As a Mother. . .

Nontraditional students are polarizing.  Some professors love them.  After all, nontraditional students are older; thus, they are typically more mature and responsible.  They’ve got the crows feet to prove they’ve spent countless hours frowning at the mailbox, a true mark of adulthood.  They’ve got kids to feed; thus, they pay attention in class and do their work because they don’t want to fail and end up moving their spawn into a van down by the river. They managed to survive their twenties and now look at their binge-drinking, beat-boxing, clown-ass classmates with derision as they dream of warm milk and NCIS.  They live by the motto,

and they are.  And so am I.

On the other hand, some professors hate them.  After all, many nontraditional students balk at the mention of using computers.  Some seem downright resistant to stepping outside of their comfort zones to learn new technologies and use this fear as an excuse to not even try:  “I’m just not good with computers!” they cry as they try to force a handwritten essay into my hands.  Also, they’ve got kids to feed; thus, almost every time they speak in class, they do so ‘As a parent,’ a guaranteed way to elicit eye rolls and mutinous glares from their classmates.

I usually fall into the former camp.  I like nontraditional students.  I, too, am ‘too old for this shit.’  Also, I’d rather deal with the problem of trying to get a baby boomer to use a word processor than the problem of trying to get an 18-year-old to stop putting smiley faces in his/her paper and to stop using the letter ‘u’ in place of the word ‘you.’

I’d also rather hear a middle-aged soccer mom drone on about Makayla’s participation trophy than hear some scraggly, stoned kid with a soul patch try to claim, for the billionth time, that pot cures cancer.

However, I had one nontraditional student who still provokes damp armpit feelings of anxiety and loathing in me when I think about her.  I think she must have been in her forties, and she also walked with a cane.  That was all cool, of course.

What wasn’t cool was the way she would follow me.

I can’t prove it, but I think she must have lingered outside of our classroom, waiting for me to leave, because sometimes I’d be quietly minding my own business in a bathroom stall, spending some precious between-class moments trying to pee and regain some shred of sanity, and I’d hear it.  Shuffle, stump. Suffle, stump. Shuffle, stump.  She’d come stumping into the bathroom.  I’d hear her heavy breathing and the sound of her rubber-tipped cane striking the tile.  She’d spot my feet under the stall door and, before I could think to hide or try to escape, she would start talking to me THROUGH THE STALL DOOR, standing inches away from me, asking me question after question, as I hovered awkwardly over a toilet seat with my skirt hiked up.  You might think, “Maybe she just had a similar route to her next class and also needed to use the bathroom on the way.”

You would be wrong.  I know this because once I came out of the stall after trying to deflect her conversation through the door only to find that we were the only two in the bathroom and all the other stalls were empty.  She did not use the bathroom.  She hunted me as if she were an entire pack of Jurassic Park velociraptors.

Then she would devour my few precious moments of alone time.  Our conversations would go approximately like this.

Lady:  Oh, Hi professor!  That you in there?

Me: (In my mind)

Me: (Out loud) Uuuuh.  Yea.

Lady:  Oh, ok, I thought those were your shoes.  I’m really concerned about this research essay.  We never wrote any essays like this in my last English class, and I’m just not good with computers.

Me: (Silence, as I stand like some kind of panicked, slowly-leaking ostrich). . . ok.

Lady:  You said in class we’re supposed to find eight sources, right.

Me: . . . .yep.

Lady:  Does it say that on the essay assignment sheet too?

Me: . . . Uh, yep.

Lady:  Oh, ok.  Because that’s a lot of research.  What if I can’t find eight sources.

Me:  . . . Well as I said in class. . .

And so it would continue.  She would ask me things I already answered in class, and I would try to disengage while I urinated.  Usually I would drop strong hints that it would be more appropriate to discuss this via e-mail or during office hours, but she either didn’t get it or didn’t care, so we would share these daily converurinations with each other.

Thank the sweet baby Jesus in the manger she didn’t actually try to follow me into my next class.

In addition to stalking me, she also brought (AND CONSUMED) an entire 2-liter of cola to class every day.  This was disgusting enough on its own.  I mean, there are approximately 1.25 cups of sugar in a 2 liter bottle of cola.  Just imagine shotgunning an entire cup of sugar in less than an hour and then going back for a little more.  That’s basically what she was doing.  Who does that?

Then, she would spend the remainder of class loudly clearing mucus from her throat, and I would spend the rest of class trying not to stop teaching and yell,

I can still hear her in my nightmares – breathing and stumping and asking and clearing.  She is mingled in my memory with the pressing need to urinate and the smell of public restrooms.  Ugh.

Ah well.  This week I found out two of the classes I was planning to teach next semester have been canceled due to low enrollment.  Such is the life of an adjunct.

Boo.

It was Halloween night, my favorite night of the year.  Seriously.  Most years I start thinking about Halloween costumes in June.  I don’t know why I’ve always loved Halloween so much – perhaps it stems from the gluttonous orgy of sugar-gobbling glee that happened every year of my childhood.  My crazed, sweaty-palmed, fierce-eyed sprint from house-to-house was daunting, but I just knew that if I didn’t fill that damn pillowcase to the very top with 200,000 varieties of corn-syrupy happiness I would surely die.  In my final languishing moments I would have nothing to cling to but circus peanuts and necco wafers from the monstrous old lady across the street.

or these things – what kind of sadist would trick children into eating festively-wrapped garbage?  These people take the ‘trick’ part of trick-or-treat way too seriously.

I would fill my cheeks like a rabid squirrel shooting furtive glances toward my slumbering wardens – the parents I’d dragged around the neighborhood to the point of exhausted torpor (all part of the plan, of course).  I knew they would stop me if I alerted them to my subterfuge by rustling a wrapper too loudly.  Slowly, meticulously, as if defusing a bomb, I would peel off the wrappers and stack my candy into little piles so that I could cram sugar into my face-hole with enough double-fisted scarfing action to rival Augustus Gloop.  Then, I would lie back in buzzing fulfillment.  

Sometimes I would even dump out the entire sack and make snow angels on top of the pile like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault of coins:

I think, really, though, the reason I loved and still love Halloween so much is that it is the one day every year where I can wear whatever I want without judgment, looks of repugnance, cries of alarm or general weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I know what you’re thinking – “Wait, wait, wait.  You’re not one of those girls who uses Halloween as an excuse to dress like a Slutty McSlutterson are you?”

In the words of Michelle Tanner –

No, no, no blog people.  I have never worn anything with the word ‘sexy’ in the title.  No Sexy Dumpster, Sexy File Cabinet, Sexy Spongebob Squarepants

This ACTUALLY exists. What’s next, a Sexy Gilbert Gottfried costume?

or whatever other objects girls have decided to bastardize into overly-sexualized abominations this year.  Here’s a run-down of my favorite costumes from the past:

Age 6 – Steve Urkel, complete with blackface (I know, I know, but he was my hero.  I knew all his catch-phrases, had the pull-string doll, the Urkel-O’s, everything!  Why my parents allowed me to dress in blackface is another story…).  He was my hero.

Age 9 – The year my mother was in a horrible car accident and subsequently confined to bed for a while, I decided to dress up like her – a car crash victim/patient – complete with gauze, fake casts, fake blood, a hospital gown and all the requisite limping and groaning.  I remember in my dull, demented little nine-year-old head thinking, “This will be the perfect way to cheer mom up!”  The look in her eyes. . .oh my.  I’m pretty sure I triggered some PTSD for her instead.  You’re welcome mom.

Age 11 – I was really into the OJ Trial.  I mean it.  I would rush home after school to watch coverage of it.  I knew all the players – Nicole Brown Simpson, Goldman, Shapiro, the juice himself!  The black glove!  Naturally that year I dressed as the corpse of Nicole Brown Simpson.  Tasteful.

Age 12 – All my friends wanted to dress in poodle skirts.  I wanted to be an immortal sociopath:

halloween

In sixth grade I wrote that I would be an actress in Florida (with it’s thriving cinema industry) when I grew up.  Before I found my outlet in community theater, I think Halloween was my outlet and still is.  Last year I was Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock:

I do it aaalll the different ways.  Different kind of sexy costume.

Anyway, I say all this to fully emphasize how much I did NOT want to grade essays on Halloween, but I did.

All day.

No costume.  No parties.  Not a single piece of candy was consumed.  Instead, I consumed paper after paper after paper – 40 rough drafts to be exact (and they were rough).

About halfway through I thought to myself “Why am I doing this?  I could just hand these back a couple of days later.  Why am I giving such detailed feedback?  I could just write ‘This is bad. Fix it’ and spend half as much time working.  Sure, maybe I’ll get a couple of bad course evaluations at the end of the year, but so what?  I know professors who put in way less effort, and they’ve still managed to keep their jobs year after year.  Why don’t I follow suit?”

That’s when I had an epiphany.  I was grading on my favorite holiday so that I could return the drafts quickly and allow my students a full week for revision before turning in their final draft.  I felt like that would allow them to turn in their best possible work.  I was providing so much feedback because the drafts were rough and needed a lot of help.  I was doing all of this because I actually wanted to help my students improve their work.  Because I believe they can.  Because I care.

You might be thinking that when I had this realization, I was instantly filled with an overwhelming sense of joy and love!

You might be thinking that my grinchy heart grew three sizes that day.

You might be thinking that I was filled with enough peace and good will toward men to hoist Tiny Tim upon my once miserly shoulder and shower him with a glimpse into a life of wealth he’ll never have.

(Sidenote – I was so obsessed with the Mickey Mouse version of A Christmas Carol when I was five that I watched it over and over all year.  I’d play that tape, watch it, rewind it and watch it again.  Why?  To psychologically maim my parents, of course.  I even had this pair of purple Mickey Mouse underwear that I refused to take off, battling my parents with righteous indignation and preternatural, squirmy child-strength.  Who did they think they were?  King and Queen of the panties?  If I ever have children they will be tiny archfiends from hell, I just know it.  That will be my repayment.  They’ll be the type of children who smear poop on everything, refuse to eat anything but bowls of mayonnaise, shove legos in their ears, and pull over displays of wine bottles in the grocery store while flailing and screaming “I hate you!” at the top of their tiny lungs.  God help me.)

Anyway – back to my epiphany.  If you thought I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the universe and a newfound sense of philanthropy for my students and a desire to donate my bone marrow, you are incorrect.  This more closely resembles my reaction.

Why?  Because all these years I’ve been slaving away grading papers, planning, answering stupid e-mails, repeating shit I’ve already explained 3,235 times in class, trying to decipher incomprehensible sentences that shouldn’t have made it into a college classroom (Why, God? Why did they?), drawing a line through the phrase ‘in today’s society’ for the 3 millionth time, explaining to a student for the billionth time that it’s ‘based on’ not ‘based off of’ – all these years I’ve been doing that, glimmering before me like an elusive chimera was the notion that eventually I would get to the point of apathy.  Perhaps one day I could will apathy into reality.

That was my hope.

My students would succeed in crushing my spirit, and I would stop caring.  I know that sounds unpleasant, and it wasn’t something I fully realized that I hoped for until I realized I could never have it (so it goes).  The reason I wanted to stop caring is that my job would then require so much less from me, and I might actually have time for leisure.  Then I could actually rest.  Then I would no longer feel like a crusty, dried-up sponge moldering under the sink.

But I do care, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop caring, so I am doomed to grade papers on Halloween or Thanksgiving or my birthday until I die, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

In a way I suppose I am glad to know that I do care about my students, little shits that they are.  God help me, I care about them.

I’ll just try to keep this in mind:

I find this reassuring.

So when Emotional Problems girl started sobbing in my class YET AGAIN, my initial reactions were still the same as the last time she pulled this shit.

First, I wanted to scream in her face:

Than I wanted to slap her.

I wanted to shout in her face – “For the love of God, where are your coping mechanisms? Where?  You’re an adult!  This is not a daycare.  Dealing with crybabies should not be one of my work responsibilities!  Are you going to ask me to wipe your nose and tie your shoes next?  I’ve seen single-cell organisms through a microscopes that could cope with life better than you!”

But don’t worry,

As I looked at her sobbing, I eventually found myself pitying her instead of hating her.  No matter how debilitating my anxiety can be at times, no matter how much stress I’ve been under, no matter how much I sometimes struggle to just get out of bed in the morning and do my life, I always manage to make myself do it.  I’ve never gotten to the point where sobbing in the middle of class/work seemed like my only option.  I’m sure she didn’t enjoy it any more than I did.

Anyway, this week was a weird week.  First a student made me feel incredibly old by writing, “I had never heard of the shootings at Columbine High School before.”

My reaction.

Then another student made me feel incredibly young by referring to herself as a ’90’s kid.’  (You were born in 1995!  Which part of those remaining five years of the 90’s did you enjoy?  The part where you were eating your own mucus or that part where you were sitting in your own excrement?  Do you even know who Jordan Catalano is?  Did you ever scrawl ‘Tupac Lives!’ on a bathroom stall at school?  Did you ever wear a hypercolor windbreaker and fanny pack at the same time? Do you even know what Pogs are?  No?  Then STFU.)

Then I heard a man on the bus tell someone on the other end to “suck my poo.”  Coupled with past evidence from the woman who screamed “snort the shit off my ass” into her phone at the bus stop, I am lead to believe that bus riders are gifted in crafting fecal insults.

In case you were wondering, I managed to salvage what was left of my Halloween with a glass of chianti and some Silence of the Lamb.  Don’t worry – I had my wine sans liver.

Crazy Eyes/Crying Eyes

This Week’s Poetic Bus Conversation:

Me: (Noticing a man approaching the bench and realizing I am sitting slightly toward the center, I scoot over to make room)

Man:  (mumbling incoherently)

Me:  (Thinking perhaps he has greeted me or attempted to make polite conversation or simply standard, unwelcome human contact of some kind, I do my social duty, look over and make my face smile.  Wrong move.  Dude has legit crazy eyes, and now I have engaged him.  He is holding an empty cup, shaking his legs frantically and staring me down with his crazy, crazy eyes – like Suzanne from OITNB, which you should watch right this very second if you haven’t already.  Seriously, stop reading my blog and go watch it):

I love her so much.

Seriously, she is my hero.

 

On the other hand, those aren’t really the eyes I want to see staring at me from the face of a bus stop stranger.

Dude also has the most methy teeth of all time.

Mr. Meth:  You sittin’ on that side?

Me:  Yes, I’m sitting on this side.

Mr. Meth:  Oh. You gonna sit on that side?

Me:  Yes, I’m going to sit on this side.

Mr. Meth:  Oh. Can I sit on that side?

Me:

Me:  Um, sure, you can sit on this side. (I moved to switch places with him)

Mr. Meth:  (Noticing the bus fare clutched in my moist, nervous, ‘please don’t force your interaction or anything more tangible on me’ hands) You goin’ somewhere with that money?

Me (thinking) – nooo, I’m just sitting at this bus stop holding this money because I’m waiting for a friendly helper to make it rain Washingtons all up on me!  I will now hand you my money so you may assist me in this venture.

Me:  Yes, I’m going home with my money.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some drinks with that money?

Me:  No, I’m just going home.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some coffee?

Me:  No…

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some juice?

Me:  No…

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ buy some pop?

Seriously, it was like having a conversation with this character but with 85% more meth and crazy:

Me:  No, I’m just going to buy bus fare and go home.

Mr. Meth:  How much bus fare?

I was becoming gradually angry.  I just wanted to sit in my cone of social anxiety and pretend that everyone else was dead.

Me:  (What I wanted to say…)

Me (What I actually said):  $2.25

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ spend all that money on bus fare?

Me:  Yes.

Mr. Meth:  You gon’ spend all that five dollars on bus fare?

Me:  I don’t have five dollars.  I just have $2.25 and I’m going to go home with it.

Mr. Meth:  Where you live?

Me (Thinking):  Oh, you want me to tell you where I live?  Do you?

Me (what I said):  Um, I live over on the west side of town.

That was the end of our conversation, but for the next 5ish minutes as I waited for my bus to arrive, Mr. Meth proceeded to mumble incoherently to himself.  Occasionally he would break up these strings of nonsense by laughing loudly and maniacally, as only a crazy bus stop friend can laugh.  It sounded like a mixture between Dracula’s laugh

and Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park laugh, which is the most glorious sound in all of creaion:

In other news, I’m still swimming in papers, but I should be caught up by this weekend and maybe get to enjoy that elusive phantom known as a day off!

Also, a student cried in my class last week.  Remember when I mentioned self-professed “emotional problems” girl?  Yea.

Apparently she didn’t finish her draft on time and this upset her verily.

As I stared at her trembling lips and her moist eyes, I considered a few approaches to the situation.

First I thought about doing this:

 

 

 

or maybe this:

.

Then I considered some light mockery:

 

but I figured I might possibly be sued for public humiliation (this is America, land of the free, home of the people in Rascal scooters who sue McDonalds for putting them there).  So instead I took my usual, gentler, infinitely-more-awkward approach to dealing with any outpouring of sadness in my presence:

And do you know what happened?  As I tried to console this unwelcome hot mess, she straight up said “Ugh!  I’m not in a counselor’s office!”

I wanted to say, “Seriously?  You made it a counselor’s office when you strolled in here with your pale, wet face and dropped your emotional baggage all over my comfort zone!”

I wanted to slap her.  I wanted to slap her more than anything in the world.  Is that a healthy feeling?

 

 

I’m Not Dead Yet

For anyone who follows my blog (a.k.a that one guy who lives in his second cousin’s basement and dreams of owning a cat Glamour Shots company), don’t worry, I’m not dead yet.

I disappeared for a while.  Things got a little hairy.

I should have known this week was going to be total shit when I returned from a trip to visit my family only to be greeted by my cat with a dead snake hanging out of her mouth.  Apparently she managed to catch and murder it in my basement.  My cat is basically a serial killer – spiders, centipedes, mice, human babies – you name it, she’ll eviscerate it.

Courtesy of The Oatmeal (link below)

 

The Oatmeal

Usually I just ignore her, but a dead snake on my rug requires a minimum amount of attention and squealing.  Anyway, this dead snake was clearly a harbinger of the week to come.

This week was the gnashing teeth of my cat and I was the limp, dead, gnawed-on garter snake covered in its saliva and malice.

Why? Grading.  It’s always grading.

On Wednesday I graded a mere, manageable 15 essays.  Chump change.  Candyland.    Thursday I graded 40 essays.  Yesterday I graded 46.

Every day I felt like I was being drowned in a toilet filled with student waste.  All my mental energy was dedicated to NOT collapsing into a puddle of tears, self-pity, drool and incoherent babbling as I slogged through one essay after another.

First, let me explain that it takes me on average 15 minutes to grade an essay.  So, yesterday I spent 11.5 hours on grading alone.  Do you know how much bad television I could have watched with that time?  That’s like 8 episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras 

Go with the octopus kid. Photographer = line cook with an overpriced camera and a portfolio that nobody cares about. At least if you’re an octopus you can spray ink all over anyone who pisses you off. Also, tentacles.

and 7 episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo

(Sweet baby, I could have totally used some special juice while I was grading, and by special juice I mean whiskey – lots of whiskey.)

Anyway, in short, this week was nightmarish.  Hellish.  All I wanted to do was watch bad television while I channeled my inner Liz Lemon and worked on some night cheese:

Instead, I graded and I graded and I wept and I graded and I slept a little and I graded and I almost died.  For real.  About halfway through, as I stared at the endless stack of essays, gazed around at my dirty apartment, as I smelled the death juices of a week-old bag of apples (from my sweet grandmother’s backyard) liquescing on my kitchen table with no hope of ever being baked into a pie, I felt like Artax in the Swamps of Despair:

(Ugh. Right in the childhood.  Damnit Artax, move your giant, depressed, horse ass!)

Eventually, though, I became delirious  and I could have graded all night.  Lord help the students whose essays I graded during that period of sleep-drunken insanity.  Here’s the comments I imagine I made on their papers:

“You get an F because there are WAY too many tiny dragons crawling all over your paper.  Next time, I require that you submit your work sans dragons!”

“You get an A because I like you and your paper tastes like vanilla bean and cuddles.  Oh God!  Why did your paper turn into lava?!?  It burns!”

“Aardvark.  Butthole.  Poststructuralism. Goethe.  Here C+”

Me, post-grading marathon.

To let off some steam mid-grading, I decided to go for a walk, but here’s the thing – I live in the hood.  Prostitutes perch so regularly outside my friendly neighborhood Kroghetto that a neighboring business owner made a sign out of poster-board and a half-dried-out sharpie that said, “If you don’t pay, they won’t stay! Say no to prostitution!”  He also drew a very subtle, RIP tombstone on the side.  I guess it was the headstone for a dead prostitute?  I don’t know.  Dude means business, apparently.

What I mean is that I live in the kind of neighborhood where walking is sometimes relaxing and sometimes it is sexual harassment.  Here are some of the phrases that have been shouted at me while out running/walking in my neighborhood:

1) (From a gentleman wearing an A-shirt and Hello Kitty pajama pants) “Mmmm!  Hey girl!  I’d loooove to catch up witchu sometime!”

2)  (From a pack of degenerate, loitering youths who are probably now in prison for lighting kittens on fire) “Sup shawty?  I’d hit it!”

3)  (From a man in one of those windowless vans I Iike to call rape’n wagons) “I’mma smack dat ass!  You look good in dem pants!”

4)  (From a man driving his car slowly beside me as I walked down the street) “Mm.  Mmm.  Mmmmm.  Mmmmmm” – he just kept saying that.  I think he was hoping I would acknowledge him.  Maybe he’d accidentally glued his lips shut while huffing a bottle of wood-grade Elmer’s and was just trying to solicit help from me.  Too bad.

Here’s my response to each scenario:

So my walk didn’t quite relax me, although I did get to walk past an entire busload of schoolchildren singing “I Believe I Can Fly” at the top of their lungs.  My first reaction to this:

Second reaction:  Space Jam was a modern masterpiece.  I must acquire and watch it right this minute.

Third reaction:  If I were that bus driver, I would swerve that bus over a cliff.

When I got home, no magical, naked elves had graded my remaining essays for me (Maybe I should take out a Craig’s List ad – “Seeking magical elves.  You grade my papers, I’ll sew some really shitty elf clothes for you.  Nothing sexual.  Some light nibbling from my cat might occur.)

I started to get viscerally angry at the stack of essays that never seemed to shrink.  Rather than stacking them neatly as I finished, I would fling them into a haphazard pile on the floor that my cat soon claimed in the name of snake-murderers everywhere.  Sidenote:  Next to murdering and eating olive oil, my cat loves lying on paper the most.  Even if there is a tiny post-it stuck to my desk, she will curl up on it and purr orgasmically for hours.  I think she might actually be this guy from Waterworld:

I let her do her thing and secretly hoped that some of my students had cat allergies.

Then, when a stink bug landed next to me, I dug out the essay of my least favorite student and used it to scoop the little bastard up while laughing maniacally.

I thought about squishing him on the paper just a little, just a little, but I managed to contain my crazy.

The moral of the story is that there is not one, but just know that I had 0 free minutes or brain cells for blogging.  So I’m back now, and I’m not dead yet.

I’m Trying to Think of A Sufficiently Awkward Title…

Hi everybody!  How are you today?

That’s how I begin every class session.  It’s not unique, but I really am curious.  The way my students respond gives me useful information about how I need to posture myself that day.  Some days I have a class full of this:

Other days my students make Lurch

look like Fraulein Maria frolicking merrily in the hills of Austria.

I can work with Buddy the Elf.  I can work with Lurch.  I mostly know how to tone it down or play it up to suit the majority mood of the class, but sometimes my students are impossible to read.

They are platypuses.  They are processed American food slices.  They are Juggalos.

In other words, they are mystifying to me, and I don’t know what to do with them.

Her belt buckle. I can’t even…

Wha. . .? Chicken? I don’t even . . .

This Juggalo tattooed his clown paint TO HIS FACE.

By the way, in case you forgot this song existed or have never been exposed to it before, you’re welcome (I’m sorry).  The first time I heard “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse, I was convinced it was a brilliant piece of self-deprecating satire commenting on the lyrical inanity of popular music.  Alas, it was not.  Alas.

Anyway, this week my students were straight-up Juggalos and Juggalettes.  I could almost see the traces of face paint clinging to their shirt collars.  I could smell the Faygo on their breath.  It was confusing for all of us.

I could add a disclaimer here about how I’m not trying to denigrate Juggalos or Juggalettes or Juggatrans or Juggapuses (for any platypuses out there who might also listen to ICP).  I could expound upon the fact that they have the ‘merican right to express their inner clowns.  I could, but I will not.  I refuse to be politically correct when it comes to Juggalos.  I’m sure they don’t care about what I have to say anyway, but if they do, mercifully they will have plenty of Faygo, face paint and Hatchetman charms in which to drown their sorrows.

Anyway, in honor of the strange atmosphere in my classes this week, I bring to you – Five Awkward Moments with My Students, Past and Present:

5) I Like Your Eyebrows

A couple of years ago, after detailing the requirements for a new essay assignment, I asked if there were any questions.  Questions, mind you.  I did not make a request for off-topic statements.

Naturally, one student raised his hand and said, “I like your eyebrows!  You have really nice eyebrows.”

I wanted to tell him the following:

Sir, one simply doesn’t say such things to one’s teacher, out loud, in the middle of class.  That is the sort of thing one notices, observes, and then places in a quiet little mind-drawer labeled ‘Shit I Definitely Shouldn’t Ever Say Out Loud.”  Maybe, possibly, if one is on really close terms with a teacher, this could be mentioned in private after class, but really, let’s be honest, it’s bound to sound a little creepy regardless.  You’re talking about my eyebrows, friend.  That’s odd.  You might as well have said this:

“I like your eyebrows.  In fact, I’d like to shave the left one off your forehead, dip it in pâté and gently caress it with my tongue while I browse JPEGs of sexy Brony fan art

This exists. Somebody made this.

The right one I will preserve in a Riker mount so that I may treasure it for all eternity, a memento of how skeeved out I made you feel at this moment.  Also, I’m probably going to make sushi out of your  gallbladder meat at some point.”

Awkward.

(P.S. I kind of understand the Brony phenomenon.  I mean, what self-respecting human wouldn’t want to watch a TV show about fabulous ponies.  However, I will never ‘get’ nor will I ever support the people who draw or look at sexualized pictures of cartoon ponies in order to get aroused.  That. . .no. . .I shouldn’t even have to explain why).

4) Do You Own Pants?

I suppose students can’t help but notice my appearance.  After all, I’m pretty much the only thing they get to stare at for an entire hour, aside from my perplexing handwriting on the board and a few PowerPoint slides (with the occasional piece of bizarre clip art I throw on there, just because).  Do you remember clip art?  The animals are my favorite.  Here’s a sampling:

This bitchin’ cat.

These faaaabulous critters

These faaaabulous critters

This smug bastard.

This smug bastard.

These Jewish mice drilling a hole in this uncomfortable turtle's shell with a dreidel.

These Jewish mice drilling a hole in this frightened turtle’s shell with a dreidel.

So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when students comment on my face and clothing in the middle of class.  No, wait, I should.  It’s still weird.

One day a student raised her hand in the middle of class.  When I called on her, instead of asking about thesis statements or paragraph unity or whatever scintillating composition topic we happened to be discussing at that moment, she asked, “Do you own pants?” (apparently noticing my confusion, she attempted to clarify) “No, I mean like, do you have any pants?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a pair of pants, just dresses and skirts.  So do you even have any pants?”

This was the same student who wanted to write an essay expounding upon the merits of McDonald’s with the goal of persuading more American diners to eat there because, you know, with ‘Billions and Billions Served’ and a 35.7% adult obesity rate in America, McDonald’s clearly needs help attracting more American customers.  One of her supporting points was going to be “You don’t have to get all dressed up to eat at McDonald’s like if you go to a five star restaurant like TGI Fridays.”

Five Star Frozen Mac-N-Cheese Wedges

I can’t remember how I responded to her question, but I do remember that it was more awkward than that Michelle Obama/Ann Romney hug.

Those strained facial expressions

3) You Must Have 2 Legs to Ride 

A few days ago in my intro to lit. class, we were discussing the Chuck Palahniuk short story “Escort.”  The story is based on Palahniuk’s experience volunteering as an “escort” (non-sexual companion for hospice patients in this story).  One hospice patient, a one-legged gay man, directs the narrator, in the event of his death, to clean the sexual paraphernalia (leatherwear, dildos, etc.) out of his apartment so that his mother doesn’t have to see it.

At one point, a student who usually doesn’t participate in discussion raised his hand and asked, “I don’t get it, though.  I mean, how can a one-legged man even have sex?”

First of all, this was coming from an 18-year-old freshman, so perhaps he’s not the most . . . experienced.  Still.  My reaction was a combination of this

and this

but with this level of awkwardness as I attempted to stammer out an answer:

2)  TWSS

Once, after I explained the length requirements for an essay, a student groaned, “Man, there is no way I’m gonna be able to get it that long!”

My mature, knee-jerk thought was

But the problem is that I didn’t keep that thought inside my head where it belonged, folded neatly in my quiet little mind drawer.  Instead, I said it out loud before I could stop myself. Thank you Steve Carell.

The cloud of forced, red-faced laughter that followed is out there still, drifting awkwardly through space, making every meteorite and pile of space garbage it bumps into sweaty and uncomfortable.

1)      Turning Wine to Water(falls)

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a drinker.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with imbibing, but I’m a lightweight.  A cheap date.  An

I’m a square.  So I don’t drink that often because most of the time I don’t really want to be drunk.

When I first started teaching, I was 24.  Since I taught at a community college, most of my freshmen were not 18 – many were nontraditional students my age or older.  So it was that I ended up at a party with one of my students.  Turns out we had a mutual friend.  By the time I realized who he was, it was too late – my inhibitions were severely compromised.  Disastrous awkwardness was a certainty.  Again, I want to remind you that I wasn’t throwing back trays of jell-o shots or doing keg stands.  I was sipping mildly on a single glass of wine.  Still, the effect was the same.

At some point I mentioned to everyone that I still remembered all the words to TLC’s “Waterfalls”

and after a few rounds of motivational name-chanting, I was persuaded to perform.  Mind you, there was no karaoke machine.  This was acapella.  I sang loudly and off-key.  I danced wildly for all to see.  At the time, I’m sure I thought my dance moves looked just like this:

Instead, realistically, I probably looked more like a combination of this

and this

and this

and this

.

Nightmarish.

The next day when I reflected upon the experience with the perfect, 20/20 clarity of sober hindsight, I cringed at myself way harder than this guy probably cringed at himself as he walked away from the scene of his unforgivable awkwardness:

Poor guy. I know exactly how he feels.

Any awkward stories to share?

Balboa Constrictors. YOLO.

EDIT:  I apologize to anyone who read this entry before I had the chance to properly edit it.  In my sleep-intoxicated state I accidentally posted it instead of saving and, horror of horrors, I accidentally wrote ‘are’ where I meant to write ‘our.’  Collectively cringe with me.  Let’s just pretend I was trying to be ironic.  Or maybe we can pretend I was trying to give everyone a lesson on why editing and revising is important.  Let’s go with that.

Is it possible to feel burnt out already?

It’s only been a month since the semester began, and I’m already parched, desperate for refreshment that can only come from a day off (a fleeting chimera, a mirage in the world of teachers where ‘days off’ are filled with leering stacks of tripe-riddled essays).

You know how sometimes you clean out the cabinet under your sink for the first time in a while and amidst the three half-filled Windex bottles and the obligatory empty canister of Pledge you find a half-moldy, half-bone-dry, crusty shred of what used to be a plush, new sponge?  That’s me right now.  I’m the sponge.

For this week’s post, I simply give you two events that baffled and amused me this week.

First, one of my students wrote the following in her essay: “We kept missing goals by the length of a long, balboa constrictor.”  That’s right – a balboa constrictor, not a boa constrictor.  Balboa Constrictor – noun – the freakish, bastard offspring of Sly Stallone and a snake.

I’m gonna call you Adrian. Now let’s make some mutant baby monsters, Adrian!

Or maybe Balboa Constrictor is the title of the next ‘so-astoundingly-terrible-it’s-mesmerizing’ B movie.  Move over Sharknado and Birdemic.  The film industry has a new flaming bag of dog doo to lob on the porches of homes across the nation!

This movie will be a cross between Rocky, Splice and Snakes on a Plane.  An aging boxing champion who owns a gym (where he teaches a scrappy smattering of ragtag youths how to mug old men and pregnant ladies), contracts testicular cancer after one-too-many shots to the jewels.  Having never found a willing participant with whom to reproduce, he longs to leave behind a legacy nonetheless.  Thus, he hires a sketchy geneticist (Steve Buscemi) to splice some of his DNA with the DNA of his beloved boa constrictor Adrian.  That’s not what a geneticist does, you say?  Doesn’t matter.  B movie.  Your argument is invalid.

Anyway, the Buscemi and friends set up shop in the basement of the gym, which they jury rig into a lab (duh) with a bunker.  When the experiment gets out of control (naturally), Samuel L. Jackson is brought in to contain the situation.  Why?  Because he’s Samuel L. Jackson.  He runs around killing these Sly-headed boas that have overtaken the gym while everyone else cowers in the bunker.  He says things like, “I’m tired of all these muthf*ckin snakes in this muthaf*ckin ring!” while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background.  Maybe Rocky will punch his own face on the body of a snake at the end.  Wayne Knight will be in there at some point, getting attacked on his way to the vending machine.

Balboa Constrictors – released straight to DVD in a Wal-Mart bargain bin near you.

Next, I give you this week’s Poetic Bus Conversation.

I was sitting on the bus, minding my own business, reading a book, trying to be as invisible as possible (story of my life).  Dude sat down next to me.  That was fine.  He was dressed all in bright, garish, school-bus yellow from head-to-toe.  I’m not being hyperbolic – his shoes and hat were yellow.  Aside from the fact that I was suffering mild ocular distress (it was like looking directly at the sun), I was cool with it.  I’m not one for matchy-matchy outfits, but I figured perhaps he was trying to Livestrong (which is apparently the name of a doomed, yellow ship – sinking due to perforations from thousands of doping syringes).  Or maybe he just really likes lemon puddin’ like Stinky from Hey Arnold.  

Anyway, plenty of other important men throughout history have made yellow their staple wardrobe color:

Why not swear off all the other colors in the rainbow?  Yellow is the new black.

I also observed that he had multiple crosses tattooed on his neck.  Neck tattoos are fine, I suppose, except that these tattoos looked like the lazy, haphazard sketches a seventh-grade boy draws in the margins of his science notebook while trying to stay awake in class (like this thing)

Perhaps he deeply regrets these sketchy, Jesus neck tats and wears all yellow to draw attention away from them.  It didn’t work.  He should consider wearing this instead:

Here’s how our conversation went:

Neck Tattoos:  What are you reading?

Me (thinking, sighing):

(I seriously considered prying open the window and leaping into oncoming traffic, but I needed to get home to feed my cat, so I engaged with him.)

Me: A short story textbook.

Neck Tattoos:  Ohhhh.  Who’s the author?

Me:  There are stories by a lot of different authors in it.

Neck Tattoos:  (Slapping his lap and motioning to the woman standing in the aisle next to his seat) Hey honey, I got a seat right here for ya! Hahaha!

Me:

(I continue reading with the quiet, desperate, futile hope that he’s moved on to new prey)

Neck Tattoos:   “Did. You. Get. The. Shoes? asks. Henri” (Let me explain.  Dude is reading OUT LOUD over my shoulder.  Did you catch that?  Dude is straight up reading, haltingly, inarticulately, LOUDLY over my painfully socially-anxious shoulder!  I would have felt badly for him and his pitiful reading skills if I had not been so miserably annoyed.  Why would he ever think this was an acceptable thing to do?  Ever? Boundaries, land-o-lakes, boundaries.)

Me:  (How I wanted to react)

Me:  (Trying to sound as gently annoyed as possible to avoid some kind of psychotic bus flip-out, I hold the book out) Do you want to read it?

Neck Tattoos:  (Continues reading aloud)    “My God, man. I. am. finished.” See I don’t get that.  Why is he finished?

Me:

Well, he’s in a concentration camp.

Neck Tattoos:  Oh!  Like nazis and stuff! Cool!  I love that stuff.

Me:

Yea…

Neck Tattoos:  Hey, are you a Christian.

Me:  Sure. . . (Listen, dude has crosses tattooed ALL OVER his neck – there was really only one way I was ever going to answer that question, regardless of my beliefs or the fact that they are really not the business of random bus worms.  My main goal was to minimize the amount of time I actually had to spend flapping my lips at this clown.  An answer of ‘no’ or ‘nunya’ was likely to induce a full-on conversion scenario that would end with me placing my head outside of the bus doors and dragging it along the asphalt.)

Dude:  Good, Me too.  I believe in Paul and all that stuff.  You ever watch the 700 club?

Me: (Thinking)

Me:  No.

Dude:  You should watch it.  It’s all about people like us.

Me:  (yes, kindred spirits like me and the captain of the yellow submarine.)

For what he did next, I mostly forgave this guy of all of his previous offenses.  Also, I started to feel like a giant tool.

He offered his seat to a mother and her little girl who boarded the bus and didn’t have anywhere to sit.  Well, first he offered his lap.  Then he offered his seat.

Nobody else offered.  Just him.  That was nice of him.

In his yellow garb and graffiti-festooned neck, he was the hero that commuter needed.  I even (mostly) forgave him for watching 700 Club, a veritable religious port-a-john, and reading out loud over my shoulder.

Neck tattoos is probably a better person than I, with my emotional hang-ups and general aversion to most of mankind, will ever be.

By the way, this mother and little girl were the sweetest little family ever.  The little girl had a voice like a tiny chipmunk, two puffy pigtails on top of her head and huge, dark eyes.  The mother spoke to her daughter with nothing but love in her voice, which is the exception to the bus rule (It’s usually more of a face-glued-to-an-iphone-while-screaming “Sit yo ass down and stop tryna look out the damn window!  Shut yo mouf too!” type of scenario.)  She only had to reprimand her daughter once, and she did so calmly but firmly and effectively.  Magic. So even though this mother wore a hat with ‘YOLO’ printed on it

I couldn’t make this stuff up folks.

she made my day and remedied what started out as a dreadful bus ride from conversational purgatory.

It was as if her life’s motto was, “You only live once, so you might as well use that time to be a good mother and raise productive members of society,” unlike the usual “You only live once so you might as well get syphilis from a hooker behind a dumpster.”

“Rudy Wins the Sportsball Game” by Chad McFrat

I graded 40 rough drafts in one day.  Do you know how much grading that is?  It takes me roughly 15 – 20 minutes to grade a rough draft, so my day clocked in at around 12 hours of grading.  Just grading.  That doesn’t count the planning and class prep I threw in for good measure.  Fellow English teachers/professors out there, I’m sure you feel my pain.  Remember the ‘This is your brain on drugs’ commercials from the 80’s?

(So are they saying that if I do drugs, my brain will become delicious?  That’s my question.)

By the end of the day, my brain felt, not like the fried egg in the commercial, but like an egg that had been whipped into oblivion by a carving fork and then cooked for a few hours into a shriveled, rubbery, burnt oblivion.

Any questions?

If I have to read one more narrative about sports, I’m going to decapitate myself and dribble my own head down a basketball court.  Confession: I hate sports.  It’s not that I don’t understand the merit of sports.  It’s not that I don’t understand how people could like sports.  I just can’t like sports.  I’ve tried.  I was born into a family of sports junkies.  I married into a family of sports addicts.  Trust me, for the sake of my own sanity, I have tried.  I. Just. Can’t.  It’s like trying to force myself to enjoy mayonnaise or ranch dressing.  I understand that people like these condiments (“It’s cool!” “It’s creamy!” “It makes my sandwich moist and delicious!” they cry), but in my opinion, mayonnaise is the repulsive, hellfire mucus of Satan himself

No. No. Nooooonono. Never.  Blargh.  Blech. Ew. Ugh.

and ranch dressing is the pus secreting from his festering wounds .

I watched this SNL skit about a ranch-dressing focus group once.  Once.  As amusing as I find Melissa McCarthy, I would rather change 300 blown-out baby diapers than ever watch it again.   It just confirmed my suspicions.  Ranch dressing is vile.

Here it is. Watch if you dare. It’s your funeral.

It’s as if someone dug through medical waste to find garbage bags filled with the fat sucked out during a liposuction procedure and stuck it in a jar.  Spread THAT on your sandwich.

For me, sports are the entertainment version of this – creamy, liposuction, fatty condiment on a screen that makes my stomach want to crawl out of my throat and run away. There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than accidentally eating a bite of mayonnaise or ranch dressing except for sports sounds in the background of my life.

Ugh.  What kind of monster made this video?  I could only get through 20 seconds of it.

So, when 75% of the narrative drafts I had to grade were about sports trials and tribulations, I thought I actually might start having a House level seizure (that turns out NOT to be lupus).  It was like reading really poorly-written Rudy fan-fiction.  Do you remember Rudy?

No, not the adorable, precocious Cosby kid who always knew just how to put Kenny in his place.

THIS Rudy.

Remember baby Sean Astin overcoming the odds to become a football hero?  At the end of the movie, everyone chants, “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” and he’s hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates, victorious.

I remember Rudy quite vividly because, for some reason, every health class I took from jr. high to high school was taught by some sportsball coach who hung up posters bearing “inspirational” slogans like, “Pain is weakness leaving your body!” and forced us to watch Rudy  and Hoosiers on a constant loop.

Anyway, most of my students’ essays were along the same lines – “How I overcame the odds to move from JV to Varsity” “How I won the big game” “How I made the team” “How I ate a bucket of mayonnaise.”

You might be thinking, “If you don’t want to read papers about sports, why not just tell them they can’t write about sports or create assignments that choose a topic for them, like a literacy narrative”?  I have done this in the past, but what I find is that most of my students are much more willing to write (and are much better at writing) the first essay if I allow them to choose a topic they like.   My hope is that they will somewhat enjoy writing the first paper so that I can begin, ever so slowly,  to chip away at their prejudices toward writing (which are sundry).     “See?  That wasn’t so bad!  Now let’s do a rhetorical analysis of this speech by Alexander the Great!”  It’s sort of like the college-writing version of this:

Yessss. Yesss. Eat the delicious candy. Haha! It’s strained peas!

So for one paper only, I force myself to metaphorically eat an entire bottle of ranch dressing, cringing and heaving all the way.

Here’s a quote from one student’s essay:       “To quote the great Andy Dick, I was in beast mode.”

First of all,

THIS is Andy Dick.

You know, C-List “comedian” whose ability to annoy is second only to a first-place tie between Carrot Top and Gilbert Gottfried.  He’s best known for mastering the art of sexual harrassment and public urination.  So either my student has a completely mangled definition of “great” or he was thinking of somebody else.  I really hope he was thinking of somebody else.  Also, I’m pretty sure Andy Dick never talked about going into ‘beast mode.’  Please correct me if I’m wrong so that I can adequately judge my student for his choice in role models.

Marshawn Lynch definitely goes into that beast mode.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I don’t like sports.  Every multi-million dollar sportsball hero I’ve ever seen interviewed sounds like Mr. Lynch and, when asked, “How’d you manage to pull out a win tonight?” says things like “Well, you know, the other team gave it 100%, so I just went out there and gave it my 110%”  a phrase that tops my list of pet peeves as a complete impossibility.

Another student wrote, “I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete ass well” which created some very interesting images in my head as I tried to figure out what a ‘professional athlete ass well’ could be.  DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT do a Google search for ‘ass well.’

One wrote about how the big game was very “nerve raking” which I actually like better than “nerve-racking” I think.  Just imagine a rake scraping across exposed nerve-endings.  That seems much more unpleasant

I think I’ll start using that phrase.  For example – “Reading essays about sports is nerve-raking.”

The end.