• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Lessons from a power outage; liberal arts in action; and a break from 2020.

August 14, 2020


Last week we lost power for 3 ½ days.  It was frustrating in all of the little ways that power outages are frustrating: suddenly laundry wasn’t an option, the bathroom required a flashlight, and indoor cooking was impossible.  We were lucky that our neighbors, who have a whole-house generator, took pity on us and ran an extension cord over so we could plug in the fridge; they didn’t have to do that.  But even with the fridge running, nothing else was.


Charging electronics quickly became an issue.  I was able to keep working at first, using the hotspot on my phone and the battery on the laptop, but you’d be surprised how quickly Zoom calls eat up battery life.  I wound up going to the office to get work done and to charge stuff.  


A day or two after the power came back on, I read an article online about how electric cars are the wave of the future, and they’ll work wonders on climate change.  And I thought, hmm.  In a power outage of several days, an electric car becomes a really expensive paperweight.  


Fix the grid, and we can talk about electric cars.  With the grid we have?  I don’t think so.




While on the subject of cars, I recently discovered “Regular Car Reviews” on YouTube.  The guy who does them is a former grad student in English literature, and it shows.  What starts as a review of a particular car quickly veers off into digressions about new historicism or his various unresolved issues from high school.  It’s a wild mix of 12-year-old boy humor, gearhead ranting, and “I coulda been a professor” philosophizing.  I sort of hum through the mechanical parts (“and 250 pound-feet of torque”) to get to the rest of it.  


His range is impressive: he has done reviews of food trucks (as trucks), motorcycles, a Model T, and a Swedish troop transport, among others.  The Gen X’ers out there may enjoy the reviews of the Ford Fairmont, the AMC Gremlin (!), and the Plymouth Reliant K.  In the K car review, he shows in real time how long it takes the car to go from zero to sixty.  It’s oddly suspenseful.


Still, my nominee for the funniest one is of the 1972 AMC Ambassador Brougham sedan.  (“If Dad-get-up-noise was a car.” “It’s like if a pack of Marlboros achieved self-expression.”)  If you have ten minutes to kill and you’re able to crank up the volume, it’s worth it.  Behold the liberal arts in action.




The Boy heads back to Charlottesville in a few days, and we decided we had to at least try to have one summer-vacation-ish day before he left.  So on Saturday we drove up to Cornwall-on-Hudson, north of New York City, to hike and kayak.


It was glorious.  For a good part of a day, things actually felt almost normal.  We climbed up Storm King Mountain, so named because it’s high enough that storms coming up the Hudson get blocked by it, or so we were told.  We had lunch in a restaurant -- yes, inside an actual restaurant -- for the first time since at least February.  And we kayaked the Hudson with a guide who was the love child of Bill and Ted.  


The sunscreen worked, everyone was on good behavior, and everyone even kept up with the physical demands of it all.  For a day, it almost didn’t feel like 2020.


I didn’t know how much I needed that.



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