Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Top Five

Long week. Student conferences. Grading papers. Pointless homework (tell me exactly how I'm supposed to write anything meaningful about segregation in under 150 words, I beg you). And I started taking Spanish today. All this after blowing away a perfectly good weekend by getting drunk both nights and playing Karaoke Revolution until 4am on Saturday, after the six hours of drinking and darts (where I proceeded to throw no less than six bull's eyes in one game, and yet still lost. I shall never play that well again.). Still, I have no regrets, especially since I got to witness the musical talents of a certain Renaissance scholar who I'll call The Wedding Singer, due to an eerie resemblance to Adam Sandler's vocal stylings in that movie.

Today was an extra fun day in History today, and I think we're right on the cusp of the Cold War finally. Some offerings from the Prof:

-"This says I'm the professor and you're not. Power! Colored chalk!"
-"I'm a Republican. What's a little starvation now and then?"
-"I see pollution, I see jobs!"

Today's invitation to the readers: What are your top five songs they need to add to Karaoke Revolution? (If you're unfamiliar with the game, then what are your all-time, top five, too drunk to care how silly you look, karaoke songs?) Mine are as follows, which reveals just how white I really am:

1. "Don't Stop Believing" - Journey
2. "Makin' Love Out of Nothing at All" - Air Supply
3. "Build Me Up, Buttercup" - The Foundations (the song and I have a complicated history)
4. "Holding Out For a Hero" - Bonnie Tyler (memories of Short Circuit 2 fill me with glee)
5. "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" - Meat Loaf (the full 11 minute version, of course)

Close, but not quite on the top five:
"Somebody to Love" - Queen
"Tiny Dancer" - Elton John
"Come Sail Away" - Styx
"It's Friday, I'm in Love" - The Cure (shout out to Hubris, who first played me the song, then proceeded to sing it so loudly [along with Brownsox and a carful of people] that I couldn't understand one word)
"With or Without You" - U2
"It's Not Unusual" - Tom Jones

The list could go on and on. And of course, like any good tenor, the immortal "Let's Get It On" is high in consideration, excluded only by the fact that I know I don't have enough soul to do it properly. Such is the true curse of being me.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Will wonders never cease...

Quick post. Turns out that this man here is shooting for a spot on the US World Cup team, and did quite nicely today with a hattrick against Norway. I hope he gets it, too. I haven't actually seen him play soccer since we graduated high school together, but it'll give me something to root for. If, you know, I actually had cable and could watch soccer.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Of Mice and Mormons

I hope to include in subsequent posts random quotes from my crazy history prof. This post's quote, from Tuesday: "This is Wisconsin. Embrace your heritage and drive irresponsibly. Hell, the Attorney General and half the legislature drive drunk, why not you?"

I had planned to write a long, brilliant post discussing the ways in which the movement of American History in the 2oth century is masterfully captured in the progression of the Rocky movies. However, today was somewhat surreal, and I feel the need to organize my thoughts (and give you, good reader, reason to consider exactly what type of life I'm leading here in Madison). The following diatribe is quite long, so reader be warned.

Upon wakening, I sat down to check my e-mail, prevented from taking my first-thing shower through the evil machinations of the people upstairs, who saw fit to also take a shower at 7 am, denying me the hot water necessary. Thus, it was in a somewhat sleep-addled state that I beheld my houseguest, a small brown mouse, scurrying away back under my radiator, and thence to some unseen hole. Now, I was not so much upset by the mouse's decision to invade my home (though I do question his choice in that I have no food in the apartment for him to steal, what with my poverty), as I was with the sheer untimeliness of his visit, with it being far before the customary calling hours (as firmly established in Victorian times in the case of Woodhouse v. Murdstone). My mother taught me never to tolerate rudeness, lest it breed, and therefore I have declared unholy war upon the vermin. Look for further chronicles of our terrible and glorious combat in posts to come.

Now, the presence of a mouse in my apartment, in a bizarre representation of my scarred psyche, immediately brings to mind my mother's constant admonitions that if I don't keep my apartment clean, I shall attract vermin. Ordinarily I would do what I normally do when I hear my mother's voice, which is take a hit off my brandy sword and then write a blog post (hence this missive and the depleted supply of brandy left in my sword). However, such actions would be uncouth at 7am, and as I am a gentleman drunkard, I could not violate these rules. So instead, I silently commanded my mater to shut her yap, and proceeded to pick up all the garbage off my floor. On the plus side, I can see my floor again, which is welcome. I had traps from an earlier infestation, but no cheese with which to bait them. I then proceeded to the corner store to obtain the instrument of my furry companion's demise, only to discover it didn't open until after I had to catch the bus. In a gesture of futility, I placed the unbaited traps anyway. Needless to say, the mouse was not stupid enough to bite. To which I only reply, kudos, my friend. Kudos.

I made my way to campus, as today was the first Bagel Hour of the semester, and I had to set up. For my non-Madison friends, Bagel Hour is a time when we of the department can get together, drink coffee, eat bagels and doughnuts, and basically complain about what our students are doing. It's a weekly ritual, and I've been in charge of running it these past two years now. It's something I truly adore about every week. For you NU folk, think of it like our Friday morning movies. We seldom did anything truly worthwhile, but it was loads of fun. Sadly, this semester I cannot attend all of Bagel Hour (see my earlier post on the abuse of power), and I went to history class. Prof was still crazy and lots of fun, and we still haven't gotten to the end of WWII, despite the fact that it's been two weeks now, and that the class is supposed to cover history from 1945 to the present. (For those of you not quite up on world events, WWII was before that era.)

Still, with the loss of Bagel Hour, my day seems to have a void, and I feel I've spent the rest of the afternoon looking for something that I had lost. Oh, cruel fate, to separate me from my favorite non-drinking related activity.

After returning home, I proceeded to Walmart to purchase more mousetraps, as well as peanut butter with which to bait them (apparently it works better than cheese, or so say all my compatriots. English grad students, it seems, are often plagued by such vermin, and have many tried and true ways of eliminating them). While at that den of evil, I got to see an old man yell at the woman ahead of him and the cashier for apparently mixing his sacred purchases with her tainted ones. What the purpose behind such villany could be, I have no idea. Mayhap he suspected that he would end up paying for them, while this intricate con duo would utilize faster-than-sight techniques to re-place the goods in the woman's cart. Whatever the case, this scuffle turned into a shouting match between all three parties, and I left in disgust, cursing the store and the vermin that drove me there in the first place.

Later that afternoon, having relaxed with thoughts of imminent mouse death and just completing the new Stephen King novel, I was ambushed in my domicile by two Mormons. Now, I've been avoiding these people for weeks, having foolishly answered my door earlier this month and met them. I was horribly hung over, and I told them to come back later, scheduled an appointment, and gave them my phone number (the way my head was splitting I would have given them my credit card or the key to my parents' house if they would have only left me alone). Since then, I haven't been answering my doorbell or my phone, hoping they would take the hint and leave me alone. (I have alienated several of my friends this way, and left a very perplexed pizza delivery guy standing outside, I believe.) Sadly, Mormons apparently cannot take a hint, and I, believing myself about to get a care package from home (lousy parents and their promises of material goods), instead found two Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints standing outside.

Those who know me know that while I may be pretentious, outspoken, often obnoxious, and in many ways a borderline sociopath, I can't really be rude to strangers. So, resigning myself to a wasted hour, and thankful I was clothed and had spent the morning cleaning up my apartment (thanks, rodent), I invited them in. Now, I like to think of myself as openminded, based not on any ulterior motives, but rather on my colossal ignorance of matters outside my areas of expertise (if wise men say that the path to wisdom is acknowledging ignorance, then I'm one of the wisest folk out there). I have nothing (that I know of) against the Mormon faith (if they believe it, good for them, see you all in Heaven), or these individuals. I simply do not like to be bothered. I have specific times set aside contractually for being bothered. They're called office hours. Yet here they were, in my home, so I listened and spoke and ended up with a copy of the Book of Mormon and a newfound respect for my Catholic schooling, which, whatever the drawbacks, was I assume far superior to their Mormon schooling, which apparently left them convinced that the Protestant Reformation was sometime during the late 1700s or early 1800s. But more importantly, I am left with the question of what exactly do people like that do in their spare time? I'm not "hip" or "with it" or "cool" by any stretch of the imagination, and I do not know what cool people do with their time (I'm told it involves drinking, which I do, and illicit acts with members of the opposite sex in dark, smoky clubs, which I do not do). But these two gentlemen seemed the most awkward men I've ever met. Do they do normal things, too, like play video games, or watch movies, or anything mainstream? I assume they must, and yet I cannot picture it. Is the failure of my imagination? I simply don't know.

Now, as "Rock Me Amadeus" starts to play on my computer (my DSL service provides a radio-esque thing which is apparently tuned to my preferences, but I'm fairly certain I've never listed Falco as one of my top ten), I realize this is indeed a long post. So I'll wrap it up. The weirdness of the day was concluded with an extremely off-setting episode of Smallville, where a main character died, adding the final off-putting touch to today. Time to go read The Souls of Black Folk and come up with some way to teach my students how to write a coherent paragraph tomorrow. Hopefully tonight I'll hear the "snap" of death descending upon my unwelcome visitor. If not, other possible options suggested include using knives, an axe, a frying pan, guided missiles, or anything else from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Or, if all else fails, maybe my new Book of Mormon will have answers. Or I can throw it at the mouse.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Drifting Along With the Tumbling Tumbleweeds

A relatively short post, due to my increased workload. (Lengthy post promised later this week.)

While researching for a history paper, I came across the following ad in the May 1980 Sports Illustrated. A photo of a reputable looking chap in a three piece suit, handlebar mustache, watch-chain, and bowler hat, carrying a cane and holding a glass. Imagine some businessman out of the late 1800s Western USA, and you'll have a good image. Above this picture, the following quote, supposedly attributed to this gentleman:

"Jeremiah Weed? Don't mention that name to me...he still owes me $9,000."
-J. Frederick Sampson, President, Chicago & Ouray Railroad.

Underneath, this text:

Handling money was not Jeremiah's strong suit. Once he was worth more than the president of the Chicago & Ouray. After a week of champagne and showgirls, he didn't have a red cent.
We know Jeremiah would have been proud of the high-spirited mellow of the drink that bears his name. Jeremiah Weed isn't just a legacy. It's a tribute to a 100 proof maverick.

This last next to a photo of a bottle of the aforementioned drink.

Now, to my Northwestern associates, this is already quite enlightening. For the rest of you, let me explain. Jeremiah Weed, a self-styled "bourbon liqueur," is perhaps the worst thing ever drunk at our illustrious drinking hole, the Wudan (and you're talking to men who drank moonshine and something poured for Bourbon from a jug at a gun show). Bourbon Samurai brought this vile concoction to us, and drinking one shot became a rite of passage. It evoked the memorable comment "It tastes green" from Quantum, not to mention one of the few, if not the only, recorded insta-boot in Wudan history. The truly odd twist is that our friend Staggers loved the Weed, as we named it, inventing a new drink by mixing Tobasco Sauce and old Jeremiah to make what we dubbed "The Tumbleweed."

Now, there is the distinct possibility that this bottle had been in Bourbon's possession since 1980, when the ad was published. However, I like to think that we were keeping alive a proud ten-year tradition of alcoholics with really bad taste, or a keen sense of irony and self-loathing. Either way, here's to you, Mr. Weed, a 100 proof maverick and anti-hero for the modern age.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

First Days

So classes have started again, and this year is already off to a rockin' beginning.

First, my history professor was unable to attend our first lecture on Tuesday, and he got someone to fill in and do the usual syllabus nonsense. His excuse? He's currently motorcycling back from South America, where he spent winter break riding down to the southernmost city on the continent (I believe in the world), celebrating New Years in what I imagine to be some gloriously drunken and festive South American city, and now riding home. He was late for the start because his bike broke down in a small mountain village, where it was being repaired, apparently, by a 70 year old Italian man (who, our sub assumed, had fled native Italy to avoid Il Duche [the dictator, not the fish, Quantum], only to end up in another part of the world still controlled by Germans. This was his joke, not mine, so treat it accordingly). Now, as this professor is apparently also a somewhat elderly chap (or so I am led to believe), this gives him extra points in the Awesome Rating. Hopefully he can live up to this already epic reputation.

Last night/this morning was pretty rough, as I had bizarre and horrifying dreams last night that pretty much ruined any chance at actual rest. They largely involved knife-wielding maniacs attacking me and my cohorts with impunity, and concluded somewhat shockingly with a man attacking me with a butcher's knife, simultaneously cutting me and mutilating himself, till we were both drenched in blood, while the song from the "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" ads played to its climax, like something out of a Kubrick movie (or so my dreaming consciousness believed). Now, this may sound humorous in the light of day, but when you wake up at 12:15am (only an hour after you've gone to sleep originally) covered in sweat and shaking and convinced that a knife-wielding classical music freak is in your living room, it tends to alter your perspective. I did take some comfort in the fact that, while I have no butcher's knife of my own to defend myself, I do have a large glass sword, partially full of Armenian brandy. Sword tucked neatly near the bed in a defensible position, I attempted to return to sleep. Sadly, sleep was fitful, and I spent the time from 4-6 am reading short stories of the science fiction persuasion. Luckily, my students this morning were even less awake than I (8:50 class time), and that combined with my natural charisma and energy led to a successful first class. True, they laughed at none of my jokes, but I think one of them considers me "kind of cool," as indicated by subtle head nods of acknowledgment, and at this point in the semester, I'll take what I can get. This may be altered on Friday, however, when they get their first writing assignment, and I crush their souls.

Thought for the day: Elderly professors on motorcycles. Somewhat disturbing, or kinda cool? At the moment, I imagine a post-apocalyptic landscape where tenured faculty ride the country trying to survive and fighting injustice. A Road Warrior for the 21st century academic. I think it could be quite the blockbuster, and preliminary treatments will begin as soon as we complete our anti-terrorist polemic Free Ben Stein.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ramblings and the Abuse of Power

I've been on break since Christmastime. Since I returned to lovely Madison, I've been sleeping until my body naturally wakes up, as God intended. Consequently, I've been sleeping in until 2:00 or 3:00 nearly every day, and staying up until 5am or so. This altered schedule was caused largely by our antics at New Years and the subsequent sloth nurtured by TheoryPirate and his out-of-town visitor Sparrow17 (see the Gray Matters link for these two scalliwags), who forced me against my will to stay up all night drinking, playing Halo2, and watching a lot of bad movies (Ghost Ship and a Japanese flick Battle Royale being two prime examples). I've grown to enjoy the total and decadent idleness that I've developed, but sadly, it will disappear in an instant tomorrow, when I wake at the ghastly hour of 7:30 am to go to orientation for a job I already did once before.

Of course, this orientation may prove necessary, as our administrators have made several changes to the syllabus that we are, in theory, teaching. And while I am baffled by their choice to make our own individual syllabi due to them for approval before they explain these changes (including the complete cutting of one rather long and enjoyable paper), I go in hoping for enlightenment and clarity. The fact that I hoped for these things all last semester regarding the syllabus then and never got it does not dissuade me in the least. I'm an Americanist, after all. Our entire canon is founded on eternal hope and eternal loss of innocence.

Regarding the abuse of power mentioned in the title, I just now discovered, completely by accident, that the course I am registered for has changed times, from 11:00 to 9:55. This marks a somewhat substantial shift. First, it means that most likely I won't be able to attend Bagel Hour at all (my Madison friends know of this phenomenon, and I shall explain it in a later post to you beloved outsiders). Second, and far more important, it illustrates a vast use of administrative power, designed for the sole purpose of making me wake up earlier. And while I am somewhat irate at this clear conspiracy within the dark backrooms of my beloved ivory tower, I am more perturbed that the university did not see fit to tell me that the time had been changed. Clearly the fault would have been my own for missing the first day, and while this may lead many of you to ruminate on the problems and difficulties of administrating a Big 10 University, I see it instead as an opportunity to muse on the godlike power that will someday be mine. With a mere act of will, apparently, someone (I assume the professor) can alter substantially the lives of a large body of students, and this is a power I yearn for. So now there are three things that keep me going in the academic field despite the long hours and low pay:
1. The godlike power to alter students' lives.
2. The possibility of a job from which I eventually cannot be fired.
3. My great great fear of the outside world and lack of marketable skills.

Finally, I'm in a reconstructive mood recently, and I'm trying to recover a tale created by myself and Quantum (of Bourbon Samurai, see the link) several years ago. It involved our friend Ferg, a Turkish Prison, a three-headed sheep, the Patriots (the seven old men who secretly rule the country, see Metal Gear Solid), a volcano, and our eternal quest for the perfect potato skins in downtown Chicago. I'd like to reconstruct this story for a later post, as well as the events leading up to its creation, so if any of my undergrad friends out there remember the tale as it once was told, please comment or let me know.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pago Pago

In high school, I had a history teacher who once said, "That's what separates you from all the unwashed slobs out there. You can correctly pronounce the capital of Samoa." Since then, I've tried to live by those words.

Granted, at the time these mythical "unwashed slobs" were merely a specter to haunt the psyche of a proto-academic, but several years, two towns, and several jobs later, I've come to internalize these unhygenic masses, which has led me to my current position as a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (The necessary exposition for the equally mythic few who read this blog and don't already know me for some reason.) Many seek to tear down the myth of academia as an ivory tower, set away from the rest of the world, dealing with issues that we ourselves construct and which are of no concern to anyone else beyond our walls. I, in turn, embrace wholeheartedly this tale, as it helps me sleep at night, free from the fears of associating with the masses. Who, I am told, are often unwashed.

Now, those of you reading this may come to think of me as pretentious and full of myself. And rightly so. These are points of great pride for me. I revel in the fact that I can pronounce the capital of Samoa. Therefore, in order to correctly interpret my intellectual ramblings in this blog, please always keep in mind two things: 1. I am very pretentious and full of myself, and 2. Nothing I say should be taken seriously, as like any good academic, my keenest insight is my sense of irony and self-deprecation, because deep down we of the Ivory Tower all realize that we're more or less full of it. It's loads of fun, and I'd recommend it highly to those of you out there who, like me, fear the masses and their unsanitary mob mentalities.

Therefore, in this blog I make no promises about what I post, other than it will be often insightful and illuminating, and when it isn't, it will be full of ribald tales of drunken debauchery, which are much more fun than tales of morose drunken solitude. I promise to not post on serious, world-shattering issues, and when I make social commentary and complaints, it will be regarding topics that I, and not the outside world, consider of great import, such as undergraduates' inability to use the elevator correctly, or people who annoy me through their failure to understand simple concepts like getting off a bus or responding properly to an e-mail. These are the concerns that fill my days, and I don't really care one whit what's going on in Washington, or what star is dating some other star, or the state of the world in any event. In the pretentious person's life, the issues that have the greatest impact are those he finds personally annoying or detrimental to his own life, rather than what others tell him he should think about. (My academic cohorts will rightly fix upon my use of the masculine pronoun here, as I am speaking largely of myself. But there are plenty of pretentious women out there as well, so they should feel enabled to switch the pronoun as gender dictates.)

I hold no deep social opinions. I do not consider myself a connoisseur of anything besides American Literature (my field of study), bad movies (watched The Cave last week, which was truly enlightening as to the nature of evil in the Carpethian Mountains), and certain video games (I enjoy Halo and its sequals, but I still feel the video game industry peaked with the original Super Smash Brothers for the N64). My music tastes are prosaic and mainstream, so you'll never see me commenting on the genius of some group of which you have never heard. Though I may wax rhapsodic about the sheer brilliance and innovation of "Take On Me," "Here I Go Again," and other 80s fare. But again, as the pretentious person's world revolves around himself, I feel these issues to be of tantamount importance, and not to be dismissed lightly. Hopefully, you'll agree with me.

Now, the ground rules. As this is a public record, I am stealing liberally from my friend the Bourbon Samurai (link to the right). His blog is truly an innovator and a model for all future blogdom, and I highly recommend it. His one rule, which I appropriate with no shame whatsoever, is to never use actual names for anything, as actual names are highly google-able. Everyone mentioned will have a nickname, used to protect both the innocent and the guilty (especially the guilty). I personally go by "Dubs" as it is a gross bastardization of my initials, derived from "BW" and then "B-Dubs," as my college friends who originated it were extremely lazy sods.

So please, if you comment, complain, or otherwise offer criticism to the blog (the academic's simultaneous lifeblood and greatest fear), please remember not to use your real name or my own. If you have a nickname you prefer, use it; otherwise I'll make one up for you with little regard or thought.

Happy reading, and if you're bored, check out the links to the left. They are my friends from several states, and often more insightful or more drunken than my own. Well, mainly more drunken, as they have actual jobs and actual money.

And if you're still in the dark, "Pago Pago" is pronounced as if each "a" is a long vowel and there was an "n" before each "g" in the name, for reasons I have yet to learn. There. Wash your hands, and you too will no longer be an unwashed slob.