Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the guy who said 'ersatz'

Confession time! I want to be my TA. Her name is Erica.

Seriously. I sat in section today and found myself jotting down copious notes -- not about our conversation on "Lolita," though; instead, I furiously wrote down the witty things she said.

Two of my favorite exchanges from today's section are listed below.

A small freshman walks out of class to go to the bathroom
and closes the door cautiously behind her. Erica pauses for a second and then smiles.

Erica: I think that's the first time someone has gone to the bathroom during one of my sections.

Class laughs nervously.

Erica: I mean, you guys can definitely go to the bathroom if you want. . . (long, long pause) I used to think that maybe people thought they weren't allowed to go to the bathroom during section. . . I guess it's only an hour.

More chuckles, then silence.

Erica: We've talked about this too much now. It's going to be awkward when she comes back in.

Nabokov Admirer, a wide-eyed sophomore, raises his hand to speak after having made a comment earlier in the class in which he awkwardly incorporated the word "ersatz." Erica calls on NA, and he flips though his giant annotated version of "Lolita."

NA: So, I don't mean to be the guy who says [attempts the voice of a pompous fool] 'Well, in the annotated version. . .'

Erica: Well you already said 'ersatz' in section, so. . .

Class laughs. Ha. Ha. Ha.

NA: Well, now that I've officially established myself as the section jerk. . .

Erica: No, you're not the jerk. You're just the guy who said 'ersatz.'

Monday, January 28, 2008

words that sting

So, as my roommate can attest to, I hit the proverbial wall about half an hour ago and desperately needed some coffee so that I wouldn't start drooling on my keyboard, head bobbing in that really weird I-am-falling-asleep-while-I-sit-in-a-chair way.

Little did I know that my coffee run would result in a truly excellent encounter!

Koffee on Audubon, 9:33 p.m.

I bound up to the counter, ears red because they are cold. Female employee with a shaggy black haircut and black nails greets me.

Me: Could I get a large iced coffee, please. . .?

She gets a cup and fills it with ice.

Me: You probably think I'm really weird for ordering an iced coffee today.

Shaggy Black Haircut: Naw, I got an iced coffee this morning. So I guess that means you are as weird as I am.

Me: Perhaps I am as weird as you.

SBH shudders visibly as she puts the lid on my coffee.

SBH: Sorry, I just hate the word 'perhaps.' Like I really don't like it.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry. I had no idea.

SBH hands me my drink and I hand her a $20.

SBH: I also hate the word 'moist.'

Me: Oh, well, that's more common. I know a lot of people who hate that word.

SBH hands me my change.

Me: Well, PERHAPS I'll see you later.

SBH: Jackass. You're cute.

Friday, January 25, 2008

clash at Labyrinth

Laybrinth Books, 4:23 p.m.

Two employees behind the counter. An intensely thin 40-something man with gray stubble and an angular face -- wearing a tight black turtleneck. A plump, rosy-cheeked 30-something woman wearing way too much clothing altogether.

Too Much Clothing (singing, arms flailing): Oh my gooooooodness. . . oh my gooooooodness. . . I am soooooo excited to get out of here tonight.

Gray Stubble: Kate. Shut up. (looks at me) Cust-o-mer.

After twenty seconds of silence during which GS scans my books, TMC fumbles with a black booklet filled with CDs.

TMC: I'm putting on Widespread.

GS: Kate! The Clash! I was about to put on the fuckin' Clash CD.

TMC (looks up at me): Cust-o-mer.

GS scowls as TMC gathers her stuff, getting ready to leave. GS looks up at TMC, shaking his head.

TMC: I have better things to do than sitting here and making you listen to my CD, anyway.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

false hope

Advice to the teaching assistants of the world: do not begin section by saying the following: "I hear that the things Yale students complain about most are food and sections. But I understand that the food situation is getting better. So. . . uh, what has been bad in previous sections you have taken?"

This is how my afternoon section today began. Given this chance to vent, meek freshmen and jaded juniors offered responses like:
- "I hate it when the teacher talks the whole time"
- "I hate it when one kid dominates the whole section"
- "I hate it when no one talks"

The mirthful section leader laughed, muttered something about how this section would be so different and then launched into section. I was kind of intrigued; was the fact that we had started section this way a sign that this section would, in fact, be different - a green oasis in the endless parade of drab pavement that represents my section experience at Yale?

The answer was, of course, no. The teacher talked the whole time. No one talked. . . except for one kid, obviously, who dominated the whole section (though he did have an awesome British accent).

Moral of the story: don't raise my expectations when you can't deliver.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

things that sting

1) When you call someone whom you have called before and whose number you saved in your phone and the person picks up and says "Hello. . . ?" and then you say "This is Josh" and you stutter for a second as you realize that he made the choice to not store your phone number in his cell phone the last time you spoke.

2) When you're out with people and meet this new person and have a really fun time and you make jokes and get pizza and totally bond and then the next day you write on her Facebook wall something like "Hey Tiger, remember not to get peppers next time :-)" and think you are being really witty and totally reaffirming the fact that you guys are going to be friendz 4 eva and then. . . she never writes back on your wall.

3) When a movie or book that you really, really liked comes up in conversation and -- before you can say anything -- one of your friends goes "Hah, that movie was just terrible - my psychotic aunt could have written a better screenplay than that" and then someone else chimes in in total agreement and you start questioning your taste. The self-doubt is crippling: "Do I have really, really bad taste in movies? Can I not tell the difference between good writing and bad writing?" you think to yourself. "I must be a weird person," you conclude.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

case of the mondays

I was sitting around the table with three of my friends the other night in that post-dinner "we will nibble on anything if it is put in front of us" state. And -- whaddya know? -- a bowl of Hersey's Kisses presented itself and the nibbling commenced.

I was surprised to see that the little pieces of paper in the Kisses which used to just say "Hershey's" now come with messages. Two of my friends took Kisses out of the bowl and read their messages out loud. One said "I like you"; the other: "Way to Go." And it was just the little boost they needed. You can't help but just feel silly-good when the chocolate candy you are eating tells you that you are awesome.

Craving that same adoration, I quickly ripped off the wrapping of the nearest Kiss I could get my paws on. What would mine say? "You're as sweet as chocolate"? "You have an attractive face"? "I want to disrobe you in the same way that you just unwrapped me"? Nope.

My message in a Kiss? "I hate Mondays."

After doing some research, I found the list of all possible messages online (below). I am pretty sure I got the ONLY ONE that isn't either a compliment ("Looking Good," "You Rock"), an expression of encouragement ("Knock Em Dead," "Kiss Someone"), a flirtatious come-on ("Big Hug," "Guess Who?") or a positive statement ("Congratulations," "Thanks"). (Side note: the ones that give the Kiss an identity of its own -- "Let's Go Out," "You Love Me" -- creep me out a lot.)


Thursday, January 17, 2008

shop 'til you drop

You obsess about what classes to take. You scroll through the course offerings online again and again with that nagging fear in the back of your head that you might have overlooked that ONE PERFECT CLASS. You ask your friends repeatedly which of the two sciences on your list is easier or if you should take that really awesome seminar even though it meets at 9:25 a.m. ten minutes away from your room. You make spread sheets comparing non-Western history classes. You read syllabuses as if they are treasure maps. You curse the heavens when two classes you like conflict. You obsess.

Then your schedule is signed and you've bought your textbooks and you've signed up for section and it's five weeks later and you're skipping all your lectures and you're complaining about the seminar paper you just can't get yourself to write and the bitching and moaning you're doing about all your classes just blends together. And that obsession -- that eagerness you had to find the five most perfect classes you could? You have forgotten it ever existed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

tag, you're it

I find myself wondering every now and then about pictures that don't end up on Facebook. Almost every time I attend a social gathering, someone will shout to whoever happens to be taking photos that night: "Keeeeeks, you're gonna put these up on Facebook, riiiiiight?" "Of course, babe," Kirsten will respond.

About fifty percent of the time, the pictures do end up on Facebook for public consumption, typically in an album titled "CLUMSY CUZ I'M FALLIN IN LUV," "last nite" or "omg we're hott."

But it's the other fifty percent I'm more interested in. What happens to pictures that don't make it to Facebook? Do they never get transferred from the digital camera to the laptop due to the laziness/apathy of the taker? Do they just fester in the hard drives of those who took them, banished for life? Who are these people who take pictures and intentionally don't put them up? This all leads me to the most pressing question of all: in this age of Zuckerbergs, pokes and Scrabulouses, if a picture is taken and not put up on Facebook, does it even exist?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

two roads

You haven't seen Cheery Carla in a while. You are meeting her for lunch or dinner at California Pizza Kitchen or the Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang's. You haven't seen her in a while and you're excited to catch up. You're excited. She's excited. There's excitement.

You sit down and take off your coat (you're a few minutes late; she's been waiting). You immediately launch into a story about something -- often something that has happened to you recently. ("You'll never believe who I just ran into. . ." or "So I saw Atonement this afternoon . . ") As you take Carla through your story, the menus rest on the table, untouched. Usually about thirty seconds into your story, Carla will reach for her menu. Instinctively, you reach for your menu, too, and open it automatically, even though you are breathlessly in the midst of your story.

At this point you notice Carla scanning the menu and you wonder if she is really listening to your tale of how your brother reacted when you told him about what your roommate said to you this morning or to your comparison of Atonement the book versus Atonement the movie. So you have to make a decision. You can just charge through the story as you paranoidly wonder if she is actually thinking about whether she is in the mood for a chopped salad or a turkey sandwich or you can stop midstream and say -- when Carla looks up quizzically -- "Uh, why don't we just decide what we want first?" If you choose the former, you avoid the potential frustration of having to interrupt your story or point. If you choose the latter, you get the one to five minutes of silent-menu-perusal which, personally, I find to be quite calming. And if you are anyone in the world other than me, this is probably something you have never worried about.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

mon chien est violet

When you are talking to someone and you find out in the throes of your riveting conversation that she can speak a different language, it is practically required that you ask her to say something in the language.

She will giggle and madly protest. "Nooooo," she'll say.

"C'mon - just say something," you'll urge violently, as if her saying a sentence you can't understand in German will give you that final clue you need to find some secret hidden treasure.

She'll pout for a second and then relent. "But what should I say?" she'll ask.

At this point, you will realize that this whole thing is kind of stupid and that you don't actually care that much and that you don't have anything in mind for her to half-heartedly translate and that you won't even know if she's translating accurately, anyway. But you have to say something. Usually you'll ask her to say something numbingly simple ("My name is Jessie," "I like to speak German") or something completely nonsensical ("Mushrooms are blue," "Never speak to a yawning goat"). She'll stutter through a clunky translation, you'll say something meaningless ("What a cool language!") and then, finally, the ritual is over.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

saturday night dance party

I do not understand why local pop radio stations play dance music on Saturday nights.

Starting as early as 6 or 7 p.m., the most popular Boston radio station -- which I can typically count on when I want some easy-on-the-ears Rihanna, Timbaland or other top 40 fare -- switches to an all-club music all-the-time format. Turn on the radio at 9:47 p.m. on a Saturday on that long drive home looking for that "starts in my toes and I crinkle my nose" song to warm your heart and instead you get an unrecognizable dance remix of "Big Girls Don't Cry."

Here's the thing: no one (unless they are 12-years-old or incredibly lame) who is throwing a dance party on a Saturday night is going to turn on the radio for their rockin' party soundtrack. And the people who are driving on a Saturday night -- who I would imagine make up 95 percent of the radio-listening audience -- are not (in most cases) dancing; they don't want to hear dance club music. If anything, it's as though the radio is saying: "Yeah, Josh, you are pretty lame. While all the cool 22-year-olds are out having the time of their lives while listening to music like this, you are sitting in your car eating French fries out of a bag and watching motorcycles pass you on the highway." And even though I change the station, the fast beats still reverberate in my ears.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

mass appeal

Every once in a while, I will decide I hate something. My latest object of disgust: mass texting.

It is distressing to receive a text message and wonder whether it was crafted for you individually or if your phone number was simply one of 17 entered by the culprit. This is especially a problem on holidays or other notable occasions (start of Winter break, Harvard-Yale football game, the day it was announced Jamie-Lynn was pregnant) when texting is mandatory. And it is always quite disconcerting when you receive the "What you up to tonight?" text and wonder if Texting Tommy is sitting at his laptop re-organizing the folders on his desktop pining to hang out with you that night, or if he sent the feeler out to 20 randomly chosen acquaintances. I'm not sure why it matters so much, but it does.

So now, when I send texts, I make it my personal mission to craft messages that could never be misinterpreted as mass texts. "Happy New Year's, George!" I will write, or "What are you doing tonight, Madison? Nothing would make me happier than seeing your freckled face, curly brown hair and that mole to the right of your nose."