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For LJ Idol: My direction sense fails me

Flashback to 2004!

I was in NYC for a job interview. I got directions to the interview, which were odd -- they were basically "get to Queens Plaza and mill around", but I thought I could figure it out.

I shouldn't ever had felt that confident. I have no direction sense: I can get lost crossing the street.

Anyway, I got to the subway station with a little over an hour to get to my interview. Plenty of time.

Well, it would have been. I got on the train going the wrong way. Once I figured that out, I still had enough time, if nothing else went wrong.

I got off the train at Queens Plaza, the folks at the college claimed that I would see the college from there. No such luck,

Meantime, it had started to sleet.

I looked around, and saw a bridge. I thought to myself "If they wanted me to cross the bridge, they would have said so." As a result, I tried another direction. No such luck. Meantime, I was in contact with the office, because I was running late.

I got turned around a few times, and, then, finally, I realized that, yes, I had to cross the bridge. Once I crossed the bridge, I saw the college, and walked in. I was over an hour late, and I looked like a drowned rat.

Actually, that's not true. Drowned rats looked at me and said, "At least, I'm not HIM."

This was the most relaxed interview I've ever had. I was over an hour late, and looked like ass. I knew I wasn't getting the job.

This interview was on a Tuesday. That Friday, I got the job offer. I've been working here for almost sixteen years now. When I asked why, I was told that I sounded very confident and, clearly, I didn't give up easily.

So, you know, it worked out.
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Fun with students -- for LJ Idol

Last Fall, we had a few tech issues at the college*, which affected my class, since I use the technology so much.

As a result, I had to extend deadlines and arrange other ways to collect some multimedia assignments.

Most of the class adapted quickly, and by the middle of October, all but two were completely caught up.

However, those two students? They three weeks behind in their weekly recordings. Their other work (you know, the stuff they turned in) was good, but they had these zeroes, which weren't helping them. Students who can do the work but can't be bothered to are the most frustrating ones. I just wanted to grab them both by the neck and shake some sense into them.

Instead, I pulled them aside before class one night and pointed out that their grades were in jeopardy and they needed to get their acts together. Only not that politely.

Credit where it is due, one of them got his act together, came in on his own time and caught up on all his work. I mean, he didn't get full credit, but better than a zero, and he still managed to ace the class.

The other one? Not so much. No matter how many reminders, how many breaks I gave him, he did not turn in those three recordings. The weekly recordings make up 50% of the grade in my class, so missing three of them hurts your grade.

The night of the final, this student walks into my office, and we had the following conversation:

Me: Hi! What can I do for you?
Student: Can I have extra credit?
Me: What does the syllabus say about that?
St: But this isn't my fault... I mean, with the system crashes...
Me: So? You had plenty of time to make up that work.
St: But I need an A in this class.**
Me: But you didn't do A-level work.
St: Could you exempt me from the stuff I didn't turn in?
Me: Absolutely not. You chose not to do those things, even after I extended the deadlines.
St: Can I do the recordings now?
Me: Your final starts in under an hour. No.
St: Why?
Me: Normally, my answer would be "Because I'm the professor and I said so", but, here goes: I'm grading your finals tonight and turning in grades either tonight or tomorrow. Even if I wanted to grade things that you had well over two months to turn in, at this point, I just don't have time.
St: Can you cut me a break?
Me: I gave you so many chances. You took none of them. None of this is on me.
St: I'll complain to your department chair.
Me: Have at it.

At that point, the student left my office. To my knowledge, he has not complained to my chair about his grade.

*I'm still not sure what happened. IT did not communicate any issues with us.

**Whenever a student says this, they know they haven't come close to earning that grade.
dino head

For LJ Idol-- Horrifying people

It all started at an area meeting in the fall.

One of my colleagues (a former student of mine), our boss's assistant, and I were having a conversation. The meeting took place before school started, and several people, including my former student, were in shorts.

Boss's Assistant: Man, (former student), you have a lot of tattoos.
Me: I like the dinosaur on his arm.
BA: Those colors are vivid.
Former Student: My tattoo artist is great. We're working on my legs now.
BA (looking at FS's leg): Is that... Satan?
FS: No, it's just a demon.
BA: Wait... the demon is all tied up?
FS: It even has a ball gag in its mouth if you look.
Me: COOL! I didn't notice that.
BA (visibly boggled): Why...
FS: Oh, and it's that special type of rope bondage... you know... the Japanese...
Me: Shibari
BA: You two are freaks. (Walks away, shaking his head)
Me: Took him long enough to figure that out.
FS: I know, right.

When teaching my former student always wears a dress shirt, tie, and slacks, so the students won't see the demon in bondage.

A few weeks later, I was talking with my eldest nephew. I told him the above story...

Me: ... and he just walked away, saying that we were freaks.
Nephew: ....
Me: What? I thought it was funny.
Nephew: It is. Sort of. I just didn't need to know that you know about these things.
Me: Just because I've never brought anyone home doesn't meant that I've never...
Nephew: I don't need to hear this.
Me: ...knocked loafers.
Nephew: Why are you doing this?
Me: Someone needs to horrify you every now and then. I feel I am qualified to do that.
Nephew: I'm just going to pretend this conversation never happened.
dino head

For LJ Idol: Blood Harmony

Some background first:

My mom raised the four of us on her own, and she frequently said that she wished she had done things differently with us.

When I was in elementary school, we would occasionally visit the Williamsons*. My parents met them while dad was in the Air Force, and they stayed in touch.

The Williamsons had kids in our age range. They had five kids in five years (a set of twins was in there) and my parents had four in five.

Over time, we gradually stopped hanging out with them.**

By the time, I was a teenager, it was all phone calls and letters.

When I was in grad school, during my weekly phone call with mom, she mentioned she had received a letter from Mrs Williamson.

Mom: ... I need to give her a call. We should get together for dinner sometime.
Me: Mmmhmmm.
Mom: But they have problems. Two of their kids have been in prison, one can't keep a job, and another one is "somewhere in Texas on his fourth or fifth marriage".
Me: Damn.
Mom: One of them is doing really well, but the other four...
Me: Makes you feel better about the job you did with the four of us.
Mom: What?
Me: None of us has been arrested. None of us have been married so many times that you can't keep up...
Mom: Okay...
Me: I'm just saying. We turned out fine. Stop beating yourself up over not doing a better job with us.
Mom: Both of your sisters and your brother have all said that to me.
Me: There's a reason for that. LISTEN TO US. We're right.

I think we all convinced her to stop saying that she had done a bad job raising us, because she hasn't brought it up since.

*Not their real name

** For two reasons: their kids were allowed to run wild, and we weren't. Also (and I didn't find this out until I was an adult), Mr. Williamson would hit on my mom when we were together.
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.
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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.
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

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?
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)