March 2006

This weekend, the law school welcomes 215 admitted students to campus to explore, take a mock class, and see whether they want to got into debt to come here.

Note I say 215. Not 150, as was expected. Key distinction, this. See, I actually am in charge of matching admitted students with current student hosts, and having 65 more people than expected really makes this a challenge. I have begged, borrowed, promised to bake cupcakes, and allowed my lower lip to tremble piteously in an effort to cajole my classmates into hosting admitted students. But the best, by far, have been the emails that I have gotten from the admits themselves, who appear to be under the misimpression that someone is being paid to do all this matching, and thus they are entitled to whatever they want. Here are some of the funnier tidbits from the more-than-250 emails on the topic of students hosts I have sent and received this week:

-“I’d like to be hosted by someone who is a member of both the Federalist Society (conservative student organization) and Outlaw (gay rights organization.)” Well, I’d like to make a first-year associate’s salary working at a child advocacy firm. We all have dreams.

- “I’m allergic to bananas. Will any bananas be served?” Dammit, I’m going to have to cancel that bananas foster dessert station we were planning to set up in the law school lounge.

-“I don’t think the host you’ve set up for me is going to work, because she has a dog, and I am occasionally intimidated by dogs.” With descriptions like “occasionally intimidated” already in your day-to-day vernacular, you are SO READY for law school.

- “I have an injury, and you will need to find someone who will carry my bags for me.” Yes, they’re called porters and they work at the airport and you TIP THEM. I cannot ask another law student to be your personal lackey! (Much as I’d like to assign that job to some of my less-favored classmates.)

- (from a host): “I can host, but I can’t come to any of the events, and the admit is going to need their own transportation and their own entertainment, because I really don’t want to be having to go to this crap. Will you find stuff for them to do for me?” No.

- “My host is unwilling to pick me up at Midway airport. Can you pick me up?” No.

- (after rejecting the 5th host I’d matched her with:) “You seem to be having a hard time finding a host for me. Couldn’t I just stay with you?” No.

Thank goodness Sunday’s event will have an open bar.

I have been pressed by some for more details of the trip. I offer you pictures, since I have been working in front of an Excel spreadsheet, matching admitted law students to current law student hosts for 492 hours and I am tired of typing.

Query: Why did the exotic white bird cross the road?

Answer: To get to the unsightly blue plastic rubbish bin. Duh.
(And yes, Anguilla is a British Isle, so “rubbish bin” is correct. I’m not just acting snooty.)

Fine, fine, the blue garbage can is maybe not the best representation of where we were. Here are some other shots:

Yes, that was the view out our hotel room window. Sigh. I miss that hotel room window.

And these are cacti that we saw on a hike to a secluded beach where, despite my best efforts to be cool, the sight of a dozen topless women sunbathing made me want to (a) shyly avert my eyes to give them some privacy or (b) giggle. Yeah, I’m a grown-up.

And finally, from the “you have got to be kidding me” files, I present you with photographic proof of the most troubling modern use of a terribly anachronistic visual stereotype ever to be put on a liquor bottle:

Yes, folks, “Rum Jumbie” was given to us as a “congratulations for visiting our resort on your honeymoon” gift. And it was deeeeelicious.

From the day when we had the five spice creme brulee for lunch: Rent a car. Nevermind that car rental is expensive. Nevermind that The Island in Question is 8 square kilometers, so small you feel you really ought to be able to walk anywhere you’d want to go. Nevermind that Leslie the travel agent told you, in serious tones, that you would not need a car. (Maybe she wanted to shield us from the poverty?) Rent the car. Why? Because if you don’t, you will be stuck at the (lovely, beautiful, amazing, swank, way-beyond-your-normal-means) resort. Why is this so bad? Because at the aforementioned resort, a Nicoise salad costs $29, a burger and fries costs $22 and those are the two cheapest items on the lunch menu. And nevermind the cost, you’d really just like a tuna sandwich already. Or a roll. Or anything not featuring seafood, because you’ve been eating like a queen for three days and your stomach is starting to rebel. So you will order dessert for lunch, and thus begin your rapid descent into what shall henceforth be known as “Creme Brulee-fest 2006″.

From the day we had dark chocolate creme brulee with passionfruit sauce for dessert: Embrace the fact that you are Not A Swank Traveller. Swank Travellers, I have learned, employ an entirely different set of rules than the rest of us. Swank Travellers think nothing of bringing their nine year old children to islands whose primary offerings are topless sunbathing and fruity rum drinks. Swank Travellers have entire sets of Louis Vuitton luggage, which, doing a quick mental calculation after wandering by mistake into a Louis Vuitton store on Island Number Two, costs approximately one gazillion dollars. Weirdest of all, Swank Travellers arrive at Swank Resorts ALREADY TAN. I learned from a nice woman who took a snorkel trip the same day we did, and who works in the “tanning industry,” (?) that what I should have done was buy an unlimited pass to a tanning salon for the month before my trip and spent “three to four minutes per day” in the tanning bed to build up a nice deep golden glow. Um, I’m sorry, but who has time to go every day to the tanning salon? Oh, that’s right, the lithe, fit, holy crap they look so amazing in bikinis that I’m having trouble believing their bodies actually once bore children mothers in their 40s and 50s who populate Swank Resorts do. Paging Pseudostoops, pale doughgirl party of one! Your body complex is calling! Fortunately, I was travelling with John, my great Irish partner in paleness who doesn’t really work out either, so we could glop on sunblock and hoard beach umbrellas together.

From the day we had creme brulee with chicory and coffee granita after a truly superb dinner: Oh ye of Irish descent should just give up on beach vacations already. For when, after a week of dilligently slathering on SPF 5012, wearing a hat at all times, and sporting muumuus on the beach to protect delicate shoulders, your body finanlly CATCHES ON, and realizes that you are SPENDING TIME IN THE SUN, which is AGAINST THE RULES, it will give you sunstroke. This will cause your arms and legs (and even your poor tummy, in a bikini for the first time since age FIVE- never again!) to break out in angry, itchy, bright red little bumps, and you will spend the rest of your vacation furtively scratching and despeartely hoping that the lithe tan fit women don’t notice that you look like the skin of a piece of uncooked chicken.

From the day we broke with newly-established tradition and ate a “key lime pie in a glass,” which is perhaps the world’s perfect dessert: At the end of a brutal academic quarter and a mild but still cold and gray Chicago winter, everyone who has the chance should leave for a week to a place with no cell phones, no email, and a really cool travel companion. And a lot of fruity rum drinks.

We’re headed here for the week:

So you’ll forgive me if you don’t hear anything for a while. But, as a preview of what you’ll hear when I get back, I offer you this graphical representation of how I will look after a week of beachgoing:

You can’t wait.

Meet Oscar.

Oscar doesn’t look very threatening, does he?

Don’t be fooled.

Oscar belongs to a friend of John’s, who went skiing in Lake Tahoe for the weekend and asked us to puppysit. Since Oscar is about the size of one of John’s shoes, we figured “how bad can it be?” and agreed. (No, really, he’s about the size of a shoe. We took a picture to prove it because we knew the internet wouldn’t believe us. See? There’s John’s shoe, and there is Oscar looking at it with apprehension because it is so large compared to him that he’s afriad that the shoe might bring him some harm. Afraid of footwear. Real threatening, this dog. ) We’ve even talked about getting a dog from time to time, and thought this would be a terrific way to test our puppy parenting acumen.

(Side note: I should have known this was a bad idea after the Unfortunate Incident of the Ficus. My parents gave us a ficus tree that had lived all summer on their back porch but that they didn’t have room for in the house for the winter, and within approximately nine minutes of arriving at our home, the ficus had shed half of its leaves and has been dying a slow painful death ever since, despite my best efforts to care for it.)

Now, lest the side note about the ficus lead people to be afraid that I killed Oscar, and I’d like to say, for the record, that I DID NOT HURT THE PUPPY. Oscar nearly killed me, though. No, seriously. See, Oscar is a spite pooper. He likes to be the center of attention, and if he is not, he likes to express his displeasure with poop. Pseudostoops needs to take a shower? Oscar will punish her selfishness with two little poop piles on opposite ends of the rug. John and Pseudo want to go to bed and sleep through the night? We will wake up at 4:30 in the morning to the mournful sound of Oscar hurling his little body against the walls of the bathroom in which we’re keeping him to alert us to the two special presents he’s left because we refused to let him sleep in the bed with us. This spite pooping was killing me. I was afraid to leave the house for fear of what I’d discover when I returned. This was all good with Oscar, who appears to be completely nocturnal and would, if he had his druthers, spend the entire day sleeping peacefully in a ball on my lap.

“Why didn’t you just allow him to sleep in the bed?” you ask? Well, because we tried that the first night, and it was WORSE THAN SPITE POOP. First he had to give us goodnight kisses, which seems sweet but which actually was kind of a problem because as much as I hate to admit it, I am technically allergic to dogs, and all this doggy love caused me to break out in hives. The night before my con law final. All over my face and neck. And one eyeball, where he managed to lick me when I wasn’t paying attention. So I had to go sleep on the futon. The dog managed to force me to sleep in a separate bed from my husband! The four and a half pound dog! I ended up being glad for this, though, because after I left, Oscar piddled in the bed and John woke up soaking wet. Pet ownership! It’s a blast!

So eventually Oscar’s owner came home, and we gave Oscar back to him, and we did a little dance of joy because we got the bed back and the house smells less like crap. John has now officially announced that our thoughts on getting a dog are OVER, that we cannot get a dog until we have a YARD, and maybe not even then, because I am apparently ALLERGIC TO EVERYTHING. (Maybe I should have told him that before we got married.)

The kicker? We came home from a concert last night and Oscar wasn’t there to greet us and I got a little sad. I guess even spite poopers can be loveable.

So John and I are going on our honeymoon in a few days, now that I’ve finished up those pesky exams I’ve been working on. We are going to “The Islands.” We hear there are beaches there. We find this exciting.

If I seem a little vague on the details, this is because I don’t really know any details. In a total break from our normal pattern, we have allowed this trip to be planned almost entirely by a nice woman named Leslie who works for a travel agency. (Yeah, I didn’t know travel agencies existed any more either.) You see, as an incredibly nice wedding gift, some family members made generous contributions to what we’re affectionately calling “the honeymoon fund,” (because “the fund that we probably should use to pay off student loans instead” was too depressing, and also too long.) These contributions are making it possible for us to allow Leslie to plan a nice trip to The Islands for us, where all we have to do is pretty much throw some flip flops in a bag and show up at the airport.1

So it is that I came to have the following conversation with Leslie today:

Pseudostoops: So, I’m calling to discuss some of the details of our honeymoon. Like, for example, what part of The Islands, specifically, we are headed to.
Leslie: Oh, you are going to love it. You’re going to fly into St. Maarten, and then get a cab and take it to the marina, and then you’ll take a boat to Anguilla, where you’ll be staying.
Pseudostoops: great. And that’s pretty straightforward? These are small islands, I assume.
Leslie: Yes. And wear comfortable clothes, because once you get there, you’re in the islands.
Pseudostoops: okay
Leslie: and I should warn you, St. Maarten, well after the hurricanes, well, the French really never got their money back in there fast enough, and you might see some litter, and it’s a little funky, and (whispering now,) there’s some poverty there, (resume normal voice) so you’ll want to be sure to wear comfortable clothes…
Pseudostoops: (thinking: oh no! not poverty! I think my honeymoon might be ruined if I were forced to confront the fact that there are POOR PEOPLE in The Islands!.) Right, okay.
Leslie: but once you get to Anguilla, you’ll feel so relieved, it’s really well kept, and the locals are really well groomed, and you won’t see any poverty at all. Really, you’ll be able to totally forget the whole St. Maarten thing.
Pseudostoops: [blink blink.]

I won’t even get into the part of the conversation where she told me, helpfully, that “drinking and driving is really frowned upon in The Islands.” Geez, that’s revelatory. I’ll have to be sure to write that down.

Regardless, it seems like Leslie’s got it all figured out, and I’m pretty psyched to sit on a beach and read non-law-related books for a week, so I have no complaints. I just hope John and I won’t feel hopefully out of place on our own honeymoon. 2

1. This is a marked departure from my normal model of travel, as illustrated by my recent trip to Boston, wherein I arrived at the Manchester New Hampshire airport at 11, had lunch plans in Andover at noon, and really had no way to get from the one to the other until I convinced a nice woman named Lily that perhaps, just for today, she would like to run a gypsy cab service and give me a ride.

2. I mean, around the well groomed locals. Because I am not all that well-groomed. Especially on vacation.

My corporations final is in 2 hours, so this will be brief, but as I sit here in the library, gazing out the window at the fifty-something man who is using a METAL DETECTOR to go over the entire park that is next to the law school INCH BY INCH, who is also carrying a shovel and digging a series of small to medium sized holes in the squishy, muddy, early spring grass, I find myself wondering: would the University have a claim for tresspass here?

It’s a shame that my property exam was last year and thus this is not helping.

You know you have been reading too much about the law and it is time for bed when, trying to type “San Antonio,” the city in Texas, you sort off forget what you’re typing and just type what the letters “Antoni” usually lead to in law school: “San Antonin Scalia.”

I think “San Antonin Scalia” would be very very scary city. Even worse than the rest of Texas.

Nothing revolutionary, this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about context recently. For example: today, it is cloudy and blustery in Chicago, but it’s also about 56 degrees outside, which is currently making me want to peel off my sweater, throw on some flip flops and take my sun reflector and trashy novel to the beach. 56 degrees in September, though, feels like a chill in the air laced with the delicious anticipation that fall, with its changing leaves and pumpkins and smell of wood burning in yards is just around the corner. Context.

So, given how big a deal context makes, is there any context out there that someone can think of where I’ll appear to be an expert on legal ethics? Because my exam is this afternoon, and in the context of this law school, my lack of understanding is freaking me the fuck out.

Evanston, a city north of Chicago with a diverse(ish) racial makeup and a kickass movie theater (there’s a bar! Right there in the movie theater! Genius!), is in sort of an educational upheaval. This is pretty normal for Evanston; there are a lot of terribly well-educated, painfully socially-conscious and intensely well-intentioned people living there*, and if it weren’t for the fact that they can’t agree on a god loving thing, they might be able to form a pretty sweet progressive coalition.

But they don’t agree, and they get all riled up, and there’s a lot of sincere, emotional debate, and it’s all coming to a head over an issue that, frankly, I didn’t see coming, or at least didn’t see coming BACK: segregated education.

There is a major achievement gap along racial lines in Evanston, such that 90% of white eighth graders are testing proficient on state reading tests where only 61% of black eighth graders are. This is understandably upsetting, and a committee has been formed, and the committee has come out with a recommendation that a small number of the city’s elementary school classrooms, starting in kindergarten, feature an African-centered curriculum. The theory, which should be familiar to teachers, is that kids need to see people who look like them being valued and talked about, need to see their culture honored in school, and need it to happen year-round, not just on MLK Day or Cesar Chavez Day or any other Special Recognition of the Significant Contributions of Minorities Holiday.

The fear, however, is that only black parents will choose to enroll their kids in the afro-centric classes, and the city will end up with a small number of segregated classrooms. This idea does not sit comfortably with a lot of Evanston residents, particularly with many white residents. NPR did a story on the committee’s recommendations yesterday afternoon. Maybe it was just the way they edited parents’ comments, but the white parents’ reactions tended toward either “I am very uncomfortable with the idea of bringing back segregation, even by choice,” or “I want multicultural education for all kids,” while the black parents’ reactions tended toward “this is a good idea. duh. white parents, get over it.” I thought that was pretty telling.

NPR did a nice job with this story, I think, and if I’m able to track down a link to the audio I’ll update this and post it here. But one thing they didn’t mention, and the thing that worries me the most, is this: what happens if this works? What if we see dramatic achievement gains? That would certainly be a tremendous victory, and great for those kids who are succeeding. But are we at all concerned about sending a message that the only way to educate “those kids” is to remove them from an integrated setting and teach them a separate curriculum? Does it matter?

Maybe it’s an imperfect parallel, but this reminds me of one of the hardest-to-rebut arguments against affirmative action: we stigmatize, in an even more insidious way than direct segregation did, when we provide for systems of special help, because we convey the message that racial minorities aren’t able to achieve without this special help. This argument has been posited by none other than my favorite Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas (because the internet is bad at conveying tone, I will note here, for clarity: that was sarcastic!) In his dissent to the University of Michigan Law School affirmative action case, he quoted Frederick Douglass:

“what I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy…if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall.”

The majority opinion in the University of Michigan case, which allowed the affirmative action to continue, was very very careful to endorse the case-by-case approach to law school admissions and the “strong state interest” in promoting educational diversity based on employers’ desire for a diverse workforce. Without that “compelling state interest,” they would have had a much harder time upholding the system.

Granted, this is not an official state action (as far as I can tell, the school board of Evanston has not so totally lost its marbles that it is planning to require kids to learn in one-race classrooms,) but the argument seems at least plausible- are we making it easier for racists and pundits everywhere to conclude, however uncomfortably, that there’s just something “different” about black kids that makes them harder to educate in race-diverse settings?

Most interesting of all, I think, is this: I can’t decide how I feel about it. That is rare indeed.

*Needless to say, John and I will move there shortly, as we and our 5 degrees and social progressive earnestness will fit right in.

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