Friday, November 05, 2010

All in a day's work

-The "our friend is coming" excuse does not give you and your friend who really is there access to another whole two-person table at a coffee shop during prime coffee-shop hours. Not when you're clearly using it as a stand for fashion mags and a small camera. After an hour or so, it's clear that you're less concerned with your friend having a place to sit than with annexing an acre around you for your outerwear, and just generally with not having to sit near strangers. I was genuinely shocked when their friend eventually showed up.

-I always want to tell people who complain about coffee shops as imperfect workstations that there's such a thing as a library. And yet, above, what am I doing? My local library is not only mostly a baby play-area, but now seems to host a social hour for middle-schoolers, specifically eighth-grade boys. Eating fake-butter popcorn. Options are limited.

-Blah blah blah "Chicago" blah blah blah "Stuyvesant." I should probably have something meaningful to say about this epic, but what can I add? I got into Chicago back when you just needed to prove you were odd, with an essay about llamas. I guess it's a good thing that later in life, when people can't exactly place my age, they might think I went to a super-selective college for the socially-adept, because that's what Chicago has become as of 2006. On a more general note, the more I read about how college students are selected, the more I wish all high school seniors could just be given a test, with a lower cut-off for the unequivocally disadvantaged, and with not another peep about sports prowess, family connections, or holistically-assessed well-roundedness. Or that random 18-year-olds would be picked out of a hat - a jaunty fedora? - and those would be the one's who'd get liberal-arts degrees.

-If my life plans don't work out, I have a new list of potential alternative jobs:

Pumpkin-muffin baker: Recipe, loosely adapted from a recipe book, to follow. This is, I think, my greatest strength. My mother's now obsessed with these muffins, so it must be true.
Heritage-trend-boutique owner: I seem to have a knack for finding the so-called "heritage" items at costs far below the prices fashion-types think they have to pay. I've seen the boots I got in Arizona for about $20 for about $200 and $150, respectively. The L.L. Bean sweater I can't stop talking about was something like $40; the men's version, which looks identical, is $129! (I can't take credit for the idea of buying this sweater in Kids', but the idea of marketing the L and XL sizes to men, that's all mine.) I could put up a corrugated steel shack somewhere in Nolita to give the store quaint authenticity while saving on rent, and earn enough to buy an apartment in the dome.
Restaurant health inspector: With my perfect vision and squeamishness, I can spot pests a mile away. Or, as was the case at an "A"-graded East Village ramen shop a couple nights ago, on the condiment bottle next to my unfortunately sesame-seed-garnished soup. The waitress caught the creature in a napkin, then for some reason opened the napkin (almost directly over my food) to show me she'd caught it, thus allowing me to confirm my entomological classification.


Britta said...

I'm really happy Chicago is deciding to devote its money to really important things, like marketing consultants and PR campaigns for admissions, rather than unimportant things, like hiring more faculty.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I guess they're saying over-the-top PR shows results, but to me it seems unnecessary. If Zimmer wants Stuyvesant grads (which is bizarre, because we have a reputation of being grinds lacking in well-roundedness, social skills, and virtually none of us are minorities according to the college-admissions definition), all he needs to do is send someone compelling to college night. Which his predecessor must have done, which is, I think, how I thought of going there. Tons, but tons, of people from my high school and the similar ones apply and go to Chicago - this will only increase as Harvard & co. reject more qualified applicants.

Britta said...

I know. That's what's crazy. It's not like they're growing the college, it's that all these schools just want to reject a whole bunch more people, and possibly end up with the same students who would have applied anyways.

Also, an interesting bit of Chicago gossip a professor told me, but I don't know if it is true, was that after the 1969 protests, the university decided to stop admitting "so many Suyvesant students" (aka. New York Jews) who would be rabble rousers, and to instead recruit more local Catholic kids, who I guess were less political and more docile. He blamed the relative decline of the university and HP in the 70s to this.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

That is interesting. I think we need Miss Self-Important to intervene here, because she was saying in the comments to another post here that urban Catholics, not Jews, should be considered, historically at least, the prime targets of coded Real America language. Why wouldn't local Chicago Catholics have roused their share of rabble?

Miss Self-Important said...

Probably not by the 1970s, unless the university required them to recite passages from the King James Bible in class. I didn't know there even were many New York Jews at Chicago until the Age of College Selectivity dawned in the late '80s. How would they have heard about the place?

I thought the greatest crime revealed in this article was that more Californians applied to Chicago last year than suburbanite Chicagoans. Will there soon be no sanctuary left from the oppressive confines of Mt. Prospect and Glenview? Can't Midwesterners have any place for themselves anymore? Will I be forced to send my children to Gustavus Adolphus College?

Sigivald said...

Or that random 18-year-olds would be picked out of a hat - a jaunty fedora? - and those would be the one's who'd get liberal-arts degrees.

I was about to object "yes, but what if they don't want a liberal arts degree?"

Then it occurred to me that perhaps this situation is one like Douglas Adams' one regarding being President of the Galaxy, and the best qualification is not wanting it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


But suburban Chicagoans get to add geographic diversity to schools in the Northeast or California - arguably a better deal.


Not far off. As it stands, a fairly huge proportion of students getting liberal-arts degrees are there because their parents insisted on it, who'd rather be working in construction, but who make it out after 4 or 5 years and get office jobs that are, at that point, the path of least resistance. Add to those the kids who aren't quite sure what a liberal arts education will entail, but whose self-motivation set them on a path rumored to be "elite," and I'm not sure which kids are there for the "noble" reasons. Why does anyone go to college? If not for the promise of social mobility or maintenance of class status, there are gay or eccentric kids escaping small towns, geeky kids eager to finally get drunk and lose their virginities... How many kids go because their reaction to high school is, "gee, I could really use four more years of homework"? (Not counting students at UChicago - that's not an unusual reason to end up there.)

Miss Self-Important said...

"But suburban Chicagoans get to add geographic diversity to schools in the Northeast or California - arguably a better deal."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

There was a whole lot of hand-wringing at Stuyvesant about how tragic it was that even though we had one college counselor for a billion seniors (I exaggerate slightly - it was one and a half for about 800), caps on how many schools we could apply to (it was, at least, seven), restrictions on how many A.P.s we could take, and just generally had to deal with being at a giant school where simply showing up for auditions or tryouts didn't guarantee extracurricular participation, we'd be held to a higher standard by the Ivies and the like because they were already inundated with qualified candidates from NYC, many of whom actually could donate a wing.

Yikes. This is bringing it all back. Fade to a scene of me in a purple sparkly sweater, flared jeans, and round-toed cowboy boots.

Miss Self-Important said...

But at least you weren't being pushed out of your own hometown by Californians! As I learned from watching Arguing the World last weekend, if Columbia won't have you and Harvard is too far away to imagine, there is always City College...

Britta said...

MSI and Phoebe,
At yet another discussion of how Kids These Days Aren't Like They Used to Be at Chicago, held by septuagenarian professors emeriti, I heard the "no more Stuyvesant students after 1969" line for a fourth(!) time, so it must be true (though now apparently, Stuyvesant is the biggest feeder school for UChicago). Also, while kids aren't what they used to be, apparently they are better than they were when Chicago was primarily a midwestern university, or something. Meanwhile, if things keep going the way they are, Chicago will end up like Dartmouth or Princeton or some other bastion of well-rounded ordinariness, etc.

On a completely unrelated note, I got the LL Bean fisherman's sweater in medium, and it fits quite well, so thank you for the advice.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Good re: the sweater! I just ordered the same in gray, also in a medium. The store's going to run out of them and there won't be enough for the actual children.

As for Chicago, why do these profs think kids weren't what they used to be? When was the golden age?

Miss Self-Important said...

The Golden Age was 1940-1974, or whenever exactly the new Hutchins curriculum was implemented to whenever McKeon retired. But we can quibble at the edges.