"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Non-Traditional (Part 3)

This is the third part of the ongoing saga in which Nick returns to the college for the first time in two decades. Read the first two parts: (Part 1) and (Part 2).

In our last thrilling episode, I mentioned that I’d talk about different lecture styles. Well, I lied. Okay, not lied. Let’s call it underestimating the amount of homework I’d need to be doing.

So let’s talk about homework. I’m going to keep it brief.

I’m estimating that I have somewhere between 15 and 20 hours of homework to do this weekend. That includes two Journalism assignments, a sixty-odd-page reading for Business, and a Business quiz to prepare for. I also need to get as much written as I can of three different pieces for a special edition of the Southwestern College Sun.

I’m certain that’s not much compared to what it will be like later in the semester. And it’s just a patch on what students who are carrying 15, 16, 18 credit hours have to do. But when I say I feel a little daunted, I mean it. I’ve recently drifted into my fourth decade of life and I’ve good a very good analytical brain – and my brain is letting me grasp the web of options in front of me.

The easiest option is the one that requires the most discipline: get the books, get started, and don’t stop. The end of the semester will come quickly, and the gulf of time between “a whole term ahead of me” and “I’m out of class time” will narrow faster than you can expect.

Do the homework as soon as possible, ask the questions you need answered, and interact with the instructors and the classes – learn.

I wish I was a little older, back when I was younger.

I’ve got more to say, but it’s going to have to wait. I have homework, you see.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Non-Traditional (Part 2)

The further adventures of Nick, as he returns to school for the first time in twenty years...

In the first part -- recounted here -- I made my way to the hallowed campus of Southwestern College to attempt a second go at furthering my education.

Day 1 went well.  Which was the one thing I had assumed would go well this semester.  I had a few shocks, particularly when seeing how late students would mope into class, and just how apathetic the atmosphere was here and there.

More shocks on Tuesday?  You betcher butt.  But we'll get to that in a moment...

Crushing Tiny Cities, The Four Things All Students Need, and What Happens When James Bond Mistakes You For Someone Else

Last Thursday I went to the Student Center to get my photo ID, to make it easier to use the facilities.  To do so, the man with the camera had me step behind a blue line, then tilted it up about forty degrees to get my head in the shot.  The camera was mounted on a shelf about two-and-a-half feet high, meaning that my ID photo is shot up and at an angle that makes me look like that big fellow atop of the beanstalk. 

Before I left the building, crushing tiny cities as I went, the cameraman asked, "Hey!  Are you still with the newspaper?"  This was a bit distracting, since I'd only been with the paper about two hours at the time. 

You have no rightsh on thish campush.

I then recognized him - James Bond.  And no, I'm not kidding.  Mr. Bond is the very gent who tried throwing me off campus a little more than a year ago for trying to register voters.  It didn't go well for him.  He got schooled in First Amendment rights by a lawyer/professor and I had to agree to sign in if I showed up on campus again to do radical terroristy things like utilizing the Democratic process.

I signed in that day, and never again.  And that little action was mentioned in the nationally-infamous Muzzle Award given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to SWC for their (former administration's) inability to understand those most basic American rights.  I call that a win.

But apparently Commander Bond had assumed I was already with those rabblerousers at the Sun, so I answered, "Nope.  I was a civilian when you tried to throw me off campus."

The last bit of weirdness I got was when I took a little coupon book with discounts for those important student needs.  A couple bucks off for books, a buck off at the cafeteria, a couple of dollar-off coupons at Jason's coffee cart, and...

Discount hepatitis shots.  Yep, a little something for that student that does have everything.

True Believers, You Mean... I Actually Gotta Buy Stuff?, That Sneaky Homework, and You'll Get Your Money When We're Damned Good And Ready To Give It To You.

I picked up my books over the weekend, and armed with those books and my coupons - in case the urge for a hot coffee or an ice-cold Heptivax struck - I returned to class on Tuesday morning, Business 120.

You're serious about the textbook?
 I also brought my completed homework - the only homework yet assigned.  So what percentage of the class had finished theirs?  Maybe 25%.  And how many of the forty or so students had bought their textbook - the one necessary for the 60-page reading assignment it took me about six hours to complete?  About four.

Forgive me if I seem to be harping on this, but I simply can't understand this.  So far, we've been told to do only three things: get the textbook, read two chapters, and do a short non-graded quiz.  The answers of most of the students appear to be "no, no, and... no."

Sometime later, I found out that one of the reasons that so many of the students didn't have the books, is that at SWC, the school doesn't start giving out financial aid - including that needed to buy books - until the second week.  Apparently this makes sense to someone.  But not to me, and likely not to the students who are now at least one day behind in every class, and will likely be closer to a week behind.

If only we had some new people in power who could look into this vast abyss of stupidity!

In Journalism 200, Professor Max Branscomb spent the day lecturing on the journalists' Code of Ethics.  It's clearly a passion of his, and it came through.  It's always a pleasure to watch someone who believes in what he or she is lecturing.  Max's passion is good, high-quality journalism, and that comes shining through.

Mike Van Keith is a true believer of the power of business, and he demonstrates that with every word, peppering his lectures with anecdotes and asides that shows how well he understands how it all works.  Both instructors are easy to listen to and easy to understand, but use completely different styles of lectures.

More on that later.  I've got to keep this short.  I've got a couple of chapters to read, and a bit of homework to do.

Thank God I went ahead and bought those books.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Imperial Beach and the Colors of Ugly

Imperial Beach's wild, savage parrots.

I like Imperial Beach. I like living here. I like the surfers who walk through town barefoot, board under their arms, in their wetsuits. I like the dog walkers, the wild parrots, the skateboarding parents, the hipster grandparents, the aging hippies, the active military, the beach, the surf, the estuary, and that view that gives you the USA, Mexico, and the broad sweep of the Pacific Ocean, all without having to turn your head.

There are also a few things I don’t like. One of those is the occasional green flash of racism that appears on the horizon.


I saw a particularly colorful, stupid version a week or so ago, while at the laundry – to be specific, I was at the Palm Coin Laundry. I watched the laundry owners walk up, past the 7-11 next door and pass several of us: a pair of young women, a young mixed-race couple and their kids, and me; and walked straight on to the middle-aged Hispanic man sitting in the bed of his truck, watching his clothes through the laundry’s glass front.

“If you’re going to work here,” the owner said, “could you move your truck?”

When the gentleman said that he was washing his clothes and waiting for them, the owner – a just-past-middle-aged Caucasian pretty boy – responded that he looked like he was working. The Hispanic chap said again that he was washing clothes.

“I thought you were working,” the owner said. “Guys who work over here…” he pointed at something that I didn’t see, “sometimes take up our spots.”

The young women, the couple, the Hispanic gent, and I all had parked our vehicles there – and all of us were clearly not working. His truck wasn’t marked for work, there were no tools visible, and he was sitting on the tailgate, watching the inside of the laundry. I want to be specific: he clearly wasn’t working.

At this point, Mr. Palm Coin Laundry had made a couple of dumb moves: he had assumed that the one probably-Mexican guy he could see was working, and when he was corrected, he failed to back off and apologize (or at least not pursue it further). It gets better.

The owner then sauntered away inside and the guy in the truck followed him. He was offended, and rightly so. He quietly said something to the owner; I wish I had heard it, but I didn’t. But the reaction was the same:

“I thought you were working.” Still standing fast, the owner refused to admit he may have made an error. So when the man from the truck asked him to unlock the washers so he could get his clothes out, the owner stomped off, came back, and unlocked all the washers.

It’s my belief that the right thing to do would have been to…

A) Apologize for making a dumb-ass assumption.
B) Assure him it won’t happen again.
C) And thank him for being a customer.

But, no. He did none of these things, instead defending his position. Is this racism, or is this just brain-dead business sense? You may have a different opinion, but I was there, and I watched this Imperial Beach business owner stride past seven other people to focus on the one man of color and ask him to move just that one vehicle.

If that were you, how would you feel?


I like art. I like sculpture. I like the mixed-media sculpture, and classical sculpture, and even abstract sculpture – that trope, “modern” art.

What I don’t like is this:

At first thinking it was a giant Elvish rune from Lord of the Rings, probably warning of “dangerous magic here,” or some similar twaddle, I discovered that this was, in fact, supposed to be a piece of art to be proud of.

I don’t quite understand that.

This abstract chrome beast, which looks like it’s mounted on a basketball goalpost and planted in a small dumpster, has put a nasty chrome dent in the view off the end of Dahlia. Entitled “Sun and Surf,” this ugly thing appeared while we were in New Mexico over Christmas. In which case, I can only assume that Santa Claus has decided that Imperial Beach was very, very bad last year.

I understand that the curve at the bottom is surf, and the bird-shaped figure at the top is a wave, but what exactly is the round thing on legs in the middle?

The sun on crutches? A rotund Samoan on a boogie board? A Martian death machine rising from the waves?

I like that last one particularly.
One last thing: this brilliant idealization of a can-opener seems to be constructed of chrome. You know what chrome does in salt air? It rusts.

There is already a patina of rust on the seaward side. How long will it take this hideous thing to complete its metamorphosis into a rust-colored Martian death machine and slay us all?

Maybe if Imperial Beach is good this year, Santa Claus will haul that ugly thing away. And maybe if we’re really good, he’ll take the art, too.

Imperial Beach art critic.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Non-Traditional (Part 1)

About twenty years ago, I left college. Not with a degree or a cum laude or any of that; I just left. On Tuesday, I returned to college.

For those of you regular readers, it probably comes as no surprise that I chose to continue my continued education at Southwestern College, a school that I have championed as being far better, and much more deserving than the corrupt Governing Board it was saddled with.

But I’m not going to travel that road today. Today I’m just here to say that I – quite literally – put my money where my mouth was, and enrolled.

After a few oddly nervous days, worrying about what my return to academia would be like, I woke on Tuesday morning without a worry in the world. I got up and realized I wasn’t thinking of this as going to school; I was thinking of it as going to work.

I showered, shaved, grabbed some coffee, and glanced in the mirror to check my man-nificence one last time, then headed to work…er, school.

The first class was Business 120 – Intro to Business. It may seem odd that I was taking the absolute basic business course, but in all my previous college days, I had never taken a single class of the kind. Granted, I had written extensively about business in my freelance writing days, but I thought it might be time to actually get a little education to go with my knowledge.

Michael Van Keith is the instructor, an adjunct professor with style, charm, and magnificent hair. He engaged just about every student, even if they came in forty-five minutes late.

Which leads directly to my first rant: what the hell are people doing showing up for class half an hour late or more? On your first day? Is this a particularly unique way of making a good first impression? Because that’s not what happened. A very young student near me grumbled loud enough to be heard, “This is a business course. It’s not professional to be late.”