A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Saturday, March 12, 2005 :::
Okay, the post that follows is serious fun, but this just came up on a quite innocent Google search, and it is just silly fun. Be where you can laugh out loud before you go there. One hates to do this to a woman whose life did nothing but make everyone else's lighter, but, you know, it's not malicious. "Sawed in half." That's the best.

Because they're fun to be around, that's why.

A certain pudgy, balding English teacher was leaving his office after a evening of reading and writing, which is what he does, mainly. His office is, by the workings of fate, in the engineering building. The freshman architecture studio used to be across the hall from his office, but it has been moved. He regrets its absence, but the engineering labs provide quite enough entertainment.

We have passed the summit of the semester and are now descending down the other side. Projects are coming due. CUA, where he teaches, has a very good civil engineering department, which routinely enters the local "concrete canoe competition."

The kids build canoes. Out of concrete. They have to float.

CUA not infrequently places very well, and to pull that off you need loads of kids with a will to kill and enough energy to stay up all night. Well, okay, nearly ALL kids have enough energy to stay up all night, and spend most of their college years doing just that, and falling asleep in class. But not all of them have the skill and dedication to make concrete float. As he walked out that night, said PBET saw two young guys smeering concrete on a distinctly canoe-shaped frame in a lab. Outside, he found another kid covered in dust in a cement mixing room of whose existence he had heretofore been unaware. Said dust-covered lad could not be bothered with English teachers at just that moment, and did not notice his passing. The room, opened completely to the outside world for obvious reasons, was a mess. But not as big a mess as it would have been had he left his large container full of concrete mix in the room. It was outside, obviously to prevent the need for cleaning the room any more than necessary. And so it came to pass that the loading zone was covered with a fine dust of cement mix. Had any of the light mists we've been having sprung up, said young man would have learned an object lesson in removing a thin crust of concrete from other people's property, but that night he was heedless of such considerations.

On the Metro, a large gaggle of kids, probably all humanities majors, was chattily waiting on the platform. Having fun, laughing, looking young. The agonies of "Does he like me?","Why is she talking to him?" and all that are not apparent to the passive observer, and they just look fresh. The train comes and they all pile on--the English teacher deliberately in the car behind this time. For all the entertainment, it's nice to use the mute button every once in a while. The excitement spills over, as it always does, when one last group of girls tries to get through the doors in time and only ends up putting their fingers in. Lots of shreaks and giggles as kids on both sides try to open the doors. This is why adults were invented. The Metro driver came on and sternly reminded everyone that the doors are at her command and do not open as do elevator doors. The kids finally give up, fortunately without breaking the door.

A Mind That Suits has begun his annual passage through Middle Earth. When he got home, he settled down to finish a chapter, and then decide that one more wouldn't hurt, when he came to the first morning of Frodo's trek. He, Sam, Merry, and Pippin have slept with the Elves and are now alone and about to start. Frodo rises late and joins the other. When young Pippin tries to talk, Frodo tells him he wants to think. Pippin snaps at him and runs off to the edge of the glade. Frodo thinks of his burden, which at this point he thinks only involves Samwise and himself. Then...

"The merry voice of Pippin came to him. He was running on the green turf and singing.

" 'No! I could not!' he said to himself. 'It is one thing to take my young friends walking over the Shire with me, until we are hungry and weary, and food and bed are sweet. To take them into exile, where hunger and weariness may have no cure, is quite another..."

In other words, Frodo simply likes the company of the young. As does a certain pudgy balding English teacher.

It is utterly remarkable the way that Prof. Tolkien catches the cadences of teenage speech, without descending to caricature. As he lived in the Oxford College where he taught and tutored students one on one, in the British fashion, he had lots of exposure. But he made Pippin so whole! Pippin's age is uncertain at this point--if it is given, perhaps it will pop out during this reading or next year's. In hobbit years, he is probably in his twenties, but what he is is the perfect portrait of an unpretentious Oxford University undergraduate. In fact, he brings to mind a favorite student, a Brazilian agricultural scientist of about 20 years who possessed the same infinite supply of intelligence, politeness, and good cheer.

Which makes it such a pity that the movie gets Pippin completely wrong. Billy Boyd is a wonderful comic actor, and plays a goofy teenager without descending to caricature. But he could clearly have handled a more complex character. For a discussion of that problem, please see the previous post.

Said agricultural scientist of about 20 years had that distinctive Brazilian pronunciation, where endings are so recessive they are nearly inaudible. (Ours are close to that, which is one of the things that makes English so very hard for foreigners to learn.) When said lad uttered the word "university," it sounded like "universe." And so when he complained "I want to meet students from the university," said English teacher would stare up into the sky, prompting said Brazilian genius to blurt out, "Oh, come on."

Oh, and that thing about kids sleeping in class? You have to think it is funny. You have to handle it--a slap on the desk in front of them often does it--but you have to think it is funny or it will drive you NUTS. Indeed, a certain pudgy, balding English teacher has long maintained that we are meant to find the young funny; otherwise we would kill them.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 2:04 PM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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