Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Illness Redux

I'm going to get ripped into mercilessly by A Certain Someone for admitting this ("WHY DON'T YOU TAKE SUPPLEMENTS AND EAT BETTER, YOU F***WAD?!?!"), but I'm sick. Feels like a mild flu, but I woke up with a wretched sore throat and zero energy this morning, plus that slightly detached feeling that suggests light fever. Would like to go home and curl up and take drugs and sleep, but I've got to teach--oh, they'll be getting the 'smooth jazz' version of me today--and then, what fun, meet one-on-one with the President of the University--lovely--and it's nice and late in afternoon, so, just when I'm ready to collapse, I've got to meet with the Pontiff and convince him that I'm worth keeping around...snivel, whimper, bitch, moan...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Must Not Smoke...Must Not Smoke...Must Not Smoke...

I began smoking midway through my freshman year at college; I suppose I figured that since I wasn't have sex, I might as well do something else 'reckless' and 'adult.' (Ah, the idiocy of youth, which cannot recognize irony though it is painted on the two-by-four with which one is being smashed in the face.) Also, everyone at the UCLA Theater Department smoked, and I was desperate to fit in. I smoked long enough to learn to really, really like it. A lot.

I quit before I began my sophomore year. For many reasons. One, I was finally having sex, so I no longer needed a substitute. Two, my parents, who had never before spoken to me in such harsh tones, informed me that though they couldn't and wouldn't forbid me to stop smoking, they could make my life a hell of disapprobation until I did. Trust me, as trained WASPs, they could deliver magnificently on this threat. Strong incentive, there. Three--and this is how I was able to quit easily--I developed bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, and I couldn't take anything into my lungs for several weeks that wasn't just air. So, since I sweated out my withdrawal during this miserable period, and emerged unaddicted (physically), I figured, f*** it, and quit.

I still miss it, though. Smoking isn't just cool--it's...oh, it's good. It feels so...good to do it. Jesus, people, we all know it kills you, yet millions of us do it anyway--like Renton said of heroin in Trainspotting, "We wouldn't do it if it didn't feel good." But I've been good. One or two, here and there--if I'm at a family wedding, and folks are lighting up, I'll bum a few. But I've made a vow--I will never again purchase cigarettes for my own consumption. Never. And I've stuck to it, and it works.

But it was easier when I was in SoCal, where--essentially--no one smokes, and where smoking is viewed as rather worse than clubbing baby seals to death in front of retarded children on Christmas morning. In such a culture, Not Smoking is easy--shoot, you can't even smoke in bars in California--the insanity of that is just...I shake my head, at a loss for words.

But I'm not in SoCal anymore. I'm in the Midwest. The Heartland. The Heart-and-Lungsland. Where everyone--and I mean everyone smokes. I leave a class, and my students--all of them, light up, and I see them bristle with the joy that comes of that first drag and the knowledge that, at 18, they've got years to smoke before they have to think about quitting. And oh, how I envy them. And oh, how I want to join them.

I want to smoke.

I won't.

But I remember, and I want to smoke.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Just met with a student--I meet with all my students for one-on-one conferences before a paper is due; I just vastly prefer it to handed-in drafts, and the small sizes of my classes and the staggered schedule of due-dates make it a feasible practice.

The paper topic was a simple one, since this is the lower-level of the two required freshman composition courses--I like to make the first paper easy, so my kids don't A. vapor-lock on an assignment they can't wrap their terrified heads around, and B. totally screw up their GPAs and decide abruptly to quit college and join the service industry. Some of these kids are training to be nurses, and we need nurses, dammit--they have to stay here and learn.

The topic, as I say, was simple: Describe a moment in your life that changed your view of how you communicate with others. (I stress in class, by the way, that we need not get Lifetime Movie of the Week moments of death-bed conversations or jailhouse confessions--that these pieces can be light and funny--but in general, students seem to have no trouble telling me about how they finally worked up the courage to tell the school counsellor that Daddy was touching them in their 'bathing-suit parts.' Such openness is unnerving for all kinds of reasons, but it does make for a less-than-boring grading experience.)

Anyway--this student had not gone for such a moment--instead, he described the moment he spoke his first word. Which, and this touches my very soul, was "Book"--as he held up a Berenstein Bears tome for his mother to read to him. Love that. And it was a finely written piece--I've already drilled into their heads to keep their writing simple and straightforward--and they've taken happily to that advice, and as a result, very few of them are producing crap, which I consider a major triumph for freshmen.

I made my usual witty and incisive editorial comments, then told him, in summing up, that he should be pleased, that "It's a beautifully written piece." He took a long moment and couldn't look at me. "What?" I asked. He answered, "It's just that...I've never had an English teacher tell me something I wrote was beautiful--or even good." And I smiled and said, "Well, maybe they weren't paying attention." And he nodded, and looked slightly tearfully suprised and pleased, and left as quickly as possible, muttering "I really appreciate hearing that..."

I'm pissed. What the hell happened to this kid? Where were his teachers and what were they thinking? It was good--and good writing doesn't come out of nowhere. He must have done good work before--why wasn't he told this? This poor kid thinks he sucks, and he doesn't--and that's a piece of cruelty I'm angry about. Somewhere out there, there's an English teacher or two who needs a swift kick to the sack (or, if a woman, a cutting remark about, say, her weight.) My job should not have to include teaching kids that they're not dumb. And yet too much of it is just that. Grrrrrr...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

And Again--

I have nothing to say. I don't know if this is a sign of contentment, or resignation. Perhaps both. Fulmination is usually the result of a lack of either, and an overabundance of caffeine--by the way, am I showing my age when I confess that I have never consumed a Red Bull? I think I am. Too old fashioned not to prefer coffee, I suppose. But I do--I don't like soda, as a general rule, and, well--that's about it, really. Though the last soda I drank regularly was JOLT! (a product of the late '80s' attempt to find a legal substitute for cocaine, which eventually yielded the billions of coffeehouses that popped up in the '90s, JOLT! was cola with "all the sugar and twice the caffeine!" and MAN did it make it easy to finish your assignments on-time, and several pages over the minimum length. I'd just write for hours and hours and hours and hours and come up with something that would make Hunter S. Thompson shake his head and say, "Whoa--ease up on the juice, pal.") But since I'm not hyper-caffeinated, and because Shakespeare went well and all's right with the world, until I have to go upstairs at 2:00 and stare at the blank, resentful faces of my Comp. students, I have nothing to say.

Which strangely enough, feels good.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sigh and Sigh Again

See, this is why I didn't want to start blogging again--I'm struck by days in which I have rien de tout to say, and so have to fall back on pretentious faux-French (just did it again!) to convey some semblance of an entry.

Weekend was pleasant, if a bit hectic--parents and sibling and sibling's Highly Significant Other (they live together in sin in a condo which they mutually own--I've pointed out that they might as well get married, since co-owned real estate is a hell of a lot more binding than nuptual vows) were all in town, first to visit the city of the Alma Mater of Mom and Dad and Brother, thereat to watch a football game at which the home team won, hurrah--so nice not to have to walk the streets with a bunch of surly, drunken people looking for a face they don't like so they can collectively take out their frustrations on him (and I definitely have such a face, smug little bastard that I am.)

So I drove to said city, waited out the football game--actually, watched it in a hotel bar with a drink--as a side note, if you have a headache, two Advil chased with a vodka gimlet will clear that sucker right up--whilst I reviewed drafts (students' first paper is due on Friday, which means this week will be the Suck That Is Grading, What Fun) and prepped lesson plans for the upcoming week. Then the game ended, I met up with them, and the drinking began. And continued. Through to Sunday.

It was that kind of slow, steady drinking that never lets up and doesn't feel like a bender because you're never totally, stinking blind at any given moment, and yet there's rarely a point at which you don't have a drink in your hand (kind of like Dashell Hammett's The Thin Man--read it sometime--Nick Charles would fix himself a drink on the way to the bathroom at 3:00 in the morning). Anyway.

So now it's Monday and I feel like there was no weekend, and I'm wasted and cranky and just...well, I've nothing to say. So, in lieu of, I've offer my apologies and explanation for this here--but no excuses: I regret nothing. (Oh, that's so not true...)

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I think, apart from the existence of people like Paris Hilton, what I hate most in this life is uncertainty. Which means, of course, that I hate most of this life, since life is uncertainty, as everyone from the Stoics to Stephen Hawking will tell you. And some uncertainty is good--as we all remember from that one cool episode of The Twilight Zone, a life where one knows the outcome of absolutely everything before it happens is, literally, Hell. But I just had a short chat with the chair (person, not inanimate object) who hired me, and he reminded me, in the kindest possible way--really a great guy, him--that while he thinks the department is lucky to have me and they'd love to keep me around, that I'm technically only a Visiting Professor and there are no guarantees and that while it's highly, highly probable that I'll be picked up for next year at least, that he can't assure me of that, and the decision really isn't in his hands, and they may decide just to do a full-blown job search and kick me to the curb at the end of it (well, he didn't say that, but trust me, that would be the outcome.) Which blows, because I really love this place, and it seems to love me--my students are lively and engaged and becoming more so with each day--they're getting ready to trust me and like me, which is all to the good, yes?--and everyone here has been, as I've said elsewhere, as lovely as can be. And to have the chance of losing all this--particularly after a gruelling cross-country move to get here--is just...chilling. Uncertainty. Not a good thing, here. Sigh...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Meme

Memes are the junk food, the Cliff's Notes, the unsavory short-cuts of blogs. They're so damn easy, but they make you feel a little weak, a little fraudulent. Yet once you start down this dark path, forever will it consume you...Or something like that.

2 moments in your life you'd like to erase:

1. Having sex with a young woman who was sweet and giving and kind and a good friend and for whom I felt virtually nothing. I was everything that was vile about men in that moment. Never again.

2. I'd rather not go into too much detail about this one. Let's just say it has to do with the beginning of the series of events that led to my divorce. Out of fairness to all parties involved, I shan't give my own, biased perspective when others can't rebut said perspective. 'Nuff said.

4 moments you'd like to relive:

1. Arriving home from a staggeringly awful night at work and discovering a young woman with whom I was deliriously, fabulously in love meeting me at the door wearing lingerie and a *serious* come-hither look on her face. I've never felt more loved and wanted in my life.

2. Listening to the roars of applause and cheers as the curtain rang down on a performance of a play I'd written.

3. The first time I taught a class *well*--when I began to feel myself taken over by my enthusiasm for the material, and to feel that enthusiasm catching on and to feel the absolute (and yes, benevolent) master of a group of adoring young minds. Quite the egotistical rush.

4. Getting seriously stoned and wandering with a group of similarly stoned friends through a college town and winding up in a movie theater watching a Terry Gilliam movie. Whoa...

2 places you wouldn't go to/go to again:

1. Stratford-on-Avon. On a recent trip to England, I finally, as a Renaissance scholar, made the hajj and went. It's a remarkably unremarkable place--nothing special about it at all. Which, of course, was the point--the birthplace of genius looks just like every other place--this bolt of lightning appeared out of a house and a family and a town just like any other--that's what's wonderful about the man. But the tourism and the banality of the place were also depressing. There's no there there, and I don't need to see it again.

2. A ski-slope. Seriously, not going again. Do I enjoy skiing? Mildly, but not nearly enough to endure the hassle of equipment, travel, lines, and the possibility of severe injury. Screw it--I'll stay in the lodge by the fire with a book and brandy-laced tea, thanks.

4 places you can't wait to visit/visit again:

1. Rome.

2. Venice.

3. Florence.

4. Genoa. (See if you can tell what all these places have in common.)

2 foods you can't stand:

1. Artichokes. Though I'm trying to cure myself of this habit. Hasn't happened yet. But I soldier on.

2. Collard greens. People keep telling me that I just haven't had them cooked properly, but I keep going to places where I'm assured they are cooked properly, and I've yet to take a bite of them I didn't immediately want to spit out.

4 foods you love:

1. Prime rib. Heaven.

2. Thin-crust pizza. Heaven for people who weren't quite good enough to get into Prime rib Heaven.

3. Dim Sum. No explanation necessary for those who've had it done right.

4. Anything with hollandaise sauce. Seriously, birthday cake would taste better with hollandaise sauce on it.

2 songs that make you change the station:

1. Only two? Sigh. There are so many fabulously f***ing awful songs out there--anything whiny, in particular, will get me to stab the panel with a snarl of "Oh, shut the f*** up!" But all right--let's go for one that will cause your stomach to cramp just by my mentioning it: Ms. Dion's My Heart Will Go On. Yeah, I know--go lie down, you'll feel better.

2. Anything by Creed. Anything. They could cover Dark Side of the Moon and turn it into unbearable s***.

4 songs you play over and over:

1. Big Time by Peter Gabriel. If Richard III has a theme song, it would be this, and I love thinking of him as I listen to it.

2. Don McLean's American Pie. OK, it's interminable, and the metaphor is heavy-handed, but dammit, it's catchy, and I'm proud of the fact that, yes, I know all the lyrics by heart.

3. Speaking of Pink Floyd: Just about anything from The Wall, but Comfortably Numb resonates with me in a way that probably isn't healthy. But there it is.

4. Anything by the Beatles. Except Paperback Writer. And Number Nine. And anything sung by Ringo. Oh, hell with it, let's just say Penny Lane.

2 books you'd never finish/read again:

1. To The Lighthouse. No...more...Woolf...please. OK, lock me in a room with Mrs. Dalloway, and I won't go mad--it's a pretty good book--but God, this one almost killed me. Hated it on page one, and that was the most enjoyable part of it.

2. Finnegan's Wake. As a man who's read Clarissa, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles series and Palliser novels, scads of Hemingway, Twain, Faulker, Hardy, and the complete novels of Dickens, Eliot, Austen, Fielding, Smollett, the Brontes, and Harper Lee (five bonus points if you spot the joke there), I feel I've established my bona fides as a reader without having to slog through a meandering morass of stream-of-consciousness crap. I did Dubliners. I did Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I did Ulysses. I'm DONE.

4 books you've read more than once and/or will read again:

1. This will overlap with my previous meme, but I'll try to throw in something new. Tom Jones. (I'm in the process of rereading now, so that's an easy one.)

2. Absalom, Absalom. If you want to understand why race relations in America were, are, and will forever be completely and irredeemably f***ed up, read this book.

3. Stephen King's It. Because it's a great read, and hush--that's why.

4. Heart of Darkness. This, I suspect, reveals something very unpleasant about me, but I reread it not only because I teach it, but because it's one of the few absolutely perfect pieces of sustained English prose ever written. And, let's face it, we could all stand to do with a reminder that, in the larger scheme of things, we need the world--not the other way 'round, and there's no way to know that and not have it creep the living s*** out of you. (I will not, however, reread Lord of the Flies--some things about human nature, while undeniably true, I just don't need to be reminded of, thanks.)