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Monday, December 17, 2012

More of Gravy than of Grave?

So a funny thing happened to me on the way to the end of the semester...

I’m sitting in the back of this coffee shop I like to work in.  The place used to be a bank or a school house or something back in the olden days where the shape isn’t quite right for the shop so it has this one brick annex that kind of juts out from the rest of it.  It’s an island, just two booths and table that most people don’t know exists, or if they do know, they avoid it since it doesn’t get heat from the continental portion of the shop.  That’s why I like to work there, because I can be by myself, not because I don’t get any heat. 

 So I’m sitting here with my coat on reading for class when this middle-aged schlub, sloshing his soup and coffee around on his tray sits down at the table right across from me.  Can you imagine the nerve?  Like we’re just supposed to sit here and acknowledge each other’s existences or something?  Pff! 

Then he starts talking to me.

“Is that literature you’re reading?” he asks like we’re people who talk to one another.  Like this is a movie.  Like this is some fantasy world where perfect strangers (ah, what a great show) strike up conversations like we’re suburban housewives from the ‘50’s—“Hello, Mabel, love your petunias”, “Oh thanks Gladys, now have you heard, just what Ethel put in her garden?!”  This is a coffee shop and like when riding the bus or standing in line at the grocery store, it’s eyes straight ahead and mouths shut. 

Me! but with less books and coffee.
 I’m reading a chapter in A.O.J Cockshut’s (no, that’s really his name) book about Charles Dickens’ autobiographical references in A Christmas Carol (no, I’m actually writing a paper on A Christmas Carol in December).  I don’t feel like debating him on the oh-too-frequent liberal use of literature so I humor this guy believing that doing so will allow me to get back to my icebox reading.

“Yeah,” I say.  Good humoring.

“Uh huh, see it’s a crock that you have to do that.  I mean what is it even?”

“Just some critique on Victorian lit.”

He takes his coat off and swivels his chair around to me.  Oh God, is this going to be a thing?  Like an actual thing we’re going to do?

“See that’s just the problem with college nowadays, I mean, when are you going to use that?  Why are you going to need    that uh, critique?”

Oh great, a practician is trying to talk to an English grad student—a creative writing grad student—on the lunch-pale merits of studying lit.  Why don’t you and the rest of the world get a table, why don’t you?

Sigh.  This is going to be a thing that we’re going to do.

“Sir, I am a graduate student of English and Creative Writing, and how dare you—how dare you, sir, I say!  Literature and writing are important components to understanding the very civilization which we enjoy today and doing well in it, regardless of profession.  It is the heart and soul of society, sir, its heart and soul, I say!”  I tell him, or something to that effect.

“Oh yeah, I agree,” the soup-slosher says. “I just mean you got to be reading the right stuff, you know, like—you ever read [insert name of some author I  have never heard of, ever]?”


“What?  You got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not kidding you.”

“What?  And you say you’re a grad student here?”


“Yeah?  I graduated here in ’78.”

Yeah?  If I had been drinking at that moment I would have done a prolonged spit-take all over his face.  What does this guy mean he “graduated here”?  Like he graduated from using Velcro to shoe laces?  He graduated from this coffee shop when it used to be a school?  Could he have actually received the same degree that I will and then, what?  Now just rambles around town picking fights with coffee shop patrons?

Wait, suck the spit back in.  Maybe he’s a professor at one of the other colleges in town, or maybe even at mine.  It’s a big department and I’ve skipped out on most of the socializing opportunities.  Academic folk can be pretty eccentric.

“So are you a professor around here?”

He takes a long, sorry slurp of his coffee smacks his lips.

“Me?  No.  I thought about it sure, but naw, not me.”

Oh God.  I feel like Scrooge asking the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come about the name on the tombstone now.

“So you teach high school then?”

“I’m night manager at Walmart, three nights a week.”

I think I need to take a drink because this certainly warrants a spit-take.  It warrants like three or seven spit-takes, right in Professor Walmart Nights face.  I knew the job market was tough, but what the hell?  Is this to be my fate?  Drifting through the streets where my dream died, degree in hand, trying warn current grad students from repeating the mistakes of my past?  Was I wearing the chains of my past bad decisions and just didn’t know it?


= soup slosher

This Jacob Marley son-of-a-bitch starts going on about [what’s-his-name who wrote what’s-his-book] and I’m just staring at him in horror, slowly positioning myself into the fetal position at my booth.  I’m not even really listening to him anymore as I call out.

“Oh Ghost of Jeremy Yet to Come, are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Say it is thus with what you show me!”

“Well, kid, I’m not exactly your future, see I didn’t actually get a grad degree.”

“You didn’t?”

“No, I didn’t.  I just got my BA in English from here.”

“Well uh, gee, spirit, that seems like it would have been some useful information.”

“Yeah, I know, but I like people to think I’m more impressive than I really am.”

“I know the feeling, continue.”

“See, I did get my undergrad here—an English major, but that’s about where things stopped for me.  I mean, there’s not a lot you can do with a BA in Englsih—well hey, look who I’m talking to!”

A forced chuckle.  “Uh yes, I’ve heard  But see my case is just a little bit different than--.”

“--Well, I got to get going, floors to wax, puke to clean up.”

“In that order?”

“Ooh, you’re good.  You’re good.  You should work at Walmart.  I bet you could become a full manager in no time.”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

“No see, I’m getting my MA in English and Creative Writing, maybe even a PhD in it!”

“Right, well if you ever need a job, you know where to find me.  You could join our book club!  Right now it’s just me, Kirby from home appliances, and a cardboard cut-out of Jeff Gordon.  We could use another keen academic mind like yours.”

“Wait, things can still change!  You’re a shadow of what may be only!  Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change, yeah? 

“You know where to find me.” 

I have been reading way too much Dickens. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Part-Time Job

When I arrived at grad school, I was surprised to discover that everyone had a plan. I too had a plan, of course, naturally, sort of, not really—I had an idea, of what I wanted to do.  I wanted to write and I liked the idea of younger, less experienced people also belieiving that I could write and trusting me enough to train them how.  These two things seemed connected to me somehow and I had hoped grad school would invaritably cause them to crash together in some happy, academic collision.  Everything else was in the details.  That’s what my Graduate Director had told me upon my initial visit, or at least, it’s what I inferred from our fiftenn minute conversation.  I think it was in there somewhere. 

Floundering under the weight of deciding my professional and academic livlihood before Labor Day, I naturally took a part-time job tutoring two Korean high school students in English.  I had never tutored prior to grad school, but as part of my assistantship I had just spent five days training how to convince college freshman not to begin papers with “from the beginning of time” or end them with “in conclusion and summary”, so I felt qualified (enough) to accept the job. 

The first few weeks were rough.  All of our meetings were arranged by their mother who spoke less English than they did and I tried my best not to fall into the ethnocentric trappings of talking to an ESL speaker as an American who spoke only English.  I found my voice rising in volume every time I repeated myself .  By the foruth attempt, I was almost shouting.  I know I talk with my hands, but I caught myself attempting bastardized forms of sign language or maybe shadow puppet shows the longer conversations lasted.  Every time I felt I had offended her, she’d just smile and apologize for her confusion.  Some might have taken these shared moments of misunderstanding as a bridge to empathy, bringing us close together in a way, but I assumed she was cursing my ignorance beneath her tight smile.  I would if I was her.  Eventually, I began limiting the number of words per exchange to siphon out the extraneous adjectives and prepositions, which of course seemed offensive.  We managed.

The exact opposite of this, is the impression that I wanted to give.

 I met two days a week with John and Mary for an hour each.  That’s what their mother said their old tutor did.

“What did the old tutor do for two whole hours?”  I asked, “Were field trips involved?”  She didn’t know, but through another skinny smile told me she was confident that I’d know what to do.

I was sure I did not, but convincing myself that I was their best and possibly only option in central Missouri, I justified my ineptitude and decided I’d figure something out.

John was a fifteen-year-old sophomore who was studying for his TOIFL exam, which would test his grasp of English and determine his fate with every American university he applied to.  John mostly wanted to know about different American expressions and turns of phrase, many of which arose during our sessions. 

“It’s all good: what is it that is good?”

“Well, whatever it is that you’re talking about.”

“And all of it?”


“And what about all of these bridges in the future?”

“The what in the what?”

“You say we’ll cross some bridges when we come to them.”

“Oh, that’s just a way of avoiding something until you have to deal with it.”

“And a bridge helps?”

“No, you want to avoid the bridge, avoid the bridges.  You know, forget it.”

“And when you say rule of thumb—“

“—It just means a commonly accepted way of doing something.”

“But it’s on the thumb?”

“No, uh, have you ever seen Boondock Saints?”

“What’s that?”

“Nevermind  You know, it’s all good.”

Occasionally, we’d go through some flashcards or look at a paper he was writing for class.  One time he asked me to show him how to take history notes—“Don’t bother reading anything in those pastelle-colored boxes,” I told him, “That’s a fool’s game.” 

One time I brought a grammar worksheet that I had hastily printed off of some website.  After reading though it, we didn’t end up using it, but I think he was impressed that I brought it.  At least his mother would be.  I was impressed anyway.  Overall, John seemed content with our sessions and again, I figured he was learning more than he would have without me.

Mary was thirteen and a bit tougher assignment for my extensive college tutoring skills.  Mary didn’t want to talk about Twilight or cool American slang as I thought she might based on my experiences with John.  Mary wanted to go through drafts of school assignments and edit them for grammar. 

“You sure you don’t want to talk about which team you are?  I bet you’re Team Jacob.  You look like a Team Jacob.’

In our early goings, I found the most difficult part was trying to describe how Mary could revise her assignments without having her furiously scribble down an exact copy of my words.  I figured that her teacher might be able to tell the difference between a seventh grade ESL student and an English Masters student, or at least I hoped it.

I tried breaking down sentences.  I tried drawing little pictures to explain what the different parts of speech were.  I got it down to a series of explanations and questions that only partially annoyed Mary.

“So a preposition is a word that connects two nouns together, and like the picture shows, it’s anything that you can do if a boulder is in the middle of the road and you need to get past it.”

I had thought I had remembered seeing this played out on Sesame Street before and getting a kick out of it.  Therefore, I felt a thirteen-year-old should respond similarly.  I didn’t count on the grammar book she cracked open.

What's not to understand? 
“What about often?”

“Well, yeah sure, that’s a preposition too.”

“And until and always?”

“Yeah so prepositions can also do this thing with time, you know, they can show when something happens, I guess.”

“Could you be of the boulder?  Or within?  I don’t think you could.”

“So around, over, through, those are pretty good prepositions!  And I don’t know, maybe if you were like a ghost, you could be within the boulder.  Hey, do you know Shaddow Cat on X-Men?  She could be within the boulder.  Do you know Shaddow Cat?

Blank stare.

“Let’s move on.” 

Usually after each session, the mother would follow me out the door as I left to discuss next week’s session dates.  My assumption was that she felt it was rude to “talk shop” in front of her children, or maybe she just wanted to keep our meetings as surprises to them!  During one of these pow-wow, she explained that John and Mary were going to be particularly busy with extraciricular activities next week, which as I knew of course, looked great on college applications, and would have to take a week off from tutoring.  I said I understood and was somewhat relieved myself as I too was entering a busy stretch in the semester.

It later occurred to me that we never set up dates for when our tutoring would resume so I called her a few days later.  No answer.  I called her the next day and left another message.  About two weeks later I finally got a hold of her.

“So when do you think you’d like to pick up tutoring again?  I don’t want John and Mary to forget too much of what we’ve been working on.” 

Surely, John’s turns of phrase were getting a little rust and Mary might be getting clarity on prepositions from someone else by now.  I didn’t want her learning about these things on the street. 

“Oh, yes, actually we let you know.  Thanks, bye!”

I had gleaned that “actually” was used by the mother to preface a statement that politely opposed the previous statement.


“Would you like to pay me double for all subsequent tutoring sessions?”

“Actually, no.  I would not like to pay you double.”

It’s been over a month since that time and I’m beginning to really wonder just how busy those kids can be.  I mean, I was seriously considering using my graduate degree to become a professional tutor, but now actually, I’m not so sure.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

5 Grad School Observations

You are not in college

You are not an undergraduate anymore.  Undergraduates suck and you do not suck, as much.  If you’re at a state school, undergrads flock by the hundreds, clogging up roads, sidewalks, bars, libraries, and gene pools while never taking their eyes from their phones.  Most of the time, it won't even seem like they have anywhere to go.  Maybe they just walk around for hours in circles, checking their facebook walls.  You will run into some.  It’s not your fault.

It might be wrong to refer to them as a plague, but is it inaccurate?

Free food is better than not free food

This is one truism that remains from college, only amplified.  In college, you had a pre-purchased meal plan paid for by scholarships or loans that you wouldn’t have to worry about until you were out of school.  In grad school it’s just you and the measly stipend they throw at you at the end of every month, if that.  Learn where and when the free food is on campus, or make friends with someone who does.  Also, lose your shame.

Everyone is smarter than you now

Getting into grad school probably made you feel pretty smart.  Attending grad school will make you feel pretty dumb.  You realize that your undergrad professors who made their profession seem so attainable were really just holding back, and they were pretty smart to begin with.  You realize this because many of them have already done everything that you’re now expected to do.  Your classmates will bemoan the same sentiments, but then rattle off the most insightful analysis of bunch of books that you've only vaguely heard of before.  Then they’ll tell you they already have their thesis picked out and are working on it, but really, they're so behind.  You will feel dumb, like really dumb. 

You are not in college: part II

As an undergrad you might have made weekend plans, gone out on certain nights, were involved with other activities, but in grad school you read and then read some more and then write about that.  And then you do it again.  Actually, as a grad school student, you should be doing all of those things too.  Going out to the bar to have a drink with some folks, watching a movie, with people, you know, stuff that reminds you that you're actually still human despite being expected to robotically churn out work at a furious pace.  As long as you can learn to become efficient with your work load (not this guy) then you can be a grad student with some semblance of an actual life.  Otherwise, you'll drive yourself insane.  Don’t drive yourself insane. 

It will all be worth it in the end

But when does it end and where?  And define "worth it". 

In my last post I may have inferred that now in grad school, I should/ would be more diligent in posting.  Mistake. 

The work load is definitely a factor—it’s a big factor—but perhaps more important is the kind of writing that I’m doing in this blog.  It’s lazy, conversational—enjoyable—but sloppy and not the kind of writing that I should be focusing on.  In future posts, whenever those are, I’ll try to step it up.  That’s my promise to you, the reader!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I Wish I Could Go Back to Not College

I’m not unaccustomed to moving—I’ve done Pittsburgh, PA to Greencastle, IN for college, to St. Louis, MO for AmeriCorps where I continued to move around on a regular basis, and now to Columbia, MO for grad school.

Each move has had its challenges, learning how to do laundry in college, figuring out how to do it at a laundromat in the real world, and discovering that there was no laundry in AmeriCorps.  There was only that which was Febreezed and that which could do without.  Easy stuff.  The hard part came with acclimating to the new location, but more than that, accepting and embracing a place until it somehow became home.  It’s the difference between visiting somewhere and living somewhere, between being content and being happy.

It's just like a washer, minus the water!
If the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans” when visiting somewhere, in terms of moving there I’d say, “when in Rome, fucking love being Roman”.  If everyone else is drinking the Kool-Aid, you’re draining the punch bowl.

This past Labor Day weekend I drove back to St. Louis where I seamlessly melted back into my old life.  I stayed at my old house, ate at my old haunts, hung out with my friends; I felt like I had returned home after visiting grad school for a few weeks.  Dangerous stuff.  Mixing up realities is a high price to pay for even a great weekend like this one.  But not everything was exactly the same.

I celebrated a good friend’s birthday out at the bars where I realized that while everyone else was buying drinks, my tuition waiver didn’t even cover rail whiskey.  I helped some friends move into a great new apartment where they will begin their married, career-driven lives together and while people were going out for lunch, I stayed back to read and eat a Hot Pocket—just one, the other one was eaten for dinner.

It’s really an inconvenient time to begin pining for the Real World, because baby, I’m far from it. 

I'm a winner!

I’m back in the bubble-wrapped cocoon of a college town where nothing gets in or out, where I reveled as an undergrad and loved it and never wanted to leave it.  But I did leave it and I’ve since drunk the Real World Kool-Aid and have become addicted to a whole new brand of drug.  Oh, the irony.  Now, I have to find a way to kick it and adopt Columbia and grad school as my new home. 

As the great poet laureate of our generation, Robert Thomas so elegantly mused, “I wish the real world would just keep hassling me.”  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A New Appening

During perhaps the most exciting and most pertinent time of my blog’s existence, where I don’t have to dredge up tangential thoughts and obscure anecdotes, I’ve accomplished exactly what should have been expected, of me, which is nothing.  It’s been a busy two weeks, not that it excuses me.  Actually, it makes it worse.  So here’s quick recap of my life over the past two weeks;

Friday: August 10:

I picked up my new-to-me car from the dealer, 2006 Optima, which I’ve naturally named Optima Prime—not the most original name, but it is the easiest.  Plus, I feel much cooler/ less lamer talking to my car, knowing that you know, he's more than meets the eye.

My car isn't red.  Other than that, this is a dead ringer.

Saturday- Sunday: August 11-12:

In a series of St. Louis-to-Columbia moves ranging in usage of Optima Prime, a 15-person van, and my brother, I moved to my new pad in Columbia—a three person house with less character than John Kerry (notice how I took the high road around Lord Mittington) and an odor of cleaning products masking, well, other smells.  Still, I’m living with a good friend from my AmeriCorps days and that makes all the difference.

Monday: August 13

I began my graduate school orientation where I was congratulated for getting in and then told to prepare to not have a life.  This was orated by a roly-poly character wearing glasses and a bowtie, hence, I can only assume that he holds a complete knowledge of all things colligate.  I then drove back to St. Louis to play my team’s ultimate Frisbee summer league championship game, stayed over night in St. Louis.  We won.  I didn’t get much sleep.

Tuesday: August 14

Drove back to Columbia at 6am to make it to orientation for my writing center assistantship.  During my first year in the program I will be working as a writing tutor in the university’s Student Success Center, where among other more achievable duties, I try to convince freshman not to begin essays with, “From the beginning of history…”

Friday: August 17

Started the weekend of department get-togethers where I learned to introduce myself by new name: “First-year MA in creative non fiction”.  I found lots of free food, which I’m finding as exceedingly important as a grad student, and met lots of people.  Hopefully, I remember most of them and at least three or four of them remember me.

That weekend:

More free food, some unpacking (some), and a lot of quiet, work-conducive time.  I'm guessing I should get used to that.

Monday: August 20

First day of class!  and I’m 27, and it was a night class so I’m not sure if that’s something I should get excited for.  With that in mind I took a picture and sent it to the parents so they could get excited for me. 

Visual approximation.

Wednesday: August 22

After getting all jazzed about my writing workshop on Monday, I had my first lit seminar, which knocked me on my academic ass.  It’s been many a moon since I’ve dwelled in the pages of Dickens and the Victorians, many a moon… The literary component of my MA program is the biggest difference between the “all workshop, all the time” MFA programs that I had applied to and probably my greatest challenge.  I recognized this dynamic before accepting my position, but really?  Really literature?

It’s been a fast two weeks in terms of work—I honesty think I’ve done more work in these few days than I’ve done over the past few months at my old job—and a slow one in terms of building a “normal life”, whatever that means now.

Over the past two years, I've become ingrained in the 9-5 world.  For eight hours a day I was living a pretty“meh” existence, slogging through it just to celebrate those hours I wasn’t there.  The trade off now, of course, is that I work all of the time, but it’s work that I enjoy (supposedly) and won’t suck my soul (theoretically).  I’m really excited to see if it works out!... because it’s too late to get out!

**Another reason/ excuse for my blog hiatus is my new facebook friends from grad school.  I’m just saying, my writing is already measured and weighed in class; I don’t need it judged on the Interwebs too.  Just saying, if you must read it, read it in secret, for my sanity.

More posts to come, perhaps, even in a timely manner!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Baby Can I Drive Your Car?

So as I continue to ignore pretty much everything on my ‘Wet Hot American Summer List of Things to Do before Grad School’ in lue of finding a new car, I have to say something about this whole car-getting process; what the hell is going on here? 

I went into this situation with my skepticism hat firmly in place and my mistrust suspenders strapped on tight.  Every movie, TV show, anecdote that I’ve ever absorbed has led me to believe that car sales people—especially used car sales—are snakes in the grass ready to gobble up your wallet.  Any misstep you make, they’ll see it and pounce.  And above all, they’re ferocious selling machines who would sooner smash their hand with a hammer than see you walk off their lot. 

They’re like that dude during last call at the bar trying to make a deal; “so what do I have to do to get you in this bed tonight?”.  As soon as she walks out the door, she’s lost, it’s the end of the world, and he’ll do what he has to do to prevent that.  That’s the dude I prepared for, but what I got on my first time out was the strong, independent woman more interested in the relationship than closing the deal. 

Actually, the sales person was a little blonde girl, probably younger than me, with hot pink nail polish and lip gloss.  I could easily imagine her watching a Twilight marathon with my little sister and talking about how Zach Effron has gotten just so totally gross now, ew.  But here she was at the dealership, my epic foe in my quest to buy a car, but not the foe I was expecting.

During the test drive she was more interested in learning about me and relating it to her own experiences—“Oh, I loved going to summer camp too!—than listing the car’s features in what my mistrust suspenders told me was an attempt to gain my sympathies and lower my guard.  Yeah, nice try, Bella. 
JD says to never be the first person to speak in a negotiation, ever. 

She never put out any prices.  In fact it almost seemed like she was actively trying to avoid doing so.  Instead of the guy at last call who puts everything on the table to close the deal, Bella was the coy, guarded girl who refuses to admit that she likes you for fear of looking desperate.   It’s the notion of he/ she who speaks first is the weaker.  I believe Jack Donaghy has some business models suggesting the same.  

So we’re now we’re playing the car equivalent of “Well, do you like me?  Because maybe if you like me I like you, but you have to say it first”.  It’s a game of price chicken where the person who cracks first loses the upper hand, I think.  I’m not sure.  I’ve never fully understood the game in relationships and adding cars into the calculation doesn’t help.
Why can’t I just find a dude who tells me how totes ripped he is, how lucky I’d be to sleep with him, and then cuts like $1500 off the sales price before taking me back to his garage apartment under his parents’ house?  Sheesh!  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Breaking News and Breaking Cars

When telling people that I’m going to grad school, I’ve found that there are different ways to tell different people.  When informing friends and piers, for example, great gusto and exuberance are used to convey joy and “see, I’m not such a fuck-up after all!” sentiment.   It’s roughly the same message to my family, except with my parents it is accompanied with underscores of, “and no, I’m not asking you for money and yes, I do have a game plan for afterwards, kind of, sort of, I love you”.

For the most part the idea of my full-time return to academia—even at 27-yrs-old and even in creative writing—is met with affirmation and congratulations.  Everyone recognizes the dreamy Hail Mary nature of my scarcely charted course, but have the good graces not to mention it.  Hey, if I do become a famous writer, do you really want to be the one to jeopardize his chances of a dedication on the first page? 

But then some people don’t care about dedications.

For the past two years I’ve lived next-door to my neighbor Ray, his wife Charlotte, his kids, grandkids, and whoever else is hanging out on their front porch.  They’re the only house on the block that isn’t confused or irritated by our house of six twenty-somethings living together.  We have a mutual understanding that money doesn’t grow on trees.

More or less, Ray.
Ray’s in his fifties, a retired auto mechanic who still works on cars for extra cash on the side.  Hard, terse, and forever splotched in motor oil, Ray’s bent legs underneath a car are a permanent fixture of the street.  We’re friendly, but I can’t say we’ve ever had a conversation that has ranged outside of cars, lawn care, or how Charlotte’s damn dog never shuts the fuck up—his words, not mine. 

Somehow, inexplicably, I’ve managed to convince Ray that I know something about cars.  Not a lot, but something more than the four and a half things that I actually do know about cars.  #1 Cars need gas

He’ll see me and call me over to take a look at something, a smile on his face, and I’ll stand there with an even bigger smile on my face trying to cover up the glaringly obvious fact that I don’t know jack.  It’d probably be easier, wiser, to fess up and tell Ray the truth, but I won’t do that.  Ray’s the kind of guy whose respect means something.  You figure, if you can just earn this guy’s approval then you're doing something right, and if not, you're clearly doing something wrong.

When my crappy ’97 Ford Countour broke down for the second time in four months last weekend, thus abdicating its usual spot on the street, I knew Ray knew.  The look of disapproval and disappointment on his tired face when I told him how much I had paid to patch up my car the first time was not something I could stomach again.  He had told me to junk it, but I just couldn’t give up on it.  As long as it had a chance, the option wouldn’t even register with me.  #1.5 New and/ or used cars are frick’n expensive.  So this week I starting hopping the back fence on the way to work to avoid the shaming stare I knew was waiting for me on the street.  Ah, good old avoidance. 

#2.5 Put the hood up and look at stuff when you want to pretend like you know what's going on, but  really you have no idea what's going on. 

Last weekend had been a rough weekend for me, the kind that inspires bad romantic comedies or good country music, and it had been topped off by my car breaking down way outside of St. Louis because of the same reasons it had broken down in March.  #3.5 My car has four cylinders and three of them are bad.  Cars don’t like that.  It had been a foolish idea to put money into it then and it would be straight stupid to do so now.

Ray told me the same thing with one look when he caught me checking the mail and I fessed up.  It felt like a 9-yr-old, finally forced to admit that I broken my glasses doing something that I wasn’t supposed to do, but not to worry because I didn’t even need glasses.  But I definitely need a car so I can slap finding a new one on my “To Do Before Grad School” List.

I haven’t told Ray that I’m moving yet—yea avoidance!—or that I’m doing so to study creative writing, but I'm guessing his reaction would be similar to his to my car.  This is not a practical decision, it’s barely even sane.  This choice will not put food on your table or buy you a new car.  You'll probably end up in the same situation two years later only two years older and poorer.  This choice is a luxury choice that doesn’t guarantee luxury.  It’s not smart.  So how do I explain that this decision has nothing to do with smarts?  How do I convey that I'm hoping for something more than what I have now and the risks are worth it if only to find out if it does work?  I don't think Ray would accept hopeful curiosity as a reason.  #4.5 Cars can go far.  

Jew Hulk say, "If you were doctor, you could afford nice, new car.  And you no call Jew Hulk?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

And Now for Something Different...

In lue of the teary pillow stain that I left last week—they’re like vegetables; every once in while you just have to cram some down your gullet—this week I offer something a little different, and hopefully a little entertaining.  I'm not saying it's not out there, but just go with it and enjoy?

The greying February sky pierced through the kitchen window as Sol Greenberg trudged in from another night’s sleep.  It was 6:30 AM on a Tuesday morning and it was time to start again. 

Sol carefully removed the bag of Folger’s Premium Roast from its Ziplocked compartment and scooped out two calculated spoonfuls of the mix, emptying it into the decrepit coffee maker.  The coffee maker shook and buzzed as it always did when Sol flipped it on, but he didn’t mind it.  In fact he was comforted by it.  The Farberware from Sears had sat on Sol’s counter for the last thirty-four years and Sol had always been a man who found relief in continuity.  Besides, it made coffee, he understood its quirks; why should he pay another $37.83 when this one was working just fine?  Sol had never understood the frivolity of today’s youth.  

He glanced over to the desk in the corner of the kitchen where we wrote letters and paid the bills.  That ugly machine was there somewhere, under his books and the pile of photographs that he had managed to get his son to mail him.

“Dad, I can send you pictures so much easier through e-mail if you’d just let me set it up for you,” Sol’s son had told him.

“What?  I should need to spend half the day on this television-typewriter set just for to see pictures of my grandchildren?” Sol had responded, “Make an old man happy and mail them to him.”

His son had persisted and stubbornly bought Sol this laptop machine, promising to help me with the e-mail, but he never came over.  He never came over for anything.  And what, now the vakacta thing just sits in on the desk gathering dust and Sol has to beg his own son—his own flesh and blood—just walk his two strong legs all the way over to the mail box to send him his photos.  How horrible Sol was to ask this of his son.  Oi vey.

Sol was just about to turn on the radio when he was violently flung into the kitchen table by the sheer force of a mammoth crash outside.  If not for the table Sol would have fallen to the floor and who knows how long he would have been down there?  It wasn’t as though visitors were just pouring through the door to see Sol every day.  A week later maybe Sol's son calls him and Sol would get to hear his son's message about how the family was doing fine and maybe they’d get a chance to drive up and see him at Passover and then they could find Sol on the kitchen floor with the rats gnawing on him!

But fortunately, the table had caught Sol and he was fine.  But what about this crash outside?  Probably those neighbor boys with their fireworks again.

“If there’s another dead cat on my lawn,” thought Sol, “if its insides are exploded all across my stoop again, I’m going to march right up to those parents and tell them how to discipline those children.  I will do this.”

Sol opened the kitchen door and stepped outside, prepared to avoid the cat insides, but was confused to find no cat guts on his stoop.  It made him even sourer to be proven wrong.  Clearly, this was some prank pulled by those neighbor boys. 

Sol suddenly noticed smoke billowing from the corner of his fence.  Aha!  Those little schmucks had set Sol’s fence on fire!  Those good-for-nothing parents would replace every board that their good-for-nothing boys had damaged! 

Sol quickly ambled over to the fence and was surprised again to find that he was wrong, and again, Sol found himself grumpier because of it.  The smoke was not from a burning fence post, but rather from a little green rock that was somehow buried deep against his fence.  The rock was actually illuminated, emitting a low green halo around it.

“What, this?  This rock is what has pushed me over and is making all this fuss now?” thought Sol, “And why should those boys dig such a hole for this and not even want to fill it in?”

These questions plagued Sol and to investigate further he gingerly knelt down to inspect the green rock.  Oi his back!  His good knee flush to the lawn, Sol plunged his hand into the hole and grasped the stone.

Instantly, upon first touch of the rock, Sol felt a pain shoot through his entire body.  But it was more than just pain.  It was also energy.  Energy as Sol had never felt before, not even as a young man.  Sol could feel it expanding through him; the more it hurt, the more power he felt.  It was incredible.

A dizziness overtook Sol and he suddenly felt as though he was watching himself from outside of his body.  His brittle, hunched frame was morphing into a muscle-bound Adonis.  And what more, he was green.  Green as that first car he had bought from Harold Murray over on 42nd Street, you know the one.

His shirt torn asunder and his glasses flung out into the yard, Sol found himself standing ten feet high, dripping with muscles, and unable to put two thoughts together.  The immense weight of this power was crushing Sol’s brain.  Sol was not himself.  He was something else, something more. 

Yes, this much was clear to Sol, for whatever reasons, in whatever ways, Sol had become… Jew Hulk!

Jew Hulk say, "Why you no doctor yet?"

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tommy Wolfe, Meet Henry Potter

Two weekends ago I went to two of my best friends’ wedding in Ohio and then continued on to Pittsburgh to spend a few vacation days with my family and friends there.  Two weeks ago, I looked forward to this as a pleasant drive down Memory Lane, whimsically turning at Nostalgia Street, and making a gentle left onto Everything’s the same as it ever was when you left home—it’s a frick’n anchor back here—and everything you’re doing right now is fine Road.  So maybe I missed a turn?

Eight years ago at the wedding of one of my closest friends—for those keeping score, I was 19-yrs-old as was he—I recall taking him to Chuck E. Cheese’s for his bachelor party—again, we were 19, it’s all we could think of, and it was awesome—and then drinking to the point of puking at the wedding reception, but not before prank calling he and his wife in his hotel room all night long.   Classic.
"Who ordered the Chuck E. Lap Dance?"

Fast forward to 2012; No Chuck E. Cheese’s, unfortunately, and no prank call, but I did get drunk and puked at the wedding reception.  A lot.  Now granted, that wasn’t my plan and I awoke with the appropriate dosage of shame for doing so, still I couldn't help to notice that it wasn’t quite as cute or accepted as it had been eight years ago, or even five years ago, or even one year ago.  I was older and expected to act with more decorum—or at least some self-control--and others were older too and didn’t really feel like sitting next to the dude head-deep in the trashcan all night, though to their credit, they did.  Things were, older.  Things are different.

“My childhood home in Pittsburgh, now this is surely a bastion of consistency”, I had thought to myself upon my return.  Every time I come home I end up reverting to a 17-yr-old version of myself, but in an almost Harry Potter-like imperative, I’m compelled to return there every six months so I can continue on with my life outside of it.  But even my proverbial room under the steps had changed.  My parents as recent empty-nesters had continued to re-do everything.  From the kitchen to the den to even the cat—she’s a lasagna-stuffed chunkzilla now—the house had changed.

What happened to my once sweet pad?
Most of my school yard chums have since moved from Pittsburgh—it’s funny how a dying economy will do that—but even the ones who live “in town” actually live far outside of it now.  They live in nice suburbs, in houses, by themselves, or with husbands, wives, and not five other roommates.  Who said that was okay for them to do?

Sometimes I feel like the worst part is talking to them, not that I don’t enjoy talking to them.  **Disclaimer; No one take this the wrong way**  my friends talk about new marriages, evolving careers, mortgages, pre-schools while I’m talking about the same things I was talking about eight years ago.  It’s not engaging or interesting anymore to talk about the girl I kind of like, or going back to school, or what I’d like to be when I grow up.  Apparently, these are all things that I should have figured out by now.

Now, none of these are exactly new revelations to me.  I’ve been long aware of these things and have probably dedicated more than a few blog posts to them.  These are more growing revelations that evolve and splinter a little more every time I look at them.

It’s hard to say whether this homeland morphing spurs me on in my pursuits as in some bent game of catch-up, or whether it reveals how just divergent my goals have become.  Maybe both.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wet Hot American Summer List of Things To Do: Updated

Tell boss I’m quitting—check.  Now to those other 27 things on my to-do list for starting grad school in the fall.  Groansville.  It feels like a lazy summer, it feels like it ought to be a lazy summer.  I just put in my two months notice at a job that’s essentially void of responsibility over my remaining weeks and now I should have weeks of nothing but hijinks and tom-foolery to tackle.  I certainly don’t feel like doing anything else.  But unfortunately, there’s real crap to be done--for grad school anyway--and so much of it.  So in no particular order, here’s the most recent updated version of my “Big List O’ Crap To Do”, in no particular order;

  •  Find a job—still working on that one, but I've been talking to some people who know a lot of people, who know even more people in Columbia, so really, it’s just a matter of time before it all pans out.  I’m assuming that I'll take a job as a super suave and sexy bartender who solves mysteries on the side.  No sweat.
Artist's rendering

  • Register and pick classes—Checkers.  This part involved a lot of phone calls to set up my student account, to set up my e-mail, to set up my graduate account so I could sign up for classes, so easy-peasy stuff.  But I got it now, I think.
  • Getting my moneys—the saga continues.  I know I’m getting a full ride, but it seems like there should be papers to sign, I’s to dot, some weasel waiting to pop out of an innocent-looking box.  I even have my AmeriCorps education award waiting to clean up whatever hidden fees might/ definitely are lurking for me, but ultimately, this seems like something I'm only going to be able to address after receiving a bill.
  • Finding awesome new sunglasses to instantaneously become recognized as the cool kid on campus—Check, double check, discount double check.
  • Buy books for class—kind of check.  I have books for one class so far so I’m stacking that up as a full check.
  • Moving—working on it.  My friend who’s also moving out that-a-ways and I have talked about U-Hauls and stuff… and yes, we've talks about renting a U-Haul.
  • Putting loans in forbearance—to do this, I’ll have to actually talk to Sallie Mae, which might be the most putrid and entirely horrible endeavor that one can ever be subjected to in the world, ever.  I hate even having to look at my loans, let alone paying them or speaking to the loany-type people.  I’d prefer to believe that my loans just don’t exist, so acknowledge them by talking about them—it’s unpleasant.   
Stop taking all my money all the time!

  • Buy a bunch of three-ring notebooks, pencils, and new school clothes--uh, my mom usually does that, so just like when we go out for lunch, I'm just going to leave that check to her.  I think it's a pretty safe assumption.  
  • Enrolling in my new health insurance—working on it; because I have a pre-existing condition I need to make sure my health insurance is continuous so that means getting a letter of continuous coverage, submitting it, getting medical records transferred over, it’s a whole thing, but not as bad as talking to She Who Must Not be Named (Allie-sa, Ae-ma). 
  • Getting good at reading an' writing agains--... working on it. 

The other 17-some things, I'm going to chalk those up as tasks for Future-Me, possibly July-August Future-Me, possibly.  Until then I guess it's on onward trudge to summon the will to actually accomplish something this summer--ah, it's good to have First World problems, yes, yes. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

By the way... I'm quitting

Last Friday after engaging my boss in some jonty back-and-forth about how he might escape his impending jury duty—I suggested body paint—I asked if he had another minute and closed his office door behind me.  He was instantly apprehensive, I suspect fearing that I might be revealing some kind of tawdry office scandal--if only--but I assured him that it wasn't anything bad—for me at least.

Now there's a lady who knows how to do it. 

I told him straight out that I was leaving for grad school and he immediately congratulated me for escaping from the department.  Yay and yikes? 

As it turns out, as irritating-to-wacky that I thought the faculty were based on my limited collegiate experience, my seasoned chair informed me that the department was more along the infuriating-to-psychotic lines.  He was incredibly understanding and empathetic to my plan to further my education and, you know, make something of myself and junk.  He definitely asserted a “you have to do what’s best for you” mentality underscored by a “I knew this was only a steppingstone for you” understanding, and touched off with a “you beat me to the door” aside, quickly followed up by a, “but seriously, you did”

He has allowed me to set my end date and has even agreed to keep it under the radar from our nosy-neighbor faculty until later.  Really good stuff.  So why has it been over a week since I’ve posted this news?  Well funny thing about telling your boss that you’re planning to quit; he expects you do crap before you leave.  Tying up loose ends that I've been content to let dangle, writing-up tutorials for my replacement, he pretty much wants to squeeze the last remaining ounces of productivity from me.  I completely understand it  and am compliant with it, but the truth is that well’s been dry for a while now.

So now I’m trying to eek out the will to complete this employment bucket list, doing my best to fight the urge to throw it all together the day before I leave.  I still have two months—pfff!  What’s the rush.  Yeah…

But on the lighter side of the toast, it feels really good to let him know and have it all out in the open—excluding open to the faculty, student workers, or anyone else at work, of course.  Ah, sweet serenity... 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Locked and Loaded

I am beginning to feel pretty shady.  Yes, as I sit at work typing on my office computer still without having told anyone (who I need to) about my impending August departure, the shadiness is strong with me.

Summer at a university is, for the most part, head-hammeringly slow.  There are a few projects to work on—one of those for me being organizing my files and crap to hand off in my transition—but for the most part it’s me, our administrative assistant, and the department chair twiddling our thumbs.  And every time the fall semester comes up and I preface my response with “my position should be responsible for this”, or “this position can definitely do that”, I feel disgenuous.  I feel pretty shady.

I need to drop the grad school bomb.

But I’ve never quit a job before—not one that I didn't have to leave because I was going home for the summer or to school in the fall anyway—and I’m not sure how to do it or how it might go.  Here are a few hypothetical possibilities;

Scenario A:

Me:  Hey, boss.

Boss:  Hey, employee.

(I gently close the door behind me)

Me: Can we talk?

Boss:  Sure, my door is always open, except for now since you just closed it.

(We share a laugh)

Me:  Great, great.  Well, I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while now and wasn’t sure when might be the best time—

Boss:  --Go ahead, employee.

Me: Okay, well boss, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been accepted into grad school and I’m leaving in August.  It’s nothing against you or the department, it’s just an amazing opportunity that I’ve been working toward for a long time.  I’ve been organizing my files and duties so they can be easily transitioned on to my replacement.  I’ll be here ready to do whatever needs to be done until August.  Most importantly, I want to make sure that I didn’t leave you and the department in the lurch.  I hope you can understand.

(Boss calmly stands up and throws his chair though my face.)

You should see what he does when I miss a lay-up

Scenario B:

Me:  Boss, I got something I need to tell you!

Boss:  Whoa employee, what’s going on?  This isn’t like you!

Me:  Cram it Dr. Who Gives a Crap!  I’m talking now!

(Boss, a.k.a. Dr. Who Gives a Crap, cowers behind his fine oak desk)

Me:  Yeah, I’m talking now.  Listen, I’m out of this trash can!  You’re all like Losertown and I’m all Scramsville, baby! 

Boss:  Oh my stars!

Me:  that’s right, I’m tired of taking this crap, and even if I wasn’t going to grad school, which I am ‘cause I’m smart—surprised much?—I’d still be getting the hell out of here!  Peace out Girl Scout!

(Boss calmly stands up and throws a chair through my face)

The other scenarios are really just alterations of these first two with different things being thrown through my face—a stapler, an autographed textbook, a harpoon, etc.  I guess in reality, my approach should be akin to Scenario A and my boss’ response will probably be more reasonable than throwing a harpoon through my face.

Scenario G

Where as my original fear was being terminated prematurely, I’m now confident that won’t happen.  I’m more concerned with the added pressure of getting things in order to transition out of my position, thus, destroying my Summer of Slothfulness—wow, I guess it’s me who’s all like Loserville right now.

In any event, the bomb drops Monday, so says Scramsville.