Friday, January 11, 2008

Bugs that go zap . . . in my sandwich?

Yes, yes . . . it's true. Four of the best reasons to teach at the college level are June, July, August and the December/January winter break. And if you finesse your final classes just a little bit as they wind down in May, you can reserve most of that month for "research" and "contemplation," too.

So I guess that makes five reasons, not four.

Wait just a minute! Let's not forget about spring break, that wonderful March sabbatical we share with our students, who, having worked themselves into exhaustion after six whole weeks of classes, head straight for the nearest cruise liner, beach, ski resort or other such hardscrabble venue. Professors, on the other hand, take that week to finish articles or papers that we owe editors, conference organizers or some other angry colleague, clean out our offices, clean up our houses, pick up our dry cleaning, assuming it hasn't been "donated" to charity, get the oil changed in our cars, maybe even catch up on our reading or start assembling fantasy baseball teams. No, we do not -- or at least I don't, anyway -- "head off" for spring break, as so many of my students seem to believe we do. When a student volunteers something like, "Oh, I'm, like, going on a cruise? or something? for spring break, and I am, like, so psyched, that, like, I am going because, like, half my friends are, like, also going," I am always tempted to respond . . .

"Oh, me too! Like, the same one! Maybe I'll get to see you at the gambling tables or throwing up over the side after we've challenged each other to a Jagermeister contest. Like, wouldn't that be so fun!"

or . . .

"Three other professors and I are all going to drive down to Florida together and just see what happens. No reservations, no hotels and only $100 a piece, just to see if we can pull it off. We figure if get desperate we can get on "Professors Gone Wild" and get famous that way."

But I don't because I genuinely, genuinely fear that I'd get a, "WOW! THAT IS LIKE SO AWESOME . . . WE'LL TOTALLY HAVE TO MEET UP AND PARTY . . . LIKE THAT IS SO COOL . . . DO YOU KNOW LAURA, SHE'S GOING TOO AND SHE'LL BE SO PSYCHED THAT YOU'RE GOING AS WELL," response in return, and that would end up morphing into a telephone-type story that had me going to Mexico to buy dirt-bag weed in order to entice illegal immigrants to make pornographic films by saying I was conducting a comparison of North American judicial processes, and how I got arrested because I was a terrorist and . . . and . . . and . . . this might mean that I would be late returning some sort of cockamamie assignment.

Winter break, like spring break, isn't all fun and games. The December/January interlude is a time for universities to engage in their periodic and strangely unnecessary improvements to our physical plant, replace carpet that looks perfectly fine, paint railings that seem to get painted more often that our bathrooms are cleaned or offices vacuumed and numerous other projects. If you are a professor, and if you decide to come to campus over the break, you are faced with the even bleaker prospect that our campus dining facilities are unavailable, and you are left to choose between McDonalds, some sort of hobo-pack from the Eagle's Nest, our campus convenience store that takes no backseat to 7-11 when it comes to extortion or Subway, which is housed inside the Eagle's Nest. Because Subway is a national chain, and because American University is not the airport, it charges customers here what it would charge them anywhere. McDonalds and I reached an agreement to go our separate ways a long time ago. And no, we're not good friends because McDonalds was not ever so close to me that I considered it more like a brother than a delicious place to secure sustenance. Nope . . . the break was good and clean and irrevocable.

Subway, then, was my choice. I had a lunch on Lay-Away over at our other local extortion palace, the American Cafe, a sandwich shop in the lobby of the Ward building, where my non-vacuumed and rarely cleaned office is located, the same building where I teach most of my classes in rooms that don't have chalk or A/V systems that work consistently BUT . . . do have new carpet and wireless portals for our students to plug in their laptops so they can play Solitaire during class or Google chat their friends five seats over or get some shopping in before going home to do some more shopping and Google chatting. The American Cafe doesn't stay open during the winter break, so my lunch will have to wait until next week, assuming I can afford to make the payments (the interest is killing me) . . .

An incredibly cheerful "Sandwich Artist" greeted me in line -- and, to clear something up, you wait "in" a line, not "on" a line -- and asked me what kind of bread I'd like her to build . . . create . . . sculpt . . . draw my sandwich. Well, well . . . isn't this upscale? I thought. Not just white or wheat, but all kinds of interesting choices. I chose my bread and decided to treat myself to a foot-long Subway Club, the better to see my Sandwich Artist's work. Was she a modernist? An expressionist? An impressionist? A disciple of Andy Warhol? Would she just draw the sandwich six times and present it to me, or make six little sandwiches and present them side by side? A cubist? Would she make six "White Castle" type sandwiches and present them to me on stainless steel? So many possibilities . . . I could even pick my own cheese.

And then it happened . . .

Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-a-a-a-a-a-p!

And again . . .

Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-a-a-a-a-a-p!

And there it was . . . the electric blue bug zapper (pictured above), right behind the toaster and sandwich station where the Sandwich Artists and, presumably, their apprentices, make life from nothing. Whatever the artistic appeal of the electric blue zapper might be, placing it above where my sandwich is being "created" doesn't . . . hmm . . . I don't know . . . make me want to take a big bite and go, Mmm-mmm, good! Oh, wait, that's the Campbell's Soup slogan. Or it once was.

My enthusiasm for my Sandwich Artist's creation began to wane a bit, although it was no fault of her own. Hearing two bugs get zapped as I was waiting for my lunch didn't have much rustic appeal, or appeal of any kind. And this being a university campus, there was a good chance that someone would be so offended by the unsanctioned taking of a bug's life that I could be taken hostage in the Eagle's Nest, a pawn in a game of chance between a greedy company that lured bugs to their death so it could prepare sandwiches consisting of meats taken from animals. God only knows what other issues might arise in the standoff that might ensue? Did the Subway Sandwich Artists have employer-provided health care? Had their name tags been tested on animals? Were the toys included in the kid's meals made in China and thus merely a pastel covered death stick? How bad was this going to get?

On the bright side, I had my iPod, fully charged, so I could wait this out with 26.9 gigs of music to deter the eventual ending that would come of this . . . smoke bombs, a psychotic SWAT team sharpshooter who opened fire without permission . . . probably on me . . . a tragic miscalculation on the ransom demands . . . no one available to just give the hostage-taker a "C" so he could graduate and move on, the academic accomplishments of the other students be damned.

Whatever. I decided to pay for my sandwich and take a chance. Chomp-chomp-chomp and down it went. So good was my sandwich that it put me in food coma and led to a nice afternoon siesta . . . until I woke up hearing that sound . . .

Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-p!

School starts Monday. I think I'll make it a bring day.

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