Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ten Days in May

Looking back over the archives of this blog, I find that there are definite patterns in the frequency of posting here.  I post a lot in January, when I am between semesters and all of the time I need to do what I need to do to get ready for the semester seems to stretch on into infinity.  I post a fair bit in September, when I’m buckling down to the new year.

I’m an academic.  Of course the new year begins in September.

This time of year, however, is often kind of sparse.  And when I consider my world at this present moment, I can see why.

Here is what my world looks like for the first ten days of May:

On Thursday the first, I spent most of the day frantically writing new lectures for my History 102 class.  I should have done that in January, but – as noted – there were a lot of days in there that seemed to stretch on to eternity for this to get done, and darned if they didn’t just stretch all the way into May.  I collected the girls from school – Tabitha called early in the day to let me know that they were not having Fiddle Club, so I should pick her up at normal time.  This was good in one sense, as Lauren and I didn’t have to hang out for 45 minutes waiting, but on the other hand we generally use that time to hit up the local pharmacy for snacks and the direct route home left a yawning hole in our junk food consumption.

Not that I have been doing much of that recently.  This was one of the lessons my physician pounded into my skull during my last checkup.  Thou Shalt Cut Out Much Of The Crap You Consume, or words to that effect.  Oh well.  I’ve held to that pretty well so far, but I can still dream.

That night we had rehearsal for 4H Drama.  The kids have been in rehearsal for months now.  They’re pretty much got their lines down now, and the tech (my responsibility) is coming along.  Our lighting board op has her cues squared away – there aren’t that many, but then she’s never run a board before either – and the fly op did that last year so she’s good to go.  Tabitha’s got the sound cues safely stored on Lauren’s iPod, since hers is currently telling her that it will let her retry her password in 23,222,206 minutes, which might well be the next millennium for all I can do the math.  I was also in charge of getting the food for these kids, and thus made the happy and rather dangerous discovery that the local Taco Bell will let you call ahead with orders if they think you sound responsible (i.e. not stoned). 

How that fits into my new diet I prefer not to think about any further.

On Friday the 2nd I held my class in the morning.  It was one of the new lectures I’ve written this semester, on the subject of the emergence of the New Right and how it differs drastically from the traditional definition of American conservatism.  The definition of “conservative” in the American context undergoes radical alteration between 1968 and 1980, and then undergoes even further extreme changes in the decades since.  My students do not know this – they labor under the all-too-common delusion that however things are now is how they have always been.  They do not understand that Richard Nixon could not be elected as a Republican today.  Hell, Ronald Reagan couldn’t get elected as a Republican today.  Things have changed.

From there it was time to mooch off the Natural Sciences Potluck Lunch over at Home Campus, though since Kim was in charge of it I suppose I could have counted as a guest rather than a mooch.  It’s such a fine line, so very often.  Discovery of the day: Sriracha on a hamburger is actually quite good.

But staying late was not an option!  Lauren’s big 5th-grade musical over at Not Bad President Elementary was scheduled to start at 1:30, which meant that if you wanted a seat you had to be there by 1:00 or know someone who was.  I got there in time to get a seat, saved it with my jacket for Kim (who was cleaning up the potluck), and then went to the back – Photographer’s Row – where I could stand and take photos without bothering anyone behind me.

It was a lovely show, all about the wonders of Jazz – more of a concert than a play, really.  Lauren had speaking roles in two of the songs, and she did a very nice job with them.

That evening was the setup for the 4H Cat Show, which meant heading over to the county fairgrounds and trying to figure out what was going on for the food booth, which the usual stalwarts were running.  There’s four or five of us who seem to have fallen into this role, and while my position was a little less involved than it had been for last month’s Pre-Fair Cat Show, it was still mostly just us.  The advantage to the food booth, though, is that I no longer feel obligated to set up the tables.  Those tables are made of depleted uranium and grief, and my back is now officially too old for such things.

On Saturday the 3rd I was back at the Cat Show at 7:45am, getting things set up for the actual show.  The crew was there, and things were running smoothly.  And this time around, Kim had not been called away to furthest northern Wisconsin for a meeting, which meant that the girls didn’t have to come rocketing in with me at o’dark:thirty to open up the food booth.

We sold a lot of food.

Kim brought Tabitha and Lauren in at a more reasonable hour, along with Midgie.  Midgie hates the Cat Show.  Hates, hates, hates it.  But she is a good cat and mostly just puts up with it.

Fortunately for her there is only one round of judging this time instead of three, and she managed to get a red ribbon – 4H-code for a second class finish, which is better than third at least.  We’re guessing that the reason she didn’t get a first class is that she was so stressed out by that point that she was drooling.  The judge actually called Tabitha up to the judging stand and told her privately, “Take this cat home before she worries herself sick.”  So Midgie got to skip out early, and was much happier.

We spent most of the day there, between the cats and the cleanup, and then we went home to crash for an hour or so before heading back out to Home Campus for some more 4H Drama – this time for some tech work.  Our family and the family of the other adult leaders of this troupe spent most of Saturday evening painting backdrops, putting the finishing touches on the time machine (it’s a big part of the play), and then hanging the backdrops so they can go up in the fly section.

The glory of late nights doing tech is that by the time you’re ready to eat dinner, there’s no crowd at the local burger barn anymore.  Except that it was Prom Weekend, apparently, so there were a few couples out in their finery, munching on fries together.  I was particularly impressed by the one young lady in a dress dyed the same vocal yellow that fire trucks now come in.  No way her date will lose her in the dark.  Although whether having a dress you can’t lose fits with the larger tradition of the prom is an interesting question, I suppose.

Sunday the 4th started way too early, though not as early as the previous day, at least.  While Kim and the girls did some fast Potemkinizing of the house (think Czarist Russia, if the reference escapes you) I ran up to the next town north of us to collect some artifacts for the presentation I was giving for Lauren’s class on Monday.  This turned out to be rather complicated, since they’ve completely redone the highway since the last time I went up to my old museum and instead of taking you right to the front door it takes you several miles away.  You have to exit, go through a pair of traffic circles (which Wisconsin drivers have yet to figure out, so good luck with that if anyone else is coming along) and come at the place from the other side. 

But eventually I made it back home, artifacts in hand, only to fall into a four-cook frenzy of lunch-making, since Kim’s parents were coming down.  Lunch was in fact served.  And then we went to Lauren’s piano recital, at a new location this year.

Lauren has been taking piano lessons for five and half years now, and every year around this time her teacher gathers her students together for a public performance.  This year Lauren was scheduled to do a duet with another student, but that student backed out and I ended up stepping in.  I had a week to get this ready, and we spent a fair amount of time practicing.

We did well, I think.  And then Lauren had her own piece to do, after which we could relax and listen to the other performers without worrying.  Food came next, because this is Wisconsin and there is always food.  People in Wisconsin would bring food to a hunger strike.  And you know what?  They’d eat it, and everyone would be better off.

I spent much of the rest of Sunday frantically doing all of the things that I meant to do earlier.  Grocery shopping.  Lecture writing.  Grading.  And, last and certainly least on the scale of “things I would rather be doing,” writing out the bills.  I refuse to pay my bills online, simply because every time I turn around there is another story of viruses, hacks, worms, or security breaches and I am not going to redo my financial world every time some teenaged nerd-thug discovers a hole in someone else’s hastily done computer code.  The internet is good for many things - it is the world’s leading purveyor of conspiracy theories, cat photos, and quizzes to see which character you are out of a book you’ve never read - but I will continue to write my bills the old-fashioned way, thank you very much.

Monday the 5th – Cinco de Mayo! – was surprisingly not very Mexican in my life, although we did have tacos for dinner on Sunday so perhaps that should count for something.  I spent my morning getting various and sundry things ready and then headed down to Home Campus, there to do my Only Dancing Bear In The Circus act, wherein I stand alone in a room and teach via video hookup to three different high schools, each about 225 miles away.  Today’s class: more of why the 1980s were a dismal time from any rational political or economic perspective.  I will admit that the 80s were my glory years, such as they were – I was in high school or college for most of them, and being rather fortunate in friendship and love I had a grand time.  But the larger world just was not up that standard.

And neither was my class, for reasons that had nothing to do with my students.  One of the schools linked in but did not pay any attention to me, so I and the other two schools got to listen to a 7-minute dissertation from the teacher monitoring the students up there about how awful “that crabby professor” is.  Eventually the bell rang and his students filed off, and at that point I could get my own class started.  I’m having fun letting his superiors know about the spectacle of his performance.  Remember folks!  Always treat any microphone as if it is live!  Your world will be simpler and more hassle-free that way.

I spent the next hour running errands, stopping off at home for a brief lunch, and then headed off to Not Bad President Elementary for my talk to Lauren’s class.  This immediately became complicated by the fact that while I had the artifacts in my car I had left the talk itself at home.  No problem, I thought.  All I need is an internet connection and a printer, and I can print off another copy.  Of course, this did not take into account the fact that everyone now has far more security features on their networks than they know how to deal with, and so it took a fair bit of juggling and worry to get in.  But eventually the NBPE school secretary got me to my talk and printed it out, so three cheers for her I say.

The talk went well.  It’s a fun subject, and the kids seemed to enjoy it.  The only real problem came from a combination of a) there being several hearing-impaired kids, who sat up front to my left, b) their sign-language interpreter sat up front to my right, and c) for my public speaking roles (including teaching) I speak in a style that Kim generally refers to as “duck in a shooting gallery.”  The net result was that the poor interpreter was continually bobbing and weaving to get a line of sight to those kids so they could see her signing at them.  I tried to stay put, but it was just not feasible. 

There were a lot of questions at the end, though, and that is always the sign of a good talk.

After collecting the girls from school I went to the north side of town where I met with the current director of the museum to return the artifacts.  It was like a Cold War spy scene, there in the parking lot.  “You got the stuff?”  “I got the stuff.”  “Gimme the stuff.”  And miraculously, stuff was transferred without incident.

Then a quick rush home to get Lauren over to her piano lessons, which are too long for me to just sit there and too short for me to do anything productive when I go home before having to pick her up again.  Oh well.  But she enjoys them, and I’m happy to keep taking her there. 

Tuesday the 6th got off to an energetic start.  Kim usually takes the girls in to school but she had a doctor’s appointment and I was going to be with Lauren all day anyway, so I dropped Tabitha off and parked by NBPE, for this was the day of the field trip. 

One of the advantages to being underemployed is that I have the flexibility to go to events like this on occasion, and the schools are always looking for parent chaperones.  Further, having been on the other side of these field trips when I ran the museum, I have a finely tuned sensibility regarding the appropriate behavior that chaperones ought to exhibit.  This, I have found, keeps the schools asking me back.  I ran that museum for five years and never once had to throw a student off of one of my tours.  I cannot say that about the chaperones supposedly watching them.  I try not to be that chaperone.

School buses have not changed in half a century.  You step on one today and instantly you are wafted back to your childhood, whenever that was.  I haven’t been on a school bus to go to school since the mid-80s, and it was basically the same ride then.  Close-packed high-backed green seats, two-tiered windows that slide down from the top (mostly), suspension systems plagiarized from WWII-era Sherman tanks, noise levels that could be weaponized – it’s all there.  Memories!

We headed off to an outdoor living history museum – the kind of place where you wander around all day on your own in small groups, stopping to let the re-enactors at each place give their spiel.  We hit quite a few of them – everything from the print shop and the sutler to the artillery battery and the infantry training.  Given that my group included four girls, perhaps I should not have been surprised at the fact that their favorite was the dancing barn, followed closely by the herbalist.  Although their next favorites were the saber training and the surgeon’s tent, so perhaps we’re making some progress away from the traditional roles after all.

We arrived back at school in time for me to whisk Lauren off to collect Tabitha and then back home, where I focused on grading discussion posts for my online class until it was time to head to Home Campus for another evening of 4H Drama rehearsal.

It’s coming up soon, this production, and this was our first real run-through with all the tech that we were going to have.  The backdrops ascended into the flyspace.  The time machine rode around the stage and lit up like we wanted it (one of the kids asked us how the actor was supposed to move it and we responded, “She’ll have to Flintstone it,” and they had no idea what we were talking about.  We’re getting old).  And the lights rose, fell, and flickered just as planned.  Looks like we got us a hit, I think.  And the acting went well too.

There was even dinner for all of us, which was nice since we didn’t get out of there until about an hour after we had planned.

Today is something of a slow day, really, this Wednesday May 7.  I taught my class in the morning while wearing my favorite history shirt – the one with the picture of Karl Marx on it and the slogan, “Earn Big Money!  Become a Historian!”  Nothing like a little humor to keep things light after Monday’s class.  When the girls were little they used to ask me who that was on my shirt, and I’d say, “That’s Karl Marx.”  They’d say, “Who’s that?”  “He was one of the Marx Brothers,” I’d tell them.  “There was Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and Karl.  Karl was the serious one.  He left before they got famous.”  They’re too old to fall for that routine anymore, alas.

The rest of the day will be errands, dinner, and further frantic work on lectures, since Friday’s class is not yet finished.  Then there will be two more to do.  I could also work on the public presentation I have for a week from today, but merciful heavens that’s just an eternity away, isn’t it?

On the schedule for the next three days:

Thursday will be more writing, and in the evening we have Lauren’s NBPE band concert followed immediately by Tabitha’s orchestra concert down at Home Campus, so get your running shoes on.

Friday is the Madrigal Supper down at Home Campus, with Kim being one of the performers – not on the singing side of thing, but more on the “cool science-oriented demonstrations that hopefully will not set anything on fire that wasn’t meant to be on fire” side of things.

And Saturday is the 4H Drama fest, which will take up most of the day no doubt.

No wonder I don’t post much this time of year.

Does anyone have free time anymore? 


John the Scientist said...

I know how you feel.

But Taco Bell? Are you kidding me? You are definitely in the Midwest if you are older than 19 and still eat there.

That and the burger barn tell me you're not cutting out as much crap as you think you are from the lack of drugstore runs. :D

And you are how old and have just put sriracha on a burger? Geez, we really have to get you out of the Midwest, stat. I blame Midwesterners for much of the crappy chain food choices in America. No adventure in you folks. I'll mail you some stuff from Iceland and Taiwan to spice up your diet. ;-p

neurondoc said...

You forgot Gummo.

David said...

Neurondoc - everyone forgets Gummo. My guess is that even the Marx brothers forgot him now and then.

JTS - this from the guy who voluntarily eats surstromming and chou duofu? At least my food takes years to kill me.

Remember that the 4H is composed mostly of kids between 6 and 15, so Taco Bell is right in their sweet spot. And you'd be surprised at the Non-Crap alternatives you can find at the local burger barn if you look carefully at the corners of their menu.

I usually put Tabasco sauce or pickled jalapenos on my burgers, but those weren't available so I had to make do with Sriracha. It was tasty.

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

Midgie looks like my old Sam, who could cuddle up and schmooze the Devil and make him scritch behind his ears.

The crabby professor story is a hoot. Having fun with that is the best outcome of that situation.

Dr. Phil