Tag Archives: UW-Madison

Madison minus nice things = Rockford

The wonderful city of Madison, Wisconsin, is the home of the University of Wisconsin, and without that university, Madison “would be Rockford with lakes,” said Stuart Levitan in a program about the history of Madison that was recorded in 2010 and broadcast recently on the Wisconsin channel.

Ha, ha — Rockford sucks. I laugh because, well, I live near Rockford and people around here don’t seem to realize how much better things are just a few miles away, at Madison, Milwaukee, or the Chicago suburbs. So it felt like a breath of fresh honesty to hear the put-down of Rockford.

I live here because my family is from here, and because my professional license is good in Illinois. I would love for my home-area to get amenities that other places take for granted: say, a Trader Joe’s store, or a jogging/biking path, or so many things.

My former Daily Illini boss and current NPR reporter, Kelly McEvers, reported recently on her hometown of Lincoln, Illinois:

It turns out that what’s happening in Lincoln is happening in so many towns and communities across the country: As we recover from the Great Recession, jobs are coming back. But they are not middle-wage jobs — they are either high-wage jobs or low-wage jobs. The middle class is in serious decline. And that has all kinds of repercussions.

It’s a little frustrating to live in a declining area, but I’ll give it this — housing’s cheap, there’s little traffic, and with the Internet, we’re much less cut-off than we used to be.

UPDATE: It’s a couple days later, and I’m not sure what good it does to complain about the area where I live. Not that I’m changing my opinion, but that my opinion is kinda pointless. Sure, there are things I’d like to change here, but in my particular day-to-day experiences, I go to my job, I go to the grocery store, I walk my dog, and I go to bed. Very little of my daily experience has to do with demographic or economics generalizations or statistics. I try to remind myself of this, to let go of generalizations and opinions, and just keep my mind open to receive new ideas.

I may not be loyal to you, Illinois

Lake Mendota, Madison, 6 Aug. 2013

Lake Mendota, Madison, 6 Aug. 2013

Enjoying the sunset and the locally made ice cream at the UW-Madison Union Terrace last night, my wife and I (as UIUC grads)  found it hard to sell our alma mater to a student who was considering attending a Big Ten (or “Big Variable” Conference, where “Ten” has an evolving, non-ten value) school. His priority seemed to be a school that has a reputation for winning athletic programs, and that’s not what Illinois is known for. (It’s better known as the birthplace both of HAL and of the Web browser, not to mention being the alma mater of Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, and Ron Swanson).

But I’m glad I went there for the latter five-eights of my undergrad semesters. I was taught by some good professors and some great T.A.s, learned a lot about writing and editing at The Daily Illini, and met terrific friends (including my wife — I got my “M.R.” degree, as well as my B.A., at Champaign-Urbana).

But, alas, those twin cities lack some of Madison’s features: Both are on water, but the Boneyard Creek (a stream so ugly it got paved over in Campustown) is no Lake Mendota. Madison’s rolling hills offer vistas; Champaign County is damned flat. Madison has a skyline and urban planning that connected the university to the state capitol via State Street; Champaign city exists only because the Illinois Central railroad passed two miles west of Urbana.

Maybe I’m just a little bitter that my wife keeps getting alumni mail from the university we both went to, but I get no such acknowledgement of my graduation. It’s no big deal, of course, but it’s just the kind of little indignancies I like to nurse and be petty about.

Also, I realized yesterday that I don’t own any Illinois-marked garments because, really, navy blue and orange aren’t my favorite colors.

I still recommend the University of Illinois to those of my students who can afford to go to a four-year college and who want a public school, but I’m not sure, with all the cutbacks in state aid over the last several years, that it’s still as good a school as the one I went to. On the other hand, I’m not sure anymore what it means to say a school is “good.”

The longer I’m a teacher myself (though at a high school), the more I see individual students having particular educational experiences that are not necessarily attributable to the school itself. Students having different teachers for the same course will have diverse experiences, and of course, students bring their own interests, abilities, cultures, values, and backgrounds to their own educations.

So I guess I’m not sure if it matters where one goes to college — or, let’s say, it probably matters in such profound and unknowable ways that it almost doesn’t matter where one goes, any more than it matters which shoes I wear today or which book I pick up at the bookstore. Whatever one does, one learns from it. I learned from attending two other colleges before transferring to UIUC that it’s OK to try things out and if they don’t feel right, to find something else.

And that’s one of those profound life lessons that nobody really teaches in a classroom in any college.

*Titular note explained here.

‘I lost valiantly’: Overheard quotes of the week

I listen. Sometimes I hear things I feel are worth writing down. Here are some recent things. Some of these overheard things are funny in context; some may be more amusing when read out of context.

1. Last weekend was my town’s festival. Think cover bands, Budweiser beer, and bronzed bros. I helped out, and felt important when I got to carry a walkie-talkie, over which I heard (with no explanation) a man’s voice:

“Rachel, I have your big one, and it works phenomenally.”

2. After the festival shut down at midnight, many people went to nearby McDonald’s. My wife and I saw several women in their early 20s sing-shout a spontaneous, acapella version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” (“BUM, Bum, bum.”) We also saw a table of 5 guys, who probably became legal to drink quite recently, and one of these guys said,

“I can’t get rid of these fuckin’ hiccups, bro.”

One of these five young men was wearing red jeans. A comrade of his said,

“I’m gonna rip those f***ot-ass pants off your body.”

Red Jeans answered, “Your mom likes these pants.”

Comrade: “I doubt it.”

A few minutes later, two local police officers came into McDonald’s. Red Pants decides to ask one officer for a ride home.

Officer: “Call your parents.”

Red Pants: “My dad hates me.”

Officer: “Call your friends.”

Red Pants: “All my friends are here.”

Officer: “You need some new friends.”

Red Pants: “Touche’, touche’.” (I heard, “too-SHAY, too-SHAY”)

Before long, Red Pants and the officer were having a rock-paper-scissors contest for a ride home. Red Pants counts off, “one-two-three, shoot,” and after three rounds, the officer was acknowledged as winner.

Red Pants said, “I gotta walk home as a loser.”

Later, as the officers were leaving, Red Pants or one of his buddies called out, “Have a good night. Don’t arrest me.”

Once the officers left, Red Pants shared his post-Rochambeau analysis: “I came out strong. He was thinking too much. … I lost valiantly.”

Another one of the dudes commented again on the pants: “I don’t give a fuck about your red ‘Jersey Shore’ pants.”

At this point, Red Pants appealed for a fashion decision to two women, apparently in their late 20s or early 30s, sitting nearby.

One woman said, “I’m not prejudiced against pants. But I also live with a guy who just kicked your ass at rock-paper-scissors.”

The woman later said they were teachers, and asked if they were from a nearby town where she taught. One of the boys mentioned another teacher, a Mrs. Tib-oh-doh (spelled “Thibodoux”?).  The teacher said, “Mrs.  Tib-oh-doh is related to everyone.” Responded one of the boys, “You calling her a whore?”

Later, after the teacher corrected one of Red Pants’ statements, he said, “Oh, ‘Missus I-didn’t-get-my-grammar-right-at-one-twenty-four-in-the-morning’.” (I was surprised and impressed that he had actually gotten the time my phone also showed.)

The boys continued talking to the women, but the boys’ attentions faded as one of them said, “when they know my friends’ parents, I’m out.”

After the boys had left and the first woman went to the restroom, the second woman said, (seemingly to my wife and me),

“I have two little boys. I do NOT want them to grow up (short pause) — and be THAT.”

3. One of our regular waitresses at our regular diner looked at my sweat-soaked shirt and said to me and my wife, “I think he’s hot.” I said I’d ignore the context and take it as a compliment.

4. Nostalgia for the recent: In the last hours of the festival, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I heard a boy (of approximately 10 years) tell his friend, “Remember how much people there were last night?”

5. At my dentist’s office this week, an old man, there with his old wife, said to the daughter of a different old woman, “My dad died at fifty-eight, and here I am, the opposite numbers, eighty-five. … [the dad died on] Thanksgiving day of 1950” and “he died of uremic poisoning before they knew about dialysis.”

The old man said his father had worked too hard, and the daughter said, “You learned from him not to work 16-hour days?” The old man said he himself had worked hard, too. The daughter said, “You DIDN’T learn from him.”

Later, the old man’s wife talked about her cornea transplants of a few months back, and how she just had seven of the stitches removed, and there were nine more to go, and “That’s an experience you don’t want to go through” and it’ll still be some months before she knows if the transplants will really clear up her vision: “You’ve gotta be kidding. I don’t want to be 89 years old and not know if I’m gonna see.”

6. A woman who’s friends with my wife and me told us, “my husband has seen lots of boobs,” but she added that all the boobs belonged to her; she was speaking of “volume rather than quantity.”

7. Yesterday, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison bookstore, in the between the department of red Badger t-shirts and the department of notebooks, I heard a gray-haired fellow say to a boy of about 10 (perhaps his grandson?): “The number system you’re accustomed to is base-ten, right?” and the man soon asked the boy to convert from decimal to binary numbers: “‘Five’ is one-one-one” and the boy said, “‘Six’ is one-one-zero.” “Right,” said the older man — but who (if I heard and wrote accurately) was gonna correct HIS wrong conversion?

8. Last night, a friend over to our house was eating a lemon-bar food and getting attention from my dog and my friend said to my dog, “what makes you think any of this is coming your way?”

9. And earlier this week, a fellow-teacher was talking about her lack of familiarity with Greek myths we will start teaching to our high-schoolers in the coming year when she said, “theoretically, I’m supposed to be smarter than them.” Another colleague explained, of Zeus’s wife, “Hera’s just a vindictive bitch,” the “Erica Kane” of Greek mythology.

P.S. All the quoted material above is from notes I made in the immediate seconds after hearing the words spoken. I was not trying to listen in to any of these conversations; they were just happening around me, loud enough for me to hear them, and as such, these are public — not private — conversations, and therefore, in my opinion, ripe for the transcribing. Few people ever ask me what I’m writing — my assumption is that nobody is paying much attention to what a dude with a pen and a piece of paper is doing.