It’s flattering, and all, that they wanted to use me in an ad, but holy crap is this a terrible picture of me. This appeared in the August 19th, 2007 issue of the Dearborn Press and Guide.
It’s flattering, and all, that they wanted to use me in an ad, but holy crap is this a terrible picture of me. This appeared in the August 19th, 2007 issue of the Dearborn Press and Guide.
I am writing in response to Luke Duncan’s October 11th article, “The Teacher Tax.” While I admire Mr. Duncan’s concern for the finances of fellow students and the economics of education, I feel compelled to put to rest some of the fallacious conclusions contained in the article. A “Teacher Tax”, while an entertaining rhetorical device, is not an apt description of the course packets on sale in the bookstore.
Instructors throughout academia publish their work with an eye toward widespread distribution. These publications are the vehicle that drives our educational system, financial compensation for such work is the fuel that powers that vehicle. While it is romantic to hold onto the ideal that teachers teach for love of the educational process, and while that is certainly true in many cases, even teachers have to pay the bills. Published works such as textbooks, study guides, workbooks, and course packets are intended for an audience that far exceeds the author’s classroom inhabitants; they are intended for use on a much broader scale. The amount of time and effort that writing and organizing such a work requires is way above and beyond that which an instructor’s salary is designed to cover. While it would be appreciated if instructors would give of their spare time for free, such charity should not be required.
The article goes on to make the statement that course packets should be sold at cost; and on this point I agree wholeheartedly. The students should be charged only for the expenses that go into the creation of these valuable learning materials (plus the bookstore’s profit margin). Of course, those costs should include the time and effort required to produce such a text in addition to those expenses incurred through publication and distribution. While new ideas are often wrought of self-sacrifice, comparatively few innovations are derived purely from altruism. Even Lawrence Lessig, the creator of the Creative Commons licensing movement, recognizes the importance of revenue-generation to the creative process. One of the components of the “copy-left” system he has created is exclusively used to license for-profit publishing.
Have some teachers found a nice side income? The question is asked with the implied timbre of accusation, as if the desire to acquire money in exchange for performing a task is something of which we should be ashamed. The concept of payment for services rendered is one of the ideas on which our economy is based. An engineer at an automotive company is paid for his work at the plant. When he uses that knowledge to repair a car on his own time, it is perfectly reasonable for that engineer to expect payment for his time. Time is a valuable commodity, and should be valued as greatly as the material cost of text production. It is safe to assume that most of the students here at Henry Ford are spending their tuition money in the hopes that they, too, can find a job where their time will be compensated for.
I, too, feel the strain of my financial situation each semester when I join the long lines in the student bookstore. Make no mistake, it is a problem shared by the bulk of the student body, and there is, perhaps, a need for some type of reform. Rest assured, however, that a supposed “Teacher Tax”, as defined by Mr. Duncan’s article, is not the source of said reform. Without the ability to make money from publishing, innovation in the area of schoolbook development would almost certainly grind to a halt.
Returning to school at thirty years old, I found myself somewhat jaded at the prospect of my career after school. I was certainly not excited about the prospect of obtaining a degree so that I could return to a career that I considered to be, at best, a chore. As a result, I initially entered into the co-op program at Henry Ford Community College with the expectation that I would gain very little outside of a grade and another entry on my resume, and the further expectation that it would be more of the same, uninteresting thing that I have been doing for years. Surely, there would be nothing of importance that I would be able to take away from a part-time job that I had not already gained from nearly a decade in corporate Information Technology. I could not have been more wrong. This co-op did not just give me a grade. Instead, I can say with no exaggeration that my time with this work-study program has been a life altering experience.
As a Lab Technician, my official responsibilities could be summarized best as an “equipment babysitter” of sorts; someone to ensure that the lab rules are followed while signing in students and helping students with the equipment. Unofficially, I spent much of my day during the first semester helping the Computer Information Systems (CIS) students understand their coursework. It is in this capacity that I found an exciting, enjoyable niche. I learned that I enjoy teaching college students. Suddenly, a new branch of opportunity sprouted before me, and my future prospects were no longer the bleak, dismal things that I had been dreading.
Now that I have adjusted my collegiate plans to those of an aspiring college instructor, my time as a co-op student has become even more useful. The time I spend at work is now time spent learning how to deal with a variety of different students with varying needs, goals, abilities, learning methods, and skill levels. Just two short semesters has already improved my ability to explain a concept from many different perspectives–trying repeatedly until I can find one that will work. This time spent has also served to teach me new ways to communicate effectively with students. These improvements have been key factors in the considerable expansion of my role as unofficial tutor this semester. I have been invited to sit in on the lab time for two separate CIS125 classes so that I can provide supplemental instruction to the students as they are actively trying to complete their assignments.
The experience, as a whole, has been extremely gratifying. The feeling of working with someone who is having a problem with a concept and being there when they have that “breakthrough moment,” and to know that I was a part of that process, has made the entire process something I strongly wish to remain a part of. I cannot imagine having ever gotten a chance to take part in this type of work without this work-study position. Had this position not been available to me, I would be continuing on my path back into a job field that I have never particularly enjoyed, merely to make money.
A significant percentage of the reason that this program has worked so well for me is that my employers are also educators. As such, they have an understanding of student life, of going back to school, or choosing a career path that suits your strengths, and of finding a path through the educational experience that will end some place meaningful. Certainly, the value of the time I have spent at work would be lessened, had I not been working with a corps of fine educators who have worked hard to help me succeed. The influence that each of these instructors have exerted upon my experience has been a great boon in guiding me down that path.
If I could make any suggestion to potential work-study students, it would be this: Try something new. Do not simply do what you have always done; instead, take this relatively risk-free opportunity to spend a semester doing something different. It might very well open up a completely new avenue of possibility for you that you had no idea existed.
When I was growing up, my father and I used to discuss what I would do when I grew up. I used to say “doctor” or “lawyer” because those were jobs that seemed to make a great deal of money. My father’s response was always the same. He would always reply, “A paycheck is a fringe benefit to doing a job that you enjoy.” To me, that always felt like an unrealistic goal, but today, having the benefit of my co-op position under my belt, I can say with absolute assurance that my paycheck most certainly is a fringe benefit of a job that I enjoy doing. For the first time since I came back to school, I am genuinely excited about finishing school and taking the next step forward, into my new, “grown up” life.
Henry Ford Community College student Jeremy Lance had little idea that returning to college at age 30 and obtaining a cooperative education (co-op) position at HFCC would significantly alter his life plans and lead him toward his dream career.
It did, and the experience paid off in more ways than one. Lance was recently awarded second place and a $250 scholarship in the Carol Quandt Student Essay Contest for writing about his co-op experience at HFCC in an essay titled, ‘A Change of Plans.’ Lance was the first community college student ever to win an award in the statewide essay contest.
The contest was sponsored by the Michigan Council for Internships and Cooperative Education. Students were asked to write about factors that have been most influential in making their co-op experience valuable. The contest was open to co-op students from all Michigan colleges and universities.
Lance, 30 of Inkster, enrolled at HFCC in the winter 2007 semester to earn a degree in Computer Information Systems (CIS) so he could advance in his job, after working more than a decade in information technology in a corporate setting. Lance also enrolled in the Cooperative Education program at HFCC to earn money and to add more experience to his resume. At first, he did not realize how much he would learn from the program, which combines work experience with college credit.
“I can say that my time with HFCC’s Co-op program has been a life altering experience,” explained Lance. “Employers work with you and your schedule, which is very beneficial.”
Lance began his co-op position working as a lab tech in HFCC’s student computer lab. His job included helping Computer Information Systems (CIS) students with their course work and with lab equipment, as well as other jobs around the lab. It wasn’t until he was asked to assist students in a large introductory computer class that he discovered he had an interest in teaching.
“I learned I enjoyed teaching college students and found new opportunities before me,” notes Lance. “Teaching was always something I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize that teaching at the college level was something attainable for me.”
Working with CIS students allowed Lance to deal with a variety of students with different needs, goals, abilities, learning methods, and skill levels, and he wrote about the benefits of that in his essay.
“Just two short semesters has already improved my ability to explain a concept from many different perspectives,” Lance wrote. “This time spent has also served to teach me new ways to communicate effectively with students.”
Lance, who also is a member of HFCC’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, the national honor society for two-year college students, has been invited to be an unofficial tutor this semester, which allows him to sit in on lab time for two separate CIS 125 classes to provide extra instruction to students as they complete their assignments.
“The experience, as a whole, has been extremely gratifying,” says Lance. “The feeling of working with someone who is having a problem with a concept and being there when they have that ‘breakthrough moment,’ and to know that I was a part of that process, is something I wish to remain a part of.”
“I can’t imagine having ever had the chance to take part in this type of work without this co-op position.”
HFCC’s Cooperative Education program provides students with both work experience and classroom instruction. Students are employed in practical, paid positions directly related to their educational and career goals. Students receive a paying job, a letter grade, and college credit while enrolled in the co-op program at HFCC. Students registered in co-op must fulfill all terms of employment as well as attend regular class sessions and complete all course requirements.
To enroll in the co-op program, students must first pick up an application from the Co-op Office, located in room T-112 in HFCC’s Technology Building on the main campus located at 5101 Evergreen in Dearborn. Students must also prepare a resume and meet with a Cooperative Education specialist to submit the completed application and resume. Resume guidelines as well as more HFCC co-op information can be found at www.hfcc.edu/coop.
“Jeremy is a joy to work with,” says Nancy Stupsker, HFCC cooperative education specialist. “He had received excellent feedback from his co-op supervisor not only for his outstanding computer skills, but for his ability to work well with students. I am very proud to have him represent our college.”
In the future, Lance plans on attending the University of Michigan-Dearborn to earn a bachelor’s degree and hopes to come back to HFCC as a CIS instructor.
“If I could make any suggestion to potential co-op students, it would be try something new,” Lance wrote in his essay. “Do not simply do what you have always done. Instead, take this relatively risk-free opportunity to spend a semester doing something different. It might open up a new avenue of possibility for you that you had no idea existed.”
For more information on HFCC’s Cooperative Education program, please call Stupsker at 313-845-6359. For more information on HFCC, visit www.hfcc.edu or call 1-800-858-HFCC (4322).
Somewhere in the early 2000s, I ran the IT Department for a modestly sized marketing firm in southeast MI. When I say that I ran the IT Department, a more honest assessment would be that I was the most senior IT person in a modestly sized department. As such, I was responsible for all of the technical issues that would come up on a daily basis, in addition to all of the behind the scenes work that goes into making the servers run and the email arrive.
Being a small company, everyone knew everyone else; and everyone had an opinion of everyone else. It was easy to pick out which employees got along, and which did not. For nearly every employee, you could find a nemesis; a polar opposite. Almost everyone had their arch-rival; mine was Don1.
Don was everything that was wrong with white collar society. He was a smarmy, over-educated but under-intelligent, sycophantic bastard, and I detested him. When he quit to follow his wife to another state for her job, I (somewhat) silently cheered. When I heard months later that he divorced his wife because she was cheating on him, I did a small Irish jig in the main conference room. When he came back to work for us again, it was all I could do not to leap from my ninth-story window. He would take every available opportunity to make my life miserable, and I would do the same to him. Then, one day the ultimate revenge fell into my lap…
On a fine, sunny day in late September, a few months after his return to the company, the anti-Jer wandered into my office carrying his computer in his hands. Already, I was enraged. What is he doing with this computer in his hands? He’s not allowed to disconnect his computer. He’s not allowed to carry it around the building. As he dumps it unceremoniously onto the corner of my desk, he says brusquely, “It’s running slowly, I need it back by tomorrow”, and walks quickly from my office.
This is exactly why I keep my office door locked.
Knowing that he won this round, I opted not to fight the inevitable, and I booted up his system. Just as I thought, tons of installed software and extra crap is being loaded on startup, slowing everything down. In a gesture of defiance, I decide to baseload his system and load user rights management on it. In preparation, I started copying his user directory to the server. While waiting for the copy to complete, I called a friend and spoke to him briefly about plans that evening. It was during this conversation that sweet, sweet revenge came a-knocking.
“You have to come down here right now and look at this!” I exclaimed.
“What is it?” Gary asked.
“Just come look…”, I said, before disconnecting the conversation.
Moments later, I was showing Gary what has passed before my eyes just a few minutes before. A directory named “Personals” with subdirectories for “Adult Friend Finder”, “Yahoo Personals”, “eHarmony”, and several other dating sites. Inside of each directory was a series of pictures of Don, a Word document containing his advertisement blurb, and, most importantly, his log of conversations with people from each site. It was a veritable goldmine of usable information…but what to do with it?
We called our friend Ron, the only other smoker, and invited him out for a cigarette, where we related to him what we had found. It was Ron who put to bed our ideas of turning Don in or blackmailing him in favor of something much more fun. Starting a relationship with him. We agreed to go out for drinks that night to formulate a plan of attack.
The next day, I returned Don’s computer to him, and I couldn’t even find it in myself to respond to his barbs because I was too excited about what the day had in store. I hustled back to my office and got right to work.
First, I searched the web for images of a woman. Specifically, I needed to find a very pretty brunette (Don’s preference) with photos that did not look professional, and more importantly, I had to be able to get several clothed pictures of her and at least one revealing photo. I found what I was looking for on some young woman’s vanity site.
I then created an account on one of his less popular free dating sites. I created a profile that matched his “ideals” nearly precisely, gave an address that was in a neighborhood near-but-not-too-near to his, uploaded one of my pictures, and entered “Elizabeth’s” ad.
Gary, Ron, and I had spent most of the evening trying to figure out what to say, and had ultimately come up with a masterpiece that extolled the virtues of shorter men, the love of movies, the lack of desire to travel, and an adoration of hockey. The adoration of hockey nearly ruined us several times, as there was not a hockey fan among our number. Later, once things got going, we recruited Allen as our hockey expert.
Our plan was to wait a few days, then message Don as if we had just run across his ad, but things were hastened when he replied to our ad that same day. During work hours no less! I quickly printed off his message, grabbed Gary and Ron, and we left to go smoke. Over our smoke break, we read his message several times and formulated a response. When I got back to my office, I sent it off, and thus began our beautiful relationship.
It was apparent, right off, that Don was as full of himself as we had always believed. It was hard to ignore or, worse, applaud some of his ridiculously self-aggrandizing statements. When he talked about how much he wasn’t “hard on the eyes” or how important it was that he keep his body “rock hard”, it would stump us. How would an actual woman respond to such stupidity? More to the point, how stupid must we make “Elizabeth” sound that she wouldn’t laugh at such idiocy? Nevertheless, we plugged on; it would be worth it.
We began to run into an issue when he wanted to meet with Liz. We had made her an ER nurse at a hospital that was local enough to seem reasonable while being far enough to dissuade him from trying to surprise her at work. The ER concept was a godsend, allowing us to schedule dates with Don then cancel the day before or the day of due to work several times. Between the crazy ER nurse hours and her long drive to work, it was easy to paint a picture of her as someone that was just very busy at the moment and unable to make schedules work out. Fortunately, she had a promotion coming soon that would reduce her hours dramatically. Until then, Don had to make due with an increasingly sexual text-based relationship.
Why text based? On three or four separate occasions, we communicated with him by phone using my friend’s girlfriend, Lisa, as our proxy. This proved to be unnerving to all of us, because Lisa laughed when she was nervous, and she was not good at extemporaneous speaking. She would just freeze while we fed her something to say. Fortunately, Don was not the sharpest pencil in the box, and chalked up her lack of ability to communicate to general nervousness. The upside to Lisa, however, was that she had a sexy phone voice. When he started talking a little dirty to her, she took off on her own and, in no time, was getting phone-sex-operator nasty with the dwarven geek. We had to keep voice conversation minimal, because even a chud like Don would notice her inability to do anything but phone sex with any degree of normalcy sooner or later.
By the end of October, Don was getting restless. We had put him off as long as we could, but his interest seemed to be waning due to the lack of physical or even vocal contact. Things had gone as far as they could go; or so we thought.
In retrospect, a few less beers consumed by each of us would have probably made our thought process a bit more clear. Had Allen not bought several rounds of shots (he was a regular in our group now), we would have probably rethought our brilliant finale. As it turned out, we got just drunk enough that our brilliance knew no bounds. We decided to meet him for lunch on Halloween. It began as a simple enough plan; plan to meet him at the Mongolian barbecue, show up before he does, take a picture of him getting stood up, and drop off a printout of all of the emails and the picture on his desk later on. It was fantastic.
Then it got better.
I made a joke about showing up and saying “Hi” to him. That turned into me showing up in a wig, which ultimately transformed into me showing up in full drag and introducing myself to him as Liz. That, ultimately, was the downfall of the experiment.
On that fateful day, I called in sick to work so that Don wouldn’t see me in my pretty blue dress. We had set lunch for noon, so Gary, Ron, and Allen had all arrived at 11:30 so they could get seats overlooking the fun. At 12:15 I entered the restaurant.
To say that Don had a puzzled look on his face when he saw me walk through the door would have been an understatement. I must have looked quite a sight, and I relished in his demeanor change as his glance moved down from my long black hair haphazardly stuffed under a platinum Marilyn Monroe wig (the only we had available), past my goatee covered face, along my tattooed and hairy arms, below my wide hips, and across my hairy legs, coming to a rest upon my work boots. His confusion slowly dissolved into amusement, then was quickly replaced by shock as I approached his table. Horror overtook his features as I stopped across from him and said “Don? I’m Liz!” in my rather masculine voice.
There were many ways to react to this. Really level people would realize what had happened, see the humor, and laugh it off. Most people would get very angry and storm off, plotting revenge. There is a third option; extreme aggression. This is not an option that we had taken into account. When Don leapt to his feet, my assumption was that it was to rush from the building. When he cocked his fist and swung at me, I was taken completely off guard. I ducked and punched him. He lost his balance and fell to the ground.
It was madness. Rather than get arrested in full drag, I chose to sprint for the door before Don could regain his feet. I would live to fight another day.
The epilogue to this epic battle is that, for the next two months, work was a very uncomfortable place. At no point was our little joke ever brought up…and his dating foibles became similarly off limits. In December, I quit to pursue a better option, but I would like to think that Don still thinks twice before he dates on the Internet from work. And the moral that you can take with you from this story? Maybe, just maybe, you should be nice to your IT people.
1 All names changed, because some of these people might want to work in this town again.
First, if a member of my family is reading this; or for that matter, anyone who is squeamish, not amused by the pain of others, or easily offended…just do all of us a favor and skip this entry.
Seriously, move along.
You’ll be sorry…
As 2006 started, my then-girlfriend, Terra, had all but moved into my house, and as such all manner of feminine products had taken up residence in my bathroom. This is a phenomena that I will be investigating further at some point in the future, but for now, suffice to say there was no end to the strange devices and products with which I have little experience that have invaded my life. Among these things…a waxing kit.
Now, I have been staring at this thing since I came back from my Christmas trip to NY, and every time I enter my bathroom it calls to me…try me…try me…
As a guy, there are limitations as to what I can wax…if I was to wax my legs, arms, or chest…that would just be inappropriate (since I am not a body builder, a swimmer, or trying to pick up men). My head was a option, but I’m tired of the bald look, and it is winter. That pretty much left my “equipment”.
So, I hook up the warming apparatus, and proceeded to read the instructions. It is important to note that, as a guy, I suffer from vanity. As such, when the directions indicated to try this on a small patch of hair first as a test, I literally could not do so. I was constitutionally incapable. Even though I would be the only one to know that I was such a weakling that I actually tested a small area, I just couldn’t. So, I covered my taint and sack with hot wax.
After the waxy coating, I added those nifty cloth strips (three to the sack, one to the taint), waited a moment for the wax to do its hardening thing, then gave a test tug to one of the sack-attached strips.
“Okay,” I thought, “this is going to be pretty painful, but, hey, I’m a man, I can take it, right?” With that pep talk, I psyched myself up and decide that strip one is coming off like a band-aid, right now.
One scream and a lot of tears later, I’m laying in a ball on the floor. Wow!
The only upside to this is that there’s only three more to go, right? Wrong! Upon closer inspection, all four strips are still in place. Apparently, I failed to take into account the elastic nature of my bag of jewels. Yanking the strip merely stretched my balls to about my knees, but did not remove the strip or any hair. Panic sets in. I need to get these strips off, and pulling again just ain’t happening. I finally realize that perhaps a hair dryer would soften the wax sufficiently to remove it semi-painlessly. Wrong. You lie, random person from the Internet! The amount of heat that would be required to melt the wax is far in excess of what my nuts can take applied directly to them… and an iron? You are sick and cruel! This left only one thing to do… grab my sack (literally) and yank the hell out of the strips.
At any rate, I then proceeded to expediently yank the strips from my genital region with much screaming, howling, pain and, yes, bleeding.
Bleeding? The instructions said nothing of blood coming from the very holes in which my hairs used to reside. What manner of false advertising is this?
After bathing away the folicular blood and soaking for a while to help rinse away the pain and horror that this stunt has caused, I found a new problem… actually, two of them. First, not all the hair went away. Second, not all the wax went away either. Unfortunately, the first problem left me looking like I had the genital mange, so I was forced to shave after my botched wax job. Hey, do you know what hurts almost as much as waxing your nuts? Shaving your freshly mangled nuts, that’s what, especially with wax still present. The second problem left me painfully, carefully un-sticking my badly butchered sack from the floor of the bathtub. Insult, meet injury.
With the benefit of a few days between me and my waxy pain, I finally could comfortably do a search to find out what I did wrong… and I found this article with an important part I’ll quote for you here:
Yes, Mr. Whittall, it does, it certainly does.
The moral of the story? Well, there are many morals you could take away from this story: Don’t wax your balls would be chief among them, but read the instructions is probably in there too. Perhaps, simply put, don’t be me?
Sadly, I did not get a chance to post this when it happened on Tuesday.
There is some chemical property of McDonalds’ coffee that has a very negative effect on my gastro-intestinal system. Specifically, it runs straight through me. Now, understand that I’m not referring to the normal coffee-induced pooping that is a result of your average cup of Joe. No, gentle reader, the effect to which I refer can best be described by the phrase “pissing out my ass”. Keep all of this in mind when I say that Tuesday morning, on the way into school, I picked up a tall cup of this special brew on my way to an Econ test.
I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess.
So at 7:30 in the morning, I’m finishing my large coffee as I take what should be a pretty simple part 1 of an exam…when I feel a gurgling in my stomach. I have to shit…no, I have to shit NOW! I’m talking about a degree of urgency that doesn’t say “You should go to the bathroom” or even “You should run to the bathroom”, but “You should run to the bathroom, and bring your cup, in case you have to stop along the way and shit in THAT!” Things were urgent.
I’ve never used the bathrooms on the third floor of this building, so I race down the hall with a 50/50 chance of the direction I’ve chosen being the Men’s room…and a 50/50 chance of it being the ladies room.
Guess which I picked?
For a brief moment, I considered just using the women’s restroom, but the damage I was going to visit upon the toilet was something I couldn’t bring myself to do in anything but a men’s room. Chagrined, I pressed on, retracing my steps and heading to the men’s room.
Walking like a duck. POWERwalking like a duck.
By the time I got to the stall, the urgency had reached a fever pitch. Luckily my pants are oversized, because I didn’t unbuckle my belt or unbutton my pants, I just smoothly slid everything down below my ass and let fly as my ass approached the seat.
The extra few seconds I saved by not waiting until my ass was in actual contact with the seat was my downfall. You see, what came out of my orifice had the appropriate color and odor, but aside from that bore absolutely no resemblance to crap. To begin with, it was purely liquid. More importantly, it came out of my ass at an ALARMING velocity. Fortunately, I was able to stop myself from sitting all the way down, because the vile matter that was being expelled from my colon sprayed all over the seat, the floor, the back wall…even a little on the side-walls of the stall. It was horrifying.
When the initial volley ended, I popped the door open, peeked around the bathroom to ensure that I was alone, and scooted into the next stall so I could sit down and finish my business. A few moments later, I was finished and cleaned, and I started pulling some paper towels to mop up my mess…
…but I really should get back to my test, right?
So I ditched my mess and went back to my test. Mission accomplished, no harm, no foul…except the guy that sits at my desk with me then gets up to go to the bathroom. It did not occur to me that anything could go wrong when he returned and said, in a very loud voice, “Someone shit ALL OVER the bathroom. It’s all over the place, it’s in like, three stalls!”
To which I responded, “It was ONE STALL!”
Then I realized what I’d done…and just went back to doing my test.
Nobody has mentioned it to me yet.
A friend of mine was always fond of saying that the Army was like high school, only more so. Every time I think of that quote, I cannot help but be reminded of the story of the “Shitting Bandit”, and the high school-esque hijinks surrounding that summer in 1995 in Seoul, South Korea.
To set the scene, we were living in a barracks that amounted to a straight, three-story high monolith consisting of a straight hall with four-person cube rooms lined up on each side. The outside wall of each room had two huge, screen-less windows that slid open to reveal a gap a full grown man could walk through with barely a duck of his head.
Oh, and the locks only consistently worked on the second floor windows (the girls’ floor, go figure).
Adding to our security woes, due to ongoing construction of some sort throughout the summer there was scaffolding in place the length and height of one side of the building. Many an evening was spent drunk on the roof of the barracks due to our easy access.
In short, the security of our rooms could have used some improvement.
The legend of the Shitting Bandit began simply enough…with a pile of shit in the shared first floor shower.
Now, when I say “in the shower” what I mean, to be very specific, is dead center of the community shower, neatly coiled, right next to the drain.
A sum total of six or seven people saw it first hand, and it was quickly cleaned up. A stern announcement was made at formation. No one was caught.
Less than a week later, this one-time incident was repeated, except this time, the offending offal was left dead in the middle of the hall, immediately outside the bathroom door on the first floor.
Many more people saw it, and it was quickly cleaned up. A stern announcement was again made at formation. No one was caught.
Two weeks went by before the ante was again upped, and the offender officially became a serial shitter. This time, after several days of inexplicable, horrific smells from the first and third floor bathrooms, a huge helping of crap was found inside the grill of the wall heaters in both rooms.
Everyone smelled it; a few saw it. It was cleaned professionally. A series of announcements were made at formation. A memo was placed into circulation by our commander. No one was caught.
At this point, it was funny to nearly all (save for those on whom it fell to clean up the offending feces), but the next events really brought matters home…literally. Less than two weeks after the last event, a turd was found in the heater grill of three different sleeping quarters.
Several people saw it; everyone heard about it; twelve people were intimately and directly affected. It was professionally cleaned. Many more announcements were made at formation. Another memo was placed into circulation from our commander. The name “The Shitting Bandit” was coined.
Once the bandit started hitting rooms, a (forgive the obvious pun) shitstorm erupted. Nothing was safe. For weeks, crap was found everywhere imaginable. In room heaters, on a paper plate on someone’s bed, in the drinking fountain, in a baggie hung from the bulletin board…everywhere. At one point, a tupperware dish packed full of shit was found in the refrigerator in the CQ office, which is staffed 24/7. The shitting bandit was a magician; an evil magician that works exclusively with poop.
Things had gotten out of hand. Everyone saw dookie. Announcements were made daily at formation by the commander himself. Memos were sent out by our Colonel. Guards were posted. Window locks were repaired. A “town hall” meeting was called. Rumors started that the shit was being DNA tested. Still, no one was caught.
One day, with no warning, it all stopped. Just like that, the Shitting Bandit had gone into retirement. Theories that had been bandied about that the Bandit was actually several people acting individually were suddenly discarded; if it were many people, how would one explain the abrupt stop? Fear and confusion replaced amusement and mirth. For weeks, soldiers were petrified whenever they opened wall lockers or turned down their beds…what would happen next!?
As it turns out, nothing did. The story ended as anticlimactically as an Austen novel. No one was ever found and nothing ever came of any investigation that might have happened. We all have theories, but I am confident that I know who did it. My close friend and drinking buddy, Mike, had all the earmarks: the past experience breaking into rooms as the “Ether Bunny” (a great story for another time), the disturbing habits, the lack of disgust with bodily waste, the ability, the time…but most of all, the normally outspoken Mike would sit back quietly and listen intently whenever the Bandit was discussed. Rather than join in the theory-filled conversations, he would kick back with an amused expression on his face and observe. It simply had to be him…and he is an evil genius.
I really need to look him up…
In 1995, two friends, my girlfriend at the time, and I moved into a huge house in a nice neighborhood near Fort Lee, Virginia. Because we were young and dumb, the 5 bedroom, 2 and one half bath mini-mansion quickly fell into a state of disrepair, as most party houses do, but no party damage could rival that caused by an invasion of bees and my attempt to exterminate them.
One day in the late spring, I arrived at home and noticed, as I waited for the garage door to finish raising, that there were an awful lot of bees swarming around the entrance. As the days progressed, the swarm grew.
Now, I hate bees. In fact, I don’t like any stinging insects. These invaders needed to go.
The next day, I bought several cans of Raid spray and, upon my arrival at home, sprayed the walls, roof, porch, ground, and bushes in an attempt to dissuade the pests from hanging around my garage. The next day, it was apparent that it didn’t work. They were back in full force, completely unimpressed with my attempts to evict them.
I decided to perform some reconnaissance. I went out that evening, when bees sleep, and looked for a nest. That was when I saw the hole that they had been flying in and out of… and it was huge. It was roughly the diameter of a golf ball, and fairly deep looking. I sprayed the hole down with the last of the Raid, and went in to call my father, because if anyone would know how to deal with this problem, my father would.
Just a short while on the phone with dad gave me the hope I needed. According to him, all I needed was to pour gas into their nest at night, and my problem would be solved.
So I went to the local gas station and purchased a second five gallon gas can full of gas to go with my mostly full five gallon can at home. I figured, whatever was left over after I filled the hole could be used in my car or lawn mower. With my gas ready, I dressed for the occasion.
I know I mentioned that I hate bees, but I don’t think I conveyed the depths to which I abhor these stinging little beasties. I hate bees! Not wanting to get stung, I went a bit overboard. An outer layer that included a flannel shirt, oversized jeans, and a pair of combat boots concealed layer two: a hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants, and thick wool socks. I hid my hands in heavy winter gloves, and covered my head and face with a hood, a scarf, and a pair of motorcycle goggles. There wasn’t a bit of unprotected flesh exposed.
This, in all likelihood, saved my life.
At midnight, the hour when I felt the bees would be most asleep and least likely to stir, I proceeded with my plan. I went outside with my 8 or so gallons of gas and box of strike-anywhere matches and began the process of exterminating the bugs. I started to pour gas into the hole.
Do you know the sound that a drain makes when you pour water straight down the center of it? That is the noise the hole made as the gas disappeared into its maw. I kept pouring and pouring, waiting for the hole to fill so I could stop… and the hole just wouldn’t fill. I started on the second gas can when the first was empty, and unloaded the bulk of that into the hole before I gave up. My best estimate is that was about 6 or 7 gallons of gasoline in the hole when I finished.
Now it was time for the lighting ceremony. I took a strike anywhere match, lit it, and threw it at the hole, making sure to stand plenty far enough away to be out of harm’s way.
The match went out.
I lit another and, edging closer, threw it at the hole.
The match went out.
Edging closer still, I threw another lit match at the hole.
The match went out.
Being the problem solver that I am, I created a solution. I rolled up a newspaper, lit it on fire, and stuffed it into the hole.
Well, near the hole at least.
Several problems conspired to make this situation dangerous. First, the amount of time I spent dicking around with the matches allowed plenty of gas vapor to accumulate near the hole. Second, gas vapor—as it turns out—is VERY combustible. Third, my newspaper starter was sufficiently short so as to force my arm to be very near the entrance to the hole. Finally, there was a LOT of gas in that hole.
Well, in roughly the amount of time it took for me to think, “Oh shit, this was a bad idea!” my plan went horribly awry. The flaming paper, as it became proximate to the hole, ignited the vapor surrounding the hole. The process of sudden, rapid vapor ignition could best be described as a Big Fucking ExplosionTM. The explosion shook the ground, the concrete slab that was my front porch split, the foundation of the house cracked, and a plume of flame shot out of every place in my lawn where the system of tunnels I had filled with gas met the surface. Unfortunately one of those outlets was immediately beneath a bush in my yard; so my bush lit on fire. A river of fire, originating farther down my lawn, flowed its way into the road where it puddled.
Oh, and my shirt was set aflame. It was chaos.
So there I am, running around with my clothing on fire, a bush burning like something out of a Bible story, a river of fire blazing like a sign of the apocalypse, when my neighbors come out to watch the show. Did anyone help? Not a chance; they just came to watch the show. Even my roommates were just observing dispassionately out the window.
I ultimately managed to put myself out (Stop, Drop, and Roll people… Stop, Drop, and Roll), and after a fairly short time, the gas was all consumed and the various fires went out, leaving charred grass, a burnt husk of a bush, and a complete halt to the bee problem.
The next day, I called my father back to tell him how poorly his plan went. A few words into the story, he said the words that I keep with me to this day.
“I didn’t say to light the gas on fire,” he said.
And you know what? He didn’t.
One of the things that I enjoy about the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the fact that, when they “hit” a storyline, they really hit the hell out of it. I have recently finished Season 5 and have made my way into Season 6, and one of the somewhat minor story arcs has reached its azimuth in “Wrecked”, Willow’s addiction to magic. I’ve been watching this grow and have frequently thought to myself how convincingly this mirrors the process that my own addiction took. The similarities are almost frightening.
Much like my own addiction, Willow’s began as a simple crisis of personality, and now in retrospect, it is a crisis that clearly began as early as Season 1. Willow has struggled with being the nerdy, boring, un-special part of the group since the group began. I can empathize with feeling out of place, even in your group of friends. It is such a struggle to feel like everyone around you is more important, cooler, funnier, more worthy of attention, and in general, better than you. It is so easy to latch onto the first thing that sets you apart.
For Willow, it was magic, for me, it was drugs and alcohol.
Several seasons passed with very, very few specific abuses of her newfound powers. It wasn’t until well into college that things really began to take a turn. My brush with addiction began a bit earlier than hers, so my personal arc began sinking quite a bit earlier, around my senior year, but both of our ascents and descents followed a fairly parallel pattern. For a time, addiction served the purpose it was meant to. It caused no problems and it was just fun, it was pure, and it could never devolve to the point where it would be an issue. Don’t be silly. I felt popular. I felt special. People knew my name. I was a “rock star”. I used to joke around that everywhere I lived and everywhere I went, I was “that guy”. You know the one; that guy you hear about at parties that did that totally ludicrous thing that made everyone amazed and amused. You would hear about “that guy who did that funny thing that had the whole party rolling for hours” or “that guy who was just so amazingly fun to be around that people wanted to party with him. Even when those stories took a rather sad turn and became “that guy who ate a handful of random pills, drank a case of beer and a bottle of bourbon, and beat the shit out of the neighbor for calling the cops about the party”, or “that guy who brought a different woman home every night for weeks because he could”, it was still fun to be famous, even in such an insignificant way. It’s what I wanted.
Of course, ultimately the stories became less party-impressive and more party-pathetic. The stories began to be about “that guy who had alcohol poisoning five times last month” or “that guy who lost his mind in a drug and alcohol fueled rage and sent his roommate to the hospital for changing the TV channel”, or “that guy who got arrested again”. It was hard for even ME to be amused by my own press. At that point, however, the only way to not feel bad about what I did the night before was to do more tonight; and to hell with all the nay-sayers. They were just haters anyways, they just hated how much fun I was having; let’s go get drunk and forget about all of this. My addiction became self-reinforcing. Willow found out about this when she started trying to use spells to quash fights that magic started in the first place.
There is something particularly pitiful about seeing the irony in your living situation, and feeling helpless to do anything about it.
Needless to say, because of my history, I saw the storyline of “Wrecked” coming quite some time ago. It was a matter of time, and Joss Whedon’s handling of emotion is entirely to real and true for him not to address Willow’s problem in a realistic way. It was a difficult episode to watch. Despite time spent away from the horrors of what we refer to as “active addiction”, it still hurts to think of some of the ways my addiction affected those around me. When Willow brought Dawn to the “dope house” as it were, I was haunted by hearing some of my famous lines repeated back to me. “I just need to stop in here for a second”, I would say as I swung by my dealer’s house, kids in tow, to pick up a little something for later. “I’ll just be a second”, would be the last thing the kids would hear before I wandered inside for a half hour, an hour, two hours, however long I felt the need to hang around and get freebies as I bought the evening’s fare. They would even point out that “we were going to go have fun” and I would reassure them that “of course we are, Daddy just needs to take care of a few things first.” How many times did a day of fun with the kids turn into a day of them watching their father get too drunk to move at a friend’s house on the way to the park? This is how people I love were treated; you can’t imagine how everyone else was regarded.
Seeing Willow break down after she injured and endangered Dawn, hearing her promise that she was done, that she’ll stop, seeing her pain; I remember so vividly saying that time and again. I was “all done” and “a new man” more times than I care to remember, and time and again I went back because, the alternative was to be me. Why would I want to be me again?
I think that is the part that so many people who don’t suffer from addiction cannot understand. It is not about the drugs. I never cared what drug I was on, or what the effects were. Not much at least. It is not about being high. Being high is merely a means to an end, and so many manifestations of addiction do not even make room for being high. It is not about having friends or being popular, that is, much like being high, a means to an end as well.
It is about self hatred. For as long as I can remember, I hated being me. I was, in no way, shape, or form, good enough. Acting on my addiction would allow me, for a time, to stop hating myself; or at least to not notice how inferior I was in every possible way. Being high, feeling popular, being the center of attention, feeling loved; these were the ways to mask the self loathing. Doing drugs, doing outlandish things, making an ass of myself, and being promiscuous; these were how I attained these things.
I can no longer find the quote, but there was an article about Robert Downey Jr. that compared drug addiction to putting the barrel of a gun in your mouth, and you know that you hate the barrel there, and you know it is dangerous, but you just love the taste of the gun barrel. To me, drug addiction was like putting the gun barrel in my mouth, and I hate the taste, I know it is dangerous, and I do not want that barrel there, but it feels like the only version of me I do not have utter contempt and distaste for is the one with the taste of steel and cordite on his tongue. If that version self destructs in the process, so be it.
Of course, the corollary to this is, in true cliched form, that I do not despise myself today. I do not feel the need to use drugs, or alcohol, to feel like I am somehow special, important, or otherwise worthwhile. I have my moments, just like every normal human being does; but those moments no longer rule and destroy my life. Still, as I sit and watch the final few minutes of “Wrecked”, I cannot help but reflect upon the torturous journey that lies ahead of Willow, and how grateful I am that I have the people in my life that I do; or I would never have survived my version of that same journey. I would not have even wanted to.
(Somewhere in the midst of this diatribe, I’m confident I was supposed to blame my parents for some transgressions, or society for failing me, or school for giving me some complex, or the media for glorifying such forms of “escapism”; but that is rather boring and trite. I, instead, am going to blame Mr. Rogers for having a rather creepy demeanor and Erin Pendergast for never going on a date with me in High School. I hope you are happy!)
Well, I went on a date with the waitress I’ve been flirting with recently, and I’m reminded why I don’t date often.
The plan for the date was to hit dinner then meet up with my friend, who was giving a lecture, so we could all hang out and play some poker. After I explained the details of the plan, she asked why I wasn’t going to see Bob’s lecture. I explained that it was because I had assumed she wouldn’t want to go, and she said she wanted to, and off we went.
A promising start, little did I know that this would be the last enjoyable part of the evening.
We chose to play Texas hold’em because she said how much she loves playing. I purchased her $20 buy-in, and away we went. Things started to get weird almost immediately when it became clear that she didn’t have the slightest clue how to play poker. I’m not talking about a general lack of understanding of the strategy behind the game…I, personally, have no CLUE about how to effectively play poker. No, I’m referring to a lack of understanding that these flat rectangular things are cards, and the flat round things are chips that represent money. In short, I think she might have sustained a closed head injury that prevented her from understanding concepts that involved 2D objects.
Throughout the course of the game, she fielded or initiated several phone calls, during which she referred to me as her “boyfriend” and us as a “couple”. When did this happen? Why wasn’t I informed? Don’t I get a say in this? My friends, sensing my discomfort, did an admirable job of easing my pain using a mixture of barely restrained laughter and pointed questions like “is Jer a good boyfriend?”
I hate my friends.
I got tired and really wanted to end the date, so as she lost the end of her chips I went all in, called, and sunk my chips into the pot. I started to get up, assuming we were preparing to go, and she asked if I would buy her back in. For some reason, I did.
What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment.
An hour or so later, she managed to cook that $20 and it was now about 1 AM. I asked if she was ready to go and she looked confused. She said that she had told her parents (with whom, apparently, she lives) that she wouldn’t be home that night, so she wouldn’t be able to get into her house until at least 8 AM, and, couldn’t she just stay with me at my place?
I said that I wasn’t going to drive home, and she could crash on Bob’s spare bed while I—ever the gentleman—slept on the couch. She agreed and left the room while I reclined on the couch to watch the remainder of the game and talk shit (mostly, truth be told, about her). A few short minutes later, she returned to the room in a scant amount of clothing that apparently passed as her pajamas for the evening asking if she could sleep on the other end of the sectional couch with me. Grudgingly, I agreed. Since my trash-talk was summarily interrupted, I put my head back and started to drift to sleep.
“Jer!”, Scott shouted, waking me from my near slumber.
I looked up and glared at Scott, which is when I noticed that Shaina had changed her position to lie on my lap with her head in my crotch. I’m a fairly light sleeper, so she must have moved like a ninja. Accepting the inevitable, I started to go back to sleep.
“Jer!”, Scott shouted, halting my drift toward sleep.
Glaring at Scott again, I noted that my pants were unzipped, and Shaina, “in her sleep” had rested her hand dangerously close to my now open zipper. In a room full of people. I made a point of re-zipping my pants and going back to sleep.
Only to have Scott jar me from sleep again; and again; and again. More than a half dozen times, Scott would yell at me for drifting off and, upon waking, I’d see evidence of Shaina’s attempts to get, literally, into my pants. It was only after the fourth or fifth time that I realized that the whole reason Scott was even waking me was to stop her onslaught.
I suppose that I should be flattered, but, no means no, right?
The next morning, I prepared to drop her off early before my softball game. Seemingly dejected that the date was to be over, she expressed an interest in watching the game, so—for reasons that I cannot fully fathom—I brought her along. At softball, she tried to join in several conversations with my friends and I and came off as so immature and uneducated that I wanted to crawl under a rock FOR her. In order to avoid further cringe-inducing conversation, I skip post-game lunch and drop her off at her home around 2pm. It wasn’t the worst date that I’ve been on, but it certainly wasn’t in the running for best either…at least it was over.
Or was it?
Today, when she calls, I explain that I’m too busy for dating, and, frankly, I don’t think it’s going to work out anyways, so I don’t want to see her again. She says that she understands…then says that I should call her tomorrow so we can meet up and hang out…then hangs up before I can correct her.
Umm…is that an option? This would have changed my dating prospects considerably in the past had I known!
I feel like I have to change my phone number, move, burn my clothes, put garlic cloves over all my doorways, and pour a ring of salt around my bed…but maybe I’ll have sex with her first, just in case…