Frustrating German Teacher–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1992, Part 2

Food Service and Classes 

Part of the Campus Center got converted into a pub, which was supposed to be a combination bar, grill, pool hall, and meeting place.  Dances were often held there, even though it was too small for that.

The voting for the new pub’s name was on the 14th and 15th of September.  One name suggested was Study, so you could tell your parents “I’m going to Study” without lying.    Unfortunately, the name for the new pub was voted to be The Pub.  We laughed because lack of creativity won.

That was the golden year of ice cream.  We had it all the time, and in various flavors: the new chocolate chip cookie dough, Elephant Tracks, even peanut butter chocolate, which was delicious but rare.

I now knew where the ice cream freezer was, and would go there when I had my early dinner.  I had my pick of full bins, so my preferred choices would not be empty or ice cream soup before I could get to them.

The fries were always good, but Muskie fries were even better, and wonderfully salty.  You could eat either kind without ketchup.

These hamburgers had real meat in them, not vile soy, and weren’t served on bread but on buns, contrary to high school and junior high burgers.  I even learned to love the cheeseburgers.  Wisconsin has this way of making even cheese-haters start to like some kinds of cheese.

My first night in Food Service, since Nancy had told me to come in after dinner, I stayed after the first shifters left and the football players (mostly black) came in, and until maybe 6:30.  There were a lot of flirts in there at that time.  One of them asked me if I had a boyfriend, and I said no.

He said in disbelief, “You don’t have a boyfriend?!  What kind of music do you like?”

“Nearly anything,” I said.

“So if you put on a slow song, she’ll dance with you,” he said to the others.

There was another black guy with a shaven head who liked to flirt with me.  He often worked the lunch shift with me during spring semester.

I loved the attention, which made me feel beautiful.  I had never really had much of that sort of attention in my life, and Shawn kept making out with me but insisting we were just friends, so I could certainly use it.

I got a roommate later in the month; she also worked Food Service, and for a time we worked together.

Remember James?  Now for more details.  He had very German features and a long nose (I have a fetish for long-bridged noses).

I sometimes spotted him working after my late shift on Thursday.  His job was sweeping.  He always seemed to look at me whenever I was nearby.

I’d walk around putting dishes away while glancing at him, and noticed him glancing at me as well.  I looked at his time card one day to learn his name.

I would pass him on the way to or from Food Service, and we would glance at each other.  I never quite got up the courage to say hi, I guess.  Oh well, he never said it, either.

The two good things about Food Service were higher paychecks and Muskie Inn coupons.

****

Carl and Dirk were freshman roommates who worked in Food Service on a different shift.  Nancy pointed at them once and told me that one had a crush on me.

I thought she meant Carl–whom I preferred–but she meant Dirk.

Dirk was just as much a know-it-all as Shawn, able to talk you into believing anything, and I eventually considered him obnoxious.  He wasn’t even cute.  So it’s just as well that Nancy said,

“I told him you were shy, but he didn’t like that.”  Yeah, well, who needs you?

I sat with Carl and Dirk a few times at meals.  Once, Dirk said,

“Half the guys here are probably in love with you.”

I think he was trying to inspire me not to be so shy, as if it would somehow make a difference on someone who was born that way.  I don’t know if guys were really saying this about me or if it was just Dirk’s theory.  If it were true, I wish that one of the guys would have acted on it.

Nancy told me once that Dirk would try to tell the football players how to do their jobs.  Now these guys had been in there far longer than freshman Dirk had, yet they seemed to take his commandeering with amused, patient faces.  But Nancy expected that any day now they would grab him and put him through the washer along with the dishes.

The freshmen in my shift kept complaining about Freshman Studies.  They said it had nothing to do with their major, so they shouldn’t have to take it.  I thought a liberal arts education meant a little of everything, not just what applied to your major.  It’s for expanding your mind, not just teaching you how to make money.

One of my first days back, while I was still feeling self-assured and happy, I had to face Roanoke reality again: Peter was back at school.

****

In a cold room in the basement of Old Main, my Fiction Writing class met with Terry on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  My final grade was a satisfying A-, just what a writer could wish for.  I wondered why Terry loved Flannery O’Connor so much, since she seemed to write such dark stuff.

We moved the desks so they were in a circle, making us much more comfortable talking to each other and reading our work.  We kept writing-journals.

One of the students also knew Peter.  She read one of her assignments in class, said it was about someone she knew–and she confirmed to me that it was Peter.

Her assignment was about a guy who takes dream trips while he sleeps, trips into the past where he studies with a ninja master.

Or maybe she talked about him traveling in time to other places; I don’t quite remember what she read, just that I knew about these dream trips as well.

One assignment was to write an argument between two people.  I based mine on stories I dreamed up in junior high, about Shyeskol, a Martian with a high-pitched voice, and Brian, the Earthling she loved–but he thought she was weird.

I used much of the Martian culture I had already developed over the years.  The class seemed to love it, and Terry especially loved my simple, beautiful-sounding alien names.

We soon had to sit down and write for an hour, just to see what we came up with.  I sat down at the computer at home for much longer than an hour, and came up with “Brian and Shyeskol.”

It was 25 pages, double-spaced.  Terry brought it to my suite to return it to me after he graded it.  He stood outside the door with an umbrella, and said, “This took me soooooo long to read, but I really enjoyed it.”

I first wrote my now-published story “Bedlam Castle” over the summer.  I had dreamed parts of it, only the characters were the cast of Are You Being Served? and Colin’s part was played by Spooner.

I don’t know why it was Spooner: I never had a crush on him or anything.  But that’s why Colin ended up average-looking.

I threw in ghosts to explain things that only made sense in a dream, such as clothes changing color.  I typed the story with the name “Bedlam” in maybe a day or two.  Now, in Fiction, I needed to submit stories to be workshopped, so this became one of them.

While home for Thanksgiving Break, I typed a revision into my parents’ computer.  It was about 20 pages, double-spaced, and I believe I had to print up 20 copies for everybody in the class.

That took forever, and then I had to separate the pages and remove the edges.  (It was a dot matrix printer with continuous feed.)

I submitted it to the class, and people joked that it was so long it kept them up half the night.  But they loved the story, and had all sorts of praises.

Rachel loved the humor.  One person, a man who was probably in his thirties or forties, loved that the focus and culmination was a kiss and not sex, unlike so many other stories and movies these days.

I took the copies back, along with the comments people had scribbled in the margins, and revised the story in my word processor.  It became much stronger.  I also changed the title to “Bedlam Castle” to address a concern that “Bedlam” didn’t fit.

I worked as quickly as possible, but revising and then printing the story took far longer than I expected.  I had to get it ready for finals, which were shortly after Thanksgiving Break, but I also had other classes.

The night before the final day of class, I stayed up until 5am revising it.  Then on the day of the final, which was to be held in Terry’s house on Prof Row, I was still working on it!  The 1991 Brother word processor printed dreadfully slow, and ink cartridges lasted for maybe 20 pages.

The time for the final arrived, and I was still printing out the revised copy for the teacher.  I ran out of ink at least once.  The final was just the class sitting in the teacher’s house and chatting, but we were supposed to turn in our revised stories as well, so this could not wait.

I didn’t get done printing it until 3:00, an hour after the final started, and everyone was waiting for me before they could start.  One of my classmates called and said, “Where are you?”

“I’m printing out ‘Bedlam,'” I said.

She and the whole class laughed.

When I finally got to the final and gave the story to Terry, I could sit down and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Terry had been a lead singer for a punk rock band in his youth, circa 1980, and played us a record made by his band.  I still remember the chorus to one song: “I want to kill for kicks!”  His punk persona was different from the Terry we knew, a soft-spoken, even-tempered man.

My friends giggled at the way he would talk slowly in class and that he was actually using a textbook this year.  But I liked him, and really missed him the next year when he moved and someone else took his place.

One day freshman year, Pearl had been sick and didn’t go to class.  He came all the way to her room to find out how she was.  Ever after that, people joked that he was her “man.”

****

Music History and Appreciation met in ugly room 14 of Old Main.  This room was painted in a 70s red-orange that looked good on the outside walls of the building, but not on the inside.

We listened to tapes of samples of the various types of music which appeared in each period of history.  We discovered that music notation wasn’t established until sometime in the Middle Ages, so it’s difficult to pinpoint just what songs sounded like before then.  Love songs were as prevalent then as now.  I learned to love plainchant and Baroque.

We read about Hildegard of Bingen and the music she wrote.  We learned a few other things about culture as they related to music, and that one woman intellectual in the eighteenth century wrote under a male penname so she’d be taken seriously.

She was one of those philosopher-types, such as Voltaire, which were around in those days.  I don’t remember what her penname was.

We learned that modern-day S– and other Wisconsin towns of similar or larger size were like the big and small towns and cities of the nineteenth century, with “its symphony association, organized by merchants, bankers, government officials, lawyers, and other members of the middle class” (page 243, Listen, by Joseph Kerman).

We learned that Franz Liszt was like a modern rock star: His concerts drew crowds, women wanted to tear his clothes off, he broke piano strings as he played (much like modern rock stars sometimes smash guitars), and he had a “flamboyant” lifestyle and affairs with noblewomen.

In the class with me were Tara, Pearl and Shawn.  I loved having them all in there with me, seeing them three out of the five weekday mornings and then being able to discuss the class with them.

Pearl and I loved hearing Chopin’s Etude in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 12, because David Meece had written a song, “This Time,” with this song incorporated into it.  It’s also used in an episode of Abbot and Costello’s comedy show, “The Music Lovers.”

On Wednesday and Friday mornings, my Sophomore Honors class met with Bill.  I read all the books, except for one.  Some I liked more than others; I loved Incidents in the Life of a Former Slave Girl, the diaries of women pioneers, and The Crucible.

I thought Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was terribly boring.  It’s funny to occasionally find praises of it in newspapers and books.  I thought Gretel Ehrlich was obsessed with sex, since she saw phallic symbols everywhere in the Wyoming landscape.

By the way, the teacher in “Bedlam Castle” was written with Bill in mind.  Somebody in Fiction even noticed that he was like Bill.  Since the teacher didn’t show up much in the story and did nothing awful, I don’t think I should worry about libel suits.

Once, probably around October 16, Bill brought in two black students.  They spoke to us about the black experience, since nobody in the class was black.

They said that oftentimes a young black man would go to a white girlfriend and ask her for money all the time, knowing full well that he couldn’t do this with a black girlfriend because she would think he was nuts.

From what they said, black women sounded far more confident than many white women, and I envied that.

I also mentioned that I saw Boyz n the Hood in the Muskie, and sat there with tears in my eyes, blown away by what I had seen.  I had no clue that such things happened in this country.  Our guests nodded and smiled, confirming that yes, this movie was showing things the way they really were.

****

Humanities class would meet with my freshman year German teacher, Ruth.  I didn’t get along with her, but I loved reading the textbook, especially the part about Egypt.  I seem to recall getting an A.

I was especially entranced by the sad story of Abélard and Héloïse.  I wished the book had gone into more detail on it, or even reprinted some of their famed letters.

I mentioned the story to Pearl, and that I had been told Héloïse was twelve.  Pearl said she’d been told she was sixteen.  In 1999, I heard she was seventeen.  So how old was she, anyway?

I read Dante’s Divine Comedy over Thanksgiving Break, and loved it, though I really hoped that Hell wasn’t nearly that bad!  According to the Orthodox, this view is just his invention.

Frustrating German Teacher

As late as September 1, my schedule of the semester’s classes was fixed except for German Composition and Conversation, with Ruth, which was still marked “TBA,” or “To Be Announced.”  The room and teacher were decided, but not the hour.

As I did with every single other class I had during my college career which was marked TBA (and there were at least two or three others: German, probably Frontiers of Space, World Lit, possibly Expos), I waited for the Registrar’s office to send me a new form or a notice giving the time, place, and teacher for the class.

This was just normal procedure for classes which weren’t Independent Study, and Comp/Con was not Independent Study.  You were expected to wait for a confirmation of the time or room, rather than calling and annoying people about it.

I certainly hadn’t been told to do this any differently, and it had worked just fine in the past, as it would in the future as well.

It was probably just before Friday the 11th, when classes had been in session for a couple days and I still hadn’t heard anything about the class, when I saw one of my German classmates in my suite.  She was friends with some of my suitemates.  I asked her if she had heard anything yet about our class, because I hadn’t.

She said that she and the others had contacted Ruth about it and had started meeting or were about to.  I don’t remember if she gave me a time.  It’s just possible that she did and that it conflicted with something else I did and that I had to talk to Ruth about that, because I see in my day planner that I still planned to talk to her about it on the 11th.

So on the 11th I went to find Ruth and talk to her about the class time.  I certainly didn’t at all expect the reception I got.  I know she also talked to me on the 21st, so I may be confusing some of the things she said now with what she said then, but I do believe she chewed me out for not calling her before about the TBA like all the others did.

I thought this was totally unfair of her, because how the heck was I to know to do this, when with all my other TBA classes, I was just supposed to wait for an announcement?  Only Independent Study classes required contacting the teacher about it.

Whatever she said to me on this particular occasion, it upset me enough that I dropped the class and switched to Music History and Appreciation.  Pearl, Tara and Shawn were all in the class, so I believe I was happier in there than I would have been in Comp.

I have never regretted switching classes, though I have regretted how my love of German was soured by this teacher.

She seemed to like all three of the other students in German freshman year better than she did me.

I was a good student, already knowing many of the things taught first semester, and I loved German.  But I didn’t talk any less or any more in that class than I did in German class in high school, and I did have a life outside of German class.

I did well in the class, as I did in my other classes, and in my old German class I had been one of the best students and felt that the teachers really liked me.

But it seemed there was no pleasing this one unless you were extremely outgoing.  We can’t all be like that, nor do we all want to be.

On the 21st, probably in the morning, Ruth had me come see her.  I was doing well in Humanities class, I thought, which by now was the only class I had her for, and which should have been the only one she would concern herself with.

I didn’t know what she wanted to talk to me about, but I surely didn’t expect it to be the whole German thing again.

She sat there and chewed me out for several minutes, saying I wasn’t assertive enough, referring back to the TBA thing

(which didn’t have anything to do with how assertive I was but with my tendency to want to follow normal procedure–which is generally considered a GOOD trait),

my not going to her office with the high school student more than once to converse in German

(I considered it boring; this had nothing whatsoever to do with assertiveness).

She also said she didn’t think I had the knowledge or assertiveness or whatever to go to Germany junior year, as I had been hoping to do.  (It was the reason I chose Roanoke, the chance to go to Germany.)

Yet I was a good student!  I knew what German she had taught me!

I wasn’t a German major but had been considering a German minor; this only required six courses of German, and I didn’t have to take Comp for it.  It wasn’t even a prerequisite for other classes, so I could skip it altogether and it wouldn’t make any difference.

I only needed four other courses, one of which I could take spring semester.  By the time I took a semester in Germany, I could easily have had two more courses in German, probably from the literature and culture courses.

Since the course book says nothing about what year you have to be, I may even have done it senior year and had yet another course under my belt.  So what did it matter how much knowledge I had of German at the beginning of my sophomore year?

After all, you take a class because you don’t know what it teaches, not because you do, and by the time you get done with it, you do know what it teaches.

Her reasons for me not being able to go to Germany in a year or two were unfair and irrelevant.  She was biased against me long before it would have been time for me to show I knew German well enough to study in Germany.

I guess she just didn’t like shy people who were not go-getters.  She loved another girl in the class who was in all sorts of things, outgoing and ambitious, majoring probably in Business or Marketing.

(I was a writer from an easygoing middle-class family.  Many of my relatives were farmers, and my brothers ended up in the working class.  My big ambition was to write well enough to be published.)

I remembered her getting snippy at least once when I asked why pronunciation for a word (German or French) differed from what I’d previously been taught.

I remembered her getting mad at me for choosing not to do an optional activity because I didn’t want to.

And her harassment over my being introverted was insufferable.

So I decided I could not keep taking German with this woman, and wished I didn’t have to take Humanities with her as well.  At least I got an A.

I began pondering whether or not to pursue the German minor anymore.  It was undeclared, and Ruth would be my teacher if I did pursue it.

My ideas of becoming a translator apparently had faded.  She had destroyed my desire to continue my study in German.

Now all I wanted to pursue was my Writing major, which was soon to be declared.

Since she and Heidi were both German Swiss, I began to wonder if there was something about the Swiss that made it hard for them to get along with people like me,

if maybe they favored go-getters and had no patience whatsoever for the quiet, retiring sort of person, who has every bit as much right to exist as a go-getter does.

Yet I had a Swiss pen pal, and we seemed to get along all right.  But Heidi did say that a popular Swiss joke was, they’re a neutral country because they like to fight too much.

I took no more German classes after this.

I get the feeling, looking at my old response papers (written after attending lectures or performances), that she graded them unfairly.

Like for example, I wrote a favorable review of “Les Jongleurs”; the performers dressed in medieval garb and played medieval songs in the Bradley Building.  I wrote how boring it was that the guys all dressed in modern suits, when I would have liked to see them dressed in medieval clothes, like the girls were.

Ruth wrote on my paper that I should have taken issue not with that, but with the dresses the girls wore: She said they were in poor taste and not at all period!  Maybe that was HER opinion, but I thought this was supposed to be MY opinion!

Looking over my other response papers, it seems that nothing I ever wrote pleased Ruth.  She kept docking me for not saying this or that or saying too much of this and not that.  Maybe I just never thought of those things, or had those reactions, or maybe I really did think the lecturer made excellent points.

I’m not real sure why she didn’t like me: After all, it seemed like most of my teachers did.  I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious or a bad student; I was just me.

She took issue with things I had done all my life and had never ever heard of anybody having a problem with.  I was totally shocked to learn that anyone would.

Her criticism got personal.  It wasn’t for many years that I learned that the traits she complained about, are perfectly normal NVLD and introverted traits.

It’s too bad that Roanoke’s usual German teacher was gone at the school’s Japanese satellite school during my years at Roanoke.  HE was well-liked, and a native German.  Maybe I would have received my German minor and become a translator for banks.

****

As for television, that time period had some awesome shows–quirky, creative–which didn’t last more than one season, but also one that did, Picket Fences.  There were Covington Cross, Key West, Class of ’96.

There were other shows about college that came out at that time, yet Class of ’96 was the closest one to actual college life.

Oddly enough, though, Seventeen slammed it as being unrealistic, and it didn’t get renewed.  For my school, it was very realistic.  I think one of the things they complained about was the smaller class sizes and no TAs, but my school had smaller class sizes and no TAs.

They showed dorm life–guys playing their stereos too loud while one character needs to study–and the freshmen coming for orientation with their parents, unloading their cars, moving in, having no clue what was going on or what they were supposed to be doing.  It wasn’t all about sex like the summer’s Freshman Dorm.

This show, and the lack of realistic college shows, inspired me to write about college, the way it really was.  The idea for these memoirs was born.

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

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