Monday, August 31, 2009

good times

A few weekends ago when I was sick, I laid on the couch, moaned a whole lot, and watched a lot of HGTV. This, in the end, was a mistake. I saw lots of programs with 22 year old couples either looking to buy or to spruce up their first house. I saw "What kind of house does $600,000 buy you" shows? I saw plenty of youngsters much better off than me. I wanted to punch them all in the left eye.

Normally, HGTV has a lot going for it...the general joy of watching a television network full of personality-driven shows but with hosts who have utterly no personality at all. The horrible production values. The sheer number of annoying idiots. All of it is generally hilarious. However, it does entirely too good of a job of stoking my class hatred and making me a bitter man.

It's funny how much good a weekend changes things. And indeed, it was a weekend in a number of ways:

  1. Friday night started with sushi with my wonderful spousal unit. Mackerel might just be my new favorite.
  2. Out to the best bar with good friends makes a Friday night just go right.
  3. Discovering a very good local band also really helps.
  4. Later that night, a friend asked if I wanted to get together and play some music. In an hour, another friend was recruited. I wasn't expecting to get into a band. However, it is awesome.
  5. It's a good feeling to close out the bar...especially when you get to walk home with very funny-drunk friends and wake up with absolutely no hangover the next day.
  6. Day two had a post-dissertation party at a friend's place with many more friends. Oh yeah, with homemade Bucyrus bratwursts. The weekend went from awesome to tremendous.
  7. Out to another nightclub, which I also ended up closing down with more friends. Minus the karaoke, the sweet sixteen party wearing weird costumes, and a truly awful Belgian beer, it was still a blast.
  8. Sunday? A day with my darling spousal unit, which is about as perfect as imaginable.

There are times when I start to feel left behind in life, stuck in a non-tenure job, stuck as a renter, living year 11 in a town I thought I'd only be in for 4. Then there are weekends like this one, where all I wanted was my friends to get full time jobs in the area so it would always be like this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

roid rage

Earlier, I moaned and whined about getting a cold at the end of summer (I know what you're thinking...Mike? Complaining? I just doesn't sound like me). I started out on Aug. 13 just feeling slightly icky with a sore throat. Then I started to feel get all fevery and dizzy. It was quite depressing, mostly because I knew, deep down inside, that it really was not the result of too much partying or something.

I spent time laying on the couch. I watched more HGTV than any man should bear. I realized just how tougher than I is my darling spousal unit. Moreover, however, I spent a lot of time not doing the paper I had started...fever dreams and academics, I long ago learned, do not really go togethe all that well.

After about a week, the fevers and ickiness generally went away. However, the cough was refusing to budge. I seemed to notice that the more I talked, the worse it got, so I tried to avoid spouting off my opinions whenever I had an audience. However, the cough still didn't completely go away. The only real change is that my friends seemed happier to see a less talkative me.

I started teaching this week, and for me, that involves long periods of using The DuBose Teacher Voice, which can be, if I might say, an awesome entity. Yet my throat was suffering for it. I decided that, rather than adapting all the other Tom Waits mannerisms (which I couldn't really do anyway...I don't have a good hat), I would finally break down and go see the doctor.

He told me that I most likely had a viral thing (his words), but it had gone away. My throat and sinuses were still inflamed, however, so he gave me a stepped dose of a steroid/anti-inflammatory. When I mentioned this on my Twitter feed, I was bombarded by friends (?) pelting me with horror stories about steroid side effects. I half expected to turn into the Hulk (the Incredible or Hogan...either/or) by the end of the day. My only solace in this was that if I were to go all green, bloated, and rampaging, at least there was a good chance it would happen while I was teaching. If nothing else, that would cut down on disciplinary problems amongst the students.

There were no side effects that I noticed while at work. When the day of teaching had finally ended (around 9:45...yes, PM...damn class schedules), I drove home while blasting Green Day, and I noticed my throat was too sore from five hours of giving Exclusive Command Teaching Performances to sing along. It lessened the effect, for sure.

Then, a while after arriving in the arms of beautiful spousal unit, after giving time for my mind to supposedly calm down post-teaching, I went to bed. This is when things started to change. Now, I've had mild insomnia issues for some time. I've always had nights where my brain wouldn't shut off. Last night was definitely one of them, but with the added twist of thinking of random stuff at an extremely high speed. My brain was pulling all its normal tricks (getting caught into obscure song lyrics, trying to find new uses for bratwurst, composing a musical on the life of Asian Dawn leader Hans Gruber* but as if sung by chipmunks), but it was doing it at auctioneer rate, as if someone had tripped my mind's switch to 78. Of course, this made sleep nigh-near difficult.

So far, though, this could be traced to simple hangover from week one of teaching. Then everything subtly changed. As I lay there, trying to block out my brain while not disturbing my slumbering, wildebeest-snoring spousal unit, I realized that I could feel my head. I mean, I could really feel my head. I started being able to feel just my left ear (and its surrounding areas) in excruciating detail. Then I was also able to feel a bit of the back of my neck. There was one patch of hair in particular where I could feel the spikes at the end of the follicles. My head swayed and tingled. This might've been enjoyable if I at least had a Tommy Chong-esque "wow, man" attitude to go with it, but when you couple it with a brain which can't quit analyzing fictional animal musicals, it was less than enjoyable...somewhere on the road to annoying, if you wanna know the truth.

Eventually, the sensations in my head started to fade, and the conversations in my brain, while not really going away, at least had the decency to bore me into slumber (giving me the added benefit of knowing how my friends, when around me, generally feel. Waking up was relatively hard today, but so far, no lingering steroid side-effects.

At least I know know how professional athletes feel.

* ten points for the first person to get this reference.

Monday, August 24, 2009

classroom fail

Hi there. I'm a teacher. Currently, I teach writing. However, today certain events and locations began to conspire against me.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I like my job. Generally, I like my university. I love my department. Hell, I think my building is pretty damn skippy...even if they did have to replace the roof less than a year after the building opened.

I can even deal with my classroom having three glass walls and facing the building lobby. It's a bit weird, and I feel kind of fishbowl-esque. However, I'm tapping into the whole self-delusion angle and believing that it's because I'm so damn pretty. Maybe they're filming me for a reality show. Who knows?

The problem is with technology. I have a computer, projector, document camera, dvd player, and every bell/whistle you can ask for. What do I not have? Why, it's a board on which to write. No chalkboard. No white board. And, as it's a writing class, being able to write is kind of important.

I have developed a workaround. I turn on the document camera, put a piece of blank paper under that, and write on that. It's far from ideal, though. I burn through a lot of paper, especially since it's a 2 hour 10 minute class. And every time I write anything, the "intelligent" sensors in said document camera decide to refocus and readjust the white balance, which takes a focus. Also, I can swear it makes my already ugly handwriting look even worse.

Ultimately, though, I'm mostly unhappy because of the utter silliness of it all. They could afford an expensive document camera, an expensive projector, but could not fork over for a white board? I have to use hundreds of dollars of technology as a workaround for their failure to install a simple chalk board?

Once again, Kafka shows its relevance to the modern university.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

damnation and groceries

I now no longer need to go to hell when I die.

This weekend is BGSU's "move-in" weekend. Freshmen are coming into town. The dorms are filling up. The roads are clogged with minivans hauling the little brats and their parental units. Meanwhile, the upper classmen are gathered on front lawns, sitting on outdoor couches or crammed at a rate of 3,857,336 per acre on front yards, drinking Natty Light and playing beer pong. It's much like being in Angangueo, Mexico...but with more public urination and less butterflies.

For those of us non-students, this arrival is more a sign of defeat than anything else. It signals that we have lost the city. There are now places we can't go without fearing for our sanity. We can no longer walk the streets at night without fear of stepping into student vomit or being shot with bb guns. Every night, instead of being sung to sleep by the birds, we'll now hear hour after hour of "woooooo!s" and bad classic rock.

I took a non-driving friend to the grocery store. Alas, move-in weekend was utterly the wrong time to do it. From the moment we stepped into the store, we were in trouble.

It wasn't too bad in the produce department...because none of them actually eat fruits or vegetables. However, none of them know how to pilot a shopping cart or observe rules of the road, so it quickly became difficult maneuvering. Every so often, there would be a knot of undergrads, accompanied by some bewildered parent, staring at the shelves in wonder.

These tie-up slots were predictably scattered throughout the front of the instant soup, in front of the mac & cheese (store brand, of course), in front of the frozen food. Each of them had a deer-in-the-headlights/"which variety of ramen is perfect for me" glazed expression. Of course, I didn't need to fight them for such product (as I was searching for elements of food, not the "food-like products" favored by undergrads). However, I had to work my way around them,, which required a mixture of brute force and stealth...along with a NASCAR-esque willingness to trade paint. More than once, another shopper, after seeing my cart piloting, complemented me on my technique.

I probably only got half of what I need, but that's okay...I just needed to escape. Grocery shopping should not make you feel like you've earned a single-malt Scotch.

However, all such bets are off when you enter the special hell of a grocery store in move-in week.

Monday, August 17, 2009

on health, causality, and indulgence

Ever since I was a wee lil' tike, I've always confounded doctors and annoyed friends with my normal propensity to health. This started with my teeth.

Like everyone, I was given lots of instructions on proper tooth care. I saw the goofy films in elementary school. I had teachers and dentists alike demonstrate proper flossing technique on oversized demonstration dentures. One year, they even gave us these pills which, when we sucked on them after brushing, supposedly showed all the plaque we missed by making it purple. I was assured that proper dental hygiene would surely mark the difference between a life of friends, women, fame, and fortune, and a life lived in a cardboard box in a gutter of a ghetto, with only a rabid mouse for company.

In spite of all this cajoling and instruction, I took minimal care of my teeth while a troublesome youth. I brushed swiftly, without purpose. I found flossing vexing and tedious, so I abandoned it for months at a time. Yet I still didn't get cavities. While my siblings were getting their teeth drilled, I would laugh, having learned that the road to happiness and well being lay in total and absolute sloth.

Similarly, with my health, I never broke a bone. I would get colds, but I never had much worse. I never needed my tonsils removed. I never had chicken pox. And I never got rabies, tapeworms, or elephantiasis...of any region.

It was only after realizing I was getting old (thanks to a cute chick I met my first year in Ohio, who loved repeatedly reminding me of my ancientness) that I started to really think about taking care of myself. There were, however, problems. First, I was working for my Ph.D., so anything save reading and writing did not fit into my schedule. Then there was the related health care crisis (short version: it sucked, then I had none). When I finally got good insurance, I felt physically worn down. Additionally, thanks to the general inertia of the scholarly lifestyle (and breakfasts consisting of a whole slab of deep-fried bacon wrapped around a stick of butter), I had gained roughly 437 pounds. It was with a certain amount of trepidation and fear that I was able to schedule a physical to see exactly how far I had slipped.

I reserved time with a general practitioner, a dentist, and an opthamologist. I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, stabbed, and bled. They cut open my head to check on the state of its internal parts.

How did I fare? In spite of everything, there were no problems. Even though I had lived on a grad school diet for years, my cholesterol and all that were fine. My vision was no worse than ever. Even my teeth were relatively solid.

I've been thinking about all of this for a few reasons. First off has been my recent string of summertime injuries (2008's knee then foot, and 2009's toe) have left me shaken. They've also left me wondering if my body, much like my students, is now engaged in a full-blown effort to make me feel old.

That's not all, though. Last week, I was deep into the "friends are visiting, leaving, moving in" week-long drinking binge/spree/lifestyle. Every night for eight days, I found myself either at a bar, a porch, or a street corner, with adult beverages on the agenda. Now I enjoy drinking more than most, but this stretch of bar time, fueled by special occasions and guests, began to feel relentless. Every morning, my stomach felt mildly uncertain and my head felt like cotton. I was losing the ability to focus on anything other than "this is what touring musicians must feel like all the wonder many second albums suck." I surprisingly never had a monstrous hangover the entire week (no splitting headache, no spinning rooms), yet in spite of this, I was getting sick of the daily feeling of uncertainty, both mentally and physically.

I was actually looking forward to my first night of sobriety, when no one would call, asking if I wanted beer, a cigar, or both. I was looking forward to going to bed sober, waking up sober, doing actual work. I was looking forward to reaping the benefits of clean, healthy living.

Of course, I immediately got a cold. And, wouldn't you know, it's not going away all that quickly. Ever since I quit my binge, I've had minor yet persistent mucus production, a sore throat, a transient feverish haze, and a general feeling of "woah" that's prevented me from doing much of anything.

I'm officially sick of it. I'm sick of feeling weird. I'm sick of sitting on the couch watching television. I've seen more HGTV than I can stand. I'm sick of not being able to do much of my own, very necessary, extremely time-sensitive work. I'm sick of the Oscar Wilde-esque fever dreams.

The worst part of all this, however, is that I can't even find a decent metaphor or meaning in all this. "Quit drinking and you will get sick" is not something I really want to believe. "The summer will always end in tears and misery" is too depressing, even for me. I can't shake the comment of a girl I knew in high school, who always told me that I didn't have a cold, it was my brain melting out of my head...but I'm really hoping that one's not right either.

Today's thought is that maybe the drinking then getting sick thing might be connected in some way. Maybe cause is starting to finally catch up with effect. Behavior finally starts yielding results. Baudrillard was wrong.

I certainly hope not. But even if the return of causality is the only lesson to be learned here, I just wish it wouldn't have manifested itself on my health. The end of summer is not, after all, the ideal time to dwell on one's lack of invincibility.

Friday, August 14, 2009

bend and cough

I've been thinking of health care for a little bit. No, not because of the national debate, but because for the second summer in a row, I've ended up with some virtually untreatable foot injury. But, of course, the personal inevitably leads up to the public. I am a scholar, after all.

Obviously, for many of the people, facts in the health care debate don't really matter. The US is far from the leader in health care, we spend more but get less, there are no plans for the government to round up Granny and dispatch her with an ice pick, and so forth. The truth is out there and fairly easy to find, but a lot of people don't care about data, statistics, facts.

Okay, then how about personal narratives?

  • When I got kicked off my parental units's HMO, I was essentially without insurance for years. Thankfully nothing happened. However, I had great potential for disaster. To survive with no insurance, you either have to (a) be willing to kiss your credit goodbye for life if you end up going to a hospital, so most people (b) adopt the "eh, it will take care of itself" attitude which is especially stupid with serious injuries and illnesses.

  • When I started doctoral school, I was required to get mandatory student health insurance. It was minimal and sucked. In fact, the only place without a co-pay was the student health center, about which horror films should be written. Every doctor in the place followed this exact procedure: they'd ask you what was wrong, pretend to listen while replaying last night's Survivor in their head, tell you to open wide, and then go to a 50 gallon drum of miscellaneous pills, grab a handful, and chuck them at your head...with whatever stuck in your mouth being the "prescribed dosage." Literally.

    Okay, not literally, but it wasn't far off. I went in one time, told them I had a cold with a cough that kept me up last night...they gave me Codeine. I had fun that night, but I still realize it wasn't exactly the smartest or most ethical course of treatment.

  • During adjunct hell time, I was back into the no insurance/"it will take care of itself" mindset. Then I got a cyst very uncomfortable place...let's just say "the base of the spine." Okay, damnit, I had an ass-cyst. It hurt like hell to sit, and since I had to drive 75 miles a day to get to various crappy (pun intended) jobs, "wait and see" wasn't an option. Neither, however was a real doctor.

    My solution? I went to an "Urgent Care" place to get diagnosed. After sitting with temp workers and virtually homeless people for two hours (and I really don't mean this as an insult...I've been a temp worker, and I was, during adjunct hell, pretty close to homeless myself), had a 15 minute diagnosis that cost $150. I then had to go to a surgeon to get the cyst drained. This also took 15 minutes, but it cost about $300, if I recall. Admittedly, the assisting nurse was cute, but I was married...and she had to stare at my ass-cyst, so I wouldn't have stood much of a chance even if I was single.

    (Incidentally, I should add the doctors in the Urgent Care place were generally pretty nice and would try to give free samples if a prescription was needed. They understood that their job was to help those left behind from the US health care "system" long as they were lucky enough to have a credit card with some space left on it.)

  • However, not everyone is lucky enough to even be able to do Urgent Care. A few semesters ago, I had a student who had the same type of cyst I had. He also didn't have insurance...but unlike me, he didn't have the credit card to even go to a crappy Urgent Care place. His solution was to just tough it out.

    This guy must've been tough as hell, because he lasted over a month. I was in utter agony after only a week. However, his cyst got infected. I don't remember how he eventually got the cyst fixed, but financially, this must've killed him.

  • Now I have health insurance as part of my job. Moreover, it's actually pretty good. The doctor freaked when I told him I was over 2 years between checkups, but luckily, I had stayed relatively healthy. And now my insurance allows me to regularly see a doctor. But is it perfect? Well, let me briefly regale you with the exciting tale of last year's foot/leg injury:

    Last summer, I decided to start walking every day in an effort to get slightly healthy. This went well for about a month, but then I screwed up a ligament in my knee. The doctor had me X-rayed (a few hundred even with good insurance), gave me some daily stretches, and made me wear a knee brace. However, the knee brace made me walk differently, and this aggravated my plantar fasciitis in the other leg's I had injuries in both legs. Brilliant! Now, by this point, I had sunk a decent amount of coin in co-pays, and I hesitate to think what it would've cost me out of pocket. But how did I cure this? Well, I rested (meaning I reverted to my lazy non-exercising self) and hoped it went away on its own...the exact thing I would've done if I didn't have insurance in the first place!

Go health care! This so obviously doesn't need fixing at all. In fact, bring back the leeches!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

man versus dog

In the mornings, I like to have television on when I eat my breakfast, before I start to work. Since I need to avoid being sucked into any serial shows (my brief experience with The West Wing, which is awesome yet cost me many man hours working on papers taught me that), I put on the NFL network. I love football, but I can quite comfortably ignore and leave anything on that network. So it's good at being mindless television, which is what I need.

Today, however, they caused me to think. Damn them!

Former Atlanta quarterback Micheal Vick, of dog-fighting fame was the subject of discussion. How could he best rehabilitate himself? Had he been banned from the game long enough? Would anyone hire him? How could some team pick him up without becoming embroiled in a PR nightmare?

All legitimate questions, I guess. However, the thing that makes me wonder about sports, television, society, and people in general is the level of emphasis we're putting on this.

Undoubtedly, dog fighting is sick, cruel, inhumane, and needs to be stomped out. However, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail and was suspended by the NFL for over 2 years. Deservedly? Maybe so, but for a point of comparison, Donte Stallworth, another NFL player, ran over and killed someone while drunk. He served a whole whopping 24 days in jail.

The lesson? Obviously, the NFL values dogs more than humans. Food for thought, I guess.