t(A)m(P)a

Join me on my narrative musings of my travels to, during, and from my second AP grading journey in Tampa, FL!

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I suppose the trip really started the day before, on the highway, my 2007 Suzuki Reno sputtering and squelching down to a laborsome roll. The vainful revving cried all the signs of transmission trauma, and so rather than risk trying to press on, I pulled over and did the only reasonable thing that an at best moderately mechanically-minded college writing professor who had to be 1,300 miles away in Tampa in less than 24 hours could do: I called upon our Lord and Highway Savior, Triple-A.

One could find oneself questioning one’s sanity, packed in ‘old Joe’s’ tow truck along with his tools and drive-thru soda cups.

“I don’t care. But they track me anyways,” old Joe said, about as New Yawk as they come. He was an odd yet even more oddly appropriate character for a tow-trucker. Tattooed and white-bearded, with a lean frame of someone who had clearly started doing ‘real’ work at an age that most kids today spent working at convincing mom and dad to buy them a Nintendo Switch.

“Fifty-two years as a mechanic,” as old Joe put it, hacking and rubbing his Santaesque face mane.

“So you’re retired?” I asked, bouncing along in my seat.

“Once upon a time.”

“So this is just part-time.”

“Eh, started that way,” he said. “And here we are.”

“Well, I guess it’s good to stay busy.”

Old Joe glanced at me and winked. There was a warm twinkle in his glistening blue eyes, almost as if he might really be Kris Kringle’s long lost whatever. “You got a long way to go before you retire.”

Ain’t that the truth.

The Advanced Placement grading attracts a wide range of educators: from high school teachers to college profs, poets to bloggers, and all other manner of interesting, eclectic, and creative people in-between. Perhaps what we most share in common, however, is the drive for adventure: to journey some place far from home, for a distinct goal that we can explore beyond on our own spare time.

That and compensation for our work, of course.

Last year had been my first AP grading, and while it’s hard to pin down exactly what lessons I took away from that week – if any – one fact of modern life that I did confirm was that it’s far better to travel at abnormal hours than common ones.

‘Travel’ sucks. Anyone who touts how much ‘I love to travel’ on their OkCupid profile really means ‘I love to take a Xanax nap and wake up some undefinable time later in awesome places.’ Granted, we’ve come a long way from Oregon Trailing our way through droughts, and snake bites, and dysentery, but whom among us doesn’t wish an ever-easier time of it all? Shorter lines and quicker flights and more inches of legroom than your stretching limbs could ever dream of what to do with.

Well, while most of that is as near fantastical of a hope as finding ‘the one of your dreams’ by flaunting your travel exploits via online dating, there are some smaller, perhaps more practical steps one can take to make the least out of their travel. And scheduling a 6AM flight – like I did – might be the most effective of options within your control.

As such, I was able to spend a good part of the first day before our actual work began on the beach in Florida, about 40 minutes from downtown Tampa where we’d be confined for the next seven days or so grading. But not that first day of cloudy sun and fine white sand, and floating in the salty waves with deep breaths of “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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While I may not have had as much time as I’d like for exploring, relaxing, etceteraing, I did have plenty of mental opportunities to reflect on my surroundings. For starters, Tampa feels too far south for its size – then again most Florida cities feel this way to me. But the few skyscrapers here stick out like sore glass thumbs from the flat former swamplands, drained but not entirely forgotten. You can feel the natural wet in the air, as it certainly feels you. Always wet. Always sticking. The whole scene wanting to return to muck and marsh, to suck apart the baking pavement, and stucco walls, and black-painted stormproof streetlights.

It feels like a shell here. Not a sad place, but one void of rodents and bugs and all other creatures that seem like they should be skirting, slinking, buzzing to survive. Gods know if I counted more than 7 birds within the city during my stay – to be more precise: four crows, two tiny little guys, a white gullish thing soaring overhead, and a chicken clucking about the brick side alleys of Ybor City – not surprisingly the most charming part of Tampa.

Overall it is an overtly human imprint on the land, directly reflecting the whims of the gulf coast environment even while trying to press it away. In the sun, the whole place brightens awake, caramel shingles and golden decos spanning the city. At least until the moody, moony clouds roll on in from the steamy waters to the west, fed since dawn, daily, by that same smiley oppressor, who’s really more like a plane of heat bearing down on your head rather than a single source of muggy light. But by work day’s end, that light is gone – vanished behind the very swirl it’s been stewing over the bay, from here all the way clear across to Mexico. These clouds turn Mordor-dark as the day draws on, the light breeze soon whips up like a siren of even more monstrous gale still to come. The rain strikes, fast and heavy to signal the workday’s end at 5:00pm, eager to play its part in nature’s ongoing war to reclaim this land from societal order. To dissolve all here that’s not green.

There aren’t very many green-colored buildings in Tampa. But I guess that’s true for just about every city.

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The grading factory crew!

Still, there’s plenty good with this place. From the fine fresh brews of Cigar City, to the wavily wondrous works of the Dali Museum across the bay, to icepops gone wildflavor. If only there were more time to explore all these and more – but grading is grading. Work is work. And so we labored, almost in sight of those swaying palms. [Click here for the full photo album]

There’s plenty more to say, but this seems like enough observational ranting for one post. What I will mention about the reading is in echo to my concluding sentiment following last year’s; that is, while it’s a hell of a lot of arduous work, it’s also a damn good time too.

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Will I be back in Tampa for next year’s AP grading? Good question. All I can think on that matter are the wise words of tow-truck Joe. I’m far from retired after all, and so my work future looks bright, even whenever and wherever the clouds roll in.

Thanks for taking some time to read a little about my AP grading journey. Feel free to share your own thoughts or any questions you might have about the event! Especially if you’re thinking about applying for next year!

Writerly Confessional

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to pause to take stock of what words we actually understand and those that while we might have a hazy idea about their meanings, their actual definitions are often murky guesses at best.

I often see students employing the fairly rudimentary suspects within paper, after paper, after paper, and so on. Most commonly, their are the egregious examples of there’s that can butcher a sentence, and distract you’re reader from the intended purpose of whatever message your trying to relate. Point proven.

Before continuing, I should note that in no way do I mean to disparage my students’ writing abilities. On the contrary, I’m sure I’ve made/will make plenty of my own mistakes within this post. It’s easy as a professor to sometimes lose sight of how soul-crushingly terrifying it can be to have to ask for a definition in class or be called out in a paper by a tri-circle of bloody, blotty ink around a misused term. It’s easy as a professor-person to simply self-correct in the comfort of one’s own darkness.

In this sense I suppose that this is a gift, or payback, or simply an admission of understanding about how learning and growing starts by admitting that you don’t know everything, and that such confusion is perfectly fine as long as you’re willing to continue learning.

Anyway, there are the less obvious words whose meaning and usage are perhaps much more confusing and or unclear. Words that I semi-often hear on talk radio and read in news columns that have always – more or less – eluded me in their true meaning.

Should I simply look up these definitions to save myself the embarrassment? Duh. Yet here we are.  And I think this is an interesting exercise to compare what I’ve been able to cobble together out of the context of hearing and seeing these terms over and over and over again with whatever the hell they’re really supposed to mean. Surely my versions must be hilariously off-base in comparison with the correct “answers”, right?

Well, luckily for you, below I have listed ten words that I’ve spent far too much time wondering what in the hell they actually mean: first, my own patchwork interpretation. Then, what I’ve been able to find via some minor, long-overdue research. And finally, how to console my Joeisms with reality.

Ten Words I Should Probably Look Up But Have Always Been Too Lazy To (And Their Definitions):

“Zeitgeist” –

  • My definition: A fancy/academic way of identifying a cultural trend or ideal? Often heard said by fancy/academic folk on NPR who toss around the term as if we all obviously know this one. Also derived from German slang meaning “some sort of half-ghost, half-ghoul creature”
  • Actual definition: “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” – m-w.com
  • Closeness: Still think it sounds like a pretty baller German ghost-ghoul too.

“Flotsam” –

  • My definition: Shit (stuff) that floats.
  • Actual definition: Law. Such part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo as is found floating on the surface of the sea.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: Fancy term for boat shit (stuff) that floats.

“Jetsam” –

  • My definition: Shit (stuff) that floats quickly?
  • Actual definition: “[Law.] Goods discarded from a ship and washed ashore; spec. such material thrown overboard in order to lighten a vessel.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: Well, if your ship is sinking, you’d probably want to jettison your shit (stuff) quickly rather than leisurely.

“Deus ex machina” –

  • My definition: Cool steampunk phrase when a pair of robots fall in love and together rebel against their enslaving human overlords.
  • Actual definition: “A power, event, person, or thing that comes in the nick of time to solve a difficulty; providential interposition, esp. in a novel or play.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: So…no robobellion? I actually kind of already knew this one, but I still think my definition wins.

“Bae” –

  • My definition: Too many definitions to define.
  • Actual definition: Too many definitions to list. So click here for the list.
  • Closeness: All I can say with confidence is that my french fries have not, are not, and never will be bae.

“Literally” –

  • My definition: I actually know this one too, but it gets tricky here as I can literally say (oops, I mean, write) that a great many people literally don’t know what “literally” literally means.
  • Actual definition: “In a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: I am literally right on this one, literally according to the definition.

“Happenstance” –

  • My definition: Sounds like a fancy coincidence. I once wrote in a story about a “randomstance” which my professor at the time loved given the context. Is a “happenstance” a “coincidence” that is more likely? Like how a “randomstance” is less common? Aren’t these all just “coincidences”?
  • Actual definition: “Something that happens by chance, an event or circumstance considered to be influenced by chance; chance, luck. Also: a coincidence.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: And I requote: “Also: a coincidence” ….

“Moniker” –

  • My definition: Sounds like “monkier” when I read it. I know it’s not. But still, gotta be more entertaining than whatever the real definition is.
  • Actual definition: “A name (esp. an assumed one); a nickname, epithet.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: Wait, but what if I’m acting monkier than my brother?

“Ennui” –

  • My definition: A race of elves from the first age of the Lord of the Rings.
  • Actual definition: “The feeling of mental weariness and dissatisfaction produced by want of occupation, or by lack of interest in present surroundings or employments.” – oed.com
  • Closeness: I’m starting to feel a tad ennui from this blog post…

“Raft” –

  • My definition: I keep seeing this used in news articles. Like “a new raft of sanctions”. I always thought that a raft was haphazard little boat one drifted on, but I guess it’s now an abstractish term too?
  • Actual definition: “A number of logs, planks, etc., fastened together in the water for transportation by floating” or “A large amount; a lot of something.”
  • Closeness: So, both? Yeah, not confusing at all.

Well, we made it. And will you look at that? Still kicking/wording! I’m interested to hear if you have any other interpretations, definitions, jokes-at-my-expense, etc. based on these words/phrases – or others! Please feel free to comment with such translations below! Never stop questioning; never stop learning.

The Art of the Shower Orange

*Disclaimer: This piece may contain what some consider to be TMI, as evident from the unorthodox title, which identifies the content within to contain both a “shower” and an “orange”*

Yes, I might be crazy. But “crazy” is a relative description, and I certainly enjoy investigating life’s seemingly odder notions. Consequently, when I heard an NPR story regarding a reddit craze loosely known as “the shower orange”, I had to do some hands on peels off research myself.

To peel or not to peel…that is “a” question. #investigativeface

Having been born in America’s largest orange producing state, I grew up loving the delicious fruit in all its incarnations, be they slices, juices, or flavored sweets. As such, when I heard about the shower orange phenomenon, it was orange game on.

Basically the story goes that noming on the delicious sun orbs while basking in humid mist is the best thing since…well, that actually sounds better than any sliced bread I’ve ever had. The NPR piece explains the trend in much more adult detail – even analyzing the science behind the seeming magic.

Unfortunately, I’m as much of a scientist as I am an orangeoisseur, but I am a detailed observer, and as such, am happy to share my own insights on this juicy experiment.

First thing’s first. You probably have to at least already like oranges to get anything useful out of this experience. If not, then I wouldn’t bother. Maybe try another fruit? I’m particularly looking forward to testing grapes or some other low-latitude tropical wonder berries. But I’m getting ahead of my produce.

The next step – and I can’t stress this enough – is to choose a GOOD orange. I was fortunate enough to find that mine contained quite quality material inside. Some fruits and subsequent fruit eaters, are not always so lucky. I could see mealy innards utterly destroying one’s already uneasy expedition into the fruit-hygiene realm. I happened to use a Florida Navel. I have no idea how a Blood Orange or, say, Tangelo might fare, but I can state without reservation that you’ll just want to make sure that you’ve got a fresh, tasty batch of sweet treats, whichever fruit family you so pick from.

Lighting is important. I typically shower with dimmer illumination to simulate the aura of a sauna. Not that I’ve ever been in a sauna, but it’s along the lines of what I imagine the mood of one to resemble. Anyway, there’s an unnerving itch when one steps into a laxly lit shower ready to devour a bright hand fruit. The elements just seem askew.

Time for things to change.

As such, I sacrifice my sweat lodge vibe for the sake of science, or oranges, or…whatever, and crank up the overhead glow. Ahh, that’s more like it. Standing with steamy streams trickling down my back, I look at the miracle of nature in my hand, and for the first time think, So what the hell do I do now?

Open it, duh. Yet for me this isn’t so simple. I practice a very stringent and strange yet consistent and effective orange slicing process. Basically I cut the damn thing into eight equal pieces and then trim off the inner pith. This system quickly results in slightly smaller but more devourable slices of juicy goodness.

No knife here now though. However good this might turn out, I am suddenly reminding myself of my just-now created no-shower-knife policy. Instead I dig my thumb into the tiny polar circle apparently known as the “pedicel” according to Google.

The casualties of shower orange.

Right away the fresh scent blooms within my humid cubicle – a foreign yet strangely welcome fruity fragrance. Though as soon as I become fully immersed within this luxurious aroma, a new challenge arises: what the f do I do with the rinds??

Fortunately my shower has a flat-bottom rack that apparently doubles just fine for orange waste storage. But I could see this being quite an issue if one doesn’t have a convenient surface placed out of water’s reach upon which to store their discarded produce. The last thing you’d want are rinds in your drain. Perhaps a plastic bag will suffice as well, but like most great battles, do take notes of what terrain you have to work with here, kids.

And so the bits of peel pile up until I have about half the mantle exposed. Mind you, this is quite unlike my normal utilitarian process of equal slicing. I am on new grounds, in more figurative ways than one. Still, I’ve come too far, and this orange looks too damn tasty. I bite into my first ever shower fruit.

And another bite…and another…

Yes, I think. Yes, this works.

Try not to get carried away kids… With great shower oranges come great shower orange responsibilities…

*Side note: I also enjoy a good shower beer, and or coffee from time to time, but that’s a whole other thing for another rant*

Interestingly, this turns out to be the most I’ve ever gotten out of an orange. Figuratively and literally. Maybe it’s the enjoyment of such contrastingly cold nourishment within my balmy, micro-steamworld. Or maybe the fact that I am left with no wasted collateral inner pith – the most efficient orange I’ve ever consumed. Just peels stacked and ready to be discarded. Any wayward extra juice? No muss no fuss!

Maybe it’s an amalgamation of all these factors. But whatever the case, I find the whole experience to be – and apologies in advance – quite “appeeling”.

Important lessons learned:

  1. Make sure you pick a GOOD quality orange;
  2. Atmosphere is important; turn up the lights to make it an orange party;
  3. Disposal is key – figure this out before ye enter;

Have suggestions/experiences with other shower fruits? I’m (sorta) (kinda?) interested in maybe (probably not really) what you have to say in the comments below!