Notes from (A Bit After) the (Now?) End of the Road

It's been awhile.

Sometimes I've felt a bit overwhelmed, sometimes a bit lazy. I've jotted notes - a few of lines of which made it into this in different points. Really, I've been writing and rewriting this post for a bit. But it feels overdue.

So let me catch you up.

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After the move was so crazy, the arrival was much easier. On each end of the trip, I'd hired someone to deal with getting things moved between the truck and the apartment. In the old town, as you may recall, they didn't show. In the new town, they turned up 15 minutes early, finished a half hour early, and were polite, smooth, and funny the entire time.

Getting unpacked, however, has proved less than compelling. There are still boxes which I simply can't bring myself to get to. The couch, which I spent awhile worrying about here, does indeed go okay with the carpet. Here's a picture, as promised somewhere in the distant past. But the apartment is set up for the most part, as is the office, though it needs some artwork to deal with the tremendous amount of blank, white wall space. The bright side there is that it means I've got a bigger office than I ever had before since my usual calamitous mess hasn't been enough to fill it.

The expected fireworks over Tupperware never happened with the former roommate; instead, we spent nearly a month haggling about how the deposit should be split. It was tedious and a little ridiculous; in the end, I gave him close to what he was asking simply to make sure that he didn't bad mouth to me former friends and colleagues, as he's never had much of a poker face about his grudges. Honestly, I had bigger fish to fry.

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A week or two in the door, I had to leave for a conference, which meant that the week or two I was here were spent not just wrestling with boxes, but trying to figure out how to get funding through the system double-time.

It was, I must say, one of the nicer surprises to see that not only could it be done, but that no one blinked, everyone said "please" and "thank you," and I didn't have to pay a dime out of my pocket.

Until recently - IT again my nemesis - that has been the experience here.

---

I haven't explored much. The drivers frighten me a little. Once, driving to help a friend unload his U-Haul (I've moved two people since I've been here, plus a trip with another to buy furniture), a police officer stalked up to my window and seemingly wanted to pick a fight because I didn't get a local driving queue (I still, frankly, don't know what it was that I missed, but he made it clear that I did something).

Where I have spent time has been with some of my dear friends from grad school. While we haven't been going to a bar the way we used to, I've probably had more drinks in the past month than in the last year and a half at previous job.

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At my first real meeting in the department, I was caught unaware. It's what I get for focusing on my cake and thinking that birthday get-togethers would be staid affairs.

An older colleague looked up over her cake and mentioned her son going to a strip club. I blinked a little - about the same way I did when a friend in grad school announced they liked to go to massage parlors. Then, my horror was that "massage parlor" was, where I came from, a gentle euphemism for brothels and gun fights, while around my grad school, they were simply another form of hippy delight.

Evidently, strip clubs might be seen somewhat similarly here.

As the only male in the room, I wasn't quite sure what to do. So I looked down at my cake and tried to move on. Obviously there was nothing I could say to this. But everyone in the room began to offer up stories. One of them told of the time HR at their school organized a trip for faculty and staff that ended up at one. Another told a story about their favorite club in a nearby city. They swapped brutally punned club names they'd gone to. In short order, every possible thing I might say began to feel like it would be taken wrong. Even complimenting that tasty cake seemed like a bad idea.

But the conversation was funny.

---

At night, in the hotel room at my out-of-the-country conference, I received an e-mail: "No one has signed up for your class. Please advise." My time, attempting to speak the language, slowed me a minute. Was I supposed to know enough, two weeks in, to advise?

If so, I was in trouble.

Evidently, promoting my class at the end of the Spring fell a bit by the wayside, and so I was offered a choice: teach "horrid freshman class" I've never taught before and that no one ever wants to teach, or teach a single course in Fall and three in Spring.

Easy choice.

---

At orientation, the History faculty member began to detail for us, in rapidly devolving tangents, about the time classroom technology let us down. She told the tale earnestly, as though she had made a great discovery that all professors should be aware of: technology fails. The Accounting professor was not to be topped. With each item related to health care, she offered a story of her teenage son's clumsiness. With each retirement option mentioned, she spiraled about her ex.

It was, as most orientations are, a tennis match of boredom. Only later would I be tossed into the deep end of acronym heaven. The VP of Something Or Other spoke for six minutes using only simple verbs and acronyms. Everyone nodded sagely. It seemed like we might make it out only 45 minutes late.

But then the History prof had an epiphany.

---

Sitting at the closing reception, the Latin American journalist who'd crashed the party looked at me and proposed a strange question. We'd been talking about H1N1 and about our favorite authors, and it didn't seem so bad, until that moment, that I didn't have full command of the language. He told me how he feels people from his country have a block - a sort of psychological vomiting reflex - that keeps them from ever wanting to learn or speak English. I explained that I think for many people from the U.S., to learn another language seems like a sign of weakness.

But then, across the table from a group of older, established Australian scholars I'd been giving a slight effort to impressing, he asked me if I wanted to drive out into the desert and do some peyote.

I paused. Maybe I'd missed something in my translation. Just to be safe, I declined, and mentioned that I'm really only into alcohol.

He was incredulous. And persistent. The Aussies could only manage awkward silence.

But we recovered. We went back to discussing publishing across the Americas. He suggested he could get me published in Bolivia. Then he gave me his blog URL, so I could read his theories about the CIA and various pandemics through the ages. And then, because perhaps the Ausssies got too comfortable, he returned to peyote. And when I didn't bite, he went a step further.

"You like the women here?"

I did. I like the women everywhere, really. But that wasn't what he was asking. Oh, to understand the nuance.

"They're not too expensive. We should get some, and have a good going away party before you head back."

The Aussies, it seems, spoke the language better than I did. They all looked at each other and left the table as a group. It seems, in addition to being a journalist (of sorts), I may have been drinking with a pimp.

Swigging my last shot of mescal, it seemed time to leave the table. And so I did.

And so I am doing now.

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2 Responses to “Notes from (A Bit After) the (Now?) End of the Road”
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Brigindo said...

Oh how I've missed you. Great stories. Can't wait to hear more.

September 6, 2009 at 10:29 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Good to be missed. =)

I imagine I'll be back around a bit more; new job, lots of new material. It was nice having some time away though now I'm going to have to spend some time catching up with everyone.

How's things?

September 7, 2009 at 8:20 PM