Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"I'm in it for the money, I'm in it for the money..."

That's what I keep telling myself every time something comes up in the class I TA for. I'm in it for the money. I'm in it for that boost to my paycheck that means I can afford both the rent and groceries. (That's a rant for another time - paying rent on an apartment you're not living in yet.)

That's how I can withstand frustrations like students who've done nothing but sleep or the daily sudoku in class calling me over to ask me for the answers during one of the four exams.

That's how I can take a non-lethal approach to things like tearing down every flyer for an old test/homework/answers to everything site you can find, only to be approached by two classmates handing out those palm-sized ads as you walk out the door to your next class.

That's why I haven't brought an air horn or water pistol into class (the prof loved the idea, but she vetoed it in the end) to wake up and publicly shame students who fall asleep or do the crossword or text in the middle of class. I don't care if it's just one of the graduation requirements. Suck it up and at least look like you're paying attention and taking notes. Hell, actually take notes. Then you wouldn't have to call me over during a test to ask me something you would have known if you'd applied one neuron to taking notes or studying.

And it's why I don't throw up my hands and quit when only twenty people out of a class of a hundred come back after a break for the day's notes after the exam.

On the other hand, I did love the story of the nun with the blow gun (who was the physics teacher of the prof I'm TA-ing for.) That woman was infinitely better than my physics teacher, who attempted to use quantum physics to prove that Creation occurred. And I'm loving all of the conversations I get to eavesdrop on. Not intentionally - the profs apparently just see me as part of the furniture when they're having a conversation. I get free academic career advice, a heads-up on future courses, and an honest sounding board for some of the things I don't dare say out loud to people my own age or immediate family.

Well, maybe I'm not just in it for the money after all. But it'd still be a lot easier if I didn't have to deal with the idiots.

Did someone drop a coin roll?

For the past week, I've been finding nothing but pennies everywhere - indoors, outdoors, on the sidewalk, on the carpet, under vending machines (yes, I do crawl under and behind vending machines to reach loose change if I can squeeze in), and wedged into the lounge furniture cushions.

I've amassed somewhere in the area of two dollars in change, and only three of the coins I've found this week aren't pennies. I literally scooped up a handful off the sidewalk just two or three days ago - they were just lying in a cluster on the sidewalk. I picked up something in the area of fifty cents just on that square of sidewalk.

Now, the snow's been gone for quite a while, even if it isn't exactly balmy. Someone would have seen these long before I happened by to scoop them up, and judging from the salt and patina on all of them, they've all been there for a while. So what exactly happened? I can't be the only one who's picking up loose change left and right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quick question.

Why is it that, now that more and more formerly middle class people are getting public assistance like food stamps or even welfare, that suddenly getting assistance is no longer a bad mark of character? The last time I looked, it was all to do with the fact that you were too poor to afford all of your grocery or utilities bills or your rent, and not with you being stupid or lazy or whatever it is, the same way making $500,000 had nothing to do with your being a hard worker or a good person or anything but stupidly lucky.

I am directing this question to the people on the bus I rode this morning who I overheard sneering about "welfare queens" (for the record, Ronald Reagan's example never existed - he made her up) a few months ago. For the past week or so, several of the bus route regulars who made those remarks have been thankful for being able to get help in the form of food from a church group or food bank. Some were talking about hellishly long lines in the social services offices, or tragic stories they've overheard about other people in that office, or telling the driver and other fellow passengers about relatives or friends or friends of relatives who were hit.

Did you ever realize that, one bad turn later, the woman you sneered at for daring to use food stamps in the grocery line could be you?

Just asking.

A rant and some minor updates.

To all of the doom-sayers on both ends of the current economic predictions: quit it. I don't believe we're going to be reduced to Donner Party measures, but neither do I believe that the economy has to keep growing. We were overdue for this, actually. What I want to know is how you plan to soften the impact for those of us who don't have three years' living expenses socked away. I'll do my part, but I expect you to do yours, got it?

Now, with that rant over with, on to some of the week's highlights.

I somehow managed to win a book in a raffle this afternoon. Granted, I wasn't expecting to win something like "Food Security & Sustainability For the Times Ahead," but it might be a good read anyway once I get a chance to sit down with it between classes and work. What's even better is that I didn't have to pay anything to enter.

There's been a serious temperature rise in my area of the Midwest - we're talking about T-shirt weather a couple of days ago, and as far as anyone can see there's no snow or ice anywhere outside. Not having to slip and skid on the only bridge that leads to my main grocery store - good news.

And while it might get boring after a while, I now have enough rice and frozen veggies to make quite a few healthy meals. I don't know how long the soy sauce will hold out, though.

Now to get the free loaf of bread from the local bakery, and life will be good for a couple weeks.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


What's the fastest way to find out the limitations of a human body?

In my case, I have two answers:

1) Go through four hour-long exercise sessions with demanding (some might even say sadistic) instructors.

2) Fall down a flight of stone stairs. After successfully navigating three icy patches at a run outside, no less. How does falling on your butt and cracking your ankle lead to your skull ringing like a bell, anyway?

There was a third, but one night in the ER, losing fifteen pounds in less than six hours, and four stitches in my face were plenty. I'd rather not take the food poisoning route again. (But I will take the fifteen pounds knocked off my stomach and waist.)

At any rate, geography doesn't look like such a bad deal now.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"The sun will rise, the sun will set..."

If it wasn't for the fact that I find being stuck with a needle a very unpleasant experience, I would probably have spent a few mornings at Vampires, Inc. by now, instead of just this morning.

Then again, I'm not so sure that I'd want to go back, money or not, after this morning's encounter.

One of the vampires who was working in the half of the clinic I was in asked me if I was a college student, and what I was studying. I answered that I studied humans as a phenomenon in and of themselves. The vampire promptly asked me if we considered evolution to be a law in our profession despite its flaws.


Folks, never ask an anthropologist - or any reputable scientist - anything about evolution without reassuring them that you're not trying to tear it to shreds unless you want to see what a human undergoing a sudden spike in stress will do.

I answered every question as politely as I could, which turned out to be very polite even for me. Having a needle intended for patients over five hundred pounds in your arm tends to do that to you, especially if the person you are trying not to offend is the only one who is allowed to remove it.

Aside from the usual confusion over the common vernacular version of "theory" and the scientific "Theory", the vampire had issues with why humans have stopped evolving (we haven't), how life got started (the Theory of Evolution doesn't cover that, it just covers what happened after that: if you want an answer for the beginning of life, consult a chemist, not a biologist), how a rock can turn into a single-celled organism which then turns into a human (even I'm not sure what left field that came out of), and a glance in the direction of irreducible complexity, although that was never touched on.

I offered to find some basic material that answers these sorts of questions, but I doubt he'll read them. I think this was really an attempt to bait me more than anything else.

At any rate, I left the clinic minus a pint of plasma and a sawbuck richer, and with some arguments to puzzle over. I've never been so glad to be an atheist, either. You can change your ideas. Beliefs? Not so much, from what I've seen.

Edit: crud. I can't tag to save my life. I'm yanking those.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Watching grass grow would be a carnival after this.

Discovery of the day: the only thing duller than taking a test where you know all of the material backwards and forwards, and have had it drilled into your head to the point of nausea... having to watch a room of approximately 100 students take that test.

I would have fallen asleep if I hadn't had to continually stalk around the room, keeping my eyes open for signs of cheating, looking menacing, and threatening to confiscate any cell phone that went off during the exam. I almost did during the ten minutes or so of notes that followed if not for stabbing myself in the leg with my pencil.

Lessons learned today:

1) Eat a better lunch before coming to marathon days.

2) Pack a better dinner.

3) Get my ass to bed at a reasonable hour.

4) If I can stay awake through something this boring, I can most certainly stay awake through the most boring presentations imaginable.

Either they're brilliant or they're idiots.

While digging through the humble-jumble piles of stuff on the Manager's Special table the other day at Kroger, I stumbled across something that was worth a giggle.

Naturally, it had to happen when I didn't have my camera or cell phone with me.

I was eyeing a bottle of cooking sherry and wishing I had the facilities to cook a chicken with the sherry - what I'd give to have a meal I cooked myself - when something decidedly odd about a box of bagged candy caught my eye. I'd glanced at it earlier, but since I'm trying to bring my weight back down to a healthier range I'd ignored it after that.

Now, though, I took a closer look at the price tag someone had stuck on the nearest bag. These tags are impossible to miss, at least at the local center for comestibles. They're bright yellow with an eye-stabbing orange stripe across the new low price, and just under the barcode on the yellow patch is the original price. I guess the idea is to make sure the cashier doesn't miss the fact that it's discounted, and to show the shopper how much they're saving.

Manager's Special price: eighty-nine cents per bag.

Original price: thirty cents per bag.

I checked most of the bags on top, and all of them had the same price tag. Oy. So a fifty-nine cent jump in price is the new version of saving money?

I couldn't help it. I just started giggling. When a stock girl wandered over to see what I was laughing about, I just pointed to the price tag. She started laughing too, and took the bag to the service desk to show a friend of hers while I decided I'd stayed long enough and headed for the checkout line, laughing all the way through and all the way home after that.

But...really, if that helped get people to buy it, wow. I'd better take a closer look at the price tags next time.

In The Details

I'm not the most observant person in the world. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'm less observant than your average half brick. But even I can't miss some things, even if it takes me a while to put together the picture they form.

For one, I've seen the price of the cheapest staples you can buy without eating cardboard - beans, rice, bread, flour, and the like - jump incredibly, such as brown rice going from somewhere around ninety-nine cents a pound to $2 a pound. Adding to this is the fact that, in my home town at least, the demand for unemployment/assistance programs and food banks has risen, and the main local employers are cutting jobs.

I've never seen a "Manager's Special" table before - I told you before, I'm about as observant as a half brick, and did most of my chronological growing up in years of plenty. But now there are carts and tables of specially marked goods scattered through the stores where I shop. Sometimes it's worth the trouble to fish something out (like a pound of dry pasta for fifty cents), sometimes not, but I always look to make sure. It's worth a laugh on occasion, anyway. (More about that later.)

In both of my cities - the one I call my permanent home, and the one I attend school in - the major employers include at least one university and one community college. They're still hiring, as far as I can tell, but a lot of students aren't going to make it here in the first place without financial aid. I really don't want to know what it looks like at the graduate school level, or what the profs I work around are saying when I'm not close enough to eavesdrop.

My other part-time job is working as a trash and recycling hauler (you'd laugh your ass off if I told you the actual job title), which means that every morning I get more of an eyeful of someone's life and culture than I'm comfortable with, even as an anthropologist. Most of the time in archaeology you end up digging in someone's trash anyway. It's always the insignificant stuff that tells you the most about Joe Average's life. I wonder what my profs would make of the fact that I'm not finding as much brand-name food packages any more, or food in general unless it's growing lifeforms on the verge of sentience.

You always find stuff that buries the needle on your Weird-Shit-O-Meter when you work with trash, but sometimes it's the absence of something that buries the needle. I used to find mostly unused notebooks as a matter of course, but lately the only pages I find are covered in notes, and the notebooks themselves are nowhere in evidence. Or the "throwaway" books, the type that are only good for one class for one semester, are so covered in notes that my hands get smeared with graphite when I pick them up, and there's little to no notebook paper at all. The bundles of coupons everyone gets with their books are also suddenly nowhere to be found.

I shop at thrift stores when I need clothes, but I'm never used to them being so crowded.

My boss for the trash and recycling gig just told me that his customers - the people who process the recycling - are screaming for purer and purer stuff, because they're cutting back on the hours and tech needed to sort and wash the "dirtied" paper and other stuff. And he's asked us to cut back on the amount of hours we work per week. I know a pay cut when I see one, but I'm not too worried. On the other hand, if I depended on this for my tuition and rent, I'd be sweating and thinking about taking on a third job. I wonder how my coworkers are doing.

So, tell me: how many devils do you see?