Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Operation Enduring Hobo

. . . the man had the look of an astronaut who'd been in orbit, alone, far too long. He shaved only when his beard began to itch, showered only when he started to offend himself.
-- Adam Mansbach, Angry Black White Boy (2005)

Exam week is a difficult time for everyone. Though I constantly urge my students to view history in complex ways -- asking them, for instance, to consider the relationship between past and present as something other than a simple, linear narrative of progress or decline -- the end of the semester demonstrates clearly that the passage of time, at least in the short term, often generates massive and obvious evidence to suggest that the condition of the universe is indeed devolving, single-mindedly, in the direction of universal ruin.

Today I modeled that sense of decline by proctoring the final exam for HIST 131 in a style that can best be described as "neo-vagrant" or "molester chic" -- jeans that may or may not have been laundered recently; sweatshirt usually reserved for walking the dog or scraping moss from the roof of our house; hair matted like a crushed squirrel, hidden beneath the least attractive knitted cap in my vast collection of unattractive knitted caps; unshaven and generally untended in that hitting-rock-bottom-teeth-first sort of way. The students should have seen this coming. I began the semester with so much promise, wearing clean sweaters and dressy pants -- slacks and cords and khakis and such -- while sporting a brand new haircut and commiting myself to a rigorous program of personal hygiene and individual responsibility. Since September, however, I have slowly unhinged myself, leading inexorably to this.


Today, in celebration of semester's end, I filled out my bi-annual request form for office supplies:
sterile buffered eye wash (one bottle)
antiseptic swabs (numerous packets)
latex protective gloves
wound flushing solution (one bottle)
conforming sterile gauze bandage (one roll)
Laerdahl pocket air mask
butterfly stitches (one box)
assorted adhesive bandages
body fluid disposal kit

I spent the rest of the day securing travel arrangements. I booked plane reservations only to cancel them moments later, rebooking other flights to other destinations on completely different airlines. I did this repeatedly. I called taxi cabs, sometimes three or four at a time, requesting that they take positions around campus, waiting to skirt me away at a moment's notice in any number of possible directions. I chartered buses, scheduled cruises, and reserved hotel rooms in cities around the country under twenty-six different names. I kept two travel agents on the phone at all times. Relatives in several states have been placed on twenty-four hour alert; they have been asked to change the sheets on their guest beds every half hour.

I am oh-so-ready to submit my final grades.