Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Discretion is the better part of --- oh never mind

Recently I went to one of the local poetry readings --- not because I thought there would be good local poetry (there wasn't) but because I wanted to see people before absolutely everybody scattered for the summer, and I am still, fitfully, trying to get on the good side of a certain clique of profs who are a bit of a boy's club. And I am soooo glad that there are postdocs here! I've said in the past it has been nice to have people to hang out and complain with who have no investment, really, in the department and are feeling culture shock. That way I can talk about the positive sides to the profs who have made a life here and not get them all defensive.  Also this means I have people in the same academic "life stage" as me and I am not hanging out with the MA students.

Now, our MA students are nice, many of them more my age than just out of undergrad, and are interesting people. However, they are not really socialized to the profession. Or, any professional norms, really.  I have chatted with them in the faculty lounge and been sociable, but distant. And I have wondered if I should expand my social network a bit and hang out with them more regularly. Nope. My first instinct was right.

At this poetry reading (at the local hippie bar/music venue/"coffee shop" that doesn't actually serve fresh coffee/oasis in the wilderness --- you have heard me talk about its benefits and drawbacks multiple times since I have been here), I listened, hung out with a postdoc and her partner, and then afterwards drifted inside to chat with a couple of the professors at the bar (these are English dept. people, though I have been introduced to quite a few biology profs at this bar. Dunno where the other departments go for a drink). One of the MA students came up. This was a painful performance to watch, made ---- well, neither more nor less painful but rather infused with a sort of inevitability and impending doom ---- by the fact that this MA student earlier had asked my name and if I was a postdoc and then hit on me, and then, after discovering that my fellow postdoc was not in fact an undergrad (and thus only worth brushing off) but a postdoc, had hit on her too, despite her wedding ring. There was much awkwardness involved.

The awkwardness continued, as I have already explained, with the same sort of slow impending doom of watching the Titanic steam toward the iceberg, as I watched this MA student alternately fawn on and insult these professors, and just have no clue how to talk to adult colleagues and sometime bosses. One should never expand on the crappy-ness of one's MA program to some of the people running it. Complaining that it would be better "of course, if you offered more grad classes" does not, in fact, help your position. Nor does bragging about the (low-ranked) PhD programs you were accepted into, while at the same time insulting entire fields of literature (studied by a prof and a postdoc at the table) help you dig out of the hole.

I don't know about what the profs were thinking, but I was wondering a) what it would be like to teach an entire PhD program of misfits and b) if this MA student would ever grow out of this foot-in-mouth syndrome. I had this very blank, plastic smile plastered on my face; I felt the most fake and Californian I ever have. But really, I had to keep my teeth clenched so that "wow, are you always this much of a dick?" didn't pop out of my mouth unexpectedly. I hoped that I came off as slightly more collegial and mature by comparison.

Things got worse when the student started telling us in great detail how drunk he was and purchased a pitcher for the table, telling us that ________ was better quality than anything we had ordered. "That is what I ordered," I said. "Here, top me off." The MA student talked some more about how he was drunk. By this point the profs were completely silent, almost frozen, and I was making bits of small talk with the other postdoc and kind of listening with abject fascination and horror to the monologue coming out of this guy's mouth. After dissing the company's ability to hold alcohol and the quality of the dept. literary magazine, which I guess he helped edit this spring, he asked if someone could drive him home.

"Yeah I could drive you home," said one of the professors. "____ street? Yeah, I could --- that's not too far from my place." I asked where that was (isn't it within walking distance?) and we all got off on a lively conversation about the stupidness of the streets and navigation around here, and suddenly, when we looked around, the MA student was gone.

"Where did he go? Has anyone seen ____? Hey, could --- someone should check the back, the bathrooms, see if he's passed out or something back there" said the professor. Nobody moved. The postdoc's partner reached out and emptied the last of the free pitcher into his glass.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Ye gads. This sounds just like a d-bag who was a non-trad student at my MA program. He was about 45, divorced, and very Don Johnson-ish, circa Miami Vice. (I don't think I ever saw this student wearing socks with his loafers, let's just say.) His (to me) crippling insecurity made him overcompensate with extreme arrogance and pedantry. It was painful being in class with him. If I ever had to socialize with him, I've blocked it out. Ugh.

Sounds like this guy you're talking about also must have the same sort of crippling insecurity. I definitely think you deserve a medal for not kicking his teeth in. Well done.

Dr. Koshary said...

"Hey baby, wanna see my...PhD program acceptance letter?" LMAO!

So painfully awkward that I couldn't stop laughing as I read the second half of the post! I can't say I've ever witnessed anything half this bad in an insecure douchebag of a grad student. I thought I'd seen a major reputation meltdown last month, but that was clearly but a blip compared to this guy.

The pheromonal excess is classic, as is the ignorance of the specialties of one's drinking partners, but the detail that really seals the deal on the story for me is his failed attempt at being a beer snob. That actually might have been the final straw for me, had I been in your place. You really do deserve a medal for not mouthing off at that point.

Sisyphus said...

Oh he knows Dr. R's academic specialty! He just isn't studying it. (To be honest I don't love it either, and have to stop myself from making snarky jokes about the literature when I remember the Postdoc is present. But I know to work on my politeness.

And I thought I did mouth off with the beer thing! Though, truth be told, 1554 is a solid, tasty beer that doesn't have any "local beer snob" cred. There are things on draft there that would be more "impressive" in the hipster beer arms race. OTOH, there are many many locals who order PBR unironically, so he actually had a shot with that attempt.

And there was much more but it involves name-checking some stuff at PhD programs, so I really can't post it in any way that makes sense without giving away too many details.

Dr. Koshary said...

I hereby declare as phrase of the week "hipster beer arms race." :D

Sisyphus said...

Better yet, I challenge you to participate in one!

Dr. Koshary said...

Oh, it's so on now. Or, actually, not now, but in a month from now, when I live in a state that doesn't ban the sale of beer with anything higher than 5.5% ABV. Gonna bring it then.