School’s Out Forever

September 10, 2004

I’ve been battling a summer cold. Well, I thought it was a summer cold until I realized it was September and the kids were going back to school. When I was a kid the worst thing that could happen was to get too sick to go to school in the middle of summer because I would have to spend all day in bed doing nothing and not enjoy any of the benefits of being out of school, most of which involved spending all day doing nothing. The next worst thing would be to get too sick to go to school right at the start of the school year.

The start of the school year is the best because you can come into class half an hour late and get away with excuses like, "A manure spreader jack-knifed on the Santa Monica", and in the first couple of weeks the teachers cover all the really easy stuff that you’ll use to coast through the next three months. What I’m getting at is that, since there’s no way to avoid getting sick, the best time to do it is in the middle of the school year, say, when the class is doing fractions. If any small children are reading this, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you’ll never use fractions in your entire life. There will never be a moment when you’re in a big business meeting and the boss will point to you and say, "Johnson, if I take five-sixteenths of this pie-chart and add it to three-eighths, how much will that be?" I once had a college professor who told me he got a better education staying home sick than he would have if he’d gone to school. Admittedly this was before video games, television, or modern medicine which explains why he spent approximately nine years in bed with attacks of the vapors and dropsy, but he spent most of his time reading eighteenth century novels, and eventually he became a college professor who would tell students, "The best thing you can do for your education is drop out of school." I thought this was incredibly profound until I realized he had to go back to school at some point in order to get a degree.

In this world it isn’t what you know, and a lot of the time it isn’t even who you know so much as whether you have a framed piece of faux parchment that says, "The undersigned has learned to do fractions, conjugate Latin verbs, and a lot of other completely irrelevant information that he/she will forget within thirty seconds of receiving this." You might think the university administrators would be unhappy to have a professor going around telling students to drop out of school, but this particular professor had "tenure". Tenure is a magical power bestowed on professors when they start wearing tweed jackets, smoking pipes, and comparing Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return to the Minnesota Vikings. A professor with tenure can set the dean’s office on fire, and all the dean can say is, "Well, I was planning to replace that desk anyway." Professors work very hard to achieve tenure so they can have apprentices – also known as "graduate students" – pick up their laundry, teach their classes, and chew their food for them. Professors with tenure ultimately stay around forever. Every major university has at least three-hundred tenured professors in a file cabinet in the basement under the gym.

But I digress. Just because I’ve completed my formal education doesn’t mean I’m no longer interested in learning. For instance, right now I’m interested in learning why the cold medication that’s supposed to keep my nose from running always stops working right in the middle of a meeting. I’m also interested in why it is that we say people "catch a cold". You catch a fish, you catch a baseball, and you even catch a train. >From my perspective a cold catches you and, like a real estate developer, completely trashes everything for about two weeks, then leaves you to recover from the damage. I could go back to school and do a complete dissertation on this. Who knows? I might even become a tenured professor, but I’m not sure I’d want to do that. I’d have to go through being a graduate student first, plus I don’t know the first thing about the Minnesota Vikings.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

You know you’re living in 2004 when…

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You go home after a long day at work and you still answer the phone in a business manner.

7. You make phone calls from home, you accidentally dial "9" to get an outside line.

8. You’ve sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies.

10. You learn about your redundancy on the 11 o’clock news.

11. Your boss doesn’t have the ability to do your job.

12. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home.

13. Every commercial on television has a website at the bottom of the screen.

14. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

15. You get up in the morning and go online before getting your coffee.

16. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. 🙂

17. You’re reading this and nodding and laughing.

18. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

19. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

20. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn’t a # 9 on this list.

And now u r laughing at yourself.

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