Friday, October 31, 2008

Anticipation Denied

He has small, beady eyes...and thick glasses. Real thick. Very thick. Block of cheese thick. They pull on his face, making his head tilt down. I imagine he has neck problems. I'm glad.

His head is shiny, and it appears he must shave his scalp every morning because he never has stubble. Ever. Not even at the end of the day. Perhaps he touches it up during lunch break when people refuse to talk to him, or to be seen with him. I don't know.

On the wall, there are pictures of jousting and the mock swords he owns and brandishes. His suit of armor looks polished and well-loved. There is a picture from a cruise that he took with his wife (I guess) from 1999 on the wall. Huh, that's almost ten years ago. Somebody has loved this guy?

He talks through his nose, and when he yells at me, via overnight phone calls, it sounds like his must have the flu:

"...so, Professor Manasse, we need at least 24 hours to return your copy request....24 hours from when we open it...not when you send it, and..."

This doesn't make sense to me. Why is he yelling? Why can I hear the snot bubbling in his throat? Why is this message five minutes long? Does he have a script? He has said this before...this sounds too rehearsed.

***

I need to see him...I need to go in there...and I know that he hates me, and he hates his job. I ask him to do what he was hired for. That's a mistake.

I work up the courage for hours. I'm lying. It's days. I put it off as long as I can. I walk in and wait for the comments.

His horizontally-lined shirt is overly tucked in, as usual. His stomach is round. There is a drip stain on the belly and another one on the chest. They are both brown and look set in. The lights spotlight his pink, smooth, and freshly waxed head. I notice the drops of sweat that easily roll down the sides of his temples. He tilts his head back, firing those overly exerted neck muscles...his short, pint-sized fingers push his glasses up in the middle. He is taking a real good look at me. He is out of breath and suffocating again.

I smile. I wait. What did I do wrong this time? I spent all week waiting for this moment...I cursed the pictures in my head. I already had played the scene in my mind...I would watch them as he undressed me for something I didn't do. I would say something this time. I had rehearsed something, too. I knew how to joust.

It speaks:

"Evening Professor Manasse...How are you tonight? What can I do for you?"

My anxiety-filled anticipation. Denied.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No One Likes Blogs About Work

But that's too bad...you are getting one.

I used to bitch about my job because it was stupid...I didn't want to be there...and basically, I didn't give a flying fuck about it. I always did my best...but my heart wasn't there. That's when I was a paralegal. Legal derived from the Latin, "law" and "para" meaning "you are someone's bitch and do the work a monkey could do for the"

That job sucked in ways I can't possibly describe. I got paid thousands and thousands of dollars to photocopy, put papers in binders, and look at court calendars.

Once-in-awhile, when things were tough, I had to do this all in one day.

And don't even get me started on PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets. Man...I could merge a document like a mother fucker, too.

God...I hated that shit.

But...when I left work every day, you know what I thought about...NOT WORK. I didn't think about being a failure...I didn't think about not reaching people...and I didn't think about how I could make a difference in a life. Sometimes, I did think about where I might go to lunch the next day...and the lists, man. The lists! The "which attorney would I bone" lists. Those were priceless....especially since I only worked with male attorneys. I'm just kidding. No...I am. Really...now I have denied it too much.

But now, today, this week, this semester...something is creeping into my mind. It started as a tickle and a passing thought when I left work. Then it grew. I would think about it after class...then before...and now...now I think about it during:

I am a failure.

When you wake up and dread going to work because you know that you would prefer a kick in the balls to sitting in a chair all day and pretending like you do care...it's hard to fail.

When you wake up every day and wonder if this is the day your one student, who hasn't been able to write a complete sentence all semester, is going to stop smoking pot long enough to come to class without wake and baking...it's hard to succeed.

And it is killing me.

I want to peel back some of my students' skulls, spoon an ounce of vision into their psyches...and let them see what they are doing. How can a 22 year old not write a paragraph? And how could he not care?

So when I send out emails like this:

From: Mark Manasse
Subject: RE: English Meeting

So we reviewed 238 paragraphs on Friday, and 104 were considered "passing." That is a 44% pass rate. Ouch.



And I get this as a response:

From:
Subject: RE: English Meeting

I don't think you should feel bad about the pass rate at mid-semester. My glass-half-full perspective is that we have almost half of the students passing with 7 weeks to work on the rest. (Well, 6 and a half; but who's counting?) I also think that it's possible the prompt didn't elicit the best work from some students.


It makes me angry...so I write this:

From: Mark Manasse
Subject: RE: English Meeting

So, I thought about the pass rate some more, and you know what, I do feel bad!!!! After our grading session on Friday, I was pissed off the rest of the day. I didn't sleep that night. Half-empty...half-full...half-way through the semester or not, a 44% pass rate is atrocious. We need to think about why this happened instead of just chalking this up to a prompt or when they wrote it.

Last semester, there was a 60% pass rate for English --. 60%. Think about that. Four out of every ten students in your class right now...NOT PASSING. How does that feel?

Something needs to change. Something has to change. Be it our methods, our rubric, our training, our prompt, our student preparation...something.

Maybe feeling bad is a necessary step...I hope it is because I feel TERRIBLE.

M



And I come home...think about how things used to be...and search deep within my soul and wonder why the Hell I prefer the emotional turmoil to mindless grunt work. Because I am not a perfect person. I do want it not to hurt. I want it to be easy. I miss that monkey suit and monkey job from time-to-time.

I miss being endlessly infallible.

I miss my "bone" list.

But there's something to the wake and bake guy. I can see it. I can see that he can do it. I can see it even if he can't.

And I refuse to let him be a monkey.

I will not be his law firm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mexico City...an Educational Experience

My trip to Mexico City started much the way I want all my future trips to start: at a Greyhound Bus Station.

To say this was an odd place, would be like saying it isn't fun being fingered and then writing about it so everyone you know constantly brings it up...

...it would be an understatement.

The Downtown San Diego Greyhound Bus Station has linoleum floors that are oddly overly glowing by the bathrooms. The entrance was guarded by a Latino man and a Latina woman, who could not agree if I could bring my suitcase on the bus or not. They also checked my ticket, but not my ID...so this felt like a very secure procedure in which to cross the border. While I waited for my bus to take me to Tijuana so I could then fly to Mexico City, I was accompanied by a young African American man on a poster recommending that if I were a runaway, and wanted to return home, that I could call the runaway hotline. I didn't know such a hotline existed. Education!

In the end, though, the glowing bathroom, fighting ticket checkers, and runaway poster were no match, NO MATCH, for a man I will call The Texan.

The Texan made up in repetition what he lacked in stature. He was on his way to Guadalajara. He wore a gigantic cowboy hat, and had had his suitcase lost a few times by Greyhound, a point he was sure to let everyone in earshot know again and again and again. He also had a "broke" back..which he would tell people as they walked by him or within ten feet of him. It was almost his way of greeting: Yeah. Hi. My back is broke...and Greyhound WILL NOT lose my bags again. I don't know if he couldn't remember that he had told me about his bags and his back four times, but four times he did, and each time I pretended like it was the first time The Texan had told me. It was a relationship. My first bus station relationship. Perhaps, my last. I'll explain.

The bus ride to TJ was interesting because I got to watch TWO...that's right TWO people pick their noses and eat it within the span of five minutes. What I really liked was the difference in technique. Man number one was an index finger guy. He also was very, very thorough. He would work his nostrils around and around in a clockwise motion...and not until he was done would he go for the goods. The woman who sat painstakingly close to my left, she had what I considered a much more unusual technique. She used her ring finger to go at it. I do believe what she lost in dexterity, she did gain in depth. She was really able to get at angles index finger guy just couldn't reach. Why do I know this? Why would I watch? People don't mind talking to you while picking their noses. I found this out during this trip. More education!

This nastiness combined with the smell of diaper and mold and warm cheese made me kind of like The Texan's mantra I could still hear ever-so-faintly from the back of the bus: My back is broke...and Greyhound WILL NOT lose my bags again. It gave me something to focus on.

*****

At the border, I was once again reintroduced to the fact that there will always be jobs for people...they just need to find their niche.

At the border, we were forced to get off the bus, remove our bags from the under carriage (it was finally concluded that I should put my suitcase here by the ticket takers at the bus station), and walk them five feet, FIVE FEET to the right. I'm not kidding. Five fucking feet. At this point, two men took our bags and then put them back under the bus. I didn't get it at first. I thought this was a very strange anti-terrorism measure.

Nope.

We then got back on the bus...and the two men followed us, asking for tips.

No, I didn't tip them.

*****

Why was I on my way to Mexico City via a Greyhound Bus you may be wondering? Well, I was going to teach a class on Second Language Acquisition, a job I got through USD. They paid for everything...the hotel, the trip...and it just happened to be cheaper to fly via TJ to Mexico City than SD. In retrospect, I'm glad I took the bus to TJ because it REALLY makes me appreciate the fact that I have a car and that I haven't picked my nose and eaten it since sixth grade.

*****

While in downtown Mexico City, I saw some crazy shit. I got to see these crazy guys climb to the top of a forty foot or so pole, and swing down upside down by rope while spinning around and around. They then asked for money. Everyone in Mexico asks for money. This was the one time I felt bad though...I really should have given these guys money for swinging to what could have been their deaths. Karma paid ME back, though.

I happened to be in town the same weekend that these tribes from other parts of the country come to town....or maybe they are there constantly??? I couldn't really understand...either way, the men and women from these tribes line the streets and sing and dance all day. Naked. I bet you didn't know that Indians from these tribes aren't very hairy. I do. Now. I didn't take this pic, by the way...my mind is burned with much worse images. Although not hairy...many of them are extremely well fed.

Lastly, I got to see this woman dressed head to toe in a black and white skeleton outfit. She moved in ultra slow motion while begging for cash. She was very Dia De Los Muertos-y...and very friendly. This three-hundred pound woman enjoyed holding my hands and making kissing sounds and faces at me while begging for money.

I didn't give her money either.

Man...writing this blog makes me feel cheap.

All and all, it was a wonderful trip. I learned many things about culture and language...and backs and noses.

You gotta love education.