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You Had to Be There

The Great Stack may be behind me, physically, but mentally and emotionally, it takes a while to recover. A very long while. It's kind of like childbirth, I guess; absolutely horrific while it's happening, and you never want any human being to touch you ever again, but then the baby (stipend check) arrives and you're all, "Yeah, well, it wasn't THAT bad" and go ahead and have sex (teach) again anyway, like the idiot you in fact are. And nine months later you're back on the table (seated in a very large, very cold room), screaming for morphine all over again.


I took no pictures this year, which as you know is a very major thing for the archival dork. I left the camera-- probably because, also like childbirth, some things aren't meant to be viewed by the general public without a great deal of warning. But one of my tablemates, the lovely and talented and patient Barbara H., braver than I, shot her way around Louisville:



This is where the maaaagic happened. The Kentucky International Convention Center was about four blocks from my hotel, which, when elevator delays were taken into account, made for a good twenty-minute walking commute in the mornings. Elevator delays happened a lot; the entire hotel was crammed onto exactly the same schedule, which meant that otherwise stable professionals were wheeling oxygen-tank patients into the river to get at the first car to the eighteenth floor.



Here's a panoramic view of the converted trade show space where we ate. The food was very nearly as appetizing as the ambiance. Normally I'm a carbnivore-- I order my potatoes presented inside a roll, dipped in macaroni, and rolled in rice.


But under these trying circumstances... not so much with the carbs. Carbs lead to food coma, and attempting to coherently score essays scribbled in serial killer handwriting at two in the afternoon often leads to that head-snap thing-- you know, that thing where you're totally concentrating, and completely paying attention to what you're doing, and all of a sudden snap WHOAH why was my head so close to the table? So I tried to back down on the carbs, particularly at lunch, which was a mite difficult when the main entree was Batter-Dipped Noodles.


The caterers then attempted to balance this out by sugaring us up during the breaks--doughnuts, cookies, brownies. By the weekend they were totally done with us, and began heaping marshmallows on every tray, mixing them in with the ice cream and cake samplers: "Screw it, just dump a big vat of sugar on the table and let 'em lick it."


Those of us scoring Question Three spent the week with students attempting to discuss literary foils, sometimes without in fact understanding what a foil actually is. A lot of the students hung the essay on Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, which was admirable at first and downright screamable by the middle of the week, particularly when they'd, for instance, mention the part where the monster danced to "Puttin' on the Ritz."


On Day Three, somebody showed up with a roll of Reynold's Wrap.



You just reach that point, you know? After a while, *&#^ like this even started to make sense:





This is me on in the last hour of the last day, waiting for the much-anticipated signal to return to the highly restful hotel elevator line. My eyes say "Huh?" but my body says "Former Human Being Once Resided Here."


Just beyond my elbow is the cord of the headsets we wore. All the EngLit readers were in the same ballroom, but each question had a different leader, different break times, different model essays to use as rubric calibrators. So the questions were split into three locations, by means of a bunch of poles and blue curtains, which for some reason didn't provide the world's best soundproofing. Sometimes a question leader tried to talk to his group and start a calibration session while another was settling into reading live books, and if you think an adult voice booming over a tinny sound system set against concrete walls is soothing, try concentrating with the backecho of it from half a football field away.


The solution to communicate amongst the readers without disturbing the rest of the room was UN-style headsets, each tuned the frequency of the assigned question. The upshot was the incredible creepiness of four hundred people sitting in utter silence, facing a person speaking into a microphone but producing zero sound. Occasionally we'd smile or break into applause or wail "NOOOOOO, this is NOT a nine!" with apparently no provocation. At first the question leaders attempted to get people to put on their headphones by shouting "HEADSETS!" into the headset mic, before they figured out that we kind of had to be wearing them first for this to be effective. Then we tried waving what looked suspiciously like the Girl Scout Quiet Sign, but that didn't work, either. Finally they'd turn on the general sound system mic and boom "HEADSETS!", which got our attention, as well as the attention of every single other person in the other two questions. And then we'd fumble into 1984 Mode. Other than that, hey, thumbs up on the headsets.



"Next year, I'm bringing the air horn."


very nice erasers, though at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (4)

What an exhausting week you've had! This might make up for it: The Backstreet Boys are back together and back on tour! Not sure when they'll be in the DC area, but they'll be in Phoenix sometime in October.

June 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemmingAZ

Seriously, that stipend could NOT have been enough. Not nearly. They would have to add several zeros to the end of whatever number it was...

June 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Wow, your expression says it all :-(

With all those problems with sound insulation and the "HEADSETS!", I'm amazed someone hasn't yet proposed this whole thing to be done online. You know? explain them there's this new groovy thing called the "Internet", and they now have these boxes called "computers" with little cameras attached to their TV sets—which are called "monitors" BTW

June 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

[...] 5:02 PM: Overhead shot of Churchill Downs and downtown Louisville in the distance.  If you look closely, you can still see the vapor trails of despair I left behind two years ago after grading the national.... [...]

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBreeders’ Cup, Part III:
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