Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Friday, June 30, 2006

I Should Keep a List

For a long time, I've been meaning to compile a list of the dumbest, strangest and/or most inane things students have ever said to me. And I keep forgetting. But Bobby's comment yesterday reminded me I need to start this now, before the best lines slip away from my memory . . .only to be lost forever. So, today I give you this short story:

The first semester I taught, I had in my syllabus that papers were to be stapled. And much to my amazement, students rarely stapled their papers. Sometimes they would expend the effort and use a paper clip or a binder clip, but mostly they just folded down the corners or rolled down the corners and handed me this sad, raggedy pile of papers that my dog would be embarrassed to pee on. Over the course of the semester, I found myself being a broken record: "Please staple your papers," and then, "I really need for you to staple your papers, people!" and finally, "If you don't staple your paper because you're thinking 'She must not mean me,' get off it already - I mean you!" This didn't work. And yet, I attempted it again and again, semester after semester. Is this how mothers feel? I cannot explain my level of frustration.

Finally, I decided to hit 'em where it hurts: The points. Last semester I finally put in my syllabus that five points will be deducted if your paper is not stapled. I may have mentioned that I had one male student this spring who handed me his paper which was held together with a safety pin. He said to me, "Is this okay, because it's so hard to find a stapler?!"

That goes on the top of my list because "It's so hard to find a stapler?" Where are you looking? Your ass? The bottom of a keg? Your girlfriend's blouse? Well, then, yes. I suppose it would be hard to find a stapler.

Sigh. And would you believe it? I used to be a "people person."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Patience is a Virtue

Just not my virtue.

Once I saw Sylvia Browne on Montel Williams (I swear - I swear I was channel surfing. I watch loads of bad television, but that is one type of bad TV I don't actually watch.) Anyway, apparently, SB believes something about how we all have one major "life lesson," and blah, blah, blah. Well guess what? My life lesson is clearly patience. Because I have none. Nor have I had any that I can recall. Perhaps I should get some. I would probably die a lot later if I did. Plus, I know my life would be a lot easier. But, gob, have people been acting stupid lately.

Exhibit A: Solitaire girl walked into class Tuesday wearing a little spaghetti strap thing that was not much bigger than a cocktail napkin. She was also wearing shorts and flip-flops. It was exactly our tenth class in that building. And guess what? It's really air-conditioned in there. Really, really air-conditioned. I've been in meat lockers (literally) that are warmer than that building. So most of us wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts and bring extra layers just in case. Why? I don't know. Maybe because we're not idiots. Not even five minutes into class, Solitaire girl raises her hand and says in her Southern accent, "Hey, y'all. It is SO cold in here that I cannot concentrate. Is it okay if we change rooms?" I am evil. I said loudly, "Don't worry. Playing Solitaire rigorously will warm you up." I don't think she heard me. Our poor professor. She is just so nice. She wanted to be accommodating. "Well, we could try, but there's no guaranteeing that we won't get kicked out in an hour when the class who is supposed to be in that classroom shows up." Then SG says, "Well, what about room 119? That room is always empty." Let me tell you something about room 119. There's a reason it's always empty. Probably because it used to be a janitor's closet. Or a place to keep the dead bodies. There are, maybe, 15 desks literally smashed in there. I had a class in there two years ago and it. is. miserable. The professor looked around uncomfortably. "Well, . . . I suppose, if you really want to. I'll have to ask the rest of the class. Is it okay if we move?" A man who I didn't like before (for taking lots and lots of cell phone calls) is my new best friend. He said loudly and clearly. "No. I don't want to move. It's too crowded in 119 and we're already here." He didn't add, "Oh. And by the way? You're a dumb-ass for dressing like you're going to a picnic on the beach." But I still like him anyway. Solitaire girl proceeded to shiver dramatically and just said, "Okay, but I can't even think straight it's so cold in here." Guess what I did? I gave her my hoodie. Because I could not listen to her for one. more. minute. And because I was actually warm. What with the perimenopause and all.

Exhibit B: The section I'm teaching this summer meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 4:30 - 8:30 p.m. It's pretty brutal. For me and the students. But I try to make it fun. I give them lots of breaks, etc., Since the summer session is only 5 weeks, and we're off for the Fourth of July, and the last class meeting is the final, we actually only meet 8 times. One of my students, let's call him Bobby, didn't show up the first week of class. He e-mailed me that Sunday with something about "extenuating circumstances beyond his control" (sounds like bullshit, if you ask me) and what did he need to know to be prepared for class this Tuesday. I e-mailed him back and told him to have read the first five chapters in the book and I attached a copy of my syllabus. I may have mentioned it, but my syllabus is very detailed. So Tuesday comes and no Bobby at first. He shows up at 5:45. That is an hour and 15 minutes late for those of you not big on math. And what's funny? He actually arrived just in time for the break at 6:00. I gave them a 15 minute break, right? Guess who comes back in at 6:45? Bobby. I mean, really. Why bother, dude? He was also nearly an hour late on Thursday and once again made the 15 minute break into a 35 minute break.

So tonight is their big midterm. When he finished, he said to me, "Um, yeah. I don't really know what's going on, since I missed the first week of class. What's with those papers you keep talking about?" I just stared at him. "Didn't you read the syllabus I sent you?" He said no. I was brave Teacher Lady and said as politely as possible. "Why not?" He said, "I didn't see there was an attachment." I believe I wrote in the e-mail, "Attached you will find a copy of the course syllabus and that should explain everything." Maybe he didn't read the e-mail? Maybe he can't read? But see? This is the kind of shit I have absolutely no patience for. None. We have two more class meetings. That's it. Two more and then the final. Don't you think you'd ask your professor for a syllabus if you didn't "notice" one in the e-mail attachment? You wait until the SIXTH class meeting (which is over 50% of the whole entire summer session) to ask what's going on?

Maybe I should not be in one of the "helping" professions. Because if I were a nicer, more patient person, I would not be so exasperated by this crap. Maybe it's because I'm still shocked and surprised with every new instance of student apathy. Maybe it's because I continue to be awestruck by the absolute plethora of ways in which students can fuck up. Really. It boggles the mind. Maybe I'm not so much impatient as easily shocked. Okay. That's what I've decided. That's my problem. I'm easily shocked. Thank you for supporting me in this delusion.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why I Hate Other Grad Students

If I thought undergrads were bad, it's only because I hadn't spent any time in a classroom with grad students in the past month.

I'm taking a summer class right now and it's one that is required for all doc students in the college of education. (Ordinarily, I'm just with the dozen or so other health ed people.) And you know what? Grad students are really, really rude. Health ed people must be universally poor or universally technologically challenged, because I've never been in a "core" course where another student has a laptop computer. In these general requirement courses? There are always at least 3 or 4 students who come to class, sit next to the outlet and set up camp with their laptops. But here's what I don't get. They don't use them to take copious notes. Oh, no. They use them to surf the 'net and catch up on e-mail and instant message gob knows who.

There is a younger (well, younger than me, anyway) woman who sits in front of me in class and yesterday? She played solitaire for the whole. entire. class. She's not even very good at it, by the way. And then she had the cajones to get all bitchy and say in her whiny-as-hell sorority girl voice (as a former "sorority girl," I'm allowed to say this) to our truly wonderful professor, "I'm confused. The syllabus isn't really clear about the assignment." I looked at a fellow health ed student who also happens to be in the class and we both rolled our eyes at the exact same moment. I pseudo-whispered, "Maybe if you weren't playing solitaire every fucking minute of class, you'd have a clue." I hope she heard me.

I don't know why professors allow laptops, honestly. (And wait: Before you go getting all "special populations" on my ass, I'm not talking about the visually impaired, or the hearing impaired, or any other person who needs a helper monkey. I'm talking about people with no "special needs" that I can see. Then again, I don't know. Is "manners impaired" now covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act?) I can look around the classroom and see what everybody is doing. And again - ain't nobody frantically typing every single word that drips from the lips of our learned teacher.

I also hate the way grad students get all openly rude and bitchy (even the men) with professors when they don't understand something. And honestly? 99.8% of the time, it's not because the instructor is confusing. It's because the student is being a needy idiot.

Finally? Grad students bring their cell phones to class and although they keep them on vibrate, you can still hear the stupid thing vibrating and then the student has to make a big deal of leaving the classroom to take the phone call in the hallway. Just to let us all know that "I. am. very. important. I must take this very. important. business. call." And half the time, they take the call right outside the open classroom door and it's not a flippin' business call. It's this:

"Well, you need to tell Timmy he has to eat the Jell-O. Yes. That's it. No."

Pause, pause.

"He can't have any other snack. That's what he has. No. He can't trade with Amber. Yes. Okay. All right, put him on."

Pause, pause.

"Timmy, honey. I need you to listen to your grammy. I'm sorry. Grammy's not runnning a restaurant. You can have goldfish crackers tonight when you get home. Because Grammy doesn't have any. All right, that's it, mister. Do you want to ride your bike tonight? Then you'd better listen to Grammy."

And then they have the nerve to come back into class looking all important and not the least bit apologetic. I think cell phones have really transformed our idea of what constitutes "an emergency." But that's another post. Point is: I'm not amused by you disrupting my learning by getting up and leaving. And coming back in. And getting up and leaving. And coming back in. Again and again and again. Newsflash: You're not more important than everybody else. Accept it. Okay. Rant over.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Better late? Or never?

What do you do when someone consistently and almost regularly is crazy-off-the-charts rude to your spouse? Except, unlike in “normal” situations, you can’t write that person off or refuse to see him or her or chalk up the whole thing to having bad taste in friends and just move on? Because the person who (with unbelievable consistency) treats your spouse as though they have absolutely no regard for his time or feelings is . . . his family?

Mr. J. has an . . . unusual family, to say the least. He has been a part of this unusual family for 37 years, so he is used to their, um, behavior. I have only been around for about 4 and a half years, so I am still shocked (although I should know better now) when they don’t show him the courtesy I show my dog groomer. Or my nail technician. Or the lady who waxes my eyebrows. You get the idea.

One family member, in particular, seems to have failed to ever grasp the time-space continuum. Or the concept of cell phones. Or manners. Mr. J.’s sister, Helena, is just a few months older than me. She is 36. She has a 15 year old daughter, Lena. She dropped out of high school and got her GED in her late 20s (I think) due in large part to the constant proddings of Mr. J. (Believe me. That one I get. There’s not a lot I won’t do to get that man off my case when he’s on a mission.) I write these facts not to make Helena out to be some ill-educated criminal, but to illustrate the fact that she has, perhaps in many ways, taken the “road less traveled.” She works at a gas station. This is fine with her. Sometimes I wish I could find her level of career satisfaction. There's something almost zen about it.

A few weeks ago, Mr. J. invited Helena to come out and see our finally finished place. Then he planned to take us all out to dinner to celebrate Helena’s birthday. She and Lena have never been here and we’ve lived here for well over a year. They live about 45 minutes away. Mr. J. always takes Helena and Lena out to lunch or dinner for their birthdays (Lena’s was last month.) Sometimes H. & L. remember to call Mr. J. on his birthday – sometimes they don’t. They can always find our phone number, however, when they need someone to come over and fix their 700-year-old computer. No charge for parts or labor, ever.

So, today is the birthday dinner. Mr. J.’s niece and sister were supposed to be here at 5:00 p.m. It is now 6:31 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. They are officially late. A phone call? No. Why would that be necessary? This is standard behavior. Since I met Mr. J., I have seen Helena not show up for Christmas Eve dinner (after we all waited an hour for her, we finally gave up and started eating), birthday gatherings, (hers and other people’s), etc., etc., etc., The list is long. The problem is, this behavior infuriates me. Because guess what happens? Do you think for one minute that anyone ever picks up the phone and reads Helena the riot act for being amazingly rude and inconsiderate? Nope. Because when she does this, she obviously on some level knows she’s done something wrong (much like my students who know when they’ve missed a critical part of an assignment, but they’re not sure which part) and subsequently does not answer her phone for months at a time. Until everyone clearly has forgotten (or at least forgiven) her blatant rudeness. And then we all move on like nothing happened.

Except. I was not born into this family and I. am. not. used. to. it. I don't find this acceptable. I don't find the words, "That's just Helena. What can you expect?" to be soothing balm. I do not like seeing my husband treated with less courtesy than one treats the maitre’ d. at a really nice restaurant. I mean, when I’ve had reservations at nice restaurants and for some reason can’t make it, I call to cancel.

Mr. J. claims this doesn’t bother him, and doesn’t understand why it bothers me. “I fail to see how this affects you,” he says. Well, gosh. I can think of a dozen ways it affects me. Maybe on some very selfish level, for me it’s the unfairness of the thing. If I treated people like that consistently, I don’t think I’d have anyone left in my life. I know for a fact that I couldn’t get away with treating Mr. J. like that for five minutes (not that I’d want to, but you see where I’m going with this . . .) And from Helena, there is never any embarrassment. There are never any apologies, never any shame or feelings of guilt for blowing off her brother yet again.

And we all know that we (or you or me) can rage on about our families ad nauseum, but heaven help the innocent bystander who finally dares to agree with us. You just don’t go messing with people’s families. Even when their families are messing with yours. Because that's the thing nobody else seems to get. Helena isn't just jerking her brother around with her rudeness. She is now treating my husband like a piece of crap. And while that may be okay with her (and even okay with aforementioned brother - i.e., Mr. J.) it is not okay with me. If she were some random woman in a store or club, I'd probably get all sassy and in her face and say, "Listen, bee-yotch, ain't nobody treating MY MAN that way!" And instead? I'm just supposed to shake my head and smile in amusement. Throw up my hands and say, "That's Helena. What are you gonna do?"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Designated Mess

Remember a while back, when I blogged about the PITA awards? I have decided that PITA is a misnomer. Or perhaps just limits my options. There is another type of student I continue to run into and that is "The Designated Mess."

When I first started teaching, I figured that, you know, shit happens and every student would, over the course of a 15 week semester, have a little problem or two. One day Joe would be late to class. The next day Sally would need to make up a quiz. Then Greg's phone would ring and he would be so embarrassed that it would never happen again. To him or anybody else. The day after that, Tim would tell me that he needed to take the final early. Or late. You get the picture. Instead, it really works out like this: One or two students have every single little problem. Really. That's it. I'm sure this is not news to seasoned teachers and I know I've read this before, but it breaks down like this: 1-2 students each semester are responsible for 98% of my angst and anxiety.

This semester, Stinky Girl promises to be my designated mess. How do I know this? Let me count the ways:
  1. Well, for starters, she's stinky. She looks exactly (I mean EXACTLY) like someone who just rolled out of a van in the parking lot at a Dead show. For those of you not in the know, this means a stomach-baring tube top and a long skirt and flip flops. She is also quite overweight. Wearing a tube top that bares her stomach and barely (no pun intended) contains her size Double-D breasts? In a classroom? Oy. I just want to hand her a nice sweater and say, "Here. Put this on. You're showing too much skin for anything except a rock video." Sometimes I wish we had a dress code. (And also? I know. I'm a heinous bitch. I get it.)
  2. She was late to the first two classes. And her phone rang in both of them.
  3. She is already monopolizing the discussion with not-exactly-related comments.
  4. This weekend she e-mailed me to let me know that for some mysterious reason she had been dropped from my class. And couldn't I please add her back in? Well, if I were in my student advising center job, maybe. But as faculty? Please. I don't have that kind of power. Plus, at this point the only reason students are "mysteriously dropped" from class is for non-payment of tuition. Although she swore she was up to date on all bills.
  5. She came to class Tuesday night only to drop off her first reaction paper and to tell me she wasn't staying because she had a killer migraine.
  6. She didn't show up tonight.
  7. Experience tells me this absence will trigger an e-mail from her in which she asks if she can make up her participation points, or borrow the videos I showed in class, or come over to my house and eat pizza so I can explain to her what she missed in class.

And yet? I have 11 other near-perfect students who show up on time, who participate in a mature, intelligent fashion (well, for the most part . . . ) who don't ring during my lectures and who are adequately clothed. And Stinky Girl gets the blog entry. Go figure.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

How I Met My Husband: Part II in a Series

As promised, Part Deux.

Now, don't go thinking for one minute that this is the story of how I met Mr. J. Oh, hell no! I've got nearly a dozen freakish tales to tell.

Blind Date #2: Bitter Divorced Man Whose Wife Left Him for Another Woman.

I was friends with a woman named Diana. She had gotten pregnant pretty young (20, I think. Sigh. At least I'll always have a job) and married her husband who had been her boyfriend since she was 14 and he was 17. They had a troubled marriage. To say the least. And, since she went to college later in life, she had this sort of mystical fantasy idea of what college friends might be like - very The Big Chill, you know? Her husband's best friend from high school was going through a divorce and had just moved back to town from out of state to get his life sorted out. Diana was beyond thrilled. "What if you and Jim really hit it off, and Jim and Joe are best friends and you and I are close friends and the four of us could do lots of things as a couple and I'd finally have the wonderful dinner parties I've always wanted."

I must have been going through a social dry spell, because if someone says she wants to fix you up so she can finally have her dinner parties, there is just one thing to do: Run. Screaming loudly, in the opposite direction. But, you know, I hadn't had a date since FBI guy and how could Jim be any worse? So Diana arranged it.

We met at this cute little tavern. Diana and Joe picked me up at my place and we planned to meet Jim there. Interestingly, Jim was also late. There is a theme here. In order for anyone to be in a relationship with me, they must understand that I am the chronically late one, okay? Me. There's only room for one spoiled brat in a couple and that brat is me.

Anyway, Jim finally showed up and the minute I laid eyes on him, all I wanted to do was kick Diana in the shins, really, really hard. Brief summary: All denim, all the time. Jeans. Denim shirt. Unbuttoned (I kid you not. I am not making this shit up) 3 buttons down. EEEK!! It was bad. So, I gave myself my mental, "Don't be so judgmental. Books, covers, etc., etc., etc.," speech.

Introductions, blah, blah, blah. We went to dinner. Joe and Jim spent the entire meal reminiscing about high school. I hated high school. You do not get on my good side by reminiscing about high school. And it was that really obnoxious reminiscing with lots of high-fiving across the table (Note: we were in a nice little bistro - not Burger King. Although what with all the talk about Stubby and Smitty and Bubba and Jimbo and Tim-Tim, and all the high-fiving, it did feel a bit like a Friday night after the big game). Diana and I tried to have our own conversation, but we were sitting across from each other and it was really distracting because every three minutes, a high-five was going off in my face. And every story was the same: Alcohol surreptitiously obtained. High five. Breaking and entering - usually a public facility - park, water tower, you get the picture. High five. Bodily injury. High five. Lies to parents. High five. Repeat, changing the type of alcohol from beer to Tequila or vice versa.

After dinner, I pulled Diana aside and begged her to fake a baby-sitter emergency so they could take me home. (The only good thing about this ridiculous date is that it made me create a future rule that always came in handy: I drive. Even if friends offer to pick me up. Always.) She begged me to hang out with them a little longer and just try to get to know Jim. I hadn't even really given him a chance, you know? Sigh.

We all went to hear some band. At some point Diana and Joe got in a monster fight. The band took a break. Rather than watch Diana and Joe trade insults, I decided to initiate a non-high-fiving conversation with Jim: (Warning: Direct quotes = major profanity to follow.)

me: Well, Diana tells me you have a daughter, Riley. She's 3, right?
Jim: It doesn't matter.
me: What?
Jim: It's only a matter of time before she realizes what a complete and total fucking whore her mother is. (Italics mine. WTF!?!??!!?)
me: Stunned silence.

Five minute pregnant pause ensues.

me: You know, I realize it's none of my business, but I hope for your daughter's sake that you and her mother can come to have a more amicable relationship. It's going to be really difficult for her growing up if --
Jim (interrupting): Oh, I'm not worried. I ain't done havin' babies yet.
me: Extra taser-stunned silence.

Another pause. Glares. Jim finally tries to end the stalemate by laughing. I interrupted Diana and Joe's fight. "Excuse me. I am feeling quite ill. I need to go home immediately." Jim said, "So, we're done here, right?" You bet your ass, we're done. From what Diana told me, he went to another bar, probably to find his next baby's mama. I went home and started calling everyone I'd ever met to tell them about this loser, because how could I not?


Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Menschadictorian

My mom recently retired from many years of teaching in a chaotic urban environment. We talk about the state of education in the U.S. quite a bit. Our conclusion: Pretty grim. Of course, we're not unique in our conclusion. Hell, Oprah and Time Magazine had a joint bemoaning session in the same week!

I did catch one of the two "very special Oprah" episodes. One of the segments that has stayed in my mind and continues to agitate me on many levels was about a young woman who was the valedictorian of her high school class. She went off to college, thinking she had the world on a string and after only a few weeks of classes realized . . . she was woefully underprepared. Actually, I think that's putting it mildly. She didn't know what the hell she was doing. She was not just struggling but failing most of her classes. If memory serves (cut me some slack, people - this was back in April!), she was especially struggling with her math and science classes.

On the Oprah episode she kept saying, "I was my high school valedictorian, but I had never seen a Bunsen burner." And her point was that her high school hadn't truly prepared her for college. But I kept thinking: Having the title of "Valedictorian" bestowed upon you is not the same thing as being declared a genius. Nor is it the same thing as being told that you're really smarter than everyone around you. And I think she was confusing a title meaning "highest GPA in your class" with "I'm smarter than everybody else."

Exhibit A: I still remember my high school valedictorian. He wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and yet, supposedly, I grew up in a community that has "really good schools!" (Barf! That makes me gag! Yeah, it was small. Yeah, we were all white kids and to my knowledge, nobody ever brought a knife to school. Although someone did set off a smoke bomb in the boy's bathroom the year before I got there but that's another post. Just because I was in a statistics class with only 4 other students does not mean they were good schools. But I digress.) Anyway, do you know how that kid got all As, all the time? I'll tell you, 'cause I sat next to the schmuck in senior English. We'd get an exam back. He'd miss, oh, some really easy questions. During class (but usually after), he'd say charmingly (I'll give him that - he was very well mannered and I don't think his intent was sinister although perhaps I'm not giving him enough credit) to our teacher, "Miss Appletree, on this question? I thought you were asking about this, so that's why I answered it that way." And Miss Appletree would blush and smile a little bit and say, "Oh, okay, dear. I'll fix it." And lo and behold, his solid test grade of B had been miraculously transformed into a solid test grade of A with minimal effort.
And our Salutatorian cheated on exams. Quite a bit. Although she was much, much smarter than the Valedictorian. She just didn't have the charm and personality to get the blue ribbon.

My mom told me how in so many of her system's high schools, it's a big deal just for these kids to graduate. And when (or if) they graduate, the high schools award the titles of Valedictorian and Salutatorian to the two students with the two highest GPAs. In this school system, the Valedictorian often has a 2.0002 and the Salutatorian often has a 2.0000. And yet, these students can put a pretty impressive looking accomplishment on their resumes.

And then, I see them in my classroom and they can't base an argument on logic or deductive reasoning and they can barely write, yet they get pissed off at me when I return their papers with, "Please rewrite; I cannot understand this," because: "Hey! Whaddaya mean I can't write? I was my high school valedictorian. Stupid white bitch."

So, all this time, I've been bitching about the grades I've been seeing in the student advising center (aside - Monday takes the cake. A student with a high school GPA of 1.6), and perhaps the problem isn't not enough focus on grades, perhaps the problem is too much focus on grades.

This morning, I stumbled upon the article which inspired this post and gave me the word for its title. Please read this article by Rabbi Gellman. You won't be sorry. And then please, please, please come back and let me know your thoughts. Should we do away with "Valedictorian" and "Salutatorian?"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Short and Sweet

I'm not normally the type of person to say "TGIF!" and round up all the office flunkies at around 2:30 so we're all completely wasted by 4:00 p.m., but after this week? Woo-Hoo! TGIF!!!

This post will be short and sweet. Three things:

1.) I have a new version of "Inappropriate Sister" for my summer class. She will be named "Stinky Girl," or SG for short. A smoker, so we've got that particular aroma goin' on and then? Her anti-perspirant is clearly failing her. Or maybe she doesn't wear any. Whatever. She needs to.

2.) I knew that when I put the word, "sex" in the title of my blog, I might attract all sorts of, um, interesting types. But the prize for "interesting types" goes to someone who found my blog earlier this week by Googling, "Lady has sex with rabbits." Seriously? WTF.

3.) Schietto Sister has an interesting parenting . . . it's not a dilemma or a problem really, it's just a situation. And since I am not known for my patience with unintentionally undermining people, (and there's that whole child-free thing!) I have no good advice for her. So parents? Go on over there and show her the love that is the Blogosphere. Spanks so much.

TGIFriday!!!! Woo-hoo!

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot something: In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to ask you this question: Guess who spilled a full glass of red wine all over the couch last weekend? That would be me. Perhaps sippy cups are in order after all.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How to Behave in a College Classroom: Life According to Teacher Lady

Yesterday kicked off summer session. Only 5 weeks of Human Sexuality; only 12 students. It now takes me 20 minutes to go through my syllabus with my class; thanks to Inappropriate Sister, I added two bullet points. When I started teaching, my syllabus was three or four pages. Now it is six. If I stay in this game, by the time I retire, I imagine it will be 107 pages.

Unfortunately, I feel like so much of teaching is about "covering your ass." I swear, that's the first thing my advisor or department chair will ask me when I have a problem student, "Well, is it in your syllabus? Then you're covered." No one ever says, "Well, I don't think you're being unreasonable by expecting them to not bring Ebola-infested monkeys to class." They say, "Now, is there anywhere in your syllabus where you expressly prohibit bringing Ebola-infested monkeys to class?" I used to think certain things were just "common sense." Then I started teaching college.

Here's one I used to think was a "no-brainer." Do not bring a child - especially a sick child - to class with you. Last spring, I took a class from 10:45 - noon, then taught from 12:15 - 1:30. It was a fairly far distance to walk, but too close to drive (and no available parking, so driving would have actually made things worse), so I found myself often walking into class at exactly 12:15. This prevented students from asking me things prior to the start of class and this was sometimes bad. As in, "She didn't ask me before class, so I didn't get a chance to say, not just 'no,' but 'Hell, no!'" One day, I walked into our already overcrowded classroom to find one of my students (she was, I'm guessing, 20 years old) sitting there with her four-year-old daughter. (The chapter on birth control was more than a little too late for her.) Four-year-old daughter was adorable. And had one eye screaming, "I have conjunctivitis" and that eye was mighty pissed off and just about ready to pop off her head in a giant, oozy, crusty explosion. Since I had a lot of material to cover, I didn't really say anything. After class, the student came up to me - not to apologize, but to say to me, "Can you BELIEVE day care wouldn't let me drop her off?" Yes, as a matter of fact I can. And, did I mention, for some reason I am extra-super-susceptible to freakin' pink eye and I ALWAYS seem to get it when I have just purchased all new, very expensive eye makeup (and put in a new pair of contact lenses, of course) which must be thrown out immediately? But thanks for bringing your little conjunctivitis factory to class. That's great. I appreciate it.

So, there's the first rule.

Next rule:

Just so you know, kids, I can see you. Yes, that's right! You! Over there in the corner, text messaging up a storm. Or you, sleeping in a puddle of your own drool. Or you! Reading the student newspaper, with your feet up on the desk in front of you like my classroom is your own executive office. You two - writing notes on each other's notebooks. And, especially you two - chatting away about whatever is so important that you don't care if you disrupt the twenty other people sitting in your vicinity. I can see you AND I can hear you. Why do students think that entering a college classroom renders them invisible? Or do they think that where I'm standing, way, way up at the front of the classroom is not 20 feet, but 20 miles and therefore I can't see that well?

That one covers a lot: You are not invisible. Act accordingly.

Finally. (Sigh). This one never seems to stick. Ne. Ver. Turn off your damn phone. (And yes, it's in the syllabus.) Yesterday, the same student had her phone ring twice. Twice as in, once at the beginning of class, before I reviewed my "e-policy" and then again, over an hour later. Much as I love a good ring tone rendition of "Play that Funky Music White Boy," I just don't understand why she didn't turn her phone off after it rang the first time. And it's not just the ringing that's disruptive. It's the "Oh, my gosh, I'm so embarrassed, stop, stop, PLEASE stop ringing" digging through the backpack and shuffling of papers and everything else that goes along with it. Even though I have the satisfaction of knowing they will lose their participation points for that day (you'd better believe THAT'S in the syllabus!), it's just so annoying because really? Who is calling these kids? I have even put in my syllabus: Unless you are an EMT, physician, fire fighter or are serving in some other life-saving capacity in your spare time, your cell phone is to be turned off while you are in this class. Maybe I just happened to be surrounded by surgeons and fire fighters. Who knew? I feel safer already.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Happy Blogiversary . . . to Me!

Who knew, when I started my blog back in January (as a means to preserve my sanity – I never guessed I would “meet” so many fabulous and supportive folks!) that I would some day reach the big “100 entries” milestone.

So, for fun, and as motivation for all you lurkers to "de-lurk", I thought perhaps we could all share our “porn” names. Or drag queen names. Or hell, maybe just your “It’s Thursday night and I’ve had too much Tequila” names.

In case you’re not in the know, your porn name = Childhood pet + first street you lived on!

Before I share my porn name with you, I have to share what I consider to be the best porn name I have ever heard. It belongs to my dear friend Courtney. The reason I love it so much (besides its obvious genius) is that her first pet was a goldfish. Courtney's porn name? Boom-Boom McKinley. A kid who names her goldfish Boom-Boom? That’s a cool kid!

Anyway, I’ll show you mine and you show me yours . . .

Signing off,

Pepper Cherry

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How I Met My Husband: Part I in a Series

I met Mr. J. on a blind date. This alone does not make for fascinating conversation or blog entries. However, the fact that I was even willing to go on a blind date after the previous 12 blind dates, I think, says something. (About what, I'm not quite sure. My stupidity? Foolhardiness? Desire to cage free meals off unsuspecting bachelors? I'll get back to you.)

One of my co-workers had a pin that read, "I've been on so many blind dates, I deserve a free dog." I should have stolen that pin. I deserved a free dog, too.

After my divorce, I almost immediately entered into an ill-fated relationship. That happens, I guess. He was a really, really nice guy. He was 6'7" without shoes. I am 5'4". One of the best things about dating him was that I could always find him in crowded places. He lived nearly an hour away, was way too close to his parents (if you ask me, a man over 25 who has never bought his own toilet paper, soap, paper towels, trash bags, razors, shaving cream, shampoo or PANTS - because his parents showed up with monthly deliveries of aforementioned crap jammed into their Ford Windstar, is, well, not exactly yet a "man"), and was (sigh) a staunch Republican. But I can't 100% slam the guy because he was very nice to me in a lot of ways and helped me rebuild my crushed sense of self I was toting around in a Ziploc bag post-divorce. Boyfriend material? More or less. Husband material? Not so much.

We broke up after two years of dating and then the blind-date vultures descended upon me. Let us begin the How I Met My Husband Series with Blind Date #1:

"FBI Guy." My friend Marjorie set me up with her boyfriend's (the original FBI Guy) friend and co-worker, Stewart. The four of us were to meet at a restaurant downtown on a Saturday night. Minimal parking, maximum fun, went the theory. I showed up early - a bad sign, I think. I am never early. Then Marjorie and her boyfriend showed up. They were still in that fuckingly annoying "schmoopy stage," where they whisper and giggle and pretty much fail to realize anyone else is in the room. And yet, it got worse. Stewart is now 20 minutes late. Then 30. Then 40. I am starting to feel really depressed and also I am slightly drunk. No dinner + 2 beers? Drunk and paranoid. I've been rejected by someone I've never even met. Finally, FORTY FIVE minutes late, Stewart shows up SOPPING wet. Like a toilet flushed right over him. Yes, it's pouring rain outside, but Stewart? Stewart refuses to pay for parking so he drove around looking for an empty parking space or meter on the street. Hence, the 45 minutes late. Also? The meter he found happened to be eight blocks away and he had no umbrella. I guess if I were a different kind of person - a nicer, less shallow one - I might have been impressed with his commitment to being thrifty and his persistence in what might appear to others to be a hopeless situation. Instead, I was turned off by the prospect of a potential cheap-ass who looked (and smelled) like a drowned rat. He sat down next to me, made small talk with the other FBI Guy and then attempted conversation. Just when I thought the evening couldn't get any worse, what with Schmoopy-Schmoopertons and the whole 45-minute-late/drowned rat thing going on.

But first: I have been told that I could have a conversation with a piece of cheese. Or a wet paper towel. I am an extreme extravert. Apparently, according to hard-core Myers-Briggs types, all traits exist on a continuum. So, you might score 18 on introversion, which means you tend toward that type, but you still are somewhat extraverted in certain situations. Not me! ZERO on introversion. Off the charts. My point? I think it's fairly easy for me to have a conversation with anyone and (I think) vice versa.

I've had gum scrapings that went better than this conversation. Stewart was the original one word answer guy and then, when I had finally given up hope of finding anything to talk about, he got two beers in him and kept asking me where I lived.

Stewart: So, um, where do you live?
Me: (For the fifth time) Remember? I live in Hidden Valley.
Stewart: Yeah, but, um, where, exactly?
Me: By the railroad tracks.
Stewart: But which street?
Me: Um, uh, um, Pleasant Lane.
Stewart: Oh yeah? Which house?
Me: I live in those apartments. I don't have a house yet.
Stewart: Which building?
Me: Um, why, exactly, do you need to know this?
Stewart: Just curious. So I can kill you later and feed your eyeballs to my dog. (Okay, he didn't say that second part.)
Me: Silence.
Stewart: You might as well tell me. Since I'm in the FBI I can look it up and find out anyway.

Wow. Did he know the way to a girl's heart or what? That night I went home, burst into tears before I even walked in the door and contemplated getting back together with the Republican farmboy because it just seemed a hell of a lot easier than this.

And also? I wanted to call Marjorie and say, "Do you hate me? Because that's the only reason I can think of for you setting me up with Stewart."


Friday, June 09, 2006

Six Weird Things from My Childhood

I am so sick of myself - my career-related angst, my "oh, what is the world coming to?" angst and my "Kids. I don't know what's wrong with these kids today," angst.

So, I have decided that I will do something else - something remotely resembling fun. I will be the ultimate nerd and tag myself. Fraulein N.'s meme, Six Weird Things from My Childhood, was (I thought) both thought provoking and hilarious. I will try to be one or the other. (I'm too mentally unstable right now to shoot for both.)

1. The warming of the cold sheets. No, this is not a creepy story. Mostly, it's just about how a big sister (and sometimes spoiled princess) can get her family members to do her bidding. We grew up in a place where we had some mighty cold winters. I claimed that during the months of January and February, my sheets were SO cold it was literally, truly impossible for me to sleep on them. So I made my younger brother (who is nearly FIVE years younger than me!) use my hair dryer to warm up my sheets while I brushed my teeth, washed my face, did the whole getting-ready-for-bed routine. I can still conjure up that mental image: Little brother in his PJs, dutifully standing at the foot of my bed, his little face screwed up in concentration while he fiercely gripped my hairdryer, pointing it at my green, yellow and orange butterfly sheets. Why does he still speak to me?

2. The "dog trainer" game. In addition to being the oldest in my immediate family, I am also the oldest of the local cousins on my mom's side. There were 5 of us, and we often played together after school during the week. Somehow, someone (could it be me? God, I hope not. I swear, I'm not THAT much of a controlling egomaniac) came up with the "Dog trainer" game. We all loved dogs in that bunch. We all had "favorite" dogs. Normal kids have favorite cartoon characters. We had favorite dogs. And they weren't even famous dogs. The other four kids would be dogs (and sometimes there were serious arguments involved! "No, I want to be the next-door neighbor's Dachshund, Penny," "No, you got to be Penny LAST time. No fair!") and I would be the dog trainer. We could play this for hours. Mostly this involved them sitting in "cages" (just cushions on the couch - no real cages were involved, I swear) and barking. And I would say, "Penny, stop it! No barking, Penny!" Why did we think this was fun, exactly?

3. The show of shows. I used to put on endless plays and shows, as did most kids (Aside: I'm always so irritated when I read interviews with movie and television stars and they say, "Oh, my mom KNEW I was going to be famous. She just KNEW it. She said from the time I could talk, I was putting on shows and dancing and singing and stuff." Hey - egomaniacal moron - ALL kids do that. It's called being a kid!) and I remember once putting on a "show" for my dad and my brother that involved me playing two roles. I would stand on one side of the room and say in a high, falsetto voice, "But I can't pay the rent" and then I would jump to the other side of the room and say in a really deep voice, "But you MUST pay the rent!" and repeat. Seriously? This two line play went on for about 20 minutes. How am I still alive?

4. Playing doctor. But not in "that" way! My grandmother was an extremely talented seamstress and had a guest bedroom that was also "the sewing room." My brother, cousins and I would play doctor back there, using her sewing tools. LOTS of "shots" were given with pins and needles! Lots of poking each other's nostrils with crochet hooks. Lots of binding each other's fingers with the measuring tape to see how tight we could get the tape and exactly how blue each person's fingers might turn. Maybe we weren't playing doctor so much as we were playing evil, sadomasochistic scientist! How did no one lose an eye?

5. Vivid dreams. I used to have extremely vivid dreams when I was younger. One night, I think I was about 6, I had a dream that I was visited by my fairy godmother. (Oh, yeah. I had one. She was way cool.) She said, "When you wake up in the morning, all you have to do is go downstairs, don't say anything to anyone, go sit under the kitchen table, close your eyes, cross your arms and say really loud, 'I'm ready for my surprise!' and then your mother will give you The Barbie Dreamhouse." I woke up in the morning, followed my instructions to the letter and was really surprised to hear my mom say (she was on the phone), "Okay, Sue, I gotta go. Clearly the kid's lost it."

6. Just Evil. Somewhere between ages 7 and 8, I used a Magic Marker to draw a HUGE (and somewhat realistic, if you ask me) replica of Big Bird on my 3-year-old brother's chubby little leg. He was obsessed with birds. He loved them. If you asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would say, "A bird." (Is it scary or just cool that he is now a pilot?) After I drew the world's biggest Magic Marker tattoo on his leg, I told him this meant that now, he too, would be like Big Bird. He could fly. (How dumb of me. Honestly, did anyone ever see Big Bird fly? He was so not aerodynamically sound!) So if he wanted to jump off the front porch, that would be okay . . . because, well, you know. He could fly. I have blocked out most of what happened next. And again, I ask, why does my brother still speak to me?


Career Crisis Kicks into High Gear

Sigh. What the hell is my problem? Whenever I have a career crisis (approximately every 2 and 1/2 years since I was 21), I try to think of rainbows and bunny rabbits (I just typed bunny Rabbis which actually made me laugh out loud. I'd like to meet some Bunny Rabbis, considering I think I was born into the wrong family and I actually belong to a big mess of Jewish folks), unicorns and twinkly stars and fairies. And then when that makes me feel like I'm 7 and even more pathetic, I remind myself of the Drew Carey quote (I'm going to butcher it, but you'll get the gist): "Oh, you hate your job?! Why didn't you SAY so. There's a support group for you. They meet every day at the bar after work, and it's called EVERYONE."

In case you missed it, Inappropriate Sister did a number on me this semester. Between her finger shaking e-mail, her weird almost gospel-preacher response to Kiki, and her missing the final AND the make-up final, I'm still traumatized. Oh - and I never even MENTIONED one page in her final paper (one that did not include references to Anchorman or Patch Adams.) I think my rubric for their papers is pretty clear. And I know that nowhere does it say, "After you've reviewed and reacted to the movie or guest speaker, take a page or two to tell me how you feel about my teaching." But, since Inappropriate Sister has never been one to follow rules or guidelines - wait, she's actually more likely to make up her own guidelines, guess what she did? She took a page or so to tell me how she felt about my teaching. And guess what? It wasn't good. Mr. J. keeps telling me to blow it off and get over it, because her main complaint was . . . (ready? It's really almost hilarious): I talked too much about sex. By doing so, I made college students feel like they had to have sex. Or, as she put it, "Meaningless sex with so many random partners, throwing their bodies around like unwanted toys." Instead, I should have talked about how we all have a wonderful heavenly Father, and his son Jesus loves us as the precious, priceless, unique creations that we are. If I had talked more about that instead of sex, then students might understand that they don't have to have sex until they're married.

I rode (and obviously am still riding) the emotional rollercoaster of pissed off . . . perplexed . . . slightly amused . . . vexed . . . confused . . . back to pissed off and then some. Because: I talked too much about sex!??!?!?! It's the NAME of the fucking CLASS for Chrissakes!!!! And also? It's a STATE school!!!!!!!!!!!! She may be able to miss final #1 and final #2 with no consequences, but me!? I would be fired in a heartbeat for talking like that.

And people who have been teaching college students for decades (including Mr. J.) have said, "There's one every semester." My advisor said, "Maybe you're not meant to be an academic. You have to learn to put your game face on. And not react so strongly when people mention Jesus." But you know what? I don't know if I have it in me to do this for another semester. And another. And another ad infinitum until death or retirement, whichever comes first.

Anyway, just for kicks, I saw a job posting online on Wednesday and submitted my resume. This job would take me back to my old life. Back to a life of egos, politics, power trips, sucking up, mind games and bullshit, which is different from what I'm doing now . . . how? Oh, yeah. The pay is literally 10 times what I'm making now.

Yesterday, as I walked in the door, the phone was ringing and I didn't look closely at caller ID. It was a woman whose name I didn't recognize. She said, "We got your resume yesterday and we're SO excited. Do you have a few minutes for a phone interview?" I said of course I did. We chatted for 20 minutes. She's submitting my stuff to her boss. Maybe they'll call me back. Maybe not. We shall see.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

An Outrage

Every day, I see about 40-50 incoming students' high school G.P.A.s. I see their SAT and/or ACT scores, and of course, I see their transcripts and (last but not least) their DUMASS scores.

Last night, I had a serious career crisis (these two things are related, I promise). Mr. J. and I spent nearly 2 hours in my office with me crying and fretting and pulling out my hair in handfuls and him listening empathetically and saying wise and true things. To summarize the two hour conversation:

Me: I always thought, since I was at least 21, that someday, eventually, I would be a college professor. I just felt like no matter what job I had or what I was doing, that's where I would end up. And now that I'm teaching college? It's . . . um,

Mr. J: It's like you're teaching high school.

Me: Yes! Exactly!

Mr. J.: And if you wanted to be teaching high school, you'd be teaching high school.

Me: Right.

Mr. J.: You're really disappointed that your nearly life-long dream is not anything like you thought it would be.

Me: You said it, mister!

And then I blubbered some more, and called my mom (a recently retired teacher) and yammered on about nothing in particular and then I took Minnie for a walk and went to bed and vowed to start tomorrow with a new attitude and fresh eyes.

And then today I met an incoming freshman with a high school G.P.A. of: (wait for it, people) 1.93. That's right. You did not suddenly develop dyslexia. That would be a 1.93. I knew this school was D-list, but I had no idea how D-list until I saw this today.

But you know what the outrage is? The outrage is not about the dumbing down of America, and how a college degree really means nothing and most of them aren't worth the paper they're printed on and blah, blah, blah (okay, maybe it is, but not just this minute). The outrage is that higher education is a business. It's a big, lucrative business. And the particular corporation for which I work is willing to take money - thousands of dollars - for a semester or two, until this student realizes that he is probably in no way prepared for college. And he will exit, his "Thanks for playing" letter in hand, completely dumbfounded, probably $10,000 (or more) in debt, wondering what the hell happened. And the giant paper sucking machine that is the admissions office will keep swallowing students, taking their money, sending them through the freshman paces, all the while knowing that these kids can't or won't cut it - even in a D-list college environment.

Maybe you're thinking, "Oh, Teacher Lady, you don't know everything! People screw up. College is for second chances. You never know! Maybe he's the next Einstein." And that's possible. But I also have access (as do students and their parents) to the school's retention records. And they're not great. In fact, they're less than great. Something like 70% of freshman students return for their sophomore year. That doesn't sound really sucky, but when you consider that the SIX YEAR GRADUATION rate is 45%, that means something is wrong. There is a big elephant in the room, and ain't nobody talkin' 'bout it.

But that's okay. Because we're still getting enough money to build shiny new residence halls with lightning speed internet access and cable and so who the hell cares what happens to these losers anyway?

A blonde girl came over to me today for registration. "How are you?" I asked. She sighed and sat down, literally throwing her folder at me! "Oh, I have just the worst schedule ever in the history of the world!" (I'll do another post on 18-year-olds and how they seem to have the manners of a chimpanzee. Although that's not a very nice thing to say about chimpanzees.) I was trying to be patient. "Well, the good news is, a semester only lasts for 15 weeks! You can do anything for 15 weeks, right?" She sniffed.

We proceeded to register her. Something happened with her math. She got tears in her eyes. She said, "God! Why can't I just have a NORMAL math class, just like everybody else?" I was confused. She wasn't in this math class alone. In fact, the majority of the incoming freshmen I have seen have tested into remedial math, which we politely call "Fun with Numbers 101." I asked her what she meant by "normal." "You know," she said, "Something that meets like Tuesday and Thursday nights. Not every day!" Sigh. Damned if you do, and all that.

I couldn't get her in the math class she wanted. She brushed away more tears and she said, "This school thing is SO not for me."

Here's my question: Why is she here? I looked at her G.P.A. - not great: 2.23. And I can guess what's going to happen. The university is going to take her (or her parents') money for a few semesters and she will get bored and drop out. Or flunk out. Or, because I'm making horrible assumptions based on her appearance and her grades, get a disease and/or get pregnant. And never be seen or heard from again, but my building has a new parking lot.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Very Important Business

Once a month, the advising center offers a Saturday session, so these crazy-busy recent high school grads can come in and do their schedules. This Saturday was one of those, but I was busy with not-so-Bridezilla Laci. Apparently, I missed quite the spectacle.

The student advising center is filled with computers. Some of them are for the incoming students to take their placement tests. We use a software that has a really ridiculous acronym like DUMASS - Dedicated University Matriculation And Scheduling System. After students take their DUMASS tests, then they go over to the "real" academic advisors who have a whole different set of computers to make course suggestions. And then the poor students finally come to the undergraduate students who find open sections of the recommended courses and then they come to me. I register them for classes and then tell them to get the hell out of my sight!

On Saturday, one of the students wandered out of the designated waiting area and plunked herself down at a DUMASS computer. I guess she was there for quite some time until one of the undergraduate workers, Stephanie, approached her. That conversation went like this:

Stephanie: Did you need someone to put together a schedule for you?
Student on DUMASS: Well, I'm busy right now, but you can come over here and wait for me.
Steph: I can't create a schedule on that computer. It doesn't have the right software. You have to come by me.
SOD: I'm in the middle of very important business right now. I'm instant messaging my cousin. It'll have to wait.

Poor Stephanie was so perplexed, she ran to get the advising center director. I can't blame her. I would have been beyond speechless, too. The director of the advising center told the soon-to-be-freshman that she wasn't even supposed to be on that computer and that schedules were, in fact, created over on the other side of the center. I guess the student with the very important business was not swayed. She had, you know, her very important business. She and her cousin, it would seem, were in the middle of planning that night's party.

Yesterday, on my way back from lunch, I saw another freshman who had busted out of line and plunked himself down in an empty cubicle and he was just playin' some Solitaire. Part of me wanted to give him a good smack to the back of his head and part of me wanted to just run away and pretend I didn't see anything. Of course, because I'm spineless, I did the latter. But as I find myself asking more and more each day: What the hell is wrong with these kids? In what world is it okay to walk over to someone else's workspace, into someone else's cubicle and plunk yourself down to start playing Solitaire? Are you THAT incapable of waiting (at your new school, no less) for 15 minutes, by yourself, with no one to talk to and nothing to read? Are unattended computers today's water fountains? It's there, it's clean, it's operational. Clearly, it's for me.
As I may have mentioned once or twice, I'm getting old. Or at least I must look like it. Today, one of the freshmen sat down and before I could say, "Hi, how are you?" she said, "Can I ask you a question?" I said yes. "Okay, like, does everyone here have to take a foreign language?" I didn't know. "What did your advisor say?"
Now let me back up: College academic advisors are literally highly trained people who also happen to have the patience of saints. None of the academic advisors has anything less then a master's degree in counseling or higher education administration. People go to school for a long time to get these jobs (although, personally, after the past two and a half weeks, I have no idea why.) Me? I am a cog. A grunt. A plebeian. You wanna talk about your genital warts? I'm all yours. But foreign language requirements? What the hell do I know? But I digress.
She rolled her eyes at me, as if to say, "You know - advisors." But she said, "My advisor said everyone in the College of Arts and Sciences has to take a foreign language, but I didn't think that sounded right." I just looked at her. Sounded right to me. "Um, no, I think she's right. That's why she signed you up for Spanish I." Why this kid thought I had something resembling power is beyond me. "Well, I don't want to do that. I won't. So, you don't have to sign me up for it." I signed her up for Spanish as I was instructed. "You need to listen to your advisor," I said, handing the schedule back to her. She just shook her head. "I'm pretty sure she's wrong." Twenty bucks says that two years from now, I'm blogging about her in my class.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Not What I Expected

I started worrying about my face-off with Bridezilla as soon as I woke up yesterday. I began wondering about the likelihood of an attack of appendicitis or other sudden onset illness that would require my hospitalization. Anything to get me out of a day with the crying bride from hell who tells her fiance that she hates him.

I arrived at the venue an hour before the bride. Everyone there from security to housekeeping had something to say about her: "This one? She's a trip," and "Yeah. She's a real pain in the ass." "She's a card." "She's a nutjob." Before she even got there I started humming to myself, "How do you solve a problem like Bridezilla?"

Then the photographers arrived. I immediately got a HUGE girl crush on both of them. They were cool and we instantly bonded. I asked them both, "What's the deal with this bride?" They just laughed. "Oh, she's fine. Seriously. She's a bit high strung, but the deal is, you just need to tell her what to do. She wants someone to tell her what to do. Once she knows someone else is in charge, she relaxes and really she's fine."

I didn't believe them, but since they were my new best friends, I figured they had no reason to lie. Finally, the bride and I laid eyes on each other. She was stunning. And she was 23. The groom was 43. It was officially the creepiest and saddest wedding I have ever seen.

As soon as I introduced myself, she started talking a mile a minute. First, she pointed out the groom's 12-old-daughter. "That's Maggie," she said. "She has ADD/HD, OCD, anxiety disorder, two other things she's been diagnosed with that I can't remember and her mother abandoned her." I didn't know what to say. That's certainly way more information than any bride has given me before. Before I could comment, the bride (let's call her Laci) started flipping out about the musicians. "I totally don't trust them and I don't think they're going to play the song I want and also, I do NOT want my guests to-" and I did what my new photographer friends told me to do. I played the bossy Alpha dog card (which I just now realized I should have done with Inappropriate Sister on the first day of the semester, but, oh, well - as they used to say on Ally McBeall, "bygones."). "Laci," I said seriously and firmly. "Yes?" Now she was all Bambi eyes, looking like I was about to give her the most important piece of information she would ever get in her life. "Are you marrying the man of your dreams?" She didn't even hesitate. "Yes." "Okay, then. That's all that matters. Everything else is icing on the wedding cake. Let's get you married to this wonderful fella, then!" She visibly relaxed. And then she hugged me!!!!! "Oh my God. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Then I got the family tree, which today is pretty important to know for some weddings. I got strict instructions to NOT call the woman who gave birth to her "your mother." Laci said, "That is not my mother. That is Gina. The woman who is my mother is that woman over there." Let me break it down for you: FOB (or "Father of the Bride") is on his third wife. Laci is Dad's first kid with his first wife. Then, we had 15 year-old surly teenager dude, Alan, dad's son with his second wife. Then we had the ring bearers, Tommy and Timmy, 6 and 4, who are dad's kids with his third and current wife who apparently has done something right, because Laci calls her mom. And FOB, by the way? Looked to be about two years younger than the groom and definitely had more hair. (The groom was struggling with some serious male-pattern baldness.)

The rest of the evening just made me want to cry, and not for the reasons I might cry at other people's weddings. This poor girl (because really, she was a very young 23 - she was just a girl) that everybody (including me) had written off as a Bridezilla just wanted (although she'd never admit it) and needed a mom. As soon as the ceremony was over, I led the new Mr. and Mrs. over to the cocktail reception area. Laci pulled me aside and whispered, "I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do now." I looked her in the eyes. "You have fun. Do you drink?" She nodded. "I will get you a drink. What would you like?" She looked at her new husband/clear Freudian father figure. "What would I like?" she asked him. "Wine." She looked back at me. "I would like some wine." "Red or white?" She looked at him again. "Red or white?" This groom was clearly in charge. "Red." She looked back at me. "Red," she repeated, like a sad, modern Stepford wife. I went off to get her red wine and as I type this, I have tears in my eyes.

Although I probably have no business making assessments about this couple and this family after spending only 6 hours with them, here are my thoughts:

This 43-year-old groom married this child bride who says she hates him because he is no dummy. His daughter? That kid is a serious handful. She managed to piss off everyone working that wedding. If you piss off people who work weddings for a living, you are definitely off-the-charts obnoxious. These people have seen everything and if you send them over the edge, you can bet that it's with good reason. The photographers, who were the most mellow photographers I have ever met called her "Heinous bitch" and "spoiled rotten awful diva child." The catering manager called her a "hideous brat" and I will just say she is clearly not on the right meds, obviously going through a bad time and getting NO discipline or guidance from her father. I can't tell if the father has absolutely no clue what to do with a special needs child who happens to be a girl, or if he just feels too guilty to mete out any discipline or what. But it doesn't matter because 23-year-old Laci has clearly taken over the monumental task of raising this child. And although she's still just a kid herself in many ways, she's good at it. Wild child/spoiled brat listens to her. Women twice Laci's age might have liked this man, met his daughter and then run screaming for the hills. Either Laci is a saint in mortal's clothing, or she's too young to know any better.

Laci's family is a mess. Both the caterer and the DJ warned me that Laci had told them how only 38 people were attending because of numerous family "rifts." I asked the DJ if I needed to have the police on stand-by. Would this be one of those weddings where punches were thrown and members of the wedding party ended up in jail? He assured me it would not. "The bride talks a lot," he said. "There's just a lot of 'issues' in this family, apparently." Indeed.

To repeat myself: It was just the strangest, saddest wedding I have ever worked. There was no "joyous energy." I have been working weddings for eight years now. I can walk into a room and instantly pick up on the energy. I can usually tell if the bride and groom are getting married because they're crazy in love with each other or . . . for some other reason. This wedding was . . . I don't know. Just flat. No joy, but no sense of panic or stress or other "Bridezilla-y" emotions. Just resignation, I guess.

I will end this post with the father of the bride's toast (one I have never heard before): "The vows have been said, the cake has been cut, now let's hope Laci doesn't get a big butt."


Friday, June 02, 2006

Here Comes the Bride . . . zilla!

A venue coordinator called me earlier this week to ask me if I could take over for her on this wedding. "I have a last minute family thing and I need to be there. Please help me! It's really easy," she said. "About 60 guests - ceremony at six, followed by a reception. They don't seem like the partying crowd, so I don't even think you'll be here too late." I didn't have any plans for Saturday afternoon, so I said sure - an easy way to make some cash, plus I like her a lot and wanted to help her out. Us wedding/event planning types have to stick together. Once I agreed to do it, she e-mailed me with this news, "Um, just so you know, the bride is a little nutty." Oy.

When a woman who works with brides for a living says a bride is a "little nutty" that is the equivalent of saying Kevin Federline is a bit of a gold digger. Or a little trashy. Or just a touch of a redneck.

I e-mailed her back: "Define 'nutty'." Here's all she would tell me:

She cries during planning meetings and tells her fiance she hates him.

Nutty? No, that's a Bridezilla.

So, if this happens to be my last post ever, just know that it's because I was killed by a Bridezilla. I hope I went quickly and didn't feel any pain.