Thoughts, Prayers, Sound, and Fury

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

 

As a teacher, hearing the news of last week’s massacre in Florida hit me hard. All school shootings affect me in a similar manner. Even lockdown drills create a crippling feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I huddle with my students against the wall in the dark, contemplating oblivion, I wonder how we have fallen so far as a society.

I wrote a blog post almost two years ago under my semi-anonymous pseudonym, the one I use mainly for political commentary. I discussed how much better life has become in the 21st century, despite the uptick in domestic terrorist attacks. I offered some practical solutions, and called for civility in policy discussions.

I had a semblance of optimism then. After another two years of pain, vitriol, and random terror, I don’t have that optimism anymore. As dozens more cities and schools have become hashtags, and more dates on the calendar have been stained black, stoic fatalism has replaced that hopeful naivety.

There are practical measures we can institute to reduce the casualty count. However, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to stop the violence completely. In American society, these events will continue to take place. When I sit with my kids in the dark during lockdowns, I pray that our number never comes up.

That helpless feeling haunts me.

My despair is not assuaged by policy statements from the right or left. Well-meaning people who haven’t set foot in a school have put forward ideas, imagining them to be panaceas. As someone who has studied education policy for six years earning a doctorate, and spent a decade in classrooms, it’s annoying to see people claiming to solve our nation’s problem of school shootings with a Facebook meme. Let’s break down these basic arguments, moving right to left on the political spectrum.

A.) Arm the Teachers

Argument: Gun free zones invite lunatics armed with guns. If these lunatics knew their teachers had guns, they wouldn’t try to shoot up their schools. Allow teachers with concealed carry licenses to carry in schools. Or offer teachers a stipend to carry a pistol. Throw that gun-free zone sign into the trash, because recycling’s for pansies. Counter force with force. You bring a gun to school, and your calculus teacher will end your life.

Breakdown: Do me a favor. Imagine your 11th grade math teacher. Now imagine your school librarian. Now imagine your 9th grade English teacher.

Imagine a hallway filled with screaming kids, running from a lunatic with an assault rifle. Is old Mr. Fuddlesticks going to step into that hallway and win that firefight with his .38 special? How about Laura the Librarian with her 1911?

Unlikely. This is a bad idea. In the firefight described above, CSI would have the gruesome task of figuring out which holes in the bodies came from the AR-15, and which came from Mr. Fuddlesticks’s  .38. Additionally, a nervous teacher would kill an unarmed kid before one would heroically prevent a massacre.

Arming teachers would increase the body count without preventing a single tragedy.

Well, what if we just arm teachers with military experience? They’re trained!

Great. If we limited the arming option to veterans, they’d be much less likely to draw and fire on an unarmed student. But would they win the firefight described above? No. They’d have the discipline to duck back into their classroom and realize they didn’t have a shot. Or, on a vast open campus like Douglas High School, they might be in a different building 3 acres away from the site of the carnage.

This option assumes that the only place a lunatic would fire is in the classroom with a clear line of sight for the teacher to draw that .38 and end the threat. But that’s not where these massacres usually take place. It’s in the hallway before school starts. It’s in crowded cafeterias and libraries. It’s outside the school after the fire alarm has been pulled.

ANALYSIS: This is a bad idea all-around. Body Count: unchanged, maybe even higher.

B.) Beef Up Security

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was one of many who wrote in favor of additional security measures at schools. Using familiar rhetoric of “good guys with guns” and denigrating “Gun-Free Zone” signage, he pushed for a hybrid system of a few teacher “air marshals” who’d carry, and an increased uniformed police presence on school campuses.  He believes that these additional security measures would serve as a deterrent to school shooters, and keep students safe.

I think Mr. Gingrich is half-correct. More security on campus would keep students safer. It would also bring the first rapid-response officers much closer to the scene, because they would be on campus instead of at the local PD.

It wouldn’t stop the body count. As stated before, those teacher “air marshals” would have problems in a firefight in a crowded hallway against AK-47s and AR-15s. As for the additional police on campus, Mr. Gingrich acts as though Douglas HS and Columbine were defending their campuses solely with Gun Free Signage, and didn’t have SROs (School Resource Officers).

They did.

How many more would have stopped the massacres from happening? If a school has a 7-acre campus with over a dozen buildings, are you going to put uniformed police officers in each spot? Even if you do, if a kid is willing to die in the massacre (and most wind up killing themselves after they’re cornered; the Douglas HS shooter was one of the first I’ve seen who managed to evade the initial police dragnet), all you’ve done is bring the police closer to the scene of the massacre.

Even if a school has officers in each building, a student can draw and open fire in a crowded hallway between classes, or on kids outside during fire drills, or in the middle of a packed cafeteria, or in the library, or in the bus loop before school.

ANALYSIS: More cogent proposal. Expensive. Body count reduced, but not eliminated.

C.)Fortified Campuses with Security Measures at Building Entrances

Do you love TSA lines at the airport? Well, let’s bring them into schools. Radically restructure open campus schools nationwide into single-building entities with a security checkpoint at the entrance(s). You’ll probably have to spend billions creating covered connections between buildings. Along with billions more for hiring screeners and equipment for them to monitor each backpack and student entering the building.

I hope you enjoy getting to school at least one hour early. For schools as large as my alma mater (Sarasota High School) or Douglas HS, you’re going to have lines. 2,000-5,000 students/faculty will take a long time to get screened. Creating walkways to connect 12-18 buildings over 7 -15 acres, and then constructing checkpoints, will be crazy expensive.

Have you made the school safer? Maybe. During school hours, once everyone’s entered the fortress. But you have created a giant target outside the fortress, as all those students and teachers line up to get through the checkpoint every day. And what are you going to do for football and basketball games? You going to set up TSA checkpoints outside the stadiums as well? Or are sports and concerts and any after-school activities going to be the next sacrifices?

ANALYSIS: Expensive as holy heck. Body Count- Unchanged. Schools-radically altered. Those who tout this plan must picture a high school as it appeared in Back to the Future’s depiction of 1959. One building, one entrance, three stories. They should do research before spouting nonsense.

D.) Patriot Militia on Campus

This is a popular idea I’ve seen pop up on right-leaning social media. For no cost, veterans and former police officers will patrol our country’s schools and protect our children. They’ll volunteer on their own time and instead of the expensive uniformed security presence proposed by Mr. Gingrich, we get trained, local, free patriots to protect children. They’ll volunteer for background checks, of course.

Sounds awesome.  It’s filled with American can-do spirit, which rises to the challenges faced by modern society, and preserves 2nd Amendment freedoms. Matter of fact, it takes those 2nd Amendment freedoms and shoves them in the face of the bad guys! It just makes you want to fist pump and start singing Toby Keith songs.

But we’ve got the same problems we had with Mr. Gingrich’s proposal. The patriot militia will likely be faster than local PD’s rapid-response teams, since they’re already on campus. But they won’t stop the hallway shootings between class, the bus loop before and after school, crowded cafeteria and library, etc.

Reduced body count, but it still happens. Also, when the police do arrive, they have the added difficulty of differentiating between the school shooter(s), the patriot militia members, and terrorized students running in fear.

As a teacher, I also worry that some members of this patriot militia, especially if they’ve got kids on campus, could turn into vigilantes. What if they hear that someone is bullying their kid? Instead of scanning their zones for security threats, they’re cornering some 8th grade boy in the bathroom to put the fear of God in his heart, while showing off their .44 Desert Eagle. As a teacher, I sometimes deal with helicopter parents who flood my inbox asking about their kid’s missing work, or schedule a lot of parent teacher conferences to express issues with test and quiz grades.

I’d get a lot more nervous if an armed patriot militia mom or dad just “dropped by” my classroom to “have a chat” about little Johnny.

ANALYSIS: Similar to Mr. Gingrich’s proposal but cheaper. Likely a reduced body count. But doesn’t eliminate school shootings. Also adds the complication of vigilantism/reprisals against students and teachers.

Let’s move on to the proposals coming from the Left.

A.) Ban Assault Rifles (and maybe more?)

Many mass shootings are committed with assault rifles. During the 2012 and 2016 Republican primary debates, no event or person other than 9/11 was mentioned more than Ronald Reagan. Republicans elbow each other out of the way to claim the title of Reagan’s successor.

Ronald Reagan supported expanded background checks, waiting periods, and a ban on assault rifles. Joe Biden recently noted that the US Government already limits 2nd Amendment freedoms, by restricting access to weapons of war like grenade launchers and bazookas. Wouldn’t assault rifles be the next logical step? Aren’t those also weapons of war? If Joe Biden and Ronald Reagan are on the record agreeing on something, shouldn’t we be able to get that bill through Congress?

Let’s assume you can. Let’s say we get a reprise of the 1994 Clinton-era assault weapons ban passed. Let’s say the Freedom Caucus in the House has a come to Reagan moment and joins forces with moderate Republicans and Democrats to get it done.

No assault rifles means no school shootings, right?

Doubtful. The Columbine massacre of 1999 happened in the middle of Clinton’s assault weapons ban. Some of the weapons used during that slaughter could be classified as conventional. The Virginia Tech mass shooting, one of the deadliest in US history, was committed with a humble 9mm handgun.

Ok. Let’s repeal the 2nd Amendment and ban all firearms, unless you’re retired military or police.

Let’s assume you can actually do that. Would that completely stop the violence? In 2015, we passed a dark milestone in the US. There are more guns in this country than there are people. Over 357 million of them. Any weapons ban that doesn’t involve confiscation is toothless. Any confiscation attempts would require significant re-interpretations of the 2nd Amendment, or its outright repeal.

Good luck with that.

Ok, how about issuing a buy-back program? Heck, make it mandatory if you have any felony on your record! If we can restrict felons’ rights to vote, we can certainly restrict their access to firearms, right?

Make the price high enough, and you might get 50% of them. Maybe. But are you going to get them all?

It worked in Australia!

Australia didn’t have 357 million guns. Australia didn’t have a 2nd Amendment that most conservatives can quote more readily than Scripture.

Give people $5,000 for assault rifles and $2,500 for handguns and you might reduce the number to around 100 million. Refurbish the guns you receive and give them to National Guard units and local police departments, and you might be able to justify that cost.

You’re not going to get them all. 100 million is still a lot of firearms. Are you going to go door to door to confiscate them all and turn every 10th house on the block into Ruby Ridge or Waco? I don’t want to be in this country when you try to do that. It’s going to be awful.

The toothpaste is out of the tube on this one. While I like the idea of an assault weapons ban, and I think stopping production on all new AR-15s will be useful, it won’t stop the violence.

It will slow it down, but it will continue.

ANALYSIS: Sound and fury. Brothers grabbing brothers’ throats on Facebook feeds and blocking Grandpa on Twitter. Record levels of vitriol in political process. Maybe violence in the streets if you try the confiscation angle.

Body count in schools-slightly lower. Weapons of choice might change, but kids will still die.

B.) Raise the Age for Gun Purchase, Expand Background Checks, Close Gun Show Loopholes, Restrict High-Capacity Magazines (30+), Fund Mental Health Facilities, Raise Taxes on Ammunition, Restrict Access to Firearms for Everyone with History of Domestic Violence and/or Status on No-Fly Terrorist Watch Lists, Charge Parents of School Shooters with Negligent Homicide if They Allow Their Firearms to be Taken by Underage Children

These are the ideas that have a chance at denting the violent epidemic of school violence. They are supported by Democrats and even a few Republicans who aren’t getting their talking points directly from Dana Loesch.

As President Obama said last year, it’s lunacy that American citizens who’ve been on ISIS websites and have been identified by the FBI as risks to public safety…can simply walk into a gun show and buy a weapon of war. Everything else on the Bill of Rights has limitations. Why is the 2nd Amendment regarded as ironclad? Why is everyone who suggests any of these measures instantly portrayed as tyrannical as King George III?

Perhaps the tide is finally changing. Maybe we’ll get a few of these reasonable measures passed. If President Trump can serve as a broker and absorb some political heat from his base, perhaps GOP legislators will follow.

The NRA will offer a ban on bump-stocks. That’s nothing. They want this to go away. They want the Douglas HS Students to go away. They want people to “stop politicizing” tragedy. As in, just shut up, accept your fate, and die if your number is selected. If people are loud enough, and persistent enough, some of these measures could get passed.

It won’t be enough. The numbers will be moderately reduced, but to me, it’s a math equation that can be done on a napkin. 320 million Americans. 357 million firearms. Let’s assume that just one in a million is deranged enough to shoot up a school. Or a theater. Or a McDonald’s. Or a church.

That’s 320 people with at least one gun and the desire to kill random people. We’ll still have at least 1-2 school shootings a year.

ANALYSIS: Body count moderately reduced. Incidence Number=reduced. Best ideas on paper that we have so far.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The moments after school shootings feel like an American rendition of the dystopian Hunger Games. We are all glued to our TV sets. We hear stories of the carnage. We admire the heroes. The faces of the fallen are displayed on CNN and Fox News.

And we do it all again next time.

As a teacher, I used to be filled with righteous anger at the callous nature of American society. This volume of school shootings doesn’t happen anywhere else in the civilized world. Western democracies look at us with horror. Canada looks down at us and wonders, wtf, eh?

French philosopher de Maistre noted that every nation has the government it deserves. As I stated previously, the toothpaste is out of the tube. This is what we are. This is what we’ve accepted. Every morning when I show up to work, I play a twisted lottery game, and hope my number won’t be selected at the next American Reaping.

During the moment of silence each day, I pray for my students. But my thoughts aren’t enough. My prayers aren’t enough. My words aren’t enough. It’s going to continue to happen. And I have no faith in my leaders to change anything, because as a policy analyst, none of the options I’ve seen can stop this carnage.

After the Las Vegas massacre, Bill O’Reilly callously opined that mass shootings were “the price of freedom”. As much as it pains me to say it, at this moment, he’s right. That is what we’ve chosen to accept as a nation. It’s disgusting. It’s also disgusting when policy actors like Ben Carson blithely tell students to attack the guy with the rifle, as he did after the Oregon community college shooting when he said, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”

No, Mr. Carson. You’d be running in terror, like any normal human. Or frozen in place, which is also a natural reaction. When someone has the drop on you, there isn’t much you can do. When given time to prepare, maybe you have a chance. But you’re also going to die. As I’m putting the finishing touches on this blog post, I’m presently sheltering in place at my own school, first in line in the corner of the room, armed with a kettle of boiling-hot water and a pair of scissors. If that door is opened by anything other than an administrator or police officer with a key, 80% of us are likely to be cut down, and I’ll be the first to die.  But I guess 80% is better than 100%, right?

We’re sheltering in place because there’s a rumor a kid brought a gun to school, and the police are investigating. Yesterday, at another school in the district, a 7th grade boy actually did bring a loaded gun to school, ‘on a dare’.

How sick are we as a society? One of the most triumphant talking points that the far-right brings up is the fact that the commonly quoted figure of 18 school shootings in 2018 is misleading. In actuality, it’s three or four, depending on your interpretation.

So, experiencing at least one deadly shooting a month, perhaps two, is supposed to put my mind at ease? Would my anxiety be soothed if I was wounded by an “accidental discharge” from the firearm of a 12-year-old girl, who gravely injured a number of her peers in California a few weeks ago? Is it supposed to be heartening that some of the school shootings reported are actually students committing suicide in bathrooms? Thank God! Students are so depressed that they’re just killing themselves instead of others. Darn those liberals who count those in their stats of shootings committed on school campuses.

Whether you are left, right, center, or somewhere on the fringes, we all have to face the realization that there is something seriously wrong with our country right now. You can’t just repeat one or two of these common talking points and triumphantly sit back in your chair and believe you have the answer. Or maybe you can.

I can’t. I’ve got to play the Hunger Games every day. The music from those films plays in my ears every time I step on campus in the morning.

I hope that the odds are in my favor, and that today isn’t the day that my kids and I are chosen as tribute to this madness.

 

Dr. Rudolph Lurz is a teacher and education scholar living in Roanoke, Virginia. He received his doctorate in Administration & Policy Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Terror of Judgment

Why write?

 

A mentor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh called writing a battle against “the tyranny of the empty page”. On many mornings, I lost that battle. The causes were numerous. Procrastination, random videos on Facebook, Playstation4, self-doubt, doing all the chores in the house…these are just a few of the reasons for past defeats.

Lately, I’ve experienced a few minor victories. I finally published my first novel, and I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation.

That should be cause for celebration. Instead, I’m experiencing anxiety. If the act of putting pen to paper is a battle against the tyranny of the empty page, waiting for sales reports and literary reviews consists of anxiety-fueled trepidation. After victory against doubt, a writer experiences the terror of judgment.

How does a writer determine success? What brings that writer back to the empty page?

I recently sat down at brunch with my wife and her cousin. I contemplated those questions while conversing with Cousin Robert, a published author and a kind soul. I told him and my wife that I was uncertain about whether I would write the next book in the trilogy. If few bought it, and everyone who bought it hated it, why keep writing? Wouldn’t that be a message to put the pen down and shut the hell up?

Personally, I don’t give a damn if people hate my dissertation. The opinions of four people mattered: the scholars on my committee. They said I passed.  If people hate it now, I don’t care. I’ll smile, forget their names, put my head on my pillow at night, and sleep like a baby. Additionally, academics are normally passive-aggressive with their hatred of work. They might give me an underhanded compliment at a conference presentation, or write a snarky message about my methodology on a comment card, but they are very unlikely to tell me I suck directly to my face.

Reviewers and Twitter’s Keyboard Warriors, on the other hand, can be vicious. My novel is also not an academic piece analyzing an aspect of public policy formation; it’s a part of my soul. It’s my own artistic expression and voice. If people think it sucks, then they think that I suck.

Finally, why would I write another book if no one buys the first one? Isn’t that the perfect example of Sisyphus-rolling my own writing boulder up the hill of futility? I might as well tell my story to the trees outside my window. At least there’s no chance that they’ll tell me I’m horrible.

Robert opined that I was looking at it all wrong. A writer should not look to others for verification about whether a book was a success or failure. Such conclusions should come only from the writer himself. Robert also advised me to avoid reading reviews. Neither ego boosts nor soul-crushing critiques were good for the spirit.

Likewise, sales reports are often an indication of an author’s visibility, rather than his ability. Indie and micro-press publications often only record around 75 sales, and debut authors can expect half of that. While my book is doing relatively well at the moment, I can’t expect to appear on any best-seller lists.

Robert’s advice and personal reflection have led me, I believe, to the most suitable approach to writing. I have to write for myself, and no one else. Sales and reviews are irrelevant. If I’m compelled to tell my story, I need to tell it.

In a way, the act of writing is simultaneously selfish and altruistic. It’s selfish in the fact that I will say what I have to say, even if the entire literary world tells me to be silent. It’s selfless, because I will bring the next chapter of my story to my readers no matter what, even if my audience is limited to just one excited fan waiting for Book 2 in her local library.

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it”. That short quote encompasses all of my feelings about writing. For better or worse, my story is bursting out. I await the world’s judgment of Realms of Glory. I will write its sequel. I am both anxious and excited about what lies ahead.

{RWL}

Closing the Door

By rolling back Obama-era Title IX requirements, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is turning her back on victims of campus sexual assault.

I shouldn’t watch the news.  It often changes the focus of my blog posts.  However, I feel that this week provided important stories that shouldn’t be ignored.  U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently explored the possibility of rolling back Obama-era Title IX requirements which protect victims of campus sexual assault.

On another blog last year, I wrote an article titled, “The Girl in My Roommate’s Closet”.  Given the events of this week, I think it is important to republish this article. This is an issue that is larger than petty political differences. I urge Ms. DeVos to show the American public that the U.S. Department of Education supports women on campus. Women nationwide face the crisis of campus sexual assault.  The Department of Education should not abandon them in their hour of need.

Here is the article I wrote last year. It’s a long read, but an important one.

The Girl in my Roommate’s Closet

I sat on the couch in my apartment, staring at the clock, drinking a bottle of beer.  It was 3AM.  My roommate sat next to me, sipping a beer of his own, questions written all over his face.  He had a big presentation early in the morning.  He went to bed before midnight, hoping to get some sleep.  His plans were interrupted by an event neither of us expected.

“Dude,” he began.  “Why is there a girl in my closet?”

I took a sip of Amber Bock, which we thought was good beer when we were in college.  “It’s a long story,” I replied.

It’s a story we would tell often in the years that followed.  We had many strange nights in that dingy college apartment.  This one ranked among the strangest.  I never committed it to paper because I didn’t consider our actions extraordinary.  To me, how my roommate and I handled that odd situation reflected basic human decency.

Brock Turner’s arrest, conviction, and early release from jail spurred me to put pen to paper.  The Department of Justice estimates that 1/5 women are sexually assaulted during their college years. Turner’s crime is unique in the fact that he was brought to trial and convicted, despite his light sentence.  Over 90% of campus sexual assaults aren’t even reported.

Perhaps basic human decency isn’t as basic as I first believed.  The girl in my roommate’s closet left our apartment with a story and an ugly Cleveland Browns T-Shirt instead of physical and emotional trauma. I tell her story with the hope that it can instruct other college students about alcohol and consent.  As I said on that couch, it’s a long one.  I’ll start at the beginning.

First Date

It was April, 2005.  I was a junior at the University of Florida.  I just finished my final presentation for an education course.  I had a crush on a girl who sat next to me in class. Let’s call her Edith.  In the last class of the semester, I finally had the nerve to ask her out.  I said we should meet at Gator City, a bar on University Avenue, to celebrate.  She said she was eating dinner with her girlfriends at a Mexican restaurant, but would meet up with me afterward.  We exchanged Facebook information, which was a new thing at that time.

I waited that evening at the bar in Gator City, nursing a beer.  I tried to watch the random NBA games on TV.  Anything to take my mind off of the fact that Edith was over an hour late.  I didn’t have her number.  Smart phones and 4G Internet access didn’t exist, so I couldn’t check Facebook to see if she wrote me a message. I sighed.  Wasn’t the first time I’d been stood up. Wouldn’t be the last. I got up from my stool.  I was heading for the door when I saw her.

“You’re still here!” she exclaimed, enveloping me in a huge hug. I could smell the tequila on her breath.  “Sorry I’m late,” she said.  “We had margaritas and nachos!”

“No worries,” I said.  I pointed at the seats I’d been saving for 90 minutes.  “Want to sit down and have a drink?”

Edith grabbed my hand.  “Let’s go to XS!” she said.  “I want to dance!”

I suppose I should explain about XS.  Gator City was divided into two parts.  One side was a sports bar and pool hall.  The other side was a dark, windowless dance club.  XS was known for cheap drinks, grinding on the dance floor, and make-out sessions with random strangers.  It was normally where folks went late at night after fueling up with liquid courage on the sports bar side.

It was a bit early in the night to head to XS, but I wasn’t going to decline dancing with a girl I had a crush on.  I let her lead me into the darkness of the dance club.

I was hit immediately by the pounding bass music of early 2000s hip-hop.  Cigarette smoke permeated through the club.  The dance floor was already filled with college kids grinding on each other.

Edith led me to the bar.  “Let’s do shots!” she yelled into my ear over the din of the club.  “Yeah!” I responded, taking out my wallet.  The bartender came over.  “2 double tequila shots!” she said.  I did my best not to cringe.  Tequila wasn’t my favorite.  “Got any salt?” I asked the bartender.  He shook his head and handed me a sad-looking lime wedge.

Edith held her lime in one hand and the shot glass in the other “To the end of the semester!” she said.  I clinked glasses, took the shot, and sucked all the juice out of that tiny lime.  I did my best to look normal, but that shot hurt my soul.  The feeling quickly passed. I felt energized.  I looked up at Edith.  She was looking at me flirtatiously.

She grabbed the collar of my button-down shirt, pushed me against the wall, and kissed me.  It was turning into a good night.

Edith grabbed my hand and led me onto the dance floor.  While dancing, I could tell that she was extremely intoxicated.  Dancing turned into a strange alternating experience between keeping up with her erratic movements and making sure she didn’t topple over.  When we went back to find a spot on the wall, she could barely walk.  She leaned on me and tried to kiss me again, but her lips landed on my neck.

It wasn’t sexy.

Edith giggled. “Sorry, she said.  She held up two fingers and pointed at me.  “I see two of you.”

“Ok,” I responded.  I realized I was subconsciously using the “teacher voice” we’d worked on in our education class.  “Stay here, I’m going to close out the tab, ok?”
I went to the bar and closed out my tab.  I looked to my right and saw Edith taking another tequila shot. “Dammit,” I muttered, signing my check.  I walked the three steps over to her.  She put her arm around me and led me back to the wall again- an awkward attempt to find something to lean on.

The din of the crowd and music had become louder.  “Edith,” I began.  “Do you have a ride home? One of your girlfriends you went out to dinner with, maybe?”

“I lost my phonnnnne,” she slurred.  She stuck out her lip, making a pouty-face.  I was now supporting almost 100% of her weight.  She thought it was sexy, and was trying to do some awkward half-dance against me while swaying back and forth.

I realized I was going to have to take care of Edith.  “Alright,” I said.  “I’m gonna take you home. Let’s go.”

“Yeahhh!” she slurred.  I don’t think she understood that this date was over.  There’s nothing sexy about a girl who can’t even stand up or talk.

Blockbuster Video is not your Apartment Complex

The two block walk to my car was a grueling ordeal.  I was practically carrying Edith.  Drunk frat guys gave me the thumbs-up on the sidewalk.  A few even tried to high-five me.

Why are you trying to high-five me, dude? I thought to myself in wonder.  I was too busy trying to keep Edith from falling over to high-five anyone.  She drunkenly began singing “Take me home tonight,” humming most of the words and speaking the unintelligible language of the severely intoxicated.

I finally got her to my car and helped her into the passenger seat.  I got behind the wheel.  I pulled out onto University Avenue.

“Alright,” I began.  “Where’s your place? Where am I going?”
“So bright,” she said, pointing out the window at the passing cars.

“Edith,” I said, with more authority, using the teacher voice again. “Where do you live?”

“Just go to Archer Road,” she said dreamily, staring out the window.

Archer Road is one of the main roads in Gainesville.  Driving up and down Archer means driving all over town.  Nonetheless, I made my way to Archer Road.

“Ok, Edith,” I said, nudging her arm. She had passed out against the window.  “We’re on Archer.  Which way do I go now? What’s the name of the complex?”

“Left, left, left, left, left,” she said.

“Left at the next light?”

“Yes,” she murmured.  “Left, left, left, left.”

I turned left.

“Ok, now where?”

“Right, right right right right,” she said.

I was beginning to think she was just giving random directions.  “What’s the name of the complex?” I repeated.

“Turn right here!” she shouted suddenly.  “That’s it!”

I pulled into a Blockbuster Video parking lot.  “Here we are!” she said, beaming.

“Edith,” I said slowly. “This isn’t your place. This is a Blockbuster.”

“We can make it my place,” she cooed.  She tried a wink.  Maybe the tequila was closing one of her eyes. Either way, her meaning wasn’t difficult to infer.

“Where do you live, Edith?” I asked again, trying to change that subject as quickly as possible.

“I don’t knowwwww,” she slurred.  “Let’s just stay here.”

I sighed.  I wasn’t going to spend the night at Blockbuster.  I was thankful my car had child safety locks that clicked on the second the engine was engaged.  Last thing I needed was drunk Edith trying to run into a closed Blockbuster Video.

“We’ll go to my place,” I said.  “I’ll set you up on the couch.”

“Yeah, you will!” she replied.

I didn’t respond.  I drove the car back to my apartment, hoping she’d go to sleep the second she hit my couch’s pillow.

Someone who was drunk enough to think Blockbuster was her apartment complex was most likely drunk enough to puke.

Toddler Mode

I pulled into my apartment complex.  Edith was passed out against the window.  I parked in front of my apartment and nudged her.  She yawned and stretched.

“We’re here, Edith,” I began, turning off the car.  “Let’s get you some water.”

Her eyes widened as she opened the door.

“You found it!” she exclaimed. “My apartment is right upstairs. Let’s go!”

She bounded out of the car with surprising energy and charged up the steps toward the second floor.

“Edith!” I said loudly, trying to keep my voice down but also trying to get her attention.  “That isn’t your apartment!”

My apartment was on the first floor.  My upstairs neighbor was a 300 lb. man with cornrows who loved working on his car in the parking lot. He had a custom license plate on that big sedan displaying his nickname: TRU-PLAYA.

Tru Playa would come down and have a beer with me and my roommate sometimes.  He was a fan of Bud Light.

Tru Playa would not appreciate a random stranger trying to break into his apartment at 1AM on a weekday.

I caught Edith right before she put her key in the lock, wrapping both of my hands gently around her own.  “That’s Tru Playa’s apartment,” I whispered.  “We’re in my complex.”

“That’s right,” she said, seemingly in realization.  “My apartment is across the courtyard!”  She ran down the stairs.

“God dammit,” I grumbled under my breath.

Where the hell did this energy come from? I thought.  I strode with purpose down the steps, not wanting to wake up my neighbor.  She turned the corner and headed toward the grassy courtyard area.

It had rained earlier that evening. Edith slipped the moment her heel hit the muddy lawn.  I ran toward her, worried she was hurt.

When I arrived, she was laughing. I reached out my hand to help her up.

“Come on, Edith,” I said, taking her hand.  “You’re getting all muddy.”

“I like it,” she said.  With surprising strength, she pulled me toward her.  “Let’s get dirty,” she slurred. “Come lay with me in the mud.”

I helped her to her feet.  “Let’s just go inside,” I said, exhausted.  “We’re right around the corner.”

She did a sort of skip/frolic toward my apartment, staying about three paces ahead of me.  I realized the best way to keep her from running off was to turn it into a game.  “Keep going,” I said.  She skipped a few more paces, looking back over her shoulder with raised eyebrows.  “One more door down,” I said, taking my keys out.  She leaned on the wall next to my apartment door, pointing at it, a quizzical expression on her face. I reached the door and nodded, opening it.  She went inside.

I closed the door and bolted it. Last thing I needed was drunk Edith frolicking all over our apartment complex or trying to walk into my neighbor’s apartment again.

“Which one is your room?” she asked, kicking off her heels.

“Around the corner to the right, the master,” I answered automatically, more concerned with ensuring the door was locked.  I realized my mistake immediately.

Shit.

I walked into my room just in time to see Edith leap onto my bed.

“No!” I called out.  I hurriedly took a pair of pajama pants and an old Cleveland Browns shirt out of the dresser, along with a towel from my closet.  I placed them in my bathroom.  I came back out to find Edith trying to get out of her shirt, flinging mud all over my sheets.

“Shower!” I said in my teacher voice, pointing at the bathroom. I felt like a middle-aged father yelling at a child.  That’s exactly what excessive alcohol turns us into.  Children.  Children should be taken care of, not taken advantage of.  They also can be really annoying.  Those were new sheets.

“Finnnnne,” she slurred.  She went into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I heard the water turn on.  I walked to my computer and logged onto Facebook.  I clicked on Edith’s profile.

Friends, friends, friends.  I scrolled through her friends list, looking for anyone I recognized, anyone who could come pick Edith up.  Most people didn’t put phone numbers on Facebook at that time.  A few did.

Then I realized it was super late.  Edith was my responsibility.  I sighed.  I needed to find someone to write a message to.  Someone who would be able to pick her up in the morning.

I clicked on her profile again.  I saw a picture of her with other girls at a Mexican restaurant.  I wrote a message to the girl who posted the picture, telling her that Edith was really drunk, but I was making sure she was safe, and she’d be on my couch with a bucket next to her face. I asked if she could pick her up in the morning and provided all of my contact information.

I opened the beer fridge in my room and cracked open an Amber Bock.  Before I even took a sip, I heard Edith yelling.

“Hellllp!”

I listened to the water. It sounded like she was running a bath.

“Helllllllp!!” she yelled again, with more volume and urgency.

I opened the bathroom door.  The tub was about a quarter full.  The remnants of salsa and nachos were around the drain.  Water weakly ran from the faucet.  Edith sat there, staring at the running water.

“I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower,” she said.  “I also threw up,” she added unnecessarily.

How do I remember, over a decade later, that Edith was at a Mexican restaurant before she met me at Gator City? That image of salsa clogging my bathroom drain will remain eternally imprinted on my memory.

I helped her to her feet.  I made sure the water coming from the faucet was warm.  I turned on the shower for her.  She flinched as the water hit her and then relaxed.

“Ahhhh,” she sighed.  “Thank you.”

I closed the shower curtain.  “Don’t worry about the drain,” I said.  “I’ll take care of it later.  There are pajama pants and a shirt for you on the toilet, along with a towel.  There’s some Listerine on the counter.”

I went back to the computer, double-checked the information, and hit SEND on my Facebook message. I took a long sip of my beer.

Edith came out of the bathroom wearing my old clothes, the towel wrapped around her hair.

“These pants are huuuuge,” she said, giggling. She tightened the drawstring.  I got a pillow out of the closet.  She hugged me.  “Thank you for taking such good care of me,” she said, trying to kiss my neck. I broke away gently.  “Let’s get you set up on the couch,” I said.

She looked at the bed, then back at me.  “Why not here?” she asked.

“Or you can take the bed and I’ll take the couch.  Either way, I’m going to get you a glass of water.”

Her expression changed in an instant.  “Fine,” she said, scowling.  “If you don’t want to sleep with me, I’m going to sleep in my room.”

Oh, shit.

Edith stormed down the hall toward my roommate’s room.  I hurriedly followed.  “Edith, wait-”

She opened the door. My roommate woke up in a flash.  “What the fuck?!” he said, startled.

Edith pointed at him. “Shut the fuck up!” she shouted.

She stumbled into his walk-in closet, curled up on the floor, and promptly fell asleep.  She was snoring within a minute.

My roommate got up and pointed at the closet, staring wordlessly at me.

“I’ll get you a beer,” I said.  We sat on the couch.

A Pillow & A Letter

That brings us back to the beginning of our story.  I told my roommate the entire epic tale.

“Did you write a message to one of her friends?” he asked.

“Done,” I said.

“Is she coming?” he asked.

I pointed at the clock.  He nodded.  “We should probably get her a pillow,” he said.  “Or she’ll have a crick in her neck in the morning.”

I snapped my fingers.  “I’ll write her a note!” I said.  “Bro, she thought Blockbuster was her apartment.  There’s a good chance she’s not going to remember any of this.  If I woke up in a strange closet wearing a Cleveland Browns shirt, I’d be freaked out.”

“Why do you have a Browns shirt?” he asked. “They suck.”

I laughed.  “I know,” I replied.  “My dad gave it to me for Christmas one year.  It’s one of my favorite sleep shirts.”

My roommate and I put a pillow under her head and a blanket over her.  I got to work writing a letter describing all the events of the evening. XS. Shots. Blockbuster. Falling in the mud. Throwing up in the tub.  The clothes she was wearing.  Thinking my roommate’s closet was her room.  And finally, that I wasn’t upset, just wanted to make sure she was ok and not freaked out. I told her the name of the friend I wrote to on Facebook, and said she was going to pick her up in the morning.  I wrote that whenever she was ready, to come on out to the living room and we’d talk.

I put the letter next to her head with a bottle of water. I went back out to the living room.

“Where are her clothes?” asked my roommate.

“My bathroom.”

“I’ll get a Publix bag,” he said.

We went to the bathroom.  He stared in wonder at my room.  The muddy sheets. Her dirty clothes, balled up on the floor. We put her clothes in the plastic grocery bag.

“You weren’t kidding,” he said.  “She actually rolled around in the mud.”

He looked at the tub.  “Oh, man.”

“I know,” I replied.

He went to the living room and began playing PlayStation games.  I put clean sheets on my bed and cleaned out the tub.  It ranks to this day as one of the most disgusting messes I’ve ever had to clean up.

I joined Tyree in the living room.  “Want to play?” he asked, pointing at the baseball game on the PS2.

“Don’t want to go back to sleep?” I asked in response. “You have a presentation in the morning.”

“No way I can sleep in my room with that girl in my closet,” he said.  “I’d be worried she’d come out and yell at me again. Or come out, wonder who I am, and start screaming.”

“You can sleep out on the couch,” I offered.  “I’ll try to sleep a little in the chair.”

“Naw, man.  I’ll wing it on the presentation.  We’re gonna remember this night. Let’s have a few beers and play some video games.”

So we did.  Eventually he dozed off on the couch.  I stayed up, staring at my cell phone, waiting for Edith’s friend to contact me.

The Promise of a Cake

At 7AM my phone buzzed.  Edith’s friend sent me a long text, thanking me for taking care of her and promising to drive over to my apartment within a half hour.

Edith emerged a short time later, holding the bottle of water.  She wasn’t the drunk girl from the previous night.  She was the smart, articulate woman from my education class.

“Hi,” I said.  “Did you read the note?”

She nodded.  “I was wondering why my hair was wet.”  She paused, chuckling softly.  “I don’t know why that was more alarming than waking up in a random guy’s closet.”

“What’s up?” said my roommate, smiling and waving.

“Hi,” she said.  “Nice to meet you.”

Edith’s friend knocked on the door.  She came inside and gave Edith a hug.  Then she gave me and my roommate hugs.

“Thank you guys so much,” she said.

“Yes,” added Edith.  “Thank you. And I’m so sorry.  I’m so embarrassed.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.  “Just did what any other guy would do. It happens to the best of us. Tequila is nuts.”

“Just, don’t mention tequila right now,” said Edith, holding up a hand.  “Still not feeling great.”

Her face suddenly became alarmed. “Oh, no, I threw up in your bathtub.  I’ll clean-“

“It’s done,” I said.  “Took care of it last night.”

“We are going to bake you a cake,” said Edith’s friend.

“Seriously, we’ll bake you any cake you like,” added Edith. “We’ll bring it by next week.”

My roommate and I described our favorite kinds of cake.  We gave Edith her bag of clothes.  Seeing them covered in mud brought back snippets of the memory of rolling around in the courtyard.  We gave them hugs goodbye.

Edith never came back with our cake. She was a year older than I was, and graduated the following week. She went to graduate school in another state while I finished my final year in Gainesville.  I never saw her or that Cleveland Browns T-shirt again.

The Problem with High-Fives

I told Edith that I did what any guy would do.  As a doctoral candidate on the brink of a doctorate in higher education management, I now know that’s not the case.  I still believe that most men have the aforementioned basic human decency to take care of the Ediths of American universities the same way that my roommate and I did.  But I know that Edith would have had a much different experience if she was with any of the guys who were trying to high-five me on University Avenue.

Turning sex into an objective, rather than an experience, creates a zero-sum game that highlights “winning” at all costs.  Even the rhetoric of hook-up culture on campus conjures troubling images.  “Sexual conquests”. “Breaking down her defenses”.  “Getting some ass”.  When sex is turned into a zero-sum contest, the losers are women at American universities.

If I had consented to any of Edith’s propositions, I wouldn’t be found guilty in any court of law.  But I certainly wouldn’t be innocent.  Having sex with a girl in that condition, even if she is pressuring you for it, goes against both conscience and human decency.  That girl trying to have sex with me at Blockbuster, in the mud, and at my apartment…that wasn’t Edith.  That wasn’t the sarcastic, articulate woman who sat next to me in class.

That was a drunk person with decision-making capacity of a toddler and the body of an adult woman.

If you’re against having sex with toddlers, you should be against having sex with women as drunk as Edith was that night.

At the time, I thought there was no way in hell anyone would have said yes to Edith that night.  Saying no was a natural response. I have come to the realization that that those frat guys on University Avenue would not only say yes, but would also celebrate afterward. Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman at Stanford who couldn’t even say the word ‘yes’.

Women nationwide face the crisis of sexual assault.

I’ve come to the realization that such encounters happen every night, in every state, on every campus around the country.

That alarmed me and compelled me to put pen to paper.  Edith’s story could illustrate what I thought was basic common sense.  If men exercised common sense and decency became common practice, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t be so common at college. If a woman is too drunk to remember where she lives, then you shouldn’t have sex with her.  Just because you could, doesn’t mean that you should.

Even when she’s saying yes, you should say no.

The Ediths of American universities deserve the confidence to know that even if they have too many drinks, they won’t be victimized by men who see them as objectives rather than people.  They should wake up with clean hair instead of muddy clothes.

Too many women across the country leave the apartments of strangers with trauma instead of T-shirts, and shame instead of stories.  It is my hope that telling Edith’s story can help college men learn to offer a helping hand to their female colleagues, rather than a high-five to the boys who exploit them.

When a night out ends in a closet, it should be a comedy instead of a tragedy.

It is my hope that Edith’s story helps make human decency more common on campus.

 

Rudolph W. Lurz is a doctoral candidate and writer.  He can be reached at rwlurz@gmail.com

 

 

Objective-Based Failures

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die.

Author. Scholar. Wild Rover.

That’s how I introduce myself to the world on social media. I wish I could do the same when I meet strangers at dinner parties.

It’s a situation I often encounter. My wife is a surgeon. Doctors get together at least once a month at various house parties and social gatherings. Professionals who spend 70 hours a week together are obligated to converse with the same people during precious days off.

It’s supposed to help doctors develop closer relationships with their peers and build a sense of community. What happens most often is they talk about the same subjects they discuss in the hospital, wearing khakis instead of scrubs. As the spouse of a surgeon, I’m also obligated to attend. Discussion topics are often either too technical for me to understand or too graphic for the social setting. Given the choice, I prefer attempting to decipher medical jargon and acronyms. While I’m eating chili at a cookout, I’d rather not hear about exploding, pus-filled cysts or messy colonoscopies.

Sooner or later, I’m approached for conversation.  When describing who I am, “Author, Scholar, Wild Rover” isn’t an acceptable response.

Doctors are objective-based professionals, usually more interested in results than rhetoric. They are not alone in this characterization. Many people stick to a standardized script when meeting new acquaintances.

Who are you? What do you do? Where do you do it?

As a teacher, I wish the field of education were not so similarly objective-obsessed. Every year, student progress and teacher performance are based on high-stakes, multiple-choice exams. This format is often attributed to Frederick J. Kelly, who designed the assessments to increase efficiency in education.  He later argued for more individually-tailored assessment methods, noting that the multiple-choice format was “too crude to be used, and should be discarded”.

Rather than inspire students to create innovation, our system of education attempts to mechanize them to correctly choose the best option out of 4-5 choices. Sir Ken Robinson notes that such a system was designed to train workers in an Industrial Age economy, preparing new factory employees for the assembly line. Such methods have no place in the Information Age of the 21st century.

My brother felt strongly enough about opposing this system that he waged a solo, 3-day protest, marching in New York and Washington DC. I applauded his passion, but it is going to take more than one man with a sign to knock down the factory model of education. It requires a united front of teachers, students, and parents demanding tangible changes.

Life has more than four choices.  Instead of teaching students to fill bubbles, we should motivate them to expand their minds as free-thinkers. It is the natural state of children to be inquisitive and creative. The present education system, which seeks to reduce students and teachers to measurable numbers, stifles that creative spirit. It should be no surprise that students rebel against such an unnatural obligation. Student anxiety crescendos as these assessments approach, and on the date of the test itself, many kids become physically ill.  The sounds of vomiting echo through the halls of schools. I hear it when I serve as a hall monitor during these tests. If students don’t make it to the restroom, and throw up in their classrooms, an “irregularity” must be reported to the State.

There is nothing regular about a system of education that literally makes kids vomit.

Societal expectations of meeting arbitrary, external objectives do not cease after graduation.  Millions drive 90 minutes or more every day in heavy traffic to jobs they hate, move papers from one pile to another, and receive a number from their boss on a performance evaluation which objectively rates their value as an employee. That value as an employee is often construed to mean value as a human being.  The stress of reaching a satisfactory level is a magnified, real-world replay of the anxiety faced by students in classrooms during standardized tests.

Adults facing workplace anxiety aren’t limited to vomiting in the restroom. Use of antidepressants has skyrocketed over 400% since the late 1980s.  Almost 30% of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recorded a workplace violence incident that occurred within the previous 5 years. Americans spend a third of their lives in cubicles next to coworkers teetering on the brink of mental breakdowns. How did we get here? How do we fix the human psyche of the modern age?

Germans have a single word to describe this phenomenon: Leistungsdrück. Literally translated, it means, “Achievement pressure”. This pressure follows us from kindergarten to retirement.  When we’re not thinking about our own leistungsdrück, we’re asking others how they’re doing with theirs.  What do you do? How is that going? What’s your test score in life?

Maybe in a few years, we’ll perfect the formula so we can boil it down to a single question and number.

“What are you?”

“I’m a 76. You?”

“54. But I’m hoping to get to the magic satisfactory number of 70 soon.”

“Good luck!”

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die. That isn’t an existence I find acceptable. We were made to chase our passions.

Charles Bukowski wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.”

That’s how I feel about what I’m doing with my life. My name is Rudolph Lurz. I write, I teach, and I travel. I’m trying to change how education operates. I’m interested in communicating with others and exchanging ideas.

I recently completed my first novel. It’s a dystopian story of three teenagers who arrive in an Afterlife teetering on the brink of revolution. The tagline of my book, Realms of Glory, states, “There is life after death, but Heaven is no Paradise”. It is being published this summer. Stay tuned to my blog and social media pages for more information.

I write about life, death, and everything in between.  I’ll post here about my books, short stories, and academic articles. If you’re interested, you can be one of the 12 people in the world who will read my 205-page dissertation about state government policy formation.  I successfully defended it in April, and will be publishing that beast in December when I graduate with my doctorate in Administrative & Policy Studies.

I hope you’ll follow me, read my stuff, and comment with your own ideas, thoughts, and snide remarks. Let’s talk about things that matter.

Today is the first Lurzday Thursday.  Welcome to my page.

RW Lurz

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Twitter- @RudolphLurz