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Monday, September 22, 2003

Baby Get Back

In Other News...

I received photos this week from a friend who recently had a new baby. Well, not photos, but a link to a page of electronic images. We are living in the New Millennium, after all. (In contrast to the New Jerusalem, which is New York City, according to Carly Simon.) And I suppose "a new baby" is redundant. Babies are, by their very nature, new, are they not?

What amazed me about these photos is not how beautiful the baby is (All babies are beautiful. First Law of Civilization. That's why we don't eat them.), but that I could not tear my eyes away. I looked through the set, and then looked through it again. And then again. I was like a forensic scientist, searching for some overlooked clue. The proud papa had sent an earlier set, several days prior, in which the infant looked like Zippy the Pinhead with mottled flesh and a balloon animal tied to his umbilical stump. I was somewhat less fascinated by those pix, but still had to look through them several times.

The notion of my ogling baby photos is only a surprise if, say, you know me. My take on children has always been somewhat Fieldsian. ("Do you like children?" "I do if they're properly cooked.") I'm still no fan of the ragamuffins once they reach the age of ten or so, unless they are extraordinarily well behaved, and in general find the combination of children and enclosed places (public transportation, restaurants, grade school) a rather explosive mix. But in recent years my friends have begun to reproduce, and my attitude toward their offspring, and children in general, has changed,

"Mellowed" is the word that would spring immediately mind, were it not egregiously incorrect. In some ways I may have mellowed, but in most I am more cranky then ever before. I have not softened in my attitude toward children; I am as active as ever, but in the opposite direction. I am captivated by them. I allow them to climb on me like Good Dog Carl. I read to them and play with them gleefully. I hoist them into the air until I am exhausted. (Granted, this doesn't take long.) I am like one of those portly grandmothers who threaten to devour them. None of this is very pretty.

And the children sense this. They fling themselves at me - frequently pummeling me with their toys - until their parents are forced to pull them away for everybody's safety.

One friend says this comes as no surprise to him. As he explains it, "Children are so out there. And so are you." Take that as you will. Granted, I am likely to be the loudest person in the room who is not a child. And I have more toys in my house than any childless man in his 40s ought. And I do revel in offering the children somewhat anarchistic suggestions, just to see what they will do.

But while that may explain why they take to me, it doesn't explain why I have suddenly taken to them. It may be a result of the fact that I am unlikely to ever have any of my own. Playing with other peoples' children is like renting: I get the benefit of a home with little of the expense and none of the upkeep. Small children share certain characteristics with pets: they offer unconditional love, with the added advantage of eventually being able to use the toilet on their own. I may be facing my own mortality, and seeking a new generation to ease me into my grave. And like those hungry hungry grandmas, I may be seeking to leech, vampire like, off the fresh blood and endless energy of the young.

Mmm, childlicious.

In any case, I'll be the middle aged guy you see looking through the Gunds for the perfect pick. Or rifling through the shelves at Women & Children First, tossing aside volumes that don't live up to my standards. This is my second - or possibly fourth - childhood, after all. If I want to play with toys, who's going to stop me?

Friday, September 19, 2003

Bad Communication

Imagine my surprise. An all new Reader.

I expect many of you have been wondering if this day would ever come. After all, it's been a good four weeks since the last all-new edition, and two weeks since the last all-old edition. What happened?

Funny you should ask.

As you know, I've been teaching at Wright College, one of the Chicago City Colleges, for the past year. Wright is named after Wilbur, not Frank Lloyd, though Wright's connection to Chicago is tenuous at best, based primarily on his correspondence with one Octave Chanute, who advised him on where to buy wood (spruce, from Keith Lumber Co., Cor. 14th & Wood Sts.), among other things. No matter. I started teaching at Wright in a roundabout manner which I shall not repeat here. At first I taught Writing, but once it was decided that I was not eligible to do so, I was shifted over to Speech. At the end of last semester, I was only offered one class for the fall, due to excessive faculty. I was unsure of whether or not I would return, since the pay for one course barely covers transportation time, but come August, with little else on the horizon, I decided why not.

Friday, August 22, not coincidentally the date of the last new Reader, I received a call from Karol Bayley - a woman, not the Pope, though God knows why she spells her name that way - from Northeastern Illinois University. In truth, I received two calls from Karol Bayley, one at 1:15 and another a half hour later. I was not home for either call. Apparently she ran through her list of names before she called me back and left a message. No surprise, since she was looking for someone to teach a Communication class (Speech without the speeches) that started ... the following Monday.

A bit of background. When I started at Wright, it was because I got an email on a Friday to ask if I could start teaching ... the following Tuesday. Monday was Labor Day. Northeastern starts the week before Labor Day. Since it took a couple of email exchanges to nail down the job at Wright, I was unable to get the textbooks or sample syllabi until an hour before my first class met. Now I found myself in a similar situation at Northeastern. I also had some qualms about taking the job because it meant I would be teaching five days a week, which would make it difficult to pick up other freelance work, which would be necessary in order to survive on an adjunct faculty salary. But since my prospects were particularly grim at that time, and since I enjoy teaching and am good at it, and since the classes were all early morning ones, I decided to take the job.

If I could track down Karol Bayley. I called her at home Friday evening and spoke to a rather confused man of indiscriminate age - husband? son? paramour? - who didn't know where she was or when she'd be home. I left my name and number and asked that she call me the next day. When she didn't call me the next day, I called her back. This time I did speak to Karol, who, it turned out, could tell me nothing about the class. More and more I began to suspect that she was the department secretary who had the job of rounding up eleventh hour faculty dropped into her lap. She got my name from Maria, the head of the Speech program at Wright, who used to teach at Northeastern. (See how this all comes together?) In any case, it was Saturday, classes were set to begin on Monday, and I still had no idea what I was going to go teaching. Karol was planning to go into work that day, as she had things to get done before the semester started. I asked her to call me when she got in, saying I would meet her there to at least pick up the textbook and possibly a syllabus or two. She agreed.

About 6 that evening I got a call explaining that she did not go into work that day, but really really had to do so the next day. I asked her to call m in the morning.

About 10 Sunday morning I got a call from Karol saying she was definitely going in to school that day, and would be there by the crack of 11:30. I said I'd meet her there.

12:30 found me wandering around the deserted Northeastern campus, looking for the Fine Arts building. Northeastern Illinois University looks like something a Soviet bloc nation erected on a good day. The buildings bear such fanciful names as Building A, Building B, Building C (and so on, up to F), and the building where I teach, the Classroom Building. The two distinctive structures are the library and the administration building. Go figure. So at high noon (well, half past) on a blazing hot Sunday, I was wandering the empty parking lots from red brick building to red brick building, playing the architectural version of "Are You My Mother?" I was not as lost as I could have been, having had the foresight to check out a map of the campus before I left, and having had the sense to ask Karol where she would be. ("Oh, I guess I should tell you that.") She was in the Fine Arts Center, which, from the outside, looks no different than Building B or E. I managed to flag down a campus patrol car, the occupants of which informed me that, 1) the building I thought was the Fine Arts Center was indeed the Fine Arts Center, and 2) it would be locked, as were all the buildings that Sunday before classes started. I would need to go to the ambitiously named Public Safety Building to see if Karol was at school (God willin' and the crick don't rise) and get buzzed in. The photo on the Public Safety page of Northeastern's website seems to show three security guards breaking into a car. The boys in blue are apparently doing their job, since Safety and Security Information Report figures for 2001, the latest year available, indicate that with the exception of 2 motor vehicle thefts and 1 drug law violation, the only crime throughout the Northeastern system is burglary, with 11 at the main campus and 15 on public property.

So at long last I found myself face to face with Karol Bayley, who is, indeed, the department secretary. She is not in the tradition of the underpaid staffers who get everything done. Though given what gets done at Northeastern, she may be a Godsend. She is a lifer, having been there for 17 years and still not knowing what the classes are about. She found a copy of the textbook - not a teacher's edition, as such things appear not to exist at Northeastern, but no matter - and one syllabus. Of another adjunct who had just started teaching there as well, but who was no doubt the most recent instructor to turn in her paperwork. With some cajoling, Karol did manage to scrape up another syllabus, from a full timer who had been teaching the class for a few years. My question of whether there was a department syllabus for the course was met with dumb surprise. When I explained that at Wright, all the courses had approved departmental syllabi which adhered to state standards and thus guaranteed their funding, she admitted that they, too, probably had similar standards, but she had no idea what they were or where to find them. I filled out all the requisite paperwork, and having thoughtfully brought with me such items as my PDA (for next of kin information), and my ID and Social Security card, I was good to go.

The point of all this is that I spent the week of August 25 reviewing the text, writing my syllabus, and faking my way through the first week of classes. By the time Thursday came along, I was beat.

Especially since by the time Wednesday came along, I was teaching a second class at Wright as well. Adjuncts in the City Colleges can teach up to three classes on one campus, and four (I believe) within the system. By the time I started at Northeastern, I was scheduled to teach one, an 8 am Speech class. This was a particularly gruesome prospect, as it takes anywhere from 60 to 75 minutes to get from my house to Montrose and Narragansett, on the far northwest side (further west than north) of the city. As it turns out, at the 7 o'clock hour the trip is generally speedier, which turned out to be a huge relief. But no matter. My other choice for a class had been at 7:30 in the evening, and the morning class seemed more practical - considering I wasn't sure I was going to keep the class anyway. When I confirmed with Maria, the head of Speech, that I would indeed be returning in the fall - a confirmation I was forced to initiate, since August had come and nearly gone with nary a word from her regarding the impending semester - she informed me that Nancy, the head of adjuncts in English, had told her that Chuck Guengerich, the president of the college, had made the Solomonic decision that I was once again eligible to teach writing. Just the 102 course, but no matter. Are you following this? So I contacted Nancy and told her that I was available and interested, and just under a week before classes started she offered me a course. And by the way, the textbook has changed, so you need to pick that up. So my first week teaching at Northeastern concluded with me going to Wright to pick up a new textbook and fill out paperwork for a second course.

Thus, in less than a week, I had gone from teaching one class (or none) to three, one of which I had taught before, one of which I had taught a year ago using a different textbook, and one of which was new. So I spent the week of Labor Day reviewing the new text, writing my syllabi, and faking my way through the first week of classes at Wright and the second week at Northeastern. By the time Thursday came along, I was beat, but at least had the energy to send out a rerun.

Last week I was just beat. Or empty. I had some time on Thursday, and actually sat down to write, but was seduced by video solitaire instead. After a week of squeezing my brains dry in three separate classrooms, I had nothing left for you, my faithful readers.

Now, perhaps, the drought is over. I've got my classes somewhat under control. (Although I never did write the assignment sheet for the paper I said I was going to assign my Communication class this week.) I've had an opportunity to read something other than textbooks. I've left my house for reasons other than going to school. The well is beginning to refill.

I'm not making promises, but I'll do my best.