Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum"

Once I finished college and graduate school and poked a toe into the frigid air of that fabled place called "real world," I realized that it's hard to make new friends when they're not stuck next to you for 16 weeks in Psycholinguistics; there's a natural flow towards beer and conversation when class is over, but if there is no class, then it's just you and beer and silence and not have flow. Connections are easily made when you're comparing $600 bookstore receipts with your peers; they are less apt to happen some years later when you're comparing insurance information with the person you've just sideswiped in front of the Juan More Taco on Main Street.

Indeed, when you're in that post-educational phase of life called "work suck junk," it's a challenge to find new BFFs, to find kindred spirits. In my job experiences--with a few notable exceptions--I have been surrounded by people who take professionalism seriously; who believe meetings are a place of productivity; who feel everyone should sign a card for Joe when his mom dies, even though they've never actually spoken to Joe, outside of asking him to pass the staples when they've been "shopping" in the supply closet at the same time. In short, I've been surrounded by people with whom I have very little in common, outside of our need for staples. Of course, there is a certain amount of forced conviviality, a few slaps on the back as a display of collegiality, the occasional soft moment over a Ziploc bag of celery sticks at the little refrigerator in the lounge...but the truth is that, at the end of the day, I don't necessarily want to hang out with people I know simply by virtue of having the same employer. And, quite rightly, they shouldn't want to hang out with me. Cuz, hell, baby, I'm not always the nicest W-2 withholder in the room. If they need to run away fast, it's completely understandable to me, and I'm happy to give them a starting shove.

Imagine, then, what a rare bit of bliss it is to encounter a colleague with whom I genuinely click, with whom I can be my genuine overblown self. Up until this past semester, I had only two folks like that on my campus, two folks who can tolerate my pissing and cackling and scorching and chortling, and they don't blink. But suddenly, I'm finding three is the magic number.

Three is named Gretchen, and she's livened up my life a bit this last month, sharing stories of unbelievable students, having my family over for dinner, introducing me to limoncello, abetting my habits of gossip and swearing, and giving me the warm feeling that comes from having a new friend around whom I can use the word "anus" and not, upon seeing her astonished mug, have to suddenly pretend I was just randomly naming parts of the body because that's what I do from 2:58-3:00 p.m. each day.

So I have a new galpal, and I have been liking her. But lately, I like her even more, and here's why: she's got killer interesting kids. Evidence of this is contained in the photos below. Gretchen recently had her birthday, and on that special day, her eight-year-old son, Oscar, slipped a card into her bag, a little something he'd picked out just for her.

It was one of those musical cards, so sing aloud the song "Good Love" as you look at the images, starting with the envelope:

...proceeding to the attention-getter:

...and ending with the HIGH-larious, completely-inappropriate, but ever-so-dear-because-it-shows-that-although-he's-a-behavioral-problem-at-school-he's-still-innocent punch line:

Like she won't flash this bit of memory lane on him some evening when he's fifteen and has his buddies Doug and Cal over for a gaming marathon?

Dwarfing the birthday card, however, is her family's Christmas card, which will adorn the magnet board in our kitchen for some months to come:

"May brotherly love and goodwill give you
Joy this holiday season!
Best wishes,
Rick, Gretchen, Jeremy, and Oscar"

Well pleased with the past year and its new friendshipial developments, I'm ready to move on and face 2009. Where better to start the year than California, where mudslides and wildfires seem a reasonable compromise to having the entire state break off and slide into the Pacific?

Between now and January 5th, we'll hit the L.A. area to visit my mom (with side jaunts to San Diego, Palm Springs, and Pasadena).

And who knows...even though I won't be attending college there, it seems possible that I could, maybe, possibly--

perhaps while watching Shamu perform at Sea World--

make a new friend.

After all, even killer whales have anuses.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Who's Your Daddy?"

Back in the 1980s, I did the college gig all traditional-like. Squirming and chafing in Montana, I hit eighteen and began the countdown to flight. When the time came to start college, I viewed the 1,000 miles separating my new campus and my hometown as "a headstart on a life where I don't work in a bowling alley."

1,000 miles away from my high school, I learned to wear scarves and listen to REM and dance to Soul Asylum and subsist on the salad bar and listen to convocations featuring distinguished speakers like that old curmudgeon Garrison Keiller and stalk physics study group sessions in the hope that the word "torque" would ever mean more to me than being the last name of a member of the 1960's faux-musical group The Monkees (Peter Tork) and attend a production of Sam Shepard's True West and climb the water tower about an hour after putting the keg's tap directly into my mouth and,


I think you get the picture.

So I have that experience in my life that represents "college."

However, now I teach at a community college, which often feels more like a move of social justice than a career choice.

Because, you know, there are reasons why students are attending the community college. Certainly, there's convenience; there's affordability; there's the personal touch. Additionally, though, students often find that the community college is a place to go after--or while in the midst of--personal crisis: divorce, job loss, rape, rehab, mental illness. Our students, in short, aren't living their educations. They are tucking their educations in and around their lives, flitting to campus for class and then booking away again the minute the Anatomy & Physiology lab is done, tearing to daycare to pick up the twins.

Thus, community colleges often lack the traditional "college culture." They are commuter campuses, by and large, so our students miss out on the experience of checking their mail for care packages from home or riffling through their roommate's drawers while she's at Abnormal Psych, looking for weepy journals, sex toys, dime bags, packages of Pork Ramen. They pop in to "learn" and jet away to "live." Rarely is there a marriage of the two.

All of this explains why I so love the end-of-term student art show on our campus. For three quick days, the place almost feels like--has the vibe of--a college. When the art show is hung, I feel like shouting to the students, "If you think this is good, you should know places exist where professors take you outside for class in the Spring, and you all sit and lean against trees--YES, there are trees!--and talk about Kierkegaard. And sometimes after class you go play frisbee, and after that someone will play a guitar and sing Cat Stevens off-key. During all of this, you feel more comfortable than you ever have before and simultaneously kind of queerly alone--yet certain that your life will never be more vivid. This, dear community college students, is what you should extrapolate from the art show. Scurry now. Do that. Extrapolate." (then, being where we are, I define "extrapolate")

This semester, the art show was particularly fun because Groomeo has been cashing in on my free credits and taking some art classes, so his work was displayed, too, AND he got to pour glasses of Pepsi at the opening night reception. Me? I got to skip around and clap my happy hands in front of any piece signed "Jocelyn's Husband."

I also got to warm up my snarky sotto voce comments for the dreck that festooned the place. As it turns out, I possess happy hands and sotto voce comments in equal measure, so I went skipping and bitching and mocking and twirling until I was finally forced to collapse back at Groom's Pepsi table and order a double.

Much revived by the carbonation, I headed back out to witness more of "the learning curve made incarnate" that decorated the walls and tables. Of course, personally, my best artistic abilities involve stick figures, sock monkeys, and my own urine, so I couldn't be too condescending.


Come. On.

I. Mean. Really.

And I haven't even included photos of the myriad works featuring Tinkerbells or clay seals playing basketball.

What I learned from my art trolling with the kids was this: five-year-old boys rewy, rewy think paintings of Captain Hook and cigarette-smoking chimpanzees wearing visors are soooooooo cool. I also learned that my husband does a damn good job--so good, even, that when his first assignment in Drawing class this term was to create something on a scratchboard, as a way of learning technique, and the teacher recommended animals as a good subject for this medium, he was able make that untenable assignment sing. Initially, when he came home from class and told me that there might be kitties involved, I recoiled and gasped out, "You mean...create an animal? Like, on purpose? Must you?" Cringing right along with me, Groom said, "Well, textured subjects work well on scratchboard; there's no way to erase, and there's nothing but black and white, and so fluff translates well. But never fear: I'm going to think on it."

For one wild day, he considered doing a picture of a dandelion gone to seed. I was able to get behind him on that notion. I knew the alternative.

But then he decided to listen to his teacher and take this basic assignment and do, yup, something basic. He announced he was going to scratch out a sheep.

Greeting his declaration with more than a minute of silence, I eventually left the room to re-group before returning, resolved, able to tell him my love would withstand this one test, but if he ever painted a unicorn, it would be over, and he'd need to be out by Monday.

Crikey, though, look what he did with the Baa-Baa:

Dude made my jaw drop at a sheep's head. Previously, the closest I had come to this was dropping my trousers in the loo at a pub called The Boar's Head.

With this bowl he threw in Ceramics class, my years of muttering about "this pain-in-the-arse piece-of-crap-we-serve-beets-in" came to an end.

This wall displays three of his 2-D digital designs, one for movement (him on a unicycle), one for radial balance, and one for rhythm. Maybe you all should send me gifts now, so I can send you a little thank-you card, featuring one of these on the front. I like books, espresso, and dangly earrings.

Here's Girl, viewing her pappy's self-portrait. The instructor took his photo, off of which this drawing was based, on a particularly greasy-headed hat-hair day, which means I now get to tell him all the time that he has a seriously ginormous forehead. I'm tempted to get him all steamed up and fry an egg on it.

Cutting in closer to that portrait, I find my happy clapping hands coming out again.

I mean, look. He's just nice (...even though I'm not quite sure where his eyelashes went; did they never grow back after the bacon grease fire of 2005?).

Seventeen years ago, His Groomishness graduated from a pricey place that offered up the traditional campus experience. Now he's mixing it up a little and making me all shivery.

Indeed. Every night, I get to hop into bed with those peepers--those kind eyes that have staked out residual territory just below the ginormous forehead of a community college student.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"She Had Eight Weeks to Work on Her Final Essay, a Period of Intense Craftsmanship That Resulted in This Opening: 'Are kids still talking to their parents? Well, some are but most don’t talk the old fashion way or the way they should, they now talk to their parents through texting and emails and once in a while, if you are lucky, a phone call (most likely from a cell phone)'"

Gasping, flailing, wiping gunk from my eyes, I'm surfacing, turning my face up from the mass of research papers that has consumed my energies in recent days. Students have told me that Americans are obese; water is scarce; language is overly casual; music should be freely downloadable; smoking bans are good; coral reefs are dying; modern animation rules; and BPA might be dangerous.

Slap my knee and call me Tiffany, but I'll be damned if they're not right.

Yup, I'm swimming along with their opinions, gliding through the pages, occasionally taking a break to stand up and keep rice-sized blood clots from forming in my legs.

And when I stand up, I look out the window. Well, shitbam.

Somebody put nine inches of snow out there and shut the town down when I wasn't looking. Here I just gave Krystal an "A" for hepping me up about global warming, and during the grading, the Abominable Snowman sneezed and shook his dandruff on the house.

Easily, my grading break lengthens from a leg shaking to out-and-out abandonment of duties. I not only need to prevent rice-sized blood clots from forming in my legs, but I also need to prevent student prose from clotting my brain.

Clearly, it's time for us to strap things to our feet.

This one is eight. She's a better skiier than I.

In my defense, I'm only six on the inside.

That one there is five. I urged him to jump into the street and notify any passing eighteen wheelers of his presence by waving his poles around wildy should they bear down on him.

I cannot convince the obstinate lad to ask for his two front teeth for Christmas. He's all, "Who even cares about toofs, Mom? I want some Star Wars legos. Santa can keep the buckers."

When skis get tiring (sort of like the continuing speculation about Katie Holmes' tense friendship with Victoria Beckham), we move to the bear claws. My tastes being more refined, I often attach French crullers to mes pieds.

After an hour's romp, Niblet is more than ready to "act like Mommy grading research papers."

Inspired by the drama of his body language, I head back inside and bring my computer out of its hibernation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Safety in Popsicles"

I love winter for ninety-eleven reasons:

1) When I wear snowshoes, my size 10 hooves actually feel petite in comparison. This is also why I sometimes sport a pair of huge "We're #1" foam hands when I teach sign language.

2) Scarves are the accessory that can never go wrong. I read this in Isadora Duncan's biography.

3) Cold temperatures create a perfect excuse to stomp inside and sip on a hot cup of cocoa...or, better yet, to bypass the cocoa and simply pour Kahlua into a mug.

Frankly, I bypass the mug and pour the booze directly into my gaping maw.

Oh, all right. I bypass the Kahlua and chug Isopropyl, Kitty Dukakis style. She, too, loved a good snowball fight--before the rubbing-alcohol-induced blindness set in. At least we now have an excuse for "throwing like girls."

4) If I view my reflection in a piece of ice, my crow's feet are hardly discernible. Frozen water mirrors are hella cheaper than laser surgery.

5) When I pour juice into a cup of snow, I am catapulted back in time to age six at the Yellowstone County Fair, to a day when I had a really kickarse snowcone. Fortunately, with my homemade snowcone, eaten far away from the 4-H cow barns, I don't even have to cry when I trip and drop it. I just dive to all fours and start lapping.

Pride and snowcones are poor bedfellows.

6) When I go cross-country skiing, my vocal chords get a much-needed limbering up; you better believe I'm a screamer on them hills. Post-ski, my throat thoroughly warmed, I'm ready to come home, spin a disc, and hit all Mariah Carey's high notes.

Incidentally, if I ever do willingly remain in the presence of a Mariah Carey song, please grab an ice pick and stab it into my frosty white buttocks. Then do it some more.

7) Ice skates = the poor man's Ginsu knife. Many a loaf of foccacia has regretted my triple lutz.

8) Before the cold really hits, when local ice is still in its infancy, having Niblet sit on a lakeside cliff and tush-sled downwards is a tad worrisome. However, once a solid, fierce coldsnap hits and holds, his airborn descent is no longer given final punctuation by a "splash"

but, rather, after a silent Wile E. Coyote moment of hovering mid-air between cliff and lake, our lad hits the frozen ice mattress of Lake Superior with a dull "thud."

What a relief that he won't drown.

(look at this patsy priss-priss of a lake way back in November; it's all "Oooh, look at my freely-churning waves." But no more, friend. No more. Slowly, gradually, the little flirt is hardening into a surface reminiscent of Nicole Kidman's forehead, capable of no natural movement.)

Way to go, Winter.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Boot Camp"

I'm clearly not cut out for the military. I'm legally blind, poor in attitude, and slumpy in posture. The world is a safer place with me firmly installed behind a podium and a latte.


Even though I have no desire to be broken down so that I can be built back up again in camouflagier form,

I do harbor a secret desire to attend boot camp.

My camp, of course, features Sergeant Steve Madden and Drill Master Kenneth Cole as the officers in charge of tongue and sole lashings.

Private Harley Davidson, reporting for duty.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Can't Read a Face by Its Book"

I've considered getting myself all Facebooked. Heaps of folks whom I like and admire, from George Will to Pat Buchanan to Ann Coulter, are on Facebook, and the idea of being able to poke them before spreading graffitti all over their walls holds no small appeal.

But then I remember I have a blog already and wonder if I need to create yet another "life by proxy" site for myself. The answer, so far, has been nope. I can't imagine finding the oomph to maintain one more thing in my life, especially when I already have a fair number of plucking, exfoliating, and moisturizing regimes already in place. If I added any more responsibility to my daily list, I fear something would have to give, most likely remembering to pick up my daughter from Girl Scouts (rest easy, responsible parents: it's a mere 6 mile walk home, and she's a wiry little thing).

My reluctance to go Facebook was further fueled when I eavesdropped on a student after class one day.

Her name was Mindy.

You may have heard of her.

Mindy was chumming up to an unsuspecting classmate--one of her favorite past times--and opened with,

"My mom is so gay."

Fellow classmate, lacking an adequate comeback: (incredulous silence)

Me, stepping in for the save: Well, if she's found love, that can never be bad, right? Does this mean you have two mommies?

Mindy: Huh? I said she's so gay, not, like, a lezbot. Sometimes, Jocelyn, I don't know what you're talking about. She's so gay because she joined Facebook. And she's ancient, like 37, which makes it pathetic. I mean, who wants her mom trying to "friend" her?

Me: Hey, c'mon, people of all ages use Facebook! It's a great way to find people you used to know and, um, see what they're doing and where they're living so you can go through a bunch of angst about how your life isn't glamorous and hasn't panned out in the direction you'd have hoped back when you were 20, but because you want to keep doing kind of a queer and creepy semi-friendship but mostly engaging in an ogling voyeurism of these past acquaintances, you act all smiley while secretly hoping they're going to announce their divorce (you always knew Sean from your biology class was a rat bastard, so a little misery serves him right) and have to change their romantic status back to "single." Indeed, Facebook isn't just for you half-formed striplings! It has a rightful place in the lives of petty and bitter people of all generations, right?

Fellow Classmate, who has been sitting agape the whole time: Naw. It's just sad when old people get on Facebook. Even Tom Petty.

Mindy, shaking her head ruefully without ever actually having encountered the word "ruefully": Totally. My mom's all saggy and only has this lame boyfriend, and she's been keeping clean since she got out of rehab, so why does she have to go and be all tragic on Facebook? Seriously, she has about three friends on there, and I'm one of them. I'm kind of all, "Mom, maybe go back to the bar, or get a hobby or something." She's completely going to want go start going out with me on the nights when the mom of my baby's daddy's other kid watches my daughter. She'll probably (dramatic, put-upon sigh) start asking to borrow my jeans, too. I mean, GAWD.

So, for now, even though I know heaps of y'all are ancient geezers and proud members of the Facebookian world order, I'm going to continue to resist creating the sad and pathetic presence I would contribute. Like Mindy's mom, I'm doing pretty well at those things all on my own.

Just me, my rainbow-covered poncho, my John Travolta tote bag, and a borrowed pair of Mindy's jeans.

We ride the bus sometimes.