Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Conference Thoughts, Day 1

I am at a conference this week. So I plan to include my thoughts as they come in the following pages. I will update this page each time I have a new thought (please, no jokes about my inability to do so).

So I just ate my introductory lunch and it was interesting to watch the hierarchical structure of things. First and foremost, you had the administrators. These are the guys (and they are all men, so don’t assume that I’m using the indefinite article in this instance) who have somehow risen to the top of their perspective organizations and rest high on the hog of all that the taxpayers and various and sundry supporters of higher education can offer. They wax poetic about their self importance and contain within their minds a simplified idea of how their organizations are structured, the intricacies of the inner workings of colleges and universities, and the bloated assumption that those around them actually care what they think. These guys jumped to the front of the buffet line, no questions asked and no apologies given. They attacked the front two tables so they could be seen laughing at each presenters vapid jokes and cajoling with their brethren over the alleged levity of this afternoon’s endeavors. In conversation, they whisper vague generalities and eye the room in a mad sweep in search of somebody of greater importance than you. Faced with a conversant well versed in the art of ass kissing, they will talk for hours about their successes. Faced with a person capable of seeing through their thin veneer of intelligence, however, they take personal offense at each criticism and quickly extricate themselves from the tense situation.

Next, we have the posers. These people are the upper crust of management. They are of reasonable intelligence and at one point in their pathetic careers, they knew what they were doing and possessed a zeal and a work ethic that drove them to produce great things. But after early success, they traded in their intellectual prowess for vain grabs and large stacks of dollars, which they use to purchase large homes, fancy cars, and trophy wives/husbands. Unlike the administrators, these people know that their status in life is overvalued and that, had the driving force in their lives been truth as opposed to greed, they may have achieved a more fulfilling state. This produces a sadness that, while cleverly masked with shiny suits and polished teeth, is still plainly visible in the eyes. They sit two or three to a table near the back of the auditorium, blithely engaging in pointless conversation, forever seeking out the hotel bar or the attractive, young newcomer, whom they plan to use to fulfill self indulgent fantasies about a life that could have been.

After this we have the cynics. These people come from the same stock as the posers, but chose an alternate route. Unfortunately, their lives have been dominated by a large and unwieldy stroke of bad luck that has provided them none of the extravagant comforts of poserdom along with no intellectual opportunities. Their once bright eyed exuberance has faded, replaced by a hatred for what they do and those with whom they work. They are usually unshaven, dressed in cheap clothes fro Meijer and Target, and they spend most of their time either in quiet solitude or on long rants to coworkers about the relative stupidity of the world in comparison to themselves. This is my category, in case you were wondering.

Finally, we have the young and the restless. These are the people who graduated less than a year ago, and have finally got their claws into what they believe will be a career as opposed to just another job. Their minds are still blinded by an idealism that has been with them since birth and which was only bolstered in the façade of collegiate schoolwork. They believe that banality is beneath them and that they will reach the stratosphere of both intellectual and moral pursuits in short order. They actually believe that the remaining members of the conference are as enthusiastic as them, and they engage in conversation under this precept, allowing themselves to be sullied by the dark hearted cynicism and psychopathic tendencies of everyone else. Don’t feel bad for them, though. They will quickly realize the truth. They will soon see that all of this action today is a mere moment of the strutting and fretting Bill Shakespeare mentioned when he spoke the world as a stage and the moment each of us has in the limelight. They will realize this and then they will join the rest of us in pursuit of something we know not for reasons we can never fathom.

Our lunches finished, the master of ceremonies takes the stage. The crowd cheers. Let the game begin!

* * * *

There is a large, fat man sitting on a chair, sweating buckets. His cell phone rings incessantly and every time he answers it, he sighs with exasperation. He pops a new piece of Orbit gum in his mouth every five minutes and looks around the room as though in search of a clock which will give him a time different from that which his wristwatch states. He wants out of here as fast as he can. I feel his pain, and I hope that I am not in his position when I am nearing the end of my career. I hope that I’m on a beach somewhere warm, thinking back to a life well spent and people I loved. Either that, or I hope to find myself cut down in a hail of gunfire from some nameless thug who tried to kill the children who cower behind me and then run away, my death having given them another shot at survival.

One or the other.

* * * *

Reading through the guest list of this conference, I noticed three people with whom I used to work at a different state university in Ohio. One of these people has the unfortunate last name of “Fish,” and the equally unfortunate appearance thereof. I remember, back when I was still in their employ, I offered greater assistance to their respective offices, proposing all sorts of interesting projects and activities I could undertake. They turned me down cold. Now I am their equals. And not only that, but my position (at the larger state university in Ohio) is not in jeopardy of being cut due to the extreme budget crunch in Ohio’s collegiate system (thank you Bob Taft. No, really). I cannot say the same for them.

Revenge is dish best served, regardless of the temperature.

* * * *

There is a guy standing in the corner wearing blue jeans and a baseball cap with the logo of a large tractor trailer distributorship in eastern Ohio. Nobody wants to talk to this guy. He’s wearing the nametag and cheap lanyard they give to everyone, so we know he’s here for the conference and he’s standing next to the clock (at which everyone steals furtive glances), so we all see him. But his demeanor is of one who does not understand even the minimum décor of professionalism and he is thus banished to the realm of freaks and losers. Still, this man has a job and, given the percentage of BigWig™ attendees at this little shindig, chances are he’s relatively well versed in the information technology field and relatively well paid as well (at least, as well paid as you can be in the academic arena). This proves once and for all that, even though we pretend to be corporate, we still make room for those who think and live outside what is traditionally considered “normal.” Were that not the case, I would likely be unemployed. Or worse, I’d be flipping burgers for minimum wage at the local Burger hut.

* * * *

So the rest of the conference wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I actually learned something. And when I got tired of learning something, I gave up and worked on the next round of plays I hope to write. Everybody wins!

There was one funny moment, however. I sat in on a Microsoft demonstration of the new Windows Vista operating system. The guy, a born and bred Microsoft junkie, went on and on about how Vista makes vast improvements over XP in both usability and stability. He made particular mention of the new searching functions and file management system. Shortly thereafter, he meant to show us how the new file management / searching function works … and the machine crashed … and he couldn’t get it working again.

That was pretty damn funny, and I can just hear Nate laughing at me as I type this.

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