Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sting like a bee!

A Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, I am. Passed the tests, did the butterfly, after which the teacher said, "A lot of people couldn't have done that." I took that as a compliment, although it probably meant something like, "Your butterfly stroke lies somewhere in the 99.9 percent of all people, old or young, multi- or uni-limbed, who have attempted the butterfly and somehow made it to the end of the pool without having to be rescued by a lifeguard."

I did it before the end of 2006, which was a goal. Other things from the year remain unfinished and will be on the To-Do List for 2007. First I have to buy an organizer, which was on my To-Do List last year and somehow...but no looking back! No! Onward! Stroke, stroke, flip turn!

Strange year, 2006. Lot of writing. Lot of teaching. Lot of theater reviewing. More travel than I wanted to do. Summer at Theater Critics' Camp in Connecticut, two weeks of fa-fa attitudes on a farm crawling with bugs, actors and playwrights obsessed with writing introspective three-hour dramas about Sept. 11.

Got to hang out with surfers on the Texas coast. Spent a day in Manhattan seeing every inch of the new MOMA. Saw Spring Awakening before it became a huge Broadway hit. Check out this video to see how great a show it is.

Taught three film history classes with students so eager and energetic they spoiled me forever. (Hope they all sign up again when I teach "Movies about Movies" in March.)

Some adventures in 2007. Lots of good laughs. Some disappointments. Fifty weeks of seeing Professor Lunch-Guy and then, poof, he disappears from the landscape of my life. That was different. I hear he's back with a former woman and I sense a pattern. Just before it gets to the point where something should progress with someone, he bails out and returns to some other someone who'll be forgiving and happy to resume the relationship. He'll never commit. He'll never be emotionally available. He hasn't a clue how to do the man/woman thing. But that's how he likes it. Cold as ice, that one. I thought I could melt him. My mistake.

Meanwhile, the long-distance man in my life--the one who really gets me--sent me a lovely box of pre-cooked bacon for Christmas. Now, I enjoy a good slice of smoked pork, but breakfast meat? What next year? A jar of herring? Some beef jerky? Some men are from Mars; this one's from Hickory Farms.

I shall begin the new year secure in the knowledge that life is beautiful and that I am an expert by-god certified swim instructor. I can teach levels 1 through 6, plus beginner adults.

Started the year as a caterpillar and ended as a butterfly. That's all right.

Happy New Year, all!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Float like a butterfly

So this week I have to master the hardest stroke in swimming: the butterfly. Been practicing for weeks. To gain strength and endurance, I did a month of bootcamp exercises three nights a week in the dark in a public park alongside thin, fit 24-year-old blonds aiming to be "buff brides."

Humiliating. Much.

Doing the butterfly, you should look like a sleek dolphin, rising up and out of the water in one smooth motion. But unlike dolphins, I have arms and in this stroke, your arms should fly up and then slice down into the pool just as you finish the second dolphin kick. And somewhere in there, you have to breathe.

I don't look a dolphin doing the butterfly. I look like a wet and angry seal having an asthma attack while trying to beat an otter to death.

In some fit of "that sounds fun" about a month ago, I signed up for a Red Cross course to become a water safety and swimming instructor. We started last week. We continue this week. So fun splashing around in a cold pool three hours a day in late December.

Nipply. Much.

There's a swimming test AND a written exam. The other students in the course are high school and college kids. I feel like Delta Burke trying out for the Aquacade.

So while I'm glub-glubbing through flip-turns (another requirement) and a dive off the spring board (help me, mommy!), here are links to some good reading to keep you amused:

Wondering why the Starbucks espresso in a Barnes & Noble doesn't taste right? The Starbucks gossip blog tells you.

Ken Levine is a veteran sitcom writer (Frasier, among others). His blog offers tasty-delish inside dish about network shows and, well, he just writes funny.

Speaking of funny, NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip isn't. And Levine is among the comedy writers who tell the LA Times

Somebody's way obsessed with bedbugs. Read it and you will be, too.

And if you need to return some of the ugly crap you got for Christmas, first listen to This American Life talk about it on NPR.

Back in the New Year! 2007 is an odd number, so it's bound to be interesting.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What killed Jake Stiles? The news isn't good

The DMN has the results of the toxicology tests on sophomore Jake Stiles, 20, who was found dead in his frat house bed on campus here a couple of weekends ago.

If you can't get past the paper's "register log-in" to read online, here's the basic rundown: a mixture of alcohol, cocaine and a pricy "synthetic opiate" called fentanyl that is ingested via loaded lozenges meant for cancer patients.

"This form of the powerful synthetic opiate is designed to help manage pain of cancer patients who have trouble swallowing. But to abusers, the products are known as 'perc-o-pops' or 'lollipops,' and because of their potency they can plunge users into a stupor. Mix it with other drugs and the combination can be lethal, experts say."

Live fast, die young and leave your parents wondering what happened to you at the fancy frat at the fancy college in Dallas....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conan weighs in on Bush Lie-brary

"President Bush is putting together his presidential library and apparently the library is going to cost $500 million, which will work out to $100 million a book." -- Conan O'Brien.

Inside Higher Ed has a long piece looking at various sides of the issue, including suggestions by Methodist ministers that if the GWB presidential library ends up on this campus, the school should remove the word "Methodist" from its name.

Maybe they can revert to a longtime nickname: Southern Millionaires University.

Monday, December 18, 2006

100-year-old gets Baylor degree...and other news

They say he made an A in "Life 101." So he gets his degree after dropping out in 1929.

And soon enough he'll be enrolled for grad "Afterlife 101."

Happy holidays, everyone! Between theater reviewing, TV reviewing and talking my brother into getting me cute boots for Christmas (thanks, bro!), I've been winding up my first grueling month of fitness bootcamp. My bod feels like it's been run through a meat-grinder. Stuff hurts where I didn't know I had stuff...or where my thin stuff is buried under layers of fat stuff.

Progress is slow but certain. After three weeks of thrice-weekly workouts, I now can do 50 push-ups, 50 arm-dips, more walking lunges than I thought possible for a broad my age and when we do the hop-skip-jump thing, I no longer feel like I'm going to throw up. Get this, on Saturday I joined the "stairclimbing club" at the campus stadium. Want a good time? Try bear-crawling up the stadium seats and then running back down. Ten times.

Why have I suddenly gone jockette? Why wasn't I doing this at 30? I think it's that Baby Boomers do not go into our dotage easily. We're fighting it every bruised and battered step of the way. I'm the oldest, chubbiest gal in the workout group, but dang it, I'm not quitting.

If you're interested in the "buttcamp," here's a link. It's women-only but because it's done outdoors, that means you're exercising in the dark until at least March. No one can see you sweat. If you join up, mention that you heard about it from moi.

Also, remember your charities this time of year, chilluns. And pick up a little prezzie for the pets. I think they know when they're left out.

This is my first Christmas in years without the beloved Kubby the Wonder Dog. I like to think that somewhere up in Pooch Heaven, she's crunching fortune cookies and barking at squirrels.

Just like I'm doing down here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Perkins faculty and staff protest GWB prez liberry

The likelihood that the George W. Bush presidential library will be located at SMU has not been welcome news for at least one segment of the university community. A letter, dated December 16, from "Faculty, Administrators, & Staff" of the Perkins School of Theology to R. Gerald Turner, president of the Board of Trustees, is now circulating not only on the SMU campus but also among a wider academic community, urging the board to "reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of the presidential library."

Paul Burka of Texas Monthly writes more about this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Your secrets are safe at UCLA

Um, well, on second thought, maybe not so much.

Ditto University of Texas at Dallas. (Dallas Morning News requires registration. Sorry if story doesn't pop up.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The case of the disappearing date

You've read Blink, right? The book by Malcolm Gladwell about the instinctual ability we all have to make judgments about people, places and things in the blink of an eyelash?

Well, "blink" happens and it happened to me last night.

What's worse than being my age and going out on a date? That's right, being my age and going out on a blind date. The guy--I'll call him Finger Foods--was to meet me at the theater where I was reviewing a play. Get there a half-hour early, I had told him on the phone, and we'd have a drink in the lobby and chat for a bit. Then we'd see the show--a comedy only 55 minutes long--then go out afterward for another cocktail or a light bite at the restaurant next door. He'd sounded excited about the whole thing. Very chatty-chatty on the phone.

So on the stroke of 6:30 p.m. I breezed into the lobby. I was looking good, chilluns. On a chilly winter eve I had on a black lacy skirt, a stretchy velvet top, my new black velvet coat and my favorite glittery earbobs. Henri, the world's greatest hairstylist, had blown my 'do into a poofy-but-sexy array of layers just hours before. I was ready-Teddy.

So I see Finger Foods (he's in the catering biz) standing by the box office. I glide up, extend my well-manicured paw in his direction and say my name.

BLINK! In the instant it took for him to turn in my direction and look me over, I saw it. Revulsion might be too strong a word. But disappointment? Disgust perhaps? Certainly not happy-happy-joy-joy. His face actually visibly sagged. He didn't smile. Didn't say "nice to meet you" or "kiss my ass" or anything.

Finger Foods had the fight-or-flight look. He wanted out and the sooner the better. Whatever it was about me, my face, my poofy hair or my shiny earrings, he didn't like any of it and he didn't like it instantly.

Not so fast, buster. If I had to get dressed up, fork out change for the tollway and drive all the way out there, I was going to make him at least sit through the show with me.

There were crowds there, so the house manager kindly seated me and Finger Foods early so I could get a spot on the aisle (the bettter for writing notes in the dark for review purposes). That meant we were in our places nearly 30 minutes before the 7 o'clock curtain.

FF never looked my way again. Not once. He sat silently, staring at the empty stage in front of us and drumming his stubby fingers on his khaki-clad knees. (I know! Khakis! In winter!)

A brief description of FF: A bit older than me. Not tall. Completely hair-free, like Yul Brynner but without the authoritative skull shape. Dicey dental work, especially among the canines and forward molars. Khakis, red polo shirt, summer-weight navy blazer. In winter. Worth mentioning again.

I'm "opening night at the theater." He's "casual brunch with the grandkids."

Differenced between him and me: I'm willing to give him a chance. You know, get to know him before I "blink" him out into the cornfield.

But I'll be darned if I'm going to force the conversation. So I wait for him to speak.

At about 6:55 he asks me if I take notes in shorthand. No, I tell him, I just scribble stuff in the dark during the performance and try to decode it later.

End of conversational gambits. I think I may have asked him if the E.coli outbreak in salad greens had affected his business. But when he launched into a diatribe about how the liberal media only print negative stories, I tuned him out. (Hey, he said he wasn't a righty--believe me, I ask.)

Show begins. It's funny. He never laughs. I can hear his brain-wheels turning: How do I dump this chick? Can I start coughing now and claim I'm getting the flu? Is there an emergency exit I could crawl to during the scene change?

Curtain comes down at 7:55 and I save him the trouble. In the lobby, I say, "Hey, I could sense that you were plotting your escape, so let's part ways here."

He's so surprised that I've let him off the hook that he blurts out his made-up excuse anyway: "I have to be at this thing at 9."

Poor shmuck. He expects me to believe he has two dates in one night.

He offers to walk me to my car but since I've parked right in front, that's a trip of about 20 steps.

He never says "Nice to have met you" or "Thanks for the free ticket to the show" or "I'm sorry it didn't work out" ner nuthin'. He just lickety-splits.

At 7:58 the date is done and Finger Foods is gone... without ever even waving goodbye.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Monday, December 04, 2006

The worst sort of story this time of year

Sophomore Jake Stiles was found dead in his bed in the SAE house on campus this past Saturday afternoon. The Dallas Morning News had some details Monday night.

More to come, count on it.

Three times I knew students who died suddenly during finals or just before the holiday break. Heartbreaking to think of the parents facing a funeral this time of year.

If alcohol is involved in this young man's death, well...that's a story the university's PR department dreads. But sadly, it's one they've had to deal with too many times before.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dancing clouds

Cheat in a pass-fail course? And it's an ethics class

December 1, 2006/New York Times
Cheating on an Ethics Test? It’s ‘Topic A’ at Columbia
Cheating is not unheard of on university campuses. But cheating on an open-book, take-home exam in a pass-fail course seems odd, and all the more so in a course about ethics.

Yet Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism is looking into whether students may have cheated on the final exam in just such a course, “Critical Issues in Journalism.” According to the school’s Web site, the course “explores the social role of journalism and the journalist from legal, historical, ethical, and economic perspectives,” with a focus on ethics.

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school, said that students had to sign on to a Columbia Web site to gain access to the exam, and that once they did, had 90 minutes to write a couple of essays. But he was unwilling to detail how the cheating might have occurred.

Mr. Lemann said that no student had been formally accused of any violation, but that the issue had become “Topic A” at the school.

The situation was reported yesterday by

The course was taught by Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at the school who also contributes columns on education and religion to The New York Times. Mr. Freedman confirmed yesterday evening that “there are allegations of cheating.”

“We are looking into them,” he said, adding that he did not want to comment further because of privacy concerns.

Students in the course, which is required of all students in Columbia’s basic journalism master’s program, have been told they must attend a specially scheduled additional session of the course today in connection with the exam. About 200 students took the course this fall.

“We have encountered a serious problem with the final exam, and will not register a passing grade in the course for anyone who does not attend,” David A. Klatell, vice dean at the school, wrote in an e-mail message, which was forwarded to a reporter by a student. Mr. Klatell did not respond to several telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

Mr. Lemann said that he was surprised that students might have been concerned about how they scored on the pass-fail exam, and that exams and grades at the school were rare.

“We are not a very grade-intensive institution,” he said. “Our school is run on a pass-fail basis.”

“Our students are strivers,” he added. “But they are striving to get good clips. It is not like law school, where fine differences in points make all the difference in the world.”