Friday, February 27, 2009

Loss of Interest

My blog totally sucks now (Like it didn't before!) and I have no intention of correcting that. I'm completely disinterested in everything going on around me these days. I just want to know where I'm moving, and then I want to move there. This is the world's stupidest process.

While I'm here, though, I might as well give an endorsement to forums of It's where I've learned everything I know about safe neighborhoods in Boston, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, and >Chicago. If you ever had a question about a major American city, chances are these forums can help you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Graduate Degree in Rudeness

I had a problem with my application at one school. They said they hadn't received my transcript from one of the seemingly dozens of colleges I've attended. I called the transcript-sending college and they said their transcripts only say the name of their district, so they can be overlooked sometimes. I called the graduate school to explain this and ask them to look around in their "miscellaneous" folder.


A RANDOM STRANGER: Hi. I'm an applicant and I've received an e-mail saying you're missing a transcript, but the school doesn't put their name on their transcripts, so I'm calling to see if perhaps you have it but don't recognize it because it says the name of the district.


[awkward silence]

ARS: Um....

SE#1: You're a graduate applicant?

ARS: Yes.

SE#1: One moment.



ARS: [repeat of previous opening]

HOGP: You need to talk to the graduate school. Do you have their number?

ARS: Um, I can find it online.

HOGP: Okay.


SURLY EMPLOYEE #2: Graduate school.

ARS: [repeat of previous opening]

SE#2: You need to talk to Surly Employee #3.


SURLY EMPLOYEE #3: [voice mail recording] Hi, you've reached Surly Employee #3. Leave a message and spell your name, slowly, and I will return your call during my office hours of 10 to 4. [it was 2 at the time]

ARS: [repeat of previous opening]


SURLY EMPLOYEE #4: Graduate school.

ARS: [repeat of previous opening]

SE#4: Please hold, I'll transfer you.

[click, dial tone]


SE#4: Graduate school.

ARS: [repeat of previous opening]

SE#4: [accusingly] Did you just call?

ARS: Yes.

SE#4: I'll transfer you, but here's the number in case you get disconnected. [gives number]


SE#5: Graduate school.

ARS: [repeat of previous opening]

SE#5: What was the name of the school?

ARS: [transcript-sending college]

[silence for two minutes while minor noises incidental to office work let me know I haven't been disconnected]SE#5: We didn't know the records for [transcript-sending school] would be on the records for another school.

ARS: Right, they send one transcript for all work in the district.

SE#5: [swallowing rage] I see that now.

ARS: Great.

SE#5: So I will mark your file as complete. You don't need to send anything else to us. I can now conduct a GPA review and a bachelor's certification.

ARS: I'm sorry, what did you say about master's?

SE#5: [seethingly] I can now conduct a GPA review and a bachelor's certification.

ARS: Oh, you said "bachelor's." I thought you said "master's."

SE#5: Are you completing a master's degree now?

ARS: No.

SE#5: [warningly] They will not admit you without a master's degree.

ARS: Really? Because your website says it's not a requirement and most other schools will, also.

SE#5: I will forward your record to the department and if they choose to admit you to the master's program instead they may do that.

Immediately after this phone call I went to the school's website and found: "A master's degree is not prerequisite for admission to the PhD program in economics."

Should I take a lesson from this experience and not attend this school? Remember how horribly Nameless Company treated me when I moved to this state, and then they offered me a job and I took it, a decision I've been ruing ever since? Maybe this school will be the same way. However, it's in a particularly blighted city, which makes the cost of living attractive. What to do, what to do?


Boston College: unknown

George Mason University: unknown

George Washington University: unknown

Northeastern University: ADMITTED

Rice University: unknown

Temple University: unknown

University of Illinois-Chicago: ADMITTED

University of Kansas: unknown

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: unknown

Washington University: unknown

Vanderbilt University: unknown

Monday, February 23, 2009

This Is a Little More Like It

Accepted to University of Illinois-Chicago in this afternoon's mail.

End of February

When I started hearing that people were receiving grad school responses the first week of February, it threw off my worrying schedule. When I’d sent in my applications in December, I’d planned to not give it any thought until at least the end of February, at which time I would be unable to do anything but worry. The worrying came early, though, when online discussion boards started having posts of acceptances and rejections.

Well, now it really is the end of February (or, as my daughter spelled it in church yesterday, Febwuawe--and I give her mad props for including the first W, since most people ignore that noise and say it like it’s spelled Febuary) and I feel completely justified in my worrying.

The only update, so far, is that I’ve been accepted at Northeastern University. That’s a little comforting, as it at least means if we want to go to grad school next year we can. I don’t know if I want to live in Boston for over three years, though. From what I understand, it’s expensive. I’m hoping we can get into a school in a blighted town like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, or Saint Louis, where homes are routinely sold for $1.

As the week progresses, I might have more updates, but so far, this is it.

Boston College: unknown

George Mason University: unknown

George Washington University: unknown

Northeastern University: ACCEPTED

Rice University: unknown

Temple University: unknown

University of Illinois-Chicago: unknown

University of Kansas: unknown

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: unknown

Vanderbilt University: unknown

Washington University: unknown

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


My horoscope made me sad today. It concluded with "fix up your study room."

If only I had a study room, stars! Or if I at least had a turned-over orange crate inside an empty Dumpster. I have nothing and that worries me for next year (if there is a next year in my academic career).

In January 2007 we got bunk beds and moved Articulate Joe into Crazy Jane's room. The other room was supposed to become the office. Instead it became the "office/playroom," which our kids never called anything but the "slash playroom." Using the room for an office required hours of cleaning up toys, which means it was never used as an office. In January 2008 it became Baby X's bedroom.

When I was at BYU just about every building had comfortable places to sit. I remember doing homework and reading in a second floor lounge area of the Talmadge Building. (That might be a benefit of using the buildings as churches on Sundays; every building needed several foyers.) KU, however, has nothing of the sort. Snow Hall has a sort of lounge, but the chairs are uncomfortable and falling apart. (One chair has fallen to pieces and has been sitting that way for over a year now.)

When I tried to satisfy my private study craving with a Google image search, I came across this article, which must have originated in a foreign language before being translated by a computer program. Even with these language problems, though, I think I can relate to this quote: "His reference like this, did we need only a reading room in the corner of the room but still was related to the activity of the other room, or we really needed a place to isolate himself, relax, and concentrate on running away from the everyday activity fatigue, also to keep our collection of the family's book?" If only I had somewhere to run away from the everyday activity fatigue.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Remember that awesome story I had about being too stupid to tell time, and how it ruined my weekend? I guess I'm going to have to come to terms with the fact that I have anxiety. I don't think it's enough to be a disorder or anything, but uncertain situations or important events distract me. I can't perform normal tasks and I can't sleep. The only times I remember having this problem as a child was twice a year, the night before school started and Christmas Eve. This went away as a teenager, but that might have been for other reasons. Regardless, or irrespective, but not irregardless, my graduate school applications are taking a toll.

When I sent in my applications I thought it was going to be a rough two months, but really everything went pretty well because I thought decisions wouldn't start coming out until the beginning of March. Then I found out that some decisions were out the first week of February. Of course, many of those schools had December deadlines, and none of my applications had deadlines before January, but now that some people are starting to find out what they're doing next year, I am worrying about what I'm doing.

This means I can't concentrate at work, or at school, or at home, or lying in bed at night. All I can do is watch the clock.

How did I become a worrier? I blame my family. I've told Persephone before, "I didn't want to get married because I'd just be increasing the number of people disappointed with me from one to many." Current count is five. If I was single and didn't get in to graduate school, I don't think I'd care that much. (Actually, I almost definitely wouldn't even be applying to graduate school if I were single.) But now I've got people who don't want to be the groupies of an elevator boy forever, and I've got the misfortune of applying to graduate school the year everyone else is, too.

To answer some questions that have been asked lately: Leslie wanted to know if I listed the schools in my order of preference. No, I just listed them in alphabetical order. I have a preference order, but I'm not going to tell you because, 1. I imagine you'll think, "You've got no shot getting into your top three, moron," and 2. it will be embarrassing when I have to tell you, "I barely got accepted to my No. 11 school."

Erik wanted to know why we're going to Utah in July. My wife's parents are finishing a new cabin (since the old one is about to fall down the mountain) and we're going to meet them there for a week or so because, ideally, we'll be moving somewhere further east in August.

Jill wanted to know if The Friendly Jerk understood opportunity costs. I think he might be coming around, because he's making plans to quit work and live off student loans this fall while he gets a master's from a different, more-purplish state university.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Countdown to Freedom

Is it poor form to have a chart on the wall by my work desk for counting down the days until I don't have to work here anymore? I've had such a chart up since last August and no one has complained yet. Having already crossed off today, there are only 167 days left until freedom. (That's including weekends; there are only 118 work days left.)

I also had a countdown to freedom chart at City Hall, but I kept that one in a desk drawer. I ended up quitting before reaching the end of the chart, too, but I don't foresee that working out this time. The main problem I'm facing here is not having the company last 167 more days (or 118 more work days, take your pick).

Since I'm so bored, here's a rough outline for the rest of my life:

FEBRUARY: work, school, maybe a temple trip to Omaha, but I don't think Crazy Jane is old enough yet to watch Articulate Joe and Baby X. Some time in February we might hear back from graduate programs.

MARCH: assuming I get accepted anywhere, we'll use our spring break to visit the town and school and see where we want to move. Aside from that, more work and more school.

APRIL: work and school, and if I have a grad school offer to accept, accept a grad school offer.

MAY: graduate, then start working full-time again at Nameless Company. I'd like to throw in a county trip out to Nicodemus, KS and Red Cloud, NE.

JUNE: pack our stuff, since we're definitely moving SOMEwhere, be it another town or under an overpass.

JULY: drive to Utah and back. Finish packing our stuff. Load a truck. Quit my job. Get in the truck and drive to...we don't know where yet.

AUGUST, 2009 to MARCH, 2042: to be determined.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Copyright Law

Yep, nothing makes the panties drop faster than a post entitled "Copyright Law." But a couple things have come up over the past few days that are sort of related.

Firstly, I overhead another TA arguing that copyright law was an artificial construct that he didn't need to respect because he is "forced" to use copyrighted materials. The standard argument against this is that, if copyright law isn't respected, there is no economic incentive to produce new works, so fewer works will be produced and society will suffer.

Secondly, though, I read this article with the following claim: "'They don't have the right to read a book out loud,' said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. 'That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.'"

Reading a book aloud violates copyright law? Why is there a board book industry? Are they assuming my one-year-old knows how to read? I mean, Cristin's does, but mine doesn't.

It used to be understood that the only way to violate a copyright was to profit from the violation, or keep others from profiting from it. When I was a kid in Ohio the city showed movies in the park and nobody cared. Now the NFL issues cease and desist letters to churches that are watching the Super Bowl together. It's not a violation if the same people watch the game on their own, but they can't watch it together (or use the term "Super Bowl," which is copyrighted in itself).

The university I attend has claimed copyright to the word "Kansas" and pursues legal action against people who produce shirts that bear that word. Not a font or color combination, just the word, that existed years before the university was founded.

There was a time when copyrights expired, and the Constitution expressly forbids perpetual copyright. However, Congress continues to extend copyright expirations and the Supreme Court has found that's not a perpetual copyright (which is further evidence, if further evidence is needed, that a mechanism to overturn Supreme Court decisions is sorely needed and would return the balance laid out in the original document before Marbury v. Madison's misinterpretation). This is why L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz is in the public domain, but Turner Entertainment's "Wizard of Oz" will never be.

The idea of copyright was to protect the economic welfare of the person who risked the material's creation, not to protect the revenue stream of a company that didn't even exist yet.

I used to own a stereo with two tape decks. Why did these manufacturers escape the wrath of the RIAA but those making today's recording technology don't? When copyright owners make ridiculous statements such as "watching the Super Bowl with more than 25 of your friends causes me economic harm" or "reading a book aloud is not allowed" they undermine whatever respect for copyright law still exists in this country, much like how the tax laws that expect me to track my online purchases and their states of origin for purposes of paying the required sales tax at the end of the year undermine respect for tax laws in general.

If you're going to make a criminal out of me no matter what I do, why won't I just go all out and gain all the advantages of criminality available to me? Tax law and copyright law need serious revision.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Grab Your Ankles for the Larry King Grab-Bag

Crazy people say what the rest of us are thinking.

At Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet today, I tried some of their pasta that the television commercials pretend can be passed off for gourmet food at exclusive New York restaurants. The pasta was ice cold and congealed into lumps. This goes to prove: New Yorkers will rave about anything they've been told is rave-worthy.

Despite what you might have seen last Sunday night in Topeka, it is not acceptable to wear your Bluetooth device throughout stake priesthood meeting.

The best way to make sure your siblings don't use your favorite baby names when naming their own children is to pick stupid baby names. My brother's got "James" all to himself.

Non-stinky bus passengers need to stick together. Otherwise we all have to ride next to a stinky person, and everybody loses.

To all the Lawrencians who are happy Cold Stone closed: it was a franchise, which means it was a locally-owned business. Those tears you'd weep for Silas and Maddy's if it closed are the result of your ignorance, not your progressivity.

Barack Obama closed the Guantanamo Bay prison like Larry Craig quit the Senate. "Intending to close it in a year" is a lot different from "closing it."

Everyone who thinks Republicans are prudes should familiarize themselves with Sen. Crapo and Rep. Boehner. They remind me of when Beavis and Butt-Head joined the Army and assigned themselves ranks: Major Woody and Pvt. Parts.

Monday, February 09, 2009

We've Got to Do Something About This Wood

My friend Jill, who gets no blog nickname because she's already been mentioned on the blog by her Christian name, once told me the most hilarious true story ever. (Jill's pretty good for hilarious stories.) Jill told me this story on a 15-hour van ride from Utah to Santa Barbara, during which van ride she also taught me to sing into my thumb like a microphone. (Then she stole my book and skipped the country.)

I've retold this story to friends and family for nearly ten years now, and no one, NOT ONE person has thought it was funny. Jill laughed about it when she told me, I laugh about it every time I think of about it, and everyone else reacts like I'm retelling an epic tragedy, and then becomes concerned for my humanity when I conclude the story in a laughing fit. I haven't retold this story here before because most of the people who read this blog already have heard it, but now there's a reason for me to reference this story, so here it is.


Jill's father (we'll call him Brother Paco) got a telephone call from an inactive member of their ward (who we'll call Brother Davidson, I guess). "Brother Paco," said Brother Davidson, "I've got some wood in my garage and I'm not using it. I think I'd like to donate it to the Boy Scouts. They can come on by and pick up this wood whenever they'd like."

"That's nice of you, Brother Davidson," said Brother Paco. "I'm not one of the Scout leaders, though. Here's who you need to talk to," he said, giving out a name and telephone number, "and he can let you know if they can use any extra wood."

A few weeks later, there's another telephone call. "Brother Paco, it's Brother Davidson again. I've still got this wood out in the garage and I need to know if the Boy Scouts want it or not."

"Brother Davidson, let me give you the name and number of the Scout leader who can tell you if they can use that wood."

A few more weeks, and then, "Brother Paco, this is Brother Davidson. We've got to do something about this wood."

"Brother Davidson, like I said, I don't know if the Boy Scouts need any wood right now, so you really should contact someone from the Scouts."

This continued intermittently. Every few weeks Brother Davidson would call and say, "Brother Paco, we've got to do something about this wood," and Brother Paco would tell him who to contact. I believe Brother Paco even passed the name and number along to the Scout leader, but nothing would change.

Finally, one day Sister Paco got a telephone call from the missionaries. "Sister Paco, we're calling on behalf of Brother Davidson."

"Look," said Sister Paco, "we've told him plenty of times what has to happen. We can't take the wood. We don't even know if the Boy Scouts need it. If he wants to get rid of this wood he just needs to talk to the right people."

The missionaries said, "Well, Sister Paco, the thing is Brother Davidson went out to his garage last week and trip over the wood and had to go to the hospital. He's been doing pretty bad and we've been coming to visit him. He finally died today and the last thing he said to us was, 'I need to you call Brother Paco and tell him, "We've got to do something about this wood."'"


Oh, man! I'm laughing so hard as I type this at work that I'm crying!

Whether or not this story actually is the most hilarious story ever told by man (and it is, but that's neither here nor there), I tell you this story as background for a little tale regarding my workplace. Two weeks ago New Supervisor fired The Friendly Redhead for really no other reason than he didn't like her. The problem is The Friendly Redhead was popular among us peons and she also covered for a lot of people who have no clue how to do their jobs (New Supervisor included). On a personal note, I feel like I have to make excuses for New Supervisor because we go to the same church, and frankly, I'm running out of excuses for the guy. But now that New Supervisor has to do his own job, I've been reminded of the wood story all week.


NEW SUPERVISOR: A Random Stranger, The Friendly Redhead said you are making some maps for her. Is that true?


NS: No?

ARS: Nope.


NS: I guess you made some maps for The Friendly Redhead and sent them out a month ago?

ARS: I made maps and told her where they were. Quiet Boss looked them over and had Carlos O'Kelly make some changes. I don't know if those changes are done, and if they were sent out, and whether the clients would contact Quiet Boss, The Friendly Redhead, Carlos, or me.

NS: What's the status of that?

ARS: I don't know.

NS: Okay, thanks.


NS: Have you heard anything back about those maps that were sent out?

ARS: No.

NS: No?

ARS: Nope. I don't know if they were sent out or to whom.

NS: I see. [Editor's Note: No, he didn't.]


NS: What have you heard back about those maps?

ARS: Nothing.

NS: Nothing?

ARS: If those maps were sent out, I don't know if I was listed as the contact for them, so I don't know if I ever would hear anything back from the clients.

NS: Oh, okay.


NS: How are those maps? Nearly done?

ARS: Look, I told you earlier this week that I made those maps over a month ago and know nothing else about it.

NS: Okay, thanks.

I told Persephone, "I almost expect him to say to me, 'We've got to do something about this wood.'" This made her groan at the horribleness of the wood story, but I began laughing as I thought about it again. I'm afraid working more directly with New Supervisor is going to make me think of this story a lot. (Although, if the way New Supervisor stared at me and then walked away when I said hello last night at stake priesthood meeting is any indication, I might be following The Friendly Redhead right out the door.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

What's the Matter With Barack Obama?

I tried to have some good will towards the new president, but the more he talks the more it becomes obvious that he's a partisan hack who doesn't care about anything more than partisan politics. In his short tenure he's managed to do two things horribly wrong: his op-ed piece in yesterday's Washington Post and his leading the charge for delaying the analog TV shutdown.

Let's read through the op-ed piece and try to find some "hope" or maybe even some "yes we can."

By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression.

For a man who campaigned on hope, his public statements sure are full of fear. This is NOT the worst economy since the Great Depression, but he continues to say it is. And for someone who wants to be considered above the partisan fray, he certainly takes every opportunity to say, "George Bush caused this problem." George Bush didn't keep interest rates low for too long in the early 2000s and Alan Greenspan doesn't suggest in Age of Turbulence that he did it because of White House pressure. George Bush didn't relax the capital gains tax, that was something Bill Clinton did. George Bush didn't push to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from Congressional oversight, that was something the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives championed. There are plenty of things George Bush did wrong (such as his heedless adoption of socialism to address the financial crisis), but the current problem is too large for any simplistic "George Bush did it" explanation. (Although Obama says this to pander to the crowd who eagerly accepts that George Bush caused Hurricane Katrina, so he's got the house on his side for this one.)

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives.

Ah, the old "don't just stand there, do something" excuse. I find it interesting that this still works on anyone. Remember the day the House had its first vote on the "bailout," and we were told the market would shut down if it didn't pass. Well, it didn't pass and the market didn't shut down. A few days later the bailout had become a "rescue package," and we were supposed to feel better. However today I read that the government overpaid by $78 bil. for the assets it bought in this "rescue."

A rescue indeed. The only thing that saved these companies' managements from the ire of their shareholders was their ability to fleece the government. The idea of "the government that governs least governs best" has been replaced with the new notion of "they look like they're really trying, and that's good." Finally, the false standards to which we hold our school children have been extended to our leaders. Results don't matter as much as effort and intent.

Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

Are you serious? Your campaign of hope has become fear-mongering on an unprecedented level. Threatening an irreversible economic crisis must be a new low in partisan demagoguery. People speaking in ultimatums typically are trying to cover weak arguments, and what greater ultimatum on economic policy can there be than "approve my stimulus package or it's back to the Stone Age"?

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship."

I wish the good idea of eating bacon for every meal would get placed ahead of the old ideological battle of cardiovascular health. It seems to me, however, that one of Washington's worst habits is the practice of labeling a problem a crisis so we can act quickly without worry of consequence, the practice of blaming all our problems on one person or party and then threatening catastrophe if we seek a solution other than that espoused by the speaker.

Not only has Obama shown himself as a partisan hack this week, he's also shown he's a partisan hack with no priorities. Fresh off his historic inauguration he expended a lot of political capital to get the HDTV switch deadline pushed back. Why? I cannot believe anyone can keep a straight face while saying this is a safety issue. Television is a safety device now? The government has spent millions advertising a deadline that now has been changed. At some point someone, somewhere, is going to be unprepared for the TV switch. This entire thing is among the stupidest government schemes in a long time. We're now seeing the inefficiencies of top-down command economies, where the leaders decide what's good and then force a bunch of people who don't want it to "take their medicine." I'm glad the voucher program is running short on money and I'm glad I could contribute to that by getting two vouchers when I only have one TV. Until Congress learns that artificially lowering the cost of something makes people want more of it, nothing will change.

Obama's op-ed piece talks about the rising cost of health care, but then his solution is to make more of it "free." As long as lonely old people only have to pay five dollars to have a professional listen to their litany of ailments, health care will continue to be overused. The worst people to give free stuff to are old people and children. Old people have all day to overuse it and children have people who want to make sure they have "every advantage." (Question regarding "advantages": education standards continue to slip while classrooms become more and more hi-tech. How many overhead projectors does it take to teach a fifth grader to read at a third-grade level?)

The president is a blow-hard demagogue with misplaced priorities. (BCS playoffs are on his radar, but "the war on terror" is not?) But he still inspires hope in me: I just keep telling myself, "Jimmy Carter gave us Ronald Reagan."

Office Banter

We used to have a guy working here who was named after a vegetable. His claim to fame was his inability to not say everything he thought. One particularly memorable moment came when we were discussing the Poudre River in Larimer County, Colorado. (This river is a frequent conversation topic at work because of the double entendres that arise from the pronunciation of "pooter.") Vegetable Guy didn't get the entendres, so he kept talking about how beautiful it was going up the Poudre, although he preferred his trip up the Snake River. I asked, "Have the Snake and the Poudre ever met?" I believe it was then that he realized what we'd been saying for the previous five minutes. He stammered, "I mean-- I didn't mean-- I meant to say--" before finally exclaiming, "I'm not a homo!"

When Vegetable Guy quit working here we thought he would leave an irreparable void. But then came his replacement, a guy I'll call Carlos O'Kelly. Carlos sits at his desk across a high divider from me, silent for 39 ½ hours per week, often making me forget he's even at his desk, but when he opens his mouth for the other ½ hour every week, it's usually something memorably inappropriate.

Two weeks ago we had two firedudes and a firebabe come through our office looking for safety violations. Carlos IMed me, apropos of nothing, "I'd hit it." I wrote back, "I think you should tell her, with those exact words. If I know women, (and I KNOW WOMEN), they appreciate honesty." He responded with, "LOL, get a case of beer in me and I might just do it."

A case? I thought the phrase was "Get a FEW beers in me." Doesn't a case start at 24? Perhaps Carlos has a drinking problem and this was his cry for help. Well, I responded as any true friend would: I copied the text of the IM and e-mailed it to another coworker who was out of the office for the week so he wouldn't miss out on the fun.

Today my supervisor just got back from Hawaii. We asked him how it was and The Friendly Jerk kept asking him if he saw Dog the Bounty Hunter. When my supervisor said no, The Friendly Jerk asked if he saw Beth, Dog's wife. Carlos then asked, "Would you jump into bed with her if you had the chance?" I started laughing too hard to make noise (and the dividing wall kept him from seeing me). The Friendly Jerk said, "I'm going to let [supervisor] field that one." My supervisor said, "Um, no?" Then Carlos asked The Friendly Jerk for his take. He said, "Pass." I said, "He doesn't want to jinx it by talking about it."

My favorite Carlos story, though, involves his shrewd business acumen. The Friendly Jerk is constantly worried about money. He lives like a hobo so he can pay off his student loans as quickly as possible. At our office Christmas party he received a ten dollar gift card to the café next door to our office. The next week at work he wanted to sell it for face value to someone who regularly ate there, so he could have the ten dollars in cash. Carlos told him, "If no one's bought it from you in a week, I'll buy it for five bucks." The Friendly Jerk had a problem with that, but I just figured it was the price of liquidity in these uncertain times.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Public Humiliation

Usually I'm all about public humiliation, which is strange considering that, more often than not, it's my humiliation that's happening in public. I've shared before about having underwear fall out the leg of my pants while standing on someone's porch, and about having my ass doctor (that's the technical term for her, I'm pretty sure) tell her assistant that my medical condition was caused by my hairiness (while touching my ass cheek to make sure the assistant knew which part of my hairiness was to blame), and about having a totally different ass doctor (again, it's printed right there on his business card) call me out on the fact that I was not, despite what I'd written on my patient questionnaire, a professional hostage negotiator. As you can see, when it comes to public humiliation, I adhere to the "more is better" philosophy and I see no reason to change horses midstream. I figure I'll just keep the humiliation coming until I die in some completely dignity-free manner, such as breaking my neck trying to smell my own fart, or getting my nuts caught in an elevator door. (You'd think I'd stop sticking them in there, but sometimes the doors are closing and my hands are full.)

For the past three years I've had the opportunity to surrender my dignity nearly once a month as I have the following conversation with either new coworkers, recent ward move-ins, or my students.

THEM: So, are you getting a masters or a doctorate?

ME: I'm getting a bachelors.

CRICKETS: Chirp, chirp.


Sure, I love surrendering my dignity just as much as the next guy (actually, I guess the point of this post is that I love it more than the next guy), but doing it the same way over and over just gets a little stale. You know me (don't you?), I like to keep it fresh. Which is why I've decided to take up swimming.

Yes, swimming, that thing I was supposed to learn how to do years ago. I sort of did, meaning that every year at Scout camp I passed the swim test so I could pretend I was attempting the sailing and canoeing merit badges, but my "pass" would never have been described as being attended by "flying colors," not even by a generous blind judge. We would jump in the body of water, be it lake, river, or ocean, in our clothing, then take off our pants to fashion flotation devices from them, then swim a particular distance and back. I was always the last to finish, typically after the other kids were already dressed again. But I could swim well enough to keep body and soul together.

It turned out that, with my choice of spouse, that makes me seem like Mark Spitz these days. Three kids later I'm still the best swimmer in our family. But what I do could only be considered swimming in the loosest sense, and would more accurately fall under the heading "rhythmic floating."

Since I've become a (recently-lapsed) bicycle commuter, as I prepared for running a marathon I thought, "I'm only one skill away from a triathlon." Given my penchant for humiliation, I felt naturally drawn to the triathlon, and when I survived the marathon (and learned that most triathlons are not Ironman length), that just sealed the deal.

A number of things are between me and the triathlon finish line, first of which is my distended second-trimester stomach, but not least of which is my lack of swimming proficiency. So, like the complete nerd I am, I checked out a bunch of swimming books and instructional DVDs from the city library. I even took notes. But there's only so much book-learning (or, as it's written in academia, book-learnin') can do for you. So I've begun swimming. I've had three experiences so far.

EXPERIENCE ONE: I woke up at five and drove to the city pool for its 5:15 opening. On the way I noticed heavy traffic for that time of (let's not kid ourselves about this) night. It turned out the pool is the happening place to be at 5:15. The parking lot was full. I did not want to have to worry about sharing a lane while trying not to drown, so I drove back home.

EXPERIENCE TWO: I went to the pool on a Saturday afternoon. Without my glasses I couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the lifeguard was our babysitter and that she was laughing at me. That night when the babysitter came over I asked her about it and she denied it. She also said, "They wouldn't laugh at you, they'd just talk about you in the break room." So now I'll know why the lifeguards congregate in the break room when I show up. Swimming-wise, though, I think I did much better than I ever had at Boy Scout camp, but I can't very well invite the other swimmers to take a trip with me in the way-back machine for a comparison. All they know is the adult in Lane 3 can't swim an entire length without stopping and telling himself, "Rotate to air; don't lift your head." And, to top it all off, I got to see some old dude put on jeans with no underwear, and I was deathly afraid I would see him later in the day at Wal-Mart.

EXPERIENCE THREE: I took my swim bag to school with me today and at lunch walked to a city pool at one of the high schools. The security guard inside the high school door was a woman reading a romance novel. Isn't that basically porn for chicks? Why would she feel comfortable reading that at her desk at work? She wasn't even trying to hide it inside a magazine or anything. Anyway, she directed me to the pool like nothing was wrong. I got inside with no problem, changed clothes, and went out to the pool. An old woman in the pool said, "Who are you?"

"Um, I'm a guy who's here for the open swim?"

"It's not open swim right now."

"I checked the website?"

"It's not open until tonight. Right now it's for students."

Not just students, but mentally handicapped students who kept looking at me like, "What the hell is that guy doing here?" Since I was already in the pool, the old lady told me I could swim for eight minutes before the next group of students came in. Later, as I was getting ready to get out, she came over and made sure I knew I had to leave. As I dried off she tried to be nice about it, telling me I wasn't the first person to make this mistake, but later as I was dressing she yelled into the dressing room, "Knock knock! Are you about done?"

The good news was that, since no one was at the door, I got to swim for free. The bad news was I would have gladly paid the $3.33 to avoid the entire experience.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Graduate School

Because I’ve taken something like eight decades to finish college, I originally thought I wouldn’t go to graduate school. When we moved to Kansas a well-meaning meddler who calls his wife Deb even though that’s not her name invited us over for dinner. He wanted to know what type of schooling I’d had and what my plans were for finishing. I said, “Now that we live here, I will apply to Local U. and finish school.” He said, “And then what type of graduate program are you looking to go to?” It was just a given to him. He couldn’t imagine that anyone would stop going to school with just a bachelor’s degree, and when I hinted that that was my intention, he looked at me like I’d just laid a turd on his carpet. (Which I didn't, thank you very much.)

On my first day of school at Local U. I told myself, “And the good news is, you don’t have to worry about your grades because you’re not going to try to go to graduate school.” As I was walking between my second and third classes of the day, though, I thought, “But maybe I should go to graduate school.” I asked a professor of mine (who turned out to be a guy I’ve worked with a lot since then) about master’s degrees in economics and he said, “Why would you want a master’s degree? That’s sort of like the boobie prize of economics.” As it turns out, economics PhD programs don’t require masters, many economics programs don’t even offer masters, and most economics programs will pay for doctorates but not masters. If you fail your PhD qualifying exams, they give you a master’s and kick you out. Well, being nearly retirement age, I liked the idea of skipping a step, trying to catch back up to where someone my age should be.

Over the last few months, as I’ve tried to figure out where I should apply, I’ve been completely clueless. I didn’t want to apply somewhere I couldn’t get in, thus wasting money on the application fee, but I didn’t want to not apply somewhere good that I could get in. Again I asked this professor and he said, “Why don’t you go talk to Dr. Nicknameless? She has a really good idea of where students can get in.” When I went to see her she asked, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “From what I’ve read, I like the program at George Mason.” She said, “Mason has a reputation for being a particular school of thought and even if you disagree with that way of thinking, you might get labeled that way because you’ve gone there. Sort of like UMass on the other end of the spectrum.” A few questions later she told me, “You should apply to Notre Dame or UMass.” Wait, what? UMass? I got the impression she wasn’t listening to me at all. She told me to come back in a month, but I decided there was no real reason to do it. When I told a friend about this conversation, she said, “Nicknameless has seemed really distracted lately.” I immediately thought, “Maybe she’s pregnant, or has a terminal disease.” Several months later she’s not any fatter and she’s still alive, so maybe something else is to blame.

At the end of the semester we had a department lunch party. Dr. Nicknameless talked to me a little and asked, “So where are you applying?” I said, “Well, here, and George Mason.” She said, “Did you apply to UMass?” I said, “Well, no, because it seemed like you said UMass was sort of the opposite of George Mason.” She said, “Oh, I see.” Then she asked, “Where else have you applied?”

Here’s the thing about this question: with no idea of which schools are out of my league, I’m loathe to talk about this with anyone because I don’t want them thinking, “Pbbbth, you’ve got no shot at that school, pal!” So I usually just name one school at a time until people get tired asking. Since she asked for another school, I gave her one more. “Rice?”

“What do you like about Rice?” she asked. Um, who knows? It’s a school, and it’s ranked around Notre Dame, which she told me I could expect to maybe get into, and it’s a private school so they probably have more money to give to graduate students. I said, “Um, I don’t know.” She said, “Interesting.” Then she asked, “How serious are you about staying here?” I said, “Well, my family would like it.” She said, “Would you like it?” It wasn’t until then that I remembered she is on the admissions committee. Smooth move, A Random Stranger. I said, “I’d like to go to any school that would accept me and give me money.” She laughed like I hoped she would, then she introduced me to the head of the department who looked at me like, “I’ve already met you before. Why am I meeting you again?” I wish I knew.

So my applications are in and I’ve ended up applying to 11 schools. I go back and forth between expecting admission to all of them and none of them. Here they are:

  1. Boston College (Boston, MA)
  2. George Mason University (Fairfax, VA)
  3. George Washington University (Washington, DC)
  4. Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
  5. Rice University (Houston, TX)
  6. Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
  7. University of Illinois – Chicago (Chicago, IL)
  8. University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)
  9. University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)
  10. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
  11. Washington University (St. Louis, MO)

They cover a wide range of the country, and we have no idea where we’re going. But we do know a few things:

  1. Even if we stay here, we’re moving to a different place in town at the end of July.
  2. Even if I haven’t been fired by the end of July, I’m not working at my current job anymore, so at most I have 177 days left. (Yes, I have a countdown calendar near my desk.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

"We're From the Town With the Great Football Team..."

"...we hail the Pittsburgh Steelers!"

To avoid copyright issues, I've created my own Super Bowl picture:

(For fun you can show this picture to your friends and ask, "Was this the work of a seven-year-old with markers or of an adult with MS Paint?")

Yea Steelers! Now what can we do to make sure the Pirates break .500 this year?