college

People Watching

I am a people watcher. Not a professional mind you, no license or training from a top secret English Council, no just strictly amateur here. It is a great boredom eraser. Sometimes, I invent lives for the people or sometimes I just give them fun names and watch their antics. Take the other day when I was stuck in the Financial Aid office of my university.

The Financial Aid office moved to a new location this summer. It was formally housed on the second floor of three story Georgian style mansion built in the early 1800s. Payne Hall was originally a storehouse and makeshift prison as part of the Augusta Arsenal. Housing financial aid there always seemed fitting to me. The new location is just as old, but much smaller and previously used as such varied things as the purchasing office and art studio.

The old office had a high service bar behind which the helpful and optimistic financial aid assistants barricaded themselves against the constant torrent of often simultaneously confused and bitter students. The new office has no such physical impediment. The old office also had seating for about 15 people; the new office has zip, nada, not one seat for those who wait in monetary anxiety.

The new office is not designed to have customers, so when the new semester begins, as it doing so now, the little entrance way quickly becomes crowded and all are pressed together. Ten to twelve people fit in the little alcove if they do not mind invading each other’s personal space and everyone has used their Dial. So it was among these circumstances I was able to get some practice in people watching.

For the first part of my wait, it was pretty much your usual college kids making sure all was good with their scholarship and grant money. Our local university is in the middle of a hostile corporate takeover, so it is plain to see why they are worried. The move is not going smoothly.*

After a while, and outside of all the PDAs some individuals started to stand out. The No Child Left Behind Family, Baby Dyke, Junior Businessman, the OMG sisters and Chickie Babe. What can I say? I was there for a long time…

The No Child Left Behind Family consisted of at least five kids, I think, there may have been more. It was hard to tell as they continually floated from inside to out and back again. They were all pretty interchangeable, except for the kid in the wheelchair stuck in the corner and left to play games on a phone. I never did discover who was there to talk to the assistants, the mother or any of her brood.

Baby Dyke came in with a YMCA swim instructor t-shirt and life guard red swim trunks. Tall and thin, she sported a mohawk that fell into soft curls in the middle. Even this girl’s hair could not be straight. She carried all extraneous objects in the waistband of her shorts. Phone, wallet, keys, each was pulled in turn when needed. The reason she stood out to me was really one single comment. Upon being told she would need to supply a copy of her last year’s W2, she said and this is a direct quote, “You mean the IRS keeps copies of that?”

Junior Businessman came decked out in a three piece suit. Truly, an entire three piece suit and a briefcase to top it off. I am not quite sure who he was trying to impress. The whole point of financial aid is that you need money. Looking like Alex P. Keaton really doesn’t help your cause.

The OMG sisters are at every university function so I am not surprised I saw them that day. I am pretty sure you have seen them – they are the girls who upon seeing another member of their tribe  squeal at a torturous frequency level followed immediately by a high pitched repetitive screams of, “Oh My G-d, it’s you!” These vocalizations are usually accompanied with the waving of hands then followed by a round of ritualistic maneuvers mostly involving a-frame hugs and kisses that are thrown in the general direction of the intended recipient. It can be a painful thing to witness.

The coup de grâce of the afternoon was Chickie Babe. CB made a grand entrance in low cut, form fitting, sherbet orange dress, with matching platform 4 inch high heels and oversized, bronze, woven, heart-shaped handbag. She had flatiron brown hair with just the right swoop at the bottom. Her smartphone was blinged out with a multitude of shiny little rhinestones, which I thought would be uncomfortable to grasp, but without pain there is no beauty, as I am told.

CB owned the place. She put herself square in front of the door so that she would be the first thing seen to all who entered. She kept her head down just so much, while creating obviously important text messages with an imperious flourish yet able to keep an eye on her audience. When a friend came in she dared not associate herself with the OMG sisters. She merely put out her hand and said, “Come stand with me, Darling.” “Darling?” We live in Georgia, for goodness sake – no one says, “Darling” unless you are referencing someone’s grandchild under the age of twelve or a homemade handicraft we are not quite sure of.

Up to this point, CB had merely elicited a raised eyebrow and slight smirk, but I tell you I had to turn away not to laugh at her next move. When Johnny Olson announced her name as the next contestant on “Will Your Financial Aid be Approved,” CB sidled up to the desk and proceeded to lean over the desk giving the lovely assistant full perusal of les doudounes. As with Junior Businessman, I am not quite sure what this was supposed to accomplish. The assistant was not a cop who pulled her over for a minor traffic violation and was clearly not impressed with the display.

From her bent over position, CB whispered to assistant that well, she did not have her student id with her and that she wanted to know…the assistant interrupted her and asked in a bored voice, “Name?” CB looked somewhat taken aback then gave her the name, but still whispering a mile  minute. The assistant read off whatever magic computer revealed and as if she could not believe the statements, CB grabbed the monitor and turned it to her face. The nonplussed assistant sat for a heartbeat then reached up and slowly turned the monitor back around. CB did not get the hint but craned her neck further around to look at the sacred words.

I do not know what the assistant finally whispered to CB, but with it she was able to wrest CB from her personal space. CB stood up adjusted her clothing, checked something on her phone, tossed her hair and with as much dignity anyone can muster on 4 inch platform heels walked out of the office. The assistant crossed her name off the list and called the next contestant, who thankfully turned out to be me – Smirking Old Lady.

*(http://nation.time.com/2013/07/19/cash-strapped-universities-turn-to-corporate-style-consolidation/)  – read the comments for the real story.

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Dreams may come, dreams may go

In the spring, I received notice that my university financial aid would not be processed unless I declared a major, met with an advisor and laid out a course schedule hurtling me toward graduation. I was informed that financial aid would no longer pay for any courses not directly involved with obtaining the degree I sought. Such is the penalty for going back for a second undergraduate degree and having no money. I have to know what I want to be when I grow up.

Some time back, I grew weary of the corporate grind, the machinations, the end of the world scenarios every time something goes wrong, the obvious greed and lack of empathy from those who have scaled the corporate mountain. I kept telling Bashert I needed to get back in school and find something else to do with my life. She finally told me to “shit or get off the pot”. In other words, do something about it or shut up. I chose to return to school.

I returned with the full intention of moving on to a graduate program here at our state Medical University. I didn’t want to become a physician, but gain a doctorate and do research. Neuroscience and psychopharmacology were the two beacons lighting my way. I am fascinated with the way the brain works. I had a dream.

I volunteered to work the night shift so that I could have my days to attend classes and study. I worked it out with my nightside partners whereby I would be the one to “close” every night except Wednesdays, the night before I had a lab class scheduled. Working the later night shift would also give me more time to spend with Yoda, picking him up from school and having supper together with Bashert.

When I got to school, it was if I had entered a magic kingdom. I’d forgotten how much I love to learn. Having a lifetime of experiences behind me, I felt much surer of myself. No longer the first time attending, scared teenager or that voiceless woman coming out of a horrible divorce situation, I was there for a purpose and with a self authority I lacked before.

My resolve of purpose faltered a year into my studies with the introduction of Evolutionary Biology and PreCalculus.

Now let me pause here just one moment and let you know something about myself. I am bitter. You see, I graduated the first time around with a GPA of 3.499 and it didn’t get rounded up. Yep, I missed cum laude by 1/1000th of a point. You know why I graduated with a 3.499?

Math.

In 1979, I took College Algebra, earned a D and it has haunted my GPA ever since.  Never mind that I returned to school, took it over and made an A, no, in college it all counts and never goes away.

What do Evolutionary Biology and PreCalculus concern? Math – lots and lots of math.

That semester was a living hell of math.

I managed to eke out a B in both classes. EvoBio was saved by my writing ability and obnoxious eagerness to have everything turned in early. PreCalculus was saved only by my four day marathon study session for the final and the good graces of the adjunct professor, who dropped three tests grades.

I looked at the remaining classes I would be required to take to earn my B.S. and move on. Chemistry I&II & Organic – math; Physics I&II- math; Calculus – math; Genetics – math.

It was then I realized that I was not going to be able to realize my dreams of moving on to any PhD. program in science. Perhaps if I was younger with more time and energy to devote myself strictly to the programs, I could do it, at least that’s what I would like to think. But with a family to care for, health issues and a job that costs me 45-60 hours a week, excluding travel time, it just wasn’t going to happen. I simply don’t bounce back like I used to and there are sacrifices I’m not ready to make. So, I had to release that dream.

It hasn’t been easy giving up.  I practically gave up writing and I my camera still lies unused. I grudgingly declared an English major and met with the English vice-chair for advisement. Corporate drudgery stared me down hard. I felt defeated, weary and wasteful. At this point in my life, what use was studying 19th century British literature going to do? I sulked most of my way through last spring and the summer.

It has taken until now to climb my way back out of that hole of disappointment.

Glimmers of light are beginning to shine through. I have partners that I work with in my business life that I enjoy and trust now. And while Family Bedlam is well, still bedlam, we are a family doing the best we can with love and hope. This semester I am taking classes I really enjoy and I have an appointment to speak with someone in the Communications department about switching to an area of study that might just help me in my present career. If I cannot move on to a different world outside then perhaps I can make the world I exist in now a little bit better.

I guess that’s the good thing about dreams. One can always build another.

Photo Credit: Photo by Vail. Undated. mtholyoke.edu

Tattoo You

I took a Psychology class a couple of semesters ago.  Cultural Diversity.  Thought it would be amusing to see the official take on my life.

For our final project we had to select a cultural phenomenon with which we were unfamiliar to research, have an experience of then write a paper and give a presentation.

I chose tattooing.

Tats, as I’m told the insiders call them, seem to be everywhere these days. I wanted to see if there had been any real change in the acceptance of tattooing in the mainstream.

Growing up in the 60’ and 70’s nice people just didn’t get tattoos, at least nice people who lived in white bread, middle class suburbia and hadn’t served in the military didn’t.

No, tattoos were for the hard core military, convicts, bikers and ladies of the night.

To this day, despite or maybe in addition to the fact that several of her grandchildren now have tattoos (including my own daughter), my Mom refers to them as trashy – the tattoos, not the grandchildren.

Trashy Babs

When the kids in my neighborhood played, the ones with the lick and stick tattoos were the bad guys, the ones who had guns and smoked.  Told you, middle class America in the 60’s.

As I grew up and gained a little worldly experience and knowledge, I found cultures outside my own that used skin marking as a means of artistic expression and to scare the wits out of their enemies.  (Check out the movie, The Piano there’s some good Maori tattooing going on there.)

But with my upbringing, these really didn’t have any real impact on my life – tattoos still remained other world.

I truly wondered why it was that any modern person in their right mind would submit to a torturous procedure that I viewed as coming from rather seedy depths.  Nuts.

For my research, I read various and sundry dry research articles that mostly found that tattooing was gaining some ground of acceptance in society as a whole, but this was still dependent on what types of tattooing was done – cute or not so cute.

One little tidbit from a large, southeastern university survey done in 2007 found that while many women may find visible tattoos on men attractive (as the ‘bad boy’), almost half of the men said that they seldom found a tattoo attractive on a woman.

Hmmmm…

Kinda speaks for itself, doesn't it?

I interviewed a couple of tattoo artists for my paper.  They were both very amenable to my clumsy questions.  I did find it interesting that the artist that had been in the business for all his life didn’t have any visible tattoos and the younger one said that he though his tattoos would restrict him in some of his career hopes. (Found out later that artist one actually has beaucoup tats, but just not down his arms.)

I also interviewed some folks I know who have tattoos.  That was interesting, too.  There was a common theme between them as well.

All three people got tattoos for the personal and permanent expression of feelings, relationships or circumstances.  None said they regretted it or would change them, but each said that they’ve either received flack or covered up to prevent commotion.

It was all the same familiar stuff I had read in the research papers.  It was a ‘yes, but’ kind of thing going on.

I wrangled my way into observing a tattoo being done.

My niece said I could come and watch hers being created if I didn’t ask stupid questions, such as “Does it hurt?”  Turns out that’s a stupid question because its obvious that it hurts like hell in certain areas.

Ow.

The conclusion of my paper research was pretty much summed up by a phrase from one of the papers I read:

“people still view tattoos as a badge of dislocated, ostracized & disenfranchised community – a signifying practice that purposely embraced and promulgated images of other-ness”  – (Atkinson, Michael. “Tattooing and Civilizing Processes: Body Modification as Self-Control” Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology  41.2 (2004):125-146.Print.)

In other words, tattooing was still seen as coming from the wrong side of the tracks and done so on purpose.

There was some shift in the mainstream outlook and there is a new subculture of diverse ages, genders, races and socioeconomic levels that finds it completely acceptable as a means of self expression, but the tolerance shown was more or less dependent upon in what company one keeps, where the tattoo is located and what type it is. (Wow, that’s a pompous quote pretty much straight from my paper.)

My own conclusion was a bit p.c.  I said that I had learned that people will tattoo just about anything on themselves (and they do) for a myriad of reasons.  I also said that I had developed a broader ability to look beyond my own cultural upbringing and not judge those who have tattoos.  But in reality, it is still very difficult even with my own kid. I was raised to be a tattoo snob.

My last question to the class was and now you is – what are our nursing homes going to look like in 50 years with all this tattooing going on?  Think about it; it ain’t pretty.

Public Domain, artisit/subject unknown