What I Retained From Fifth Grade


I learned a number of things in fifth grade. The number’s surely no smaller than 28, just based on how many days I went and that it was a pretty respectable school and all. But to summarize what I’ve most retained from fifth grade I must say it’s: glacial moraines.

Glacial moraines are this feature of fifth-grade education which, at least back in my day, appeared prominently in the form of little silent filmstrips which we were supposed to look at during our personal learning times in science class, which they had these little Bakelite individual projectors you could slide a filmstrip through and look at without bothering anyone. I especially liked the part where you didn’t bother anyone. I think my happiest moments even today are the ones where I don’t bother anyone, and I can pretty much tell my day is going downhill when I realize there’s a person in it and that I’ll have to be a bother, like by interacting with this person in some way. Oh, people may smile and say they’re it’s nice to see me and they hope I enjoy my day, but I know what they really mean: “Oh, I suppose it’s marginally less revoltingly unpleasant to have you buying a Boston creme and diet Vernor’s from me than it is to be trapped in an earthquake that sends me hurtling between walls of exposed, jagged shards of broken glass and rusty knife blades, but only as long as you aren’t paying for this with a twenty — oh, you are, then? Too bad.”

Science filmstrips on a tiny Bakelite individual projector don’t bother anyone, except, I suppose, whoever it was actually did the inventing of Bakelite and surely got ripped off when he tried to patent it. But he was probably dead by then anyway, what with me not being all that old, considering, and his bother would be more directed at the mighty Science Filmstrips Corporation than me particularly. Of course that left me participant in a corrupt system, but come on, I was ten. I couldn’t very well promote moral capitalism at an age when I was still working out kickball.

Anyway, what I’ve retained from glacial moraines is, first of all, that this is just one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. Let its syllables wash over you: glacial moraines. All the tension the world might inflict on you, by having people who have to be interacted with, washes away in consideration of these words. I don’t even care how you pronounce the “glacial” part of this, because put it in two syllables, three, even go a little fancy and stick a fourth syllable in there, and you still have a heavenly music going on.

Ah, but what are glacial moraines? As I remember glacial moraines involve a process of four or maybe even five pictures of those nice 60s-style science book illustrations. In them, nearly all the color drains from the world, leaving behind that red that looks like when you stretch the last dust in a Kool-Aid jar for a whole glass, plus some blue. In the early stages there are fields of snow and I’m pretty sure they come from Wisconsin, or at least they come from the same era when there were glaciers in Wisconsin, or at least one of the ages when there were. The glaciers get formed where there’s a preexisting moraine that gets to be more glacial, or maybe it’s the glaciers getting together that forms a moraine. I believe the moraine is checked against the master reference glacial moraine found somewhere in Wisconsin, but I don’t believe the Science Filmstrips Corporation mentioned what town when we were in the fifth grade. So it can’t be from Madison, because we’d know what that was, because we did state capitals in fourth grade. Maybe it’s Eau Clair. I know it’s not Menominee, because that’s in Michigan. In the end, the glaciers leave, and the moraines remain.

I’m pretty sure there were no glacial moraines in New Jersey, where I was in fifth grade, because I’m sure I would have insisted we go to see one. And now as a grown-up I could go to any moraines I wanted, glacial or otherwise, but I’ve never dared risk it. What if they aren’t as fabulous as fifth grade taught me they were? No, I’m satisfied with what I know of them, which is, that there is a thing called a glacial moraine, and as long as there is, some of the world is going to be just fine.

The State of the University


Good afternoon and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this State of the University address. I’m sorry it’s going to be a little ragged but I kind of have to patch up the parts where the Public Relations department told me I couldn’t use words like that in public. I think they’re being a little … well, I mean, we all use words like that sometimes, right? Well. Anyway.

As anyone who’s walked through the deserted wings of the main quadrangle or “quad” as I’m told by informed people who’ve met students tell me they call it knows, we have suffered an under-enrollment problem in the past few years, affecting our ability to fill such levée-en-masse courses as Grueling Calculus and the basic Great Works Of Agonizingly Boring Literature Or Maybe Movies. This isn’t just a problem at our school, so please stop writing us about it. We have taken several pro-active steps to improve population. Even as we speak we have an unmarked van driving slowly around Ann Arbor, and when they locate people who seem to be about the right age for college they swoop down with the giant nets and bring the prospective students back here where they’re to remain until completing at least five years or study or accumulating $185,000 in student loan obligations.

The first several attempts for this new plan have been a little disappointing, owing to unusually large holes in the nets, but as this new revenue stream comes up to speed we hope to be able to afford patching some of them and creating what they call a “virtuous circle” of improved student body acquisition. Ah, so that probably answers the question a lot of faculty have been asking me about why some of the students have long ropes tied to their ankles.

Continue reading “The State of the University”

But Inside Pfizer …


Now I’ve got to wondering: how do the employees inside Pfizer e-mail their co-workers in the division that makes Viagra? Maybe it’s one of those things where they substitute a code word, like “Nigerian Prince” or “green card” or something at least until the IT department finds out about it. Or maybe it’s one of those self-correcting problems since as I understand it nobody uses e-mail anymore except people being pompous and students making incompetent pleas for higher grades (“Hey, Proffy, if you don’t count the thirteen classes I missed I had perfect attendance and it’d really help my GPA if I got at least a B+ in the course so can you bump me up from that D a little thanks!”), and people in the modern fast-paced economy of today just instant message or text or, if need be, stop in to see someone and make grunting noises while holding a rock in a threatening manner.

I guess I also wonder how those people who do high finance stuff e-mail partners about deals where they could make a huge profit without having to do much, but they probably have gold-plated e-mail programs or something like that which are smarter than ours.

Don’t Go Back To High School


Don’t go back to high school.

Maybe you weren’t tempted anyway since high school contains so many high school memories. But based on a leading dream I just had, high school has gotten more worse than you imagined. For one, everyone insists on doing these interactive exercises instead of just letting you sit quietly in your seat and wait for college, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for grad school, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for student loans to come due, where you can sit quietly in your seat and weep. No, now you have to go up to the board instead of sinking underneath your desk.

Second, your physics teacher isn’t that kind but slightly odd Mister Gregor, with the huge backlog of Starlog magazines he’s trying to get someone, anyone, to take for the eighth year running. Instead he’s comedian and voice acting legend Stan Freberg, who remembers you very well, possibly from that time you had a report due on space. He’s just going to introduce you to the entire class, you know, and point out what an outstanding student you were and how glad he is to see you back, and you’re going to face the collective scorn of dozens of 16-year-olds who don’t want to hear about masses on springs and certainly don’t want to hear about how good you were with them.

Third, after you get back from the bathroom — now one of those annoying fancy hands-free ones where the toilets don’t work until you awkwardly shuffle back and forth, and then they don’t quite really flush, and the faucets don’t notice you at all until you punch them, which your middle school principal for crying out loud watches without comment — you’re going to get called right back into the classroom experience which is not about the masses on springs you thought Mister Gregor Stan Freberg liked you doing.

No, what this project is all about is going up to the board, one of those agonizing super-incredible touch-screen thingies that responds and draws stuff far beyond your ability level, the kind cable news channels keep buying instead of paying for reporting. And Mister Gregor Stan Freberg wants you to draw a cover for an impossibly complicated science fiction/fantasy novel and won’t take your excuses that you missed the entire description of the novel and you can’t even draw a tree without your drawing pointing at you and laughing as excuses. “You’ll be fine,” he says, “You’ll inspire the students,” one-seventh of whom agree in a shrugging groan.

Fifth (fourth was that you’re picked as inspirational) when you do try drawing, sure, the magic cable news screen takes your little scribbly Y thing and turns it into a great rendition of a tree, and turns your little scribbled Ewok-y figures into fur-perfect renditions of the ranwor-level hunters of the Culakly tribe from Ageli, the fourth planet orbiting Iota Librae, but your efforts to catch the moment before the klent-lead conspiracy sets ablaze the ceremonial dousti tower leading up to the top of the sacred grove is foiled when the picture springs to life and the entire dousti burns before your eyes, though not those of the class. At least, you think that’s what he wants you to show because Mister Gregor Stan Freberg insists on mumbling the plot to you no matter how many times you tell him you can’t hear what he’s saying.

Worse, while the fire and panic wouldn’t be a bad idea, the scene catches almost dead-center the 1988 silver Chevy Celebrity of one of the production assistants from the movie based on the book, which just ruins the scene because a Celebrity looks like what you put in the scene to later be replaced with an actual car, and you can’t get the monitor to take a reverse angle. In fact you look foolish ordering the screen to reverse view, and one of the xiple-beasts clearly snorts at you before running off to the trumia-bushes.

All Mister Gregor Stan Freberg offers as advice is to whisper to you that the name of the novel is something like “Cumumburumbubmlemun” and that you should figure where to set the title for best aesthetic value.

Overall, the lesson is: don’t go back to high school. You’ll look like a total drell.