Sunday, September 26, 2021

News and Updates

It’s that time of year where these lists are the best I can do.

1. When I am Grand Vizier of Creation, things will be different. Not necessarily better. But certainly different. And one of the decrees I will put forth early in my tenure is that no bread manufacturer will be allowed to print anything on their clear plastic bags in green ink, particularly not any abstract blobby shape.

2. Every so often my employer convinces me to sell them my health information, which they already have since they are the ones who insure me in the first place so I am not sure what they get out of that. I get enough money to buy some books, which keep me sedentary and provide me with opportunities for tea and snacks which cannot be good for my health that they are so desperate to monitor, so the question of who’s gaining from this remains unanswered.

3. Part of that process was that I had to go in for some blood work as part of my annual checkup. I don’t complain about such things on the whole, even if I hate needles with a wholly irrational passion, since access to health care is a privilege in this country rather than a basic human expectation and I’m glad to have it even if I think that system is desperately cruel and stupid and needs to change. I was supposed to get that work done a while ago but Events intervened and part of my reaction to those Events was to declare a Diet Holiday wherein I would eat whatever I damn well pleased because that’s just what you do to get you through Events, and it took a while for my system to return to close enough to whatever passes for normal for me to try to get tested that way. But now they have my blood and I have a large black bruise on the inside of my elbow and some numbers that look about what I expected them to look like and everyone’s happy except for me and my bruise.

4. It’s been, as noted, a busy and stressful month, and today was the first time since Lauren and Oliver left for college that it occurred to me that I was an empty nester again. This morning I was sitting at my desk getting my class prepped for tomorrow and I idly wondered when they would come down for food and it hit me that they were both elsewhere and that was a rather odd realization.

5. On the plus side, I really like being in a classroom again and seeing my advisees in my office. My students have been good about wearing their masks and it’s been nice getting to know them. Although I am now convinced that one of them is a member of the Russian mafia, though this may just be me.

6. Kim and I hit the Giant Asian Market for some retail therapy yesterday and spent a happy hour or so just wandering up and down the aisles looking for inexpensive treats. I love the compressed sweet sesame seed things, for example, though for some reason the Market was out of the cans of Black Tea that I discovered last time. The salty snack aisle remains an Empire of Weird, which is a lot of why we go after all. I couldn’t resist these:

They were spicy, though I’m not sure where the “numb” part is supposed to come in. I did once make a (thoroughly inedible) chicken dish with far too many sancho peppers that had that effect (and also made ordinary water feel carbonated when you drank it). Perhaps I can suggest an addition to their recipe.

7. There have been actual days over the last week where I didn’t have any book in progress, and I think the last time that happened was the early 1980s. It’s been a time.

8. Day instantly made better:

Yes, it’s a CD. I’m old school. Also, old. But you can’t autograph a downloaded mp3 now, can you? It has been in heavy rotation here at the homestead.

9. Also in heavy rotation have been The Mountain Goats, whom I discovered last year when one of my students recommended them to me, and it turns out that Oliver is a big fan as well and we spent some time driving together this month and he put them on the playlist. If you haven’t listened to “This Year” or “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” you’re missing out. “This Year” has become my theme song.

10. Although last month a friend of mine asked me what my walk-up song would be if I were a baseball player waiting for my turn at bat, and really the only possible answer to that would be “Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Things I Have Learned Recently

1. There is no quiet way to make toast. This is an observation, not an invitation to argue.

2. Speaking as someone who uses hot sauce the way most people use ketchup and who regards Buffalo sauce as a perfectly normal condiment for all sorts of foods, Buffalo chicken pizza should not be a thing. At least it should not be a thing fed to me, anyway. I find this both surprising and disappointing.

3. There is never enough time. Let that be a lesson.

4. There are no hotel rooms available in eastern Indiana if you're traveling on a Thursday night. Not even in places you wouldn't want to stay in if they were the last hotel on earth, a category in which eastern Indiana excels. I am not sure why this is so. The lack of rooms, I mean. Not the "last hotel on earth" part. That was obvious.

5. Sometimes you just want a margarita, and part of being an adult is the ability to say, "Fuck it" and get yourself a margarita.

6. It is entirely possible for a luggage cart to have a flat tire. This makes your luggage go all wobbly.

7. This is the year where the concept of "low bandwidth" became a pervasive thing in my world.

8. My kids are ideal traveling companions. I'd be happy to claim parenting credit for some of that but I suspect it's pretty much just them. Either way it is a lovely thing to share a long drive with them, for the companionship, the conversation, and the playlists.

9. Salt & Vinegar chips are the angriest potato chips, and nobody makes them better than Herr's. I need to find someone who sells them here in the midwest. I also need to stop eating so many of them since a) they have the word "salt" right in the name and my doctor has already given me the finger-waggle about too much salt, and b) they eventually eat a hole in your lips. Maybe it's good that I can't buy them in Wisconsin. But they're so worth it.

10. The flexibility of remote teaching is a wonderful thing when your schedule shifts without warning.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Calendar on the Wall

It's the calendar that sticks in my mind.

We’re back face to face at Home Campus now, almost completely, after a year and a half of working mostly (and in my case almost entirely) remotely. I went back to my office last week to bring the files I’d taken home last March, back when I thought this would be resolved in a few months, and I dumped them on my desk for future sorting. I’d cleaned up the place when I came in for the files back then – there were no derelict mugs or moldy snacks, no half-remembered things I’d been looking for at home without success. Just papers and office supplies, as always.

But the calendar on the wall still read March 2020.

It felt like I was an archeologist, exploring the ruins of a lost civilization and waiting for the boulder to come rolling out of some secret opening in a file cabinet to crush me for my impertinence in disturbing the ancient site. All I needed is a nice hat and a bull whip to make the feeling complete.

I mean, we already have Nazis openly roaming the streets of the country these days. How far away can Indiana Jones be?

It’s a strange thing to see that calendar, to put my mind back into the eerie last days before the pandemic struck the US for real. I remember thinking a couple of days before it all came crashing down that the day felt like the Before picture in some future textbook, that there would soon be a divide in time and whatever came next would be After, a different place.

In some ways it is.

But in other ways it’s more of the same. The students are still vaguely lost, looking for rooms that will become second nature to them in a few weeks. The building is a bit more spread out with the furnishings to encourage social distancing but even that not so much as it was a year ago. The classrooms are back to being classrooms instead of wifi hotspots for Zoom classes.

Everyone is wearing masks, though. Home Campus has a mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or not, which is smart policy in the time of the Delta variant. So far compliance has been universal, which gives me hope for the future. I live in a state that hasn’t lost its goddamned mind like so many of the ones in the old Confederacy or the new one. People here understand that science is real and the virus doesn’t care about your politics, or at least they understand that the university has the authority to set rules for public safety and you are free not to attend if those rules bother you. Either way the result is the same, so that’s good.

I've cleared away the files and straightened out my desk, but I haven’t taken the calendar down yet. I’m not sure why. It just sits there, a brightly colored monument to a faded past of not that long ago, really.