Campus Life wenbo’s walks

Closer to the heavens

I walk to Prudential Tower, a shrine for capitalism

I would like to preface this by saying that in light of the developing COVID-19 situation, starting next column, all walks will be held either in the forests of Northern Virginia where no human interaction is possible or virtually at Zoom University.

I also recommend social distancing and frequent hand-washing using hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol (assuming that the locals in your area haven’t already cleared the shelves of this, along with all the toilet paper for whatever reason). Maybe this sounds a bit preachy, but I won’t apologize for it because public health is of utmost importance.

Anyway, as I transition back into my walking persona, I’m heading down Mass. Ave. again (shocker, shocker), this time in the direction of Memorial Drive. 

I am, of course, not doing this presently, as it would be unsafe to do so given the current state of things. I, in the present tense of all the verbs, was walking about two weeks ago before the whole Biogen debacle.

’Twas a clear, sunny Saturday. I’ve never seen MIT’s tennis court with such clarity before. Okay, that’s probably untrue, but somehow it especially stands out today.

“’Twas” does give that paragraph a bit of a fairy-tale-esque, even dramatic, flare, doesn’t it? 

Maybe it’s because writing this column has made me a more self-aware individual (unlikely). It could also be the weather. Alternatively, it could just be that terribly viscous coffee I had in the morning. Did I mention my peculiar taste in adjectives and coffee?

Beautiful weather and blissful ignorance… the perfect recipe for a cheery column. Foreshadowing with a side of sarcasm? Psssh… don’t be ridiculous!

As I walk down dorm row wearing a backpack containing wooden utensils I totally did not snatch from a career fair booth (I’m such an ecological angel), I notice two gentlemen approaching me. They seem college-student-aged, although dressed a bit too proper for a casual Saturday.

“Hello, would you like to learn more about Jesus Christ?” one of them says.

They’re missionaries. Of what, exactly, I don’t know yet. 

Oh, of course. Why wouldn’t I? I see the other missionary open his mouth.

“Do you believe in Christ?” he replies to my silence.

Well, that question’s a bit tough for me to answer, seeing as I alternate between atheism and agnosticism. I’m aware there are plenty of religious folks, and all the more power to them, but I’m just indecisive.

This silence is getting awkward. I must reply. I shake my head. Ugh. I mean, I had to reply to this oddly binary question somehow. It would’ve been rude not to. A forking road with no correct path… sounds familiar.

“Well, in case you ever want to learn more,” the first says, “here’s a card for you.”

I take the business card. It has an image of Jesus Christ on the front, a link to the missionaries’ website on the back, and conspicuous text lining the bottom edge in god-knows-what font: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 

I don’t know what to believe. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of religious sentiment growing up. Despite living most of my life in the canonical southern U.S., I’ve been to church once in my living memory, and it was for Sunday school or something.

I check my phone to skip to the next song. Nine percent battery. Yikes. I tug anxiously at my backpack straps.

My brain and body feel so disjointed that they may as well write separate columns. It would honestly make more sense than whatever this is.

I suddenly find myself on the other side of a bridge. I have unknowingly crossed the Charles River. Geez, I really need to get my life together. I must’ve tried to go to Trader Joe’s but then gone completely off the figurative rails.

The river is frozen over. I hope the fish are doing okay.

I find myself near Boston University. I don’t know how I got here, but now I have to find a way to get back to Random Hall near Central Square. Good thing I have all the time in the world!! I am, of course, neglecting all of my psets at the moment. 

I pass the CITGO sign. There’s nothing remarkable about it. Oh my gosh it’s huge.

Railroad tracks sprawl out below me as I stand above them on a smaller bridge passing through St. Mary’s St. Isn’t it strange how “saint” and “street” have the same abbreviation?

Maybe I can find my way back walking along the tracks. A sense of direction? What’s that?

Besides, my phone’s dying, and the only other thing I have is the Jesus business card, which I suspect will be of little help at the moment. I take a deep breath and begin my trek along the chain-link fence.

What’s this railroad for? There’s a set of tracks crossing Mass. Ave. too, but I’ve never seen them in use. Perhaps this one’s used more frequently?

Something catches my attention from the corner of my eye, protruding from a corner of the fence like a tennis ball frozen in time the very instant it hits the net. The tension builds as the crowd prepares to explode.

Then, nothing happens, the tension is never released, for this is no tennis ball. It’s just a thick branch suspended there, its parent tree long gone. Why did people get rid of the tree only to leave this branch dangling all alone? This speaks to me somehow. Now that’s the level of #deep content I’m talking about!

I find myself outside an oddly-familiar plaza; the sign from the nearby building reads “888.”

Prudential Tower. I figured that one out because of its bigliness — I mean height. Had a bit of a mental typo there: good thing this isn’t getting posted on the internet. Another potential hint was how it literally says “Prudential” at the top. I know... I’m such a genius.

I contemplate entering the skyscraper. Why not? I might as well (little did I know, a few weeks later, there would be a great reason not to go inside populated spaces).

Anyhow, I wander in and instantly regret my decision. An escalator greets me, fairly tall, although not quite as tall as the one leading into the DC area’s Rosslyn subway station.

But unlike a subway station, everything is glittery. There are streamers hanging from all the windows. Everything seems too fancy. Too, dare I say, dramatic? 

There are people dressed in tuxedos, shopping at utterly unaffordable stores like Vineyard Vines, Canada Goose, or Sephora, while I stand like a fool on that escalator with my $20 backpack and $10 Latin club sweatshirt. I’m out of place, a fish out of water.

I stand out like a sore thumb. Ouch. My thumb hurts. I tugged too hard on my backpack strap. I knew I should’ve cut that bad habit out when I still had a chance of redemption in high school. Too late now.

I avoid all eye contact I pass, as if employees might be offended that a college student can’t afford to patronize their stores. At least the building’s tall, so I suppose I’m closer to the heavens? The missionaries must be getting to me.

Patronize: weird word with two very distinct meanings, like poaching an egg versus poaching the illegal activity. Why are so many English words simultaneously innocuous and problematic?

It’s as if these words were created to be used optimistically but then gradually learned the realities of life. I can definitely relate to that.

I meander into Barnes & Noble aimlessly. I find myself standing beneath the “Christian Living” shelves, reading some of the titles: The Jesus Principles, Believe in Miracles, I’ve Seen the End of You… That last one’s particularly cheery, isn’t it?

I head to the fiction section where I feel most at home. It’s a shame that this location has sold out on Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, her follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. I really wanted to read it.

Eventually, I buy Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and leave to avoid awkwardly running into that employee empty-handed for a third time. I’ll read it at some point: these are the lies I tell myself. Well, now that I’m in self-quarantine, I suppose I’ve got the time to do it!

I’ll read the book and try to collect some thoughts before the next column, in which I will likely walk around my childhood experiences virtually in Minecraft, Poptropica, and Club Penguin (rest in peace, my dear puffles). Fingers crossed for how that’s going to go. 

Here are a few parting thoughts. Why is there a coffee shop in this tower that charges $5.25 for a mocha? Who is this shopping center designed for, given its prices? Why does Prudential rise so high above the Boston skyline like a shrine to capitalism? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but maybe one day I’ll discover them. At that point, I’ll Have Truly Found Paradise.

So long, MIT, till we meet again. Stay safe, everyone. I will miss my friends and especially all the seniors who I never had the chance to say a proper goodbye to. We’re a strong community no matter how far apart we may be, and I believe we can fight this virus together with vigilance, caution, and compassion.