Saturday, December 31, 2005

And thanks for all the fish

Happy New Year! What a year 2005 was. Life changed in many strange and wonderful ways.

I have only one prediction for the new year: That my most recent alma mater and former employer will announce that they will house the Bush Presidential Library. The evidence keeps piling up. A neighborhood source tells me the school has bought a big office building near campus and kicked out the lawyers who occupied it. They've been buying up property toward the freeway and evicting tenants for a couple of years now. It all seems like a done deal. When it happens, tell 'em you read it here first. I also predict that Britney will dump the Federlout, Katie Holmes will give birth (complete silence, please!) to L. Ron Cruise and that the Olsen twins will share a small salad (no croutons). Call me Kreskin.

To everyone who has taken the ride with me over the past 12 months, I thank you. And that includes: blog readers near and far, especially the loyal bloggistas in Australia, Italy, Canada, Ireland, England and France; my fellow adjuncts for standing up and not being invisible anymore; the profs and their charges who've followed my bouncing ball since this thing started; my fave prof, Rick, for being the most liberal and compassionate person I've ever met; my former students Tiana, Carrie, Diana, Valerie, Vanessa, Don, Greg, Tish, Lauren, Melissa, Jonathan and all the Ashleys and Brads who really get it; Evan, the agent with attitude; the wonderful ladies I share the pool with, including Rachel, Lurline, Holly and Michelle; my editors at the Dallas Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Southwest SPIRIT who keep me gainfully employed; Roberta, the reigning diva of Toledo; my old pal Tom at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, who likes the Surf Club, too, even though they smoke there; Dan, Michelle and baby surfer Zach; Wendy and Esme in Eureka, CA; the Eds, Stone and Martin; Bruce, who posed with Paris Hilton for his Christmas card and signed it "Ho!"; Tom beside Lake Erie for inspiring my work and life every dang day; the guys at Eagle Postal Center who read my stuff and stuff my mailbox; the baristas at the Starbucks in Old Town for playing good music and keeping the a/c running high; Sue, for the gift of the greatest massage to Don McLean tunes; Arnold, Jay, Mark and my other theatergoing buds; Coy and Nye for the laughs and playdates; my mom and brother for the support and all the fish dinners; and Kubby, the greatest and possibly oldest paraplegic Aussie shepherd on earth, for managing to crawl over to the desk to check on me at least once a day.

To my new and old acquaintances, I wish you love, peace and chicken grease for 2006.

More to come. And even better.

Adjunct lunch

I've known him for decades, since we were undergrads together. Now he's between full-time gigs, so he's doing the adjunct thing, teaching an intro acting class at a private uni where the tuition has an Ivy League pricetag but the SAT scores to get in are nowhere as stiff. Good school, but suffering badly from Ashley-itis these days. It's all new to him.

"I had to stop giving written assignments," he said as we tucked into pork chops and greens for a New Year's weekend feed. "They were too painful to read. They can't write. They can't read. They can't speak. I got my evaluations back. Example: `This professor was awesome!!!' with awesome spelled without the middle E. Shocking."

They are nice kids, he said. They worked hard on their scenes last semester. "I was really lucky," he said. "But they seem so much younger than we were at their age. They're baby adults. They're like we were in seventh grade. We weren't like that, were we?"

I said I didn't think so. We would have swallowed poison before having one of our parents phone a prof to argue a grade or to ask an adviser for help getting us up in the morning. Independence began at high school graduation. In college, once a week, we called home on the shared rotary phone in the dorm. Maybe it's technology's fault. Cellphones and email are high-tech umbilical cords. They keep kids too accessible to Mom and Dad. These kids live in a smaller world than we did. I went to school five hours from my hometown but it might as well have been on a different continent.

We reminisced about a favorite professor we had. She's not much older than we are--she was a freshly minted MFA back when we had her--but now she's bedridden with a serious illness. If you call her in the morning, she'll forget by the afternoon. We remember her as the most glamorous creature on campus, striding around in high-heeled boots and tight skirts. She drew kohl smudges around her dark eyes, giving her the look of an Egyptian princess. We were fascinated by her. In class, because we met in a rehearsal studio, we literally sat at her feet because there were no chairs. A goddess, she was.

Teachers so often don't know how students perceive them. Our goddess-prof probably didn't know that to us she seemed to occupy some elevated plane. We scrutinized her clothes, her words, her every move. We thought she was perfection. When she had a party--as profs used to do so often in the 1970s, when it was legal to drink at 18--we students would bring her gifts, little offerings of food, wine, houseplants, hippie jewelry. It seems all very Brideshead Revisited. But with pot instead of dry sherry.

In reality, that young teacher was broke, insecure, struggling to share rent with a roommate (who might have been a lover, we were never sure). After a few years of college teaching and then a Catholic high school job that paid--get this--$12,000 a year, she tried acting and directing, but never got steady work. The stress of family problems aggravated her health woes. Pounds piled on. Former students tried to help her but she was difficult. I lost touch with her. It was sad to hear how she is now.

So my friend, the new adjunct, tells me the department he's in is beset with feuds. One set of profs never speaks to the others. (My old department was like that, too.) There's often a chill toward the adjuncts because they tend to be cooler, younger and more popular with the kids.

We grew wistful. And we looked at each other and saw ourselves as we were as students. "You haven't changed at all," he said.

I told him he hadn't either.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Justin, just because

Justin Hardwick is almost too handsome. Tall, tanned, slim at the hips and broad at the shoulders. His teeth are so white they could guide ships through heavy fog. His eyes, as blue as a Hockney pool painting.

He’s certainly too metrosexually gorgeous for anyone to believe he’s into girls.

From the start I pegged the kid as gay. I mean, after my 2 o’clock class, he’d head over to haunt the pricey boutiques on McKinney and Knox streets, picking new outfits for his mom (who wears a size 2 and is young by college mom standards). Justin has superb taste in women’s fashion. He’d point to Stella McCartney suits and Proenza Schouler pencil skirts and get the salesgirls to Fed Ex them to his mom back home – charged to his black Amex card, of course. He has a queer eye so right for clothes he could be a stylist.

I also had to assume he was gay because, come on, he’s not a theater major and he’s seen every Broadway show that’s hit the boards in the past five years. Musicals, he loves. He said he wept at Light in the Piazza and thought Spamalot was overrated. He declared Wicked “fabulous.” Quick, name a straight guy you know who says fabulous. Or likes going to Broadway shows.

From the day Justin sat down in my Writing I class, I was convinced I had a new young friend of Dorothy. Which is fine, of course. I love the gays. I live for the gays. As I used to tell the students during casual moments, I only date gay men these days because when you call them on a Saturday morning and say, “Wanna get mani-pedis, grab a salad and see the new Judi Dench film?,” they always say yes. Also, gay men say all the things you wish straight men would. Stuff like, “New haircut? Cuuuuute.” And “Whoever did your eyebrows this time is genius.”

So, OK, those first few classes I thought Justin was more oyster-lover than clam (see “Ben Hur, deleted scene, Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier”). It was the details that confused me. Instead of lugging a backpack, he carried a Fendi leather messenger bag in a buttery shade of brown. I spied him frequently applying and re-applying Kiehl’s lip balm #1. And if you look closely and at the right angle, the bronze streaks in his hair spell out “Fekkai.”

As much as I like gay guys, old or young, I didn’t think I’d like Justin at first. He had attitude, that air of entitlement that really gets up my nose. Ten or 15 minutes after class was under way, he’d shuffle in, often wearing man-Juicies and always blaming his tardiness on problems parking his Land Rover or the barista who took too long making his nonfat venti macchiato. We had to have a chat about the late thing. Interruptions bug the shit out of me. I’d rather students skip class than stumble in late and harsh the flow of whatever we’re doing.

He shaped up quickly, though, and long about midterm, Justin got friendlier, hanging around after class to chat about movies, musicals and girls. Turns out he’s way into girls. Who’d a thunk that? That semester, he was especially into the girls in the Writing I class. They all had big crushes on him and he complied by making the complete four-row circuit, starting with the blond Pi Phis against the back wall and working his way up to the glamorously freckled Irish twins, Moira and Meghan, who sat in front and made all A’s.

Gradually, details emerged of Justin’s conquests. The back row blondies were too born again Bush-loving for his liberal politics. He diagnosed them as screwed up emotionally by over-indulgent and yet meddlesome mommies who called them 40 times a day to ask if they’d eaten anything yet and were they taking their Adderall. He moved on to the Kappas who occupied the middle section, knocking off a bevy of Ashleys one by one. Then it was those pale twins—wow. Meghan was a semi-nympho who jumped Justin’s bones in the backseat of a friend’s Hummer on homecoming weekend. And at the time, Justin was dating Moira, the Ashley to the other’s Mary Kate. Moira was the brainier of the two but also the one who refused to compete with her sister to the point that she just rolled over and let Meghan take her boyfriend away.

That relationship lasted about two weeks, as Justin would tell me much later, when enough time had elapsed from our teacher-student relationship for him to start spilling the real dirt over many the long, gossipy lunch. I wouldn’t call him a womanizer. But he does seem to go through college girls the way women my age go through wrinkle creams. We both keep looking for the right one and when the latest doesn’t get the results we want, we push it to the back of the shelf and invest in a new one.

Justin has come the closest to a real relationship only once, as far as I know. That was with Melisande, a dance major from Southern Cal whose dad founded some Internet company from which he’d cashed out at 50 with about a billion smackeroos. When Melisande was a sophomore, her daddy dumped the mom and took up with a 19-year-old San Diego Chargers cheerleader, sending his 19-year-old daughter into a spiral of depression, bulimia and obsessive Vuitton acquisition.

“I couldn’t keep up with all the pills she was on,” Justin would tell me. “And the more she took, the more she shopped. She came back from Neiman’s one afternoon and handed me six Jhane Barnes cashmere sweaters.”

They dated for about seven months, a record for the young swain. She moved into his townhouse, the one his folks bought as an investment that he could occupy for his sophomore to senior years. He took her to New York to see the latest shows. At spring break, she took him to Hawaii, where her father has a 10,000 square foot shack near Gomer Pyle’s macadamia farm.

Eventually Melisande’s insecurities wore him down, Justin said. The tearful phone calls with her alcoholic mom in the middle of the night. The way she lied to him all the time about how much she was spending and how much she was binging and purging.

The vomiting was really no fun. “I’d take her out for dinner and spend, like, $300 on sushi or lobster and before we left the restaurant, she’d go to the ladies’ room and barf it up. I got tired of kissing a pretty girl who tasted like throw-up,” he said.

He finally told her to get some help and get out of his townhouse. For about a month he fooled around with a Panamanian law student he met while they were both waiting to get hot stone massages at the ZaSpa. But she was high maintenance for other reasons and it didn’t work out.

Do you ever run into Melisande on campus? I asked him the other day. We were enjoying a good pinot noir on the sidewalk patio at Café Toulouse as beautiful people strolled by, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware shopping bags swinging at their sides. “I try not to,” he said, squinting those blue eyes into the low afternoon sun. “I’m afraid she’ll ask for those sweaters back.”

Monday, December 26, 2005

Because this might be the funniest thing I've ever heard

If you like Ricky Gervais, he of The Office and Extras, listen to his podcasts with co-writer Steven Merchant and a strange little creature named Karl Pilkington. I have laughed myself blue over these today. Listen here.

And here's a link to Ricky's XMFm radio show clips. Great, great ear candy.


It hit me yesterday--and a belated Merry, by the way--that this was the first Christmas in five years that I haven't spent the season with raging bronchitis or strep throat. This is the worst time of year for student-to-teacher germ exchange and it only gets more perilous after the break and all the beautiful young gnomes return to happy hollow filled with even more exotic ailments.

They all fly off to distant climes and come back coughing, sneezing and wheezing like consumptives. Campus in late January is a large petri dish glowing with bacteria.

About two years back, I picked up something that hung on. And on. And on. Even after the Z-pack, some 'cillins and codeine cough liqueurs, and a series of inhalers so stuffed with steroidal compounds that I started watching Monday Night Football, I stayed sick. There were two semesters there where my students never heard my real voice. It was either a Tallulah-esque growl or a high, adenoidal croak. My pockets overflowed with Hall's mentholyptus drops and I swigged heavily on a wide array of tussins. My cough got so bad, I even went in for a chest X-ray fearing I'd contracted tuberculosis. No, just walking pneumonia.

So how nice it was, for a change, to wake up on Christmas morn to the sound of... silence... instead of my own deep-chest hacking. This year I could smell the mince pie baking instead of getting another snootful of the pungent scent of Vaporub.

Remember, wipe off your doorknobs, your desktops, your phones, your keyboards and mice with antibacterial stuff (or just some rubbing alcohol). Wash your hands often. Stay hydrated. Take vitamins. Get plenty of rest.

And ask the sneezers to sit on the back rows.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

An "Apostrodemic"

Back from the beach, but not really back at the desk. My "Taterquoise" orders are piling up (that's the jewelry that looks like turquoise but is made from dried potato) and since I'm not on deadline this week, I can untie the tether that usually keeps me leashed to the laptop.

But check out this column by La Huffington on the increasing misuse of the lowly apostrophe. All I can think is: She just noticed? This has been happening for decade's. I mean, decades.

The single most difficult thing to teach college-age writers is how and when to use the little hovering comma. They don't get it. They've never been taught the difference between "its" and "it's" and by the time I get them, it's almost too late. Its usage is a mystery to them.

This sign on a cafe in Port Aransas: "Open 7 Day's."


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Frito pie girl

"What's the other name for Frito pie?" she asked from behind the counter at the Citgo station on the way to the beach.

There's another name?

"Oh, sure. You know, for Frito paaaaaaaah."

She had a ponytail and two little plastic clips holding back the sides of her bangs.

"What day is it?" she asked. "I lose track of what day it is when I work here."

I can imagine.

A guy in a gimme cap was unloading a stack of the local weekly paper's latest edition. He dumped them on the end of the counter and picked up the stack of last week's leftovers.

"Naw, what day is it?" she asked again.

"It has to be Thursday," said the newspaper guy.

"How come?" she said.

"Because I'm here," he said.

"I'm really in the mood for Frito pie," she said. "Or whatever you call it."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Hey, bud, I need a ride to the bank"

Another frat boy turns felon.

Oh, no, it's never retaliatory.

Faculty advisor to the college newspaper loses her job. Admin says it's because of too many errors by her all-student staff and not the many articles criticizing the college prez. Fired for student mistakes? We're all doomed then.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Black shells, empty rooms

Down on the beach in Port Aransas, Texas, black shells are washing up with every wave. I gathered a pocketful this afternoon, walking the sand under a low, gray sky. It is warm down here -- about 40 degrees warmer than Dallas when I left the other day. I saw one other person on the beach and I walked about a mile down and back.

I'm here researching the history of surfing the Texas coast for a magazine assignment. Spent the morning with a local expert who took me through the new Texas Surf Museum. If you find yourself in Corpus Christi anytime soon, check it out. And then eat next door at the Executive Surf Club, where you can chomp fried shrimp salads or juicy wrap sandwiches sitting at a table made out of an old surf board.

Port Aransas is an island town east of Corpus. You drive onto a free ferry to get here. This morning the ferry ride was accompanied all the way across the channel by four dolphins, swimming in close formation. Arching up and out of the water, their sleek backs were just a few yards ahead of the ferry.

My friend pointed out an osprey on a telephone line as we drove into Corpus. This is where the whooping cranes spend the winter, too. Haven't seen one of those.

Life moves a little slower down here. And I seem to be one of the few tourists visiting Port A this week. In the brand new three-story hotel one block from the beach, I'm the sole guest. Just me and the desk clerk, who sounds like she has the flu. As I work on rewrites for the Phantom Prof book (another reason I'm spending time down here), I keep thinking of that scene from The Shining where the wife discovers what her novelist-husband (Jack Nicholson in the movie) has been typing day after day in the empty hotel where they're spending the winter: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Over and over and over again, page after page.

I haven't gotten quite that crazy.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Winter campus

When fall semester finals are over, the campus is eerily quiet. Parking lots widen with empty spots. Sorority row goes dark.

An ice storm the other night has denuded the trees and left a six-inch thick blanket of oak leaves on the lawns in front of the frat houses. The campus express bus jangles by, empty except for the driver, who's chatting into a cell phone as he passes the stops.

Riding my bike past the school on a chilly Saturday morning, I see a lone student jogging toward the library. Yellow school buses from area high schools line the curb by the arena, where the annual robot-building contests draw the young and brilliant from all over the city.

Last winter I went up on a Saturday to grade final exams and notebooks. The building was cold and, as far as I could tell, empty except for a few lingering members of the kitchen staff in the dining hall downstairs. I'd just settled into the adjuncts' second-floor windowless office, locked the door and popped open a Diet Coke when the power went out. Note to self, I thought: Bring a flashlight and put it in the desk drawer. I felt my way along the hallway wall to the stairwell. When I got outside, I watched two or three other rumpled profs stumble out of the doors at the other end of the building, blinking into the weak winter sunlight like old, frightened moles. We looked at each other, shrugged and walked to our cars.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A college vs. a blog...again

When will we all rise up and demand that universities respect their students AND profs' rights to express opinions via blogs? It's getting ridiculous!

Here's another story. This time it's a dental student getting the axe for writing online.

It's buzzing on the blogosphere. Here's one take.

Coitus interruptus in officio

So these students are banging in a professor's office. The professor enters. Check this out.

And the monkey goes to...

For the final Word Nerd contest of 2005, the green monkey toy goes to HighSchoolKid07. If you will send me your snailmail address, I'll post the chimp to you. (

More contests to come in the new year. Too busy right now to get them blogged.

Lots of writing work taking me hither and yon. I'll be in South Texas next week researching the history of surfing the Texas coast for one of the airline magazines. After that it's the year-end columns to concoct. Just had a piece published in Critics Review wherein I critiqued theater audiences and their misbehavior.

The year has flown. The words have poured out. The blog has exploded in ways I never thought possible.

Many of my former students have graduated. Some are close to it. I miss many of them. I'm still in touch with some of them. I'm still stalked by some of them. Weird.

More stories to come about the unique culture of uni life, kiddos. More news, too. Let me hear from you!