Day 196: Mannerisms day.

Originally scheduled for Friday, July 15.

I actually did this, sort of, on the day it was scheduled.

Friday was the last day of our seminar, and we needed to unwind. So five of us — myself, Bethany, Julianne, Kristina, and Charles (minus the dux clamores) — the Team of the White Moose of the People —— the five of us drove down to Santa Fe.

We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is usually full of O’Keeffes (paintings, not relatives), but which currently has instead a fascinating exhibit on American Modernist painting and photography, and specifically the relationship between the two, and the use of photographs as sketches. I have a new respect for Norman Rockwell, having seen what went in to The Soda Jerk.

We wandered around the plaza, downtown Santa Fe. We walked the labyrinth in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis (we couldn’t go inside the church, unfortunately, because it was being used for a marathon of wedding rehearsals). We went to Rooftop Pizza — we had a pizza with smoked duck on it — to eat and drink and be merry. It was a good day.

Anyway, on the drive into Santa Fe, Bethany asked me what the day’s task was. I told her, and then my colleagues started identifying my mannerisms. The big one is the sigh — a sort of exasperated sigh preceded by a short pause, which is my response to anyone asking me anything. My wife knows the sigh well, and it has sparked more than one argument between us. Apparently there’s also a sigh/grunt variation, but I can’t reproduce that one on demand like I can the original. I also make a specific hand gesture — not this one — when I’m talking, especially when I’m trying to explain or talk my way through something. The gesture is the one you’d make when saying “it’s about three inches long” — and I’ll leave it to your imagination what is about three inches long.

Those were the only of my mannerisms that were enumerated, either because those are the only ones I have, or (much more probably) because my friends got bored pointing them out and started talking about something else. Because I do have a few others: I stroke my beard; I rub the place on my finger where my wedding ring used to be, before I lost it, because I constantly took it off to fiddle with it; I scowl — but maybe that’s not a mannerism? —; I speak in incomplete sentences.

My mannerisms aren’t interesting — obviously, because less than half of this post was about them. Sorry. I’m just not an interesting guy.

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Day 162: Make prolonged eye contact with everyone you meet.

I made this more fun by not saying anything.

Most of the people I tried this with just refused to play: they’d studiously avoid my gaze once they figured out that I was some sort of silent, stare-y nutjob. That was no fun, though I did get thrown out of a grocery store after staring down a checker.

I needed a challenge, a worthy opponent, and I was at a loss. I thought about going to bar, but attempting to stare down a drunken stranger on a Saturday night sounded like a plan that would not end well for me.

Then, I remembered: Day 100. The eight-dollar bill. The barista who never laughs.

The staring.

I went back. I was fortunate: there was no line, and my nemesis was working the front register. She’s not actually my nemesis, you understand: I just said that for effect. I’m sure she’s nice, aside from the not-laughing. Besides, my nemesis is my doppelgänger, “William Wilson“-style, except I drink instead of gambling.

Anyway. I walked up to the counter. She said hello, asked what she could get me, waited. I stared. She stared. I stared. She —— well, you get the picture.

We attracted a small crowd — the other baristas, mostly, who started handing us shots of espresso, and we downed them while still staring at one another, and then there were more shots, and soon I felt like we were Marion and that bald Nepalese dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I wasn’t sure which of the two I was.

I once had something upwards of a dozen shots of espresso over the course of an eight-hour shift, more than half of them during the last hour. I felt okay afterward, maybe a little shaky, and I wanted to nap and couldn’t, but it wasn’t really that bad. We got to nine shots, my nemesis and I, and I felt great, and she started looking queasy. We got to ten, then eleven, and then——

Well, she vomited. In a projectile manner. On me, obviously, because I was across the counter from her.

Vomit is never pleasant, but some sorts are more not-pleasant than others. You’ve all had to deal with vomit, so I won’t elaborate. Too-much-espresso vomit is, I think, the worst vomit there is, because it still smells like espresso, and espresso is a good smell, and vomit is not a good smell — so there’s some conflict going on, olfactorily speaking. Plus there’s vomit.

I managed to hold my ground, mostly out of shock, but it must have looked good: I mean, this woman just vomited on me, and I’m still staring her down. I don’t look down at my vomit-covered shirt and pants, I don’t recoil in disgust, I just keep staring. She starts crying, runs to the back room. Not the first time I’ve made someone cry in a Starbucks.

Everyone else just stared at me. I think someone offered me a towel, but I’m not sure. I made eye contact with each and every one of them — prolonged eye contact, of course — and then walked out.

I drove about a half-mile down the road, stopped the car, got out, stripped my clothes off, and set them on fire.

It was the only way to be sure.


Day 140: Jam the line!

I’m supposed to call the “national headquarters” of the KKK repeatedly, hanging up each time, in some sort of primitive DoS attack.

Right. That’ll do something. I don’t think the Klan even has a national headquarters…

It seems absurd to me that the Klan still exists. Not because I think we’re living in some post-racial utopia – racism and bigotry of all sorts are alive and well – just look at Westboro Baptist, those people hate everyone, even the Swedes, and how can you hate the Swedes? —— no, the continued existence of the Klan seems ridiculous because they’re just so nineteenth-century.

Maybe being a club of aggressive racist drunks with a secret handshake and stupid ‘slang’ was enough back in the 1860s, or even the early 20th century, but now it just looks pathetic. I linked to one of the Westboro Baptist church’s websites above: despite the fact that all of the Phelpses and their lackeys are terrible, hateful people, they’ve got a decent set of websites. The content is incredibly offensive, but it’s well presented: there’s a bit of a Flash intro, but it’s fairly low-key; the layout is clean, not too cluttered, easy to navigate; there’s embedded video, even. These people are on Twitter, too, for fuck’s sake. That’s how you do bigotry in the 21st century.

But the way you combat this sort of 21st-century bigotry is not by engaging it, and certainly not online: never – NEVER – feed the trolls. You just have to out-troll them, like this.

Even that does nothing, though, except pointing out what everyone already knows: that these people are ridiculous. It’s not going to change any of their minds. Stupidity and bigotry and hate aren’t going anywhere, nor are idiots and bigots and hate-mongers. Ignoring them all is the path of least resistance – and the one I prefer, honestly – and arguing with them can be fun, but is ultimately unproductive. Ridicule is probably best, but it only makes them stronger, and the belief that persecution is the mark of rightness (and righteousness) in any and every case run centuries deep.

…fuck it, dudes, let’s go bowling. But if we run in to any WBC protesters, I’m going to wave my floppy dick at them.


Day 69: Downsizing day.

Office space in the department is at something of a premium, and grad students are at the bottom of the pecking order – which is, I suppose, as it should be. I currently share an 8′ x 10′ office with two other people – or, rather, I shared that office with two other people until today.

The group of grad students who started back in the fall have been without offices up to this point, because there hasn’t been (and, really, still isn’t) room for them – but, since they aren’t teaching, they’ve been able to muddle by without a permanent place to stack their books. But they will be teaching next fall, and a new group of bright-eyed, as-yet-uncynical students will be taking their places as the departmental nomads, and so the current nomads will soon need office space – and that soon is now, apparently. Why this couldn’t wait until the summer, I’m not sure, but nobody asks my opinions about anything.

We all got an email from the departmental secretary to this effect this morning – “blah blah blah, limited space, appreciate your cooperation, &c” – and I scanned it briefly and moved on, having more important things to do (like catching up on Dinosaur Comics).

But then I got another from said secretary, informing me that I was going to have to move out of my office, because one of the soon-to-no-longer-be-nomads was moving into it.

The email informed me further that I’m not being moved into a different office, not being shuffled around in a pointless manner. No, I’m being displaced. Ousted. Banished. Exiled. Downsized.

Not “downsized” in the sense of being asked to leave the program – nothing that bad. No, I’m just being asked to move out of my office, and into a closet. That’s right: a closet. It’s so small that I can touch one wall with my right elbow and the opposite wall with my left elbow. There’s one shelf, barely deep enough for my laptop and too low on the wall anyway, that will serve as a desk. No room for a chair, obviously, and no way to hang more shelfs, as the walls are cinderblocks. There’s a door, but it doesn’t lock. It’s unbearably hot with the door closed, and there’s an unidentifiable and incredibly, pungently unpleasant odor that seems to be coming out of the walls themselves.

Also, did I mention it’s in a building on the other side of campus?

It is at least in a building, though; I heard that a few people will be officing in tents on the lawn.


Day 63: Break a world record.

This was easier than I expected.

My students were supposed to bring a 1,000-word draft of their essays to class today. It was on the syllabus. They’d brought 750-word draftlets on Wednesday. We’ve already been through this process once, with their last papers.

But, because I had failed to remind them, nobody came prepared. Some didn’t show up at all.

The only thing on the agenda for today was a paper workshop; I was going to address problems they were having with their thesis statements, with organization, with appropriate use and integration of quotations from their sources. Next week, class is canceled on Monday and Wednesday so I can do individual conferences with them; the paper is due on Friday. There was no point in doing something unrelated to the paper in class today. I was – perhaps foolishly – unprepared to do something unrelated, in any case.

Well, I couldn’t just let them leave – what sort of message would that have sent? “If we all come unprepared, we get the day off?!” They’d never come prepared again. No, I had to do something – but what?

I couldn’t berate them; I’m not a 900-lb gorilla, I can’t throw a tantrum and scare them straight. They’d laugh at me, and they’d be right to do so, because I’d look ridiculous. More than that, profs who get blustery and angry and talk to their students as though said students were children – those profs aren’t respected, and any respect I’d earned before such an outburst would be lost after it.

I couldn’t send them away, and I couldn’t lose my temper at them, and I had come without a back-up plan, and I was too tired and my head too full of Faust to make something up on the spot. I had no options.

So: I sat on my desk and stared at them. I didn’t say anything; I just stared. I used the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. They didn’t say anything, either: they just sat there, looking sheepish, trying to surreptitiously text under their desks, which just got them more stares. Fifty minutes I sat there, staring at them, and then I picked up my notebook and left.

Longest awkward silence ever.


Day 16: Discreetly give the finger to people all day today.

This was not as easy as it should have been – I mean, I give people the finger all the time – but I wasn’t sure how much discretion to use. Should the intended recipient notice the gesture, or not? Was a bit of collateral fingering damage acceptable, or not? Should I give the finger randomly, or only with provocation (and how much)?

I did a test at church this morning: every time I crossed myself, I used my middle finger. I’m not entirely sure who I was flipping off, but nobody noticed, and I wasn’t struck by lightning – a successful test, I think. On the ride home, I rested my middle fingers on my bike’s brake levers (an uncomfortable and not-particularly-effective position) – but, as I encountered a minimal amount of traffic, I’m not sure this accomplished anything. Certainly nobody honked or yelled or gestured back.

Jack and I were home alone all afternoon, so I had few opportunities to flip surreptitious birds – flipping off your three-year-old when he’s not looking is only fun so many times, after all. We have a picture window in our living room, and I spent some time sitting on the couch (which is on the opposite wall), bourbon in hand, flipping off cars as they went past – but not many did, and I doubt any of the few people who did drive past noticed.

By five, I was tired of casting my finger on barren ground, so I threw caution and discretion to the wind, and flipped off Twitter. Nobody’s responded, so far, but I bet that picture is one day as iconic as this one.

When my wife finally came home, and asked if we could wash the sheets, I flipped her off, twice: the first time she didn’t notice (success!), and the second time she just laughed at me. Yeah, that’s love. At least she didn’t make me give the dogs a bath…

Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling.