Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When you stare into the security guard, the security guard stares back into you

Congress is in full swing. And rather than put the finishing polish on the paper I'm giving tomorrow, I decided to do a blog post about what I've done so far. Mostly... I've manned the project booth. My supervisor decided that Congress would be a good place to showcase some of the projects our department's done, as it's a combination of digital and critical stuff that goes above and beyond the norm for an English program. So he rented a truck, and populated it with a few projects. It's a great idea, really. The pennyfarthing bicycle and the life-sized plastic cow are at the front, and they really draw a crowd. I volunteered for a few shifts on the truck--basically, to show people around, talk about the exhibits, and make sure no academic gets sticky fingers with our expensive monitors. It was fine. Some friends stopped by to break up the monotony at different times, and there was a steady stream of people to talk to about exactly the projects that make our English department unique.

There are three main drawbacks, though.

 First, there's the cow. Every day, it needs to be unloaded from the truck and put out front, and every night it needs to be loaded back in. And it is heavy. It couldn't be lifted with one person. It could maybe be lifted by two people, but only if they realized there was a good chance they would never speak to each other again afterwards. Three or more is your safe bet. The first night I put it away, I got some drunken grad students that were wandering by to help, and they really enjoyed it. Not many chances in a humanities degree to say you lifted a plastic cow into a truck. (Actually, their favorite part was when I realized I left the locks for the truck behind the cow, and had to crawl underneath it to get to them.) And I got some Congress volunteers to put it back out this morning, and they did not enjoy it all. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that one's enjoyment of lifting a plastic cow is proportional to the amount of alcohol one has consumed. It is a heavy, heavy cow, and moving it has quickly become a bane of my lazy, sedentary existence. That said, I have to admit it, nothing draws a crowd like a life-size animal facsimile.

 Of the other two issues, one feeds into the other. Due to everyone's availability, or rather, lack thereof for the week, someone was going to get some solo shifts. Through a fluke in the schedule, I drew two solo shifts back to back. The first shift was fine. The second shift... well, it started raining. Just a bit; just enough to make it so people didn't want to stay outside. And when it rains, even a little, the beer tent stays closed for the day, so there wasn't anyone hanging around for that, either. So there were long stretches where there was no one in that quad but me, the beer tent security guard, and the Congress volunteer posted to give directions. It was a very odd situation: we were close enough to exchange long glances, but too far to carry on a conversation. So these two people I could only communicate to through a series of blinks were basically my only companions for the four hours. I tried to engage the security guard in a staring contest, but he was wearing shades, so it was a draw, at best. It got so that I was desperately trying to get passerbys, any passerbys, to come see the truck. Unfortunately, I sounded like a 19th century paper boy: "Hey, guv'nor! It's a plastic cow! Come hear all about it!" .

That said, I'm glad to have done it, and I'm glad to do some more of it later this week. It feels good to be able to help out my supervisor (especially since our usual interactions revolve around me explaining why that chapter's late) and support the department. Honestly, conducting those tours has reminded me of something I've forgotten: my department is different. We're different, and we're doing things differently, in terms of how we look at technology, and how we do scholarship. And yeah, (if I can get all self-righteous and preening for a moment) I'm happy to be a part of that. Spreading ideas in interesting ways is kind of the point, you know?

 Later days.

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