Monthly Archives: November 2005

Rubbing it in…

One of my students, who has to interview an adult of certain age for one of her other classes, piped up today and said, “Inez, are you twice as old as I am?” I’m flattered that she wasn’t sure of my advanced age, but other students posivitely snickered.

Oh, sweetie, if only I were twice 18. *sigh*

In other news, I intend to spend this weekend eating, shopping, reading, and other stuff — certainly not writing blog entries. See you next week with post-Thanksgiving ramblings.

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It’s cold in space…and in Iowa

We have had a lovely fall here in n.w. Iowa. Sunny days, cool nights, brightly colored leaves that slowly fell to carpet the sidewalks with a satisfying crunch beneath my sneakers. Mornings have been jacket weather for some weeks, but afternoons have required only a sweatshirt, if that. I love me some Iowa autumn.

For a month or so, I’ve been asking various students and colleagues about Iowa winters, and the most common responses I’ve received are 1) a quiet, throaty chuckle and 2) a comment that the worst part is the wind. Yesterday winter came to Storm Lake and I’m here to tell you, neither the chucklers nor the windies prepared me for anything like this.

First, calling the wind "bad" is an understatement that ranks with FEMA’s early characterization of Hurricane Katrina, and I say this as one who lived with the yearly March gusts of Reno, Nevada, where the wind howls over the Sierra snowpack and screams down the valley and through the artificial canyons of the downtown casino buildings. The cold wind here in Storm Lake scours through town like Mother Nature’s own frigid brillo pad, intent on scraping cheeks and chins and noses and knuckles down to the very bone.

The other thing about this nw Iowa winter is the way it arrived: instantaneously. One day I’m wondering if I really need a light jacket for my afternoon walk and the next day — literally — snow is falling. And while the snow itself was picturesque, when it stopped the wind started up and blew it crosswise all over town and into my face no matter which direction I turned. That same wind is still blowing, and I’m starting to wonder if it will continue through the next millennium.

I once read a short story about a woman living in a sod house on the prairie. The constant wind drove her mad and she killed her family and gave herself to the wolves. This makes a lot more sense to me now; it’s probably nice and warm and, most importantly, non-windy, in a wolf’s stomach.

In the absence of wolves, however, the best I can do is knit myself a hat. I’m making it fast, and I’ll post some pics when done. Until it’s complete, maybe I’ll tie the cats nose-to-tail and wear them on my head. What’s that you say? The wind might be driving me mad? Nonsense. Mad would be wearing Zeke on my head — he’s too small to warm much more than an ear.

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Gang aft agley…

Let’s add tired college professors to Burns’s observation.

This morning, I set the alarm for 5:30 and got up after only two snooze alarms and an odd dream about crashing my car into the Sacramento River (is there a Sacramento River?) while eating Indian food off the dashboard. I needed to arise at such a dark and ominous time in order to get to school early and read and mark some rough drafts for one of my classes.

OF COURSE something happened to make sure I got out of the house no earlier than usual. As I was rushing out the door, I remembered to grab some knitting in case I had time to take a little break in the afternoon, what with getting to work so early and all. I reached up take a project off the top of my maple hutch, balancing myself with fingertips on the lower part of the hutch, and realized my fingers were wet at the same time a drop of water fell on my head.

Yup, my livingroom ceiling is leaking slightly (a few drops per minute) under my bathtub and has been for a day or so, I guess, based on the area of RUINED FINISH on my maple hutch. That hutch is 1) the only piece of real, solid, wood furniture I own and 2) belonged to my parents and so has a deal of sentimental value. Grrr.

So my extra hour of time earned so virtuously with an early wake-up went to call the landlord and the plumber and to wonder if I should move Zeke into another room or bring him to work with me (in case of ceiling dust and soldering fumes during the repairs). I finally decided to leave him as is since the leak is obviously so small, but only after he bit my finger and drew blood, picking up on my own distress and getting himself all riled up. AND I’ll go home to a hole in my ceiling AND some of my knitting projects may have gotten wet, but I didn’t have time to check ’cause I had to get to work.

I know, I know, things are tough all over. But I figure I deserve a little vent and a little chocolate, and perhaps a beer after work.

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Sell out…

You may have noticed the Google and Firefox advertisements added to the new lefthand column of Left of the Mississippi. If you didn’t notice them, SHEESH! They’re right there, big as anything, like a new WalMart sprung up overnight in a residential neighborhood. And really, just about as ugly.

I do have to say, I was hoping the ads in the orange column would be for something more exciting than yarn. Google adsense says they troll the site for keywords to determine ads that match content. Here at Left of the Mississippi, we’ve talked about barfing!, parrots!, the murdering of bank call-center personnel! Geez, you think that one alone would have brought up an ad for a lumber store.

If you hate the idea of ads following you even unto the ramblings of a middle-aged academic, well, I’m sorry. But I thought I’d give it a try since, being a middle-aged academic, my disposable income is just about nil. If I earn enough in a year to pay for this site (about $80), I’ll be freaking ecstatic. In contrast, if I only earn enough for a Snickers bar, I’ll buy the bar and remove the ads. So we’ll just have to see.

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I am the plaything of the gods…

We haven’t been posting much over here at Left of the Mississippi lately, as you no doubt have noticed. Between midterm grading and The Cold That Could Only Be Quelled By Hideously Expensive Antibiotics,* posting has been very low on my list. On the back of the page, in fact.

Friday morning, however, I was feeling markedly better. As I trolled through the webpages that I visit every morning over my protein shake and diet Pepsi, I thought, I need to post something on my blog. Hmmm. Only thing is, nothing funny or weird or painful has happened to me lately.

When, oh when, will I learn not to challenge fate?

Friday was a great day at work.** So much so that when my 2 p.m. class rolled around, I decided at the last minute to take the students to the library so they could do research for their current assignment and I could circulate among them, all guiding and knowledgeable. A change of venue, useful time away from the ordinary classroom, next best thing to holding class outside on a sunny day — oh, what a fabulous teacher I am, indeed.

Now, the university library is a lovely thing to behold. The main section was built only a few years ago with $$ from, I believe, a huge bequest. It’s all solid, polished wood shelf units and marble and tasteful sofa groupings and elegant lighting. The study tables are especially gorgeous: intricate patterns of inlaid hard woods under special non-glare glass panes. I have NEVER been in an institutional library so non-institutional.

So into this elegance descend my student and I.*** They dispose themselves and their laptop computers around two of the inlaid tables, some yards apart, and proceed to work on their thesis statements, look for sources, and, in one annoying instance, play computer solitaire. Because it’s late Friday afternoon, the only other people in the library are a couple of student workers and one reference librarian, all clustered behind the front desk. Having the library practically to ourselves, my students and I became relaxed and comfortable. Too comfortable…

A young woman called me over to ask a question about her proposed thesis statement. She was sitting at a study table with four other students. Finding that her question required some lengthy explanation, I did exactly what I do in our regular classroom, where the students also sit at long tables: I hitched my fat ass onto the table and settled in for the duration, at which point the 3/8 inch thick sheet of glass that protects the expensive and beautiful inlaid wood tabletop broke in to five pieces with a loud CRACK.

A loud crack — so loud that, while the librarians at the front desk didn’t hear it, two of my students sitting across the room came loping over to see what happened. So not only did I break a sheet of glass (in the very elegant library of a school at which I’ve been working for a mere 2 months) by sitting on it, all of my students witnessed the break.

Mortified is too weak a word to describe my feelings, but I wasn’t in any shape to hunt up one of the library’s thesauri.

Because my students are there, I have to be all calm and collected rather than cringing and weepy, which was certainly what I wanted to do. I had to go to the front desk and confess my fat-assed sin to the reference librarian, who was, of course, surrounded by student workers. She gave me the kind of bug-in-my-soup look that is the mainstay of school librarians and said I’d better go tell the library director. He was across the library in his office, so I got make the long walk under the eyes of my still-chuckling students. His office door was closed and I had to knock. I felt about 9 years old.

At his invitation, I entered the also-elegant and book-lined office, shut the door, and took a chair. And then, like a loaded gun in the sticky grip of a toddler, my humor-as-defense-mechanism kicked in and, in response to his "what can I do for you," I said, "Bless me father, for I have sinned." I said this to a man I’ve met twice, in the upright Midwest, in a Presbyterian-founded university, attended by a huge number of Catholic students. My quip earned a very small, very polite smile.

Switching quickly to "just the facts" mode,**** I told him I’d sat on a study table and broken the glass. Oh, he said, and after a pause, is the break at a corner, or a bit along the side?

No, you don’t understand, I said. I sat on the table, sat far enough back to swing my feet, and the glass is in five pieces. I’ve been meaning to diet, I added in the silence that followed my confession. That earned me a real smile.

Probably in response to my obvious embarrassment and because he is really a VERY nice man, the librarian assured me that these things happen. He even claimed that the wooden tables warp in the summer humidity, no doubt the closest he could come to excusing my fat ass without referring to my butt himself. He did tell me that the panes of glare-reducing glass cost $150 and up and mention that we should get maintenance in to remove the broken glass IF they were still there so late in the day, but we can assume his patience was rightly tried. Overall, I felt absolved, and I didn’t even have to say a Hail Mary or recite the Dewey Decimal system — what passes for penance in a school library?

One more thing….this is a very small school. While only one class-worth of students witnessed my fat-assed vandalism of library property, at least three of them room with students in my other classes. Heck, the library director’s daughter is in one of my classes. Thus, although the director said he’d "keep your name out of it" when reporting the breakage and ordering new glass, it’s going to make the rounds.

Especially because I can’t keep such a funny, weird, and painful story to myself.

*Ten dollars a pill. And they don’t even make you feel funky, unless you count the diarrhea….

**A great day may be defined as one in which I get lots of grading done and the school cafeteria serves tater tots. Low expectations yield a plethora of great days.

***Literally. The entire library is underground.

****It WAS Friday, after all.

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