dino head

No true north

My last year in grad school in Illinois, circa 2001, a few of my fellow grad students were going to attend a conference in Pittsburgh, and they came to me for tips on navigating Da Burgh.

Fellow Grad Student: We’re flying in, and then we’re going to rent a car.
Me: I can’t let you do that.
FGS: It can’t be that bad…
Me: You’re from a city in Wisconsin that’s built on a grid. Go north three blocks and then east five blocks actually gets you from point A to Point B.
FGS: uh-huh
Me: That’s not how Pittsburgh works. The four directions in Pittsburgh are uphill, downhill, towards the river, and away from the river.
FGS: Still…
Me: But there’s more than one hill and more than one river.
FGS: …
Me: Also, some streets are one way for no good reason.
FGS: Still…
Me: And the same stretch of road can change names three times in a mile. Honestly, I’m afraid that you’d get so lost I’d never see you again.
FGS: You’re exaggerating.
Me: I guess. I mean, I WOULD see you again. But, like, five years from now, I’d be visiting and run into you. You’d tell me that you got so lost you just decided to start life anew in Pittsburgh.
FGS: …
Me: I mean, it’s probably how many people ended up there in the first place.

While my fellow grad students did not end up renting a car, they still managed to get lost, but they found their way back to Illinois.
dino head

Feckless for LJ Idol

Back in 2007, I had a major financial meltdown, and my family had to bail me out.

Clearly, this is not my proudest moment. Honestly, it came down to me not adjusting well to life in a more expensive city, and my pay was barely able to cover my expenses. I could have (and should have) budgeted before, but... anyway, it was a mess, I haven't had serious issues with money since.

Well, several months after my financial meltdown, my brother called me.

Me: Hey!
Bro: I have a question.
Me: Fire away.
Bro: Well, I've been unemployed... and (my sister-in-law) is a teacher's aide...
Me: Mmmm hmmm
Bro: We might lose the house.
Me: Oh crap.
Bro: We need serious help.
Me: Okay, when you talk to mom, lay everything out...
Bro: What?
Me: Mom will have questions. Answer them.
Bro: (sighing) Can't you tell her for me?
Me: ... what?
Bro: I don't know what to say..
Me: ... Just say what happened and exactly how much trouble you're in.
Bro: And I hate fighting with her.
Me: She won't fight so much. She'll chew you out. But she'll do what she can.
Bro: But... can't you break it to her. You tell her, and then have her call me.
Me: ... No.
Bro: But...
Me: It's not my mess.
Bro: ... We could lose the house! And if we do, what happens then? We could lose the kids.
Me: SO TELL MOM!
Bro: I... can't.
Me: You CAN... you just don't want to.
Bro: That's not fair.
Me: And me dealing with your mess is?
Bro: I've never asked...
Me: Oh, please. Remember when you got (his now wife, then girlfriend) pregnant? You wanted me to tell mom.
Bro: ...
Me: I'm not doing that again.
Bro: But we're desperate...
Me: Then grow up, act like an adult and have the conversation with her.

The conversation ended soon after that.

A week or so later, I got a call from Mom.

Mom: Your brother just called me. He said you knew.
Me: Yup. And I told him I wasn;t going to tell you, that he had to.
Mom: You should have...
Me: ABSOLUTELY NOT. It's his issue not mine. You can be as upset with me about not telling you as you want, but I don't want to hear about it.
Mom: ... I... okay can I ask you some questions, because I don't think he was telling me everything.
Me: He didn't tell me much, but fire away.

My mom and her sister did manage to bail out my brother. In fact, mom still sends him a monthly check.
dino head

Grad school struggles for LJ Idol

I returned to grad school last year, to get a degree in Digital Humanities. The first year went well, but this term, due to scheduling concerns, I could only take one course, on Technology and Pedagogy, and that course was a disaster area.So, I met with my program's department chair to discuss my issues.

Chair: You're having problems with the course?
Me: Yes. I just don't think we're accomplishing anything. In all my other courses here, by this time of the semester, I could say 'I learned this' or 'I did that'. I can't do that here.
Chair: Huh.
Me: And for a course that supposed to be about technology and pedagogy, we've talked about technology some, but we haven't discussed pedagogy AT ALL.
Chair: That's odd.
Me: We're seven weeks in! And when we do eventually discuss pedagogy, we'll only be discussing the theories of one person.
Chair: ... so what are they* discussing?
Me: They're discussing the history of public universities in the United States.
Chair: Really?
Me: They also said they want us to be "radical teachers".
Chair: What does that mean?
Me: I don't know. They never defined it. It's just... what they're discussing doesn't match up to the course.
Chair: Okay, I understand that you are frustrated by this class...
Me: Oh, yeah. Oh, and the readings are terrible. (I pull out a reading) Look at this.

The author of this reading decided to randomly change font size in the middle of sentences, bold and fade out part of words and right justify everything. It was unreadable.

Chair: Oh. Wow. No.
Me: See? See?
Chair: You realize that the university won't pay for the class if you withdraw.
Me: Yes. And I still want out.
Chair: Are you sure.
Me: This is going to sound arrogant, but I should not be sitting in a graduate-level class thinking to myself "I can teach it better than they are."
Chair: You're right. You shouldn't. We'll get you out of that class.

And the paperwork was processed.


*This class is being team taught by two professors.
dino head

Thanksgiving! -- a family story

When I was nineteen, I came out to my mother, whose reaction was... um... not optimal.

She informed me that I was mistaken. I was just confused and needed therapy, and, if I didn't "straighten myself out" (pun intended on my part), well, I would be thrown out of the house.

I was living in the dorms at the time.

This happened in October. We didn't talk for a few weeks, then we started talking on the phone. Well, not talking, so much as arguing. Apparently, I was the family disappointment, and didn't I know that gays were evil and/or hopelessly broken yadadyadayada homophobia.

One of my sisters called me to let me now that the entire family felt this way.

So, I figured that I'd save myself the trouble and just not go home for Thanksgiving. I told my mom that I was going to apartment-sit for some friends who were going out of town (I hadn't asked anyone at that point,but it was a plan). She was unhappy about it, but seemed to accept it.

My grandmother, Bid*, on the other hand, did not.

*Not to be confused with my father's mother, Kitty, who, if there is a Hell, is rotating on a spit there.

My grandma informed my mother and me that we were going to have a family Thanksgiving, and that was that.

As grandma ran the family, we both acquiesced.

Before I go on, I need to give a little context here. This was in 1986. People still believed that AIDS was God's punishment on the Gay community. Many still thought that they could get AIDS by touching a gay man.

Also, where I lived, there were sodomy laws. Any sex act that wasn't heterosexual missionary position was illegal. The police used this as a way to avoid investigating gay bashing. They would ask the victim if they were gay, and if the victim said yes, then the cops would say that they'd have to investigate that, too, because that was a crime,

Oh, and pretty much every major religion was virulently homophobic.

So, you know, my family's reaction was pretty normal for the time. Not that I'm excusing it.

Anyway, the week before Thanksgiving, I started to feel an itch in my ear. I'm prone to ear infections, so I knew what it was. I just figured it would go away in a day or two.

Man, was I wrong.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I went to Student Health Services, because the pain was so bad. It was shooting down my jawline on both sides; my ears were constantly popping, and I could barely hear anything

My ears were so messed up that the nurse practitioner told me to go to the emergency room.

I turned out that my ear canals had almost swollen shut and that my sinuses were so stuffed up, the swelling was putting pressure on nerves which sent pain down my jaws.

They gave me a decongestant, something for the swelling, and ear drops.

The nest day, I went home, still very hard of hearing.

I just have looked like Hell, because when I got in the house, I was pretty much immediately sent to bed.

Meantime, I must have had a reaction to one of the medications. Probably the decongestant, I'm sensitive to those. So, while the swelling was starting to go down, I was off in this cotton cloud candy world. I know several family members sat me down to have "serious talks" with me, but I couldn't hear a good bit of what they were saying, and I was kind of blissed out and didn't care anyway.

So, the Thanksgiving that I figured might be the last one I spent with my family turned out to be strangely anticlimactic. By the time Christmas rolled around one of the drunk cousins was acting up, so I kind of flew under the radar. (Well, not really, but that's another story.)

As for being the family disappointment... that hasn't been me for a long time. One sister briefly became a Jack Chick-like evangelical; one cousin got arrested; another cousin married an embezzler; yet another cousin worked for a front for the Russian mafia; my eldest nephew was arrested, and my brother... well, there are lots of things going on there.

My family's motto should be "We're not a boring people."
dino head

Another trip down memory lane with my father's people

In the aftermath of my father's death, my mother got a job teaching in the local school district, where my grandma worked as the school nurse. She was trying to rebuild her life with her four children, aged 9,8,7, and 4. (I'm the youngest.)

The single largest obstacle to this was my father's mother, Kitty. My father committed suicide several months after my parents separated. However, Kitty firmly believed that my mom somehow murdered dad, despite being five hundred miles away at the time.

Kitty complained so loudly that the police briefly opened an investigation. It was closed quickly, because it was clear that dad shot himself.

Well, Kitty was also convinced that none of the four of us were actually dad's kids. Her evidence? Dad had hazel eyes; my mom has blue eyes and all four of us have blue eyes.

Kitty said that one of her relatives, a nurse, said that that was impossible.

There's a tremendous amount of stupid to unpack there, so if you need to take a minute, please do so.

Kitty was also harassing us by phone. She;d call at all hours of the day and night. (I remember this, and how upset it made mom and my grandma. I don't really think of Kitty as a grandmother so much as a psycho hose beast.)

Well, Kitty found out where mom worked and called the office, where she got one of the secretaries, a family friend we'll call Mrs S.

A note: I know the gist of this conversation, but not the specifics.

Kitty: Hello, is this (name of school district redacted)?
Mrs S: Yes.
Kitty: I'm calling about your new teacher (my mom). She is a woman of low character who shouldn't be teaching.
Mrs S: And who are you?
Kitty: I'm the mother of her dead husband.
Mrs S: And you're saying this about the mother of your grandchildren?
Kitty: THEY AREN'T MY GRANDCHILDREN!
Mrs S: I see...
Kitty: Not only that, but she's a whore.
Mrs S: Now, listen here...
Kitty: Her mother runs a brothel out of her house.
Mrs S: (Incredulous silence)
Kitty: And (my mom) is her star attraction.
Mrs S: WHAT? Do you know what she is going through right now?
Kitty: Excuse me?
Mrs S: She just lost her husband. She is raising four children -- your grandchildren-- on her own. And you're doing this? You should be ashamed of yourself. How dare you?
Kitty: He was my son...
Mrs S: She was his wife. And those are your grandchildren. Don't you have a responsibility to them? Maybe you should think about that.

At that point, Mrs S, who was a genuinely nice person, hung up on her, and told the administration about the crazy lady spreading rumors about my mom and grandma.

Mom and grandma decided to hire an attorney to go after Kitty. Wally, Kitty's husband (my father's father), worked at AT&T at the time. The attorney threatened to tell AT&T what was going on, and get Wally fired.

After that, we didn't hear from them again.
dino head

A(nother) gay conversation with myself

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(Above: a daguerreotype of President James Knox Polk by Matthew Brady)

Me1: Well, hello, 11th president of the United States, James Knox Polk.
Me2: Is that... a mullet?
Me1: I always thought they were a 90's thing, and not a 19th century thing.
Me2: What did he say to his barber? "I want it presidential in the front, but party in the back"?
Me1: Maybe that was his campaign slogan!
Me2: That sounds like something a power bottom who works in the corporate world would say. Besides, he doesn't look like the partying type. At least not in this photo.
Me1: Ooof. No, no he doesn't.
Me2: I wonder if he thinks that dead-eyed vacant stare makes him look deep, because, no.
Me1: Seriously, he is giving off serial killer vibes.
Me2: I wonder what the photographer said to him when he posed for this.
Me1: "Look like you're a character in an Edgar Allan Poe story" is my guess.
Me2: This is just all wrong.
Me1: HEY! Maybe we could start a rumor that, after his presidency, Polk traveled to England and became Jack the Ripper.
Me2: That... honestly, that wouldn't be the craziest Ripper theory out there.
Me1: Oh wait, he died in 1849. Jack the Ripper was active in the 1880s.
Me2: Please. Facts don't stop conspiracy theories. Clearly, when he "died", he was actually cryogenically frozen, only to be revived in the 1880s. This experience totally unhinged him, and he became the Ripper. See... easy.
Me1: Huh. Sounds good! I'm in! I mean, this isn't any crazier than conspiracy theories people actually believe.
Me2: So... we're running with it?
Me1: Sure!
dino head

LJ Idol Intro

I'm a geek. And proud of it. Here is a sample conversation between me and a colleague:

Colleague: We went on a cruise!
Me: That sounds like fun.
Coll: We spent all night in the clubs, and (a mutual friend) was such a slut.
Me: Well, what happens at sea, stays at sea.
Coll: I'd love to get you out there. So you could shake what your mam gave you.
Me: A lifelong love of learning and reading? I'm... not sure how exactly one shakes that.
Coll: (judgemental sigh)
dino head

For LJ Idol -- a patchwork heart

A few weeks ago, my mom had a heart attack. Mom was having chest pains, but decided to go to church first, then go to the hospital. While they were putting the electrodes on her, she coded. Fifteen minutes later, she coded again. She was revived both times. They out stents in and now, she's home, recuperating now, and things are going fine, but it was not fun for a few days there.

Of course, my family being the people we are, reacted in our own special ways.

When I got the phone call, my first reaction was, "Mom can't die yet... I only have, like, three days' worth of clean clothes right now."

Not "Should I look up flights home?", not "Do you need me to call anyone"... nope.

I mean, as thoughts in an emergency go, "Do I have enough clean clothes to deal with it?" is a pretty good one. It's just not what I would have figured my initial reaction to be.

After the stents were put in and everything calmed down, then we kicked into high gear.

Nephew: I think you just did this for attention.
Mom: I'm going to hurt you.
Nephew: Oh, please, you just got out of the hospital.
Mom: Just stay where you are. I'll get there eventually.

Then, one of my sisters pointed out that mom is such a control freak that she even planned her heart attack. It couldn't happen until after she went to church, and then, she made sure she was in the Emergency Room when it happened.

I have to agree, that is some advanced level planning.

Mom threatened to hurt her, too.

When I told mom that I knew she getting better because she was threatening us again, she laughed.

So, this is my family, laughing our way through life whenever possible.