Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Old, Not Wise, Just Worried

I’ve never liked taking naps.  Not even when I was little.  Mostly all they do is disorient me, and I get enough of that feeling in my everyday life.

But sometimes you have no choice.

Yesterday I reduced my quotient of wisdom by the sum of one tooth.  This meant heading over to the oral surgeon’s office where I sat in the waiting room with Kim for a good half an hour before being taken to the back room.  They like to make you think about it, apparently.  Maybe the pain isn’t that bad?  You can just go home, buy ibuprofen by the case, live on soft foods – it won’t be that bad, will it?

Yes, you decide, it probably will.  So there you sit.  Waiting.

Eventually they called me back and – as agreed – gave me enough medical care that I have no memory of the following hour or so.  I remember asking the tech if she was going to start pumping the meds in through the IV she’d inserted (my second IV ever – I’m getting to be a pro at these things) and her saying that yes, she was, and then I was in a different chair listening to Kim and another tech discussing all of the things I could not be allowed to do for the rest of the day.

It was a long list, none of which made any impression on me at the time.

I made it to the car, and then made it upstairs to my bed when we got home, and there I stayed for the next two hours.  Eventually I woke up, but I was not really supposed to do anything.  So I found an EPL match being broadcast on one of the channels way up in the stratospheric numbers and watched the entire game.  I think the red team won.

I was supposed to stay in bed all day and not do anything active, but I figured sitting in bed watching TV wasn’t much different from sitting in my chair plinking around on the computer, so I did that for a while too. I even got some work done on my US2 class, moving forward into the 1970s.  It’s strange to get to the stuff I remember personally.  It’s even stranger to get to that stuff when you’re still not entirely sure whether those are real memories or just anesthesia-induced hallucinations.  I’m hoping they were real memories. It would be a shame if so many of my hallucinations were centered around Richard Nixon when there are so many other public figures who would be much more entertaining that way.

Naturally, getting to sleep last night was a chore.  Two hour naps will do that.  Oh well.

So I’m eating soft foods, not driving until this afternoon, and generally consuming more pills than I would have dreamed possible only a semester ago.  This is my life these days.

The title of this comes from an old song by The Trash-Can Sinatras.  I don’t honestly know if I’ve ever heard the song or not, but it was a much beloved tag line of a friend I had when I lived in Pittsburgh, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

It seemed appropriate here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Doing the Chicken Dance

There are seven chickens in my living room, much to the consternation of the cats.

They are little chickens, small enough to skirt the chicken ban put in place by the Powers That Be here in Our Little Town.  When they get big enough we will take them out to our friend’s farm and they can grow up to be, well, bigger chickens.

That’s pretty much it for chickens, really.

It’s not like they will produce art or literature.  They will build no lasting monuments.  They will leave few traces.

Except possibly ribbons.

Because these are 4H chickens, destined for the County Fair, where ribbons are awarded in abundance.  Lauren has been waiting for this day for months – the day her chickens come home to roost.  Some day we will explain this metaphor in full, but today is not that day.

I spent this morning proctoring ACT exams, a festive occasion of stressed out teenagers and ritualistic readings from the Book of Rules (“Did anyone miss that third time I told you to turn off your cell phones?  Good!  Thus we proceed to the fourth!”).  While I was there, Kim and Lauren ventured forth to the Great Small Animal Flea Market, held annually not too far from here.  It opens at 7am and we were told that if they got there much later than 7:05 it would be sold out – farmers and 4Hers being rather like garage sale cruisers that way – so they left the house even earlier than I did.

Tabitha enjoyed sleeping in and having the house for herself for a while, as teenagers will.

And when I got home: Chickens!  In my house!



They’re set up in the travel cages that the rabbits usually use to get to the Fair, which are small enough to provide some comfort, large enough to give them space, and sturdy enough to keep the cats from snacking, we hope.

It will be interesting.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

News and Updates

1. Lauren has written what she regards as the perfect country song.  It mentions pickup trucks, dogs, jail, red Solo cups, and momma, and she sings it in a drawl designed to showcase her generally low opinion of the intelligence of those who produce and consume country music.  I’m not sure where she comes by this opinion, really, as I find most country music to be unobjectionable most of the time and Kim actually likes it.  But there you have it.  Ask her, and she will sing it for you.

2. It has been quite the week here in Our Little Town.  Kim spent Thursday through Saturday up in northern Wisconsin at her department meeting, which left me here to mind the fort.  Naturally, it was an Event-filled three days, because we don’t have quiet days anymore.  I am continually amazed at the fortitude of single parents, who do this sort of thing on a continuing basis.  It’s hard enough with two parents sharing the load.  Getting everything two kids need to happen done while simultaneously getting your own work done, getting meals prepared, getting any sleep whatsoever, and not going completely bug-eyed insane is a whole other project entirely.

3. Thursday night was the Big String Thing here in Our Little Town.  Every year they gather up the string sections of the various school orchestras, clump them together by grade, and have them put on a concert for their parents, friends, and assorted hangers-on.  They used to do this at one of the high school auditoriums, which was a logistical nightmare with all the various orchestras trooping on and off the stage every couple of songs.  But last year some brilliant person got the idea of moving it to the other high school’s basketball court so all of the orchestras could just set up at once and play their bits sequentially.  Genius!  We sat up in the bleachers and enjoyed the show thoroughly.  Tabitha’s 8th-grade orchestra did a very nice job, and she was justifiably pleased with herself and her classmates.


4. The one thing that they do need to resolve with the new Big String Thing format is getting the various orchestra leaders some sound equipment.  Each orchestra – 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, and high schoolers – has its own conductor, and for some reason each of them felt obligated to give a short introduction before their pieces.  From my perspective up in the nosebleed seats of a high school gymnasium filled with about 500 people all told, what I saw was a distant figure step forward, begin waving their arms in our general direction, open their mouth and say, “                   “.   This was, it must be admitted, not very useful. 

5. Saturday was the Pre-Fair Cat Show, the 4H’s annual rediscovery of just what it is like to stuff 45 unhappy cats into a steel-and-concrete quonset hut of a building with about that many children and no sound-dampening qualities whatsoever.  Hint: it’s loud.  But Midgie did not freak completely, and for placing in the top twenty cats she earned Tabitha a copper medal the size of a baseball, strung on a traffic-cone-orange ribbon.  Tabitha also got a ribbon for cage decoration, which is pretty impressive considering that she had not actually signed up for that contest.


6. I spent the show manning the food booth.  Three of us usually do most of the actual show-day stuff, but this year we discovered – on Wednesday – that we were in fact in charge of the whole thing.  So I spent a frantic Friday raiding the local MegaMart for supplies.  Surprisingly, there were still things left for me after my colleagues had completed similar missions.  But it all went well.  We served all sorts of moderately lethal food, made a pile of money for the 4H, and perhaps next year we will figure out how to price things accurately.

7.  You would be surprised at how quickly simple food-related questions devolve into philosophical discussions.  We ran the food booth pretty much the way Taco Bell runs, with a small set of ingredients that we could recombine into an impressive array of meals (one of my favorite Onion headlines ever: “Taco Bell Figures Out New Way to Arrange Same Seven Ingredients”).  We had hot dogs.  We had chili.  We had nachos.  We had chili dogs.  We had chili cheese dogs.  And we had either chili nachos or chili cheese nachos.  But “chili cheese nachos” is redundant, isn’t it?  Don’t nachos, by definition, have cheese?  Can you even call them nachos if they don’t have cheese?  What is the quintessence of “nachos”?  Surely there is a cheese element there.  It can get pretty existential, back there in the food booth.

8. I felt much better before I was given medical care.  I am debating whether I should speak to my doctor about this, in the hopes that he will relent and stop treating me, or whether I should just keep quiet on the theory that doing so would just result in more medical care.

9. I thought I would take this moment to type out the phrase, “Governor Teabagger (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries),” just to give the fine folks at the social media tracking site moreover.com something to do tomorrow.  Hi guys!

10. Whoever approved the design of South Dakota’s entry into the recent “tourist attraction” series of quarters is an idiot.  Oh, I can see what they were aiming for – a nicely artistic angle to give a new look to Mount Rushmore.  The monument has been done so many times, after all.  A new angle would be good.  But this?  Seriously?  It’s just a love song to Jefferson’s nose.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Van Pelt College House, 1986

The lobby was the social hub of my old dorm.

Van Pelt College House managed to be both cosmopolitan and insular at the same time.  On the worldly side, we had more of a cross section of humanity under one roof than just about any other place I have been.  There were international students – 27 different countries among the 170 of us, at one year’s count – and students from all over the US.  There were students from a wide variety of races, sexual orientations, and athletic loyalties.  There were liberal arts students, engineers, scientists, and people who never did figure out why they were in college.  It was an eye-opening experience for someone who had been born, quite literally, half a mile to the east.

On the other side, we were way off on the corner of campus.  Nobody wandered through there by accident, the way they did in the Quad – if you were there it was because you had set out to be there.  And not many people did.

So we got to know each other quite well.

There was a lounge on the third floor that was mostly a quiet space, as I recall, though it got used for more than a few parties while I was there.  There was another lounge on the ground floor – a big long room that held our mailboxes and a piano, and that got a lot of foot traffic if for no other reason than you had to go through it to get to a lot of the rooms.  We’d have events there, such as the periodic talent shows or movie screenings that people scraped together. 

But the lobby was where the action was.

There was a door facing Spruce Street and another opposite, facing the dorm across the way, and both led to the same lobby – a squarish room with a large L-shaped desk dominating the southwest corner and sofas strewn through the remainder of the space.  That was our only portal to the world, so everyone went through it a couple of times a day.

Working the desk was a lot of fun.  It was one of the work-study jobs I had while I was a student there.  Theoretically you had to check everyone’s ID when they came through, but since it was only us we never really bothered.  We knew each other.  And to be honest people got upset if you asked to see their ID after the first month or so.  Don’t you know me by now?

You were supposed to keep a log when you worked at the desk.  The housing office decreed that you were to record any packages received, any unusual events (there was a document that tried to define that, vague as it was), and so on.  There was a list.  They never did tell us how, precisely, to record all these things and we took that as something of a license to be creative.  At one point there were three separate running novels being written in the log, each one weaving in the required reports with a greater or lesser degree of grace and accuracy, until the housing folks got mad and took the log book away.  We missed it.  We used to gather around and read it for the pure entertainment of it.

We did a lot of things in that lobby for entertainment.

There were impromptu concerts on many nights, often with my roommate Jack on guitar and me on vocals, but at other times with others doing their thing.

There was hanging out, conversation, and general silliness, especially after about 2am, when the bars closed.  One night James, a fairly large guy who lived in the dorm and was known for being both overly generous with his cologne and generally on the conservative side, came rolling in after a hard night’s drinking only to find me and Jack, stone cold sober and with nothing better to do.  The long and the short of it was that we sent him to bed convinced that a) there was a talent show in the piano lounge at 9am the next morning, and b) he was in it, having volunteered to dance ballet in a tutu.  I don’t remember if he figured it out before or after waking up the next morning, as for sure as all neither Jack nor I were around at 9am the next morning to check.

Everything happened after dark in the lobby, really.  The night shift was the time to be down there – during the day it was just another lobby.  But after about 10pm or so, it was our world.  People would drift in, and by midnight or so it was hopping.  By 3 or 4am it began winding down, and by the time the sun came up it was back to being just another lobby.

If you came by after midnight, your odds of finding at least three of the people in this photo were pretty good.  There were a few others of the Late Night Lobby Club missing from this photo (somebody had to take it, after all), but this is a pretty good sample.


That’s me on the far left.

Above me is Terence, and the guy in the white shirt is Scott.  Scott once became completely nocturnal for an entire semester, though the expedient of waking up in time to take his night classes and then hanging out in the lobby until the sun rose.  Billy-Bob’s, the greasy-spoon restaurant kitty-corner across the street, and Allegro's, the pizza place directly across, were open all night and you can do that when you’re 20.  That’s Tiz in the plaid shirt and Andy in the black one, and seated at the desk is Karen, one of the few genuinely larger-than-life people I’ve had the pleasure to know.

It’s probably about 3am in this picture.  The evening’s festivities are starting to ebb, though there will still be folks around for a couple of hours yet.  We’re not thinking about the morning to come, when classes will start up again and reality will once again rule.  The night is still rolling on.  There are still people about, stories to tell, stories to create.

And the next night, we’ll do it again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fool's Paradise

I hate April Fool’s Day.

Oh, it’s a charming little story, how it came to be.  How the old New Year’s Day was actually in late March for the longest time, and how those who refused to celebrate the newly declared January 1 new year date and held to the traditional date – now moved back a bit to April thanks to the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar – were labeled April Fools.  Hey – I’ve never fully come to grips with the whole “new year starts in January” thing either.  I’m an academic.  As far as I am concerned, the new year starts in September.

Unless that whole story is just another April Fool’s joke.  Wouldn’t surprise me if it were.

I’m not entirely sure how you get from a quiet little story about people refusing to move a holiday – the sort of conversations that happen every year in this country whenever the subject of President’s Day versus Washington’s Birthday staggers out of its swamp to consume the brains of the living – to the current state of the day, wherein one is supposed to celebrate the kinds of mean-spirited pranks that on any other day of the year would earn the perpetrator a well-deserved punch in the nose.  I’m sure it made sense to someone at the time.

Maybe the day holds no appeal to me because I never saw much point in those kinds of pranks to begin with.  They just seem like ways to inflict pain on others while demanding that the victims find it funny to be placed in that situation.  It's Theatre of Cruelty for the unambitious.  I’d like to think this is something people would outgrow by the time they learned how to tie their own shoes, but then I’d be wrong.

Oh, sure.  Most of it is harmless.  Some of it might actually be amusing when seen from the right angle.  A lot can be funny if it happens to someone else, after all.

And maybe I’m just a big old grouch who should be left alone to stew on the sad state of the world these days and why won’t these dratted kids get off my lawn anyway.

But I’ll be glad to see tomorrow.

Monday, March 31, 2014

No Hens For You!

There should have been chickens.

Today was the day when Lauren’s shipment of chicks was supposed to arrive for her 4H Poultry project.  She’s been looking forward to this for weeks, counting down the days until we could have several dozen cat snacks in the basement for as long as it took the survivors to get big enough to take out to our friend Lois’ farm.  It’s even marked in bright colorful letters on the calendar: “Chicken Day!”

Alas, no.

The hard winter we’ve had this year has wreaked havoc upon all sorts of things, ranging from heating budgets to the general ability of climate change deniers to come to grips with the concept of an average.  Add chickens to that list.  Apparently when the weather gets that cold there are a few things that chickens prefer not to do, which is strange since you would think that this one in particular would be a good way to keep warm.  Maybe chickens don’t work that way.  I don’t know.  There are certain things I prefer not to think about any further in my life, and that's one of them.  But in any event, the net result for eagerly anticipating 4Hers is a chicken shortage.

We seem to have weather problems with prospective 4H animals a lot here.  It took us a while to get Lauren’s new rabbit because the severe heat a couple of summers ago led to a similar shortage of rabbits.  I understand that a bit better.  When it’s 108F outside, being anywhere close enough to correct that sort of problem in the long run is just sticky and uncomfortable.

Maybe the chickens just can’t sit still long enough to hatch an egg when it gets as cold as it did this winter.  Who knows?

All we know is that there are no chickens today.

There is a swap meet for chicken folks coming up in a few weeks, though, and perhaps there will be chickens enough there to go around.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

News and Updates

1. People who write crossword puzzles should not be allowed to have null pairs of clues.  “12-down: Variant of 35-across” and “35-across: See 12-down” conveys no useful information.

2. Best comment I saw regarding the recent unlamented passing of one of the premier nuisances of our era: “Now that Fred Phelps is dead, how many horcruxes does Ann Coulter have left?”  File that under things I wish I’d thought of first.

3. It may or may not be spring here in Our Little Town.  When the rabbits can go outside and stay outside, it will be official.

4. Having an infected tooth and a rattling cough at the same time is just a recipe for not sleeping.  At least the infection seems to be going away, thanks to the meds.  We’ll see about the cough.

5. Apparently Wisconsin having the second-highest voting rate in the US was simply too much of a burden for Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) to bear.  Fortunately, he corrected that last week by slashing the hours available for early voting.  That’ll teach those pesky citizens!  And – in a sure sign that satire is wasted on his ilk – on that very same day he also extended deadlines for lobbyists to make their bribes contributions.  Murca!

6. All of the things that I thought I’d have plenty of time to prepare in the beginning of the semester seem to be coming due and have not actually been prepared.  April may well be a very long month.  Fortunately, I have plenty of time available that I am not using for sleeping (vide supra).

7. It didn’t take long for our brackets to go down in flames.  Kim and I were both essentially reduced to one surviving team as of Friday.  This means I will probably win this year’s contest and gather in all the valuable prizes once we determine what, if any, those are.

8. Am I the only person in America who actually kind of likes the recent redesign of Facebook’s wall?  It’s not all that much different, and what is different seems cleaner than the old one.  Now if only I had more interesting things to say there.

9. Already our summer looks fully booked, and we’ve only managed to plan for half the things we want to do.  We will thus proceed to the over-booking stage of the summer.