Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Woo! 6 inches of rain!

Last night, the big storm came through. Sometime in the night, the power died. I woke up after that when the room got stuffy, noticing the fan had stopped and the clock was out. "Oh, well. I'll deal with it in the morning."

In the morning, the power was still out. My pocket watch said 7:45 am (hooray for non-electric tech!). Looking out the window, the street in front of my house was partially flooded. Since the street is a wide boulevard with a substantial grass median, "partially" flooded means one entire side and the median under water. The Tomahawk Creek in the park is usually just a quiet little trickle, but when the floods start flashing it leaves its banks and floods "the near way".

The power came on right at 8:00 am, so I was able to catch the morning news. My street was the lead story! Apparently, people were driving around the barricades and flooding their cars, even as late as 7:30, after police had put up detour markers. When the police put up sawhorses after a big rainstorm, I don't think it's because they just picked that spot to dry their equipment.

So I'm going to head over to the newest used car lot in Kansas City, and see if I can't score up some slightly soggy iPods or GPS devices. Even in these modern times, the great river spirits still serve up a sustaining bounty!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Innertubes float, which means cars do too, right?

I drove through the remnants of hurricane Dolly as it passed through the Kansas City area. There was an unbelievable amount of water.

Passing underneath overpasses, you could see how the blanket of water was smooth under the bridge, but then roiling with drops just on the other side of the shelter line.

I drove through some big puddles, and had some momentary flashes of those people sitting on their cars in obviously flooded intersections. Luckily, by the time I finished unloading unloading video game equipment and electronic keyboards, the rain had stopped and the streets were only slick; not inundated.

Good fun.

On a completely different note, Blogger no longer recognizes contractions as being spelled correctly. "isn't" tells me that "isn" is not a word. It offers to correct it to "sin" or "ins", which is hilarious because that's a German contraction ("in des").

Friday, July 25, 2008

Here's what I zinc about my birthday

Zinc is the element number 30 on the periodic table. The number 30 is the birthday I had this past Wednesday.

My friend Erin was on the east coast on Monday night (the 21st) and we were chatting late at night via instant message. Sometime close to midnight, she asked if I had any plans for my birthday "tomorrow". I couldn't believe that my birthday was so soon. Haven't I been paying attention?

Turns out we were both confused, because she was one hour ahead. Her calendar was telling her my birthday was the next day when it was still two "days" away for those of us in the central time zone. But I didn't know that was the case. Not until I opened my calendar and double-checked the current day.

I sat down to write an entry on my birthday, filled with the ceremony and pomposity that doing anything "on the day" brings. I tried three times. What I ended up writing turned into stream of consciousness thinking each time. A while ago, I introduced you all to a way that I could tell when lots of things were on my mind: I didn't even realize the car stereo was off until I pulled into my parking space 30 minutes later.

Add to that the wandering blogger! If everything I type meanders off onto other topics, it's a safe bet that I'm preoccupied.

For weeks, many people I know have been metaphorically jabbing me in the ribs and saying, "Big day coming up! Eh? Eh?" and wink knowingly. It's the same sort of interactions that occur when people ask about my hair loss, or when they congratulated me for dating "a girl who looked like her". I guess it's supposed to cause me to say something right out of a Hollywood screenplay. "All my thinking burned my hair off!" or "True, but she shags like nobody's business! Oh yeah!" or "I'm not 30! I'm turning 29, the sequel!"

My thirtieth birthday, leaving my twenties behind.

I know some people make a big deal out of birthdays. One of my friends, a girl who likes to party and live life to the fullest, always makes a big deal out of her birthdays. She has a ton of people over, drinks a ton of booze, and tries to smooch and grab all the hot guys. Of course, she does that on regular weekends, too...

I had lunch with her once and we spent the entire time talking about age. She told me the sex and men is what she's good at. She has no skills for anything else, so she might as well dash through as many as she can; she won't be able to live that life forever. She fears what happens when her beauty and attitude dry up.

I don't fear that. Oh sure, I'm aware of the time going by. I know how many of my friends are happily married and have kids. And yes, that is disheartening some nights. But I don't fear growing old. I can see why other people do, of course. Illness, insecurity, change. Right now IS the certainty!

But even that notion is just an ameliorating balm. All things change. Does that mean we should never try to commit to anything in our lives? Are all relationships just a single hurricane or job transfer away from being ended? Hardly. The Great Pyramid of Cheops was built in 2600 BC or so. It is one of the great symbols of the permanence of humanity. For 3800 years, it was the tallest building in the world. There's a wonderful saying: "Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids."

Yet even the works of the long-dead pharaohs will crumble and turn to dust on the wind. Does that mean those Egyptians should never have bothered to build them? Of course they should have bothered!

We should always consider and work to bring about our friendships and loves lasting forever. If our ancestors could build the pyramids, we can make any unruly and inconvenient relationship succeed. It only takes the will and the drive to make it forever.

It may not last 100 years. But we should try. Trying is what we do best.

For my thirtieth birthday, those are my thoughts. So many people fear stepping outside the feeling of normality and predictability. I sure do! I've forced myself to do it and I feel better for it. It doesn't seem to make the next time any easier... but it does let me know that things don't always change for the worse. They can change for the better.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How else could she have died?

There was a headline that made laugh on Yahoo's homepage this morning. The story it references isn't funny: it's about the world's oldest blogger (108) dying in Australia.

Of course she died after making her final post! She can't very well keep writing them. Shakespeare died after writing his last play, I'd bet. I believe Beethoven died after his final symphony. This is the sort of knowledge you accumulate by being a music major!

My initial thought was that perhaps she died immediately following her last entry. That time line would have given credence to the terms used to describe her death. It turns out, though, that her last post was on June 26 and she died on July 12.

Farewell, Internet! for this is my final post. Until the next one.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

As the past vanishes into dust...

While I was visiting my family over the Independence Day holiday, we took a family trip to an antique mall to evaluate a new table and chairs for my brother's apartment. As we drove there, we passed through streets and over hills I've known since elementary school. There's where my boss lived. There's where I was a counselor at Scout Camp. There's where we saw "Candide".

In some ways, little has changed along that route over the years. Yes, new houses have been built. Yes, the university tore down other houses to make dorms. But the park is still there. All the houses where my friends used to live are still there, even though the friends and even their families have long since moved away. It still feels familiar, even as the names on the doors change.

The drive took us past the Kenrick 8 Theater. Growing up, it was one of (if not the) closest movie complex. I've been there many times, seeing many movies; so many, I can only name a few. I remember being driven there in 4th or 5th grade. One of my friends was going on a date. Do kids even date in the 4th grade? Anyway, I was going along. His father dropped us off at the ticket office. I think we saw "Spaceballs", which just shows how not-date-like it was.

Apparently, the last day of operation was November 27 of last year. It was among the last of the "small" theaters in this particular chain. They're trading in all of the smaller theaters for the larger megaplexes. There are no theaters in the Wherenberg brand left with less than 10 screens in the St. Louis Co. area. In fact, five screens is the smallest left in Missouri, and that places is in a mostly-summer resort town on the Lake of the Ozarks.

It was a strange feeling, seeing the windows dark, the poster slots empty, the marque blank, and the gigantic parking lot gradually surrendering to weeds. I suppose it's nostalgia, this feeling of sadness at the decay of the area. The Burger King across the street, where I think I last ate when "Wild Wild West" was in theaters (do I still have those King Meal sunglasses?) is also closed and gone. The large shopping mall down the way, where I've been many times for Christmas and other shopping trips is also in a bad way. Mostly empty.

These closings really hit me. I don't know what it is, but I feel this particular way even for places I've never been. So perhaps there are really two sets of feelings going on. I remember driving through small towns in Illinois on my way to Florida and feeling inexplainable sadness at the dried up towns now only crossed by through traffic. Old hardware stores and dead appliance retailers, still sporting their signs and lettering from the 50's.

There don't seem to be any plans relating to this theater lot. There are no real estate signs and a cursory search of the internet turned up no plans. Will the theater chain build again in this "blighted" area? Can a large multiplex even be the keystone for a renewal project? It's hard to tell.

Feels weird to think that my friends will never gather and say, "What's playing at Kenrick tonight?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pass / Fail and Shades of Gray

I have, once and for all time, passed* my comprehensive exams.

Truly, it's a relief. After literally months of uncertainty, I now know that I can proceed on to the final research parts of my degree. It's a nice feeling, really. I must admit that the joy is less effusive than had I found out relatively soon after turning things in. Nonetheless, it's a quiet "chocolate fudge" sort of satisfaction. All that money was not thrown into an elaborate four-year bonfire!

Wait, what's that you say? Oh, the asterisk after "passed" in the opening sentence? Yeah, I should probably explain that.

When I say that I "passed" the exams, that is strictly true. I did not fail anything, and have been given the green light towards continued education. However, if you asked a different question, like "is your whole comprehensive exam grading nonsense finished?", I'd be forced to answer no.

Before my mom and dad angrily storm the dean's office, I need to reiterate that I have passed all exams. There are no further barriers to completing the degree. Finishing it is now a matter of time, not of providence and the mercurial whims of some picky professors. The issue is that not all of my exams have been *graded*.

Perhaps you're confused. I'm here at "confused", too, so pull up a chair and I'll tell you what I think I know.

In the beginning, the university says that there shalt be comprehensive exams. Yea, and the conservatory handbook confirms that the method of grading shall be two: either thou shall pass, or thou shall not pass (it actually says "faileth" in the original Old English). That's pretty unambiguous. In fact, that's as cut and dried as they can possibly make it: either you passed or you failed.

Where it gets interesting is that the individual exams are graded by the professors with letter grades first. To make it even more tricky, the graduate student grading scale is already restricted. Any grade below B is considered failing. I know one friend who went through her undergrad rejoicing at all her C- and D-grades (because they weren't failing). That sort of thing doesn't fly here. Basically, there's A, B, and three flavors of F.

So what I assume happens is that the professor gives the Pass/Fail exam a letter grade, which is then converted (through an ancient, obscure, and arcane ritual) into a yea/nay. That pass / fail is then added to the checklist of the master "Pass Comps? YES/NO?" ballot question. Pretty straightforward so far, right? Waaaaaaaait for it.....

What happened in my case is that a professor shortcut the system and submitted a "pass" grade. The office was waiting for an "actual" grade. So, everybody was waiting around for someone to do something else. I sent an email to see what the status was, and the response was that the last of the exams was marked pass, so I passed, but that they were still waiting for an actual grade. A grade which ... doesn't matter.

It gets a little weirder for people following me. Under the new comprehensive exam system, there are actually THREE pass/fail grades possible. I'm reminded of the computer science joke wherein a computer (thinking only in binary 1 and 0) has a nightmare and wakes to tell his neighbor he dreamed of a "2". "That was just a bad dream," says the other computer. "There's no such thing as '2'".

Under the new system, one can receive PASS, FAIL, and HIGH PASS. Obviously, a "high pass" is what happens if you can do the exams while smokin' the ganja. Much in the same way no university official has ever given me a satisfactory answer for why attempts at the exams were limited to two, no teacher seems to be able to explain why a simple pass or fail system now has magna cum laude distinction. Perhaps the valedictorian of the testing class gets to make a speech when she or he picks up their results at the office desk.

I never expected to see this much confusion over an essentially black or white issue.