Thursday, May 8, 2008


I wouldn't want to be the person assigned to pick thank-you gifts for academics. That seems to me like a bug of a job.

From time to time, I get asked to show up at this or that function and help out. Just about every time I've done so, I've had a good time. And people around here are awfully good about writing thank-you notes for that kind of thing. But a half-dozen or so times this year, they've gone a step further and given me a Starbucks gift card, so I've been steadily accumulating a stake in Starbucks' inventory.

Problem is, I can't
stand Starbucks.

Now, don't think I don't appreciate their effort. Their motive is entirely generous, and I do feel a momentary flash of pleasure when I see evidence of such consideration. But only momentary. A moment later, I think "What am I going to do with this? I haven't even tapped into the first five they gave me." And I think it points up the problem with trying to deal with a group as iconoclastic as academics tend to be.

So, yesterday I managed to put a tiny dent in my accumulated wealth by using a walk to Starbucks and a free beverage as an excuse to have a needed conversation with a very good student. I even left it unclear whether the student needed to give me the gift card back. But back it came, so this morning I went and stocked up on the one Starbucks item I actually do enjoy:

I couldn't really tell you why I like Starbucks mints so much. And it has to be the peppermint ones; the others just aren't the same. But, well, there it is. I could probably attribute it to the same kink in my taste that has me going back and back to Pizza Research Institute in hopes that they've whipped up my favorite soup.

On my walk back, I had all five tins stuffed in my pocket, so every step I took with that foot made this wonderful crunching sound. A lady I encountered apparently noticed it, because she looked down at my leg, and then made eye contact, with a tiny knit to her brow. "Old war wound," I said. God knows what she thought.

In this kind of thing, I'm far from alone. If you talk to a dozen academics, you'll soon uncover a dozen zillion quirks. And yet, from time to time, the poor staff folks have to try to select a treat, answer a question, project an opinion, from the perspective of a generic faculty member. That's like trying to find one drop of water that's representative of the ocean.

My hat's off to them. Certainly not a job I would want.

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