Q&A, Volume 4

Most embarrassing moments make good blog fodder, if you have enough perspective.

There was a time when I was always embarrassed. I was painfully shy as a child; talking was embarrassing. Then I became a teacher. Nothing fazes me now. Nothing.

How about telling us about the time you almost chucked one of your students out the window when they…

During my first year I tried to be very serious, very stern all of the time. I had not yet developed a comfort zone in which I as teacher could talk and laugh with the students as humans AND teach them at the same time. But a kid named Gary shot all of this to hell. He was an average student in an honors 9th grade English class, and he was very chatty, so he sat front and center. I had a small table at the front of the room where I often sat to conduct class. Gary was maybe three feet away from me; I could have reached out and…smacked him. One day after the class had been doing some group work I sat on my table with my hand raised (my signal for order) and waited for everyone to settle and get quiet. It took several minutes. Finally the room was silent. I was irritated and they could tell. You could have heard a pin drop. Gary, from his seat right under my nose, where he sat with his hands folded looking for all the world like a picture of obedience and dedication, chose that moment to look up at me and giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy. “Hee hee.” I lost all composure. I laughed. The kids laughed, tentatively at first, and then when they realized I wasn’t mad they lost it, too.

My favorite part of my job is talking with kids, playing with their minds and engaging them in intellectual battles. I find it’s not that hard to balance that with teaching, that the two are not really so different. I often think of that moment when Gary channeled the Pillsbury Doughboy, and I’m glad I laughed. If I’d chucked him out the window, which really was my first thought, I might have turned out to be a different teacher.

What’s your perfect moment? It doesn’t have to have actually happened, it can be your dream of a perfect moment. Who is there? Where are you?

My perfect moment is seeing my child for the first time. Or will be. I’ll revisit this one someday.

How about the worst vacation story you can muster. Could be yours, could be someone else’s. Always better if it’s yours though.

A Story of The Great Salt Lake
For Trista

Picture it: Nevada, July 1997. My best friend Paula and I are on a 21-day journey across the United States, and Salt Lake City is our respite stop before camping excursions at Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. We have been driving for several days already, and we are tired. We have been eating lots of peanut butter crackers and Slim Jims. We need to do laundry. Lucky for us, Paula’s oldest brother Joel was living in SLC at the time, and he invited us to stay with him and his washer/dryer for a few days. It was grand. We slept late and washed clothes. I think we even cooked a real meal. By our second day in SLC we were feeling up to a day trip, so we consulted the AAA books and decided to spend the afternoon at Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salkt Lake.

We packed a picnic lunch, slathered ourselves with sunblock, tossed some beach towels in the back seat, and hit the road. I should have known something was not right when, upon crossing the threshold of the bridge that connected Antelope Island to the “mainland,” a smell worse than the worst dog fart infiltrated the car. We’d been riding with the windows down, of course, basking in the warm breeze, so the stench filled the car quite quickly. Rolling the windows up didn’t help, either…just made us feel more enveloped by the smell. Neither of us spoke (perhaps we were afraid of tasting the smell?) but I’m sure Paula was thinking, as I was, “What the HELL?” I’m not sure if the smell actually faded, or if we just got used to it, but we were buoyed by the sight of the beautiful blue lake. It’s really quite something, all white sand and water for miles. We were pumped. A day at the beach!

We got our stuff out of the car and headed for the shore. Both of us were wearing sandals (hello? it’s the beach? wouldn’t you be wearing sandals?). This turned out to be a grave error. Let me first explain that the beaches in the Eastern United States are packed sand beaches. Sure, there’s a stretch of soft sinking sand near the dunes , but once you get past it you’re on solid ground. This is where we’d come from, what we were expecting. Alas, the entire stretch of sand at Antelope Island was powder. Beautiful white powder. Beautiful white powder baking, blazing beneath the fiery sun in July. I think the temperature was 100 that day, but the sand must have been 150. And if you’ve ever walked in soft sand you know that once you sink there’s no recovery. The sand is inside your shoes, and you are inside the sand, and when that sand is just a small chemical reaction away from being a wine goblet, your exposed skin begins to melt. Okay, blister. Same difference.

By the time we made it to sand that was ever so slightly firm and had hurled our towels down so we could dive to safety, we were both in shock. We both just stared dumbly at the water for a while, and then Paula suggested that we cool off. Yes. Great. Let’s. We headed for the water, practically tip-toeing to avoid the Sand of Fire, and waded into one of the world’s most famous bodies of water. Someone later told us the stench we encountered driving in was the result of dead animals who had attempted to drink the water and had perished in the process. Apparently drinking salt water does not do a body good. Unless of course you are a brine fly.

The Brine Fly, according to my research, is predatory but does not prey on humans. This is a dirty lie. This noxious creature, which skims the surface of the water in search of food, produces the worst insect bite known to mankind. And thanks to their abundant population, they do quite a bit a damage in quite a short span of time. Don’t believe me? Look at the picture below. Note the lovely horizon, the purple mountain majesty in the background, the wispy white clouds in the azure sky. Now look at the water’s edge. See it? That wide black band? Think it’s a shadow? Think again. That there is bugs.

After less than five minutes in the water we simultaneously plodded to our beach towels (no words needed to be spoken), gathered our stuff, and walked to the car. We were blazing hot. Our feet were blistered. Our legs were covered with little red welts. Just before I got into the car and turned around and shot this picture. We drove back to Joel’s apartment in silence, rubbed Sting Ease all over our legs, and sat on Joel’s deck overlooking the city. We never spoke of the Great Salt Lake again.

The end.

This post brought to you by Sharon.


6 thoughts on “Q&A, Volume 4

  1. Oh dear, that is a bad vacation story.

    Loved the Pillsbury Doughboy story, though. You must be a great teacher.

  2. Oh that story was so funny. As you started I started playing the “count the tourist’s mistakes” game. Mistake #1 beach towels… NO ONE swims in the Great Salt Lake… unless they don’t know any better.

    Mistake #2 You don’t spend the day at the GSL in the summer. It’s wonderful to spend the day there in spring or autumn, before the sun gets too hot, before the insect clouds. In the summer, unless you’re a real die hard, you only spend dusk at the lake.

    Sandals… well, I would probably wear sandals, too, but then I wouldn’t be there in the daytime.

    You got in the WATER???? Eww.

    The smell isn’t from animals who drank the water, the animals know better than to drink the water. The smell is from all the dead brine flies and brine shrimp. And the sand? Petrified Brine Shrimp poop. I kid you not. Did you notice how it was perfectly round? I have arguements with people all the time about this, but beach sand isn’t round, it’s got edges because it’s crystal and rock. GSL sand is spherical. Because it’s poop.

    Oh, how I wish I had known you were in SLC. Ok, I guess I should have known who you were first, but still…

  3. oooh, I just started wondering if the whole “GSL sand is brine shrip poop” was a myth that my dad told me to gross me out. So I just looked it up and it’s true. Oolitic sand. Layers of calcium carbonate around a core of brine shrimp fecal matter. The sand also contains a large amount of salt (well, duh). Oolitic sand is known for being difficult to walk on (because it has properties similar to ball bearings and is, in fact, used as a lubricant in certain manufacturing processes) and getting extrememly hot.

    So there you have it. Facts, honest to god.

  4. Eight years ago this summer my friend AB and I drove cross-country. We got out to look at the Great Salt Lake at sunset, and as we approached there were these waves of some sort of insect swarm that skimmed the ground where we walked. I never found out what they are.

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, though, I think they were brine flies. Thank you!

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