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i once saw where a guy was working to recollect one moment from each year of his life to see if anything could be discovered by the exercise. not having many original ideas myself i figured i would try it myself. and as per usual i figured what's the point of doing it if i don't share it to the world. so feel free to step into various points in my life, for what it's worth.
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2008
in the 2007-2008 academic year, i was invited to teach a class at the university i work for. for me, it was an amazing and prestigious opportunity and one i eagerly accepted. about seven minutes after committing myself to the task, i promptly freaked out. i had taught in several unofficial capacities but never anything as structured, rigorous, or important as this. looking back on the sixteen week classroom experience, my fumblings and missteps and bottomless well of fear could easily be compiled into a comedic chronicle of a certifiable neurotic. but why go to that bother when one story can summarize the grace and style in which i handled myself.

before delving in, i need to set the scene a touch. saint louis is a wickedly cruel climate. this is doubly so for folks not born and bred in the region. for those transplants from other, more humane, parts of the country, living in such a hot and humid environment is a daily struggle and one that could be likened to struggling with an eating disorder or battling ocd. my need, my crutch, my balm to life in saint louis is ice. i require a deep and heaping supply of ice because i have found it is the only defense to my body's constant state of leaking (e.g. sweating).

the first semester i taught, there were two sections. that is, one class, but two groups of kids taking the class which meant you would teach the 53 minute class once, get a twenty minute break and then teach the same class again to the second 'section'. often times you would not have time to leave the room because of lingerers from class A and early arrivers to class B. for this reason, i would fully expect to be stuck in the room for essentially two and a half hours each teaching day.

for such a haul, i knew i'd need a good stock of ice before entering the classroom. one day mid-semester, i stopped at a coffee/beverage bar just outside of the building i taught in. being a global passing period the campus was bristling before this post-lunch class. after waiting in line several minutes, my turn came and i asked for a cup of ice. without looking at me, the girl called over her shoulder, "cup of ice." a moment later a dixie-sized cup was handed to me and contained about six cubes of ice.

COUNTER GIRL
next. what can i get you?

TROY
uhhm. excuse me. can i get a bigger cup of ice please?

COUNTER GIRL
sorry sir. that is the only size cups we give ice out in.

TROY
uhhm. but this isn't going to work for me. i see big cups over there. can't i get one of those with ice in it?

COUNTER GIRL
no sir. it's against our policy.

TROY
against your policy. this strikes me as a rather limiting policy. are you sure i can't do something to get a bigger cup of ice?

COUNTER GIRL
we don't give ice out in bigger cups because the kids then get soda in those cups without paying for the soda.

let me interupt here to describe the scene a little more. i'm standing with a stack of books i'm taking to class, a sheaf of papers i need to hand back to students and i'm wearing a tie and am easily old enough to be the father of this policy-spouting counter girl.

TROY
if i may ask, do i really look like someone out to steal soda from you?

COUNTER GIRL
sir. if you want a bigger cup of ice, i'd have to ask my manager.

TROY
ok. i'm fine that. please ask your manager.

another interruption. now there are five workers standing behind this girl. my expectation is that she is going to turn around, get the attention of one of them and say that this gentlemen is upset that he can't get a bigger cup of ice and then the manager would see that i'm an older man who probably doesn't have the constitution to digest carbonated beverages anyway and i'm practically wearing a suit and there are twenty fidgety students waiting behind me. and after taking this scene in she would tell her student worker to give me a cup of ice and get me out of her line. that's what i expected to happen. but what did happen was the girl said ok, turned, walked past all of workers, left the counter area, and walked out of the cafe building altogether. the head of every person in line, myself included, followed the path of this young woman and the moment she exited the room, all the jaws dropped simultaneously and then all the heads swiveled in unison to me where i smiled nervously.

but what i wanted to do was shout at them that i didn't think she'd leave the building and yellingly ask if any one of them assumed the manager wasn't here but apparently on the other side of campus and if that were the case, why wouldn't she have called. but i didn't say anything. and the thought of leaving and doing without the ice was not an option because remember, i'm a stranger in this land and ice is my elixir and equivalent to oxygen and without it i would melt like a stick of butter in a microwave.

one minute. two minutes. more than three minutes later she returns. she walks in the door, past the tables, behind the counter, by the workers and back to the register and says.


COUNTER GIRL
she said no.

TROY
she said no?

COUNTER GIRL
yes. she said no.

TROY
you have got to be kidding me.

COUNTER GIRL
sir, i have a lot of people waiting. do you want something different or can i help the next person?

TROY
yes. yes, i want something different. i want a large coke. in the largest cup you have. with the most ice you can put in it and no coke.

for the first time through this entire exchange, the girl looked me square in the eye.

COUNTER GIRL
you want a large coke, with no coke?

TROY
that's right. that's what i want.

COUNTER GIRL
i'll have to charge you for that.

TROY
i fully assumed you would.

COUNTER GIRL (while still staring at me she calls out over her shoulder)
large coke. lots of ice. no coke.

the beverage girl glanced at her, then understood, filled the order and handed the cup over. the counter girl, took the cup and handed it to me. i took the cup (sides already cool from the deep well of ice). i handed my id card towards her to be charged. she held her hand up and smugly said, don't worry about it. for the briefest of moments i considered demanding she charge my card, but i was now in the same boat everyone else in the line was and about to be late for class so i thanked her, picked up my stack of books and papers, set the no-coke-coke on top and pinned it in place with my chin.

i moved to the door which was maybe ten feet from the registers. i turned my back to push it open so i could pass through and as i turned around was met by a throng of students coming into the cafe. one of them bumped into me and the bottom of the cup slid out from the book, toppled on its side and the full contents of my big cup of ice scattered on the dirty, tiled entryway.

i stood frozen watching it unfold, knowing it was going to unfold three full seconds before it did. after i watched every last shimmering cube of ice fall and skitter on the floor i made the unadvisable move of looking back at the register. at the cashier. at the frustrated line of now late students. they were all looking at me, every face completely expressionless. it was too sad to enjoy. to perfect to react.

seeing that wall of stoic, sullen faces made me do something no other scenario could have made me do. it made me crouch down and collect my ice. i worked too hard for it. the people in that line worked too hard for it. this was special ice and it was now in my charge. so i collected it. as even more students stepped around and over me while i pushed dirty ice into a now dirty cup. and only after i had collected every piece i could see, i stood up. i stood up tall, showing dignity, and i then walked out of the cafe with my big and now soiled cup of ice.

on the way to class, which was starting in moments, i ducked into a restroom. i was all but muttering to myself that i was drinking this damn ice no matter how foul and gross and defiled it may be. i turned the spigot on and filled the cup with water. with my hand over the top, i shook the cup's contents like i was making a martini and then let the water pour out through my slightly parted fingers. small, dark particles filtered through. i repeated this again. and again. after three rinses i peered into the cup. i saw no specks. but there was also as much unmelted ice left as was in the very first mini-cup of ice the girl gave me.

and that single experience easily summarizes the ease and grace in which i shouldered my first university teaching experience.

(photo credit to aleo)



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