Monday, August 28, 2006

First Day of School

For years, I took photos of our children heading off for the first day of school. First one, then there were two, and then three. One of my favorites has the morning sun slanting through the trees, slicing the scene as they traipse down the sidewalk.

I’m not sure how they felt about the picture taking, but certainly as they got older, they were more resistant, as it seemed babyish to do such a thing. They were harder to nail down in high school, and then all of a sudden they were leaving for college. I still sneaked a few in there, though I didn’t call attention to it being the first day of school picture.

Today was the first day of classes at the university where I work. A major road in town is all torn up, three lanes of traffic are forced into one at several points, there aren’t ever enough parking spaces anyway, and it’s always a crazy day without such distractions.

I always volunteer to work the Welcome Tables each year because it’s fun to help people and make them feel comfortable at a new school. We give directions, answer questions if we can or pull out our cell phones to call someone who may know the answer. We hand out day planners, campus information, lollipops, whatever it takes.

I did notice something new this year. Mothers accompanying their first year student children: a son, a daughter, it didn’t matter. Some call these people “helicopter parents” since they hover over their grown children, still shepherding them through life’s passages. We don’t see it as often as my colleagues in smaller liberal arts colleges, but they are here, too. Mothers will walk their five year olds to kindergarten, but eighteen year olds to college?

So here we go again--a fresh start for everyone, but probably no photos to capture the moment.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Assault

We are getting ready for students to return to the university next week. The last few days, there have been first year students wandering the campus trying to find their classrooms. There is the annual influx of international students as well, in their seasonal hunt for on campus jobs. They are not allowed to work off campus for the first nine months they are in the US, so they rove the halls looking for graduate assistantships, tuition waivers, anything, really.

This past Friday was no exception. Early in the morning, around 9:00 a.m., there was an international student standing in the door of a secretary’s office, asking her about jobs. She told him some of the places to look, such as the library and the parking department. He was insisting that she call someone and get him a job, and of course, she could not do that. His English seemed to be very poor, and he just wasn’t getting the idea.

We have a young graduate student working in the office named Jackie. She has dark blond hair, very thin build, medium height, I suppose. She has a ready smile, very nice person, always willing to help with any project. In short, just the sort of person you would like to have working in your office.

I spoke to her Friday morning as she was working at the front counter, greeting students, answering phones—we were both glad it was the end of the week. Moments later the secretary brought her to my office in tears.

I’m not clear on all the details, but that last demanding international student asked Jackie where the men’s room was, and she must have gone into the hall with him to show him, and he may have asked her to take him there, feigning lack of understanding. When they rounded the corner, he grabbed her and tried to kiss her. She fought him off and he left the building.

When they told me this story, I said, “Call the police!” So the cops came and took a description and the details of what had happened, then they left to look for the kid.

This guy was so stupid, he actually came back to the office a little while later and picked up a job application. That same secretary, instead of calling the police, went back to Jackie’s desk to get her to come out and ID him. Of course by then he was gone. She did see him walking outside and declared, “That’s the guy!”

So we missed our chance to nab him. We hope he returns the job app, and that will be his undoing.

We all felt just terrible for Jackie, and the rest of the day we escorted her wherever she had to go, and tried to look out for her. Our day was pretty much shot by all the excitement.

So you never know. Such incidents are few and far between. Some students fear the street people who pass along the campus, but sometimes you have to be more wary of your own peers.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


While Ann did not officially tag me, I decided to go with this meme anyway:

1. One book that changed my life. Rabbit Run by John Updike. It gave me my first hint about what sex was about, however indistinct its references were. It was the second Updike book I read (The Centaur was the first), and it kept me on a path that would eventually lead me to read just about everything he’s written (except for the magazine review articles in “The New Yorker”). I always marveled at his ability to write a sentence that ran for a full page, and you don’t even notice.

2. One book you’ve read more than once. None. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book more than once. I will watch certain movies over and over again, but for some reason I feel that once I’ve read a book, I’ve gotten everything I can from it and I don’t go back. When I do re-read one, I bet it’ll be On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island. I am tempted to say The Bible, even though it may seem trite. I’ve read it through three or four times now and there is no lack of things to learn there. If I couldn’t have that, it would have to be The Early Stories by John Updike. The 103 short stories in that volume should provide plenty of diversion.

4. One book that made you laugh. A Wolverine is Eating My Leg by Tim Cahill. Or anything by Carl Hiaasen.

5. One book that made you cry. Harumph. Being a man, I don’t cry, of course, but if I did, it would probably be due to reading The Greatest Generation, about how my parents saved the world.

6. One book you wish had been written. How to Ensure That Your Children Are Never Hurt by the World. It’s selfish, I know, and probably not a good idea, but when your children hurt, you do too.

7. One book you wish had never been written. There are so many, like bad Patricia Cromwell novels, but I choose Mein Kampf. I don't know, maybe things would have turned out differently.

8. One book you are currently reading. Man in the Shadows by Efraim Halevy. Halevy worked in the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service for about forty years, mostly in leadership positions. He purports to reveal the inside story on the crisis in the Middle East, so I hope he gets to it pretty quickly. Right now his insights are few and far between.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read. Magister Ludi by Hermann Hesse. I started reading it a twelve hour bus ride to visit my then girlfriend at her college in Virginia in 1968. I got about a third of the way through it and never finished it.

10. Tag five people. Suburban Lesbian, Rebecca's Thoughts , Nettie, Rabid Fun, thestafflounge. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

I have other more meaningful categories for me. Would you like to see them? Of course you would. So, due to popular demand, here you go:

1. Best use of dialect: Close Range by Annie Proulx. I’ve never been to Wyoming, but I can sure hear their voices.

2. Best use of images: any John Updike short story. If he writes about a winter day, you feel cold. If he writes about riding in an auto, you get car sick. If he writes about sex…oh, have I said too much?

3. Best use of oriental sensibility: Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. OK, “oriental” is a politically incorrect term, but “Asian” is kind of antiseptic in this usage. The delicate threads running through the story are reminiscent of Snow Falling on Cedars. I practically went off on a woman at our dinner table on the last cruise we were on who remarked that Memoirs was a terrible book.

4. Secret pleasure: reading the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker. I’m a sucker for that crisp, funny, punny dialogue and undercurrent of righteous violence, whether the characters come to blows or not.

5. Worst run of secret pleasure reading: this summer. I have read twelve Robert B. Parker novels and I have two more sitting here right now. Someone stop the madness!

6. Most recent surprising (pleasant) discovery: Anita Shreve and Sea Glass. It led me to read a couple more of her books. Very interesting characters.

7. The last book you read because it would “be good for you”: The Purpose Driven Life. “They” were right.

8. The book that everyone in your generation read, but would never admit it to each other: The Harrad Experiment, by Robert Rimmer about a college where sex was not part of the curriculum, it was the curriculum. Presented in a very wholesome way, of course.

9. The book your ninth grade English teacher raved about, but that you vowed you would never read precisely because of her recommendation: Personally, I kinda liked my English teacher, so anything she suggested was cool with me.

10. Best essential desk reference: Roget’s Thesaurus. Not the wimpy hard backs they have now, but the three inch thick paperback version I carried through high school, college and grad school.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Shhh!-Don’t tell anyone else

Tonight we went out to dinner to celebrate Kathy’s sister Lois’ and her husband Greg’s “Catholic Anniversary.” Thirty-five years and some months ago, they were married by a justice of the peace, but kept it a secret. You see, Lois, needing her parents’ financial help for college, had promised them that she would not get married until she had graduated from the university. Kathy and I were married in April 1971. Lois and Greg took the plunge in September of that year in a private ceremony. We didn’t even believe them at first when they told us.

We were sworn to secrecy, since Lois’ and Kathy’s parents would have been very upset, had they known of the secret nuptials. When the parents came to visit, we moved all of Greg’s stuff into our apartment and acted like nothing was amiss, kind of like a sitcom—“Three’s Company” or something. Even after their Catholic wedding in August of 1972, no one ever told the parents what had really happened. We believe they never suspected, and we kept that secret for the past thirty-odd years. Now, of course, both their parents are gone, and there is no need to keep it classified.

To commemorate the public celebration of their union, I combed through thirty or forty photo albums, looking for pictures of them through the years. They never had children of their own, and I was struck by how often they were photographed with our own children and other nieces and nephews. I came across one album I had forgotten I had, that held a conglomeration of photos of Kathy and Lois as toddlers, and some of Lois in the ‘70’s. There was even a small photo of Lois and Greg from one of those places where you could get a strip of photos of yourself sitting in a booth at the mall.

I scanned, cropped and printed about twenty of them, and Kathy found a small album to put them in. We gave it to them at dinner and they loved it. Turns out we had photos they didn’t even have of themselves. There were some of situations that I didn’t even remember, they recalled with great clarity. Kathy also presented them with one of those cards that plays music—she is enthralled with them, even at $5 apiece. The one she chose played “The Sea of Love”. It was kind of neat.

So now this family secret is out. Hope no one’s upset at our treachery of so long ago.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lazin’ on a sunny afternoon

We went to 7:30 a.m. Mass this morning and saw our friend Kathy in the parking lot. Kathy’s husband died two years ago of ALS. He went very quickly, a victim of a fast moving version of the disease, probably a blessing, but still a very difficult thing for Kathy. How she wept at the gravesite—it was heart rending.

She spends much of the week caring for her preschool grandchildren, but Sundays are especially hard. The day seems to drag on, as she has nothing to look forward to. Knowing this, we asked her about her plans for the day. Grocery shopping seemed to be the highlight, so we invited her out to breakfast with us. We had a great time laughing for about an hour in the restaurant. We asked the server for extra cinnamon on her French toast, and got it. She laughed at our sharing a single breakfast, each taking what the other doesn’t like (my hashbrowns go to Kathy, her sausage to me).

We dropped her off at her house later and that was that. Or it was until we came back from some errands and noticed police cars down in the next block in our street. Being curious cats, we drove down to check it out. When we saw officers with their guns drawn, we skedaddled out of there and came straight home. All this action was happening right in friend Kathy’s backyard, so I called her to see if she was all right.

“Kathy, are you OK?”
“Sure, why?”
Well, there are police with their guns drawn standing on your patio!”

She said she had been taking a nap on the living room floor when all this started and she was completely unaware of the bizarre happenings. I suggested she might want to get back on the floor. Instead she cracked open the back door to speak to the police. Turns out a teenager in the house next door had threatened to kill the police and blow up the block. The mom and the children are druggies and have acted strangely in the past, but this was more dramatic.

The police asked her to open her garage so they could hide in there, so she hit the remote control for the door. We hung up then, as she promised to let us know what transpired.

Ten minutes later they had the kid in handcuffs and it was all over. She hopes that this incident might be the catalyst to get that family out of the neighborhood, but who knows?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Genes Will Out

Yesterday, at my brother’s mysterious urging, I called my sister in Boston. She was reported to be depressed about something, and she usually fights against anything that could bring her low. She has come through all sorts of things in the past: staffing issues at work, raising two daughters, dealing with her husband’s ongoing midlife crisis. Something was different this time.

She told me that she had had a red mark on her skin for some weeks that looked suspicious, so she consulted a doctor friend about it. (As a nurse practitioner, she has lots of those friends.) He told her it was a squamous cell cancer. It was located on her nose, right where the nose pads of glasses sit, so it was kind of strange. She is not a sun worshipper by any means, but our father had the same sort of thing on his chest and ear some years ago. We always attributed that to his days of lifeguarding on the beach at Atlantic City, but who knows.

They will take care of it on Friday with lasers.

But there was more. She had noticed a giant “floater” in her eye one day, and when it didn’t go away, she went to a doctor who told her she had a tear in her retina. They lasered that and told her “No restrictions, you can go back to work”. So she did. Then there was a second and third tear. A first year resident said this was very common. My sister had little faith in what such an inexperienced person thought was likely or not, so she consulted an opthamalogist who still sent her home with “no restrictions” after the second tear. Later, she decided to take a couple of days off for the heck of it—something she never does.

Mom had had a detached retina, so we started thinking about that. We thought these things had happened to our parents when they were somewhat older than us spry fifty-somethings, though. Maybe they just seemed older to us at the time.

Wonder what other little genetic landmines are out there?