In lieu of an actual coherent posting, and with the crashing roof that is the end of the semester over my head, I offer a series of vignettes from my recent life, some parables for other things, some just random moments as the term grinds crushingly to an end.
Marking On my coffee table sit two neat piles, one composed of stapled essays on white paper, the other of 8.5 by 11 blue books, my final marking for the semester. Have I ever told you how I absolutely loathe grading? If I had my druthers, I would give oral examinations and call it a day, in an office with overstuffed chairs and a low wooden table in between, where the tea set could rest. I hate grading so much that I have to be careful about assigning overly demanding assessments in the middle of term, only then to take weeks and weeks to return them to students due to procrastination and loathing. So, I give in-class examinations or weekly quizzes to relieve the burden, and save it all up for the end. For although I may detest the work of marking, simultaneously I am old fashioned, and have some pretty conventional ideas for student assessment (i.e. essay, formal examination, etc.). I wrote the in-class final for one of my courses without really thinking about it, and was shocked when my students worked through the entire 4-hour testing period, with only a handful leaving before time was called. This made me think, afterward, that perhaps the examination was too rigorous. I wouldn’t be able to say with any certainty yet, as they remain neatly stacked on my coffee table, while I have spent considerable time re-reading one of my favourite science fiction novels from my youth, a delightful tale of a comet hitting the planet and the subsequent end of civilisation. Is there a connection here?
Feeling Old Tonight I drove out of Cold City to visit Feminist Professor (now retired), an old friend of Philosopher Mom, who was in Cold State to have a hip replacement. We had a middling dinner at a small diner near their hotel, a wonderful example of fifties multi-story hotel architecture whose interior had positively been ruined by the banal sensibility of contemporary motel interior decoration. From the outside, with its angles, planes, small blue ceramic tiles, and motel name in period font, one had a brief vision of Tippi Hedron, always looking gorgeous, whether she was clacking along the streets of San Francisco in her high heels or rowing a boat across Bodega Bay (Check it out: she rows that boat a looooong way, and at the end has not only not broken out into a sweat, but every hair is in place. Viva Aqua Net!). In any event, once entering, one might as well have been staying at the Radisson: the rooms have been horribly redone in taupe, with kitsch framed prints, hideous curtains, and fake (taupe, natch) headboards bolted to the walls. After dinner, we returned to the taupe nightmare for a long conversation on the profession, a ferocious argument with her partner about Venezuela and Cuba, and finally a felt good-bye, before which I helped rearrange Feminist Professor back in bed. She was so tiny and frail, and all of a sudden I felt very old, a quick vision of my own mother, wherever she might be, and me, two years away from forty. All grown up after all, it was not a comfortable feeling. Earlier this week, I saw my ophthalmologist about an eye problem while working on the computer late at night, sure I had some sort of horrible condition. After examining my dilated eyes, he pronounced me in excellent health, and when queried about my vision “problem,” replied that I was almost forty. Ouch! That hurt. On the long drive back into Cold City, I listened to eighties pop on my iPod, Everything But the Girl, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, Alison Moyet, Aztec Camera and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and remembered where and who I was when I first heard those songs, long ago.
On the Lake Recently, the lake in the park near my house has frozen over. Although we are now in a warming trend (which here means the 30s), the past couple of weeks have been rather frigid, nothing sub-zero but single digits, and already the denizens of Cold Place are itching for ice fishing, ice skating, and all the other winter wonderland accoutrements that historically have defined life here, as the sun dips lower in the sky, giving the perpetual feel of afternoon even at 12 noon. But Cold Place is under the aegis, as we all are, of global warming, and our winters have gotten decidedly milder over the last twenty years. I walked on this lake last winter with Mr. Gordo on a frightfully cold day, and the lake was frozen for three weeks, maximum, not even enough time for the city to set up its annual ice rink. The warming house, in reality a portable bungalow, sat forlorn and unused for three months until finally hauled away at the end of the season. Last week, in the last spate of frigid weather, I walked along the shore and saw several ice fisherman gathered around ice holes, the logic of this practice somewhat of a mystery. Over the weekend, I sat on a bench reading the aforementioned sci-fi delight under a 40-degree sun and without a hat, while children ice-skated across the lake, which I found to be slightly disarming. Personally, both as a cautious person and as a Westerner, I tend to be careful when choosing to finally venture out onto the ice. But nobody fell in (at least no one I could see), although I did see on our local news website footage of someone who, a couple of weeks ago, had gotten perhaps too enthusiastic and ventured out too far, only to have to be rescued by the Fire Department. Lakes and ponds here always have rescue skiffs and signs warning of thin ice, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. What always strikes me about winter in a Cold Place is the sheer exotic nature of it for me: the wild idea that the lake will eventually freeze solid and then you can walk across it, like a sort of Arctic Jesus, except without the bells and whistles.
Christmas Shopping I will be traveling soon to Big Eastern City to spend Christmas with Mr. Gordo and the Beautiful Lisa, then they will be decamping to Venezuela the New Year while I will be heading north to Montréal. La Vicks was supposed to come up to Cold City for a day of shopping but since I haven’t heard from her, am presuming it is off (or perhaps not: once, she had the nerve to cold call from a local mall out of the blue and invite me for lunch. Um, hello, forethought!). I don’t really buy many gifts: something for Mr. Gordo, the Beautiful Lisa, El Babycito and his parents, maybe something for Big Sis and The Printmaker (the last notoriously difficult). I did have something practical in mind for La Vicks and Ms. Clinique (It is always amazing what queens will NOT have in their homes). For years, I hated Christmas with a passion, and had a recurring fantasy of leaving the country for some place with no Christmas trees, no obligatory carols playing in the background like white noise, no red ribbons and cutesy decorations at every turn. Now, I feel mostly dispassion. Whatev. Mr. Gordo is somewhat big on Christmas, although the one year we actually went all out with a real tree and wrapped presents, he was called away to Caracas suddenly due to a family tragedy and I had Christmas alone, which only served as a reminder to not do Christmas. In any event, it will all be over in three weeks or so.
My New Phone The tendency of my cell phone to randomly turn off and otherwise behave strangely finally prompted me to purchase a new one, a fancy Motorola Razr with all the mod cons that people seem to believe they need, which have turned the cell phone into a constantly obsolete gadget. What?! Your cell phone can’t cook dinner and mind the children, open the garage door and balance your checkbook? Time for the rubbish bin! Granted, it is nice, until the first, third, and fifth time I drop it on the sidewalk as I wrestle with the car door or try to slip it in my pocket as I light a cigarette. As I waded through the copious brochures and instruction guides that came with the phone, I wondered why most, if not all, cell phone advertisements focused on young, hip-looking people with fashionable haircuts faking multiple orgasms over their cell phones: laughing with mouths like caverns and perfect, incisor-like teeth, mugging for the camera in obviously staged set-ups, everyone blemish-free and beaming, like a cell phone was a really good retirement plan or they had just found a pensioner’s forgotten bag of grimy Benjamins, instead of a useful tool. I am reminded of the old ads for Newport cigarettes in the seventies and eighties, so low-grade that they became classics. You know the ones I am talking about, invariable multi-racial couples or groups of friends in some sort of freeze-frame of orgasmic joy, then cut and pasted against the Kelly green field with the lurid tag line: Alive with Pleasure! I like to smoke, and appreciate a cigarette, but would never mistake the orally fixated act of inhaling and exhaling, posing and gesturing with your cigarette, for sexual ecstasy. Does any smoker, really? Smoking is work, pleasurable at times, but hardly akin to white-water rafting. Everything I get from my cell phone provider has the same quality of pastiche, artifice, and ridiculousness. I, of course, am not immune to the pleasures and cachet of advertising. I guess I just want a little more fantastical potential than twenty-something slackers having a party every day. At least I haven’t graduated to the granny phone yet: The Jitterbug, the phone for the Greatest Generation. Perhaps this is a replacement for the Home Alert System (you know, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” yadda yadda yadda). With buttons as big as the lids of an extra large pillbox and very limited functionality, the ads promise that this phone is perfect for Mom! They even feature a dial tone, to reassure the infirm and clueless that yes, it is actually a phone. I remember when cell phones were status symbols, from the old big box phones of the eighties that gave you cancer, to the mid-nineties Nokias that every Dot com yuppie would sport with importance, when cell phones were still relatively rare. Now, they are so ubiquitous they must, I suppose on some level, come with the gadgetry (cameras, email, instant messaging, video, etc.) just to keep up with boredom.