desperately seeking drek

Hello, my name is...
Hello, my name is...

Some of you are probably reading this post with a sense of deep foreboding. I promise you, that unease is justified as I am, indeed, posting on Scatterplot. Those who know me are, of course, already struggling to hold back their horror at my appearance. For those who are unfamiliar with my past escapades, don’t worry: you will learn soon enough.

How did this state of affairs come to pass? How is it that I am posting on Scatterplot? Well, rather than simply tell you, I will allow you to choose your favorite from two possible options.

Option A: At the recent Scatterplot Party at the ASAs I plied Tina and Jeremy with liquor and praise until, in a moment of weakness, one of them gave me the keys to the blog. And like all good one-night stands, it’s now coming back to haunt them and the ones they care about.

Option B: The Scatterbrains had a secret meeting at the ASAs to discuss the state of the blog. They realized that Scatterplot has become a bastion of erudition and intelligent conversation, dominating the socioblogging world alongside the dreaded Orgtheory. In the hopes of finally becoming the true socioblogging hegemon, however, they realized they needed something else. They needed to exploit the disaffected twenty-something jerk market segment. They needed to start writing posts that were juvenile, foolish, and generally beneath the dignity of sociology. And so they called me.

I think these are both good options to explain my presence but, if you want to be really fancy, give appropriate props to my pal Werner and just believe them both. Think of it as a sort of causal superposition.

So what is in store for you, and me, here on Scatterplot? Hard to say, really, but given my past performance it will almost certainly involve jokes of questionable merit and pseudo-intellectual nonsense. I can hardly wait. In the meantime, I decided to top off my “first post” by adding to the ongoing discussion of the recent ASAs. I kept a diary of sorts during the meetings and by reading it you will learn about me and… just perhaps… about yourselves.

Enjoy.

Drek’s ASA Diary

Day One:

The travel day. It’s always exciting to try and fly in and out of the ASAs. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It is, by and large, excruciatingly dull, but that just provides room for some fun games. For example, I like to play the “I’m not looking at you” game. See, a lot of us fly on the same day or two for the ASAs and that can mean that you end up on one or more flights with someone from your own department. If they are someone you get along with- great! But if they’re someone you don’t get along with, or barely know, you end up competing to see who can notice the other person the least. The loser has to initiate some kind of social contact. I’m not particularly good at this game, both because I have little sense of shame and too much curiosity for my own good, but my partner earlier today was exceptional. Despite numerous glances, looks, and even an abortive gesture, she managed to entirely thwart social contact. A master at work.

Here in Boston, as noted previously there are already “Welcome ASA” banners hanging in baggage claim. My central reaction is simply that it is disquieting to think that Boston is that excited about our arrival. Unless ASA paid for the banners, in which case it is disquieting how the ASA administration is spending our dues.

The Blogger’s Shindig Scatterplot Party was, as always, an exciting and enjoyable affair. It is interesting to me how eager bloggers are to socialize given that they indulge in a hobby that is, in some ways, quite anti-social. Then again, a lot of bloggers are definite party animals and the misanthropes like me seem to be in the minority. Probably it’s best that way. In any case, I met a considerable number of bloggers and readers with whom I was not already acquainted. Most of these folks failed to recognize me, partly through the generous assistance of Anomie who helpfully pointed out a previously-arranged decoy, but a few guessed my secret identity. Interestingly enough, I think the most common question that I received was, “So where is your wife?” I can’t say that I blame them for that- speaking personally, I would vastly prefer to spend time with my wife than with me. She, sadly, had better things to do than attend the blogger’s shindig. I can’t imagine what that might have been since the Blog-party is only the COOLEST party at the ASAs but, that said, people actually enjoy spending time with my wife, so perhaps I shouldn’t talk.

The only other direct comment I got was, “I love your blog, but I am so sick of Conservapedia.” Really, all I could say in response to this was, “Yeah, so am I.” I have been compelled by the recent Lenski foolishness to devote a considerable amount of space to Andrew Schlafly’s pet project and, to be honest, I have grown rather weary of the whole thing. He’s stupid, Conservapedia is stupid, and I’m actually sick of pointing that out. Is this a guarantee that I won’t blog anymore about Conservapedia? Oh, no. Sometimes I don’t have time for a creative or interesting blog post and Conservapedia is just too easy a crutch to give up entirely. Not to mention the off chance that something truly hysterical may occur in the ongoing Schlafly/Lenski thing. That said, I am going to make an effort to blog about something… you know… interesting.

Day Two:

The funny thing about walking around at the ASA is that everyone has a plan for interacting. As you walk you can see, if you watch, people’s eyes drift over your face, then dip down to your name tag. It’s like we’re all doing some kind of eye-calisthenics. “And one, two, three- c’mon, keep those retinas scrolling!” My ASA system relies on this principle but with an added wrinkle: I’m male. So, like many other male grad students, I think my mind employs a heuristic that works like so:

Needless to say, I dread the day I find myself in the SWS lounge.

Once you survive walking about, there’s still the issue of finding people you want to see and avoiding those you don’t. The best place to find friends whom you haven’t seen in a while is the lobby that everyone has to pass through eventually (this year I think it was the Sheraton lobby). Problem is, everyone you don’t want to see goes through there too. More or less the experience is akin to jumping in the ocean and thrashing about wildly in the hopes that a lifeguard will find you before a shark.

Once you get through the public areas there’s still the problem of what to do with your time. I find that the simple rule- panels are for people who don’t have better things to do- is generally applicable. This is because our discipline is diverse, quality is uneven, and a distressing proportion of all paper sessions are utter dogs. Nevertheless, you know that your instinct for worthwhile panels is getting good when you end up sitting in the audience with a half-dozen or more of the biggest folks in your subfield. Sometimes I’m tempted to just follow one of these folks from panel to panel except (a) the really big players spend half their time hanging out with friends anyway and (b) I think that might look a bit suspicious. In the unlikely event I ever become a big name sociologist, I will be sorely tempted to- every now and then- go to a random panel just to screw with grad students’ heads.

On an unrelated note, why is it that at more ASAs than not someone gets the bright idea to protest the hotel administration over labor disputes? Look, it’s not that I don’t care about the working man but- seriously- what kind of impact do we think we’re going to have in-between going to panels and asking the concierge for additional towels?

I love it that the ASA bags this year are these weird recyclable thingees. A friend of mine suggested that in the future we get bags woven out of hemp. I’d be all in favor of it except that half the attendees would be trying to figure out how to smoke them. Yes, I know hemp is not the same as marijuana. Yes, I know that hemp is enormously more environmentally friendly than cotton or other types of fibers. No, I don’t care: the joke was worth it.

Day Three:

What is with the ASA schedule this year? Most years they allow time for mere humans to do things like eat and make use of the facilities. This year, there does not appear to be a lunch slot on some of the days and, judging by how they’re running panels, many of my colleagues have bladders roughly the size of the Exxon Valdez. With luck they will come to a better end than the Valdez, but I won’t be around to see it because I have to sneak out during the Q&A of the stupid papers in order to save certain of my internal organs from explosion. My genetic endowment is nothing if not entertaining, but I could have done without the bladder the size of a walnut.

I know that it’s more efficient to put a bunch of related papers on the same day of the conference and to put successive related panels in the same room. This makes perfect sense. On the other hand, I’ve been sitting in the same bloody room for a good six hours now. I’ve been in the same chair for four hours. Pretty soon I either need to get out of this room or I’m going to start asking stupid questions just to amuse myself.

Scratch that- a dude three rows back just cracked. He’s pestering the current presenter about whether or not the Founding Fathers could be thought of as a terrorist cell. This would actually be amusing except the presenter is a grad student from my department who isn’t all that comfortable presenting. Stop, drop and roll, buddy, stop, drop and roll!

I love all the people you see tapping on laptops in the conference hotel lobbies. Some of these people are working on their presentations or collaborating with co-authors they rarely see. I get this. But from my own observations I think around half of them are playing stealth-solitaire and hoping they look busy enough that nobody bothers them. On the other hand, the really angry looking computer users are almost certainly the folks who dropped $13 a day on conference internet access and are damned well going to get their money’s worth. This is harder than it sounds since at least one hotel (*cough* Marriott *cough*) provided a desktop box for you to plug your laptop Ethernet into. This box, however, was connected to the wall with standard phone cable. What’s more fun than paying $9.00 a day in the Sheraton for wireless access? Paying $13 in the Marriott for legacy access. Woot! Not that I, as a grad student, had to deal with all this. The Holiday Inn an hour away by train had free wireless. And if I got desperate for e-mail and didn’t want to wait at the message center, the Apple store across the street from the foodcourt had about fifty machines attached by broadband just waiting for my use. Every now and then there are advantages to being a grad student.

Not often but, hey, take what you can get.

I know the ASAs are almost always in a place that’s way out of my price range, but this year was truly over the top. The hotels were connected by a shopping mall. A mall that included an Armani store. I think the mannequins in there cost more than I do. This did, however, open the way to some pretty interesting social observation. For example, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing young mothers with early teen daughters who are not only dressed in outfits that cost more than all of my computer equipment, but are clearly in training for the ever-coveted trophy wife position. Is this an unfair assessment? You tell me but, before you do so, spend some time walking around in that shopping mall.

Day Four:

In truth I remember little to nothing about today. The ASAs are an experience of ever-increasing sleeplessness. You arrive, you go to early panels, you go to late panels, you go to receptions, you go see friends, you go see the sights, and if you’re lucky you get a couple hours of sleep before doing it all again. As the conference progresses we all drift deeper and deeper into madness. Some of us, I think, start hallucinating. At least, that’s the only way I can explain some of the questions people ask. So, in any case, my recollections about today, now that I have returned to my computer, more or less revolve around how tired I am of eating Panda Express.

Day Five:

This morning began with me sharing a shuttle to the airport with two tourists and their two small children. My driver was a pretty interesting guy- immigrant from Jamaica, he’s been in Boston for 16 years and driving airport shuttles for 6. A single dad, he has an 11 year old son and a 16 year old daughter. His daughter is a straight-A student at a magnet school for pre-med interested high schoolers and is very excited about learning. She also spent quite a while in the hospital getting treated for three brain tumors. Right now she’s about three years out of the surgery with no signs the tumors are coming back. His kids are coming back from a trip to Jamaica to visit family- they were going down for six weeks but missed him so much they’re cutting it short at four. Why do I mention all this? No reason, really, but as much time as we spend studying people, I wonder how many of us ever bother to talk to the random folks we meet? Try it sometime.

Boston Logan Airport has a muzak system that loops through every “feel-good classic” in the book. It also has constant announcements that you’re listening to “Airwaves: The sound of Boston Logan.” Look, really, the sound of Boston Logan right now is business travelers getting sloshed at the “Legal Sea Foods” bar since half the flights this morning are delayed. Oh, and it’s not even seven yet. This is gonna be a great flight. On the other hand, the soundtrack where I am is better than the one on the outside of security, which is better known as “enraged passengers” or the closely related tune, “seething mob.”

As if it wasn’t enough that you have to pay to check luggage, which means I’m now trying to carry everything on, we now have to pay a couple of dollars for a lousy can of soda during a flight. This will have the advantage of cutting down on the frequency with which people pass cups of liquid over my laptop during flights but I don’t think the benefits outweigh the costs. Between that and the increasing tendency for airlines to bar us normal folk from the front (i.e. first class) lavatories I’m starting to feel like Oliver Twist when I go on trips.

Working in Stata while on a flight generally makes me feel like I’m cool. I get all smugly satisfied with how I’m an academic and such. Then I remember that the exact personality traits that lead me to be pleased by this are probably the ones that helped make sure I didn’t have sex in high school. I’d feel bad about that but, let’s face it, I was a moron in high school. It probably wouldn’t have been a good thing. Arguably nothing has changed for me moron-wise except that I married a very patient woman.

I have a very philosophical approach to long layovers. On the one hand, they’re a pain in the ass and delay my return home. On the other hand, long layovers are always less stressful than short ones. Additionally, they give me time to eat as I get inexplicably hungry when traveling and sometimes they permit me to get work done. Sadly, this has also introduced a fun new game to travel: find-the-outlet. Basically, it’s a game where a large number of academics and business travelers compete to see who can locate the scarce unused electrical outlets and, subsequently, exploit the hell out of them. It is a difficult and dangerous game made all the more challenging by the burgeoning presence of returning undergraduates, who cannot exist without their iPods and PSPs for more than a few moments without collapsing into hopelessness. Sorry, I exaggerate. They actually just look disgruntled and rudely demand to know when you’ll be done charging your laptop- as opposed to your fellow business travelers who at least know how the game is played. For those who are curious, I just pounced upon a recently vacated outlet with the sort of cobra-like reflexes that can only be had by lying about them on the internet.

Cell phones are not always a good thing. Thanks to a combination of wireless phones and poor manners, I now know that a guy sitting twenty feet from me in the waiting area missed an earlier flight because they “mis-printed” his ticket. I also know that my neighbor to my right (about fifteen seats to my right) is excited that her friend was hit on by that totally hot guy in church. Sadly, my knowledge is not matched by my interest. On the plus side, at least this airport plays classic rock muzak rather than an endless loop of “Chuck Barry’s Greatest Hits.” Really, though, I’m probably just bitter since I never get hit on by the totally hot guy in church.

Always a bride’s maid, never an f-ing bride…

8 thoughts on “desperately seeking drek”

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