Currier House, by coincidence the same venue where he had played Henry Higgins as a freshman. He performed the part well despite being a baritone in a tenor’s role. A striking young freshman was cast opposite him as Audrey—a fit blonde bombshell named Scribonia who’d evidently won a beauty pageant in Ontario in the recent past. Over time, they developed crushes on each other; when he kissed her for the first time during the rehearsal of a love scene, he felt a chemical rush coarse through his body such as he had never before experienced. At the cast party, Kimel began to suspect that Scribonia might have liked him as more than just a castmate when in a game of “Truth or Dare,” her best friend dared him to recreate their kissing scene from the play’s second act. This he did gladly, all the more so because he knew that every man involved in the production had developed crushes on her over the course of the play, and he was pleased to subconsciously gloat.

He enjoyed their early dates together, when he had someone to listen to his stories and philosophy on life. But Scribonia’s high energy, attractive in an occasional acquaintance, soon became draining for Kimel. In her public life, it was an asset; she was always on alert, scurrying from one place to another. She sang in a choir, performed on the rugby team, and did community service work besides. But in private life, her high-spiritedness could make her seem positively mad. She once dove into a pile of leaves in a bizarre act of spontaneity, and Kimel very much wanted to leave her there, particularly when she lost her cell phone in the muck and mire and he was forced to go hunting for it.

Then, one night, it was all over as suddenly as it had begun. Scribonia came to Kimel’s room and was harangued for twenty minutes by Apuleius; he was so well-meaning and sweet-natured and oblivious when he spoke that he seemed very much like an earnest child. At the end of his speech, Scribonia took Kimel aside and ended it. He more than willingly bowed his head to necessity. He read her fortune with his set of Russian Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards, and then he bid her goodbye. Her next boyfriend was a girlfriend.

By this time, the Classical Club, captured in a virtual coup the previous year, was making arrangements for the now “yearly play.” Rather than involve himself with an institution that had used and then undeservedly shunned him, Kimel joined forces with his friends Calpurnia and Martina to put on “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the spacious Eliot House Dining Hall. This Martina was the clever drill-seargant mentioned in a previous chapter. The play, which turned out to be a critical and popular success, was warmly reviewed in the Crimson newspaper as a production that “did…Harvard drama proud.”

Few in the audience realized just how dangerous the stage had become by the end of the rehearsal period. For a climactic scene involving a bottle being smashed, Kimel could not find an appropriate fake bottle, and so he told the actor to use a real one. Granules of glass were soon scattered about the stage. This event was later duplicated when a plate was smashed and broke into a thousand shards, sending small pieces flying everywhere. The matress upon which many a castmate was thrown in lust was soon embedded with shrapnel. Then there was the sheer drop behind the proscenium, and the scene where a man had to have water poured on top of him, making the stage slippery as well as sharp. But it was not any of this, but the presence of “live fire” on the stage when Blanche Dubois lit a candle that finally brought the Harvard theatrical censors down on the play, forcing the stage crew to clean up its act.

At the end of an eventful year, Kimel fulfilled his wish and went to Egypt. He joked to his father and grandmother in Tel Aviv that never was an Israelite so eager to turn back across the Sinai. He sailed down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor on a fishing boat, watching tilled fields and crumbling pagan temples drift by just as Caesar had before him with more pleasant company than his own thoughts. The young boatman sang “She’ll Be Smoking Marijuana When She Comes” to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes,” a celebration of his favorite pastime. Alcohol was banned by Islam, he explained, and so hashish in particular and weed in general were popular in Upper Egypt. Kimel abstained.

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