A Tale of Child Care and Bomb Threats

WARNING: Authority Will Become Explosive When Challenged

There’s an article at Vox.com with the headline, “Colleges say campuses can reopen safely. Student and faculty aren’t convinced,” and it reminded of something I witnessed over thirty years ago. I used to manage a bookstore at a community college that didn’t have enough enrollment to fill all the classroom space available. Consequently, a portion of the college’s decaying lower campus was leased as classrooms to a local high school district that had the opposite problem of a student population overflowing beyond the capacity of its schools. In addition to a few hundred high school students, the college’s lower campus also hosted a day care center, an underused cafeteria, a few minor administrative offices, and the bookstore where I worked.

One Spring day, everyone from the lower campus – college employees, high school students, and daycare children and staff — were evacuated to the parking lot due to a bomb threat. To be honest, this wasn’t that serious a threat since it was finals week for the high school students (finals for the college came a few weeks later). Still, the fire department spent a couple hours searching the lower campus where the “bomb” was supposedly located before declaring it safe.

All of that is background and context. What stays in my mind is an incident I witnessed in the parking lot.

About half an hour into the evacuation, the building and playground for the day care center search was finished, and the fire department moved on to search other buildings and trailers. One of the college’s assistant VPs then told the head of the day care center to move the children from the parking lot back to the day care center which was located on the edge of the lower campus next to the parking lot.

She politely (and sensibly) declined to do so, and he would have hit the ceiling if he hadn’t been standing in an open air parking lot. His fragile administrative male ego was threatened by this woman’s commitment to the safety of the children in her care. He “directed” (“directed” being a key managerial verb when writing up an employee for insubordination) her to follow his order, and she bravely refused.

A couple things to keep in mind.

When Dr. Fragile Administrative Male Ego (Dr. FAME for short) gave this order, the fire department was still searching the building where the bookstore and other offices were located. This building stood snugly along the edge of the playground and had yet to receive the all clear. Think of the keen judgement in play that lead Dr. FAME to order employees and children back into an area right next to a building being searched for a bomb.

The other aspect of this incident worth noting was that at no time during this incident, did Dr. FAME suggest or show any willingness on his part to go with the children himself to the day care facilities. He was ordering this women to risk her life and the lives of the children and her employees while he safely stayed in the parking lot to… I don’t know, “supervise” or something.

The incident ended with Dr. FAME loudly threatening to write her up and stomping off to pout when she continued to refuse. No bomb was found, and we all returned to our workplaces a couple hours later.

I’d like to share a little background about Dr. Fame. The bulk of his administrative career had been spent at another community college in the district where his incompetence, stupidity, and conflicts with staff and faculty were so obvious and egregious, that the district leaders took swift and decisive action to… transfer him to my campus.

This was this was standard operating procedure for dealing with incompetent administrators in the district. Some mediocrities spent decades failing sideways to other campuses before safely retiring with a cushy pension, leaving a wide swath of poorly run campuses and bungled leadership in their wake. I consider the select class of college deans, assistant deans, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, and presidents that belong to this sideways failure club — never fired and unassailable from consequences. I also think of the quality and nature of their leadership and decision-making skills.

And the fact that people like them are probably the ones insisting that their college or university will be safe to reopen.

KA-BOOM!

Overheard #3: Of Books, Benjamin, and Buxom Babes

A tale from my past as an assistant manager for a discount book chain

Thirty-six years ago, this letter was printed in the Los Angeles Times Book Review section. I can verify that this is a true story because I was one aisle away shelving books and heard every word.

Further, I can confirm the manager of the Santa Ana CrownBooks deliberately hired an attractive and extremely large-bosomed seventeen year-old blonde for exactly the reason cited in the last sentence of the letter.

When I quizzed Bill on why he hired someone who showed no interest in books during her interview, he explained without shame, “If I hire a ugly girl and she can’t do the job, I’m stuck looking at an ugly girl. If I hire her and she can’t do the job, at least I have something sexy to look at.”

(Yes, it was exactly as creepy then as it sounds now.)

She was a nice enough kid, but an un-trainable ninny. Bill, of course, dumped her on to my shift where I had to do my work plus all the work that a real book clerk would normally handle. Luckily, she could just barely handle basic cash-handling, so I could stick her at the cash register where this happy interaction occurred.

The young lady in question is now in her early fifties. Her name had fled my memory, but her mammaries loom large in her legend.

Of Masks and Invitations

Before e-mail, texting, and social distancing, there was one way to invite historical figures to dinner

photo by jonathan Blanc ©New York Public Library

Currently, Patience and Fortitude, the two marble lions guarding the steps to the front entrance of the New York Central Library wear face masks to encourage the public to continue wearing theirs for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have a warm spot in my heart for those lions, even before they became icons for early adoption of social distancing.

I’ve not read it (yet), but a high school English teacher of mine absolutely adored the book, “Van Loon’s Lives,” a biographical fantasy in which Dutch historian Hendrik Willem van Loon invited historical figures to dinner for conversations and debate. (The full title was “Van Loon’s Lives: Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages, from Confucius and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as dinner guests in a bygone year.”)

I’m mentioning “Van Loon’s Lives” now because those two glorious marble lions are indelibly connected to the book in my mind. When she first described the book to me, Mrs. Nedoff explained that Van Loon invited the historical figures to dinner by sliding invitations underneath Patience’s and Fortitude’s marble paws. This captured my imagination so much that I’ve checked for invitations both times I’ve visited NYC.

Alas, there were no invitations to be found.

Imagine my disappointment years later when I read that Van Loon’s actual method of invitation in the book is to leave a list of names under stone lions in front of the town hall in Veere where Van Loom had a summer home. It’s an even greater disappointment that the one I have for Steve Allen apparently never acknowledging Van Loon’s Lives as the inspiration for his PBS tv series, “The Meeting of the Minds.”

A stray thought occurs to me. This was a book from Mrs. Nedoff’s childhood. I wonder if this book was first read to her by an adult. Perhaps he or she changed the location of the lions from Veere town hall to the New York Central Library to enhance the glamor of libraries for her young mind. That’s just a guess and will remain one because Mrs. Nedoff passed away a few years ago.

Masked or unmasked, Van Loon literary canon or not, I’m still going to check Patience and Fortitude for invitations the next time I’m in New York. I might even leave an invitation or two myself.

photo by jonathan Blanc ©New York Public Library

The lion photos on this page were taken by NYPL staff photographer. You can see more of his other photos at his website by clicking here.

NOT ANOTHER NARNIAN PRINCE SCAM!!!

PLEASE READ!!! YOUR HELP DESPERATELY NEEDED!!!

Dear admired friend,

I am a hobbit who recently traveled with a group of dwarf friends for the better part of a year. While my journey has been filled with many wonderous experiences (Meeting elves! Secret doors! Found jewelry!) and exciting adventures (Orcs! Barrel rides! Giant spiders!), lately I’ve been missing my cozy hobbit hole in The Shire. Sadly, thanks to the Coronavirus, I’m stuck at the Lonely Mountain until lockdown ends, so it’s going to be awhile before I can go BACK AGAIN.

I have some great news, though! It’s a long story (and I signed a NDA), but I’ve recently come into possession of a significant share of a dragon hoard (DON’T WORRY! I’M SAFE! THE DRAGON IS DEFINITELY DEAD!) I am now wealthy beyond my wildest imaginings! Sadly, this has created a BIG PROBLEM.

Thanks to to steeply progressive Dwarfish tax codes, I must move the funds from my dragon hoard to another principality before June 30th, or I will LOSE 90% of my newly gained fortune. The obvious solution would be to transfer the funds to a financial institution back home, but the banking system interface between Hobbiton and the Lonely Mountain is expensive, unreliable, and antiquated (Nothing’s been upgraded since the Second Age. Can you believe it?)

DON’T DESPAIR! ALL IS NOT LOST! A wizard pal of mine recently mentioned that the land where you dwell is legendary for its modern state-of-the-art financial systems and reasonably low wire transfer fees. Unfortunately, the paperwork for my opening a bank account in your land will take at least four weeks to process — long past my June 30th tax deadline.

Here’s where you can help. This same wizard pal (name begins with a “G”) also mentioned your name as an honest and reliable human who was not prejudiced against hobbits. Normally, I’m a cautious furry-footed fellow, but if G. vouches for you, you definitely can be trusted. So I have a proposal that would solve my tax problem and make you a VERY WEALTHY PERSON in return.

If you would allow me to transfer my dragon hoard funds to your banking account for the four weeks that it will take for my account to be set up, I will bestow upon you the gift of THE SUM OF TEN MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS for your assistance. (Classifying this as a gift means it’s TAX-FREE!) All you need to do is text, DM, or e-mail your bank account number and Middle Earth pathing number to me.

(And since we are partners, this also means we SPLIT THE PROFITS 50/50 when Peter Jackson makes a film trilogy about our financial adventure together. So start thinking about which Hollywood star will play you. I’m hoping for Tom Cruise, even though he’s shorter than I am.)

If you don’t want to become wealthy or Hollywood famous and choose to pass on this opportunity, I don’t judge. I was once timid like you.

However, if you want to pass on the deal, but my plight still touches your timid heart, please consider donating a small amount of $3, $5, $10 or even $20 to my agent’s PayPal account at paypal.me/MichaelDobkins. He’s securing funds to hire a convocation of giant eagles to physically transport giant sacks of dragon hoard to The Shire if this bank transfer proposal falls through.

Sincerely,
Bilbo Baggins

Kumquat and Kumquatibility by Jane Austin

I may owe Jane Austin an apology.

“Foremost among the many superlative qualities of the kumquat is that its own deeply rooted modesty actually prevents this fine fruit from perceiving all the wondrous virtues that it possesses. The typical kumquat believes herself and her sister kumquats merely to be adequate, or, as some like to put it, kumqua-dequate,” opined Mr. Darcy as he accepted a second bowl of this amazing fruit from a servant.

All the dinner guests were impressed by Mr. Darcy’s knowledge of fruits, but Elizabeth pitied whatever poor woman ended up married to Mr. Darcy because he was an exceptionally silly man. She then cut a small bite-sized piece from her tomato, blissfully unaware that it was not actually a vegetable, but a fruit.

Alexandre Dumas Having Fun With His Characters

The difference between D’Artagnan and Porthos

D’Artagnan just chillin’

“What do you mean?” said D’Artagnan. “The day of rustic pleasures?”

“Yes, monsieur; we have so many pleasures to take in this delightful country, that we were encumbered by them; so much so, that we have been forced to regulate the distribution of them.”

“How easily do I recognize Porthos’s love of order in that! Now, that idea would never have occurred to me; but then I am not encumbered with pleasures.”

– Alexandre Dumas, The Vicomte de Bragelonne