"So this is the foundation for my
internet diary - searching for the
truth and seeing what else comes
along on the way."
05.19.99 diary entry
Cast of Characters
Funny Story #5: The Brainless Bully
Quote of the Day:
�Kit nodded, glancing to one side as Carl came up from the basement with a very large roll of duct tape. �Ah,� Tom said. �The substance that binds the universe together.� �
A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane
This story actually takes place in middle school, before I was comfortable with my status as a nerd. That didn�t happen until I was about fifteen and I realized that what other people thought about me didn�t matter as long as I liked myself. But in middle school I still wanted to blend in, disappear, and be noticed by no one. This proved to be difficult when bullies picked on me for being quiet, smart, and generally unpopular. However, when these bullies were picking on someone else I usually felt safe because they were ignoring me at the moment. Except for one time in eighth grade.
The school bus is paradise for a bully and, therefore, torture for their victims. One time in seventh grade a popular boy who lived up the street from me put the wax for his braces in my hair as a joke. I was sitting there on the bus, minding my own business and he just stuck it in my hair. Besides the fact that it was completely uncalled for, I was angry because the wax wouldn�t come out. My mom had to use peanut butter to remove the wax from my hair and she called his mother to let her know what her son had done. I wasn�t cool enough to object to her calling and the boy never bothered me again as a result. But this isn�t the story I wanted to tell.
In eighth grade I had my first sort-of boyfriend (henceforth referred to as �my boyfriend� for simplicity) and since he lived in my neighborhood we rode the same bus to school. One day, on the way home, we were sitting together when another local bully (not the one that put wax in my hair) decided to pick on my boyfriend for no particular reason. The bully was very popular and apparently very good looking, according to most girls I talked to. I never noticed his good looks because he was such a jerk and that made him appear hideous to me instead. And he was extremely stupid. For most intelligent girls I know this attribute seriously diminishes a guy�s attractiveness and I never felt anything but loathing for the boy. I might even say that I hated him. My boyfriend at the time, while very nice, wasn�t popular or attractive so he was likely prey for this bully on our school bus.
The bully was sitting in the seat in front of us and he leaned over the back of his seat to heckle my boyfriend. It didn�t seem to matter to him that I was there as well and his indifference would prove to be his downfall. I tried my best to become invisible so that the bully wouldn�t start picking on me too, but what happened next got his attention anyway. For some reason he was shouting �I�m gonna kick your ass!� at my boyfriend, who was keeping quiet and waiting for him to move on to another victim. But the kid just kept shouting. And shouting. �I�m gonna kick your ass!� Finally it was too much for me and I shouted back, �Must you be so repetitive?� For a second I was stunned that I had said it and the blank look on the bully�s face indicated that he was as well, but it didn�t keep him from responding to my question. Just as loudly as he had been shouting before he said, �What the hell does repetitive mean?�
It couldn�t have been more perfect. In an instant this bully humiliated himself in front a busload of his peers. Our bus was fairly crowded and we lived in a nice neighborhood so there were several popular kids there that day. So this guy had exposed his idiocy, in no uncertain terms, for everyone to see. And all I had to do was ask a simple question. It didn�t even take an obscure word to trip him up. Not only did the cool kids find out what a moron their friend was, but the ones who were more like me discovered that being popular didn�t make you infallible.
Funny Story #4: What�s the Story Wishbone?
Quote of the Day:
�Something vague this way comes.�
Mystery Science Theater 3000, Devilfish
My senior year of high school I was enrolled in the Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition class, along with four other AP classes, so near the end of the year I didn�t have time to think about much else. When the annual AP tests were administered I spent the better part of two weeks in the local armory attempting to put a year�s worth of knowledge on paper. This was difficult at the best of times, but much more so when you�re faced with a question you�re not sure you have any idea how to answer.
Throughout the entire school year we had practiced writing essays from old AP Language tests so we thought we were prepared for whatever this year�s test had in store. We were wrong. Out of the three essay questions on the exam the first two were standard and self-explanatory, but the third threw us for a loop. Instead of asking us to use the excerpt in question to prove a point, it asked us to use our �own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence� to agree or disagree with the author instead. It was bizarre. I remember sitting there staring at the question for at least a minute wondering what in the world I was going to write. Using the excerpt itself as evidence was one thing and drawing on my knowledge of literature was perfectly understandable considering it was an English test, but contemporary society seemed beyond the scope of the exam. It didn�t seem appropriate to use my own observations because they were completely subjective. Looking back on it, I suppose the point of the essay was to simply convince the reader of the point I wanted to make, but at the time I preferred to use something more concrete than my own thoughts to do so.
Here is the essay question:
�In the following passage, the contemporary social critic Neil Postman contrasts George Orwell�s vision of the future, as expressed in the novel 1984 (written in 1948), with that of Aldous Huxley in the novel Brave New World (1932). Read the passage, considering Postman�s assertion that Huxley�s vision is more relevant today than is Orwell�s. Then, using your own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence, write a carefully argued essay that agrees or disagrees with Postman�s assertion.�
Even before I had read the excerpt I knew I was going to disagree with the author. For some reason I always felt that way about essay questions. No matter what point the author was trying to make I would find a way to disagree with it. It could have been anything. I think it was kind of a challenge to prove the author wrong. So what I needed was another literary reference that described a possible future for humankind and helped me discredit Postman. The problem was that I couldn�t remember ever reading anything like that. I sat there tapping my pen on the table, racking my brain for something I could use in my essay. Then I thought of something that would work perfectly, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, but I hadn�t exactly read it.
There was a show on PBS when I got home from school in the afternoon called �Wishbone� that used a little dog to present great works of literature to kids too young to read them. It was always funny to see how novels like Pride and Prejudice were depicted in thirty minutes using a couple of actors and a dog. In one episode, called �Bark to the Future,� the book in question was The Time Machine. From just watching that episode I gathered that a combination of technology and apathy was responsible for the decline of human intelligence, which was a mix of Huxley�s and Orwell�s writings. This would certainly help me disagree with Postman. So I used what little knowledge of The Time Machine that I gained from a children�s television program involving a dog to write my AP Language essay.
After the exam was over we learned that no one had ever seen a question like that before so there was no way we could have been ready for it. I was pretty proud of myself for finding a literary reference to help prove my point, even though I hadn�t actually read the book. I�ll never say that television doesn�t have its redeeming properties ever since �Wishbone� helped me pass an AP test. As soon as the test was over I swore I would read The Time Machine to make sure I hadn�t grossly misrepresented it, and I even bought a copy at the used book store, but I never actually sat down to read it. Maybe one day I�ll know if I used it correctly to prove that human indifference is not the greatest threat to our society, but at this point I don�t know any more about the book than I did then.
Funny Story #3: The Conference Table
Quote of the Day:
�Then I went to my lab to host tours for conference attendees and to hold impromptu office hours at the same time. That's actually a funny story, but I'll elaborate further in a future diary entry.�
Just About Everything, 10.20.03 diary entry
Most graduate students at one time or another have the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant in order to earn their meager salary. After my experiences maybe I should call it something less positive than an opportunity, but that depends on the school and the assignment. In any case, a TA is a unique position because you find yourself a slave to both professor and students no matter what else you have going on in your life.
Last fall I was the TA for the undergraduate aircraft propulsion course and it was absolutely overwhelming. The class had fifty students and was taught by a guest lecturer from industry who was only on campus two days a week. This left me in charge of the class the rest of the time and added another responsibility to my already long list that quarter. So I held office hours twice a week, kept the class webpage constantly updated, taught class on Fridays, and still found myself at the beck and call of the fifty students. If they needed my help I had to be there because the instructor couldn�t be very often. This is the reason I found myself in a rather precarious situation, in more ways than one.
In October 2003 the Western States Section of The Combustion Institute (WSSCI) held their meeting at UCLA and my research group was involved in hosting the event. When I wasn�t in class or otherwise occupied I was working at the sessions and attending the presentations as a representative of my research group and UCLA. Unfortunately I was very tired because it was the middle of the quarter and that made the otherwise only slightly interesting presentations even more difficult to sit through. One of the afternoons, even though I wasn�t in class or working I couldn�t go home because I had promised a few students from the aircraft propulsion class that I would meet them for extra homework help. Since the WSSCI conference attendees were scheduled to go on lab tours that afternoon I was already going to be in my lab so I just told the students to meet me there. They arrived before the tour groups so I started the impromptu study session.
My lab isn�t exactly the ideal place to hold office hours because the dry erase board is located on the wall behind a desk and is difficult to write notes. After a few minutes of trying to lean over the desk to scribble diagrams and equations I gave up and climbed onto it to get closer to the board. As I stood up on the desk I said to the students, �Those guys are probably going to walk in right now.� The tour group didn�t show up just then, but about a minute later instead. So there I was, standing on a table when ten people arrive in the combustion lab for a tour. This was funny for two reasons (although I was mortified at the time). First, I had predicted it just before it happened. Second, I was standing on a table. That�s just the impression I want to make on industry representatives and visiting academics. I must have looked like a total idiot at the time, scrambling to get down from the desk as fast as I could and compose myself for the lab tour. I wonder if anyone took me seriously when I was explaining the purpose of my research after that incident. Looking back the situation is really hilarious, though.
So now I have told the story that I intended to write one year ago. This is one of the more memorable moments from my time at UCLA and I will remember it fondly. It may be one of the only moments I remember fondly so I�m glad to have it written down. It�ll help me forget all the bad moments.
Funny Story #2: The Last World Series
Quote of the Day:
�I want to see how the Braves are doing after all this time. Prob�ly still finding ways to lose.�
Star Trek: The Next Generation
When I was growing up in Tallahassee there weren�t any professional baseball teams in Florida. Most people in town were Florida State Seminoles fans due to the university�s proximity, but when it came to professional baseball the Atlanta Braves were our closest option. This means that I have been a Braves fan my whole life. My loyalty has not wavered through good seasons and bad seasons, no matter bad their record was or how close they got to a World Series championship and choked. While webpage posts from the past five years seem to indicate otherwise, I am sure that I will always be a Braves devotee. But this story does not concern my loyalty to the Braves now, but eight years ago when I was still living in Tallahassee.
Most of my friends in high school were members of Mu Alpha Theta, a math honors society that held competitions throughout the year, so our idea of fun was a little different than the stereotypical high school student. Our parties usually consisted of getting together at someone�s house to listen to music, eat M&M�s (all kinds), and drink as much soda as we could. It may sound dull, but we loved those parties. Knowing that there are lots of other people who fall into the �nerd� category (and I mean this as a compliment) with you is comforting and we tended to stick together.
On October 28, 1995 I had one of those parties at my house and it happened to coincide with Game Six of the World Series that pitted the Atlanta Braves against the Cleveland Indians. This wasn�t intentional, it was just the Saturday that I chose for my party. The Braves had a chance to win the World Series that night and I was very excited. The only other person who showed up that cared about the fate of the Braves was my friend Danny and he wanted to watch the game as much as I did. Unfortunately everyone else at the party was generally congregated in the living room where the CD player was located, but where there wasn�t a television to watch. So Danny and I joined the mix. However, as the game progressed we spent more and more time in the family room, where there was a TV, in the hopes that we could witness the Braves win the World Series. By the time the ninth inning rolled around we had detached ourselves from the rest of the guests and were glued to the TV instead. You could cut the anticipation in the room with a knife. Danny and I were livelong Braves� fans and this was the moment we had been waiting for. At long last the Braves were going to win the World Series and there was no way we were going to miss it. And we didn�t.
I remember jumping off the couch and yelling when it happened. The Braves had won the World Series! It was too bad so few people present cared about the outcome of the game because it was really a very thrilling moment. At least my dad, Danny, and I were there to enjoy it. At that moment we looked forward to watching the Braves in subsequent World Series, but we never got the chance to witness another victory. Since 1995 my faith in the Atlanta Braves has been failing. Although I don�t anticipate ever giving up on them completely, watching their consistent post-season losses each year has a way of disheartening even the most diehard fan. I just need to look back on that 1995 World Series victory and believe that the Brave�s time will come again.
Funny Story #1: The Cotillion Next Door
Quote of the Day:
�The road to mediocrity is paved with empty ketchup packets.�
Taco Bell mild sauce packet
I started ballet lessons at a fairly serious dance studio in Tallahassee when I was in the ninth grade. I had been going to another studio since I was about four years old, but the instruction there wasn�t the best so I wanted to find someplace better. It turned out that my ballet teacher at the new studio was the same woman my mom had taken lessons from when she was pregnant with me. I am constantly reminded that Tallahassee just isn�t a very big city. But that�s another story.
The studio had two classrooms with a sitting area in between. Windows looked into both classrooms from the sitting area so parents could watch their little girls dance around like fairy princesses. This rarely happened during my classes since I was a teenager by the time I started classes at the studio and we had given up on the idea of being fairy princesses. But when I was a junior in high school there was no longer a senior jazz class in the classroom opposite ours, as there had always been before, but a cotillion class instead. It wasn�t long after the classes started that we began having spectators at our window.
The kids in the cotillion class were about thirteen years old and they all looked very awkward trying to learn to dance with members of the opposite sex that they could hardly bring themselves to touch. Usually the room was segregated with boys on one side and girls on the other unless the instructor, who always wore pantyhose to match her high-heeled shoes (which came is all colors of the rainbow), made them intermingle. The kids got two breaks during their class and the boys and girls remained separate the whole time, but that might have had something to do with the way the boys spent their breaks. When to doors to the other classroom opened the senior ballerinas came to expect an audience of thirteen year-old boys to appear at our window with their noses practically pressed up against the glass. Needless to say this was a bit disconcerting. Our teacher usually closed the blinds as soon as she noticed their breath fogging up the glass, but in the few minutes before she did the boys got their opportunity to stare at the older girls in skimpy clothes. Besides the ballerinas, this behavior didn�t sit well with the thirteen year-old girls in the cotillion class either because they wanted the boys� attentions, even if they wouldn�t admit it.
It probably was silly of us to be smug about turning the heads of prepubescent boys, but we were anyway. As ballerinas were supposed to have attitude while we were dancing and sometimes that attitude remained after we left the dance floor. Our egos were fed by the boys who loved us and the girls who were jealous of us, no matter how old they were.