In Which the Prof Stays Home — At Least For A While

After a couple of days of anticipation, DEATHFLURRY 18 has arrived. A local TV station has suggested that Mondoville may receive 1-3″ of the White Death by the time it wraps up this evening. At this point, there’s a heavy dusting on the grass, but we’re informed that the roads are clear, though wet. If we get the full three-inch Fury of Nature, however, all bets are off, and of course, there will be issues of overnight freezing, which is the serious threat in this part of the country.

Through an abundance of caution, the public schools were closed, and the college was put on a delay, with classes starting at 11. However, since I teach those early classes, that means that I got the day off. Mrs. M has headed off to the gym, and I slept late. The Hound of the Basketballs went out long enough to discover she doesn’t much like it, and has curled up in her accustomed spot beneath a towel on the chair next to mine. The Spawn’s schedule somehow includes no Wednesday classes (she’s taking several independent studies), so she may not emerge until after the thaw.

I may actually walk over to the office this afternoon to do a little planning. It’s only a few minutes’ walk, and I want to look over a couple of texts before tomorrow. In a concession to the elements, I’ll likely wear my long-sleeved shirt. I’m also holding out to see if our scheduled basketball doubleheader this evening goes on as planned.

(And right on cue, I get an e-mail: “BASKETBALL GAMES CANCELLED TONIGHT.” The universe provides.)

Stay warm, everyone.

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Saturday Potpourri: It’s Saturday Already? Edition

Behold the power of a fully operational Spring Semester! The week zipped by without my even noticing that I hadn’t done much blogging this week. Allow me to remedy that.

***

Classes got rolling Wednesday morning as I met my freshpeeps, and my upper level kids made their debuts on Thursday. All the classes are at least somewhat oversubscribed, but I’ve had semesters with more kids in the past, so I’ll manage. It just makes grading a little more of a drag.

In fact, everyone in the English program is oversubscribed this term — when my friend and colleague John Carenen (whose new Thomas O’Shea mystery will be arriving soon — watch for it!) retired a couple of years ago, the position was attrited, so we now have five folks doing what six used to do. Add a growing enrollment to that, and add the fact that one of my colleagues directs the Honors program while another (the department chair) has a load that’s 50/50 teaching and administration, and we all wind up pedaling as fast as we can and then some.

All of that is to say that, like most other areas of employment, we’re running leaner — fewer workers doing the same work, if not more. But it reminds me of another strategy we’ve used here at Mondoville in the past: Deferred maintenance.

We’re a small school, and even our Alma Mater attempts to make a virtue of necessity (the first line is “Though small, nor rich in worldly goods”). In practice, this means that historically, we haven’t always been able to afford maintenance on college buildings. Of course, this in turn has meant that sometimes, things decline to the point where Major Malfunctions occur. (For example, our current Dean once had to take photos of his collapsing office ceiling before the then-admins would fix it.)

I would suggest that there is a human equivalent. It’s not like Mondoville has a karoshi problem, but just as the object of deferred maintenance declines before the total breakdown, when faculty are overworked, the work will suffer — particularly when one of the expectations of a small liberal arts college is faculty-student interaction and mentoring. The scandalous treatment of adjunct faculty has been the canary in this particular coal mine, and we’ve been surrounded by dead canaries and burned-out adjuncts for a while now, and I wonder if anyone is going to do anything about the fact that the air is getting a bit stale.

Still, I remind myself that it beats hell out of selling tires and batteries, and because I take pride in what I do, I’ll keep doing the best job I can. As I said, I’ve had significantly larger student loads in the past — I’ll manage. But I wonder how long we may have to.

***

In at least one respect, I have a bonus this term. The Spawn is in my creative writing workshop, and last night we were talking about the workshop sessions that are to come. We briefly considered a scenario that, while… well, evil… would instantly become the stuff of campus legend.

SCENE: Fiction workshop. The PROF, the SPAWN, and 14 OTHER STUDENTS, gathered around a double horseshoe of desks. The SPAWN finishes reading a new story she has shared with the class. There is silence. A couple of the OTHER STUDENTS make neutral-to-approving comments. The silence resumes, until

PROF: [Spawn], this is what — your third creative writing workshop?

[She nods.]

PROF: And do you think this is your best work?

[She nods again.]

PROF: [Scornfully]. If this is your best, I’d hate to see your worst. This is execrable. I’m sorry — you probably don’t know that word. It is kaka-poopy-doo-doo. Your characters are shallow; your dialogue, wooden; your plotting, plodding. This is vile, it is rancid gibbon shit, and I am ashamed that you would think so little of this class that you dare to pollute my classroom with this appalling display of anti-talent. I feel regret that you were ever taught to read and write, because this clearly demonstrates that your complete illiteracy would have been a boon to all mankind. I would rather you have brought Transformers fan fiction to this class than the waste of time you have offered us. In fact, I encourage you to do exactly that in the future, but I insist that it be Transformers fan fiction written by someone other than you, as I might want to read it without despair.

[He swings a bearlike left hand and sweeps her laptop from her desk. It hits the floor and breaks, as the screen separates from the keyboard and skids a couple of feet farther along the tile floor. The SPAWN wobbles on the edge of her chair, not knowing whether to pick up the wreckage of the computer or act like none of this is actually happening. The PROF resumes.]

Well, at least something good has come of this — that computer won’t host any more of what you laughably call “creative writing.” Pick up that garbage and get out of my classroom. And consider having your tubes tied; you’ve already shown that you’ll never produce anything worth keeping.

[She gathers the rubble of her computer and scuttles into the hallway. Her footsteps fade.]

Right, then — who wants to go next?

FADE OUT.

I’d never have an oversubscribed class again.

***

A friend from the History program recommended Anthony Maara’s The Tsar of Love and Techno to me yesterday morning, and I spent a chunk of last night getting going on it. It’s a novel-in-stories with a connecting thread of a minor painting by a Russian artist, and the stories focus on the lives of the people through whose lives the painting passes. It’s quite lit’rary, but thus far it’s also a damned good read, with heartbreaking portrayals of life in the Soviet Union and in the post-Soviet states, leavened by a certain humor. I’m about a third of the way through, and will likely finish it later this evening (after the Kentucky game). If Maara can keep it up, he will have done something admirable indeed.

***

Well, it’s time for lunch, so I think I’ll wrap this one up. This is another one from the Hillbillies in Hell album, a nifty piece of Western-style proto-rock with really tasty fiddle and guitar solos. Billy Strange is the artist, and I’m not sure if he’s the one who was in the Wrecking Crew, but the dates seem to work, and the fretwork indicates someone who could have played those gigs. In any case, from 1952, here’s “Hell Train.”

See you soon!

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In Which the Prof Makes a Guest Appearance

Debra H. Goldstein is a lot of things — a judge, a mom, and an author, just to name a few. We met at Killer Nashville last year, and a couple of months ago, she was kind enough to invite me to contribute to her blog. You can find what I had to say here, and while you’re at it, you might want to check out her novels and keep an eye open for some that are on the way. Thanks for having me over, Your Honor!

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Saturday Potpourri: Rent-a-car Edition

It’s the last weekend before the semester begins with a couple of truncated weeks — classes start on Wednesday, and we have next Monday off for the King holiday. But just because my break is wrapping up, it doesn’t mean that everything is, so here we go…

***

Late last week, Mrs. M was the victim of a fender-bender when an irate driver, deprived of what he considered his rightful parking space by someone who pulled in from the other side, jammed his car into reverse, trod on the long, loud pedal, and backed into the front of Mrs. M’s ride with some vehemence. While the folks at the body shop are working on her car, the other driver’s insurance has provided Mrs. M with a rental. Since Mrs. M’s car is an SUV, she requested a vehicle that gives her a similar high view of her surroundings. Well, apparently the fates have a sense of humor, as she now has custody of a Ford F-150 4×4 crew cab, which may come for supplemental oxygen for passengers with altitude issues.

Canyonero

Artist’s rendition.

Actually, the truck is black, and appears well suited for menacing Dennis Weaver in Duel. While I’m told it isn’t the loaded model, it certainly seems to have more than enough bells and whistles for the short term. So if you’re on the way to a certain Mondoville elementary school and your rearview mirror goes dark, just pull over — Mrs. M will not be late for class.

***

Speaking of automotive bells and whistles, a friend’s car apparently asks him periodically if he wants to take a break.

RAV 4

Coffee not included.

Upon seeing this, another friend mentioned that after two hours of driving, her German car “flashes ‘2 hours’ on the dashboard and blanks other information except speed and rpm’s. You have to turn off the engine for [at least] 10 minutes” before it will reset.

While I’m sure this is a well meaning effort to combat fatigued driving and “highway hypnosis”, I don’t think I’d care for this sort of thing. Backseat drivers are bad enough — I really don’t want advice from something with an actual back seat. If I want someone else to make travel decisions for me, I’ll take a train or a taxi. Otherwise, Hal, mind your own business.

***

The college puts out our alumni magazine a couple of times each year, letting folks know what’s going on around here. As it happens, this time they chose to give me a one-page feature, focusing on my fiction and including an “author shot” that I actually kind of like:

In My Office 1

Photo Credit: Larry Cameron, who also provided the lamp and fedora.

For those of you with an interest in such things, the Korean name plate on my desk says (I’m told) “Warren S. Moore”, which appears in English on the side facing me. It was a gift to my grandfather, who was over there as a military adviser in the 50s. The Maltese Falcon came from Mom and Dad, who bought it (I believe) from Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. The banner with the armored knight was a gift from my Ph.D. advisor, and it has a companion banner on another wall of my room. The microwave and minifridge are there in case Gradeapalooza ever gets completely out of hand.

Anyway, I like the picture, and I hope you do as well.

***

And with that, I think I’ll close today;s installment with a bit of psychedelia. Almost nothing seems to be known about the Orange Swirl Society, although it is reported that the band included a guy known as Billy Synth, who later appeared in the early days of the punk and post-punk eras. The track is said to have been recorded in 1968, but was not released at that time (And if it is in fact of that era, the synthesizer work seems to be rather cutting edge). Whatever its provenance, I liked it. So buckle up, let the walls breathe, and check out “The Fourth Pipe.”

See you soon!

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Midweek Potpourri

Classes start back next Wednesday, but as I enjoy a few more days (mostly) off, here’s a little of this and that.

***

I’m starting to get back into work mode, having put my syllabi together this afternoon. I’m teaching two sections of Froshcomp, a section of BritLit (Caedmon to Spenser), and a creative writing fiction workshop. The Spawn will be in the last of these, despite the fact that it begins at the obscene hour of 9:25 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In point of fact, I’m not sure the Spawn realized that they even made a 9:25 in the morning, but she has resolved to tough it out. Of such stern stuff were the pioneers made. (Heaven forbid she take the Brit class — it’s at 8.) And no, I don’t think of myself as a morning person. I started teaching the early classes when I got to Mondoville, both because I was the new guy and because I could give the Spawn a ride to her classes and then zip over to campus, allowing my colleagues a little extra sack or travel time. I’m now the senior member in the English program, but I’m used to the relatively early shift, and usually enjoy being free after lunch, so there we are.

Today was the first afternoon I’ve spent in the office in a few weeks, but I was glad to get behind my desk again. That probably indicates that I’m where I should be.

***

Although HELLSNOW 18(TM applied for and pending) is not expected to reach this far west, coastal areas down here are feeling some effects, with a friend of mine near Charleston reporting that they have five inches of snow already. Here in Mondoville, the bigger issue continues to be the cold, with lows in the teens and highs only a few degrees above freezing. I’m not laughing at my neighbors — they don’t laugh at me when I stay indoors all summer — but on the other hand, they always seem a bit startled by my lack of horror during cold weather.

For example, when I went to the office today, I was wearing khaki slacks and a U of KY T-shirt. I didn’t bother with a coat — I was walking from a heated car to a heated building, no more than 40 yards total, and the temperature was likely in the mid-30s. (Also, of course, I’m, um, better insulated than most folks.) I ran into my buddy Justin as I crossed the parking lot, and we stood there talking for a moment before heading into my building. As it happened, one of the building services managers walked by, saw us, and said, “Come on, Warren — a T-shirt?”

“Hey,” I said, “I’m wearing long pants.” We laughed and he headed on. Afterward, Justin mentioned that one of the custodians had wondered aloud this morning if “Dr. Moore was wearing shorts today.” You’d think I was in a Jack London story or something.

***

Speaking of the South, I was tweeting with a friend of mine on New Year’s Day as it became increasingly clear that the NCAA football championship was going to be an all-SEC affair. And even when it isn’t, we tend to see that the center of college football gravity seems to be located in the old Confederacy year in and year out. There are a few other places that take the game Very Seriously (Ohio, Nebraska), but I think the culture down here is centered around the college game in ways that the rest of the country just doesn’t get (or is too sane to embrace, depending on one’s viewpoint.)

Part of it, of course, is that folks in this part of the country are used to being downrated — scorned, seen as backward, the antithesis of whatever is clever and progressive. So when there’s something we can do well, we cling to it and elevate its importance in everyday life — sometimes more than we should.

And that brings me to my second point. I wonder occasionally if a reason the South produces a disproportionate number of top-flight football players is because there are fewer opportunities for success in other areas here. As a corollary, I wonder if we think of our young men as more… expendable? … than folks in other regions, and encourage them to become contemporary gladiators accordingly. I have friends and colleagues who shudder at the thought of their sons or grandsons playing football. Are they taking a longer view of their kids’ lives? Perhaps, but at the same time, I suspect that this is related to the idea that their social mobility and status are not as contingent on sports (particularly high-risk sports) as other folks’ status may be. And I also wonder if that’s a contributing factor to the disproportionate number of Southerners in our military. If we have the impression that our lives and health are of low value, is it surprising that we’re more willing to risk both?

I don’t know — I’m thinking out loud here. But I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

***

A few of the people I know have been talking about New Year’s resolutions. I try to avoid them, as I’m too likely to see them as potential failures and sources of guilt, and I bear enough of that as it stands. (Yes, I know that the vast majority of it is self-imposed, but it’s there nonetheless, and I don’t know how to shrug it away.)

But if I have one this year, I guess it’s going to be to write more, and to write longer. Maybe not The Next Novel, but maybe steps to bring one within sight. We shall see.

***

On another creative front, I’m hoping to have some musical news sometime in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

***

And since I mentioned music, this is as good a time as any to close, and I’ll do it with a country song. I actually first heard this on the Dr. Demento show when I was in junior high school. It appears on one of the CDs I got for Christmas, but I didn’t recognize it until I heard it. The song was recorded by Eddie Noack, a hard-living honky-tonk performer who became a hard-drinking music exec before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 47. He’s buried in Nashville, in the same cemetery as my parents. While Noack wrote his share of songs, he didn’t write this one, which was penned by Leon Payne. Known as “the Blind Balladeer,” Payne lost his vision as a child, but went on to compose a number of hits during his brief life (he died at 52, my current age) — most notably “Lost Highway,” a hit for Hank Williams.

This song wasn’t a hit for anyone. But for those of us with a certain cast of mind, it should have been. Enjoy.

See you soon!

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Twenty Minutes ’til 2018

… as I start this post. We made it through another one. Let’s see if we can do it again. In the meantime, let’s leave it to the Son Brothers, George Harri and Alfred, Lord Tenny.

Talk soon.

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A Semi-Local Institution

One of the greatest one-hit wonders of the 60s was the frat-rock classic “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” by the Swingin’ Medallions. Yeah, you know you want to sing along.

(By the way, if anyone wants to give me a Wurlitzer juke like the one in the picture, I’d be happy to find a place for it.)

The song made #17 in the greatest year of rock and roll history (1966, for any of you newcomers), but it’s higher on my personal hit parade, and here’s why. The song is featured on the Nuggets box set, which I got after we moved to Muncie, IN for my Ph.D. work. I was reading the book of “liner notes” (Hey, it’s a 4-CD set), and I noticed that the band was from Greenwood, SC, about 30 miles from Mondoville, but I didn’t know that then. I recognized Greenwood as my dad’s birthplace, the little town in the Piedmont where I visited my grandmother in my single-digit years. I did a little math — Dad would have been about the right age, so I called him.

“What do you need?”

“Well, Dad, I want you to return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear (Dad and I loved a good Lone Ranger allusion) in Greenwood. Did you know any of these guys?” And I started reading off the names of the band members.

He said, “Yeah, I knew them. I was friends with John McElrath and  Jimbo Doares — had a crush on his sister. Where are you finding these names?”

I said, remember the band The Swingin’ Medallions? Had a hit with “Double Shot –”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope.” I told him how I had found this stuff out, and we wrapped up the conversation. A day or two later, he told me he had found the band’s webpage, and had dropped a note to Mr. Doares. I don’t know if he ever heard back.

But the band has in fact become a multi-generational enterprise (with a new generation of McElraths joining their dad, the only remaining original member) and a regional institution. They’re based in Atlanta now, but gig around the South, doing the R&B-with-a-shuffle-beat that is known around here as “Beach Music.” And they’ll be playing here in Mondoville for New Year’s Eve. I won’t be at the show (A New Year’s gala at the Opera House is a bit expensive for my tastes), but I’m glad they’re around, and I think Dad would be as well.

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