Sep 08 2010

Professorial dumpster diving, or how to impress the boss

Category: universityharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

I have a problem with people thinking I’m down and out.

I’m not sure just why this is.  I think it may be that I don’t look enough like what I am, a nerdy musician with techie-tendencies and cargo pockets full of flash drives and iPod cables (not miscellaneous dumpster treasures… really).

Nevertheless, with some regularity, I seem to give the appearance of economic desperation and general social maladroitness.

For example, since classes are going to begin soon at my university, I decided it was time to clean my office, something I do at least once each decade.  Well, to be honest, I think I may have skipped the last decade’s cleaning…  or maybe two.  Because among other things, I found an ancient synthesizer module taking up cubic space in my office, of 1985 vintage, a synth module of such dubious character that it didn’t even qualify for a possible Pawn Stars appearance.  Everything old and obsolete is not a collector’s item.  Seen some rusting farm machinery from the 1930′s lately?  Is anyone breaking down the gates to the field where it lies moribund, to beg its owners to sell it to them for their collection?

This synth module was like that.  It was a Roland Planet-P, possibly the worst sounding synth in Roland’s history.  And that was before one side of the stereo output burned out.  Don’t ask me why I still had it….  I have no answer.  I had forgotten about it.  This thing was huge as synth modules go, consuming three standard audio rack spaces, weighing in at a hefty 25-30 pounds.  I think the metal sides must have been made of 1/2 inch thick leadlined iron or something of similar mass.  Maybe it was powered by plutonium or something.

In any case, I carted this ghost-of-MIDI-past down to the trash can outside my building.  It wouldn’t fit in the generous opening in the top of the can’s lid….  so I had to lift the large lid itself (which was hinged)  and drop it in.  So far, so good, I thought.  But then I had yet more old stuff to dump in the same can…  and discovered when I tried to drop it into the can that the Planet-P had twisted as I dumped it, and its corners had caught part way down into the can, blocking me from putting much more in with it.

There was nothing to be done but to lift the big lid again, grab the discarded Planet-P, straighten it out so that it would drop all the way in, and then add the next load of techno-refuse.  The problem was that dino-synth was too darn heavy and wedged where it was.  Holding up the lid with one hand, and grabbing the superannuated synth with the other, I couldn’t budge it.  There was nothing to be done but to hold up the trash can’s lid with my head while I reached down into the can with both hands to get a sufficient grasp on the dastardly device to straighten it out so that it would fall straight down into the bottom of the trash container.

I was in this pedagogically compromised position today when the Executive Vice-President of my university strolled by.  This is the number two administrator at my institution….  and it is clear that, failing to recognize me from what portions of my anatomy were visible, he had some concern that the neighborhood was deteriorating.  Perhaps that’s why he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when I withdrew from my ostrich-like position in the trashcan.  He said, rather snappily, I thought, “So, don’t we pay you enough?”

Hey, it’s not like I came up out of the can holding anything.  But then I saw where he was looking, at the pile of stuff I’d brought down to put in the can, the pile that I hadn’t been able to fit without adjusting my previous deposit.  It was pretty clear that he thought I’d been dragging that stuff out.

Some things are not improved by a denial, no matter how truthful.  So I shrugged, and observed that the stock market had just dropped again.  Our veep assumed that mask of professional sympathy worn by skilled adminstrators when dealing with the idiot-savants of the academic world, and moved on, doubtless revising his opinion of the proportion of idiot-to-savant in at least one case.

Sometime, remind me to tell you about the time another Vice-President (this one for financial matters) walked by as I was lugging a heavy car battery out of the music computer lab.  He probably thought I’d been threatening recalcitrant music majors with electric shock.

I wonder if this stuff happens to other faculty.  Somehow, I doubt it.