My university is on a bizarre schedule where we get no fall break, but we get a week off for Thanksgiving, followed by one little orphaned week of the term before exams. It’s a bit strange. I’m not used to it yet, and I managed to sort of forget, somehow, that I have to head for New York on Saturday for Thanksgiving break. I’m not complaining – it’s just that usually I remember when I have to go places, you know?
And on the subject of complaining. I have a colleague, A, who makes complaining into art. She complains with a passion and a rhetorical flair and an analytical precision that puts the rest of us to shame. A is magnificent when she’s moderately pissed off about, say, the way final exams are scheduled, or the architectural failings of the new law school building. (The other side of this is that she is also one of those people who sees a problem and in a flash has broken it down into its component pieces, figured out a solution, and is already on the committee in charge of fixing it. She is both entertaining and extremely useful.)
I was having lunch in the faculty lounge with her and my other colleague D yesterday. A was on a roll, with occasional help from me and D, about the facade of the law school building and I think we had moved on to the problems with how the classroom spaces in our building are constructed and arranged when another colleague, V, rushed in and got our attention, looking fairly frantic, and proceeded to make small talk about nothing while she snatched up a piece of paper from the table (A’s quiz for her students for Friday) darted over to the coffee maker to get the pen from the “sign up to contribute to the coffee fund!” list and then wrote something in block letters on the paper – still making chit-chat – and held it up in A’s face, and then D’s and mine. What it said was “WATKINS IS IN THE HALLWAY.”
Watkins [not his real name] is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Apparently he was just out there in the hallway, leaning against the wall. Normally he is over in his office halfway across campus – maybe he had come to our department to talk to the chair or something. Luckily, there is no reason to think he recognized any of our voices. And as A pointed out, “at least we weren’t talking about the students.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about what one can hear in this building. If you performed John Cage’s 4’33” on the third floor, where the history department is, you would probably get everything from a snatch of A offering a point by point analysis of the parking problem, some bathroom obbligato from the under-soundproofed restrooms (you know how in space, no one can hear you scream? well, in this building, everyone can hear you pee) my colleague in the next office over playing Enya or whatever it is that she listens to, air vents and ducts, a lot of squeaky student sneakers on tiles, the elevator grinding and clunking when it stops, and perhaps near the end, one of the grad students, the one who always ends every sentence like it’s a question, leading a discussion section: “so, today we’re talking about Reconstruction? Which was the period directly after the Civil War?”
Happily I am safe at home now, listening to the Kuijken Ensemble (I always think “kraken ensemble” but as far as I can tell, there are no tentacles involved) play some of Haydn’s flute quartets. It’s very nice.