October 30, 2009, was a day of some note for many of us in these parts, and not just not because it was the eve of both Halloween and our annual gridiron ass-kicking at the hands of the Florida Gators that, every bit as reliably as death and taxes, was certain to come on the morrow. Because October 30 was also our “Fall Break” day, which magically coincides with a Friday when two-thirds of our young charges would be in Jacksonville even if classes were held, the powers that is designated this occasion as the first of our six unpaid currently scheduled “furlough” days this academic year. Since I have faced a gazillion queries about how I would spend my “day off,” I decided to keep a record of my activities on this historic date.
Before I begin, let me explain that although we were under strict orders not to set foot on campus when furloughed, for most university faculty worth their salt, a day away from the office is NOT a day off. Au contraire, as they love to say over in Tallapoosa, if anything it’s actually a day when the pressure for achievement gets ramped up, because there’s no excuse for not getting something done, given the absence of the normal distractions afforded by whining students, frustrated colleagues, or a mailbox full of incomprehensible and irrelevant directions from the higher-ups. What it boils down to is that our vaunted, much-begrudged professorial “freedom” to work on our own schedules can be as much a curse as a blessing. After all, if you can choose when to work, then there’s no such thing as time off, just situations when you could be working but aren’t. Since professorin’ is one of those occupations that will automatically absorb as much time and effort as it receives and always give indication that more could be done, lingering guilt-free over the morning paper is an unknown pleasure for us. Ditto for watching “Sports Center” or re-runs of “Bewitched” or shooting the breeze with your neighbor, who hasn’t hit a lick after five or on Saturday in all the time you’ve known him. You might not be on the man's clock very much, but any time you're not, you’re automatically on yours, and while nobody else may know whether you’re working or not, you always will.
All of this is to explain why I arose from the breakfast table on October 30 at 8:30 a.m. (Relax, I got up at 5:45 am. to run, then showered, etc.), determined to establish a first-ever-furlough-day productivity record that I could fling back at anybody who asked about my “day off.” First came the daily ritual of knocking down a few of my 359 unread emails, of which roughly a third consist of advice on how to unleash my true sexual potential. (Dubious—and actually downright frightening---as this prospect may seem, all of these have to be checked nonetheless to ensure that none have been forwarded from a computer registered with the Missus.) Another third of the messages are from the likes of Joba Kenhatti in Nigeria, where I have just won the lottery and may claim my winnings simply by dispatching posthaste a cashier’s check for $56,789. Some of the final third of the emails may actually have some bearing on my life and career, but fifteen minutes in, I don’t find any and give it up for the day.
First up on the regular agenda then is a document that must be scanned in and converted to a pdf file by Monday. Then there is an exam to be made out for Thursday, an unread dissertation and a brief speech to write for next Friday. Beyond, behind, and hulking over all these tasks, of course, is the abominable, unfinished book manuscript (due at the press finally and fully “and by God, this time we mean it!” on December 1, 2009) that has thus far resisted my earnest efforts at rendering it print-worthy with an obduracy that would make a mule or camel seem blissfully compliant by comparison.
Speaking of obduracy, I can’t even get the scanner software to run because “file hpqztrstwz.dgt was missing and could not be found,” it seems. Three hours later, I find said file myself, but the persnickety digital demon implanted in my household by Dell refuses to recognize it until, an hour later, I decide to copy it into a new folder, and “Eureka!” the software opens. Hot Damn! Ready to scan at last, I click on “scan to” only to discover that the “program cannot find a valid scan destination.” Ah yes, I’ve heard that pathetic excuse before. When I finally track down the English version of the “Help” menu, it says uninstall the software, reboot, re-install the software, reboot—been there, done that a dozen times already, of course.
There has to be another way, but damned if I can find it. It’s now 2:30 p.m., still no lunch and only one response to nature since 8:30 a.m. (I know you didn’t really need the latter info, but this is a comprehensive record, remember!) I take a five-minute break for a pack of “Toastchees,” and a quick glance on the web reveals the usual idiots predicting a Georgia win tomorrow. I’m starting to panic just a bit now because I’m six hours in and nothing on my checklist is actually checked. How about clearing my head with a little reaffirming foray into editing the despised manuscript? All goes well for a page or two, then there’s no footnote for a key paragraph on page 243. Where the hell did I get that from? Searching the web and computer for an hour yields nothing, and after trying to clarify a couple of passages in the text, I put down the manuscript, now with several paragraphs hopelessly obscured by illegible scrawl.
It’s quarter to five by now, and not a scan has even been attempted. Fighting back the unmistakable craving for an ice-cold brewski that, on Fridays especially, is far more reliable than any timepiece in alerting me to the dwindling of the day, I stare sullenly at the monitor until I see for the first time a “Scan Document” button and start clicking the hell out of it. At this point, the long-suffering Ms. OB accedes to my pathetic whimpering for help, and we succeed somehow in stuffing twenty-one pages of text down Mr. Scan-Man’s previously obstructed throat.
Positively tingling in anticipation of my first gulp of Sammy and fistful of Chex-Mix, I suddenly realize that the scanned documents are in photo, not pdf format. (As best I can recall, this would be the point where I took the USS Invective for an extended cruise in the truly uncharted sectors of the Sea of Profanity.) The offending files can be converted, I eventually find, but it’s clear from the start this is not a task for the faint of heart or the sorely-in-need-of a-beer. Just when I finally think I’ve finally cleared by last little hurdle, my exultance evaporates into despair once again. I have twenty-one separate pdfs, it seems, instead of the single comprehensive one I need. The pages can be combined, the cryptic “Help” page insists without explaining precisely how, and this too proves a monumental challenge for a guy with peanut butter gumming up his key board. Still, sometime around 6:30 p.m. I discover that I finally have a twenty-one-page document rather than twenty-one separate documents.
All that remains is a final check to see that everything is in order. Uh, oh! How the hell did I miss that typo in the first sentence on the first page? Unfortunately, I can’t fix it on the pdf but have to correct it in the original and then re-scan, then reconvert, then figure out how to insert it in the appropriate page order. Finally, this is done, and seeing that it is now 8:15 p.m., I decide that maybe it would be best to postpone the final review till tomorrow even if this means a furlough-day grade of “Incomplete.” Staggering downstairs toward a refrigerator that is clearly feeling neglected, and rightly so, I encounter Ms. OB, who, perhaps feeling a bit neglected herself, avers with frightful conviction that another furlough episode like this will drive her to peruse the Yellow Pages, under “Divorce Attorneys, think ‘Piranha at Feeding Time.’” “Don’t worry,” sez I, “they couldn’t pay me to go through a day like this again.”