Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Today just absolutely blew.

I'm starting to get freaked about Halloween. Because last year on Halloween, I flipped my lid and engaged in the most dangerous road rage of my life, then got a (thankfully) unrelated but expensive speeding ticket. All this happened while I was rushing home to wait for a phone call from the university vet clinic to hear how Hankie had done with his first radiation treatment for cancer of the jaw. And yes, I did get radiation for my cat. 6 relatively simple treatments that I'm still paying off, and probably will be after he's gone. I don't care. He's still with us.

OK. Where was I? Oh yes. Last Halloween was rotten to the core of the razor-bladed apple.

Today. Halloween again.

Here is the condensed version of what happened.

I scheduled individual meetings with about 30 students from 2 classes, to offer them a chance to revise their hideously written research papers. I don't often do such a thing. But in my quest for mental self-preservation, I wanted what could be my final semester of teaching ever, to end peacefully, and not with a bunch of grimacing students who would get D's and F's in the class. Also, part of me suspected that I didn't hit the various pieces of the assignment hard enough. So I bit the bullet and readied myself for a day full of blindingly repetitive meetings. I felt like Carol Channing performing her 74,000th matinee of "Hello Dolly!"

What I did not ready myself for was a student I will call The Dark Abyss.

A bit of background:

From the beginning of the semester, The Abyss has been lacking in class participation (worth 20% of the semester grade) in my course. What I ask of my students is for them to be fully "present" by joining in on class discussions, by becoming involved with in-class group writing projects, and by actively showing an interest in the class. Or at least feigning interest.

The Abyss's lack of participation goes beyond just not speaking. She sits in such a way that I can only describe as trying to make herself as small as possible. She rarely looks up. There is no eye contact, no visible sign that she is engaged in the class at all. During small group peer workshops, when students are required to read their essay drafts aloud to three other students, she slouches over the paper and whispers it.

All my usual clever “tricks” for engaging shy, quiet students in conversation failed with a resounding thud. She was, at least for me, unreachable.

2 weeks ago, I informed the 2 classes that some of them were not doing well with class participation and attendance. I had decided their participation grade for mid-semester, and would let them know what it was if they came up after class and asked. I also told them that it was not too late to rise to the occasion and change their score.

The Abyss did not ask for her score. I discreetly pulled her aside in the hallway after class and told her I’d like to see her do better with class participation. “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked. “I don’t see you getting involved with the group work. Are you just shy about participating?”

She became angry. “I participate in group activities!”

“Well, I don’t see that,” I said. “And you have never spoken during class discussions.”

“Yes I have!”

“OK,” I said, giving up. “I’m just letting you know that you have a chance to raise your grade. It’s up to you.”

Jump ahead to today's meeting. The Abyss showed up, and after the initial greetings, she sat down with me and got out her paper, which had received a D. The D was generous. At least 80% of her paper was completely incoherent to the point of being gibberish. Most of her papers have this problem, but not quite as bad as this one. I started out on the first page.

Candy: OK, let’s look at this sentence. It’s not quite making sense to me. Can you help me understand what the main point is?

Abyss: I got it from a source. I cited it. So I can’t do anything about that.

Candy: OK. It’s from a source. Maybe it’s out of context? Could you put it in your own words for me so we can make it clear?


Candy: Do you understand why the sentence doesn’t make sense?

Abyss (angry): What. Do I need a semi-colon?

Candy: No, it’s not about a semi-colon. It’s about restructuring the sentence. Let’s look at the rest of this paragraph and see if we can make the writing a little clearer.

Abyss (angry): I told you I got it from a source. I don’t know what you expect me to do. I didn’t write it. It’s not my fault!

Candy: Abyss, when I’ve tried to talk to you to help you this semester, you’ve gotten very defensive with me. When I spoke to you about class participation you got really angry. And I don’t know what that’s about.

Abyss (very angry): So I’ve got problems! Leave. It. Alone.

Candy: I’m not trying to get into personal things here. I just don’t know how to work with you on this paper if you’re going to be angry.

Abyss (very angry): I’m forced to take this class again because I did so bad last time and then all you do is nag me!

Candy (trying to maintain composure): Look. You come to class and you’re obviously hurting and freaked out and something is bothering you. You don’t need to talk to me about it. But I care about what happens to you and it might be a good idea to talk to someone in the counseling center. Do you know where it is? They’re really good over there...

Abyss (very angry): Just tell me what to do with this paper!

Candy: I’ll help you with this paper, but first you need to calm down.

Abyss (enraged): I don’t have to calm down! You just need to stop criticizing me!

Candy (angry): You know what? I don’t mean to sound like a bitch here, Abyss, but when I’m trying my best to help you, and am trying to keep you from flunking the class, and you snap at me like this, it comes across as one big “F. you, Candy.” Do you realize this is how your attitude is coming across to me?

Abyss (enraged): Do you want me to call my lawyer?!

Candy: OK. You know what? We’re done here.

Abyss: WHAT?!

Candy: We're done. Get out.

I slid her paper across the desk, and stood up. She got up and started for the door, yelling: “I’m going to report you! And I’m going to drop your class and THEN I’m going to SUE YOU!”

Candy: OK. Do that.

Right then, my next three students came in as The Abyss was stomping out, and they looked shocked. I told them I would have to talk to them about their papers another day, and that I needed to go see the Dean of Students.

What followed were several painful meetings. One with the department chair, one with the dean, one with the head of security, another with the department chair. Then another 14 meetings with students. Those 14 students lucked out: I was so grateful for their normalcy that I practically threw them each a ticker-tape parade when they walked in.

Within half an hour after the confrontation with The Abyss, she had filed a grievance with my department head, and written 2 full pages of this scary, cramped, agitated handwriting that included "she can't control her classroom, she let's students use bad profane language" and "she needs to be a better role model" and "she needs to stop criticizing my work" and "she cussed me out."

(First of all, let me say here that if I had cussed this girl out, she would have been unable to hold a pen to write her manifesto. Her face would have melted and she'd have been carried from the room in a bucket. Because, believe it or not, when Candy loses her temper, she can, unfortunately, outcuss a sailor who has been set aflame.)

((Secondly, yes. Occasionally some "profanity" slips out of the mouths of college students in a classroom. My teaching philosophy does not include stopping class when a 26-year-old navy veteran says the word “shit.” I am not the scolding mother at the front of the room. I’m the one hired to teach the students on my roster to write papers.))

The department head met with her. The Abyss said she never, ever yelled, and no, she certainly did not threaten to sue me! Etc. etc. Also, though, she was so incredibly timid and quiet that he could barely hear her until he suggested that perhaps she was dealing with some sort of problem...BOOM. Loud girl. "YES I HAVE A PROBLEM I CAN'T TALK ABOUT."


It is part of the official process for me to respond, in writing, to her grievance. So that's what I did tonight. While listening to deeply annoying neighborhood children ring the doorbell 6 times in a row, then, when I ignored them, start beating on the door (and yes, at this point I wished I had baked 8 dozen delicious Ex-Lax cookies) I had to spend time writing my official "here is what I have to say about the crazy person's list of bitches."

And I am exhausted. And by Monday, The Abyss will have been contacted and told not to come back to class. I refuse to deal with her, and the dean found that refusal appropriate. On Monday morning, campus security will station someone outside my classroom. She's just a girl. A timid girl. With explosive anger. So why all the fuss?

Because something isn't right. As I wrote in my response, which will go to the dean:

"I feel it necessary to state this privately to you. I have never, in 12 years of teaching at Big Giant University and the Other Big Giant University, seen such an angry, volatile student as I saw today. This student’s behavior perfectly matches the general description of the Virginia Tech shooter: sullen, angry, no eye contact, no warmth, visibly disturbed, easily enraged. She is going to explode. Please get her help."

And why did I name her The Abyss? Not for the sake of sarcasm. I called her that because that's what I saw when I looked into her eyes. Not the dead, shark eyes of the V-Tech killer. She may be just as damaged, but in a different way. Hers are the eyes of someone drowning, someone who is too far gone in the drowning to even look toward the shore again. There is only anger.

Warmth offered to her by me, by the department chair, and, I'm guessing, by others, is like a stream of scalding water. Someone has done something unspeakable to her, and she can't find a way out.

Tonight I despise her and I ache for her. And I'm still very spooked.

Halloween, 2007.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Short Creepy Halloween Love Story

"Toady," depressed over the comments on his looks, went out to our backyard to ponder his miserable life.

He ran into Lizzie.

It was love at first sight. Almost. Lizzie put him on her special desiccation diet. And now they are a couple. In my opinion, they are the perfect Halloween couple.

To celebrate their new cozy, morbid, interspecies romance, here is an anonymous poem I found in a textbook.
The poem is about a frog, not a toad, but that's close enough.

The Frog

What a wonderful bird the frog are!
When he stand he sit almost;
When he hop he fly almost.
He ain't got no sense hardly;
He ain't got no tail hardly either.
When he sit, he sit on what he ain't got almost.

Toady, especially, ain't got much to sit on now.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Not as Long as You Live Under MY Roof..."

Today in my freshman class, the topic was argumentation. We discussed the Rhetorical Triangle and how to use its 3 points to convince your audience of something. The choices in the arsenal are logical appeal (logos), emotional appeal (pathos) and credibility (ethos). The best approach is, of course, a good mixture of all three.

I broke the class into 2 groups. I gave them this assignment:

The group on one side of the room was to represent an 18-year-old girl who is going to break the news to her parents (represented by the other half of the class) that she has met the love of her life. She has been dating him for two weeks. They feel like they've known each other forever. They are madly, unstoppably in love. She has decided to have his very cute nickname tattooed across her chest, just below her neck. The very cute nickname of the love of her life happens to be "Pee-Pee."

Before the scenario was acted out, the "parents" and "the girl" prepared secretly in the huddles of their respective groups. They were to anticipate the arguments that the other side would make, and to utilize all three parts of the Triangle against their opponent. One kid, a very sweet blond boy named Logan, always hard-working and trying to fulfill the assignments, had a deeply earnest look on his face as he asked the members of his group "Do you think Pee-Pee has a job?" The discussion whispered on.

Then, I opened the starting gates.

The 18-year-old girl (who had chosen, as a group, the name Shawntay) burst upon her waiting parents and said "I'm getting a tattoo of my boyfriend's nickname on my chest and there's nothing you can do about it!"

I put the conversation on pause and discussed concepts like "presentation" and "ramping up." Maybe, I suggested, you start out with "Hi, Mom, Dad...what's new?" OK, start again.

Shawntay: Hi Mom and Dad. How are you? I have some news.

Mom and Dad: What is it, Shawntay?

Shawntay: Pee-Pee. The news is Pee-Pee.

Mom and Dad: What in the world is Pee-Pee?

Shawntay (in a very rehearsed fashion): Pee-Pee is the love of my life. We have been seeing each other nonstop for 2 weeks, every day. One day we will be married. But right now I am leaving for the tattoo parlor to get his name put on my chest.

[brief moment of silence]

Mom and Dad: Then you just pack your damn bags and get outta my house, Shawntay!

I put things on pause again. Would there be, perhaps, some reasoning? Some discussion? Some logical appeal? Is there, dare I suggest, some middle ground? OK, start again.

Mom and Dad: What if you get this tattoo and then Pee-Pee cheats on your ass? Then what?

Shawntay: He would never do that. Pee-pee loves me!

Mom and Dad: 'Pee-Pee loves me! Pee-Pee loves me!' Pee-Pee doesn't know one thing about love. We forbid you to see him again.

Shawntay: You can't do that! I'm 18 years old!

Mom and Dad: As long as you live under OUR roof, no more Pee-Pee!

Shawntay: You will never understand anything. He understands me! I'll just go live with him. Right now.

Mom and Dad: Then he can pay all your tuition bills and put up with your shit. And you can give back that Blackberry we gave you.

Shawntay: What?! That Blackberry was my Christmas present!

Mom and Dad: Christmas is over, now that Pee-Pee is here.

At this point, for a split second, even *I* am angry with Pee-Pee. He has obviously brainwashed Shawntay and is going to ruin her life.

The conversation pauses. Both groups look at me for a bit of coaching on where to go next.

"I say we find Pee-Pee and kill him."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm Sentenced to Reading These Sentences

Sometimes they contain just a small typo. But they stick with me for days. Like this one:

American society today has always placed an importance on physical appearance, even more so in toady's visual world.

Well, I say that "Toady" needs to get off his high horse and realize that he is no prize himself in the looks department.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ode to the Front Butt

One never knows what people are really searching for in the vast, dark spaces of the internet. It is frightening to look at the underbelly of the beast. The underbelly, or that more mesmerizing belly-oriented growth.

I must take time out of my busy purging and paper grading to spend a moment honoring the front butt. Since I wrote an idiotic post on this topic over a year ago, my blog has received at least 500 hits from people who have typed "front butt" into search engines. I gave up trying to imagine why. If anyone can shed some light on this for me, or can offer up any theories, please do.

But perhaps it is a question for the ages, this mystique of the front butt. Let us not, then, dismiss it in haste, but take the time to offer it the glory and acclaim it deserves.

There. I think that oughta do it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Purging, It Has Begun

I've been in Phoenix for 4 months now. Enough horseplay. Stuff has got to go, and lots of it.

Scott will be so happy to read this that he will yelp like a Labrador puppy with a new rubber squeak-toy. Because Candy came to town and turned his nice house into a warehouse. He would like to be able to see the fireplace again.

These shoes? I've had them a few years. Always liked them. Black platforms. They go with everything. After forgetting that they existed for awhile, I got them out and wore them yesterday.

During the day I realized 2 things:

1. These shoes are no longer comfortable. In fact, after several hours of wearing them, there was no need to guess what it felt like to have my feet bound. I was limping around like a a backed-over possum. These shoes, they is the enemy.

2. They make my feet look like the feet of Minnie Mouse.

When I got home from work, I didn't even go in the house to take them off. I unbuckled the straps and sat both shoes proudly on the roof of my car.

Scott came home. "Why do you have a pair of shoes on top of your car?"

"Because I'm going to throw them away. And you are my witness."

They sat atop the car overnight. I wanted to display to the world that I had shunned them. They were dead to me. They were still there on the car this morning, but they were still dead to me. Go away. You can't live here anymore.

I didn't bother donating them. Because why would I? Why would I pass on a pair of shoes that would turn someone into a limping Disney character? That would be mean.

I considered leaving them on the car and pulling out of the driveway, and letting them land where they would. Letting them find their destiny. But probably they'd have thudded onto my windshield, startling me into a nice big wreck or a bladder explosion. I threw them next to the dumpster on the carport.

Trash day cometh.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


My sister does something odd to her garden. She grows many deformed things in the little plot of land behind her garage. There have been shiny red quintuplet tomatoes that ache with ugliness. There have been cucumbers that are too traumatizing to describe.

This is her latest offspring. A sweet potato that dreamed of flying. Perhaps it never achieved the flight of a bumblebee. At least not without me ramming a chopstick into the back of it. But it did ride in the overhead compartment of a US Airways jet. Coach section.

Happy 66th Anniversary, Mom and Dad

First, this is what I wrote last year for their 65th.

Today, October 23rd, 2006, was my parents' 65th wedding anniversary.

I told the students in one of my classes. One kid said "Wow. That's longer than I've been alive." Duh.

My mom and dad are two tough people. They endured WWII, mostly apart, ran a farm for 40 years together until my dad retired at 62. Raised 4 kids on the humble earnings of an independent crop farmer. Dealt with a long recovery from a knee replacement, skin cancer, diabetes, bad crops, hard times, and currently are fighting the battle with my dad's Alzheimers. But they have one of the most obvious loves I've ever seen. My dad doesn't have many jokes left in his memory. Doesn't know when he's repeating himself. But he still likes to say, after all these years "It's a trial marriage."

They still hold hands every day, must have their quota of snuggle time every night during the local news, and still, even in their compromised physical conditions, I'm certain, would fight to the death to defend the other.

Among my favorite memories of my parents:

Late 1960s, early 1970s. My dad usually came home from the field for lunch. Filthy, sweaty, his overalls layered in dust from being on a tractor all morning. He pulled into the gravel driveway on his tractor, his radio blaring the country music station. (The only local station we had.) I remember Freddie Fender's "Before the Last Teardrop Falls" and Charlie Rich's "Did You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World." (He hated rock and roll. Called it "whangy-dang music.") We could actually hear the radio from a quarter mile away, because he had to have it so loud to hear it above the tractor. Mom went outside where he was standing on the patio, waiting. She picked up her broom and started beating him with it. Big yellowy brown dust clouds flew off of him, and until she had beaten him to her satisfaction, he couldn't come inside.

They were playful, her swats with the broom getting a bit slapstick, him often saying "That's a little too hard, honey."

For lunch, his favorite meal was Campbell's tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, a pickle, and white whole milk with Hershey's syrup mixed in. I remember the clanging of his spoon against the glass. Lunch (which is called "dinner" on the farm) started promptly at noon, so Dad could watch the mid-day grain report on TV. You did not want to make noise during this moment.

On days when he was too far behind in the field to come home for lunch, Mom and I took it to him. I got the job of holding the freezing cold 16 ounce bottle of Pepsi with the plastic cup turned upside down on top, and the opener. This was the highlight of my day. I had no one else around on the farm. Mom and I would try to guess whether, when we got to the field, Dad would be going away from us or coming toward us on the tractor. The wait was longer when he was going the other way. He got off the tractor, pulled his red bandana out of his back overalls pocket, wiped his face, then sat down in the shade of a tree. Mom unpacked his sandwich and a little ziploc bag of chips, and something sweet like a Twinkie or a cupcake, and I handed him the Pepsi and the cup and the opener. I watched him eat and I watched Mom watch him eat.

20 minutes later, he got back on the tractor and worked until dark. Usually a 14 or 15 hour day in the field, if the weather held.

Oh, I forgot. When he came home for lunch, he'd take what today would be called a "power nap." Too dirty to get onto a bed, he laid on the living room floor, flat on his back, and my dog Nicky, the size of a loaf of bread, curled into the bend of Dad's elbow and slept soundly with him.

He does still remember Nicky.

One year later, my mom's love for my dad has turned even more fierce. Now 89, he has become markedly more frail. We bought a walker for him when I was home 2 weeks ago, but he can't handle it very well. He struggles even to shuffle, and his Alzheimers has eaten up more of his personality. At about 5 or 6 p.m. each day, he asks my mom if he can go to bed. No, she says. Wait a while.

There are endless pills to deal with. He must be taken care of in many ways, and my mother is worn out. But she has made it pointedly clear that she will not put him into a nursing home until she absolutely has to. She will not do this to the love of her life. If not for my sister living 5 blocks away, this current situation would be bordering on impossible. God bless my sister.

I always longed for a happy marriage. And now that I have found one, I am sometimes wistful that Scott and I didn't meet until our late 40s. But then, it could've been our late 60s, or not at all. So I'm grateful. Wildly so.

Watching my parents, I also have realized just how fast 66 years could go by.

My dad still tells her "Kathleen, you're beautiful" a dozen times a day. He has always, always done this. She puts her hand on his face as she walks past his recliner and says "You're a sweet boy."

Social contact makes my father very quiet. He is aware on some level that he can't hold a conversation like he used to. Up until he entered the shadowy hallway of this disease, he would gather new friends everywhere he went. If we flew somewhere on vacation, he knew a dozen people on the plane by the end of the flight. While waiting for my mom to shop at the mall, he'd sit on a bench and make 2 or 3 more new friends, introducing them to each other.

My favorite of his lines is one he used repeatedly back when he and my mom would spend a couple months in Florida during the winters. While standing in line at a restaurant or store, he'd ask the retiree next to him "Where up North are you from?" About 80% of the people at the places they frequented were snowbirds, so it was a safe line. But people looked shocked sometimes. How did he know?

The best he does now when he sees someone he knows is to answer the question "How are you?" with "Oh, never been better at this age."

Both of my parents walked me down the aisle 4 months ago today. I locked my arm tightly into Dad's so he wouldn't fall. The wedding was lost to him an hour after it happened. He doesn't remember that I'm married. When I was there visiting 2 weeks ago, he asked me 100 times a day "Where do you call home?" And I answered. 100 times. And I would sometimes pick up the little laminated map of the U.S. with Phoenix circled, and "Candy lives here" written next to it, and show him again. But it just doesn't "stick."

"Where do you call home?" I found it interesting that he phrased it this way.

It is clear where he calls home. Anywhere she is.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Welcome to Monday!

Mondays blow. But sometimes a photo of catfish/polenta/asparagus/olive art can help.

Or how about a game of Love/Hate?

On the first day of the semester, I have my students introduce themselves and then name one thing they love and one thing they hate. And they must be specific. None of this "I love food" bullshit. I want to know a particular food. Like, say, pizza with anything on it but anchovies or sausage. It's not a tough request, to be slightly detailed. To think about your own tastes for ten seconds.

One lazy slug of a guy couldn't muster the energy to come up with a more scintillating answer than "I love all food. I will eat anything." So I asked him "How about if I were to go into the kitchen to cook your dinner, and come back with a nice hot bowl of Cat Piss Soup?" "Nah, I prob'ly wouldn't like that."

And there is occasionally the sappy girl who says "Oh, I don't hate anything. Anything at all." (I immediately hate her.) This answer only comes from freshmen. No one who has been in college for one semester has an empty list of hates. Not even the headband girls with the pink sparkly notebooks.

What do you Love/Hate?

I love to watch the part of "The Wizard of Oz" when the dead witch's legs curl up under the house. I love a new fine-point purple felt-tip pen. I love it when a person's umbrella turns inside out from the wind. (My friend Domhan taught me to love that.)

On the other hand, I hate people who say "I seen him the other day." I hate the Wheat Chex part of Chex Mix.

And I hate when the umbrella is mine.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Thursday Evening

Phoenix traffic. Difficult.
Downtown Phoenix traffic. At rush hour. More difficult. Exhausting. Claustrophobic.

I'm hungry. Baked in the windshield sun. My mind is racing with what needs to get done at home. The CD is playing the last of 12 songs.

3 blocks from home. In my mind I have already pulled into the carport, gotten the mail from the box, unlocked the door, glanced at the light on the answering machine, dropped the pile of mail on the kitchen counter, taken the strap of my leather bag from my shoulder, kicked off my clogs, pulled off my jeans, walked to Hankie's favorite sleeping location. I'm just reaching down to scratch his ears---

Red and blue flashing lights. A long row of them. Cop cars barricading all 6 lanes of the very end of my drive home.

I turn on the radio and find some news. There is a standoff, not quite 2 blocks from our house, between a platoon of policemen and a man who is sitting in a truck, wielding a high-powered rifle. He may have threatened people around him; he may be suicidal. Some family members have been brought to the scene to try to talk to him. It is 5:20 p.m. The standoff began at 1:30. I must find another way home.

If our human moods were measured, accurately, by using a spectrum of children's board games, with a system something like this:

Ecstatic, euphoric: Twister

Extremely happy: Mousetrap

Very happy: Chutes & Ladders

Happy: Candyland

Content: Life

Thoughtful: Scrabble

Bored: Chinese Checkers

Apprehensive: Boobytrap

Frightened: Trouble

Perplexed: Mystery Date

Angry: Hands Down

Enraged: Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots

Sorrowful: Operation

...and so on, then my mood would have just that second plummeted to a very dangerous broken-in-half Ouija Board that has been set aflame and shit on by a thousand angry scorpions.

Which, translated from BoardGamese into English is: "Let me out of this f*cking car and I'll kill him myself."

I start the zigzagging and backtracking necessary to actually get home, and am dizzyingly tired when I finally pull into the driveway.

Inside, I try to recalibrate, catch my breath. I turn on the TV news. The man has just shot himself in the head. The standoff is over.

I go and email Scott to tell him what's happened, then I need some contact with good old Mom. So I email her. And since I crave the mental equivalent of a stiff drink, I toss my sense of decency out on its ass and I type "He blew his head off. Good. One less dumb f*ck to ruin my day tomorrow."

I see her reply pop up a couple of minutes later. I imagine her clicking the mouse on the other end. It is Thursday. And Thursday is "Hair Day" for my mom. It has been Hair Day for as long as I can remember. Thursdays at 3:30 she goes to see Marcia, her "beauty operator" and gets her hair done. Washed, put in curlers, sat under a dryer, teased, sprayed. My dad, who can no longer drive or be comfortably left alone for an hour, goes with her and sits in a chair waiting during the whole process. It takes 50 minutes. Then they pick up styrofoam containers of broccoli and cheese soup 3 doors down and take it home and eat it for dinner.

Her message:

"Well, it is everywhere, even here. Two guys in a black van shot a window out of the
school gym, and the janitor got glass in his eye. He had to go to the hospital. All the schools were on code yellow. I don't know what it is all coming to.

It was cold out today. Our soup was good."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This Just In...

Actual email from a student:

Sorry i will not be in class tomorrow, i have been in the hospital and was diagnosed with gull stones.

I'm guessing he'll need to see a sturgeon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Man Who Loves Opera Also Loves to Dance

The almost-83-year-old man I met last week in the tiny adjunct teachers' office was there again today. His name is Clifford. I swear, he is a walking textbook on how to eat up the baked carcass of life in big juicy bites and then make a necklace from the bones.

During his decades of teaching and opera-going, he also managed to fit in 30 years of dance lessons. FLAMENCO dance. He performed on some small tours in his 20s and 30s and at age 55 was still honing his skills in Spain under the tutelage of a helpful dancing gypsy woman. (But really, aren't most dancing gypsy women helpful?)

In telling me about his early flamenco lessons, with an authoritarian of a flamenco teacher in Chicago, he stood up and took the perfect posture of a dancer, held his arms over his head ballet-style, and bent his left leg and held his foot up in the air, holding this pose for 30 seconds (flamenco/flamingo style) without a hint of shakiness. This is what his dance instructor made him work on for the first half dozen lessons 60 years ago. No actual dancing, just balance and steadiness.

He faced numerous obstacles on the dance floor. Flamenco dancing is not easy, as it turns out. When he had the routines perfected (or so he thought) his blunt instructor said "Here is your problem: You dance, but you're scared." And that was his next hurdle. Learning not to be scared.

Maybe because it was late in the day and because my blood sugar was very low, I found this exceptionally meaningful almost to the extent of being annoying. But it seems to me that that is the whole point in life. Or perhaps it's only the whole point to those of us who are scared shitless of so many things. I lie awake in bed and mentally list the things I'm worried about and catalog them like so many colorful, ornate fishing lures hooked into my lungs. It only stings when you try to breathe.

"I don't dare dance any more," Clifford told me. "It's too dangerous for the heart at my age. It's horrible to get old."

I don't know how long his own personal window was: that time between letting go of a substantial chunk of fear, and being too old to flamenco dance again. I picture my own window, if it happens, as very short. I will be spreading frosting on a graham cracker, sitting out on my front porch. Just as I put down the knife, it will occur to me that I am no longer scared feces-less of everything. Then an out of control steam shovel will rumble around the corner and flatten me like a fruit roll-up.

In the Interest of Fairness...

I must come forward and confess my own typo/blooper/stupid mistake.

I emailed the library at the community college today to set up a time for my class to visit as a group, to work on their research papers. I copied myself on the email, and saw this sentence only after it was too late:

"On that date, this English 101 class will halve a substitute teacher."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bacon Socks

Because my husband is a fancy-schmancy culinary school graduate, it pains him to actually cook meat. His own thick steaks are so quickly rushed over the grill that instead of yelping in pain they blink in confusion: "What was that? Did I feel something? I thought I felt something."

His "seared" tuna is kept so far from the flame that he finally put a halt to the whole charade and now simply walks sheepishly over to the platter of tuna and describes the flame to it as it cringes in its fishy oils.

Last night, we went to a Japanese resturant with another couple, and I watched Scott eat the most vile of sushi: raw eel. He was eating the flesh of a snake that lives in the ocean, zigging and zagging back and forth among the startled sea anemones like a slimy gray ribbon in a sweet gingham quilt.

Thus, it is great gratitude that I feel when he exits his comfort zone and cooks meat the only way I can eat it: Burned beyond recognition. On the very rare occasion that I eat a hamburger, once a year or so, it must be reduced to a flat black coaster that falls to pieces when I bite into it. Chicken? Cooked on the grill until it is dry enough to soak up any three of the Great Lakes.

And then there's bacon. Our Sunday morning ritual of pancakes and bacon is time consuming. Scott slow-cooks the pig flesh in the oven forEVER and when he is finished, what is on my plate looks more like The Shroud of Bacon than the actual meat. Which is just how I like it. The only way I like it, in fact. When he burns it more than usual, like today, he says "Don't eat the end of's pure ash." And I bite into it, and it crumbles into a delicious heap of black swine dust.

Just before my last few bites today, I saw the vision. Socks.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A New Favorite

From a freshman paper:

"Unknowingly, every faucet of our lives is influenced by the culture we live in."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Da Flu Bug. I Have Brung it Home

And it's either my mom's nasty bug or something formidable that glommed onto me in that US Airways petri dish I flew home in. The flight with the child who DID NOT STOP SCREAMING FOR THREE HOURS. Every person on that plane was ready to dump her out of the cabin over Tulsa. And her mother too. WHY? Because the endlessly, epically stupid mother sat calmly reading a magazine while the Satanic spawn next to her screamed like she was being skinned alive. FOR THREE HOURS.

Thus, everyone watched the movie, to try to escape the demonic wails. But the headphones did not drown out the most hated child in the skies. The girl next to me who was sympathetic about the "poor unhappy baby" when we first got onto the plane, finally came over to my camp.

"I'm ready to choke the life out of this little bastard," I said. "Are you with me?"

"Yes," she said. "I will hold her down."

People were agitated. Positively radioactive with stress from enduring this rotten child. And yes, I know. It's the mother who is rotten, not the child. She truly did read a magazine the entire trip. Occasionally she would tap the kid on the head with a flat palm, like she was trying to get ketchup out of a bottle. Very loving. As my own mother said, stupid parents are not fair to the kid, because the kid ends up being hated and it's not their fault.

Unable to drown out the death screams, I sat daydreaming of a magical system in the universe where parents get a certain number of stupidity points. Once they go over the allotted number, their kid is whisked away from them and put into the arms of someone who has been longing for a child forever. Also, the reproductive organs of the stupid would be instantaneously replaced with, perhaps, a plastic version of the real thing. And just to show you that Candy is not entirely cruel, I would erase the stupid parent's memory, the part of it that included ever having had a kid. No pain. Society improved.

In this particular case, the third or fourth time the blisteringly stupid mother tapped her kid's head like a Heinz bottle, the child would have disappeared, landing in the cuddling arms of a lonely childless couple in Des Moines, and before another page turned in the stupid mother's plump In Style magazine, her original uterus would have been replaced with a lovely, flexible Tupperware one. I would even provide her with a snap-on lid for it so she could burp it at will. Think of the conversation piece (so to speak) she would have at parties! Instead of eggs that could be fertilized, she could tote nice paprika-sprinkled devilled eggs wherever she went on her very stupid way.

Oh, once we landed, and were waiting at the baggage claim, I saw that the kid was wearing a Velcro wrist band that was attached to a red nylon leash. There would be no leashes in Des Moines.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Passion: A Study in Contrast?

After I taught class today, I went to check my email in the dinky little adjunct office. An older man I'd seen in there once before was there again. Being in such a small space together and not at least greeting one another would be very awkward. I asked him, in my cheesy I-don't-know-what-else-to-say way: "Is it the weekend yet?"

He's got some hearing loss and thought I'd asked him how his weekend was. I got to hear all about his trip to San Francisco for an opera performance, and how the trip back was very complicated because of some bomb threats at the Oakland airport. He said hundreds and hundreds of people were standing outside the terminal in the baking sun, having been evacuated.

We started talking, and I asked him where he taught before he came to the community college. "How much time do you have?" he asked. I said "Plenty." He gave me a 10-minute history of his life. High school drop out. Went back to college. Got multiple degrees. He's taught at big universities all over the midwest and east coast, thoroughly enjoyed picking up and moving to the next job for better money and more adventure. His field was mainly comparative literature, but he also taught French and Spanish. For five years he worked as a hospice caregiver in Scottsdale, then long after retirement, picked up teaching again as an adjunct.

His main passion through his whole life, he says, has been the opera. While working in New York City he once flew to Venice for a weekend, for a single opera performance, then right back home. While living in Africa (I didn't get to hear about that adventure) he flew to New York City for the same reason. Then immediately back a day later. Opera has provided the vivid colors in his life, year after year after year. It has been not only a passion, but a consuming one and listening to him talk about it kept me happily locked into the moment as though he were a campfire I was staring into.

He looks like a man in his late 60s, around the same age as the toothless South Carolinian with the chihuahua and the "issues." However, the opera guy told me he's coming up on his 83rd birthday. Is it his great love for opera, or for anything, that has kept him "young?" That has to have something to do with it, right?

And now he's teaching beginning Spanish to community college students who probably don't appreciate him much, but I don't think that matters to him. There was a sense that he knows he's lived his life exactly the way he's wanted to, and dipped the wooden bucket deeply into the well of what inspires him.

I couldn't help wondering how things would go if he were trapped in an elevator with the guy from the Booth o' Knives. Both are passionate men. One loves "Carmen" and world travel and academia; the other loves helpless, abused miniature dogs and racial slurs and knives. What would they talk about? Would they despise each other or find common ground?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Temporary Fruit-Related Rating System

On a scale of 1 to 10, my trip back to Indiana was this frowning apple.

My poor mom got a churningly bad stomach flu and spent her days mostly sleeping or barfing. She was extremely angry with herself for getting sick for the entirety of my visit. She's like that. My mother blames herself for getting the flu. This is where I learned to blame myself for such things.

Still, it was fantastic to be in my tiny hometown. I didn't mind playing nursemaid. I'd been homesick and now I was a galaxy away from the filth and noise and wall-to-wall illegals in Phoenix. Back home, everyone speaks English. Or at least a backwoods version of it. Very refreshing.

There was a fall festival taking place in the park, right next to the condo where my parents live. Carnival rides came to town. 20 or so booths sold cheap, tacky crap like glittery ceramic dragons and Dale Earnhardt memorial T-shirts. I took a walk to investigate while Mom and Dad were napping, Mom on the verge of hurling, Dad overjoyed to be napping with her all day. His favorite thing.

One booth at the shindig was nothing but knives and guns. Fake military guns that looked just like the real thing, or at least real enough to get you swiss-cheesed by armed police if they saw you wielding one. The knives were overly ornate and bejeweled and effeminate looking, in a butch way. The guy running the booth was 65-ish, no bottom teeth, and looked very much like Mr. Haney from "Green Acres." He sat on a tall stool and had a fat chihuahua on his lap.

He looked at my T-shirt, which bore the name of my former university.

"What kinda school is that?" he asked, as though my shirt said "Running Diarrhea University."

"Uh, the one in the state next to this one," I said.

He looked to his left, within arm's length, at another guy about his age who was manning the adjoining booth filled with tools and flashlights and household gadgets you can buy more conveniently at Kmart. This second guy wore a Clemson t-shirt.

The chihuahua holder looked back at me and said "You know what kinda school Clemson is?"

"No," I said. "What kind?"

"It's a n*gger school!" And then he belted out a laugh that woke the chihuahua, and raised his spidery eyebrows repeatedly at me, as if to punctuate the funny hanging in the air. The Clemson shirt guy looked at me with a pained smile, obviously the butt of this joke a hundred or so times. All because he chose badly when renting booth space.

"So," I said to the comic. "You talk to total strangers like that and nobody's killed you yet?"

"Oh hell no they ain't." It was then that I looked down at the assortment of knives and saw one of those mean-ass circular blade things that you zip through the air like a deadly frisbee and slice someone's neck so deeply they become an instant Pez dispenser. I thought it best not to get into a discussion on race relations with a guy who sells death-blades. Still, I found his dog of interest. It cuddled up against him in a desperate way.

"What's your dog's name?" I asked.

"Oh, that's Puppy Dog," he said, as he scratched Puppy Dog's neck. "Wanna hear her story?"

"Are you going to say anything foul?"


And then he went on to tell me that he'd gotten Puppy Dog (creative, no?) from the humane shelter when she was 10 weeks old. She had been owned by a wealthy couple. A couple who fought a lot. Once when the woman got very very angry with her husband, she took his tiny puppy and lowered it into a pan of boiling macaroni and cheese, burning the hide off its hindquarters. The husband called the police.

"All that bitch got was 200 hours of community service. But then she hired somebody to go do them hours for her. And when the court found out, they gave her 12 years." Puppy Dog was looking up at his owner's face, I swear, as if to say "THIS story again?"

"And I took ole Puppy Dog to court when that bitch got sentenced, just so she could see it happen." Scratch, scratch, scratch on the dog's head. "It didn't mean nothin' to her, but I wanted her to be there."

"Was this in Indiana?"

"No...back home. South Carolina."

I had a new story from the outside world to take home to Mom. It was time to buy a Lemon Shake-up and head back to the condo to check on her.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back Home in Feenix

And preparing to go back into the classroom tomorrow, where there are students who write sentences like this one:

"Public school students must deal with drugs, pier pressure, and other things that make learning difficult."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Headed for the Hoosier State

Tomorrow I'm flying "home" to see the family. My last trip there was in early August for my 30-year high school reunion. I stayed for 8 days and got the chance to lazily hang out with my parents and sister et al.

This time it'll be an annoyingly short trip. I fly in Thursday evening and back out Sunday afternoon. I had to get a "sub" for my Thursday afternoon class at the High School Pretending to Be a College. At the Big Giant University, I had the freedom to call off class a couple times a semester, and rather than "deprive" the students, it came as a nice break for them to try to get caught up with things. A mental health break for all of us. Ah well...them days is gone.

Scott will be left alone, again, with Hankie, who has taken on a new ghoulish habit. While I was in Indiana in August, Hankie began going to our closed bedroom door around 5 a.m. and howling. A loud, hideous, gutteral howl that seemed to translate into "Someone has my balls squeezed tightly into a pair of needle-nosed pliers AND are simultaneously dipping all 4 of my paws in hydrochloric acid." Scott was awakened from a deep sleep and ran to see what was wrong.

Nothing was wrong. It was just a skinny, 8-pound, 19-year-old cat apparently looking for "him mommy." Scott petted him and reassured him that all was well and Hankie went back to sleep in one of his designated spots in the living room.

That was August. I came home and the howling has happened off and on since then. It is impossible to ignore. Which brings us to October and our deep exasperation with our self-appointed "furry alarm clock" as Scott calls him. Now, every single early, early morning Hankie comes to call. 4:00 a.m. 12:48 a.m. Never any later than 5:30 a.m.

You might be thinking that if we'd just leave our bedroom door open, he'd find us home when he does his demonic Avon Lady routine and he could step right in and try out his sample lipsticks on us and that would be that. But neither Scott nor I can deal with an animal crawling over us unexpectedly during the night. Unless it happens to be one of us.

Scott strongly encourages me to ignore Hankie's dead-of-night pleading. We can break him of this habit, he says. But there are 2 obstacles to this plan:

1. My maternal instinct, even though it may be tiny enough to fit into the armpit of a praying mantis, tells me that my "baby" is in despair.

2. My bladder, small enough to fit into the other armpit, cries out with its own netherworldly howling when it is awakened.

So the scenario goes something like this:

Scott and Candy, soundly sleeping.



Thought Clouds Above Both Our Heads: "Nobody move. Don't let him know we're in here."


Scott: "Ignore him."

Candy: "I'm dying! I have to pee!"

Scott: "Wait 5 minutes. Wait until he goes away. Don't reward him."

Candy: (waiting, gritting teeth, shifting positions, thinking of desert sand and cacti and dry, dry things)

Candy: "He's gone. I'm going now."


Candy: "Hell. Dammit. I'm still going."

I try hard to follow the protocol. I refuse eye contact with Hankie. I do not pat his head when he follows me to the bathroom. I do not feed him. I snub him. I show him who's boss. I walk past him in a cold Nazi goose-step on the way back to bed. I glance sideways. I see his pleading eyes, his skinny little body, the forlorn tilt of his head.

I give in. I turn on the kitchen light. I feed him. I scratch his ears. I whisper to him "This never happened."

Thus, the die is cast for the next night.

And if you're wondering if Hankie is crying out from hunger because we've left him no food, think again. He is never without at least one bowl of dry food, 2 saucers of canned food, and a "nightcap" of milk. He simply wants to make us his bitches.

I've read everything I could find online about elderly cats who meow loudly at night. The consensus is that very old cats get either a) senile or b) gradually deaf and blind. Both conditions make for an insecure, house-wandering kitty who needs to find his owner.

Hankie has been losing his hearing for a few years. He hears very little now. He wobbles a bit when he walks. He is far, far into his golden years. He needs some middle-of-the-night reassurance from his family. And somewhere on his neural turf is a neon sign that says "Wake them up. You have something to tell them."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Is This a Sign of Something?

First there was a face in the lint on my floor. Now, I'm going about my business in the kitchen, and I look down where I slopped some coffee earlier. And Alfred Hitchcock is there.

Why are there faces everywhere? I think I'll lie down now and wait for the paramedics.

Vegetables as Fashion

From tonight's pile of papers to grade:

"Starbucks allows facial hair and piercing to be shown, and pretty much any hair style you want. As long as you wear the green apron and a collard shirt you're considered a prime Starbucks candidate."

I can't blame the boy for wanting to garb himself up in vegetables. Why, just this past June when I got married, I purchased an entire trousseau made from long squiggly carrot slices.