Tuesday, June 28, 2005

If you want to read more about Prep Felon...

Read journalist Glenna Whitley's stories about him in the Dallas Observer. The first one was in 2002. Titled "Crazy White Mother." That about says it. Part two, published two years later, carries the headline "The Devil Next Door." They tell a chilling tale of a rich boy gone bad.


The college week has gotten shorter by one day. In the olden times, there were Mon-Wed-Fri classes, 50 minutes in length. And there were Tue-Thur classes, 80 minutes in length. Jump into the Wayback Machine to when I was matriculating as an undergrad and there were also the occasional Sat classes, three hours long. Starting at 8 a.m. On Saturday. Every Saturday for 14 or 15 weeks.

Forget Saturdays, on this campus it became a challenge to get students to class on Fridays. Weekends for them start on Thursdays, which for years have been the biggest nights (nay, afternoons, evenings, too) for drinking, carousing and otherwise getting shit-faced-wasted on substances both foreign and domestic.

Profs grumbled for years about light attendance at Friday sessions. So a few years ago, departments quietly made a change in their class schedules. Now there are Mon-Wed classes, 80 minutes each. And Tue-Thur, ditto. No Friday classes anymore. Pffft. Gone.

Shows you where the power lies, doesn't it? To accommodate the social skeds and alcoholic consumption preferences of the young 'uns, entire wings of a four-year university shut down one day early every week. Of course, the prof-types don't exactly mind working the shorter hours. After all, the secretaries will still be at their desks in case somebody's ass needs covering with the dean.

But it's kind of sad to see how empty the campus looks on Fridays now.

What will these young adults do when they arrive in the working world and find out that the four-day week doesn't exist? That they might actually be asked, or required, to work nights and weekends, too? (At least in newsrooms, where new hires often are awarded the worst shifts.)

Get a job and it comes as a shock to some of these party hounds that there's no fall break, Christmas break or spring break. At a daily newspaper or TV news department, new staffers often are expected (sometimes required) to work holidays and are not allowed to ask for time off during busy seasons. Maybe there's a two-week vacation at the end of that first year, but it must fall sometime before or after the preferred vacation slots of the senior employees.

The kids of Generation Whine often think they can up and take off any damn time they feel like it.

Many's the time I've had a student sidle up to me after a Tuesday class to say, "I have to miss class on Thursday because I'm going home for the weekend" because: (a) Mom and Dad bought an airline ticket that can't be changed; (b) said family "requires" or "demands" that the student come home for a sibling's birthday, parent's birthday, grandparent's birthday, or other non-essential celebration; (c) both of the above.

They are shocked when I tell them these are not excused absences. In most classes, students are allowed only two absences total per term (except for university-related activities, such as travel for games).

Just before fall or spring break, it's remarkable how many elderly family members back home suddenly fall ill or die, requiring a student to buzz back to the homestead about four or five days before the official cessation of classes.

Another prof tipped me long ago to the funeral excuse. "Ask for proof. An airline ticket AND the newspaper obituary that proves grandma really croaked."

There also is the dubious "family meeting" that so many students say they have to go home for. "Who's your family?" I'd ask. "The Corleones?"

With new novel, John Irving finds his family

A moving and beautifully crafted piece about John Irving by Dinitia Smith in today's NYT (6/28/05). In writing his new novel, Until I Find You (due out in July), Irving found the truth about his own family. Smith's writing captures the melancholy of the author, who wrote the ending to the novel before finding out that what he'd imagined about his own birth-father was true all along. It's a case of art predicting life. (Link will expire.)

While we're on Mr. Irving, the movie version of The World According to Garp (1982) still holds up as one of the few adaptations of a sprawling, complicated novel to capture most of the characters and the odd twists and turns that made reading the book so thrilling. If you've never seen it, Robin Williams, playing the title role, had not yet developed the annoying tics and mannerisms displayed in his later work. He's actually good. And the young Glenn Close, only a few years older than Williams, plays his mother, Jenny Fields, the ramrod-straight nurse who becomes a feminist icon. John Lithgow plays a woman, Roberta Muldoon, without making her camp. Watch for a quick cameo by Amanda Plummer as Ellen James, the tongueless symbol of woman-as-victim. And director George Roy Hill shows up briefly as the pilot of the little plane that crashes into Garp's house.

Do not, for any reason, ever watch the film version of Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire (1984) starring Beau Bridges, Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe. It's so bad, it could ruin your year.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sentencing in the prep school felon case

News of the sentencing in the case of the former Dallas prep schooler/university student who was arrested in England. Got off light, I'd say.

Don't think I've ever mentioned it here, but this young Soprano-wannabe was enrolled in my mass media history class during his freshman year. Except he wasn't there. He found a loophole in the syllabus. If he showed up for the exams, which were the primary criteria for grading the large lecture class, he didn't need to come to the lectures. So he never did.

I learned that it is wise to keep file cards on the students. Each file card has the student's photo and his or her handwritten signature. After each exam, they turn in the answer sheets, pull their file cards, I look at them to make sure the faces match the cards, and the students sign and date the back of the cards. Sounds like a silly little system, but it keeps us both honest -- they can't claim I lost their test and I can't claim they didn't show up for it. The proof is on the card. I used the ploy because of what Prep Felon pulled.

He was paying another boy in class to take the exams for him. Took me two quizzes to figure it out because there were 108 students in this class and I didn't notice that the kid taking Felon's tests was actually turning in two Scantron sheets (the bubble-in forms that can be computer-graded), one for himself and one for Prep Felon. At the midterm I confronted the quiz-mule. He confessed immediately and stood there quivering in his Timberlands as I told him that his crafty young employer was receiving an F in the class and so was he. He could pass the message to PF. Also, I never wanted to lay eyes on either of them again.

Judging from Prep Felon's record, he didn't give a whip about grades anyway. He was too busy cooking up drugs and fake driver's licenses over in his dorm room. He was arrested the following semester. His folks bailed him out and he went on the lam across the pond, where he continued his lucrative crime spree by hooking up with the Russian mob.

The kid grew up with money, so his dorm room must have seemed mighty small when he moved in that freshman year. That British "gaol" cell will feel a whole bunch smaller.

Heirs of entitlement

Excellent story from Yahoo News from the perspective of employers frustrated at the air of entitlement that the new crop of grads comes with.

Martha Irvine, AP National Writer, writes about "the entitlement generation."

Here's an excerpt because I couldn't make the link work:

Now, deserved or not, this latest generation is being pegged... as one with shockingly high expectations for salary, job flexibility and duties but little willingness to take on grunt work or remain loyal to a company.

"We're seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work — kids who had too much success early in life and who've become accustomed to instant gratification," says Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School and author of a book on the topic called "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes."

While Levine also notes that today's twentysomethings are long on idealism and altruism, "many of the individuals we see are heavily committed to something we call 'fun.'"

He partly faults coddling parents and colleges for doing little to prepare students for the realities of adulthood and setting the course for what many disillusioned twentysomethings are increasingly calling their "quarter-life crisis."

Meanwhile, employers from corporate executives to restaurateurs and retailers are frustrated.

"It seems they want and expect everything that the 20- or 30-year veteran has the first week they're there," says Mike Amos, a Salt Lake City-based franchise consultant for Perkins Restaurants.


Reminds me of the newly hired reporter at the Corpus Christi paper who popped his head into my office one day and said he was frustrated with his low-level story assignments. He'd been on the job only a few months.

"How do I get a column like yours?" the 22-year-old said.

My answer: "Become a better writer than everyone else in the newsroom. Win awards. Work like hell. Prove that your opinion is worth printing."

"So how long do you think it'll take me to become a columnist?" he says.

"Oh, 10 or 20 years should do it," I said, "depending on how good your writing is by then."

He wasn't happy with that answer.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Watch this

Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk is a PBS documentary airing right now. Check here to find out when it's on in your area.

Readers alerted me to it (it airs in Dallas at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 26, on KERA, Channel 13). Here's an excerpt from the network's synopsis:

At a time when a college education is vital to an individual's future and our nation's economic standing in the world, "Declining By Degrees: Higher Education at Risk," a two-hour documentary airing on PBS, explores the simple yet significant question: What happens between admission and graduation? The answer: often not enough.

With more than 14 million students at 4,200 colleges, serious questions are being raised about the quality of teaching and learning, retention and graduation rates and the skills of those students who earn their diploma. As Lara Couturier, a higher education consultant explains, "There's been report after report and commission after commission formed of business leaders who are calling out to higher education and saying 'We need to change the system. We are not satisfied with the level of skills that our employees are showing up with.'"

"Declining by Degrees" takes viewers to college campuses around the country to hear firsthand from students, teachers and administrators who provide candid insights of the national problems and challenges facing higher education in America. It's a topic too important to ignore. As Richard Hersh, former president of Trinity College and Hobart and William Smith College says, "Higher education is about the future. And it is about the way in which we travel to the future in terms of being prepared, or it's the way in which we fail the future."

Being prepared is one of the first and biggest challenges freshman college students encounter. As Matt Morris, a freshman at a regional university in Kentucky, was moving in he was already aware he was not ready for the academic demands of college. "I could have been a straight 'A' student in high school," says Matt, "I was 'A-B', without bringing a book home, so I don't have very good study skills." Hersh says Matt represents an increasing problem. "I think we're taking many, many more students who are not prepared for college. I think that's true. I think we have to ask questions about who should we be admitting, and how should they be better prepared before."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A murder of crows

It was just about a year ago this week that I began working on the quiz that our department wanted to give incoming majors. Over in the journalism department they make every prospective major take a comprehensive vocabulary/spelling/grammar/punctuation test. It takes several hours to complete and provides tangible proof that there are students who clearly have no business heading for a career in written communications. It reinforces the skills of the ones who are ready for it.

Our department chair and the other writing profs decided our major needed an admissions quiz that would weed out the truly hopeless before they signed up for classes. I volunteered to write it, not because I needed any brownie points but because I knew I could trust my own skills. Can I tell you how many times I received emails from my tenured colleagues that said "between you and I" and "we will consider there proposal"? Shocking to a word-snob like me.

I've ranted before about the ridiculously remedial nature of many of the courses I taught. As the years piled up, I noted that each new crop of sophomores in the beginning media writing class seemed to know less about basics than the one before. Sure, they're hopeless with commas, unfamiliar with the "punctuation inside the quotation mark" rule and given to spelling "definitely" with an -a- in place of the second -i-. They're also ignorant of all those great mnemonic devices we Boomers were taught when we were knee-high to a Ringo.

"I before E except after C, or when sounding like A, as in neighbor and weigh."

"There is `a rat' in `separate.'"

I got a million of 'em thanks to the fine work of Miss McMillan and Mrs. Probst at Stonewall Jackson Elementary.

So I set to work on the writing proficiency test, page after page of fill-in-the-blanks, multi-choices and "circle the misspelled word." At the end I added some common knowledge questions. "What does the phrase `as the crow flies' mean?" "If you `put the kibosh' on something, what are you doing?" "What is `the whole kit and kaboodle'?" "What is the collective noun for a group of geese?" "How is the date of Easter determined?"

Some idiomatic sayings go back to the American Revolution, many are even older, dating back to the beginning of our native tongue. You need to know such things, not just for a career in media, but to sound like an educated human being. A friend tells of the time a young copy editor at a top 10 daily newspaper was flummoxed by "he lost his shirt in Vegas." "You mean he took his shirt off?" asked the young rim-rat. He'd never heard that phrase before.

I finished the sample test and emailed it to the two other writing teachers who also would be giving the test to sophomores trying to declare the major. Within the hour, their responses bounced back. "Too hard." "They'll never pass this." "Who needs to know pop culture references like how to spell Muhammad Ali?" "The grammar and punctuation sections are too difficult." "Isn't Easter always the same date every year?"

OK. I rewrote. I rewrote again. And again the responses from the full-timers indicated that I was expecting waaaaay too much from college sophomores. "Your standards are too high," they said. I've been accused of that on nearly every job I've ever had.

So here's what I did. I got my hands on an old fourth-grade language workbook. I took questions and exercises out of it and with only a few tweaks, I used those for the writing proficiency test.

Insert the proper punctuation into the following sentence: Mr and Mrs OHara brought their kids Jane John and Juniper to the picnic

In the "circle the misspellings" list: embarrass, harrass, finally, Wednesday, Febuary, cheddar.
(The bloopers are the second and fifth words.)

The entire test was pretty much dumbed down to the language skill level of 10- and 11-year-olds.

They loved it.

And when I gave it to 40 new prospective majors in the fall, the average score out of 100 was 53.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The writer's walk

Lots of people want to write. Few really want to write anything. Writing is grueling work. Ask any journalist with daily deadlines. Non-writers talk about writing. Real writers write. Every day. No exceptions.

Many of the emails I'm getting this week ask questions about writing, the subject I've taught to college students on and off for 15 years, and the main source of my income for the past 20. How? Why? Where do ideas come from? What about writer's block?

The idea thing -- that is the easy part. Ideas are there for the picking. You don't need a muse or a bolt of inspiration or even a college course to find that great idea that compels you to write. Just go on a long walk in the park, on a beach or in your own back yard.

I learned this as an undergrad studying under the legendary Paul Baker, founder of the Dallas Theater Center and of the undergrad and grad programs in theater at Trinity University in San Antonio. He developed something called The Integration of Abilities, a creative philosophy that uses at its core a really beautiful system of finding ideas in "found objects." Ideas are anywhere and everywhere, waiting to be turned toward writing, composing, painting, sculpting, acting, singing -- living even.

In Mr. Baker's classes we had to do it all, even as freshmen. You couldn't specialize in any one thing. No one could say "I'm an actor" or "I'm a playwright." Everyone did everything, right down to sweeping the stage, sewing the costumes, hammering scenery and wielding a crescent wrench to hang fresnel lights from the creepy-dark overhead grid.

The first course, also called Integration of Abilities, really set the pace. I've used its exercises in many of my writing classes, always with success. Students are wary at first, mostly because the steps are so deceptively easy and require some physical energy. But the steps are the important part, not the finished product. As the fortune cookie says: The journey is the destination.

In the simplest terms, the first step toward creative discovery can begin like this:

1. Go outside. Find an inanimate object from nature. A pinecone. A shell. An interesting rock. A leaf. Something small enough to hold in your hand.

2. Now, look at the object. Study it. Carry it around. Get to know it. Place it in plain sight and stare at it whenever you can. Sniff it. Taste it. Become an expert on its lines, textures, colors, silhouette or sound.

3. Get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Write down as many words as you can think of that describe that object based on your sensory contact with it. Fill up the page with words.

4. Now, here's where the creative process gets interesting. Using those words, write a short poem, a simple song, a little story or scene. You might think, hmmm, if these words described a person, what might that person be like? Write something about that character. What would that character do? How would he or she talk? And what about?

5. Draw or paint something based on what you just wrote. Did your pinecone remind you of a witch's hat? Did you write a little poem about a witch? Now you might paint a picture of a witch's bonfire or make a collage from bits and pieces of things that express the colors, lines and textures of the character you've discovered. Or was that leaf a butterfly in another life? Did your adjectives lead you to a song about a butterfly? You might draw or paint a field of butterflies or a close-up of just one wing. Don't be critical of your art work. It can be abstract. It doesn't have to be pretty.

6. Go further now. Get on your feet and walk across the room using the rhythms of your "character." (We did this in class and though students are initially embarrassed, once one does it, they all do.) Shape your body differently from your own posture. Gesture, kick, skip, twirl. Be bold! Be silly! Let loose! First walk in a way that's says "comedy." Now walk tragically or mournfully. Explore how your character physically cuts through an empty space.

7. By now you have at least part of a story, a piece of art, a bit of dance. You've thought of a character. You've inhabited that character in three dimensions. You can keep going by using that rhythm you've just created to make a piece of music. Nothing fancy. Just a simple tune with or without lyrics. You might just clap out the rhythms of your character with your hands.

And on it goes.

All of the above can be done in just a a few hours. It's best not to do it all at once. Take your time. What's the rush? To keep integrating those abilities (as we did for several semesters as students of Mr. Baker), you then take all of the exercises and choose one to explore more fully. Write a one-act play that uses the character you found in your nature object. Or write a really polished short story or long poem. Illustrate it with art, the more textural the better. Use those rhythms in the brushstrokes or in the pace of the dialogue in your writing. You don't have to be literal. Any word or image or sound might lead to something else. Keep following the flow as ideas pile up one on another. Let them take you somewhere -- don't edit yourself, don't allow doubt or fear to interrupt. Just keep going.

Integrating all of these abilities -- not unlike some of the exercises in the Artist's Way -- means you're using both sides of your brain and all of your senses. Maybe you'll discover a new interest in visual art or a new approach to creating the people who come to life in your fiction. You haven't just sat at a keyboard staring at a blank screen, waiting for that great idea to pop into your noggin. You've found a multi-dimensional way to create. And even if you use this only as a warm-up, it's bound to open new paths to creativity.

From a rock, a shell or a dandelion, you can be led to words, images, characterizations, plots, melodies, movement. I've over-simplified Mr. Baker's formula for creativity, but you can explore it more on your own and adapt it however you like. The rule is, there are no rules. Whether you're doing these exercises alone or with a group -- I've done them with kids as young as 5 -- you can't help but come up with something new and wonderful.

Writer's block, be gone.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Food for thought

Willow is a dance major with a minor in public relations. Like all the dance majors I’ve taught, she gets to class late because she has technique class right before and has to shower and change, or she slept late because they had to rehearse the brown bag performance until nearly midnight last night, or she was confused about what day it is and went to her Monday-Wednesday class instead of her Tuesday-Thursday class.

Dance majors, those ethereal little bun-heads who waft down the hallway with their feet splayed at 45-degree angles. They’re always somewhere else, not really in the here and now.

I think it’s because they’re hungry.

I’ve never met any of the dance faculty so I don’t know if they’re acolytes of George Balanchine’s starve-’em-to-the-bone philosophy. But the dancers who have been in my classes do adhere to some frightening diet plans.

Willow, for example, eats paper. “I just get so hungry. And if I eat normal food, I put on weight.” She tells me this at Starbucks, where I’m meeting students one by one the day before an assignment is due (they get a free read on the rough drafts). I offer to buy her a latte and a muffin and she ends up explaining why she doesn’t eat.

She’s about 5-foot-3, maybe 100 pounds sopping wet. She started the paper-chewing when she was in middle school after her dance teacher told her she was too chubby to be Clara in The Nutcracker. Willow tried notebook paper (the student kind) and finally moved on to Bounty paper towels, which proved easier to chew and swallow. She rips the sheets into thin strips and chews them until they disintegrate in her mouth. Paper makes her full. She loses weight. She has a partial scholarship into the dance department. She loves ballet and wants to learn the great roles.

In class, Willow falls asleep every day at exactly 11:20 a.m. She sits in the front and I see her eyelids slowly start to descend like little garage doors. She has trained herself to doze without her head drooping forward.

She’s a good student. Gets her work done. Always pleasant. Decent grades. But I’d love to meet her again after she’s had a good long rest and a steak dinner.

Marcie was the dance major who fainted in class that time. Fell right out of her chair, like 80 pounds of feathers softly sinking to the floor. We were in the writing lab, where each student sits behind a computer and tippy-taps writing exercises one day a week. One minute Marcie had her delicate fingers on the keyboard, the next she was crumpled in a heap beside her chair, eyes rolled back in her head.

The students on either side of Marcie’s limp body just sat there. I rushed over and rolled her flat on the floor. At least she was still breathing. Anybody have water! I shouted. In a trice, a dozen bottles of Evian, Fiji and Dasani materialized from backpacks and totebags. Suddenly Marcie’s eyelids fluttered and she looked up at me with watery blues. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m OK.”

All of this didn’t take 10 seconds to unfold, but my heart was pounding in a panic. Mental note: Learn CPR.

Fainting students -- not something they covered in the new faculty orientation sessions.

One of the Ashleys helped a wobbly Marcie gather her things. They headed off to the dorm. “She hasn't eaten in two days,” said another Ashley conspiratorially. “And when she eats, she only eats three Gardettos.”

What? “Gardettos. Those snack things like pretzels and toasty deals,” said the Ashley.

She lives on three packets of pretzels a day?

“No,” Ashley corrected. “Three pretzels. She counts them out. A package of Gardettos lasts her a week.”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Father's Day nods

For Father's Day, a terrific story from the Washington Post about father and son teachers. (Link will expire)

And this Plain-Dealer column is the best Father's Day tribute I've ever read. Notice how the writer crafts the "reveal." Exquisite. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

110 in the shade

Sorry I've slowed down word production. Blame it on the heat. Last summer was just not this bad. I've wilted, swooned, suffered an attack of the vapors. Get me to my fainting couch and bring me a julep with plenty of crushed ice.

Saw a play called The Hypochondriac the other night and the theater was so oppressively warm that midway through Act 1 I could feel the nausea rising. All I could think was, I'm getting sick at a play about a man who pretends to be sick. My biggest mistake was sticking around later for the opening night reception. I ate a room temperature meatball-on-a-toothpick and I could tell as I swallowed that it was a gustatory mistake of the highest order. A ball of bacteria, a little meat bomb packed with poisonous microbes. It's two days later and my stomach is still doing higher kicks than the Kilgore Rangerettes.

At that reception I ran into someone I hadn't seen since college. She's a lovely woman who heads the fine arts department at a private school hereabouts. Hasn't changed an iota lookswise from the last time I saw her, which has to be 1977. We did the quick "Whatever happened to..." routine and I found out that a couple who met and wed when I was in grad school (the first time) are now divorced. One of the three people with whom I shared the rattletrap two-story house back then is a professor of opera at the University of Kentucky. I clearly remember him putting Il Trovatore on the turntable (remember those?) and talking me through the entire three hours. He was a character and a half. Every night he'd eat an entire loaf of French bread and drink six cans of beer.

I called him the King of Yeasts.

Didn't ask about the other guy in the house. We were thisclose until he took up with a very short, thin-haired drama student who pretended to have an English accent because she'd spent a semester at some veddy theatrical workshop in London. Ah, the pretentiousness of youth. Did they end up getting married? I don't remember. Honestly.

I used to send him Christmas cards, but he never reciprocated. One by one the acquaintances of college fall away. At the time you think, these are the people I'll know for the rest of my life. But you know? You don't. Most of them, you grow away from. They marry the wrong people (but invite you to the wedding anyway), get divorced, marry younger versions of the wrong people. They scatter, the come back, you run into them and say "Keep in touch" and then forget to.

The college where I got my BA was so hippie-dippie liberal in the 1970s that we didn't even have a yearbook (too establishment, man). So I can't even leaf through the pages to remind myself what everyone looked like.

In a weird little film I watched the other night called What the bleep do we know?, a scientist talks about the visual cortex of the human brain. Our source of sight can't distinguish between real images and memories of those images we have from the past. What you see and what you remember seeing long ago -- same thing. So maybe that woman I ran into at the play really does have a face full of wrinkles and my brain just registered her as the smooth-cheeked blond from 30 years ago. I hope to hell her visual cortex did me the same favor.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bumps and grinds

Remember the news item about the tenured prof who knocked a cyclist off his bike with her car? Read this to see how the case turned out. The university is "investigating," too. Remember, this is the school that claims "words can hurt." Let's see what they say about a moving vehicle.

And if you think I'm exaggerating about rampant grade-grubbing, read this from the Washington Post. (Link will expire, so read it soon.)

More later from my desk, but it's a nice day out (even with red-level air alerts, not to be confused with Homeland Security alerts) so I'm going to the pool.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Double trouble Part 3

Scroll down to read Parts 1 & 2. Or click on them on the menu at left.

January turned into February, with all parties in the “Change Ariel’s failing grade” ruckus still at it. I wasn’t budging and neither was Mrs. Prospero. A meeting was arranged where I was to sit down with her and Dr. Frinck. I also asked that Ariel be present.

The four of us gathered in a tiny conference room on a freezing Monday morning. Frinck and I sat on one side of the table, Ariel and her mom on the other. Ariel looked her usual mess, with a curtain of stringy blond hair hanging over her glasses. She slumped in her chair and didn’t make eye contact with me or Frinck.

Mrs. Prospero was quite a sight, dressed in a skintight brown Chanel suit (the kind with the little chain sewn in the jacket to make it hang just so over the skirt), brown stockings and brown alligator stilettos. Her hair was slicked back in the same chignon style that Ariel had worn for the last of the two oral presentations she’d given in class the previous semester – the only two assignments she’d managed to complete and receive a grade for. Mrs. P. was drenched in a quart or two of Jungle Gardenia. I could feel my lungs straining to expand as the cloud of perfume replaced the oxygen in the room.

Dr. Frinck offered a few half-assed opening remarks, some mealy-mouthed phrases about students taking responsibility and professors being flexible.

Yeah, I’d show him flexible.

As Exhibits A through F of this little kangaroo court, I’d brought along a stack of student papers from Ariel’s class section. Over the break, I’d emailed half a dozen of the best students and asked them to send me copies of graded assignments. They’d obliged, so I had come armed with examples of what was expected in that course and the level of writing that received high grades.

Mrs. Prospero thumbed through them with little interest. Ariel played with the ends of her hair.

“As I’m sure Ariel has told you, she didn’t turn in any of these written assignments,” I said.

“She said she did,” said the mother, tossing the other students’ work onto the table with a huff.

“Ariel? Straight up now. You didn’t do any of this work, did you?” I said, looking right at the girl.

Long pause. Mrs. P. thrummed her Jungle Red nails on the table top.

“No,” she finally said in a whisper.

Case closed as far as I was concerned. But her mom kept at it like a dog with a bone.

“Obviously, dear, you have something against my daughter,” she barked. “I think it’s because she’s pretty and you – you – well, dear, you’re the type of woman who doesn’t even wear makeup.”

I was tempted to dig around in my handbag for my Bobbi Brown compact and lipstick, but why bother? This bitch was on a roll.

“I know women like you, dear. You’re jealous of girls like my daughter. And you punish them by making sure they fail your class. She doesn’t need to take your class anyway. She made A’s in English in high school and she went to the best private school in San Antonio.”

Dr. Frinck didn’t say a word. Not even about the “dears” Mrs. P. was tossing my way.

My class helps teach young journalists the craft of writing, I said, but it’s also about meeting deadlines. Maybe she is a fine writer, but in a writing class, you have to do some writing. And since Ariel never turned in a single page, I really didn’t have a chance to evaluate her skills with spelling and grammar.

“Spelling and grammar?” sniffed Mrs. P. “You don’t need to know that stuff. In the real world, there are people who will correct those things for you.”

It was twilight zone time. I was bumfuzzled. Dr. Frinck didn’t exactly have my back in this scenario. He was gazing blankly at the door.

Mrs. P. continued. “We’re very disappointed in this university. We have not gotten the education for our daughters that we paid for.”

Daughters? Ariel has a sister here?

“Ariel and Mariel are identical twins. Mariel is the outgoing one,” Mrs. P. explained. “Ariel’s the quiet one. Mariel’s the talker. In high school, whenever Ariel needed to talk to anyone, she had Mariel do it for her. Nobody ever knew the difference. They look exactly alike. Well, they do when this one here makes an effort and gets the hair out of her face.”

Click, click, click. The wheels were turning over faster and faster. I looked at Ariel, who glanced at me quickly before turning away. I could see that there were tears on her cheeks.

I didn’t say it, but now I knew. The only two things Ariel had accomplished in my class were those two oral stand-up reports. And she’d had her proxy do them for her. Very slick. Very smart.

I could have busted her, but I didn’t. She knew. I knew.

The meeting came to a close with me again refusing to change the grade. Frinck looked disappointed. I knew he’d be eating more shit from the dean about it. He left the conference room without even a comforting word in my direction. Mrs. P. click-clacked after him on her little brown heels, chattering away. Ariel hung back for just a moment.

You thought you fooled me, didn’t you? I said to her.

“I’m sorry about my mother,” she said damply. “She’s always been like this. It was just as bad in high school. I just let her do it. I can’t stop her anyway.”

It was the most I’d ever heard Ariel say.

Double trouble Part 2

The first sign that Ariel and her well-earned F were not going away quietly came in an email from the department secretary over the Christmas break. Ariel’s mother had called the office several times, demanding a meeting with the head of the department to “discuss the grade.” Could I call the woman? the secretary entreated. Better that I should explain why the girl failed a basic journalism class.

I thought about it for a good while. It was the week before Christmas and I had come down with my annual bout of bronchial wheeze-o-mania. Something about having down time from classrooms always sends my lungs into freefall. I also was running a temp of about 102, so I didn’t really feel up to getting into it over the phone with some helicopter parent (so named because they hover over their college-age kids). Already I could hear the booming strains of “Ride of the Walkyries” between the thwap-thwap-thwaps of approaching rotor blades.

Reluctantly I punched in the number for Dr. and Mrs. “Prospero.” I recognized the San Antonio area code. Unfortunately, the mom was home.

Short-handing that first conversation, I’ll just say that she did most of the talking. And being an experienced reporter, I took notes of everything. Among the highlights:

"Ariel is so disorganized she can’t even balance a checkbook. She’s overdrawn at the bank all the time.”

"She still sends her laundry home so our maid can do it. She lives in a high-rise apartment that we pay for but she loses her keys so often that she ends up sleeping at the sorority house. I think she’s majoring in partying.”

“She also flunked French and art history last semester. We just don’t know what to do about her.”
Well, I said in the calmest and most measured tones I could muster, seeing as how I was hallucinating sugarplum fairies from the fever, some young people just aren’t college material. Sometimes it takes a semester or two to learn self-discipline. My class is challenging but it isn’t difficult to pass if the student actually does the assignments. Ariel didn’t do the assignments.

“She said she did,” said Mrs. P.

Well, she didn’t.

“She says you lost them,” said Mrs. P.

No, she never turned them in. I’ve never lost a student paper and besides, they’re supposed to keep back-up copies on disks in case there’s ever a question. She could have turned in a back-up. If she’d done them. Which she didn’t.

Mrs. P. continued to argue, working herself into a real lather, insisting that I was somehow at fault for her daughter’s failure to complete five of the seven assignments in the class. I didn’t feel like talking anymore, so I told the woman that as far as I was concerned the only reasonable solution was for Ariel to take the class over again and try to pass it. The F was a fair grade. I wasn’t changing it.

Fast-forward to the week after New Year’s, still a few days from the start of a new term. The head of the department, Dr. Frinck, asks me to meet him in his office. “What can you tell me about Ariel Prospero?” he says, squinting from behind smudged trifocals.

I go through the story in chronological order. I have brought in her grade card, with all my notes on it of days she arrived in class late, deadlines she missed and assignments she failed to do. He looked at it for several long moments, flicking the edges of the card with his fingernail.

“Well, the parents aren’t happy about this. They’ve gone to the top. The dean. The university president. They’re stirring up a real shit storm,” said Frinck. “They want a refund of tuition money.”

She flunked the class fair and square. You can see that for yourself, I told Frinck.

“You need to write me a memo,” said Frinck. “Detail the thought processes you use as you evaluate student work and what sorts of systems you utilize to calculate grades. Include any copies of student papers that you gave high grades to, with names redacted, of course. Attach a copy of the syllabus. Have three copies of the memo and supporting documents on my desk by tomorrow morning, will you?”

I wrote the memo, the first of three I’d be asked to write for Frinck, the dean and the provost.

Next came an early morning meeting with the dean a few days later. “How do you suggest we resolve this in a way that satisfies all parties?” she asked.

Very sneaky. The obvious answer is that I raise the girl’s grade to a passing D. They couldn’t request that outright, but the implication was clear. Do whatever is necessary to make this go away.

I decided on the spot that I wouldn’t change that F, even if it meant my job.

“They’re threatening to sue the university and you,” the dean said. “The mother says you discriminate against sorority girls.”

That’s odd, I said. The other sorority girls in that class made A’s and B’s.

The dean can be an intimidating old bird. There I was, sunk into a low-slung chair in her office atop the school of the arts. She occupies a poshly decorated inner sanctum decorated wall-to-wall with photos of her and various bigwigs from politics and the performing arts. I felt like the kitchen help being called on the carpet for stealing a turnip.

Look, an education isn’t something you buy, I told the dean. You don’t write the check and purchase good grades. You show up, do the work, take your lumps and your F’s, if you get them.

“How can we resolve this in a way that provides a rewarding educational experience for Ariel?” asked the dean.

Huh? Ariel had 15 weeks to have a rewarding educational experience in my class. She blew it.

I left the office with all the little hairs on the back of my neck quivering. So this is what it’s come to? A university administrator leans on a lowly adjunct to appease some rich, whiny parents who have the nerve to threaten legal action because their party-hearty daughter flunked a course? Shit, why not sell grades outright? Normal tuition for C’s. Another $5,000 for guaranteed B’s. Another $10K for A’s. The menu method. Already parents assume that writing the tuition check guarantees a degree. And their little grade-grubbing offspring spend weeks, sometimes months, nagging professors to raise grades by as little as half a point so “I can get into law school/grad school/whatever.” They will argue like Perry Mason over every mark on every assignment, looking for loopholes. Let’s just stop the charade of grades altogether. A’s all around for those who can afford it.

Still more. Part 3 to come.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Double trouble

Here’s what I remember about Ariel. When she came to class, she came late and sat in the desk closest to the door. Her thick, shaggy blond bangs hung down over her eyes, almost to the end of her nose. She dressed in layers of baggy things – sweats over sorority jerseys with the hood crunched up high around her neck. She wore wire-rimmed glasses that were barely visible under cascades of hair.

Ariel never volunteered a word in class. If I called on her, she’d shrug her shoulders and try to disappear beneath those bangs. If ever a girl wanted to be invisible, it was Ariel.

The first assignment in the beginning writing class is always due the second week of the semester. It’s the “Convince me you’re interesting” essay that’s meant to let me see what kind of writers (and people) they are. It’s also the one and only time they’re allowed to write in the first person, though many continue to anyway on all the assignments. I’m not sure some students really know what “first person” means.

Anyway, Ariel didn’t turn in her essay. Didn’t turn in the next one – an interview with an interesting person on campus – either. Or the next one – a short “spot news” story about a campus event. By the time midterm exams rolled around, Ariel had distinguished herself by being the only student in the class to have ignored each assignment. She also didn’t show up for the midterm. I asked the girls who sat closest to her if they knew why she was absent on test day. “Who?” they said. They didn’t even remember what she looked like.

After midterm, with eight weeks left in the semester, she continued to underwhelm. I tried several times to catch her eye at the end of the 80-minute session, so I could talk to her about why she was falling so far behind. But her spot near the door provided swift escape.

Now remember this is college. Unlike high school, we higher ed types aren’t supposed to nag students about their homework. We don’t brook excuses and have little patience with non-performers. It’s really not up to us to chase after those students who are failing a class to find out what’s the matter. If they want to ask for help, that’s different. But any student who has blown off every single assignment by the time midterm arrives is usually a hopeless cause. Better to save the energy for the ones who actually do the work. As many profs told me over the years, “Teach to the top five students in class, not to the bottom five.”

Toward the end of the semester, instead of writing more stories, they were to do oral presentations. Go out and report, using all the skills they'd learned to that point, but do stand-up accounts of the finished stories instead of putting them on paper. The class, some of whom were considering majoring in broadcast journalism, was enthusiastic. All but Ariel, who looked terrified as I wrote the specifics on the dry-erase board.

The day arrived for them to take to their feet and present their reportage. I expected Ariel to skip class, but instead, there she was in her usual seat by the door a few minutes before classtime, a first. She was dressed neatly in a slim beige suede skirt, beige boots and a dark brown cashmere sweater. Her hair was slicked back in a sleek ponytail. She had on makeup and earrings and wasn’t wearing her glasses.

“Ariel? Is that you?” I asked. The class seemed to notice her for the first time.

She just giggled and shrugged.

When I called her name to make a presentation, I was shocked to see her pop right out of her seat and take her place at the podium in the front of the room.

“My report is called `Adventures in Babysitting: How to Get a Part-Time Nanny Job.’”

I was astonished. She was talking. She was prepared. She had a thick stack of pink index cards in front of her and as she flipped through them, she gave a thorough and interesting report of the ins and outs of taking care of rich people’s kids in the high-dollar neighborhood surrounding campus. She even offered a "Top 10 List" of tips, including "Never, ever be alone with the dad."

“Good work, Ariel!” I said, joining the class in applauding her report. “You’re like a different person today.”

I thought maybe she’d emerged from her cocoon. Maybe it was possible for her to pass the class after all. Before she left the room that day, I blocked her exit. “Come see me during office hours Thursday and let’s talk about how you can make up those missed papers,” I said. “Can you be in my office at 10 a.m.?”

“Sure,” she said, smiling brightly. “I’ll be there.”

She wasn’t there. Thursday’s office hours came and went and so did Thursday’s class. Ariel was a no-show. On Tuesday, she slid into class late as before, dressed in her usual collection of haphazard gymwear. She looked hung over and kept pulling at her bangs.

Fast-forward to finals week. The last big assignment was another stand-up report, a longer one, multi-sourced. As each student presented his or her topic, the others were to act as reporters, asking questions to the student at the podium to see if he or she could confidently back up facts and figures. A practice press conference.

Once again, there was Ariel, early for the class, dressed in a smart navy skirt with a pale gray blazer and pink silk shirt. She had her hair in a tight chignon and her cheeks were lightly dusted with powder and blusher. No glasses.

This time her report was on Adderall abuse on campus and the rampant theft of prescription drugs from students by other students. She had her facts straight, her sources were strong and she gave everyone a well-prepared handout of statistics about the dangers of using other people’s prescription drugs. An A-plus job.

She earned another round of applause from her classmates. Amazing.

Days later as I totaled up the students’ grades for the term, I felt my stomach knot up as I flipped to Ariel’s grade card. Of the seven assignments, she’d done only two. She hadn’t turned in a single written paper. The only things she’d really made any effort to complete were those oral reports. Excellent work on those, sure. But I had no choice, given her failure to do anything else. I typed an F next to her student ID number on the grade roster.

I hate flunking a kid. These days you have to be damn sure they deserve to be flunked. I know profs who’ve had to go to legal mediation with students and their parents over grades of B’s and C’s. An F? You have to defend it with a paper trail longer than Woodward and Bernstein’s. There are memos in triplicate if a student challenges the grade. Meetings with department heads and deans. Students throw a fit if you give an A-minus.

But I was confident as I typed in that F for Ariel. Who could argue with it? Doing two of seven assignments, plus skipping the midterm, that’s a no-brainer.

Little did I know what lay ahead. I’d be seeing a lot more of Ariel in the future.

You’ll have to come back for the rest of this story.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Student unions

OK, who has stories about extracurricural cuddling in odd places on campus (not just the one I write about)? I know there must be some good bits of tid about canoodling under the bleachers or a little exchange of fluids in some chemistry lab. Do tell, do tell.

The closest I came to sex on school property in recent years was the time I ran into one of my grad school profs outside the student union on a Saturday morning. I'm not sure he meant to do it, but instead of reaching out to shake my hand to say howdy, he grabbed my right boob and gave it a quick squeeze. Way to cop a feel, doc.

Back in my college days -- when we entertained ourselves on weekends by weaving lyrics of Leonard Cohen songs into macrame wall hangings -- they had just eliminated the curfew from the dorms. I had a slutty roommate for a while who dragged in a series of guys who looked like rejects from the Spahn Ranch. My suitemate took a bus to the army base on Friday nights to meet horny soldiers about to be shipped to Vietnam. Me? Other than a few torrid makeouts with very cute and rather hairy young actors in the scene shop at the theater (I was a drama major... don't you laugh now), I didn't get much action till later. College boys were just so... unevolved.

I do remember one rather dishy undergrad named David that I had a huge crush on after he played Tony in West Side Story. What a performance. He sang and danced like a pro and swooped Maria up in this gorgeous lift during the "One Hand, One Heart" number. David had curly blond hair, a sexy overbite and eyes the color of acid-washed Jordache jeans. He barely knew I existed, so when I followed him all over campus... OK, stalking is what we call it now. I figured out his class schedule and always managed to be standing outside Northrup Hall when he was headed to the Refectory (or the "Rat Factory") for lunch and dinner. I vaguely remember leaving a gooey Valentine tucked under the windshield of his apple red Pacer. I didn't even sign it. (I had to evolve, too... and stop acting like Pippi Longstocking.)

A few years ago I Googled him to see if he'd fulfilled his dream of stardom. He has his own website. He's a plastic surgeon in Cincinnati. I'll bet he does a gorgeous lift.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Tea and buns

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is one of the spiciest bits of campus lore 'round these parts.

For many years an upper floor of a certain campus library was renowned as a "tea house" for anonymous sexual encounters among gay men. Custodians would routinely happen upon scenes of earnest rogering and all-out bun-baring buggery in the men's room up there. Two of the stalls featured "glory holes" designed for faceless frontal fun.

After yet another incident of someone walking in on college boys (or whomever) acting out scenes from Krafft-Ebbing, the student newspaper would always take special pains to over-explain precisely what glory holes were and how they were used (their favorite phrase was "fist-sized opening at waist level," which I wasn't sure referred to the hole in the stall divider or some gaping human orifice.)

A gay website once featured the library's loo as the primo "tea room" in the area (ambience: 10; parking: 2; proximity to Oscar Wilde shelf: 8). There were reports of new glory holes opening up in bathroom stalls in the student union, a science building, a computer center and the basement of one of the auditoriums. If one believed the scuttlebutt, there was more boy-on-boy action going on than at an Elton John pool party.

Campus police were always quick to dub the participants they caught sticking it to each other among the stacks as "unaffiliated men," as though it were unthinkable that any young scholars would engage in such unspeakable acts. Oh, no. Not here.

Only two male students felt confident enough to out themselves openly in my classes over a period of 15 years. They both wrote first-person stories about being verbally fag-bashed and otherwise mistreated by classmates, male and female. One was kicked out of the big frat that he'd pledged when he revealed to his new "brothers" that he was HIV-positive.

For all their sophistication and worldly attitudes, undergrads here can be surprisingly close-minded about homosexuality. Last year I had students fill out a questionnaire asking them to rate their personal attitudes toward different types of people they would feel comfortable or uncomfortable interviewing one-on-one as journalists.

The No. 1 choice under "extremely uncomfortable" was "out lesbian."

No. 2 was "out gay man."

No 3 was a tie between "convicted child molester" and "suspected terrorist."

Glory be.

No news of any tea parties popping up anywhere on campus in the last couple of years. As a grad student for the past three, I spent an awful lot of time reading and note-scribbling on the top floor in the main library. I liked the good chairs and the nice view at night of the lights on nearby highrises. Sometimes I'd sit up there for three or four hours and never see another human being -- not a librarian, not a security guard, certainly not another student hunting for a book or a quiet place to study. Didn't see any cruise-y boys either.

Guess the tea house is no 'mo. Sic transit glory hole mundi.

Friday, June 03, 2005

A weekend aside

You don't know much about me. That's intentional. Until the recent media blitz, I was happy to remain cloaked in a pseudonym. I like to be the observer, not the observed.

But in these marvelous, inspiring, funny, touching and thoroughly humbling emails I am getting every day -- this week the Ivy League discovered the blog -- you're asking questions. So with your indulgence, I'll share a couple of things and then on Monday I'll resume regular bidness.

Shoot, if you read all these posts, you get a pretty good idea who's behind the mask. No surprise, I'm sure, to learn that I listen to Al Franken on Air America almost every weekday. I read Romenesko, Gawker, Defamer, Slate, the NYT and Page Six. I consider Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat) a hero and Molly Ivins a goddess.

After spending years hanging out in movie and TV studios and Hollywood backlots for interviews, I'm a slave to pop culture and showbiz gossip. Has Tom Cruise lost his last marble? Why did Katie Holmes go up the crick without a clue? Why does Oprah wear so much orange? And does she really expect her viewers to read THREE Faulkner novels as they bake on the beach this summer?

I love Mario Cantone's stand-up, the first 20 minutes of Regis & Kelly, the last five minutes of Jeopardy! and every minute of What Not to Wear (on BBC-America, not TLC). This week I wallowed in Beauty and the Geek on The WB and the new ballroom dance reality show on ABC. I've seen every episode of every Real World (RW: Austin starts in three weeks and I've already blocked out everything else that night). This morning I stopped everything to watch the luminous Luise Rainer in the 1938 black and white weeper Dramatic School on Turner Classics. Playing a bit part: a teenage Lana Turner.

Last week I reviewed Cathy Rigby in the touring production of Peter Pan and clapped wildly to bring Tinkerbell back to life. Next week, it's The Producers, which features its own big fairy, Carmen Ghia. This Sunday I'll hunker down with a plate of Chinese takeout to watch the Tony Awards.

Fave reading material: Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (with whom I once got deliciously loaded on margaritas in the only gay bar open on a Sunday night in Columbus, Ohio). Hardly anyone has read A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley or Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver by Jack Douglas. They're worth finding. In a grad school class last year, I went mad for Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Mrs. Dalloway. Lately I've liked Freakonomics and Blink. I want to reread All the President's Men (my first edition is signed by both Woodward and Bernstein... if the house catches fire, it's the first thing I'll grab).

Spinning in rotation on my CD player are the cast album of Wicked, Beck's Guero and my friend Gary Floyd's sumptuous Unbound.

As for my writing schedule, since someone asked... If I can think up enough errands to keep me out of the house, I won't start work until late in the day. I prefer writing in the middle of the night with talk radio on. And if there are no Diet Cokes in the fridge when I sit down at the keyboard, I get as twitchy as Patty Duke jonesing for reds in Valley of the Dolls.

I have a dog. She's a 15-year-old Aussie Shepherd with what the vet calls "end of life issues." She's on pain meds but sometimes they wear off too soon and I become Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment getting frantic until the nurses give Debra Winger the morphine. Last night was a rough one. For three hours I had an ailing doggie in my lap as we both sat on the floor till after 1 a.m. She was aching and crying. I was crying. I finally thought, what the hell, and fed her half a can of the wet food she loves, with an extra pain pill stuck into one big bite. (If I thought it would soothe her, I'd eat the dog food.) She calmed down and fell asleep. She's rested peacefully all day and enjoyed a huge dinner.

Funny how having a sick member of the family -- a four-legged one -- can refocus priorities.

Enough about me now. Keep those emails coming. In the middle of the night, with a sweet old dog snoring in my lap, they really help.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Welcome back, ye olde prairie skirt

Let us now praise whatever fashion gods have deemed the ankle-grazing prairie skirt the dernier cri of summer chic. At last, modest clothing returns to the racks and to the backs of college girls everywhere.

Each semester, I marveled at whatever saucy new trend had been dictated to the fashion-obsessed undergrads. Inevitably they would turn up for class decked out in nearly identical versions of the latest look. Like a secret memo had gone out to the sorority houses: "Burn all black velour Juicy Couture. Must haves: denim minis, pastel Polos, Jimmy Choos with kitten heels. Wearing of knock-offs will result in strictest punishment."

Last winter the prevailing look was a perplexing ensemble indeed: Baby pink or pale blue Uggs (ugly boots that make even the thinnest gams look like hamhocks), flouncy mini-skirts and cashmere or heavy cotton hoodies. In lieu of the mini-flounce, the tiny faded denim skirt with a ragged-chewed hem was acceptable, in gynecologically dangerous sizes. God, those skirts were short. So, I thought as I watched the legions of leggy lasses file out of the lecture halls and into the icy January wind, they want to keep their chests and feet warm, but they let their Brazilian-waxed nether regions freeze. Maybe they wore little mink thongs under there.

I was never fond of the towel dress either. That was the yellow or lime green Juicy tube, strapless, very short. During summer school, I was assigned a classroom with notoriously brisk air conditioning. Some days the digital thermostat registered 62 degrees. Meat locker cold. After an hour or two, the rows of revealing terry tubetops and towel dresses turned into hard-nipple city. Turkey's done! Headlights on!

During the apex of the Juicy phase, one set of greeks favored the tightest possible black versions, with the pullover extending just to the top of the bellybutton, the better to let the diamond stud wink from within the innies. With their scary-thin figures, long streaky ponytails and Chanel sunglasses, it was nearly impossible to tell one from another. A herd of hungry Heathers.

And the guys? There were so few in the classes I taught -- 20 females to every 2 males -- it was hard to discern trends. The Brads (the gender opposite of the Ashleys) favored baggy shorts, flipflops (even in winter), team jerseys, Polos. Facial hair = out. Year-round tans = in. These boys log so much time on tanning beds, they should get frequent fryer miles.

So I say welcome back, prairie skirt. I still have several from the first time they were in. Just like everything else that was popular when I was in college, it all comes back eventually, tighter and more expensive.

Hang onto those Uggs, girls. When you're 30, they'll be vintage and desirable. But those teeny-weeny minis? You can safely dispose of those along with the notes you took in Intro to Mass Media. Take that as gospel from a survivor of the humiliating "Hot Pants" era. Fashion trends may come and go. But your upper thighs will never again look as good as they do right this minute.