Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Well, today is Hallowe'en. I'm not doing much. I was invited to a party on Saturday but it was one of those "friend-of-a-friend" invited me things, so I didn't know how many people I ACTUALLY knew would be there - and besides, I was tired - so I rsvp'ed that I wasn't going but didn't elaborate why.

Tonight I plan to hand out candy. I bought little Kit Kat bars, and the little 3-Musketeers bars, and Snickers, and Milky Ways, and small bags of M&Ms - you know, the GOOD kind of candy.

And I realized - I didn't know the schedule for trick or treat.

So I asked someone with kids.

And she said, "Oh, just turn on your light when you're ready to start and turn it off when you're done." Apparently there's no formal house-to-house trick or treating in town any more. Instead, there are "events."

The downtown merchants' association does a Hallowe'en to-do. I presume it's partly to draw in parents to shop while their kids get sugared up. What really irks me about it though is how it's described: A Safe and Fun Halloween!

Um, yeah. The Safe part? You're implying that everyone else in town is carefully inserting straight pins or dope into their candy, so they can ruin the lives of children. THANKS A LOT! I mean, yeah, I know the whole stranger-danger thing, but it's kind of sad how kids have been raised to suspect everyone who's not mom and dad (or mom and boyfriend, or mom and "uncle." Especially when the most danger kids seem to face is from mom's boyfriends, and the random kindly spinster-lady down the street who wouldn't hurt a kid in a million years is seen as some kind of pervert, but ol' Chester who lives with Mom is perfectly okay - until he happens to drown one of the kids one day).

and Fun? Don't make me laugh. It's in the daylight. It's Officially Sanctioned. Therefore, it cannot be truly Fun. Trick or treating in the daylight is wrong. I even knew that as a kid - I was scandalized when I saw E.T. and saw the children trick or treating in the daylight. Again, I know, I know - safety is paramount. But my brother and all the neighborhood kids and I all trick or treated for YEARS after dark and no one ever died. Now, granted - we all had a parent or a much older sibling with us. And we had our parents look over our candy before we ate any. (And nothing suspect was ever found in either my brother's or my "hauls" - and we walked to heck and back up and down our long long street, and trick or treated at houses where we didn't know the people).

And the whole official-commerical ("Don't accept candy from anyone without an official badge!") part of it kind of makes me sad. Trick or treating was one of the few "naughty" feeling things I got to do as a kid - going out after dark, knocking on people's doors, being given stuff, dressing in funny clothes...it was fun. I do not think it would have been as fun if we had gone to the downtown area in the middle of the afternoon and gone from store to store.

Another thing that we did - well, they did it in town but I never got to participate - was there was a contest for hallowe'en pictures, and the winning pictures, the kids got to paint on store windows. The whole town looked cool. They don't do that here, or if there's any decorating, the store itself does it, and it's kind of commercial-lame.

I suppose the hospital will probably also open up their x-ray facility again to allow paranoid parents to x-ray their kids' candy haul. (I'd hate to break a bone today; can you imagine having to go through the gauntlet of anxious parents and impatient kids? "Sorry, moms and dads. You will have to wait a little bit while we figure out if this person's ankle is broken." I can just imagine some of the parents grumbling that they should not be made to wait).

I don't know. The whole devolution of Hallowe'en makes me sad - when I was a kid, it was a kids' holiday, a very grassroots thing - a few people decorated their yards but everyone handed out candy. Now it's changed into this big "officially sanctioned" day where businesses hand out candy and people hire companies to come decorate their lawn.

And I think that's the crux of it for me - it's once again, the moving away from the do-it-yourself ethos to the "leave it to the professionals" ethos. I saw it happen to Christmas - there are whole companies who will come and decorate your house so you don't "have" to do it - why? That's part of the fun of the thing. And you don't have to be super-elaborate-Martha-Stewarty. You can get a few red and green pillows, put up a wreath, maybe string some fairy lights - that might take an hour or two on a slack Saturday afternoon. I mean, if your house is less "done" than the neighbors, who gives a flip? It's YOUR HOUSE.

Maybe that's part of the leaving-it-to-the-professionals: it's become such a contest of keeping up with the Joneses that there's no joy in it any more for some people. And you know? When it comes to that, that's when I say STOP. That's when I say: if the holiday becomes a burden- if you're going into huge debt and having to schedule something like the invasion of a minor country, if you're having more of your holiday preparations done by hired help than by yourself or your family - that's when you should decide to scale back. Maybe don't celebrate for a year. Or only do the fun things.

But that seems to be the modern way - to compete, to slick-i-fy, to safetyize, until the fun for the individual is gone out of the celebration - in fact, the very reason for celebrating is gone (I would love to ask the insane Christmas lifestyle decorators if they bother to put up a creche scene, or if they go to Advent services), replaced by another set of obligations.

It seems we're too good in this society at turning fun into obligation. Is it a hangover of Puritanism - where everything enjoyable should be destroyed - or is it some kind of crazy 1980s/90s hangover where everyone is still operating in Venture Capitalist Mode and you are only as good as your ability to delegate?

I don't know, but I kind of rebel against the whole thing. I didn't decorate for Hallowe'en this year - partly I was too busy and partly things going on in my life made me feel my heart was not in it - but I still note the day. And I will decorate for Christmas in a few weeks - pull out my little fake tree, and put up my wreath, and maybe even string some fairy lights across my mantel. And if it looks tacky or under-done, I don't care. It's my decorations for my celebration.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


In the craziness of last week, I forgot an anniversary of sorts.

Last week was the five-year anniversary of my having my house. (Of the literal moving-in. I took posession of it over a month earlier but there were renovation issues including a disappearing contractor. Actually, in retrospect, it's kind of amazing it was only 6 weeks between purchase and moving-in).

Prior to then, I had spent most of my adult solo life in apartments. Apartments have their good points (you can call the management and as long as they're not slum-lords, they come and fix things. Which is a big relief when it's 100* out and your air conditioning dies, to just be able to call someone and they come fix it, no questions asked, no charge to you). But apartments also have their bad points - the main one being the close proximity of other human beings, some of whom, to put it politely, are f-ing nuts.

I once lived in an apartment where the woman who lived above me had very loud New Age music as her alarm clock. And she sometimes forgot to un-set the alarm when she went away on the weekends. It's very particular horror to listen to loud, distorted-by-its-passage-through-her-floorboards Enya for six hours on a rainy Saturday. And then when she moved out, there were the cheerful Korean guys who used to take on minor home-repair tasks at 2 am. I mean, I sympathize with them on some level - they were chem majors and their daytime life was dominated by lab, lecture, and probably (based on the couple times I tried talking to them) ESL classes, but still - 2 am and hammering are not two things I want in the same reality.

And most recently - the guys who lived above me were fond of flicking their cigarettes off their balcony and seeing if they could land them in my potted plants. Or they left their nasty half-drunk beer cans out and they "magically" disappeared from their balcony (only to "reappear" on my patio, meaning I had to clean them up, because my patio was only accessible from my apartment, and I wasn't marching up there and walking them through my place to pick up their dead-soldier Keystones).

There was also the issue of laundry. The laundry room was SUPPOSED to be open from 8 am to 11 pm; very often on Saturday (my only viable day to wash clothing) it wouldn't be opened until 10 or 11. And trying to do laundry when I got home in the afternoon was pointless - people would put stuff in the washers or dryers and Never. Come. To. Get. It. And I'm not gutsy enough to dump someone else's wet clothes on the floor, although I've seen others do it. (And there were no tables in the laundry room - so if stuff was left, it was floor or leave it in the machine).

It also skeeved me out a few times to do my laundry in the common machines; I once found a bloody band-aid that I KNEW was not mine mixed in with my clean clothes. And most of my clothes were not bleach-compatible so I couldn't dump a cup of Clorox in the machine with them. I just washed my stuff on the hottest water it would stand and prayed I didn't get any kind of horrible skin parasites.

But the last straw came with the HUD inspection. Because the apartment I lived in - like all the apartments in town at that time - was Section 8 housing (which always made me wonder: wasn't "section 8" the clause that Klinger was trying to invoke to get himself bounced out of the army? Something to do with insanity or perversion? Or at least dressing up in women's clothing?) So we had to have annual HUD inspections. And because I was in a first-floor apartment, close to the manager's office, I always got inspected.

Well, one year - the last year I lived there - the HUD inspector had a problem.

Her problem? I had "too many books" and they constituted a "fire hazard."

Um - how? Is this person not aware of Fahrenheit 451, so named for the flashpoint of paper? Trust me - if it got up to 451* F in my apartment, something more is wrong than my books being a fire hazard. I also do not smoke (I would hope she could guess that from the lack of ash trays, cigarettes, and smoke smell in the place), nor did I keep candles in the place.

The apartment manager threatened to fine me, but then turned around and said, "oh, you could just rent a storage unit and put the books in storage..." And, as it turned out, it was a company the apartment management owned that she suggested.

I was MAD. I was also sad and depressed - sad that I might have to send some of my precious books into exile (And the last time I stored books? There was a leak in the unit and about half of them were ruined. And the management company of the storage place shrugged and said "Act of God" and refused to pay anything - even refused to refund my rent for the month the soggy books sat in there, getting wet again and again every time it rained, and growing mold).

And also - I suppose it says something about the HUD inspector and what she usually sees.

You must understand - do NOT visualize a Collier Brothers type situation here. Yes, I have a lot of books - but also, in those days, I had enough bookcases for them all. They were neatly arranged and all in their places. The apartment was quite open and airy.

However - one of the apartments I toured when I was looking for a place to rent is probably more typical of the college-town apartments the HUD person sees. This place had no kitchen table or chairs (I guess the inhabitants either ate out, or sat on their large sectional sofa to eat). There were no bookshelves; the few textbooks the students had were stacked off to one side on a coffee table. The main furniture were beds in the bedrooms, a large sectional sofa, a glass topped coffee table, and a gi-normous screen television.

No posters on the walls. No trinkets or tchotchkes anywhere. No books. There may have been a stereo but I don't remember seeing it.

The apartment depressed the hell out of me - it looked like a crash pad - a place where people would go to sleep and maybe have sex and watch tv, but they did't really live there - it wasn't HOME.

And I suppose for some of the students that's okay, many of them go to their "real" home on the weekend. But remember: I was gearing up to move farther away from my family than I had ever lived, to move to a place where I knew no one, and the sterility of that apartment made me want to weep.

So - when I moved, I brought my books and my craft supplies and pictures of my family and plants and all that stuff, and put it in my apartment so I felt like I existed in the world instead of being some kind of a wraith who was merely passing through.

And HUD didn't like it - too much clutter.

Well, I decided then and there that HUD and the apartment management could both suck eggs, I was moving out (And I always paid my rent on time or before the due date, unlike many of the other tenants - I know, because I saw the management out knocking on doors and telling people they were so many weeks late with the rent). And I paid full freight (remember, this was Section 8 housing so many people paid a reduced rate. I was probably subsidizing some of the renters).

Well, it took a lot of searching but I finally found a place through a friend.

A small, two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow type house on an area that used to be called "Faculty Row," because it used to be mostly faculty who lived here (Now, I am the only one, which is kind of sad). Probably built in the 1930s or 40s but it was extensively renovated about a dozen years ago. I bought it, dealt with the current renovation issues, painted, and moved in.

And you know - it's a continual source of delight to have my own house. I'm able to withstand the occasional irriations of furnaces that need work, or neighbors whose damn dog barks at me every time I go to my garage, or the property taxes I have to pay.

Just some of the nice things about the house:

all the interior doors have the old glass doorknobs. And they're big heavy doors, not the sort of hollow-core plywoody doors that were in the house where I grew up.

there are hardwood floors throughout the house. One thing I said I wanted when I was looking for a house was hardwood floors. Too many of the cheaply made "new" houses here are basically concrete slabs with carpet pasted over them.

The rooms, though few in number, are large and are pleasing in their proportion. I have a huge living room that's more than half the size of my first studio apartment. So many of the "new" houses I looked at were carved up into rabbit warrens - the modern need for every child to have his own bedroom, even in small cheap houses, means you have rooms that kind of resemble jail cells. I'd rather have one room to serve as the living room, library, family room, and den, and have it be large, than to have tiny 8 by 8 rooms to serve each purpose.

My house has many large and well-placed windows. I need natural light in my house. One of the things - in retrospect - that depressed me about my apartment were that the windows (all 2 of them) were small, and the sliding glass doors onto my patio let in little light because they were overshadowed by the balcony of my floor-above neighbors. The house I own was built before houses were expected to be "tight" and "energy efficient" so instead of the tiny mingy windows modern houses have, it has large nice windows. And they go down close to the floor. The house my brother owns - it has these weird "eyebrow" windows, where the bottom sill is like 6 feet off the floor, and so if you're short, you can't see out without standing on a chair. I never understood that - I suppose it's either a privacy thing or a energy efficiency thing. But I've never felt the need to walk around my house in the altogether, and I don't need the house at an even 72 degrees year 'round - I set the furnace at 65 or so in the winter and the air conditioning at 78 or so in the summer (well, in truth, colder than that at night) and just deal with the fact that seasons exist. (I do someday want to have new windows - ones that are easier to open and close and clean - put in. But I am NOT going to do what befell a nice older house in town, where they took out the old windows and then closed up 80% of the window opening to put in tiny new windows. That house now looks like it squints and it makes me sad when I drive by it).

The lawn is just right in size. I can mow it in 1/2 hour or less even using an old fashioned push mower. I don't need a big lawn but it's nice to have my little lawn.

The kitchen is big and light and open and it's easy for me to cook in there. My apartment kitchen was a galley-style and it was dark and depressing and there was no counter space. And in the first apartment I lived in, I could see the dirty dishes in the sink when I was lying in bed (it was a studio, or what is more commonly and depressingly called in the midwest, an "efficiency"). I realize that a lot of people live that way, but it always got me down that I could see the kitchen sink from my "bedroom."

In the house I own now, everything is on one level. I can easily get my clothes to the washer and dryer from my bedroom where I change, and bring them back again when they're clean.

And the washer and dryer. I have my own laundry room. That is a marvel in itself. That is something I am thankful for every Thursday or Friday evening when I do the couple loads of laundry I've accumulated during the week. If I don't take the stuff out of the dryer - if I leave the house with stuff in the dryer - it will still be there when I get back. I never wind up opening a washer to see a load of someone else's unmentionables. And no more planning and figuring and conniving to have enough quarters. (And no more draping things all over my bathroom to finish drying when the cheap apartment complex dryers conked out because they were all full up with lint deep inside them).

One thing about everything being on one level - I can hear all the appliances. You'd think that would be annoying but I find it comforting - to hear the dryer running at night if I've put in one last load before going to bed (although I COULD do without the end-of-cycle buzzer). The furnace kicking on (I have a gas furnace, so there's a very particular sequence of sounds - a sort of revving noise, then a click, then a WHOOSH as the gas lights, then the revving quiets down, and finally, the fan takes over to blow warm air throughout the house). The water heater - which is on the opposite side of the wall where I have the head of my bed - gurgling in the night after my shower as it fills back up. Sometimes when everything else is quiet I can also hear the hum of my refrigerator when it kicks on.

Most of all, though, is the fact that the house is MINE. I mean, literally mine - I was very lucky in that I got it for a VERY good price and I was able to use the remnants of an inheritance from grandparents, plus a generous gift from my dad, plus $10,000 I had saved up myself from my paltry teaching-assistant checks when I was in grad school (I lived with family for part of the time so I didn't have to pay rent). And I bought the house outright. It is mine. My name is on the deed. I have all of the paperwork locked away in my safety deposit box. And that's a good feeling - knowing that I have a roof over my head that I own and paid for.

And not to be all flag-wavy, but also the fact that I live in a country where a single person - a woman at that - can own her own house. And that no one thought it strange or odd or wrong that I was buying a house as an unmarried woman. That no one said, But dear, why not wait a few more years and see if you get a husband? And that neither my father nor my brother nor any other male relative had to sign on my behalf - that the paperwork is all signed in my own hand, with my own name.

And every night, when I come home and lock first the screen door, then the big heavy oak door, behind me as I enter my house, I breathe a sigh of relief and send up a little prayer of thanks for this place - this bastion - that keeps me warm and dry and safe and also provides me a place to escape from the outside world. The place where my books life. The place where I sleep at night. The place where I fix my meals and do my laundry and watch television and knit and sew and do my embroidery.

And that no one can EVER tell me again that I have too many books.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


My car is done. The bill was HUUUUUUUUUGGGGGEEE but at least the thing isn't leaking oil any more and it doesn't pull to the right when I try to drive.

(some of my friends: "Ricki, I'd think you'd LIKE things that tend to trend right" ba-da-bum)

My department chair took me out to pick it up because it was close to where her son goes to some gifted and talented afterschool program.

My department chair listens to Def Leppard in her car.

I find that far more amusing than I probably should but my department chair is someone I've ALWAYS been a little intimidated by, even when she was just a plain colleague and had not yet risen to the post of department chair. Not because of anything she did to me, it's just she's one of those super-together-seeming people. One of those hypercompetent women who I imagine make me look like a total slob in comparison - she's small and muscular and dresses very neatly. She has a husband and a kid and she also teaches and does volunteer work at the Methodist church. She's also able to manage far more responsibility than I could ever deal with without my head exploding.

And she's the department chair. That in itself is awe-inspiring because here department chairs are expected to belong to like 36 different committees (and I am not exaggerating as much there as you probably think I am).

But she listens to 80s hair-metal in her car. And I find that wonderfully humanizing.

(She did also say to me, as we were driving: "Man, I hope next week is better than this one was." I'm guessing referring to the aftermath of the break-in.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

more random

Well, the car place still has my car.

Every other freaking person in my department has gone home to enjoy their weekend and I can't because I'm waiting for a pair of tires (I mean, honestly: how hard is it to keep tires in stock? Pretty hard, I guess).

I'm really really really really hoping that they don't get one tire off, have the clock hit 5:30 pm, and all the workers go home for the weekend.

Because: My car place stopped having Saturday hours. How stupid is that? I know at least 45 people who can ONLY get their cars in (easily) to be worked on on a Saturday. I'm sure it was not for lack of business; it was probably more that too many of the mechanics called in hung-over and they just said screw it.

But, like I said, my car is a hostage right now. And they probably are not prepared for the vitriol I will unleash on them if they tell me, when I call in a little bit to check on the status of my car, that they need to keep it over the weekend because it's not "done."

not done? Put the old tires back on it and give it back to me. Just because everyone else in this town is married or at least has an ex that they are still on "with benefits" terms with, doesn't mean that everyone in the world has a screw-buddy that they can call up and say, "hey, would you drive me around town this weekend? I'll make it worth your while." Nooooo. I'm all alone - I was too smart to marry the chaps who would have had me, and too picky to date much, and too ugly or too independent for the guys who were "catches." So I'm all alone left to navigate the world of car repair. And it sucks.

Also - I can't even ask for a loaner. The car place has a big sign that says "Do to [yes, they cannot even get the grammar right] our insurance regulations, we cannot give loaners from our new or used car lots" Great, thanks a million. One time I had to bring the thing in for a RECALL repair and they basically snickered at me and gave me the phone number of a rental place when they said they'd need to keep it for a couple of days.

I hate my car repair place. I'd take my car somewhere else but this place is marginally more honest than the other ones in town, and I don't feel like wondering if I'm getting screwed on every oil change.

I hope I get home soon because I have a giant overflowing basket of laundry waiting for me. And I MUST change the sheets on my bed; apparently there's poison ivy-crap on them; I'm getting re-infected. And that makes me angry. Not quite angry enough to try and go get a steroid shot, which would make me angrier (HULKETTE SMASH!). And besides, I can't, because I DON'T HAVE MY CAR RIGHT NOW.

I could walk home and call the car place to come pick me up from there but again - as a single woman, I'm not too cool with the idea of some random 20 year old mechanic who may or may not have a drug problem knowing where I live.

I also need to get home so I can fix a more nutritious dinner tonight. I've kind of been living on peanut butter and canned fruit and frozen pizza, and that does not make for a happy ricki.

What I should do this weekend -IF I GET MY CAR BACK - is go and take a day to shop somewhere, do the retail-therapy thing. Because this week has sucked big giant igneous rock with sharp crystals embedded in it, and I really need something to make me happy.


they said my car "might not" be done until 5:30. I wonder if 4:30 is too pesteringly early to call them and say, "hey, is it gonna be done?"

I hate to seem like the whining female - especially with car guys because I'm afraid that will make them more likely to tell me the pooter valve's gone out or some other fictional thing and try to charge me for a replacement. But I also need to know the status of my car and whether I need to either (a) work up a big head of anger to unleash on them or (b) suck it up and call the Enterprise place before they close for the day to rent a car.

Life was a whole lot less complicated when I was a little kid and could let my parents worry about this kind of crap.

random stuff friday

Tracey at Beyond the Pale is talking about bacon. (Now, maybe I'm dense, and "bacon" is code for something else, but I'm going to be literal here). It's been too long since I had bacon. Nice crispy bacon. Cooked in a pan, the real way, not in the microwave. I dislike microwaved bacon. What you really need to do is cook it in an old, not-non-stick, cast-iron pan that is well-seasoned. And you need to cook it until it's JUST this side of burnt. That's good bacon.

I judge breakfast restaurants on how well they cook bacon. If they bring it to the table all limp and sad, they go down in my estimation. Bacon needs to be crispy! You need to render most of the fat out of it as it cooks!

Unfortunately, where I live now, the only restaurants that really serve breakfast are the fast food places and you can't get good bacon at a fast food place. Or at least I never have. What you need is a real old-fashioned diner or coffeeshop (not coffeeHOUSE) type place, where they have a real grill and the eggs and the bacon and the hashbrowns and the leftover onion smell from the day before all commingle and make all the food good. (And yeah, I know - if you keep kosher or whatever the Muslim dietary laws are called, then you can't eat there. Or if you have some kind of real or imagined intolerance of one of those things, you can't. Sorry. Too bad. In my ideal world there would be nice old diners with big greasy grills where they cook good scrambled eggs that taste a bit of bacon fat and grilled onion, and hash browns that are crispy, and bacon that's brown and hot and crackles when you chew it).

Dang. Now I'm hungry. And I'm stuck here all day because my car's in the shop, and my lunch is my usual sad little production of yogurt and fruit and crackers because I'm never hungry at 6 am and so that looks like a reasonable lunch then.


This weekend we go back on Standard Time. I am happy about that. The governmental types who voted to extend DST by like a month next year can suck it. I hate DST. Because, you see, I like to be in to work at 7 am. This is the time when no one else is around, no one bothers me, I can get geared up for the day without listening to other people's yammering.

But. Daylight Savings Time means that for a goodly chunk of the year, I'm driving to work in the dark (I suppose it's partly WHERE in the time zone I live; I'm close to the western edge of my time zone). And driving to work in the dark - I know lots of people do it, but I just find it depressing. (My commute is like five minutes too. I wonder what people who leave the house at 4:30 am or somesuch feel).

I don't mind driving home in the dark; that feels right, that is appropriate. But a person shouldn't have to go to work in the dark, I think.

Some days this semester I've driven to work in the dark and then driven home in the dark. And spent part of the day in a totally windowless room. The sun could go out and I wouldn't know.

And there's the whole waste of the changeover. Now, granted, I like 'fall back.' I like getting an extra hour of sleep (or, since I'm an early-bird type, an extra hour Sunday morning before church). I don't like resetting all the many clocks, though.

I wonder if anyone's done a study on lost productivity related to time changes? Because, even if it took only five minutes to reset clocks - and I would guess in most homes, with microwave clocks and clocks on vcrs and all that, it's longer - that wastes a lot of time for a lot of people. And then there's the matter of (especially with Spring Forward) people being tired and groggy and not being hungry at designated mealtimes and being hungry at non-mealtimes.

Actually, I'm afraid that if they did that study and found it screwed up productivity, rather than abolishing Daylight Savings Time they'd just make it permanent, so in December I'd be driving to work in the dead cold middle of the night dark (and also driving home in the cold twilight). And that would make me angry. And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I'd like to see them do away with DST. I mean, it's not fooling anybody (or maybe it is and people are stupider than I like to think): it doesn't mean daylight is any longer. You're just screwing with the clocks so the feckless types of people who getoff work at 4 and have no responsibilities for the rest of the evening so they can go and play Ultimate Frisbee or Grateful Dead Dance on their front lawns or something. To me, an extra hour of light just means an extra hour of feeling guilty that I don't have time to mow my lawn on that day.

And I've heard that dairy farmers complain: the cows still need to be milked at the 'same time' in a real-time sense, and so in March or whenever we "spring forward" from now on, they'll have to go out an hour earlier than they did the day before to take care of the cows. (And the justification for DST was given as "it will help the farmers!")

Gah, I think it's time for me to begin considering a new car. The one I have is only 7 years old but it's been in the shop a lot this year. First, the transmission failed. Then, it got an oil leak.

I don't know what kind of car to get. I kind of like having a minivan even though it's like this big joke - the nice thing about a minivan is you can just bung all your equipment in the back and you don't have to worry about it getting rained on or stolen out of the truck bed or stuff like that. And I've hauled home various pieces of vintage furniture I've bought over the years.

But I KNOW if I breathe a word of "new car" in my department, I will get all kinds of pressure re: hybrids or super tiny fuel efficient cars.

My concern with hybrids is that the local mechanics won't know how to deal with them, and I don't want to drive/have towed my car to the Big City every time it needs work.

And as for the tiny car thing: I'm more comfortable being up high. Yes, I know that if I get hit by a truck I will be just as dead, but I think being more confident and comfortable when I am driving means I drive better, and therefore am less likely to get creamed by a truck.

And honestly? I'm so busy that on a given week I don't drive more than 20 miles or so - to work and back, to the grocery, to church. It's not like I'm out tooling around and cruising and stuff. And driving a car 20 miles a week that gets 20 mpg is no different than driving a car 40 miles a week that gets 40 mpg.


I dunno. Right now I'm tired and cranky and sad and I don't know why. I'd like to chalk it up to the poison ivy I still have (that is still driving me crazy thank you) and not that I'm depressed or hormonal or have something really and truly wrong with me like I'm burning out at my job. But I don't know. This week it's been hard to muster the necessary enthusiasm. (And trust me, it doesn't help to have people wandering out of class partway through. And I don't care about the Parade Of Excuses: I have to work, I have to take my kid to the doctor, we have an away game...)

But - if I quit teaching, what would I do? It's not like I have this huge giant skill set. I can't program. I'm not that nuts about doing research, although I think some days being a lab-tech who comes in at 8 and goes home at 5 and never works weekends and never takes work home looks kind of attractive. I'd love to be a writer or an artist or something, but I also like having a regular paycheck (and I'm secretly afraid I'd be a no-talent hack).

This is something that goes through my head most midterms though. The idea of "I'm spinning my wheels, I suck at this, the students are frustrating, I should quit and go do something else." And then, when the next semester starts, I'm usually fired up again, and it lasts until the next midterm.

Years ago, I had a little cartoon on my office wall. It showed a man walking around a circle painted on the ground. Half of the circle was labeled "passionate engagement" and the other half was labeled "existential despair." And I think that kind of captures how my life goes sometimes - I just need to walk around to the "right" half of the circle again. But being in the "wrong" half kind of sucks.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Okay, I know some of you who read this teach. So here's a question for you:

You have several students in a basic-level, non-majors college class. They are all failing. You have a suspicion - but no hard evidence beyond that you saw them talking and writing fast at the start of class - that they collaborated on a homework that was supposed to be non-collaborative.

Do you bust their heinies for cheating, or do you just figure that they're failing anyway and it will all come out in the wash? And that it's not worth the pain or psychic energy of going through the effort?

A few years ago I would have been on it like white on rice, but now - I'm getting old and I'm tired and I'm inclined to think that if they plan on cheating their way through life, I'd rather they hit bottom in a situation where it really mattered.

I'm so sick of this class right now. I had five people just up and walk out after the quiz even though they KNEW we were going to have class afterwards. This happens regularly this time of the semester and I'm telling myself it's not that **I'm** boring (although I probably am), it's that they're overloaded and have midterms in other classes and they're tired and they don't want to be there any more.

The thing that frustrates me is - I work hard to try to make the information relevant and interesting. And you know? I find a lot of the stuff - a lot of the detail on bacteria and how they impact the human race and the environment - deeply fascinating. But I'm quickly learning that what is deeply interesting to me is apparently deeply boring to 80%-85% of the populace.

And that makes me sad, because I still have deep inside me the sad geeky schoolgirl who ate lunch alone most days because she wasn't popular and no one shared her interests.

I also had my "BMOC" guy almost make me go off on him today. I was handing out a research-based homework assignment and I reminded them that it was "own words," they they would get zero credit if they just printed out a website and handed it to me. And he very loudly said "Damn!" when I said that, I guess to jokingly signify that that was what he had been planning on doing.

And you know? Maybe I am just old and tired and sad and getting bitter but I just didn't find it funny. I went to some effort to pre-select topics that would be (a) easily researchible and (b) interesting. And it also reminds me that he's someone who figures on getting by on charm and good looks, and I admit some bitterness on that front, as I am neither charming nor good-looking, so I have to get by on hard work and intelligence, and believe me, it looks a whole lot EASIER to get by on charm and good looks...

I know my face betrayed what I was feeling when he said that but to hell with being the poker faced prof. I'm still processing the crap happening to my friends - and other crap happening to other people - and I have a costly car-repair bill waiting for me when they finally FINISH working on my car. And I have poison ivy and my asthma is acting up and a whole constellation of other things that I convince myself I could ignore if I were a stronger person, and so I have the added guilt going for me there.

And you know? It's hard to walk into the classroom every day and see reinforcement of how strange you are compared to 90% of the human population - how out of touch I am, how I geek out in ways that most people find incomprehensible. On good days I rejoice in it and take pleasure in the idea that I'm unique, but on bad days I just feel like a purple rhinoceros or something. Like I stick out like a sore thumb and nothing I could ever do would make me fit in.

Could the rest of the world go away for a few days, please?

One of the things you should know about me is that I tend to be - despite the rants I post here - overly idealistic about people. I tend to expect people to behave in ways that are rational, logical, and kind.

And I am frequently disappointed.

And at those times, frankly, I want to gather in the increasingly small number of people who DON'T disappoint me, and figuratively put myself out in front of them (protecting them) and then, figuratively, deliver a huge roundhouse kick to the rest of humanity.

I was talking with friends of mine last night (a couple). They have two sons and have taken in a third boy as a foster son. They had yet another foster son, but they don't have him right now, because of cruelty and idiocy of other people.

The family is very committed to the foster program. The wife was a foster-daughter herself.

I also have to stop here and mention the races of the people involved; it will become important. The couple is white (the woman did spend time fostered in a black family when she was growing up; she speaks fondly of the foster parents in that family). The foster son they have right now is white. The foster son they do not currently have is black.

I also need to remind you that I live in the South. In the rural, backwoodsy South.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

Anyway, the black foster son (let's call him Mike) joined the family. He went to the school where the foster family's kids (lets call them Dave and Tim) were enrolled.

Mike was the only black kid in the school. (It is a small school and a very homogenous community). Well - he got attacked in the halls, kids would jump him and take his books, they'd make allusions to the KKK, they'd call him every ugly name in the book. Mike went to the principal and said he didn't feel safe. The principal didn't do anything. A couple of the redneck hick idiot kids in this school laid in wait for Mike and jumped him one day, with the aim of beating the snot out of him.

And Tim saw it. And Tim - he's not a big guy but he's tough - stepped in and basically said, "You're not doing that to my foster brother." And Tim got in a fight with the awful redneck kids.

And the principal suspended Tim for fighting. The awful redneck kids didn't get punished, at least not as far as I heard. And the principal called the state and told them to take Mike out of the school system.

And so, Mike was removed from the home. The state did tell my friends that if they could move to another town where the school was more welcoming, they could have Mike back.

My friends - the man works as a mechanic, the woman is a part-time social worker. It's not like it would be easy (or even possible) at this point for them to move to an area with more "welcoming" schools. Because, both the towns it would be logical to move to - housing prices are much higher. (And it would mean pulling Dave and Tim from their school - although they seem to think that's no great loss).

Well, my friends asked the caseworker if they could pick Mike up and take him to church with them (Mike had been attending regularly). And they were told no, that's not a good idea, but you can visit him if you want.

Mike is currently living in a shelter.

The kicker? The state told Mike that his foster family was making preparations to move and take him back. When the foster family actually can't afford that and are scrambling to see if there is any way possible they can. But no, the state agency that told them "you can't have him for 2 hours to go to church on Sunday" went and told Mike, "Yes, they will be getting you soon." So Mike's hopes are up and my friends feel duty-bound now to try to do what they can - even if it means going into massive debt or someone taking on a second job - to move, so that the promise the state made to Mike - without their permission - isn't broken.

And this is the kind of thing that makes me want to scream. There's more involved I'm not putting in here. But - it's people trying to do the right thing and help someone, and getting slapped around for it. And if my friends fail - simply because they Do. Not. Have. The. Money. to move to a town where Mike's safety won't be in peril from stupid redneck racist kids, then Mike will doubtless be made to feel like they failed him.

The whole racist kid thing gets me. It's freaking 2006. Mike was a "normal" kid - it wasn't like he came in all gangsta'd out or something. He should have fit in. But because these stupid kids, who probably have stupid parents who teach them that anyone who doesn't look like them - or probably anyone who doesn't come from their sadly inbred little branch of humanity - is bad and wrong and dangerous and needs to be driven away.

Oh yeah, they're calling Tim a N*****-lover now. (I'm not going to type out that word; I don't want anyone overzealously flagging my site).

And it drives me up the wall when I hear people mewling about "institutionalized racism" when what they really mean is that they want different sets of standards for people of different ethnic groups, or they want quotas, or some damn thing, when there are still places in the world where people are actually in danger of being beaten up (or worse; I'd not put it past some of the kids to carry knives to school) because of what they look like.

It reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) story about a women's meeting at the UN, where women from "first world" countries were arguing about "inclusive language" (using "he and she" rather than "he") and a woman from some African nation stood up, quoted them her nation's statistic on infant mortality, and then looked at them and said, "And you are arguing about what pronoun to use?"

(Regardless of how you feel about the UN or outside agencies having to "do something" about problems that may be ingrained in a country). It's like, in some universities people are calling people racist for not using the most "up to date" term for people of color, and yet, in a small school in an outpost of the American south, a black student is getting beat up because of the color of his skin.

(Which is also why committee type things and those sort of university hand-wringing meetings drive me up the wall. There are so many problems out there that you really shouldn't be wasting your time on problems of semantics right now).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

more losses.

They took the kill jars I use in the entomology lab.

They took the feckin' kill jars.
Monetary value = $0.

They were made out of old pickle jars, with sand and plaster in the bottom. And a little shot of ethyl acetate (basically, nail polish remover) to make the Deadly Fumes that send the insects to the Great Beyond.

I can make new ones - it will take maybe 45 minutes' work - but it's the sheer random annoyance. Some of the other items taken - bits and pieces from labs and classrooms - makes it look as though the thief or thieves had disruption of classes as part of their M.O. (I'm sure the MAIN M.O. was "stuff to sell or use in a meth lab" but still).

My only other guess on the jars - because I've commented on this in class - is that they maybe thought the fumes could make them high. (I warn people not to open the jars when we're on the way to the field because the fumes can make people sick. And longer exposure can cause cancer or brain-cell-death).

And you know? If these nutjobs stole the things thinking they can get high off of them, and they wind up killing some of the few pitiful brain cells they have, I don't really care. I know that sound harsh, but seriously: huffing ethyl acetate to get a buzz on is kind of like drinking Sterno.

I dunno. Standard comment: I hope they nail these guys.

screaming at my tv

Ray Bradbury once said,

" Don't ever look at local television news again. It's all crap. There's no news, there's no information. It's negative, negative, negative. You look at that, and you think the world is coming to an end."

(He also said - in a new afterword to Fahrenheit 451 - that watching local news made people stupid).

I'm inclined to agree with him. I regularly yell at my tv in the morning when I have the local news on. (I watch it for the weather but I suppose maybe getting my blood angried up for the day helps me attack those 8 am classes with more vigor).

But today, two stories:

First: a kid was hit by a car. In a school zone. Granted, the car was going over the school zone speed limit, but:
the kid ran out between two parked cars
the kid was not crossing at a crosswalk
the kid apparently didn't look before he crossed
the kid was leaving the school campus before the crossing guard had arrived for the day.

But what is the conclusion?

"Kids are kids. They don't think like adults."

Yes, but...when I was like FIVE, I learned that you don't run out from between parked cars. I learned that you ONLY cross at corners or set crosswalks. And I sure as heck learned to look both ways. And I learned this not from sad experience, but from my mom, from the Safety Town people, from the nice police officer who came to my kindergarten....

Granted, yes, the driver is mainly at fault. But I've had to slam on my brakes, hard, enough times in this town when small unattended children ran out into the street (and more than once it looked like they were doing it on a dare. Stupid kids). I wonder if they aren't teaching kids that any more, or if the assumption is that kids are so ADD now that they can't remember to look both ways before crossing.

I fully expect there will be a Coalition! Of! Moms! who will now demand that the streets around that school - several of the main arteries here in town - be closed during drop-off and pick-up times. (Already, it's insane trying to get around the school at that hour - parents in cars blocking the road, veering out in front of other cars, acting like they're the only ones who matter. I'm frankly SURPRISED the driver who hit the kid was able to go as fast as she was allegedly going). Because, you know, it's Children Uber Alles these days - and it doesn't matter if it makes it inconvenient for the people who, you know, pay property taxes and the hugacious sales tax in this town that support the schools. God forbid we should be able to easily get to Wal-mart after work!

There's already one school in town where they shut down the streets at dismissal time; I'm bracing for that to happen to the rest. Which means I would never again be able to make a quick trip to the grocery right after work because all of the "close" streets between me and them would be closed.

So anyway. Of course we have to expect the evil evil grownups to always take responsibility for other people's children because children are the Precious Future but we don't want to overstress their brains by teaching them things like "don't run out from between parked cars." I guess that memory-space is needed for stuff on all the standardized tests they make them take now.

Secondly: the Dixie Chicks. I didn't hear this one because I was in the shower, but the teaser line was something like "The Dixie Chicks express concern that their latest album isn't selling."

ARRGGGHHHHH! Look, girls: you don't get to have it both ways. One month, you say, "You know...we really want a more exclusive fan base. We don't want any of these horrible red-state type people listening to our music" and then, the next month say "Whyyyyyy doesn't anyone liiiiiike us? Whyyyyyy is our album selling so poooooorrrly?"

Well, there are several possible explanations:
1. Maybe your new album simply sucks. Maybe word-of-mouth has got around that it's not worth whatever is being charged for it (even if it's the Nice Price)

2. Maybe people are fed up with your posturing. You know, actions carry consequences. If you piss off most country music fans - well, a large portion of country music fans are pro-Bush, like it or not, and if you piss them off, they won't buy your albums.

3. Maybe your popularity has waned. It happens to many entertainers. I hope you invested the obscene amounts of money you were making when you were popular well.

I don't know. I don't get the luxury of sitting around and whining, after I read my student evaluations "whyyyyy don't they like meeeee better? Whyyyyy haven't I ever won a teaching awarrrrrrrrd?" No. What I do is look at the comments, use what I can to improve, maybe relish the good ones a little, and try to ignore the snarky ones.

Guess what, Dixie Chicks? In most professions, people don't GET adulation. In most professions, keeping your job and not getting your paycheck docked for some reasons are the equivalent of a thumbs-up. So I don't have a whole lotta patience for people who, during their heyday, made more in a month than I made in a year, complaining because all of a sudden they're not making that kind of jack any more. Especially when they've spent months griping about or apparently trying to insult their target audience.

Look: if I got up in front of my classes and said something like, "I know only a few of you will get As in here because only a few of you are bright enough to really be college students," I'd be getting a visit from my department chair. I may roll my eyes over some of the goofery of my students - heck, I may even anonymously write about it here - but I'm not going to say it to their faces. Because that's rude, and because I know I'd have unpleasant consequences.


And actually...the thing that ties so many of the stories I scream at up in a neat little package, is just that: people who fail to understand (or who willfully choose not to understand) that actions have consequences, and so they bitch and moan when something they did, that even a chimpanzee could see would lead to a bad outcome, has the expected bad outcome. People like that drive me up the wall. (Perhaps because I'm so cautious I never do anything without weighing the consequences for an hour in advance, but there you are).

Edited to add: I just got into a big fight with a friend of mine (who has kids) over the "I hope they don't close down the streets" thing. She, in fact, thinks that's a CAPTIAL idea, closing down three of the main streets in town - streets that lead to the grocery stores, the pharmacies, the gas stations, everything. But of course she has a Beloved Husband that she can send out in the evening to pick up milk.

People forget that when you live alone, it's all you. If I don't get milk on my way home, that means I make a separate trip to do it - or I go without. And my life is busy enough that making an afternoon stop at the grocery is sometimes the only time I can manage, unless I wait until Saturday morning.

I'm sorry, but I don't see how we should further inconvenience the taxpayers of this town because some people are idiots. That was the other tack I took - that if everyone obeyed the rules, things would be safe. But of course, everyone thinks they are Special and can't obey the rules. SO we get oppressive new rules, that punish the people who obeyed the rules before...

and she still can't see why I'd be opposed to shutting those streets down for "just 15 minutes"

Um, honey? Those are also the streets that lead to the feckin' HOSPITAL. If I'm teaching a lab and one of my students gets acid in their eye - or they get stung by fire ants and start to swell up, my priority is to get my student to the hospital before they die. Not to accomodate the children (who should know better - this is the 6th 7th and 8th grade school, not the kindergarten) and their parents.

What they really need to do, if they're gonna continue with the "let's wrap our kids in bubble wrap so they never experience any risk ever" is move the schools to the edge of town, set up a protected campus there, and bus all the kids to it.

And she thought that was a dumb idea. So whatever. I guess I won't hang out in her office and crack jokes today. But I get so fed up with the attitude of "any inconvenience or harm you may suffer is worth it because MY kids are protected from a risk that was admittedly minimal and could be minimized further by people using their God-given brains."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


It was a movie-licious weekend for me.

(That means I watched two movies on television).

Normally, I avoid the Family Channel (or whatever it's called now - is it "ABC Family" now?) like the plague, because it seems to be one of the loci of those horrible, syrupy, "meet-cute" movies, or those horrible, syrupy, "someone who is very loved is dying and this is the Special Story of their last months" movies. Or, despite the "family" monicker, it has some pretty raunchy stuff on it. Well, raunchy by my attitudes...

But. I will say that sometimes ABC Family kicks butt in holiday fare. I am all over their Christmas special-stravaganza when it comes out each year - a Saturday afternoon to relive my childhood and the glory of Rankin-Bass animation.

But it looks like they're doing Hallowe'en now, and even though there are a lot of horrible Hallowe'en movies and specials out there, there are some with a more "spooky" or magical theme that are very good indeed.

First up: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

Now, again - I normally avoid movies that are titled "Somebody's Name's Something Something" because what that means to me is that the Somebody who is Named is regarded as more important than the content of the movie. In other words: buy a ticket because Somebody made this movie. Not because "this movie will be entertaining" or "this movie will be good."

But hey - the movie was on cable, and therefore it was part of the all-you-can-watch buffet I pay $40 or whatever it is each month for. So, really, you could argue - the more I watch, the cheaper my cable is per minute. Or something like that.

But anyway. Corpse Bride isn't something I'd want a copy of on dvd. I doubt I'd really be into watching it again. But it was entertaining. One thing that strikes me about the types of human-forms in these movies: the youthful have these attenuated bodies (seriously; the Johnny Depp character loos like he has advanced consumption) and pointy chins and small noses and huge eyes. (Hmmm...it would be interesting for someone to do a comparative study on anime faces and faces in Tim Burton movies). And the more "mature" characters are all, well, more caricatured. In one family, the man is very thin and little and meek and the wife is hugely fat. And in the other, the man is short and rotund (and UG-lee...I kept trying to think of what Rankin-Bass character that Victoria's father reminded me of; I think it's Heat Miser) and the woman is tall and thin-ish but with a huge bosom and a long, disdainful face.

Didn't someone somewhere make reference to Burton's "father issues"? I wonder...the youthful characters are all rather helpless-looking and appealing, the adults seem corrupted. Interesting, that. (Burton, himself: I would not exactly call him a "catch." If he asked me out on a date, the first thing I'd do is ask him to cut his hair into something resembling an adult's haircut. Yeah, yeah, he's a genius and all, but still...his hair creeps me out. It's like a Thompson Twins version of the combover).

But - the movie was enjoyable. Probably would have enjoyed it more had I seen it as a teenager when seeing things like a Johnny Depp-inspired character falling into a faint would have done deep and meaningful things to my psyche.

But I will say the central conceit - and I don't think I'm giving too much away here - of a guy being married to a dead chick...well, if you take it to its logical and non-cartoon conclusion, it's rather horrific and creepy. And not creepy in a fun way.

But - if you can suspend disbelief for long enough, it's a fun, if high-camp-in-a-Gothic-style movie.

I also watched one of the Harry Potter movies..um, Chamber of Secrets? I don't know - I've only ever read the first book (although I keep saying I should get/check out from the library the rest, and make a pot of soup some weekend, and do nothing but read Harry Potter). These movies are very enjoyable - they have several of the elements that for me, make a good movie:

1. Often visually striking or "weird." The whole Hogwarts setting - I find myself peering past the actors, at the backgrounds.

2. Characters who are different from the people I meet every day. That's why I despise most "chick flicks" - I can see variants of those women in my classes on a regular basis. When I watch a movie, I want to be transported - to go somewhere else. I love Hagrid and I love Ms. McGonigal (I ADORE her accent; if I were the pretentious 14 year old I used to be again, I'd try talking like her for a week). And even the child-wizards are interesting (tho' not as interesting to me as the TEACHERS at Hogwarts; I found myself laughing over some of the character traits they displayed and thinking, 'oh, that's like Colleague X!'). And a lot of the actors are not merely "pretty" people; they have interesting faces.

3. The idea of a separate, internally-consistent world with lots of detail (this is something I also love in books). There was a scene where Harry lost the bones in his arm playing Quidditch - so they take him to the infirmary, where the nurse comes at him with a bottle of "Skele-grow."

"Skele-grow." I love that. That, for me, sums up what is good about the Harry Potter movies - the whole magical world apart from our world, where it's perfectly logical that someone could lose the bones in their arm, and equally logical that some doses of "Skele-grow" could bring them back again.

4. The whole good-vs.-evil thing. I get a bit frustrated with "modern" novels and movies where there's not a clear hero, where everyone's screwed up and rooting around in the same mudpit, and no one ever seems to look up from the mud to see the stars. In the Harry Potter books or movies, Harry and his friends may screw up - and there may be characters who are somewhat treacherous - but things right themselves in the end, and you know that Harry and his friends, at least, have good intentions and good hearts.

Oddly enough - most of the movies I really like, and will watch over and over again, tend to be movies aimed at kids. I unembarrassedly say that "Babe" (yes, the movie with the pig) is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love cartoons. I think part of it is that the format of cartoons or otherwise "imaginative" movies allows the screenwriters to stretch a little - it almost seems like the movies aren't trying so hard to be commercial as the latest "date" movies are - and the stories are often more inspiring and transporting to me.

Maybe I'm just bitter because I'm a single unattached woman, but it's not really that entertaining to me to sit and watch whoever is the New Julia Roberts romp for two hours through some story about finding a cute guy, attracting the cute guy, losing the cute guy, and ultimately entrapping marrying the cute guy. I mean, yeah, it's a fairy tale, just as much as Cinderella or Snow White is. Frankly, I'd rather watch Cinderella, because at least the Disney version has talking mice, and at least some of the indie film versions go back to Grimm and show her ugly stepsisters cutting their toes off to try to fool the prince...

I'd much rather watch something that is in a different time or place - ideally a time and place that never really existed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

break in

My office building/classroom building was broken into last week.

The media hasn't had anything on it; either it's not important enough to rise to the level of a local news story, or, more likely, the cops and university are trying to keep it quiet.

A bunch of stuff was stolen - computer equipment and certain pieces of lab equipment that might be useful in methamphetamine manufacture. The thieves obviously knew where to go; they crawled through the drop ceiling to get to one room, but other rooms were left untouched (including my office, thank God. I had one of my personal laptops in there).

So today, we get a sternly worded memo reminding us that it is OUR responsibility - or rather, the responsibility of the person who leaves last - to check the doors to be sure they are locked.

And I'm sorry, but #$)(*#. If I'm here 'til 7 (as I am some nights), when I've been here since 7 am, they want me to walk around the building (in the dark no less) and check all the doors? Hello? Do we not have a security force on campus?

Obviously we don't; they are supposed to OPEN the doors by 7 am and I'm still unlocking doors for students who come to class at 8 and find themselves locked out.

But it pisses me off. Yes, I understand the need to police our area. But - it's not part of our job description. We have campus police which I guess we cannot put our trust in. (One of the cops acknowledged that he did a drive-by at 4 am on the morning after the burglary, saw lights on in the building, but didn't bother to investigate. Um, this is the building where the environmentalists work. This is the building where the lights are all shut off when the last person leaves. You know that. And you didn't check? So now we're expected to take an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day and play rent-a-cop?)

I expect they will probably come up with a schedule - a rota - where each day one of us must police the building at 8 pm or whenever. Never mind that we may already have been home for the day. Never mind that we might have night meetings. It's going to be another responsibility heaped onto our already overfilled plates, becuase the campus rent-a-cops are too lazy to come up here and actually get out of their cars to check the doors.

They think, in fact, that entry was gained through a window that a student unlocked IN PREPARATION for the break in (they think it was students. I hope they catch them and throw the book at them). It wasn't like a faculty member opened the window and then "Dee dee dee!" forgot to close it.

It bugs me that it's being treated like it's OUR fault the building was broken into. I suspect that that will be used as an excuse not to replace the missing equipment, or somehow take the cost of repairing the damages out of our operating budget.

But isn't that the way? It's easier to point a finger at honest people who are already stretched to their limit and say "Why didn't you forsee this? Why didn't you take steps to prevent this?" than it is to actually catch the person who did it.

Yeah? I got your "steps to prevent" right here. What do you want - for us to arm ourselves and stand watch in the building? Entry could have just as well been gained by someone breaking a window - we're secluded enough no one could hear it - and unlocking it that way.

Look - just because I have balances in my lab that are attractive to meth cooks doesn't make me a criminal. Don't treat me like one. Even if I'm conveniently here and you don't know who actually took them.

I will say - if I get new balances, I'm buying a carbon-steel bike lock and locking them into the cabinet. I don't care if it makes it hard for people to honestly borrow the balances; I don't care if it makes it hard on the students. Them's the breaks. And if I'm going to catch crap for a CRIMINAL breaking into MY BUILDING and taking STUFF THAT DOESN"T BELONG TO HIM, then I'm going to pass that crap on to others. Sorry.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

please don't screw with my holidays...

Well, we're entering the Holiday Season (Hallowe'en to New Year's, although you can't really tell - Hallowe'en stuff has been in the stores since like August, and I've seen Christmas stuff already. I'm not an anti-capitalist of any sort, but I kind of long for the days of my childhood, when merchants had a general agreement not to put Christmas merchandise out until after Thanksgiving. It made things more special somehow, and you were less apt to get holiday-fatigue).


I am a home-dec and cooking magazine ho, so I get a bunch of them. And every year, there are the disturbing stories in the November issue: "No one really likes roast turkey" "Roast turkey is usually dry and tough" "Roast turkey makes you too sleepy" "It's time we shook up this holiday!"

Ugh. No. Please do not come to me with recipes for burritos or strange pan-seared game meats and call it Thanksgiving. Those recipes are fine for any other time, but Thanksgiving always has been, and I hope always shall remain for me, as Turkey Day.

I happen to LIKE roast turkey, thankyouverymuch. If you prepare it right - and if you get a GOOD turkey instead of an off brand - it's not dry. And as for the sleepiness - for Pete's sake, it's a HOLIDAY. If you can't fall asleep in front of the tv watching football after a big meal, we might as well not be America anymore.

I hate the whole "let's shake up this holiday" vibe. Look. We live in an insecure era. We are regularly told that each day may be our last - whether it's North Korea, or terrorists under the bed, or illegal immigrants, or carcinogens, or global warming, or earthquakes, or whatever. The familiar is comforting, and I would guess it's comforting to a large segment of the population. Why mess with something that's good, that's served people well since...what...the Civil War? Wasn't that when Thanksgiving was made an official holiday?

I never understand why people need to take traditions and screw with them. I suppose it sells magazines or some damn thing.

(I will say I'm not virulently opposed to deep-fried turkey or smoked turkey, since I live in the South. Smoked turkey actually, when it's done well, combines all the good points of both turkey and ham, and can be quite succulent and wonderful. It wouldn't be my pick for Turkey Day but I'd not kick and scream if a family member offered to have that instead of the roast turkey. Personally, I think it would make a fine Christmas dinner, or an Easter dinner. [Ironic, isn't it, that to celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord, we often eat ham - something He would never have eaten in His life]. And deep-fried turkey: as white-trash Bubba as it sounds, it's actually good. It's dangerous as hell to prepare, though, so I doubt I'd be making it - it also takes gallons of oil and a special cooker - but I've had fried turkey and it is good.)

But. So many of the magazines seem to be into "kicking it up a notch" in the tired old phrase - either doing something unspeakable to the turkey (basting it with coca-cola, or making a stuffing solely out of asparagus, or sticking olives and lemons under its skin), or doing away with the bird altogether and having to show us how Up To Date and Sophisticated they are by preparing some thing - be it alligator or Kobe beef or some kind of stir-fry - that doubtless requires for its success an ingredient not to be found outside of major metropolitan centers. (And that is one of my big beefs with Gourmet magazine; they seem to believe we all live in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or at least Aspen.)

And it just feels wrong to me. Thanksgiving for me is not just about giving thanks for all the good things we have - and I mean ALL the good things; one year friends snickered at me, when at a Thanksgiving get-together we all had to name something we were thankful for, and I said "indoor plumbing."

Stupid? Funny? Well - try living without it.

But Thanksgiving for me is also about remembering the good times of my past. The years my greater family assembled, back when grandparents were still alive and aunts and uncles and cousins were not scattered across the entire continental U.S. And about when I was a little kid, young enough to still believe in a literal Santa, and so Thanksgiving meant the start of the Big Season, heralded by the big man's appearence at the end of the Macy's parade...and every year we had turkey. And my mom's chestnut stuffing. And mashed potatoes. And sweet potatoes. And cranberries. And homemade dinner rolls. And pumpkin pie. And mince pie.

And - perhaps this is where I veer into Rain Man territory - but every year I would like everything to be as much the same as possible.

I still watch the Macy's parade - yes, the whole damn thing, even though in the past 10 years or so they've crapped it up with "scenes" from Broadway plays that are really just a blatant advertisement for New York tourism* - and they've reduced the shots of the balloons and the marching bands, which are really what I would guess 80% of the people watch the parade for.

(*I don't have anything against that - but do it at a different time. And usually it's cold during the parade and it hurts me to see the dancers out in their skimpy costumes doubtless freezing their yarbles off and having to perform at an ungodly hour of the morning for them. And even though I know all the singing is canned, I wonder if the singers don't perhaps risk their voices out there in the cold.)

And if "Miracle on 34th Street" is on, I watch it too - but only if it's the "classic" version. And I much prefer the non-colorized version. (It's actually one of the few films that still makes me tear up, even though I've seen it many times - that last scene in the house - the "discovery," if you will - you will know which one I mean if you've seen it - it gets me right here)

And then dinner, which for me still means turkey.

And yeah - if you're a vegetarian, I feel for you. And if you were coming to my house for Thanksgiving, I'd make an effort to prepare a protienaceous but vegetarian main dish/side dish to go along with the turkey. But please don't demand I give up my turkey in favor of your preferences.

And also please don't suggest TurDuckEn - which makes me laugh but leaves me cold gastronomically. I don't care that it's a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey, it has no place on the Thanksgiving table. Likewise for any game other than possibly a WILD turkey.

I also have always passed the day itself with family. I hope that doesn't change any time soon, even though it means long travel for either me or for family. (Last year it nearly changed. My parents were planning on coming down to see me for the holiday, and then at the last minute my dad had a medical emergency that required he not travel. I made emergency plans - and paid through the nose for my ticket - but I got to my parents' house. Mainly because, I was simply not emotionally prepared to spend Thanksgiving alone. I understand that unless I become more sociable, there will come a time in the future I will have to face it, but I am not ready to yet. When that day comes, I don't know. I may just find a soup kitchen to work at so I will be busy rather than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself).

But, as I said - we live in unstable times. Even my family situation, with aging parents and other relatives, can be at times uncertain. So please let me have the nice familiar certainty of turkey-mashed potatoes-cranberry sauce. Save the weird inventive dishes for New Year's Eve, when I generally stay home anyway.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Just one more thought...

....on the whole Foley mess.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

field day

I took my students out for a field lab this afternoon.

Field labs are always tense ahead of time - having to remember all the equipment, the whole folderol with getting vans from Motor Pool (I swear, the Woman at Motor Pool would never let a van out if she could come up with a good enough reason. She always warns us to drive safely, and not to mud up the vans, and to not leave trash in the vans...lady, the vans are not All That. They are 20 year old Dodge Ram Vans with 100,000 plus miles on them. They have parts that fall off of them regularly. They are held together in places by baling wire and duct tape. I once had the power steering totally give out on one - it was lucky I had a big strong athlete guy in my class to drive it home. And you're worrying about mud or a candy wrapper?)

But once out in the field, I'm always happier. This is my element. This is where I'm supposed to be. This is where I know all kinds of stuff, not the least being, what the different species of plants the "kids" are supposed to identify are.

And this is where I can share the little nuggets of natural history that I know, pass them on to the next generation as it were - if anyone's listening. (Actually, usually, someone is. I'm always surprised upon re-meeting students years later, when they're in graduate school, and they say something like, "Remember the time when you showed us how to tell grease-grass from other species of grass? I never forgot that." or "I was the only person in my botany class who knew the difference between the black oak group and the white oak group on the very first day. I got bonus points on a test because of that!" So I figure it's worth it to share my little stories, even if some of the students sigh and roll their eyes, or even if they act like I'm "Ducky" on NCIS. (My stories do NOT ramble quite that much...)

It was forest sampling day today. I broke the class into two. By chance, I wound up with the "serious" students - the ones who paid careful attention and took notes when I was telling them what to do in class. My assistant wound up with the "dee dee dee!" group or the people who were too busy writing notes to the person next to them (and don't think I don't see what you're doing) in class.

So I'll pay for it when I have to explain to them how to analyse the data; the group with my assistant may well have screwed up data I will have to straighten out. But whatever. It was pleasant being out in the field, because, as I said, the students I was with buckled down to the task and they mostly knew the plants, so I had little I had to do other than verify an identification here or there. So I roamed around picking up and looking at things like oak galls - just hanging out in the woods - something I don't get to do enough, because I'm usually alone, and I get spooked running around in the woods alone, because I've heard too many stories about moonshiners or people who grow pot and put pungee stakes and man-traps around it, or about the weird creepy inbred "holler" people...guess I saw "Deliverance" at too impressionable an age.

It was a good day for it, too - cloudy and cool. (Yesterday was miserable hot, like summer's last blow. Today was predicted to be that way too, but for once the cold front moved faster than expected). It was fallish and cool, and leaves would filter down off the trees. I could see whitecaps on the little lake near where we work and there were osprey or something flying overhead.

It's peaceful out in the woods, too - no one can reach you, no one can come and take you away from what you're working on. You can focus on the single task at hand. And if someone comes to you later and says, "I needed you to do xyz..." you can just look at them and say, "Dude. I was in the field." And in my department, that's all you need to say: I was in the field are the magic words that get you off the hook of not having been present to attend to the whims or desires of others.

It's the one thing, I realize, that's more important than all the other things we do or are made to do. It's the top priority and it gives you the right to say, "no, I couldn't be at the meeting" or "no, I couldn't do that for you right then" or "yes, you are right, you came by my office and I was not there. But it was not my office hours and I. Was. In. The. Field." And no one can say boo about it.

I love it.

Also - no one in my group had a cell phone (maybe there's no reception out there, I don't know). For once, no one was being interrupted by boyfriends/girlfriends/parents/sorority sisters/fraternity brothers/etc/etc. Again: the fieldwork was the top and only priority. And it made me happy.

I think it's that I multitask too much - and I am to much a people pleaser most of the time - but being able to be "out of pocket" (as they say around here), and having a GOOD EXCUSE for being out of pocket fills me with joy.

"I couldn't do it. Sorry. I was in the field."
"Yeah, I know he called. But I was in the field."

And it's the one explanation everyone buys from me - the one thing that doesn't make them sigh, and make you feel like they're thinking, "Migraine? Is THAT her excuse? She says she was home puking her guts out and feeling like she'd like to remove her right eye with a bayonet? Wow...that's really....lame." or "Helping out at church? That one sounds fishy to me. Seems like she 'helps out at church' every week or something..."

But it's nice - nice to be able to do ONE thing, just ONE thing, and not have the feeling of being pulled in eighty different directions. I wish I had a life where I could be more imperious and focus on one thing at a time more, instead of falling prey to people wanting to "talk" when I'm grading papers, or colleagues wanting to share their latest piece of personal puffery when I'm frantically trying to prep for a class....I need to be less of a nice person, I guess, and once in a while just say - and mean it - "I can't talk right now; I'm working on something I have to get done." And say it so they believe me.

performance review and a donut

Don't let anyone ever tell you that people in academia don't get evaluated. We do.

We have to fill out big "performance review" packets at my university - every year - with our teaching eval's, our publications, our grants, our "service," etc. Every year it makes me feel like I want to throw up because I always feel like I'm not as good as I should be. (Even though I have tenure, even though I've never gotten below an "above average," etc., etc.)

My department chair sent an e-mail around reminding us to come in and discuss them with her. Today was the last day to do it. Being an avoidant sort, I put it off until today. (Not that, as I said, I have any prior reason to believe my review would be less than good. I just don't like them because I still feel like I'm fooling people somehow, and that someday I will be actually unmasked as The Incompetent that I Really Am.)

Anyway. I went in to do it and she reminded me she needed my class evaluations and comments. (Again: avoidant. I had not included them because I don't know how I stack up - every negative comment is like a knife, like an indictment of me). So I went and found them.

And I decided to Be Proactive! So I started gabbling as she went through the comments, saying crap like "I never know what to do about the people who say there's too much work or too much lecture or there needs to be less homework and more activities...." And I realized I was babbling. And then I talked about a class that I co-teach, in which both my co-teacher and I got HORRIFICALLY BAD evalutions, partly because it's a night class, and partly because it's computer-based, so when the software locks up or has a bug, of course it's OUR fault...and I talked about how we had changed things to make it better.

And she kind of commiserated with me. And said, yeah, some of the students just don't know what they want.

And she reminded me I had published two articles this year.

And she told me I got an "outstanding" and two "above averages" and was I happy with that?

And you know - I have such a funky opinion of myself that I'm happy with anything that's better than Needs Improvement.

So I said yeah, and she typed it up, and I signed it, and thank God it's done for another year.

So I feel good about that. And there were donuts in the break room. Donuts make everything better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

evolution or...?

Well, today was "evolution day" in my non-majors class. I always hate teaching this section.

I hate it for a couple of reasons:

1. It's very complex topic - and there's lots we're just now learning on it, like the Evo Devo stuff. I can't go in very much depth because I've found that doing stuff that's "not in the textbook!" often blows the students minds and they have a real hard time because they can't go back and look it up. And the most interesting stuff about it is the hardest stuff for beginners. Heck, I don't understand Evo Devo and I just finished reading a couple books on the topic. (And it did not help that one of the authors dismissed the typical way of teaching evolution - starting with natural selection - as "dead and boring." I have a real inferiority complex on the Boring issue, I know I'm kind of boring but don't know how to break through it, so to be told I'm doing something the "boring" way - it makes me all uncomfortable.

2. I don't have enough time. They make us cram SO MUCH into this class - cells, and biochemistry, and ecology, and human physiology, and diversity of life, and more - that you get a week per topic, tops. I'm already behind in the syllabus as it is and even though I not-so-merrily jettison some of the more nuanced topics, I still keep getting behind.

3. It's midsemester. Everyone hates everyone else right now. The students hate me. I hate the students. I hate my colleagues. My colleagues hate me. The administration hates us, we hate the administration, they hate the students, the students hate them. We all need a time-out. So everyone's grumpy and non-responsive.

4. I teach in the Bible Belt. Which means that in any given class, 30% will no nothing scientific about evolution, about 40% will refuse to accept it as even a possibility, and 10% are super-apprehensive because this is the kind of "secular humanism" their pastors have warned them against. I've never had anyone up and walk out of my class but I'm braced for it; colleagues have had it happen.

5. I'm not as "in your face" about it as I could be. I'm too mealy mouthed and fearful of offending. The truth of the matter is? I feel about creationism kind of like how I feel about gayness. I'm not a creationist (nor am I gay). It doesn't matter to me if you are a creationist (or if you're gay*). But. I do ask that you listen to my side of the story on matters. I also ask that you not be offensive in asserting your right to be what you are (that means telling me I "must" be an atheist if I accept evolution; that also means making me a party to listening to your bedroom adventures if you're gay. I don't mind open and frank discussion but I do have boundaries, and one of those boundaries is that I don't like people to say offensive things to me.).

So: I don't care if you would rather believe each species was separately formed by God and placed here on the earth. However - please listen to what I have to say politely. And please don't petition that your particular view be taught in the schools; you can teach it at home. Somewhere between 95 and 99 percent of serious biologists accept evolution; I tend to think "majority of experts rule" for things like science classes.

Okay...that maybe sounds a bit hypocritical. But remember: I'm not asking to come and talk about evolution in church, I'd ask the same courtesy be extended to me about religion and science class.

(*With the one possible exception of if you're a chap I'm about to ask out on a date. Then it would save both of us some embarrassment. And no, I'm not convinced gay-dar exists. I know I don't have it.)

6. I had a bad experience the first semester I taught; a girl got all up in my face and told me I was a wicked atheist because I taught evolution. Now, I'd probably smack her down, show her my little "God keeps his promises" keyfob, and say, "Would an atheist carry that? Huh? Do NOT be telling me what I do and do not believe!" But it was my first semester and I was scared.

(heh...or maybe I should have said, "You seem to have a lot of anger. May I pray for you?" and have seen how she responded.)

So anyway - the whole thing is fraught with discomfort. I'd much rather - and I know this is me being typically avoidant - find a good educational video about the topic, maybe with nice Darwin's finches in it or with a good animation of bacterial antibiotic resistance evolution, and show it to them. Sort of a "see? It's not just ME saying this" thing. But I don't know of one, so I bang through lecture and a short predator-effects-on-cryptic-coloration class activity.

And as we're setting up, I get the Question. The Dreaded Question. Oh, it's phrased different ways. But this semester, it was more open and more in-my-face than I've ever heard it. A student came up to me and said, "So...you believe in Creation then?" (they know I go to church). I said -again, being mealy mouthed so as not to offend and not risk those precious precious evaluationtime comments - "Well...I accept that evolution is the best scientific explanation for life on earth and it's changes" (being a Good Scientist and using Eugenie Scott's suggested term of "accept" rather than "believe"). I did go on and add..."But that doesn't mean that there can't be a Divine Being in the universe, and that that Divine Being might even have used evolution as a way to let life be self-correcting." Ugh. Made a hash of it, as usual.

I have had good discussions, most of them outside of class. I honestly don't have a conflict with Genesis and with evolution. The way I look at it is this: either Genesis is a story - kind of like the parables Jesus told - or it's an accretion from another religion (it's a lot like some creation myths from Sumeria and other places). Or it's an allegory, something pre-scientific people used to explain where they came from. (I've even gone so far as to suggest to a questioning student that maybe the account was "given to" them as a way of not blowing their minds with information they were not ready for...). Or it's an account of what happened after humans got souls...I've read of some theologian, and I wish I remember who it was, who suggested that our physical parts evolved by natural evolutionary processes; the special creation spoken of in the Bible was our souls. And that you can re-read Adam and Eve in that light.

I don't know. Any of those, or even "that part of the Old Testament is mostly myth" works for me. I wouldn't come out and say "myth" to my class, though - to them, "myth" equates with "lie" rather than being "story that has meaning beyond the issue of literal truth" and I don't want people calling me a wicked atheist again.

Monday, October 16, 2006


So, I went home at lunch today - today is my night-class day and I think I deserve a FEW moments at home especially considering I leave the house at 7. (And I had to bake a Funeral Cake. One of the traditions in my church is that the ladies do Funeral Lunch if the family requests it - we had a death late last week. So I got tapped to do Funeral Cake, which is the least I can do, seeing as I am in class BOTH during "family time" tonight and the funeral tomorrow morning. I could cancel class but I didn't know the person that well - heck, I didn't cancel class to go to one of my own aunt's funerals).

And then I came back, to get done with the backlog of horrific grading I have (multiple labs and homeworks). And wouldn't you know it, every needy person has been knocking on my door asking for help. One guy was arguing with me because he didn't understand and he thought he did, and finally I managed to get him to see the light (but he didn't apologize for yelling at me like I was an idiot).

I like to help people, but: so many of these people are ones who capriciously skip class. Or they are in class but they aren't, if you know what I mean - they're redoing their nail-polish, or are looking at the LAST assignment I gave and trying to finish it. (And seriously: this new trend of doing your homework during class, when the next topic is being covered? Needs to die.) Or they're otherwise checked-out. So it's aggravating to me to give the SAME lecture I gave last Thursday to someone who wasn't paying attention. But I have no good way to winnow out the not-attention-payers from the trying-but-confused, so I just have to do it.

And it irks me - this typical female trait of some of our women students, of asking a question, going away for five minutes, and coming back with the next question on the list. (And no - it's not a question that grew out of the answer to the previous question. It's like they have a freaking LIST and they are too afraid of "taking up the teachers' time" to ask them all in a chunk, so instead they wander off and wander back and interrupt me even worse.)

And I do all of this politely and with as much good cheer and enthusiasm as I can muster. Which isn't much, right now.

How long until Thanksgiving?

Yeah, I have PMS this week. Why do you ask?

He'p me! He'p me!

(...trying to phonically capture a line out of the Little Richard Geico ad*)

Anyway. Teacher Lady (who has a very funny blog that you should probably read if you teach college) has written a number of times about the amazing helplessness of her students.

And you know, I see it too. And it drives me up the wall.

(Standard disclaimer: this is probably less than 10% of our student body, but as squeaky wheels get the grease and annoying personality traits get noticed and commented on, they seem like a much larger proportion of the population)

There are different categories.

First, there is simple sad-sackery. People who seem to have little rain clouds following them around whereever they go. They can't hold down a job. They can't find a babysitter for their kids who isn't flaky/a criminal/both. They have massive and mindbending family traumas. (Although the best of these didn't happen to me, it happened to my mom, also a professor: a student had to miss one of her exams because his grandma's boyfriend was having surgery and he had to go to the hospital with him. Why grandma couldn't go [if grandma is well enough to have a boyfriend, she should be well enough to accompany him to the hospital] was unclear). They have to appear in court for mysterious reasons. They have bizarre health issues (and insist on telling me all the bloody/gory/pus-y details. I'm a biologist, but I'm not a doctor. Please don't tell me about what came out of the thing your dermatologist lanced on your back.). I don't know what to do about these people. I've had trouble in my life, but I've (so far) always managed to stay more or less on top of it - are there just real-life Mournful Joneses out there who just keep having bad stuff happening to them? Like a curse, you know? Or is it that there are just people who are worse at dealing with it?

I have sympathy for those folks but it has a limit. Usually the third tragedy-that-takes-them-out-of-class-or-requires-them-to-hand-in-work-late in as many weeks is the limit. There's a point at which you just want to say, "Take a semester off, get your life in order, stop bailing your friends out of jail, don't let comparative strangers sleep on your couch because they have nowhere else to go, break up with that guy who's so bad for you - and come back later on."

Second are the mama's boys and mama's girls. These are the people who make me angry, because I look at them and think they could do so much better. These are the "kids" (and I think I'm justified in calling them that - they may get to be 40 someday but they will never really grow up) who are totally dependent on other people to manage life. They're the ones who hand me unstapled papers with the excuse of "I can't find a stapler." (I usually grit my teeth and say I have a stapler in my office. The department buys my staples or I'd not be so willing to staple for them). Or they're the ones who forget due dates. Or lose the syllabus - or never keep it to begin with. They're the ones who lean over and ask their deskmate for paper or a pen (And I always say - as long as it's still before the start of class and I'm not interrupting myself), "You can charge him/her whatever you want as a rental fee, you know." A lot of these people are male, and a lot of them seem to be the sort of male who figure they can get by on charm and good looks. And they usually do; there's no shortage of girls who have internalized the Female! Must! Serve! ideal who is HAPPY to give him a pen - not loan, give. Because that type always walks off with the pen, pencil, tape, book, whatever, that he borrowed. (The female of the type is the ditz-head "pretty" girl, who has occupied all of her brain capacity with makeup tips and methods for styling the hair, so there is apparently no room left for "bring paper to class with you." They usually get paper too, either from a guy who thinks it may be the Royal Road to Getting in Their Pants or from less-popular girls who think maybe she'll remember it come sorority rush time. (She won't.)

I have little sympathy for these people. I forged my way alone through college. I ALWAYS had paper. I ALWAYS had extra pens lest the pen I was writing with run out. I owned a little stapler to staple my papers with. And I was one of the people who was known to be a prepared person, and sometimes got asked to loan stuff. And you know, I did. I was a nice person. (I am, still, too, pretty much, under the veil of cynicism). But you know- a lot of times the borrowers have more disposable income than the folks they mooch off of? That doesn't seem fair, when you're ekeing your way through on scholarship, to have the BMOC who is a "legacy" and comes from a moneyed family, expecting that it doesn't hurt you to hand him fifteen sheets of notebook paper every week.

The third group are the people with poor time management. These are the folks who put things off 'til the last moment - either because they're working three jobs to make the payments on their Big Flashy Trucks or to be able to afford trips to the nail salon, or because they would rather party than do schoolwork. These are the people who come to me with a diskette in their hands on the day a paper is due, and say "My printer broke!" or "I ran out of ink!" or "there was a power surge just as I was typing my literature cited!" And invariably when I put the disk in the disk drive, it won't run or the paper isn't there, and the student gets all meltdowny and swears, swears that the paper is on there. And I sigh, because I don't like students bursting into tears in my office, and tell them "have it to me by 5 pm." And I think they know it. I think in more case than one lately it's been crocodile tears conjured up to buy a few more hours for the paper that's not really done - and perhaps in some cases, not even started.

(You know how I can tell a genuine "It's on my hard drive but I think this disk is fried" from a student who's trying to buy time? The quality of the writing and whether or not the thing's proofread. If it's chock full 'o' typos, I know it was a last-ditch effort. And I don't generally need to downgrade it; it does that itself.)

I had it happen to me today - students who had a computer-based assignment came to me and said "The computer lab is NEVER OPEN! We couldn't do the homework!" and I told them to get it to me by the end of the day. And I unlocked the computer lab for them even though I'm not supposed to when the monitor is not there - because two or three years ago, someone was caught downloading kiddie p*rn onto the campus computer. No fake. (If we hadn't caught and dealt with it fast, no doubt we would have been the Hot Topic of the evening news for weeks). Anyway - I went to the secretary to complain about the lazy computer lab monitors and she looked at me and said, "There's someone there from 10 am to 5 pm five days a week." So these guys were playing me. Or they tried to come in after 5 some day. Or something.

These are also often the people who give sob stories about "I didn't KNOW the exam was THIS WEEK!" which always gets me angry - it is IN THE SYLLABUS. I announce it three to five times in class in the two weeks leading up to the exam. I post it on the class website. I think you would have to be deliberately ignoring important stuff in order to not know when an exam in my class is. (Mercifully, I almost never hear that. But a lot of my colleagues - who aren't as anal as I am about announcing things multiple times - do.) Again, this is something I do not get - the first day of class, when I was a student, I'd come tripping home to my dorm room, syllabus in hand, and immediately WRITE all the exam dates and paper-due-dates on my calendar in my room, sometimes even using a different color ink for different classes. You know, so I knew in advance. So I could, like, study and stuff.

Okay - maybe some people manage without calendars although I can't quite see how they do. I have two in my office right now - and two at home. And one on my computer. But I also wear a watch and I see lots of people who don't.

But those three groups of people - the sad-sacks, the "my mama loved me so much she always took care of me, and you should, too," and the poor-time-management crew - are people who frustrate me more or less regularly. Because, I look at my other students - some single parents. Some working long hours. Some returning to college after a long hiatus. Some caring for disabled relatives. And they manage! They have more stuff going on in their lives - more serious stuff - than a lot of the "help me! help me!" people. And they never ask for slack, they never expect to be allowed to hand in stuff late. And they do well. They might not be A students - when you're having to tutor an autistic child at home or work the graveyard shift dispatching police cars it does cut into your productivity as a student - but they manage. And they never ask for a gold star or anything for what they do - they just do it, quietly, and accept their degrees at the end of four or five years (or however many, if they're going part time). Whereas the mama's boys and girls act almost like they expect you to stand up and applaud if they are on time for an 8 am class.

And it blows my mind. I know I was an atypical student - all professors were at one time atypical students - but I seriously cannot imagine going to college and not knowing when my exams were, or not even having a clue. Or not even seeming to care. And I cannot imagine expecting "bennies" (like extra credit) for attending class. (That's another thing that blows my mind - on days when attendance is low, some joker will invariably ask, "Do we get extra credit for showing up?" Now I just laugh. One day, once, I made the comment that I had lots of things I did that were expected of my and I never got paid extra for, and that really came back to bite me in the ass on my evaluations. So now I just laugh and shake my head even though I'm screaming inside. I fully expect in another generation or so we will have a country where 80% of the people won't do anything unless you offer them some kind of bribe.)

How did we get here, and how do we get back? Or is it again, just a matter of the 10% seeming like so many more than they actually are?

(*seriously, are those not some of the funniest/weirdest ads on television? I mean, I'd never use Geico, based on an experience a friend had, but I still love the ads. I love the Cockney gecko ads when he's talking to other lizards. I love the Cockney gecko on the chat-shows ads. I love the celebrities-telling-real-customers-stories ads. And the new caveman ad - with the preppy caveman in the airport - is surreal enough that I like it, too.

so much better than the "Head On! Apply directly to the forehead!" ads [and did you know they have a hemerhhoid product? Sadly, they did not do the obvious and go "Hem-rid! Apply directly to the ass!" Now that, I'd like to see...])