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And Down The Stretch they Come

Cleaning the house. Cleaning cleaning cleaning. Mixing Pine Sol and Windex and Drano and Kleen-King bleach-laden scouring agent without regard for my safety. There isn’t a drain in this house which isn’t clogged. Nothing like getting down there with a rag to remind me what a wreck this house is. Either the upstairs bathtub or the wall over the kitchen sink is leaking, and the yellow and brown dripmarks it is making are indelible now. I didn’t bother with them. I have this immature hope that if I let the house decay the money will appear to repair it. It’s more likely the woman I housesit for will come home, blame my Lady-Godiva hair for clogging the drain, and boot me unceremoniously into the ninth circle of the NYC housing market.

Everything is pretty well cleaned, though I did succumb to the usual rule that the amount of work there is to be done expands to fit the amount of time available. I read about a fifth of the first Harry Potter book today in one sitting. I hadn’t intended to do that at all. The more tense I get, the more I procrastinate.

With the TV in the dining room, I’m watching plenty. The other day over IRC, I got in a fight with an IndyMedia volunteer in Canada about TV. I made my usual argument, which is that you have to watch TV to know what most Americans are thinking about, seeing as the average American watches 3 hours a day. In response he didn’t take the tack I’ve been hearing most often lately– which is that we don’t care about the average American, the average American is utterly beyond hope– but rather told me that every minute I spend watching TV could be spent bettering the plight of the human race. Naivete to make your head spin. I countered by enumerating the hours each day I spend bettering the plight of the human race. (I calculated it a while ago: my life is currently made up of 33.3% helping better the human race through suffering government bureaucracy, 12.5% helping better 27 third-graders, 12.5% helping batter anarchists at the IMC, 20.8% sleep, 8.3% train travel… the remaining 12.6% is mostly spent writing, I guess, or just using the computer.) He came back with a schedule almost identical to mine, replacing third graders with college students. Still I think my point holds: I devote plenty of time to social change, and I’ll be damned if I let some stupid hippie tell me not to have the TV on for the half hour I usually watch the Simpsons while I cook dinner. The man was wasting my time, so I logged off IRC.

Since then I don’t know what to think. As I’ve been making Christmas ornaments and leaving the TV on for longer and longer periods, I’ve remembered that TV really is awful. Commercials are getting more and more insidious and cocky. A nightly news show actually made me cry the other day. I can’t stand the monolithic finality of the way anchors talk about this fscking election.

And then there was Saturday Night Live. Apparently one of their new bits is a warmed-over Wayne’s World knockoff starring a dreadlocked, pot-smoking Hampshire College student who does a show via webcam. (The writers are jizzing all over themselves– This will appeal to those plugged-in, logged-on Gen-0 audiences, no problem!) It’s not that the kid looks like a Hampshire College student. He actually introduces himself as a Hampshire College student. (“or,” he says, “as I like to call it, Hempshire College.” [cue my-greatest-dream-was-to-grow-up-to-be-Mike-Meyers grin])

I’m going to try not to be petty about this, try not to make too much of the fact that the kid has two roommates (completely inaccurate for Hampshire, where 72% of students have single rooms), or that he and his roommate act like complete drunken boors (there’s an allusion to shaving off their other roommate’s pubic hair and gluing them to his face.) The writers were reaching for new shorthand for the teenage clown-next-door. Hampshire’s always been an easy target.

But this is why I hate the mainstream media. HATE. The public image the president of my alma mater has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, at the expense of retaining good teachers, gets trashed in a forum it can’t pay to enter. All this for the sake of bolstering the careers of writers who at their peak will probably produce the next “Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo.”

There are thousands of humorous, pathetic, quirky, inspiring, thoughtful stories to be told about Hampshire, and in time we will tell them. Hampshire is home to some dumb things, like students trying to compost in open bins in a dorm hall, or dogs eating 100 tabs of acid and jumping out windows, but if nothing else students are never, and I mean never, unimaginative or cruel enough to shave someone’s pubic hair off and glue it to his face.

Unless it’s consensual and agreed upon as an enjoyable prelude to mutual orgazm.

All that aside!: Fsck you, Lorne Michaels. You’re using cheap gimmicks to try to shore up a business that should have died with Gilda Radner and John Belushi. You’ve got plenty of money without devaluing my diploma. Fsck off. I’ll eat your children.

* * *

Two things occurred to me recently which seem pretty important. The first has to do with the kids I’m teaching: I don’t think I really understand the nuance of the tone of some of the black and Puerto Rican teachers towards the kids, though I have picked it up in desperation, trying to find what works. I think this dictatorial tone sounds very different coming from a young white woman like me. More than one kid has told me I don’t give them respect. I forget, I forget that I’m a white person. I forget that people around me may not understand how easily I code-switch– if I were in France, I’d be speaking French. I am picking up the pout in the speech and the double negatives, even in speaking with the staff, and that may be a very, very bad idea.

The other thing comes from reading Joyce. I put down Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man years ago, ostensibly because I found it boring, but in truth I was feeling like I was missing something. Now I’m reading Ulysses, and finding it makes plenty of sense. I’ve shied from intellectual challenges since I graduated from Poly. To some extent this has to do with how guilty I felt about going to Hampshire, seeing as my grandmother disapproved; she is after all the ultimate authority on college worth.

But then, I think it has to do with having gone to Poly too, and spending my childhood knowing I wasn’t the best in class. I think I lack confidence to attack projects which require a lot of intellectual work. I only started to think of myself as smart in the past few months. Watching these kids struggling through their third grade work, and having a few adults whom I respect (OK, one of them may have been trying to get into my pants) praise me on the brains front, I feel like I can “come out” as smart– smart relative to the rest of the world, not Poly.

I don’t know. Maybe I thought of myself this way before and I’m just forgetting, or seeing it in a new light. I remember agreeing with Len Glick when he said I didn’t suffer fools lightly. But Hampshire people… well, I always figured their problem was they weren’t trying very hard, as opposed to actually being stupid. I don’t know that I think anyone’s stupid. I have great faith that a lot of the narrow-minded and logically deficient people I meet just had bad educations.

Regardless, understanding Joyce bolsters my confidence. He’s the toughest read out there, and if I can handle him I’ve certainly accomplished something. Now if only I can keep that confidence up enough to sustain me through the rejection of a few novels, I’ll be ok.

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