Friday, April 28, 2006

Finals week

The sign read “honk if you love beer.”

Down the main street from the college campus, mom-and-dad vans, pickups and the occasional stock trailer were pulled in front of the couch and box-strewn yards of rental homes, ready to bring Junior home for the summer. A mom stormed out of a maroon minivan double parked on a street too narrow for double parking, probably wondering why her little princess was doing a keg stand in a yard filled with shirtless boys.

The driver in front of me honked at the kid in the lawn chair holding up the beer sign, and a crowd of finals-week revelers holding blue, plastic beer cups hooted back at the driver. Anyone who honked for beer was all right with them.

As I drove past, the kid waved the cardboard sign at me. I hit my horn and waved, not seeing any of my students at the yard party, although it was hard to tell through all the sunglasses and exposed tans.

Finals week brings out two emotions in college students – emotion No. 2 separated by the intense desire to pretend you never experienced emotion No. 1.

Emotion No. 1) Panic brought on by the “five minutes before my final” realization you spent the entire semester drinking and playing “Halo 2” instead of attending class and remembering you can read.

Emotion No. 2) A blind Id that takes over your now test-weakened Ego, beating it about the head and face with the word “party,” and running naked in the street making your Superego giggle. This is, of course, followed by an irresistible urge to paint the words “honk if you love beer” on the back of an old vodka box.

Finals week shoves into five days the entire college experience of “mom’s not here” weighed against “what if mom finds out?” Only this time the kids are worried about grades.

“Uh, Mr. Offutt,” one of my students said, walking into my office a half hour before his final exam. “Could I get my grade so I’ll know how much I should study for the test?”

“You know,” I said. “A half hour before the exam’s probably not the best time to show concern for your grade. You got a pet?”
He looked at me like I was older and less senile than I am.


Darn, and I had a great analogy about starving goldfish.

“You’re making 79.44 percent,” I said to the student who may, or may not, have had a grass stain on his forehead.

“Can’t you round it up?” the student asked.

Rounding up a grade is like giving a kid candy to stop acting like a brat – they didn’t earn the candy and haven’t learned they have to.

“Not until you stop starving your goldfish,” I said.

He didn’t get it, but he wasn’t too concerned, there was a party in some guy’s yard after the test. I’m not sure I would have understood the analogy at his age either because emotion No. 2 would have dragged me to the party by the throat and made me wear a funny hat.

A couple of blocks later, a group of college kids were standing in their yard trying to knock over empty beer bottles with a Frisbee. I honked and waved.

Maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged them, but it was finals week, and life would catch up with them soon enough.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Diary of a book signing

Two p.m., March 25, Borders Books, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

1:45 p.m.: Arrive with wife, baby and a box of books. Hope I put on enough deodorant.

1:50 p.m.: Talk to manager about how I get paid, set up display at table, scope out bathrooms.

2 p.m.: Book signing starts. Nobody shows up.

2:05 p.m.: Wife takes baby to children’s section.

2:14 p.m.: Couple pauses at table. Are they interested? Are they going to talk to me? Are they going to buy a book? I’m so lonely. No, they’re looking at a movie display behind my head.

2:30 p.m.: I start doodling.

2:45 p.m.: Wife and baby stop by. Wife tells me baby’s fussy so they’re going to Target.

3 p.m.: Manager brings me an iced tea.

3:27 p.m.: Glad I scoped out the bathrooms earlier.

3:50 p.m.: Where is everyone? Did the world end and no one bother to tell me? Oh, wait…

3:51 p.m.: Friends stop by, chat, buy book. Cool.

4 p.m.: Couple I’ve never met stop by just to see me. Their last name’s Offutt, too. Have a nice conversation and sign a book.

4:10 p.m.: I sold another book. Things are rolling now. People are coming in. Feelings of abandonment leaving ...

4:20 p.m.: Wife and baby come back. Baby sits on my lap and grabs at whatever’s in arm’s reach that I’ll have to pay for if he destroys.

4:35 p.m.: Guy I met in a college writing class stops by to buy a book. Hadn’t seen him since the Bronze Age. Good to see you, Dennis.

5 p.m.: Book signing over. Want beer. Go home.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The hazards of home ownership

When you buy a house, the only important things you won't change are the subatomic particles that hold the house together.

"I'd like the couch here, the ceiling fan removed, the living room carpet ripped out and burned, oh, and that hydrogen atom next to the end table ... no, the one with the gimpy orbital. Yeah, could you move its electron a little to the left?"

Everything about your new home is slightly, if not completely, exactly how you wouldn't have done it.

Either the living room is too dark, the kitchen is too small, or every wall is painted just the wrong color puke.

But, unless you're a carpenter, engineer or just surprisingly lucky, while making repairs around your new home there's a terrific chance you'll break more things than you fix.

For example, let's see how much you know about tools.

A hammer is used for:

a) Opening beer bottles.

b) Scratching that hard to reach place on your back.

c) Protection.

d) Driving nails into wood.

The answer is, of course, e) breaking into cars. See, without me, the first thing you'd have done with a hammer is try to put up a shelf. Your beer would still be in the bottle, your back would still itch and you wouldn't have this new car stereo. Shows what you know.
To help you avoid these carpentry gaffes, here's How to Get Out of Doing Home Repairs in Five Easy Steps:

- Convince yourself, your wife and your cat that the house looks great the way it is. This can be accomplished by hypnosis and a heavy dose of barbiturates.

- Bring home so many carpet samples, paint brochures and linoleum strips your wife gets discouraged and decides to do it all herself.

- Talk carpenter friends into helping you, then break your hand with a cinder block and watch them work through a haze of Vicodin.

- Attempt the home repairs yourself. By this time your wife, friends, giggling neighbors and anyone who watches the local news knows you're an idiot and will talk you out of it ... let them.

- Set your house on fire.

There. That's all you need to know about home repair.

What? You actually want to fix up your house?

OK, follow these stupid rules:

- Plumbing and electrical work ¬ unless you actually know what you're doing or aren't afraid of a sudden fiery death, leave this work to professionals.

- Painting ¬ use masking tape to cover the edges of shelves, woodwork, fixtures and other items you don't want to slop paint over. Use old sheets and/or newspapers to cover bigger items. Then remove all the outlet covers. Don't be a moron.

- Installing carpet/linoleum/tile ¬ make sure you sand and clean floors before applying anything sticky. And, just because a room is exactly 10 feet wide on the east end doesn't mean it'll be exactly 10 feet wide on the west end. Measure everything.

- Safety ¬ wear gloves, boots and goggles at all time, No matter how much you laugh at cartoons, a nail gun is not a toy.

- Finish everything you start ¬ such as the room you're painting, the shelf you're installing, the floorboards you're staining, that bottle of Crown Royal, that half-gallon of vanilla ice cream ... you get the idea.

Happy headaches.