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First Day of Class

Last term, on the first day of class at a new university, I could describe notable moments, the terrain, the geography, the air. (I'm tempted to say the terroir - what vintage of university do you go to or work at?) If I did this for this term by physical analogy, yesterday would have gone something like this:
I showed up at the university first thing in the morning only to find the main gates were barred shut. There was no information saying when it would be open again and no one else was around. I figured that the administration was too busy dealing with rush of new staff and students to fix the bolt which held the gates locked for a few hours. After an hour of waiting, it started to rain. I hadn't brought my umbrella. By mid-afternoon, the gates were open as if nothing had happened. It's a good thing the university doesn't offer morning classes. I have a deep-seated suspicion that the gates will be locked at random times of day every few weeks for the rest of the semester.

I located my assigned classroom (It's a nice, clean, modern one, complete with overhead and digital projector) and found it empty except for a note from the administration and a bunch of chairs. The note said that I needed to tell them who my students were, so they could send them all notes telling them where the correct classroom was. Since I don't have my ID card yet, I couldn't get the student office to tell me who my students were, and my telepathic skills aren't good enough to compensate for lack of ID card, so I had to ask the chair of the department to do it for me - on the first day of class.

A few hours later (it's a good thing I brought other work to do with me!), a messenger brought me a note saying that my students had all been sent information on where their classroom was, thanks to the chair's help, and that they would all be showing up eventually, assuming they'd gotten their mailbox keys yet. By this time, I had mostly dried off from the rain earlier. I wandered off to the cafeteria, but came back to look into my classroom now and again. No one else tried to use it. They must have a lot of classrooms on this campus. Now and again, I rearranged the chairs.

By the time it was nearly midnight and I was about ready to go home and go to sleep, having spent the entire day and evening on campus. I'm such a dedicated employee. Then, unexpectedly given the time of day one of my students had straggled in to the classroom. She thought that more would be on the way shortly, these students being particularly nocturnal beings. I left them a copy of my lecture notes and abandoned them to have class without me.

Fortunately, yesterday wasn't actually like this, or on any physical campus, but was all email and website updates. The textbooks aren't in yet, but isn't that almost a cliché of new semesters?

I met C. for dinner last night at the relatively local American-style barbecue place we've eaten at three or four times before. A new waitress was on duty. While waiting for C. to show up, I ordered a drink and demurred on ordering food yet.

"Are you from around here?", she asked me.
"Yes, less than a mile that way." I answered.
She looked confused for a moment. "No, I meant, from the states."
"Yes, I am." I answered, rather confused myself.
"Which state?"
"Iowa." That killed the conversation. Clearly she doesn't read Bill Bryson.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
Maybe if you had burst into that famous song from Music Man:

Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
There's an Iowa kind of special
Chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
We've never been without.
That we recall.
We can be cold
As our falling thermometers in December
If you ask about our weather in July.
And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
But what the heck, you're welcome,
Join us at the picnic.
You can eat your fill
Of all the food you bring yourself.
You really ought to give Iowa a try.
Provided you are contrary,
We can be cold
As our falling thermometer in December
If you ask about our weather in July.
And we're so by God stubborn
We can stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
But we'll give you our shirt
And a back to go with it
If your crops should happen to die.

So, what the heck, you're welcome,
Glad to have you with us.

Farmer and Wife:
Even though we may not ever mention it again.

You really ought to give Iowa
Hawkeye Iowa
Dubuque, Des
Moines, Davenport, Marshalltown,
Mason City, Keokuk, Ames,
Clear Lake
Ought to give Iowa a try!

she might have had more to say. :)
Jan. 17th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Iowa
Indeed. Or had she only been a Star Trek or Slipknot fan.

Personally, I prefer the Iowa song from State Fair.

"All I know, all I owe, I owe Ioway.
I owe Ioway all I know and I know why.
I am Ioway born and bred
And on Iowa corn I'm fed
Not to mention her barley, wheat, and rye."

Jan. 17th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Iowa
I'm really confused :)
I thought you lived in England these days?
Jan. 17th, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Iowa
I do!

And that was EXACTLY what was so fundamentally wrong with her question. She asked me "Do you live around here?" where "around here" apparently meant "around the area where the food this restaurant serves is from".

I don't know about you, but if I went to a Japanese restaurant, say, in London, and asked the waitstaff "Do you live around here?' I wouldn't meant Japan by my question.
Jan. 17th, 2007 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Iowa
The girl detective is obviously trying to make up her mind between the rolling beef and the glowing squid. Listed under appetizers, there's scallion pancakes, egg rolls with shrimp, and wantons (which I have ordered many times. But they always turn out to be wontons instead), also dancing girls. The girl detective orders a glass of water, no lemon. Then she asks the waiter, "Where are you from?"
"China," he says.
"I mean, where do you live now," the girl detective says.
"China," he says. "I commute."

Kelly Link, The Girl Detective

Jan. 17th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Iowa
That's wonderful.
Jan. 17th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
Er ... is there truly such a thing as Iowa barbecue? (I get that you weren't implying that there was ...) What kind of barbecue is it, anyway? Because you know around here, we have half-assed versions of all kinds -- pulled pork (oh, so lovely) but no vinegar-y sauce to go with (hence less yummy); ribs, but not the really good ones ... OH!!! except I just realized that there is fantastic barbecue here. On eof my colleagues is from Texas and does a bitchin' brisket and ribs. But not commercially available on demand, alas. But ... can you get wonderful West Indian barbecue? *looks around surreptitiously* Is there barbecued goat???

(can you tell I've not eaten in a while?)
Jan. 17th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)
There's excellent barbecue in Iowa. (Unlike Massachusetts, where I pined for it. Likewise York, where more pining occurred.) I actually don't know if there's typical Iowa barbecue, or if it's just that lots and lots of people barbecue and there's really good meat there. My favorite barbecue place - obligatory trip back every time - is actually a small chain called Mustard's. I go for the pork ribs there. Another barbecue tradition is going for the pulled pork at the Pork Tent at the Iowa State Fair. For that matter, I observe that there's an Iowa Barbecue Society. It does things like certify judges for juding bbq contests.

Eat soon!
Jan. 18th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
I did. All the wrong food. The kind that came in a bag. But strangely satisfying in a, "damn! I really should have eaten veg!" kind of way. No more leaving the office after 6:30, let alone 8:00. Really.
Jan. 18th, 2007 02:10 am (UTC)
last i was in the U.K (10 years ago, granted) when people found out i lived in the states, all i heard was "The states? Do you live in California? Do you surf?" When i said Massachusetts they would nod and walk away.
Jan. 18th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)
Among non-SF readers, the usual reaction is that they know of it thanks to reading Bill Bryson. (This is a country of Bill Bryson fans.) Others may show off a minimal of geographic prowess by knowing it's in "the middle". If they don't, they'll ask where it is. Among SF fans, the odds are likelier they'll respond with it being the birthplace of Captain Kirk. Last week, for variety, I had someone enlighten me as to the healthy heavy metal scene there - notably the band Slipknot.

Times change though. When I lived here 20 years ago, the only memorable conversation I had on the subject was from a girl who asked me on the playground, "You're American, right?' I nodded. "You're rich then, right?"
Jan. 18th, 2007 05:17 pm (UTC)
I am sure I have told you this before, but "Iowa" sounds very close to an Arabic word, "aiwa", used to express excitement - for example, hearing a beautiful solo played in a musical performance.

Several years (and levels of Arabic) ago, I was called upon to do the "polite exchanges" series of questions with my instructor in Damascus. It was a difficult time to be in Damascus as an American, so my goal in class was to be as unobtrusive as possible (since whenever we hit another Afghani or Iraqi target I was already the object of much impassioned commentary). Hence, when my instructor asked "which state are you from?" I replied "Iowa" - or, to his ears "aiwa".

he then carefully began to explain the question he had asked, thinking I was a) really quite excited over nothing and b) dumb as a post. I, still trying to be obtrusive, listened meekly and, when he asked again, replied: "the state of Iowa". even worse - he now thought I was not only dumb but perhaps incurably so.

only the snickers of my French, German, Greek, and British classmates, all apparently well versed in US states, saved me. that, and my final, third-time-the-charm answer: I used to live in Iowa, but now I live in New York.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )