Atonement

Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There's an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.

-Annie Hall (1977)

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Housekeeping Note: this is another post I started several days ago and didn't finish until just now, so I'm clearing out some mental cobwebs getting it out there. 

WKRP-Tukery-Away_l  One of the things I've noticed about having a blog, and later on a Facebook account, is that you never know what's going to spawn a response and what isn't. Usually when I do a FB post that's related to The West Wing, I'll get a couple of "likes" and maybe a comment or two. This year I got nothing. On the other hand, an offhand reference to an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati launched all kinds of conversations. Likewise, another comment I made about watching TV on Thanksgiving Day launched a similar number of responses. 

A short while back I did a post about the high school friends I have nowadays, and the relative lack of overlap that the modern-day group has with the friends I had then. It's not a big deal, just something I noticed. And while the post itself has no comments attached to it (at present), it has engendered several responses. Most of them have been about what a funny/witty guy I am, and how they never suspected that in high school. (My stock response is that I was funny but not especially witty, which I think is more or less true.) But there was one brief conversation I had with someone that actually touched me, a little. Much of what you'll see here is heavily paraphrased. My memory isn't that great. 

A few days ago someone took the time to send me an Instant Message on Facebook. She opened with "I owe you an apology." This actually confused me, since I didn't recall her saying anything odd, or mean, or unusual, in the recent past or ever, really. 

She went on to say that she'd read my post, and it had gotten her to thinking back to high school. And the bottom line was that, if she'd said anything rude to me, or purposely ignored me, or done anything mean in my general direction back then, then she genuinely apologized for it. 

What do you do with something like that? 

In my case, I thanked her and told her (truthfully) that I hold no ill will toward anybody from school. She noted that there were some people from those days who seem not to have changed at all, and others who surprised her by going a long way in life. (Apparently I was in the second batch.) We chatted a little bit about some of the people–not by name–who pretty much peaked in high school and how you never really know. At that point I had to sign off so I thanked her again and bade her good-bye. 

You know what? That was a pretty brave action on her part, and you don't get a lot of opportunities to do something like that in life. I tried once a couple of years ago: I wanted to re-connect with someone from my past so I wrote a letter and sent it out. I never got a reply. But at least I took that opportunity. 

So thanks to you, RFP: you didn't do anything to make my life more miserable back in the past (that I know of, anyway), but you did brighten my week a little bit in the present. 

Gone To The Fair

Don Eppes: [picks up paper airplane off floor] Who made this?
Charlie Eppes: Me. Why?
Don Eppes: Well, wings are a little thin here, buddy.
Dr. Larry Fleinhardt: Hey, wait, wait, let me see this.
Charlie Eppes: Forgive me if all my years of advanced applied mathematics take issue with that assessment.
Don Eppes: Yeah, well, you'll forgive me if all my years of high school detention say I'm right.

Numb3rs (2005)

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Housekeeping Note: this is one of a few posts that I started and, for some reason, didn't finish recently, so I'm playing catch-up to get it out there.  

One of the big advantages of a school system that's in a city of some size is that there are lots of specialized city-wide programs which appeal to students of all stripes. Digital Harbor, for instance, is a technology-oriented school and most (if not all) of the academic courses are bent in that direction. Hell, the LIBRARY looks kind of like an Apple store. Mergenthaler (Mervo) has a Hospitality program, where students can learn the hotel business, or learn to run restaurants. And so on. Some schools have Junior ROTC programs, others don't, some are designed for college-bound students and others are dedicated to students who are likely to need more than four years to graduate. 

Consequently, choosing a high school can be a daunting task. This is why Baltimore City Schools recently staged a High School Fair over at Poly. All of the high schools got a chance to make a pitch at eighth graders who were pondering the high school they'd be applying for in a few weeks. 

Yes, there is an application process for high schools. Some of the schools, like Poly or City, have entrance criteria based on grades, MSA scores, attendance and so on. Other schools do not, but take their students through a lottery system. Still others have no specific criteria but will take all comers. 

I was asked to help out at the High School Fair. Originally I was going to come in early, around the time the whole thing started, but I was told that bodies were needed for the late shift. This worked out well, since it turned out that Wife was also going to be working the fair, from the other end: she was escorting eighth graders from her school around. 

I was told that I'd be on the registration table, and that my shift would run from 1:00–3:00. I made plans to get there by 12:45 so that I could learn the ropes, but the traffic to the fair thwarted me: the place was thick with students! I got in at exactly 1:00. Also, they didn't need anyone for registration by then, so I was put on the exit door as a kind of bouncer. Students who hadn't registered couldn't re-enter through my door; they had to go through the entrance. 

The other bad news was that, in arriving at 1:00, I'd missed out on the food they'd given the other volunteers, AND I didn't get a High School Fair T-shirt. This is two events for which I've come in and not gotten a T-shirt. I'm starting to feel a little ripped-off, here. Also, the event only ran until 2:00, at which point schools started taking down their tables and displays. Nobody seemed to need any other assistance from me, so I was gone by 2:15. 

But the Fair itself was a huge success; about four thousand people were in attendance throughout the day, and the exit surveys that I got to see (given to me by people who'd missed the place they were supposed to leave it) were almost all very positive. I'd say I saw about fifty surveys and only one was negative in any way. So that's not bad, and the folks who organized the fair did a great job, except for feeding and clothing me. But then again, that wasn't really the point of the day, so I can just suck it up. 

And, of course, make a point of showing up extra early at the Middle School Fair in a couple of months. 

Clean Up Your Room, the Parents are Coming Up

Eric: Okay, guys. Road trip checklist. Car–Check. Okay. We're good.

That 70s Show, "Canadian Road Trip" (5/8/01)

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SUNY Logo  This weekend, I'll be heading up to New Paltz, NY to visit Daughter at the SUNY New Paltz campus. It's Parents' Weekend, so once again I guess they're be sprucing the place up, sending us on all kinds of fascinating adventures and telling us we look pretty so we'll keep our kids in their school for the duration. 

Daughter recently learned, incidentally, that between AP classes, college courses she took in summer a year or so ago, and high school classes that her school designed collaboratively with Adelphi and Molloy, she's already considered a sophomore based on her credit count. Woo Hoo! 25% Tuition cut! 

This time around, there's not much in the way of campus tours and such; we've already done that part. On Friday, both Hillel and Chabad are holding events for those of the Jewish faith, and if we get there early enough (not me), there's tennis and soccer to see. 

Saturday promises a "coffee hour" with the school's president, who I presume is primed to talk about nothing but the H1N1 virus for the entire hour. I, for one, hope they'll be serving tea as well. The Science Building will be staging several planetarium shows throughout the day, and the school's art museum will have some exhibits going on. There's a tour of the town, a boat tour of the Hudson River, which as I'm sure you know was named after the famous explorer Henry Hudsonriver, and in the evening there's a comedy show by the Second City Touring Company. 

There are numerous other activities listed as well, many of them not sponsored by the school but some I'm sure were staged to coincide with this weekend. So it all sounds quite interesting and maybe even a little bit fun. Meals for this whole thing, by the way, are "on your own", which I'm perfectly comfortable with. They offer a local dining guide but we're welcome to use the dining halls. In fact, one of my favorite blurbs about one of the dining halls reads thus: "Enjoy an ‘all-you-can-eat’ brunch in the dining hall. The lunch price for guests is approximately $8.00; students use their meal plan." I'm just curious what "approximately" really means, here. 

So Daughter, who has known since before she moved in that I'm planning on coming up, calls me this past weekend and asks, "Are you registered for the Parent Weekend?" 

And I very confidently reply, "Um, we're supposed to register?" 

I have to get back to her on this. I ask Wife, "Did we register for this?" She tells me we did not, so I go to the school's website on Monday to get the details. Hey, you can register online!

Only, no you can't. There's a message that the computer system is down for upgrading through Tuesday. Since it's so late, I figure I'd better call the school instead and register that way. I call the office and get a voicemail message. I leave a message and wait about five hours.

I call again and get through to a woman and, let me tell you what: this woman could not be any less interested in talking to me or anyone else. I tell her I'd like to register for Parents' Weekend, and she tells me that I can't register because the system's down. Uh, yeah, that's why I'm calling. She can't register me either. Fine. I decide to wait and see what happens. 

Tuesday: My cell phone rings. It's a perfectly perky young lady who got my message and wanted to see if she could help. I mention the computer thing and she apologizes for it, as though it were her fault. She tells me that a lot of people are having trouble still, but it should be cleared up either late in the day or Wednesday at the latest. As long as I don't want to go on the boat cruise–and I don't–it should be OK. Late that night I get registered and secure tickets for the comedy show. 

So I'm all ready to go. Tomorrow after work, all I have to do is grab my bag, then…um, fill it with clothes for the weekend. Then go to the bank and make a car payment. Then put more gas in the car. And then I'm on my way!

28 Hours on the Road

Matt Kelley: Flight's delayed?
Toby Ziegler: Yeah.
Matt: Me too. I'm going to St. Louis.
Toby: Washington.
Matt: I'm with my daughter. She's upstairs in the room but we were out here looking at Notre Dame.
Toby: Yeah?
Matt: You got kids?
Toby: No.
Matt: Wait'll you take your oldest to look at colleges. It's an incredible feeling. You wish they'd go to college across the street from your house, but you know…
Toby: Yeah.

The West Wing, "20 Hours in America" (9/25/02)
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A couple of weeks ago, Daughter told me that she'd decided that she didn't want to go to Towson but rather to the State University of New York at New Paltz. I wasn't thrilled with the idea but I do realize that both schools have excellent reputations in her chosen major. However, I did think (still do) that there were some advantages to Towson that weren't necessarily going to happen at New Paltz. So when I was up on Long Island to see Daughter's last high school production, I took the time to visit with her mother and spell out my concerns. It was one of those good news/bad news situations in that her mother seemed to have some of the same concerns, however when she raised them with Daughter, it was a conversation that apparently began with "I talked to your father last night…" so you know that the heels dug immediately into the floor.

The other thing that her mother didn't share with me was that Daughter was pretty much set on New Paltz by this time. I learned this later on when she invited me up for the "Accepted Students Open House" a short while back. This was going to be a whirlwind tour for me. After work on Friday I headed up to Long Island. I was going to spend the night on my ex's sofa, and we would get an early start to the school. Let the clock start ticking at 7:00 PM, then.

Traffic, for a change, was fairly light all the way up (with a slowdown in Brooklyn for an accident, of course), and I kept the stops brief because I was getting the late start. I got to West Hempstead, NY at about 11:30. Daughter presented me with a late birthday gift, because when I'd seen her last (at the play), she wasn't exactly toting it around in anticipation of my arrival. Among the items in the gift bag was a "SUNY New Paltz" keychain.

Sandbagged, I'd been. All right.

The next morning, after sleeping rather poorly (in Daughter's bed, since she was worried that her stepfather, who gets up very early to go to work, would awaken me), I got up and had to wake her up. We got our respective acts together and were on the road shortly before 8:00, stopping in at 7-Eleven to get some hot beverage and a microwaved  sandwich (now, them's good eatin'). By 9:30 we were in the town of New Paltz and looking for the entrance to the Open House, as there was more than one event going on at the school that day.

SUNY Logo Now, I knew that this event was still a recruiting tactic, and that the people I spoke to were mostly going to say what they thought I wanted to hear, and tell me I was pretty and whatever else, but I let Daughter know that it was her job as well to sell me on the school. First we went to a central location in the gymnasium, where we got maps of the campus and some information about the First Year Initiative and a list of the wheres and whens with regard to tours and the receptions that the various departments would be holding. Daughter had already seen the campus and the Theater Department, but hadn't seen the dorms. I hadn't seen anything at all, so we elected to see the dormitories first.

New Paltz has two styles of dormitory: the traditional "corridor" dorm, which is what you probably think about when you think of a college dorm; and the "suite" style dormitory, which is a group of three or four bedrooms which have a common area to them. So you'd open the door from the hallway to this sitting area, then go through another door to the bedroom. It's not a new idea but it's not an especially common one. I know that when I was in college, most schools only had this setup for upperclassmen. Our first stop was a corridor dormitory. Later, we got to see the suite style. I don't think there were any parents in my group who liked the suites; the general feeling was that they tended to cloister students away from each other. And, unless the suite was on a corner of the building, the common room had no windows. It was quite cave-like, even though you knew intellectually you were aboveground.

There are some things about dorm life that have not changed since the early 1980s, when I was in school and Dinosaurs Were Walking The Earth. The doors still have all kinds of oddball decorations on them, along with the requisite whiteboard for messages (which, I imagine, were policed for the benefit of the tours). The rooms are still cramped affairs for two people (and many of the students wind up tripled now). And I'm sure that when it's not a Parents Touring the Campus kind of weekend, the individual room doors tend to remain open to permit passage of people in and out of the rooms. (In fact, we were told that this was often the case.)

There are some other things that definitely have changed about the dorm life. Scamming change for the washing machines/dryers is no longer a problem, because it's part of your dorm fee. So the laundry room is free. The rooms are already wired for internet and cable (all we had was a phone line–remember, the Internet was maybe ten years in the future for us). SUNY is working on making the campus a Wi-Fi kind of place, but in the meantime students are issued an Ethernet cable to work in their rooms, or they can go to a computer lab in the basement. The dorm labs don't have a printer, but there are several labs all over campus which do. Students are given an allotment of 500 pages' worth of printout each semester; after that you have to pay for another 500, and so on. Since you use your Student ID to log into the computer system in the first place, this is how they keep count.

Actually, your Student ID is your life, now. It's your library card; it's your computer pass, it gets you into your dorm at night (the building, that is–you still need a key to get into the room itself), or into other buildings at other times; it's your Meal Plan card, and it also maintains a record of how much you have in your "Hawk Dollars" account. "Hawk Dollars" can be used in any dining hall on campus (the Freshman dining plan allows for only one hall to be used; if you eat elsewhere it's either cash or Hawk Dollars), in the bookstore, in the library or in about thirty of the stores in town. "Town", incidentally, is pretty much any part of New Paltz that isn't the school, and is immediately outside the campus, literally a five-minute walk away. It's not like Penn State, where it's tough to tell where the school ends and the town begins, but it's close.

Later, we got to do a tour of the campus itself and then we went to the Theater Department's reception, which turned out to be not so much a reception as a prelude to auditions to be held for students who hadn't yet auditioned for the program. However, the department chair was gracious and agreed to give a tour to anyone who wanted it. This turned out to be a bigger group than he expected, but he took it with good humor and gave a pretty comprehensive tour. He was also able to give some substantive answers to rather pointed questions that parents had.

By the time we finished it was about 1:30, so we headed into town for a bite to eat. We went to a place called P&G's Restaurant, which is one of those places that rides the line between casual restaurant and bar, and which I'm sure will see-saw between one and the other depending on both the time of day and /or the day of the week. If you go there, check out the urinal in the men's room. It's pretty interesting.

We also took a stroll through some of the blocks adjacent to the restaurant and then headed back to Long Island. On the way down we stopped for awhile at Stew Leonard's, which is kind of like a mashup of Wegman's and Disneyland. We finally got back to West Hempstead around 7:00 and I took my leave shortly thereafter, popping into a diner for some supper, and back on the road to Baltimore. It was not meant to be, however, as I was too sleepy to make it all the way, and I wound up stopping at an EconoLodge in Delaware around midnight.

Yes indeed, I spent the night in a hotel only an hour from home. It was pretty peaceful.

Back to School For Me, Too

Thornton Melon: Boy, what a great-looking place. When I used to dream about going to college, this is the way I always pictured it.
Jason Melon: Wait a minute. When did you dream about going to college?
Thornton Melon: When I used to fall asleep in high school.

Back to School (1986)

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ND Window Friday afternoon, when I went on my lunch break I headed over to the College of Notre Dame of Maryland to FINALLY end the hiatus I've been on.

A couple of days earlier, I'd talked to Sr. Sharon about what it would take to return to the fold. Her description was stupidly easy, except for doing a decade of the rosary. Rimshot!

No, actually it involved filling out a form and bringing it to the Graduate Admissions office. Then I had to go register for the course. Naturally, in the two-day interim between the phone call and the visit, the course filled up. So now I had to go back up to Sr. Sharon and get her to sign me into the course. Back down to the Registrar's office, where they accepted my form and a check for several hundred dollars because I'd forgotten to bring my Visa card. (Oops.)

So it's still just down to the Practicum, which means attending classes and documenting a lot of what I already do for the next several months. The part that's kinda weird/kinda stinks is that the class will be meeting at the Puzzle Palace at North Avenue, rather than on campus. I like going to school as a BREAK from going to work, dammit.

Not Exactly Making the Grade

Mr. Burns: Now, let’s get down to business.
Homer: [thinks] Oh, man. I have to go to the bathroom. Why did I have all that beer and coffee and watermelon?
Mr. Burns: Now Homer, I know what you’re thinking. I want to take the pressure off. Now, it doesn’t take a ‘whiz’ to know that you’re looking out for ‘Number One’. Well, listen to me, and you’ll make a big splash very soon.

The Simpsons, "Last Exit to Springfield", 3/11/93

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There’s a lot of things that have been going on lately. Work is busier than ever this year. I had two classes last semester. GF and I have been thinking about getting another house. I’m sure there’s other stuff going on. But it’s starting to pile up on me now, and it doesn’t help that this is the time of year that I start to get really discombobulated.

Over the last few weeks I refinanced my house to get a loan that we can use as part of a down payment on the new place. We almost had a house in Violetville, but it turned out to have some serious structural problems. But because we were thisclose to making an offer, getting another house has turned into a kind of obsession for GF for these last two weeks.

Last semester I had the one class in Supervision and the first half of my practicum. Work had me so crazy that I knew I was far too distracted to earn decent grades. And it showed: my grades came in the mail today and they were dismal. In the Supervision class I got a B+. I knew that was coming because the professor called me, concerned. The practicum grade was a complete surprise: C+, which is the worst grade I’ve gotten since I was an undergrad who didn’t give a crap anymore. Worse yet, this means that the City is going to be looking for some of its tuition money back. Basically I’ve spent so much time doing the job I’m preparing for, that I’m flunking the class that’s supposedly training me to do the job. I’m not even sure at this point of the specific reason that the grade was so bad. It could be my attendance, it could be that my portfolio is missing something important; I really have no idea just now.

But with the house thing and the workload that I’ve got, I’m seriously considering putting off those last three credits.

No Good Deed…

Last week, in Supervision class, we were reviewing the syllabus, going over the readings, the assignments and other stuff, as one does during the first class. The woman sitting next to me had a dual problem: first, she’d ordered the wrong edition from Amazon.com. This meant that most of the case studies weren’t in her book. Second, because she’d ordered the book from Amazon, it hadn’t arrived yet (being a used copy, I presume it didn’t come directly from Amazon). So not only is she without a book, she’s without the wrong edition.

So I, being a gracious fella, offer to lend her my copy so she can go to the basement of Gibbons Hall and photocopy it after class. She accepts, but at the end of class discovers that she doesn’t have the money to pull it off. So I, moving now into Nice Guy Schmuck mode, let her borrow the book and we make arrangements for her to drop it off at one of my schools on Thursday, including instructions that if I’m not there, drop it off anyway with my name on it and I’ll pick it up later on. That turned out to be a good idea, since my schedule changed and I didn’t go to the school on Thursday.

The whole thing, however, turned out to be a bad idea because my book never made it there. I came in on Monday and nobody had come by with it. So tonight I had to go in and tell the professor that I wasn’t able to do the reading because my book hadn’t been returned. (She’d seen the transaction last week.) Fortunately there weren’t any writing assignments and I was able to keep up with the discussion but what a pain.

She did come in with my book (late), and she did apologize, although I really wasn’t listening to her excuse. But sometimes it doesn’t pay to be kind. And I hate having that attitude, never mind that that’s pretty much my default state.

Free At Last, Free At Last

Thornton Melon:
[after answering 27 parts from one question of the final exam] No more!… I feel like I just gave birth…to an accountant.

Back to School, 1986

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Free until September, anyway.

The Curriculum Development class had me incredibly busy these last few weeks. There was at least one paper, and usually two, due at every session. So in between the Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes, there was Your Humble Narrator, frantically doing readings, writing papers and in the meantime trying to get Summer Team work done.

So the class is over, now, although there’s one more project to deal with, although that’s due next week and we get to mail it in, so not nearly as much stress on that score. Now I can actually concentrate on the kids for whom I’ve been doing meetings; my co-workers have been taking up way too much of that slack.

More Off Than Pay

Well…I’m glad I didn’t say too much about yesterday’s class the other day. It turns out that, even though my teacher said several times that we were "going to meet" a pretty famous person in the educaitonal field, he was speaking metaphorically.

Oh well. Back to the grind. Three sessions, five papers and a project to go.

Payoff?

Daughter went home last night. Naturally her flight was delayed. That whole "first hour free" at BWI’s parking lot isn’t as attractive as it once was.

Yesterday I went to work and then straight to Notre Dame for class. Then BACK to work to drop off the materials from that day and pick up the stuff I’ll need during the day today. That took me till after 6:00 so I told GF to grab the girls and meet me at Italiano’s for dinner. From there I took Daughter to the airport.

We get there a little after 8:00 for her 9:10 flight. We’re told it’s delayed until 9:40. The plane hits the gate at 9:35, so I’m thinking that a 9:40 departure isn’t going to happen, and I’m right. The plane pulls away from the gate at about 9:55, which isn’t too bad. On the other hand, we’ve already spent more time in the airport than Daughter will spend in the air. I got home at about 10:30 and tried to do some advance work for today but between the long day and the lack of glasses, I’m exhausted. (GF took the glasses in and they agreed to replace them for nothing, but it’ll take a week. Meantime, this was a good reason I should have gotten a spare set. Dammit.)

Meantime I’m still working my tail off for this Curriculum class, but if I understood the teacher correctly, we’re going to be meeting a reasonably big name in the educational field on Friday, which will make the ordeal of this class worth my while. Stay Tuned…