Saturday, August 31, 2013

Self-serve, Full-serve ---- Let us help you!

One weird thing about The Hot Place is how it throws me back to my childhood ---- so much of the place was built in the 70s and has not been updated since then (including my college). I vaguely remember the buildings being a mix of "castle" and "incongruous references to the Alps." And, of course, lots of nasty avocado green and brown.

(The "old" historic stuff around here, of course dates back to the 50s and is very Route 66/Beach Boys/birth-of-freeways culture in style ---- I love it, but have just been living somewhere where something had to date back before 1840 to count as "old" and it is an adjustment.)

This means there are a lot of things that I remember being "cutting edge" as a child that I haven't really seen since ---- drive-up bank tellers with those pneumatic tubes! ---- and there is, indeed, a full-service gas station in town, where you drive over a little bump that dings and someone in a cheesy bow tie comes out and pumps your gas and washes your windshield. It's not something I usually even have the option of choosing, and I vaguely remember my mom using full service stations (mostly on Sundays when she's in her nice church clothes) and dad making jokes about "real men don't eat quiche" and "real women don't pump gas." But my normal experience has always been to just hop out of the car and do it myself, so changing my expectations feels profoundly strange.

It's the same way, oddly enough, at Spontaneous Combustion CC ---- I was introduced at the all-campus back to school day, and whenever I am wandering around somewhere on campus, other faculty and staff come up to me and ask if I need any help. The expectation is that faculty's main priority is to be helpful to students, as well. And I had several minor snafus and technology problems crop up my first week and people were jumping to attention to help me solve my problems ---- calling me back in response to emails, offering to show up to the classroom after class and walk me through X procedure ---- I was wandering the library just looking at stuff and the collections librarian made sure I wasn't having any problems and checked to see what I might need on reserve, and walked me through some of the collections searches. And, everywhere, people keep telling me, "just let me know if you need any help."

Thing is, I find that profoundly weird. I have spent so long as an adjunct and postdoc and TA where nobody really explains anything and the expectation is that you should figure it out for yourself and even if you need and ask for help, you won't really get it (and might put your job in jeopardy) that all this help and attention seems wrong. I am so used to "just do it yourself and make yourself invisible" that this treatment feels as odd as having someone pump your gas for you when you know you can do it yourself. Or even, like when you go into a store and the salesclerks are so helpful it feels like they are hovering and intrusive and you feel so uncomfortable you go somewhere else.

I wonder how much those expectations carry over into the student side of things as well. Now, at big research universities like the UCs, you pretty much are a number and need to learn to fend for yourself, and at Postdoc U, the point was more about getting tuition dollars than on graduating and remediating our unprepared students, so you had a pretty callous attitude around to those clueless or unprepared students. I wonder how well I will be able to adapt to this campus's attitude of being helpful at all times and no question is too stupid --- this attitude of being helpful and being helped. I wonder how well these students do when they transfer from here to the local big anonymous state school or big anonymous university?

Oh, and the full-service station? It's recommended as the best, fastest place to get your car smogged, is why I was there. While filling out the paperwork, the mechanic asked me "pfft, why would you move here?" (exactly the same tone they used in Postdoc City too.) When I said I was going to be teaching at the community college, he turned to the gas attendant --- a white girl of perhaps 19 or 20 wearing a silly bow tie and uniform --- and proceeded to start up what was obviously a long-standing speech: "You see? I keep telling you you should go there! Maybe you'll take a class from this lady. Get a degree!" The quiet girl just looked awkward under all the attention. Wish I knew how to help.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Big Box Stores

I should say a couple things about the town I am living in. Now, I live in a pretty big town --- about the same size as Postdoc City or even a little larger --- and commute to my little community college and its more rural population. And while you could say The Hot Place is the size of an actual city, it is very suburban. Or maybe even exurban, as it is one of those places that has 4 or 5 Starbucks but no movie theater and the library is only open a couple days a week. If I lived in the Bay Area or LA area, this would be a place people commuted from into a Real City for their job and entertainment and didn't bother to build much of a community or "place" where their house was. Except I am not commuting distance from those places or anything much else besides ... uh, we have rocks. Rocks. Some trees, but I'm not going to tell you what kind.

All of this is to say that I live in a big suburb, but not that big of a suburb. This is why it confuses me that the Shrine to Capitalism on the side of town by the riverbed has two of everything. Everything. Often right next to each other, in a way that kinda highlights the stupidity of thinking this is really offering any sort of consumer "choice." We have a Mattress Discounters and a Sleep Train. They are on the same street. We have a PetSmart and a PetCo (where the pets go!) and they have all exactly the same merchandise. We have an Officemax and an Office Depot. a Home Depot and a Lowe's. We have both CostPlus and Pier One, and there is a Bed Bath and Beyond between them. We have a Micheal's and a Joann's Fabric. We have a Target and a Walmart, although that is not as unusual to me. Oddly enough, we have a lone Best Buy. What would be the equivalent of Best Buy?

Seriously, how do these places stay in business? This town is not that big.

It reminds me of that line by Cake: "Some people drink Pepsi; Some people drink Coke; the wacky morning DJ says democracy's a joke."

We do have an older part of town that was the historic part but never really was much of a downtown, and it of course is a wasteland. It is impossible to find a non-chain store or restaurant around here, and no wonder: I'm sure all these chains are tough enough competition on each other and they sell their sign space and shelf space.

It's been interesting, since, as someone who has just moved, I need to buy/replace/fix a lot of stuff. I have had to think about, well, where do I want to shop? in a way that I didn't when I just had to go to the PetSmart as the only option within 30 miles. Doing a lot of shopping all at once, coupled with the fact that I hadn't started work yet and had time to kill and amuse myself by walking through both stores, really made clear to me how small the differences between the two options were. Layout yes, but not really much difference in price or selection.  Like I said, it felt weird.

But it also highlights how much this place is lacking any sense of place. Now, Postdoc City had its problems, and a lot of what gave it a unique sense of place were those same problems, but it had a very nice small-town downtown that people really were fighting hard to bring it back and make it over from a burnt-out post-industrial wasteland. They also had the Southern attitude of getting in your bidness hospitality which gave it much more of a feeling of community than here, where you never see the same people again in your shopping transactions. And, of course, they are all standoffish and politely distant in a very Western way that I grew up with but also coming back find a trifle weird.

I'm sure I will find people to hang out with and do activities that are not shopping-related very soon. But I'm not all that sure what those activities will be. They won't be in town, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Listening to an important public service announcement

I'm Sisyphus T. Cog, and I'm here to talk to you today about perhaps the most important ecological issue facing The Hot Place --- and indeed, most places --- at this time. No, it is not the importance of water conservation or too many things catching randomly on fire; it is the all important issue of conserving diversity.

Did you know that global warming is putting our radio ecosystems increasingly at risk? It's true. At one time you could scan the radio waves and hear the happy frolicking of a variety of bands, singers, and other musical acts. Now, however, consolidation and a corporate monoculture of genetically-engineered pop stars (sometimes called "Frankensingers") has nearly wiped out radio diversity and local radio populations, leaving a weakened ecosystem that is vulnerable to these Frankensingers and the few remnant mutant 60s bands that lurk, like catfish or prehistoric crocodiles, at the bottom of the airwaves. In some areas this has progressed to the point where the Stones' "Brown Sugar" can be heard 4 times in a single day on a single station just on casual car trips, and in others Catastrophic Pop-Song Die-Off has left the radio hives empty of every living thing except "Baby I'm a Want You" and Def Leppard's "Foolin'."

Tragic indeed.

And the crisis is not even limited to my immediate environs! Investigation of the nearby city where a state college is reveals similar mass extinctions, with the college radio reduced to simply playing the same reggae song on continuous loop! (Alternately, it might just be a really long jam session that hasn't finished yet.) The radio station catering to the state college students, bizarrely, only plays Five or Six Grunge Songs from the 90s You Didn't Particularly Like The First Time, the more majestic radio fauna from that era having been overfished nearly into oblivion.

Similarly, migratory pop songs, suffering under habitat loss and the difficulties of travel in a harsher climate, have also been affected. In response to the harsh conditions, Mexican ranchera music clumped together, first into herds, and then into super-herds that eventually fused into a single organism more capable of making the arduous 1,000 mile trek. This super-organism, "MiCorazonTeQuieroLosDoloresQueMuerto," has absorbed every single note ever played in ranchera music, and it uses the fat stores built up around these notes to sustain itself throughout the migration (I believe there is one migration preserve left, somewhere around the redwoods).

The loss of radio biodiversity has also warped the very style and functioning of the few contemporary bands lumbering about the airwaves, as only the "mimic" bands that camouflage themselves as one of the inedible iron-hide holdouts from a previous era manage to thrive. Even the number of notes being used and the melodic variety within the songs has dwindled, as once-verdant plains of instruments are reduced to ash and dessication.

And while I have only begum my research on the topic of digital diversity, my early investigations into Pandora are yielding similar disheartening results.

So, please, educate yourself further on this all-important topic, call your senator, give to your local conservation chapter, and consider burning your local radio station down.

If we're lucky, the charring often encourages new regrowth.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's crappy even looking at the other side...

though not as crappy as living it.

I just got to meet the person who thought he/she was the insider candidate for my job. This person mentioned it when introducing to me. And looked heartbroken. Siiiigh. This person is continuing to adjunct for our school, and in fact is teaching the Special Course I Was Hired To Teach, which she/he had been teaching before, all because I requested a semester of regular classes to get my feet under me. I know that because of the timeline for me accepting and emailing back and forth over this, somebody, and probably several somebodies, got their adjunct schedules yanked and/or completely rearranged.

Furthermore we have been dealing with weird and bumpy enrollments this semester, which made the usual chair job of guessing demand and scheduling classes even more difficult. Since my second semester comp classes are underenrolled, I was asked to drop one (hope the students will be able to move into my other, half-full class) and pick up another section of the first semester comp stuff, again messing with many peoples' plans. But they don't want to pay me to teach half full classes and I have a teaching load obligation, so I get a filled class and some adjunct gets a phone call a couple days before school starts. There might be enough demand to run a late-add comp class --- sometimes they do a condensed, summer-schedule paced class halfway through the semester --- but that means someone gets their class taken away from them and then put back on them after maximizing the anxiety. Bleah.

Back to Inside Candidate. This person does not have a PhD, which I do, but which might not make that much difference, since ---- to further put salt in the wound ---- the other hire in our department was a former adjunct with an MA. And this person has not been teaching very long, so I am not sure how well Inside Candidate understands the truly shitty nature of the job market for English. I think this person had their heart set on this job, especially since it involves teaching a special class and running a little thing, and I think this person is a local with a spouse employed here, because it sounded like this person applied here and the other cc a couple hours away. That's a lotta hope riding on two applications. But I know how this person feels, which makes watching it all, while having someone else's prize, suck all that much worse.

Anyway, I hope we can get past all this awkwardness and be friends. But a lot of my time will be taken up with teaching and grade grade grading (holy crap whatdoyoumean 30 students in a comp class?) and the department made this weird decision where they took over a classroom and partitioned it for the adjuncts, but it is on the other side of campus from our department and I guess we will no longer see them in the hallways of our portable. Yeah, feeling weird about that. About a lot of things these days.

Like, for example, the heat! When will it be fall so I can enjoy a beautiful 85 degrees?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Fancy that, a best-teaching practices workshop day that actually is run on the model of best teaching practices! I appreciated the breaks and the switching up activities. I grumbled at the icebreakers and think-pair-shares, although if you are going to inflict these on your classes, then you should be forced to undergo them yourself. Orientating will continue apace.

I have met people! They seem nice!! I hope this all works out well. I am noticing that is not exactly normal or common to have moved all the way across the country for a job and then back across the country again --- in fact, at a community college, lots of the people are locals and have been working in some sort of industry or profession for many years and are just now moving into teaching. That means a lot of these people have never really been away from The Hot Place. And a lot of the other people did the normal thing of, get a master's, adjunct for a year or so while applying to a few places, then get a job. I am so confused by the idea that this actually exists for some people. They are, I suppose, equally confused by me --- especially since even those people who had tough job markets have some sort of local connection to the area. Hmm. I guess I'd have some reason to feel like the odd one out even if I wasn't the lone singleton transplant.

Ok I should probably go ponder my syllabi or do some of these things on my school to-do list now.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cog in landscape

I have been having fun with my pseudonymous location and trying to do some really evocative landscape writing while still messing with my readers' assumptions about where I am. But you know, of course, that once I describe a tree the gig is up.

For what is more iconic and specific to certain regions of the West than its trees? I am afraid to even allude to them, they are so distinctive:

See? And each one has a very small and specific habitat, so it would be easy to find me, I think. And where is the fun in that? I enjoy confusing people.

And here are two popular non-native trees, since technically Los Angeles is in the West, although it should be crystal clear I am not there:

And these are eucalyptus, the incredibly flammable and stupid-to-have-in-California non-native tree. I couldn't find a good picture of the whole tree that also showed the long stringy bark bits that peel off and drip down, so I showed you a whole forest.

And here is a California oak just because I miss mom and dad's place. Although idiots have been just as assiduous at planting random palm trees around there too! Usually in the same block of strip-mall stores where there are a couple redwoods and a japanese maple.

So what do the trees at The Hot Place look like, and how will I describe them? We do have some trees around here, amidst all the heat and the smoke. Ooh, I know! They are very thin, and very tall, and they have wheels:

Just like that. See?:

Can you find my house? It's the one with the cats.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hot stuff

The other morning as I stepped out of the apartment I thought I smelled burning. Or it could be just the regular byproduct of the area's industrial economy, for we are in a place known for industry's horrible effects on the environment (you know, that place that clear-cuts endangered owls and burns them to make uranium via exploding refineries) --- what little bits of industry are left in this depressed area. I wasn't quite sure what to do --- I mean, my California grad school experience has made me familiar with nearby places going up on fire and me having to evacuate, but is that something I'm going to need to do here or will I not have to worry about it?

I went back inside and checked out the local news sources. Turns out "Fire watch" is a major fixed section of the papers and websites and there are major profiles on the city and rural and national forest firefighter teams; they are kinda a big deal socially here. And of course I mentioned already that there are more wildfire fighting classes than English classes at my cc, yes?

At least two fires were burning out in the wilderness. I had to look up the towns they were nearby because I had never heard of them and wasn't sure where they were. There were also four or so local fires in and around town --- and I am troubled by how many of them were thought to have been set. I am not sure that I like the idea that homeless people or addicts accidentally setting fires and letting them get out of control is a common thing around here. Of course, the idea that arson against people because you simply don't like them or got fired from the place is a logical choice also disturbs me. But I figure, just like how Californians and their building codes are in a good position to make it through earthquakes, The Hot Place is experienced in containing and controlling fires breaking out constantly and not needing to evacuate.

Then the next day I saw a plume of smoke from downtown down by the river. I say river but you should understand that to mean "river," since I am in the West. We don't do those big out here. I didn't figure out which fire that was but nobody seemed alarmed. I have gotten into the habit of checking the Firewatch like in other places we check the weather report. No real need to check the weather reports here --- it's hot! Today we had a "cold snap" and the high was only 85 degrees, which I think everyone can agree is downright lovely for summer. The two solid weeks of 115 were right before I got here, thankfully.

This place sure is strange, though, with the plumes of smoke and shimmering pavement heat. It is not your usual desert ---- the desert I know from childhood has no morning: there is the moment of dawn turning to full day like the lid sliding back on an eye. Then it is already hot and the sun starts to rise like a brass disk into a bowl of lapis lazuli. The sky seems bigger and the clouds much further away than other places, if there are clouds at all. Here, though, we are cradled by hills that cup the city and hold all its pollution --- of which there is much, from the trucking and the aforementioned nuclear owl-burning. Some mornings are clear, but many more are full of a haze that I associate with looking down and across the freeways of Los Angeles. Though the haze does turn the hills into blue figments in the evening, lovely hallucinations of purple and blue and lavender that hover just on the edge of town before disappearing into the dusk. The haze also grants you an hour or two of relative cool in the morning, if you can make sure to get going outside right away. Unfortunately, not everywhere has a good set of running paths, which means my time for going out and doing all my errands is prime run-over-the-joggers time. Oops.

 Today on my errands I was having a terrible time getting any of the radio stations to come in clearly, which at first I thought was a problem with my car. Turning up the volume only increased the crackles and white noise and I was confused by what sounded like a weather report. But instead of predicting sunshine or clouds, the announcer kept saying smoke. "Smoke and a high of 95, with a low tonight of 70. Tomorrow, smoke and a high of 97."


What the hell kind of weather designation is that?

Am I to expect brimstone in the forecast too?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Landing at The Hot Place

So far, so good ---- I am mostly settling in nicely and getting my home all home-y. My nails are bendy and completely ruined from all the cleaning and washing of stuff I did today, and I am also very very sick of laundry. But, when you use a mixture of newspaper and your towels/sheets/random clothing bits to pack up all your stuff, it all looks pretty nasty on the other end. And I still haven't dealt with the pile of clothes I have actually been wearing!

The up side of all this washing is the complex --- oh, it is so nice to have a washing room with a key card! I love it. Instead of hoarding quarters I can use my credit card to put cash on this little key card fob thingy they gave me, and it makes life soooo much simpler! Except, of course, for the whole putting a charge on my already-overloaded card bit. But soon things will settle down and I will be over the moving hurdle and it will all be fine.

The place is great, with only a few small problems, and of course, they are cat related. You know, one of the problems with moving to a new place is that when you slam a door and the cats run and hide, or it's just the middle of the day and they want to hang out somewhere and sleep, you have no clue where they might be? Also, my last place, while lacking in character, had awesome walk in closets with doors just like bedroom doors. This place probably has more closet space, but it mainly has those sliding doors on tracks ---- which I have never liked anyway ---- and the cats can easily get in anywhere. I have had to re-think my storage situation because I have one cat that loves eating string (Timido), including shoelaces, and one cat (Loquito) who chews on anything plastic, including plastic bags, dry cleaning bags, and he eats any little bits of plastic or cellophane he might find on the floor. The little fucker.

Right now my front hall coat closet ---- which the last place did not have and was sorely missed, what with all the rain and sleet and snow and weather-y type stuff ---- is holding all my random plastic bags, cleaning supplies, anything my cats should not eat (including their food, since they can get into my kitchen cupboards) and my medicine box. And of course my coats. I shall have to devise a better storage system soon.

Another problem is the windows. While I have great views out of the windows on one side (and yay for having lots of windows and natural light!), the other side's windows look out over the parking lot. But in my old place the window was right up against the handicapped space at the end of the row, which meant that the only people to use that space were either visiting me or the Gorton's Fish Sticks Man lookalike across the way. What this means is that if anybody pulled up into that space, they would then soon ring the doorbell and --- gasp! --- come inside! And this of course would send my terrified cats running for cover. In the new place, however, the window right by the kitchen table looks out over the middle of the guest parking row, which means a lot of people pull into those spaces or walk by the window. Where do my cats run off to when this happens? I don't know yet! No clue if it is a safe and catproof space.

But once I did figure this out today I closed the blinds and this has helped the cats a lot. They are trucking around the apartment, going to the kitchen to eat their food, much calmer. But.

It's kinda darker in here with the blinds all closed, right? I had a whole bunch of living room lamps in the old place because I couldn't use the overhead lighting. The lights were attached to a fan that I couldn't figure out how to make it not spin while the lights were shining. Now, my cats have no clue what a ceiling fan is ---- whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, it goes, with the shadows and air-stirring noises of a bird of prey. When I first turned on that light in Postdoc City the cats crouched to the floor and ran for it, then circled the edges of the room like they were stirred by a big spoon, their tails poofed up into huge brushes.

So being the cat-spoiler that I am, I just turned off the lights and worked around the situation. But I'd kinda like to use the ceiling lights over my kitchen table, you know?

Well, in Postdoc City when they encountered the the Fanbird of Death, there was no furniture in the place yet. This time, however, my kitchen table is set up directly underneath. Which brings the Fanbird of Death much closer in to Loquito's reach and he set out to destroy it kamikaze style: only one of us will walk away from this encounter alive sir!

When I closed the blinds and turned on the light today he started hissing and poofing his tail, but that wasn't it. He leaped up on the table and started yowling at the fan, spitting at it, and was jumping and standing on his hind legs trying to attack it. Perhaps I should be touched by his brave attempt to save us all, but I turned off the light and herded him out of the room, very afraid of petting or touching him when he was in a yowly snarly state.

Poor kitty. Heroes are never appreciated in their own time. Not even when they eat the crinkly cellophane bits for the greater good.