Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Math is Killing Me

When I think about being a kid, part of what I think about is boredom. Because you are so subject to other people’s plans and whims, you are often bored as a kid. And the older you get, the more control you have over your life, and ideally the less often you are bored out of your skull.

As an adult, I’m almost never bored. I’m always busy, and most of the things I do, even if they’re occasionally unpleasant, are not boring. The past week has been an exception. Boredom has made a comeback, sitting its big grey ass down on top of me and squashing all the air out of my lungs. In the past week, I’ve sat through no less than four math classes. Calculus classes, more precisely.

Why in the name of all that is holy would you do that? You may be asking yourself. Not by choice, I assure you. I am on a Math department search committee at my school. Why did the head of Math ask me to be on this committee when I know nothing about math or the teaching of math, when I haven’t been in a math classroom since I was seventeen and I dropped my Pre-Calc class after first semester senior year (once my college applications were safely in)? Probably because I have a reputation as an excellent teacher and a colleague who brings intelligence and common sense to all of my professional commitments. (And who is humble as the day is long.) But now that I’m on this committee, I fear that none of those qualities will help me have anything remotely useful to say about which of our highly qualified candidates to hire. I can spot a good English teacher a city block away, and I would feel confident assessing the skills of a History teacher or even a Biology teacher. But Math is a language I don’t speak, a country I visited only briefly and have no memory of due to the fact that I was drunk off my ass when I arrived and was promptly thrown in jail, where I remained ‘til I was blindfolded, led to the border, pushed out and told never to return.

But now here I am again, suddenly, disoriented and entirely out of my element. The search as a whole is not too bad. The candidates are all friendly and enthusiastic, and the interviews are interesting enough. I am fully able to focus and engage while listening to someone discuss their philosophy of teaching math or outline their preferred methods of classroom management. I’m taking notes, I’m assessing, I feel like I will have something to say about all of this when the time comes. It’s the teaching demonstrations that are hard for me. I am transported back to my own high school days, sitting in Math class struggling not only to comprehend what’s going on but, more crucially, just to pay attention.

And suddenly, even though I’m not being graded, it’s all much more important. Teenage me sitting in class, obviously disengaged, daydreaming, writing notes to my fellow slackers, reading something totally unrelated to Math, maybe catching a quick, upright cat nap? Nothing too unseemly there. Me as an adult, a teaching professional, a trusted member of a search committee, sitting in the teaching demonstration, mouth slightly agape as I stare blankly out the window or at the wall? Or worse, struggling with my temptation to take some papers out of my bag, shuffle them in with the handout on differential equations I’m supposed to be following, and read through the poem I’ll be reciting to my students later or a response essay I’ve already graded or the fucking memo on fire drills I probably never would have otherwise read? Not good. Not the behavior of a responsible educator.

I am trying though. I’ve been drinking a little extra coffee on those days I’m scheduled to observe a sample lesson. I’ve been making strenuous attempts to focus. I have been resisting the abovementioned urges. And though I am truly bored out of my blessed skull during every Calculus class I sit through, I am nonetheless gaining a new appreciation for Calculus. It seems more interesting than all the Math classes I took in high school. From what I can gather during my fleeting moments of lucidity, it seems like Calculus is more about figuring out how to create tools to solve a given problem than just being handed the tools to solve it. Which, in theory, is interesting. There are even moments when I wonder whether it might not be worthwhile to take a couple of Math classes again, to get to the level of Calculus just to get a sense of what this important branch of mathematics is all about, to exercise my brain.

Then I think What, are you fucking crazy? Once this search is over I will never again put myself in a position where I have to even think about any math more complex than the math I use to do my taxes! And those, my friends, are the thoughts of a truly rational person.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Blogging under the influence. Also biking under the influence. Tonight is my first experience with both.

My mom and I went to a wine tasting tonight, my first. I got not buzzed but drunk. I was buzzed at 8 when the wine tasting was sposed to end, then we went to this table with a very aggressive imported wine seller and I ended up drizzunk. He wanted me to taste this one wine, saying “have you ever had a chateau neuf de pap?” and I said “I don’t even know what a neuf de pap is except a reference in a Beastie Boys song. I thought it was fake!” And he gave me a blank look and poured me a slosh of it.

So yes, this was my first wine tasting. My mom, who has done this sort of thing before, was focusing on zinfandels and was all “I’m going to try the most expensive ones first to get a sense of what the pricey ones taste like.” And I was all “I’m going to try everything under fifteen bucks ‘cause that’s what I can afford!” I’m partial to shirazes and I figured out why tonight: they’re mostly cheap.

Did I mention that I know pretty much nothing about wine? I drink reds almost exclusively, and I have a couple of kinds I like that I buy a lot and other than that I pretty much wait ‘til I try something at a friend’s house that I like then next time I’m at the liquor store I see if it’s cheap enough for me to actually buy. But I like wine, especially free wine. There was a ten-dollar cover for this event and proceeds go to my local public radio station so I’m a fucking philanthropist with my drunken endeavors, muthatfucka!

[Disclosure: I went back in and changed all the typos in this post. I had to: a force greater than myself compelled me. But if you saw it when it was still a drunken mess you can come by my place and claim the promised prize - a two-year old edition of The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.]

I got home tonight a half hour later than I said I would and my sweet Old Man was waiting with dinner and not even mad at me. The green beans in the szechuan dish he made were perfect due to my lateness, so I was good to be late. I assumed at 8 PM they’d be like “out of here, winos!” but instead half the tables were closed up and the other half were pimping the vino hard core, like “Come here and I’ll show you what I’ve really got. You think you don’t like whites? Try this here shit... Yeah, that’s what I thought. The first splash is free, Bitch, then you’re MINE!” So my mom and I stayed a little longer than planned, and then had a very nice conversation with the drunken French people at the bike rack. Of course the other wine-drinking bike riders are Frenchies. Americans: ride your fucking bike! Gas is much more expensive than you think.

OK, I’m going to go call Feral Mom and tell her how much I love her.

Chuh-fuckin-ow, my fellow sophisticates!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

One out of Five Dentists

I always wondered about the fifth dentist. According to years and years’ worth of Trident commercials, “four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.” This seems like a pretty tame advertising claim. You’d think that five out of five dentists, when pushed to offer a recommendation for patients who already chew gum, would suggest sugarless gum, the whole “sugar causes cavities” thing being pretty much age old and without dispute even among the laity.

So I like to imagine that fifth dentist and what might motivate this oral hygiene professional not to recommend sugarless gum (to patients who plan to chew gum anyway). Maybe this dentist just has a good head for business. After all, more sugar means more decaying teeth, which means more fillings, crowns, root canals – the butter of the profession. Routine checkups and cleanings don’t pay the mortgage, after all. But I prefer to imagine that the dentist in question has more philosophical reasons for failing to steer patients away from Juicy Fruit and Bubble Yum. So, in the spirit of April, the cruelest poetry month, here is my vision of the fifth dentist, conveying his or her cynical rationale for an iconoclastic survey response…

One Dentist out of Five

Live it up, for the love
of Christ, if you’re going
to chew gum. The sugarless
crap’s like plastic. No juice.
You don’t brush three times
or floss once a day, so I’d say
you’re in for trouble with those teeth
anyway. What’s a bit of sugar in your
bowl now and again? I’ll let you in

on a little secret: we’re all in
for it sooner than we expect.
Look around: the ice is shrinking,
sky pulling open, gaping in places,
drinking water’s getting scarce
and soon the Coca-Cola Co.
will be selling all of us the daily
cup that keeps us afloat, in life.
We simple sane folk go about
our business while the mad for greed
and glory have their mittens on every
bad button you can name, and some
you don’t even know about.

Forget the teeth, the bones.
If you make it that far, feel blessed
and join the crowd of stooped,
stub-toothed masses limping into
history amazed to still be
using the busted hardware
they were gifted with long,
long ago.


So happy April. And just so you know: I recommend sugarless gum. For my readers who chew gum, that is. Those of you who don’t chew gum may continue on as usual.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New Lows in Pottying

I did something this evening that may well be illegal and is certainly unseemly. Sometimes circumstance drives us to extremity.

A bit of background. O. and I took a trip up to the suburbs of our nearest Midwestern metropolis to celebrate Easter with my tight extended family this weekend, bringing along my cousin JD, who lives in my town and often travels with us to family gatherings. JD is fifteen, but a moderately serious case of cerebral palsy makes various of his motor, social, and cognitive skills more akin to those of a much younger kid. This includes bathroom skills. He’s been competent for quite awhile now, but his endurance and confidence in matters toilet-related are limited. O. is a recent arrival on the underpants-all-day scene, and as such his toilet needs are also relatively demanding. In other words, when either JD or O. says “I need to pee,” people listen.

The trip home this afternoon ended up being long and harrowing due to driving rain, intermittent thunderstorms, and continual breaking weather news apprising us of tornado watches and warnings in nearby counties. Between the necessity of driving sometimes as slow as 45 on a major interstate due to weather conditions and the bathroom needs of O, JD, and my coffee-fueled self, the two hour trip took three, and a nerve-wracking three for the sole driver.

When we pulled off the interstate, tired, hungry, and cranky, JD immediately announced “I need to pee!” I was heading toward a Walgreen’s about 300 yards away to pick up a box of must-have tampons (did I mention I’m on the rag?), but stopped a couple hundred yards early, pulled into a McDonald’s, and let JD run in to use the can. Okay, now on to the Walgreen’s. In addition to needing a change o’ tampon, I myself had to pee like the proverbial race horse, but O. was sleeping in his car seat and I figured I could wait through one errand and dropping JD off at his house. I ran in, locking all the doors and instructing JD not to open them for anyone under any circumstance, and accomplished a three-minute find-and-purchase tampon hit. When I came back out, O. had just woken up. “He needs to pee,” JD informed me. “I need to pee!” O. said. “Can it wait ‘til we get to JD’s house?” I asked hopefully. No, it could not. I thought of the trek into Walgreen’s with JD and O. in tow to ask if they had a bathroom we could please please use, the search for this bathroom, holding O. awkwardly on top of the big toilet with JD standing by waiting. Then I thought of O’s shiny red Baby Bjorn potty throne sitting two feet away in the trunk. I made my choice.

A minute later, O. was sitting on his red potty (which was perched on the back seat), pants and drawers around his ankles, peeing. We were in a dark, damp, mostly deserted parking lot on a major road, and the whole thing seemed unspeakably seamy at the same time it was utterly laughable. O. finished peeing, stood up while I pulled up his pants, and immediately burst into tears. Any number of (or combination of) things may have triggered this eruption, particularly at the end of our long, trying trip, but to me his tears rang out with accusation: Mama, that was fucking humiliating. I felt a pang of guilt, but much more I felt like sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. JD was clearly a bit shocked. “That’s not the best way to pee,” I said, bearer of wisdom to the next generation, “but it’s better than peeing in your pants.”

Then I dumped my son’s piss onto the Walgreen’s asphalt, clicked O. back into his car seat, chucked the potty in the trunk, and peeled out.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Best Ass in the Midwest, Three Years Running

Dear Reader:

After years of silently hating it, I am coming out against “Best.” Not the adjective in general, not the very notion of a superlative. More specifically, I am coming out against “best” used as a closing formalism in an email or, God forbid, an actual letter. As in:

Dear Dr. Bejerkejerk:

Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Richard Ditherdick

As far as I can tell, “best” originated in academia eight years ago or so and has more or less remained confined there until recently, used in emails to and from people who either have PhDs or are in the process of trying to get one. Lately, though, I have noticed it spreading, being used by normal people, people who are neither professors nor grad students. I’ve even seen it used in an actual letter rather than just in an email.

But why, you may ask, do I hate “best”? What’s so wrong with this innocuous-seeming closer? First, let me say that I do not hate people who use “best.” I scorn the sin, not the sinner. But I hate “best” because it says absolutely nothing yet seems weirdly smug. It attempts to be jaunty and convivial but is really just completely noncommittal. It says “I want to seem friendly, but I don’t want to risk actually saying something friendly. Best…!

It’s an intensifier, an adjective, meaningless in itself. It’s the result of some academic somewhere thinking he or she is too damn hip or poststructuralist to say something as fusty as “Best Regards.” But you know what? If you’re going to shorten a perfectly good closing formalism like “Best regards,” you’ve got to keep the meat, not the ketchup. It is a bit cool to send regards without specifying what kind of regards you’re sending, sure, but I’ll take nonspecific “regards” any day over an adjective that modifies nothing.

So from here on in, when someone “bests” me, I am going to take it upon myself to add the missing bit of meaning. I will amuse myself by assuming that whoever is offering me a nonspecific “best” is using it as shorthand for “Best friends forever.” Or maybe “Best in show,” depending on the context.

A few other things someone who closes with “best” might be misconstrued as saying:

Best not to ask,
Best of luck with that scrofulous rash,
Best way to avoid crabs? Stay away from me,
Best if we never speak or correspond again,
Best Western, Room 114, 5:00 PM Friday,

So now you’ve been warned. Use “best” with caution, or maybe just use it followed closely by a noun. Or, better yet, find a specific closer that really communicates something, like seven-year-old Kiyomi's excellent and quite meaningful sign-off to George W. Bush. The world will be a tiny bit better for your efforts.

Best regards,

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What's the Difference between a Limerick

and a Lime Ricky?

April is poetry month. So in honor of my Irish grandad Patrick, who truly had the gift of gab and always appreciated a good limerick (dirty or otherwise), my offering for today is a limerick I composed recently:

When confronted with strangers sans pants,
my resourceful friend Kate doesn't blanch.
Instead she quite stares,
her bright eyes focused there,
'til the flasher performs a scram dance.

Feel free to chime in with your own limerick, or a haiku if that's more your mood.