Wednesday, December 29, 2010

According to Bob...

"These days, it seems you can get a PhD in anything.  Why last week, when we took Laura to visit Brown, we met a young man getting his doctorate in culinary arts.  What is that?  Doctor Chef?  He wants to work as a chef on a private jet.  I think that requires some schooling and a lot of training but not a PhD."

These days, colleges and universities are run like businesses rather than academic institutions.  It's all about the bottom line, and by bottom line, I mean money.  So school's are lowering admission requirements, letting in unprecedented numbers of young folks.  That's not entirely bad.  It gives people who screwed around in high school a chance to redeem themselves and show that they can learn.  It's why intro level math is bursting at the seams at my university. 

Please, don't misunderstand me.  I am not saying that someone with a college degree is better than someone without one.  No, no, no!!  There are plenty of idiot douchebags running around with degrees they bought fair and square and not a bit of sense or direction in their swollen heads.  There are plenty of brilliant people who chose professions that didn't require formal education but rather intense, specialized training. 

My point is that universities try to make everyone believe that college is for them.  "You don't want to be a fireman or an EMT.  You want to be a financial planner.  You want to make truck loads of money, right?"  So maybe you buy into it.  You fork over your own good money (or your parents do), and you go to school for six years (that's the average these days) and you get a degree and you HATE being a financial planner.  All you wanted to do was save lives, and now you're stuck in an office and miserable.  Now you've learned the hard way that not everyone needs to go to college.

Because of this opening of the flood gates, it's gotten to the point that, in many circles, getting a bachelor's degree is no better than having a high school diploma.  You need a master's or a PhD to prove you've learned something and can learn more.  The universities no longer care about low teacher-to-student ratios.  They don't care that students aren't graduating, which is why the U.S. has dropped from #1 in numbers of students going to college and completing degrees to #12.  All they care about is keeping you there as long as possible and making as much money off you as they can. 

I tell you, it breaks my heart.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I Teach

Because sometimes, your students become good friends.

When I taught at a community college, I had two classes of students that I taught the entire Calculus sequence and Differential Equations.  That means I had them for four back-to-back-to-back-to-back courses.  Being at a community college, the classes were small.  The Cal1's had around 25, but after that, the numbers dropped to around 12 and steadily fell from there.  In that kind of setting and having them for so many classes, you can't help but get to know them.  This is how I met Zach.

At the time, I was 26, about the age of an older sister to the traditional student, and though I make it clear that I am in charge and require a lot of hard work, I don't run my class like a warden.  I'm approachable, whereas most math teachers are feared, which is why Zach never hesitated to ask questions or seek help.  When his house caught on fire one Sunday while his family was at church, he came to my office to talk to me about it. 

After he finished Cal1, I recommended the college hire him as a math tutor.  He needed a job, and although it didn't pay as well as some other jobs, it gave him time to do his homework.  He had Physics with L, who was a year behind him in school but only two years younger than me.  When the tutor lab was slow, L would often go over and help the Cal and Physics students with both classes.  That is how Zach and L got to be friends, and when they both transferred to the University, L continued to tutor Zach in his Physics classes.

He would come over to our apartment, and while they sat at the table doing Physics, I made dinner.  We'd sit around and watch TV or just talk.  L taught Zach how to play chess, and eventually, we started a D&D game.  After the Physics classes, he stayed in touch.  We'd go out to dinner once a semester and email.

Zach graduated four years ago, got a job, and moved back home.  Even though he wasn't nearby, he started playing an online game that L and I play, so we played together.  Then, Zach quit his job (which he hated) to go back to school to get his masters.  He had to stop playing games, and so we sort of lost touch.  We would email once or twice a year.  Hey!  How are you?  Good, and you? kind of things. 

And then just last night, he called.  He has one project left to get his masters, has a job lined up for when he finishes, and wanted to know if we were still playing Diablo II.  "We actually just got back into it," L said.  So, we all got online and start playing and chatting.  I wrote, "It's so good to hear from you.  Sorry it's been so long.  I suck at keeping in touch," to which he replied, "Me too, but even so, I still consider ya'll some of my best friends."

Of course, not every student becomes a friend, but when they do, their success is doubly rewarding. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dr. D said...

"In 2002, security into the U.S. got so tight that I panicked and became a citizen.  It's been downhill ever since."

Dr. D was a Brit who moved to the U.S. after finishing his PhD.  He took a job at my university, where he met, fell in love with, and married a girl from Iowa.  They have two girls.

After 9/11, he was terrified that he would make a trip to the U.K. to visit his parents and then not be able to re-enter the U.S.  The thought of being separated from his wife and children terrified him so much that he became a citizen. 

Now that he's divorced, I wonder if he feels like becoming a citizen is just another thing to add to his list of regrets.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Sick

Interpret that title how you like.

I just returned from seeing the doctor, again.  This time, it was for something other than a wrenched shoulder/neck.

Anywho, so I was sitting in the exam room, waiting on the doc (a different doc than I saw for my neck), and looking at the wall mural.  Every exam room has its own mural depicting athletes at play.  The one in my room was of basketball players, and while the shadowing was excellent, the perspective was all to' up.  My eyes drifted over to the copy of the doc's diploma and then to the wall that holds the biohazard disposal box.  Next to it, there were two Norman Rockwell prints depicting children with herr doktor.  Of the two, one really stood out:

My thoughts, in order, were the following:

1) I think that's the same floor tile as in the hallways of Mathews at BSCC. (The building is long gone now.)

2) I bet that kid is thinking, "Hey!  There's no such thing as Happy Fun Time Medical School."

3) Today, would Norman Rockwell be considered a child pornographer for painting a boy with his bare ass showing?  Norman, you dirty, dirty man!

I'm twisted.  I know this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It's that time of year again, the time when all the perfume/cologne hockers pay for an absurd number of their absurd ads to be shown on TV.  More likely than not, if I can't figure out what the commercial is for, it's for fragrance. 

Or Svedka vodka
I'm highly entertained by the different marketing tactics for men versus women.  The commercials for women generally involve someone lovely in a long flowing dress, possibly a bridal gown, in a field, on a beach, or walking through a upscale room.  Here, I'm thinking of Beautiful commercials with the brides in meadows of flowers and the Dior commercial with Charlize Theron stripping out of her jewelry and dress.  The commercials aimed at men generally have one dude sort of staring off into nowhere or a dude with a woman who's overcome with passion.  The models are thin, angular.  They squint as if the wind is blowing directly into their eyes, they glare into the camera, or they do this:

Ahhhhh!  It burns!
The only way to combat it is to make it even more ridiculous than it already is.  I'm thinking this could make an excellent game for the holidays.  You and your friends or family sit around taking bets on what the commercial is for and then whoever is wrong pays up by doing extra chores, paying actual money, or snapping back shots of Svedka vodka.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dr. E wrote...

"Thank you, Ms. B-R.  This is by far the most interesting email I've received in many weeks."

Amongst the students, the course for which I had Dr. E this past semester had two married couples (L and me included).  One day, as Dr. E passed back homework, he made a remark about how similar the solutions of husband and wife were.

I said, "Well, we're married.  It would be silly of us to not confer, but I think you'll find my homework is generally better written than his." 

Dr. E looked from L back to me and said, "Yes, your other half seems to have something of a grudge against the English language."

L, looking indignant, "Hey, if there's a symbol for it why bother writing it all out?"

"You'll want to reconsider that question when you start writing your dissertation, yes?  You're supposed to be practicing," Dr. E reminded us.

After a round of chuckles, Dr. E devoted about ten minutes to an aside about mathematical families and how confusing it could be to determine if the credit for a theorem belonged to the mother, father, son, daughter, cousin, etc., when they all have the same last name and sometimes first name.  Eventually, it led to a discussion of transcendental numbers.  These are numbers which are not the roots of a polynomial with rational coefficients In other words, it's not a solution to something like   

The most common examples, which are proven to be transcendental, are π and e.  Dr. E couldn't remember any other proven examples, so I sent him a link to the Wikipedia page for transcendental numbers. 

When he replied, thanking me and providing me with the quote at the beginning of this post, he fretted over having forgotten another set of famous mathematicians that also included an author in the mix. He felt it must be intimidating to be born into such a family, and how we could be thankful that we didn't have these legacies to uphold.  I responded that it was probably a lot like being the child of a celebrity - you either make a name for yourself, and still constantly have to prove to the world that you made it based on your own talent and not because of who your mommy/daddy is, or you end up on Celebrity Fit Club/ Re-hab whining about how no one loves you and you can never live up to your parents expectations.  He emailed me back to tell me that he appreciated my sense of humor and that he had a friend in grad school who wrote mathematical limericks, one of which he still remembered.  

"We all need an outlet," he wrote. 

I wondered if he was subtly hinting that he knows that I write.  It's something my PhD advisor, Dr. C, might have told him.  The only reason Dr. C knows is that L told him.  I'm not ashamed of my writing, but it is very personal and often very dark.  Anyway, Dr. E never brought it up, but I still wondered.             

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Real Trees, Please

This isn't a post about how cutting down trees for a holiday isn't "green."  Hell, they're mass grown in farms, just like minks, for the sole purpose of being felled, propped up in a living room, and dressed like a cheap whore.  I have no problem with people who want to wear real fur, eat veal, or have a real tree in their houses at Christmas.  I just choose not to have one in my house.  Want to know why?

The last three years my parents had a real tree - that's why!  I'll get to that in a moment.

Ah, a real tree: the smell, the feel, the nostalgia, the icky sap, the ever-dropping needles, and the hassle of keeping the thing from turning into a fire hazard.  Yes, I saw the Christmas tree episode of Mythbusters, and I know that it isn't really much of a fire hazard, but let's not harsh on my melodrama. 

When I was little, my parents would load up my brother and me and take us out to the tree farm near our house.  We would systematically stalk the neat rows until my father judged a tree to be straight, symmetric, and the perfect height.  A worker would cut down the tree and stick it in a shaker to reduce needle droppage between putting it on the tarp in the trunk and getting it home and into the tree stand.  After much cursing from my father about whether the tree was straight and centered on the wall, and damnit, everyone in this family must be crooked because that tree is as titled as the Tower of Pisa, he would check that the bulbs weren't burned out and then vanish, leaving my mother, my brother, and me to drag out the ornaments and decorate. 

Finding the tree and getting it ready for decorating was not so fun.  I always liked decorating, or rather, playing with the ornaments until my mother would get fed up and ask me to please stop it long enough for her to get everything on the tree.  What could make things less enjoyable?

Chiggers (next-to-next-to-last year)
Yes, chiggers, redbugs, those little bastards that live in pine trees, whatever you call them.  The tree gave them to us like an STD.

Spiders (penultimate year)
Our warm house was just what those egg sacks needed to convince the bundles of joy within that it was springtime.  Spiders, spiders, everywhere.  I better stop or I'll wind up in the corner shivering.

Grover, my cat (every year)
He batted all low-hanging ornaments, used the trunk as a scratching post, and tried to climb into the branches. 

Allergy (ultimate year)
My brother had sneezing fits, itchy eyes, bleeding sinuses, the works.

After that, my mom vowed no more and got a fake tree.  The first year we put it up, I broke out in hives from touching it.  Go figure.  Still, me getting all itchy and red for a few hours is far less troublesome than all that other rigmarole.  So, please, no real trees for me.  Hmm, that sounds Seuss-y.   

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Story Problems

A little background:
At some point, educators changed "word problems" to "story problems," most likely to make them seem less intimidating.  At any rate, part of teaching math courses for future elementary ed teachers is getting them to write appropriate story problems.  On their final exam for this semester, they were asked to write problems for addition, multiplication, and division.  Some were highly entertaining, due to either creativity or unsolvability.  Enjoy!


1)  A group of 13 hippies needs to go to Whole Foods, but their Priuses can only hold 5 of them.  How many Priuses will the hippies need in order for all of them to go to the store?  They'll need 3 cars because all the hippies need to go to the grocery store.

The next two are from Ashley.  I knew she wouldn't let me down, and she managed to make it through, but only just.  Whew and hooray!
2)  Shrek has 14 pet bugs he wants to share with his 3 friends.  If all his friends get the same number of bugs, how many will each friend get?  The answer is 4 R 2 is best because no one wants a fractional bug.
3)  Scrooge has 14 Christmas cakes to equally split between 3 employees.  How many cakes, including fractional cakes, will each employee get? The answer 4 2/3 is best because cake can be broken into pieces, and since he's a changed man, Scrooge will give all the cake away.

The complexity of this last one cracks me up.
4)  13 of Santa's elves want to take a break from all the toy making, and they want to get away from the cold.  They decide to take a road trip to Florida.  If 5 elves can fit in each car, how many cars will they need? They need 3, two cars of five and one car of three, so that everyone can go.  They can put their extra luggage in with the car of three.


1)  Elyse is walking a 2 1/2 mile walk and has 1 1/3 miles left to go.  How fast is she walking?
My initial reaction: The speed of light?

2)  There are 5 rooms and 13 walls.  How many cans of paint should I buy?
My initial reaction: Infinity and beyond!


1)  A student wrote, "Get a common dominator."  Reow!!  Oh, the black leather-clad visions that swam through my head.

2)  At the bottom of page 8 (of 9), my filterless student wrote, "Lord, help me pass."  She made an 82%, her best score of the semester. 

I have to laugh at them to keep from crying.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I Teach

This is the start of a series, I think. 

Teaching isn't the hardest job, but it is often trying and tedious, especially when you teach a subject that most people claim to hate.  I put a lot of thought and effort into making notes, designing activities, selecting homework assignments, writing solutions to the homework questions, and writing tests with the goal of not only teaching but also enriching the learning experience of my students.  If I do my job right, and my students do their jobs right, the students finish the course with an understanding of math on a conceptual level above and beyond the basic mechanics of problem solving.  More often than not, and especially when I grade, I feel as though all my hard work is pointless and all my words have fallen on deaf ears.

Fifteen weeks passes and the end of the semester arrives, which means it's time for the students to fill out evaluations.  For any classes, other than the math for elementary ed majors, I can expect high marks.  Teachers, even not-yet-teachers, tend to be very critical of each other, so I am always a little wary of how my scores will tally.  In recent years, the worst criticism of me has been that I grade too harshly.  That just means I'm doing my job right.  At least one person from each class takes the time to give some good  feedback, and on very special occasions, I have students who give me immediate feedback and ego inflation. 

Case in point, Ashley, who always smiles and introduced a fellow classmate to Jeff Dunham.  She draws the best pictures in her homeworks - something necessary in a math class for future elementary ed teachers.  She has an excellent sense of humor, as her story problems often involved character such as Oranjello and Lemonjello as well as Mrs. Bendova.  She is my first college student to ever give me a thank you note, and the envelope artwork will give you some idea of how entertaining she has been:

One plus two equals tree.
 In the note, she thanked me for being a good teacher, for finally helping her understand what fractions really are, and for making her laugh.  It is students like her - ones that are truly passionate about going to school and making something of themselves - that led me to choose teaching as my foremost profession.  I fancy myself a writer, but teaching comes first because it is a way that I know I can immediately impact a life for the better.  I'm doing my part to try to stop the trend of math hate in the U.S.  It's about the only cause I fight for: don't spread your fear of math to the next generation. 

When she gave me the note, she said, "I don't think I did very well on my final."  I put on my smile and said, "Well, Ashley, let's just wait and see."  It's really going to suck if she doesn't pass.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All in Good Pun

The camera pans the cobweb-coated workroom and settles on a dried corpse puppet.  As the shot zooms in for a closeup, the viewer sees that the corpse is reading Oliver Twist.  Its withered neck twitches as its filmy, white hair glistens in the candlelight.  It flips to the last page of the battered tome and jerks its head back as if slapped.

"What?" it asks with surprise and outrage.  It inspects the cover.  "Where's the twist?"  It slams the book shut in a puff of dust.  "And I had such great expectations."  It cackles and chucks the book.  "Hello, kiddies.  Tonight's tale is one of intrigue and twists that are sure to scare the dickens out of you."  The corpse continues its monologue, flaky fingers twiddling on the table, and when it finishes, it throws its head back and cackles with delight.

I was a young teen when Tales from the Crypt aired on HBO.  It was about the only thing on weekend nighttime TV worth watching.  As I was too young to date and too broke to go to the movies with my friends, I often sat at home on Friday and Saturday nights.  Until HBO added Dream On and Arli$$, all I had for entertainment was my undead host, the Crypt Keeper.  I believe I owe my love of terrible puns to the him.  Ghoulius Ceasar, boils and ghouls, he missed his mummy.  He always made me chuckle.  When I saw the complete seasons on sale at Best Buy, I snatched them right up.

I simply head to hack the collection.

Check out this pun-packed intro and outro:


Monday, December 6, 2010

"But, Monday morning... gave me no warning of what was to be."

I left the house on time.  Traffic moved so smoothly that I got to work a full twenty minutes before my students' 8 a.m. final exam was to begin.  After parking in the deck, I got out and opened the back door of my car to get my backpack.  My heart flew into my throat when I saw that I left it at home.  My backpack functions as my purse, so I just drove all the way to work with no driver's license, no cell phone,  no office keys, and no book to read.

I was a sad monkey.

"It's okay," I said aloud, which drew the attention of two passers-by.  "The exams are in your office and someone, someone, will be around to let you in."  Cursing to myself, I stuffed my car keys in my pocket and walked to the building.

By the time I made it inside and up to the third floor, it was fifteen til, and almost all my students were lining the hallway waiting to be let in the room.

"It's Monday," I said.  "I left my backpack at home."
They laugh and then one girl hopefully asked, "Did you leave the tests at home too?"
"No, no," I assured her.  "They are in my office, and as soon as I borrow a key , I'll have your tests."

I can always depend on Dr. W, the department chair, to be in at 7:30 a.m.  Today was no exception.  I knocked on the glass window of the office, and when he opened the door for me, I explained my situation.  He unlocked my classroom for me and let me borrow his master key to get into my office to get the tests.  Once everyone was in the room and settled, I experienced a slight adrenaline crash but remind myself that everything would be okay since I got the tests.  We started on time.

Every classroom in the math building has, among other techno-gizmos, a pc.  Thus, I consoled myself with the fact that, after I made the grading guide for the final, I could tool around online.  I checked my email, messaged a student who hadn't shown, and tweeted about my backpack.  Then, around 9 a.m., the tapping and door slamming began.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the University always schedules maintenance for finals week.  I mean, WTF?  Wait one more week.  Then no one, save the office staff a few professors whose lives revolve around being at the office, will be around.  But no.  Last spring, they chose finals week to install the gazillion dollar sympodium (a podium wired for and equipped with a pc, document camera, tegrity touch monitor, DVD and CD players, and a VCR), Bose speakers, and projector in "my" classroom.  At the beginning of this semester, they tore up the main road into campus and repaved it the night before classes began.  Hence, it is only fitting that they should choose finals week to tear out all the asbestos from the room directly through the wall from mine.

I was an enraged monkey.

The tapping was monotonous, and so the students could ignore it.  However, the slamming doors and sounds of the ceiling collapsing couldn't be ignored.  Suddenly, there were thirty-two sets of worried eyes looking at me.  I scowled.

"I'll go see what I can do," I said, heading for the door.  "If you hear cursing, well, pretend it's not me."

I walked around the corner to find the doors to the room sealed with black plastic and covered with warning signs for the "asbestos retrieval."  (That cracks me they are rescue workers going in to save the asbestos.)  Frowning, I returned to the office to ask the head office assistant (and incognito miracle worker) if anything could be done. 

After five minutes of silence, we heard a loud bang.  One of my older students looked up at me and said, "Okay, now, that's just wrong."
I sighed.  "If it won't disturb you all too much, I'm going to see if we can move."

After another five minutes of getting keys and checking rooms, they all packed up, and I moved them to a second floor classroom far away from the "retrievers."  At this point, it was impossible to make sure no one talked about the test and that students with the same version of the tests weren't seated next to each other.  Uncle, I thought.  I apologized to them, asked them to sit in every other desk, and gave them an extra thirty minutes.

When I returned the borrowed keys to the office goddess, she informed me that the banging stopped about fifteen minutes after I moved my class.  Jaw set, I made copies of the grading guide for the other teachers and left.  Since I made it home without wrecking, I consider the day an over-all success.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


It's the end of times in my house!

Over a month ago, the on/off button on our bedroom TV seemingly broke.  Luckily, the remote still works.

A week or so later, the toilet in the guest bathroom stopped sealing properly.  Both L and I are too busy (and when free, too lazy) to go buy a replacement kit for it.  Hence, over time, the leak progressed into an almost constant trickle.  Even now, I can hear it.  Damn, now I have to pee, too!

A week after that, L switched on the light in the master bath, and when he tried to switch it off, it wouldn't stay in the off position.  I have NEVER heard of that happening.  There must be some kind of spring or latch that will hold it on and hold it off.  The "hold it on" works, but the "hold it off" doesn't.  So, for two weeks, I've used tape to hold the light switch in the off position. 

No giant fingers were available.

L has been sick with some kind of sinus crud since before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, we came home to find our bedroom TV on and the cat none too happy about it. 

Ants began moving into my house sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  This can happen when it has been very dry and then rains over an inch.  The rains came on Monday, so I wasn't too surprised.  However, this was a full-scale invasion.  The little numbskulls brought the eggs too.  EGGS!  Ew!

Hate you guys!

I hosed the counter down with ant killer, and after killing them, L determined that they were gaining entry to the kitchen through the outlet by the sink.  When he took the cover off, globs of dead ants fell all over the counter.
"Oh, I hope they aren't in the walls," L said.
I hosed the outlet down, and then Thursday around lunchtime, I sprayed a barrier along the bottom of the house.  I had done this before, and it worked.  So, why not again?  Friday - no ants. 

Last night, my cell phone lit up for no reason.  This morning around 4am, the TV turned on for no reason.  Neither L nor I was on the remote.  It was sitting untouched on the nightstand. 

Yes, this is exactly the first thing that came to mind.

Then, this morning happened.  First, L dumped a Brita pitcher full of water all over the kitchen counter, drawers, and floor.  True, my kitchen isn't made of sugar, but the cabinets are prone to getting unsightly white blotches from prolonged exposure to water.  So, L stripped and used his clothes and all our kitchen towels to mop up the mess. 

"At least the ants are gone," he said, cursing us.

About this time, I noticed an ant line running from the pantry to the oven.  "Oh no they aren't," I said.  The ants I thought I'd killed either found a new way into the house or a way out of the walls for they were swarming my bag of potatoes.  They had climbed up the bottle of juice to the dangling plastic top of the potato bag.  From there, they made their way to other shelves.  Almost everything was sealed too tightly to draw their attention, but several of them met their deaths in my honey bear.

Death by honey - I can think of worse ways to go.

I sprayed the pantry and the ant line and then smashed rogues that I found here and there.  Meanwhile, my retarded cat decided he needed to walk over the poison I just sprayed all over the floor.  While L dealt with the ant-covered potatoes, I mopped up the poison and yelled at the cat to get lost.

Ants dead, poison washed away, and ants seemingly under control, I proceeded to make breakfast.  I burned my hand while making pancakes.  An hour ago, I went into the bedroom to find the damned TV on again.  Oh, and the power button works, but it is so sensitive, that blowing on it will turn it on or off.

What am I missing?  Please tell me now.  I've forgotten what little I learned of Revelation.  I'm going out tonight, but I'm almost afraid to leave.  What if a plane headed from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa crashes on me when I go outside?  Maybe I'm overreacting.  Surely a plane won't crash on me.  Right?   

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Duplex Complex

I have unusual, vivid dreams.  They serve me well when I look for inspiration for writing.  Even though they have changed and grown, two of my current works-in-progress were inspired by dreams.  When I have a "normal" dream, it usually means that my subconscious is working through something the forefront of my mind is either too busy or too proud to acknowledge.  With that in mind, last night's dream:

I was sharing a two-bedroom "house" with my college roommate.  I say "house" because, while it was the size and in the layout of an an apartment, it was a single level and stood alone.  It felt as though my roomie and I had lived there for a few years. 

As the dream progressed, L moved in, and we decided that we needed a place of our own.  A real estate agent/apartment manager came to visit and suggested that I buy the duplex.  Right, suddenly there was another "house" attached to the first one by a hallway.  I walked over and found it nicely and fully furnished.  The rooms were larger, and everything seemed freshly painted and carpeted.

"I don't know if I can afford this," I said to L.  "I mean, I have a small salary.  I wonder how much it costs without the furniture." (In this dream, I was recently divorced but still a full-time teacher)
"I'm going to help you," L promised, taking my hand in his.
"Yeah, and I want to rent our old house from you, so you can use the money for the mortgage," my roomie said.  "We can hang a bead curtain over the hallway to separate the houses."
I successfully fought cringing in response to the bead curtain.  The incense drifting over wouldn't bother me that much.  I looked at them, smiling encouragingly at me.  "Let's look at the rest of it," I said suspiciously.

I have to admit, the Captain Kirk beads are pretty sweet.

The agent led us down a hallway past the half-bath between the living room and kitchen.  After brief consideration, I decided that my blue towel set would go very well with the other light blue accents in the otherwise white bathroom.  We all continued walking down the long hallway back to the bedrooms, but we stopped in front of the master bath.  Surprisingly, it was not actually attached to the master bedroom. 

The doorway to the master bath was covered with dark red organza curtains with gold frilly trim.  One curtain was held back by a large gold rope, complete with a heavy tassel on the end.  The curtain swept away and seemed to fuse into the wallpaper (I despise wallpaper), which looked just like the curtain.  Near the bottom of the curtain/wallpaper, a large hole was cut out for a wall outlet with a unusually bright white cover.  I spent some time feeling the edges of the wallpaper and found them loose instead of tucked under the outlet cover.  When I stood up from inspecting the cover, L and my former roomie were gone and only the agent remained.

"Come see," she said, pulling the curtain back.

The first part of the "bathroom" was all a soft grayish-brown tile -- floor, walls, ceiling.  On the left side were two shower heads and the wall was spotted with steam nozzles.  On the right was a tub, built of the same tiles, specially made for two. 

Like this but remove the glass, double the shower and tub, and move the tub to the viewpoint wall.
Some explanation and TMI is needed here: L and I almost always shower together and lament that our tub isn't large enough for us to soak together, so I understand this part - plain and simple wish fulfillment.  It was what appeared and occurred beyond the "bathing area" that confounds me. 

The agent led me beyond the shower, and the room became wider.  To the left was a nook full of open metal shelves (the thin neat ones used as display racks in clothing stores and coffee shops) with clear plastic bins full of skin and hair care products.  Everything from razor blades to exotic-looking face cream was on that shelf.  To the right, the wall was lined with salon shampooing basins. The hair-styling portion of the room was filled to just below waist deep with water so that I soaked and relaxed while having my hair washed.  Water, water everywhere, but I never worried about being electrocuted, not even when my stylist pulled me from a chair and began blowing out my hair.

For many women, blow-drying hair is part of a daily routine.  Not so for me.  I have above-shoulder-length curly (think soft corkscrews) hair that I air dry whenever possible to avoid looking worse than Carrot Top before he discovered product.

Imagine my surprise when I saw myself with hair past my shoulders, straightened, but with a few wild corkscrews, like a phone cord that has been untwisted, bent the wrong way, and then twisted improperly. 

Note that I did not look in a mirror.  As is often the case in my dreams, I became a third person, omniscient, invisible observer.  I was suddenly aware that L was watching TV while my roomie was packing up my old room.

"I didn't realize I had let my hair grow out," I said to the agent.  "This all looks expensive."
"The salon will only cost $300 extra per month, or we can brick it over."

As I tried to reason why I needed a home salon, complete with personnel, I woke up. 

I know I have issues with my physical appearance, which is why I focus my time and energy on the intellectual.  However, I didn't think I was so insecure that my subconscious created a swarm of assistants to make me presentable.  Recently, I've had a more-than-average number of days where I wanted to brown bag it - that is to put a brown grocery bag over my head instead of getting ready in the morning.  I think this stems from laziness and a desire for the semester to be over with and done.  I am certain that the gluttony of Thanksgiving and the impending Christmas season contributed to the underlying concern about extravagance and excessiveness. 

I don't need to consult my dream encyclopedia to see these neon signs.  I know well and full that I have a lot of crazy bouncing around inside me.  Bits of it wriggle out from time to time, especially when I sleep.  So, share with me.  What crazy do you see?  Also, I love analyzing dreams.  If you have a doozy, pass it my way.    

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Each fall and spring semester, the algebraists and topologists at my university hold a bi-weekly seminar.  I believe the primary purpose of it is that each semester, the male professors can excuse getting out of the house/office for Aftermath.  We meet at Wings, order large beers and food, and spend about two hours complaining about students, the department, the university, life, etc.

Aftermath has become the best way to get to know and hear all sorts of interesting things.  It was at an Aftermath that Dr. E shared his story of burning his feet while playing golf .  I also learned that a fellow grad student met and got drunk with Harper Lee.

Two falls ago, the department paid for the grad students' food, and Dr. E picked up our bar tab.  According to Dr. D, the department had money it had to spend on students.  Other than four dinners, the department bought 25,000 pencils and lots of candy to give away to undergrads during finals week. 

Jack:  It's nice the math department wants to buy dinner for a bunch of poor grad students.

Dr. D:  I think the purpose is so that we can get to know the students, and they can get to know us, outside the confines of the classroom. 

Me:  Right.  We get to talk to you like real people instead of authority figures.

Dr. E: (snorting and nearly choking on his beer) Authority figures?  You're really funny, you know?

The restaurant changed it's menu a bit, and so we all spent more time than usual flipping through, deciphering the puns used to name the categories of dishes and courses (e.g. Diving Catch, Fowl Plays, etc.), and trying to decide what to eat.  Dr. E was sitting next to me and informed me that he has a terrible habit of ordering the messiest thing on the menu.  I told him if he was nice, his dinner might come with a post-consumption scrub-down in the parking lot.  True to form, he ordered a roast beef Po boy, dripping with gravy.  If he hadn't asked them not to, they would've put gravy on the fries.  Gravy...did I mention how much I love brown gravy?  Almost as much as cheese. 

After stuffing ourselves and each drinking down 25 ounce frosty mugs of Yuengling, we spent quite a bit of time discussing the horrid state of pop culture.  Meanwhile, the restaurant pumped Christmas music over the speakers just loud enough to make us almost yell at each other.

Michael: What is that? (We fall silent and listen.)  I think that's what my wife walked down the aisle to.

Me: It isn't the "Wedding March."  I think my bridesmaids in my first wedding walked in to it.  Maybe "Joy?"

L: "Ode to Joy" ? (Check it out, Muppets)

Me: (I nod but then listen more carefully.) No.

Dr. E: No, that's Beethoven.  This (he lifts a finger) is something worse.

Me: Oh, I think it's Pachelbel's "Canon in D"!

Dr. E: You're exactly right.  (He bobs his head at me)  Except it's slower, with more embellishments and (he pauses) yes, singing.

Me: A while back, I was doing a bit of research, trying to find a particular piece of classical music (I was looking for "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven), and I stumbled upon a website of the top 100 most recognizable classics.  I was amazed how many I knew from watching Looney Tunes.  This current generation doesn't have anything like that.

Dr. D: No, they have Lady Gaga.

Dr. C: and Justin Bieber.

L: The first time we heard "Poker Face" was on South Park, and we thought it was a fake song made up for South Park.

Me: Justin Bieber has written a memoir.

Dr. C: He's only 16.

Me: I've heard it's mostly pictures.

Dr. C: What?  "Here I am in this concert" type stuff?

Me: I think so.

Dr. C:  Did Disney create him?

Me:  I think so.  I'm pretty sure he's a Disney robot. (Note: I stole this idea from The Onion; link to follow)

Dr. C: Isn't that Miley Cyrus one too?

Me: Yes, I'm certain she's a Disney robot.

Dr. D: She had that really famous father.

Me: She's far more famous than he ever was.

Dr. C: He was big until he cut off his mullet.

L: Yes, all his power was in the mullet.

Dr. T:  Well, I think you're all Looney Tunes.

Don't lie.  You all thought mathematicians were stiff, serious folk with no sense of humor.  Okay, I admit, we are generally weird, but if you give us beer, we loosen up enough to have fun. 

Today, we were all back to squeezing in those last few bits before finals next week.  We'll take our break.  Then, when the spring semester gets cranked, we'll resume the seminar and all look forward to the last week of April when we'll get together for Aftermath.

Oh, and The Onion:

Disney Lab Unveils Its Latest Line Of Genetically Engineered Child Stars


Again, props to Dave.  I have no idea where he finds this stuff, but what else is there for a nuclear reactor operator to do other than surf the web for entertainment?