Monthly Archives: July 2011

I Got Purged, and I Feel Fine


Now Playing: Roll Um Easy, by Little Feat. “I am just a vagabond, a drifter on the run, the eloquent profanity, it rolls right off my tongue. And I have dined in palaces, drunk wine with kings and queens, But darlin’, oh darlin’, you’re the best thing I ever seen.”

Disclaimer: I love and respect the community-college system and believe it is a vital part of this state’s infrastructure. Despite everything you’re about to read …

After 18 months of being laid off, I decided earlier this month that maybe I need to change my job-seeking strategy. Writing and editing jobs don’t seem to be plentiful right now, and the superhero thing doesn’t pay very well – not to mention that lack of superpowers thing.

To make what’s destined to be a pretty long story a bit shorter, I’ll skip all the Hamlet-ian deliberations of being and not being. I decided I’d start pursuing becoming a paralegal – there’s writing and editing in there, and I’ve always been interested in the law and – believe it or not – enjoyed working with lawyers on two or three projects at the magazine.

Which pointed me to the community-college system. Which has been a huge debacle. Here’s why (and I swear every word of this is true):

First off, I thought, I’d get in touch with the person in charge of the program at my neighborhood school – South Piedmont Community College. There was a problem. She has been off at least the last month of June and was to be gone the whole month of July. Yep. She does, however, occasionally answer emails. Here’s what she told me when I wrote telling her I already had a bachelor’s degree and asking how to get started in the program (and I’m copying directly from her email): First, your must submit your application, get an official transcript sent in, (the transcript will let us know if you must take the College Placement Test (CPT),) take the CPT if necessary and then register after all the necessary paperwork has been completed.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

So I ordered my “official transcript” from the University of the People, where I graduated in 1979 (keep this in mind as we go). I wasn’t 100% sure at this point whether I’d attend SPCC or Central Piedmont Community College, which also offers a program. (I ultimately decided it would be dumb not to go to SPCC – one of its campuses is five minutes from my house.) So I had the transcript sent to my house.

In the meantime, I filled out the online application to SPCC. A couple of days later, I got an email from admissions. The admissions officer provided a checklist of what I would need. It was different from the info I’d gotten from the program head (now a week into her exile from the office). I’d need, according to the admissions officer, the following (again directly copying from the email – you’ll see why later):

  • Have an official copy of your high school transcript (GED or Adult High School diploma is accepted) forwarded to Admissions.
  • Submit official college transcripts from all colleges or universities previously attended.
  • Submit SPCC Transfer Questionnaire to the last institution attended (ONLY for Transfer Students).
  • Take the SPCC College Placement Test (unless you have met the necessary English and math requirements at an accredited college; contact Testing for more information).
  • Apply early for Financial Aid, Veteran’s benefits or scholarships if interested.
  • View our new student orientation before classes begin. You may find this online at www.spcc.edu (click Admissions, then Orientation).
  • Meet with an academic advisor or counselor to select your classes.

High school transcript? WTF? I have a bachelor’s degree from the flagship of the UNC system, and I have to prove that I have a high-school diploma? I thought, “This must be wrong. I’ll just call and explain and straighten it all out.”

Except the admissions officer didn’t put her phone number in the email. That’s OK, I looked her up on the website and tried my luck. Except she was going to be gone at least a week, too. So I replied to the email and explained that I had a four-year college degree and said I figured that meant I didn’t need high-school transcripts, right?

Here’s how an underling at the department answered: If you are in a program, you are required to send your high school transcript. If you are a  Special Credit student not applying to a program, we will not need your high school transcript.

That didn’t exactly answer my question. So I replied again and told her specifically what I wanted, repeated that I had a college degree – and the transcripts to prove it – and asked whether I needed the high school transcript. And why?

The underling again said I did. So did the program director, whom I also emailed – she didn’t address why she hadn’t said that initially.

And, oh yeah, here’s the reason I needed it: It is required of all students.

Well, my old high school, Halifax County Senior High in South Boston, Va., is now a middle school. I doubted the records were there. So I called the Board of Education there to request the transcript.

Only something was wrong with the Board of Education phone system that day. The call never connected. Despite multiple attempts.

So the following Monday, I called again. Got through to a very nice woman. Who told me she’d be happy to send the transcript. Only I had to fax the request in. Fax? Who uses faxes these days, I thought? I can’t email the request? No, she said. It has to be faxed.

Well, of course, I don’t have a fax machine at my house (and I don’t want one). So I went to the local UPS store and did it. They only charged me a buck, fo I felt pretty good about it.

I called a few days later, and sure enough the high-school transcript had arrived. However, the admissions underling said, they were still waiting on the college transcript. “No problem,” I said, “I have that here at home, and I’ll bring it by.”

She paused. “You have it in a sealed envelope, right?” “Well, no.” I’d opened to make sure that, after 32 years, they’d sent the right Arthur Murray’s transcripts. And to jog my memory on how I’d done in school. “It has to be in a sealed envelope for us to accept it,” she said.

I started Hulking up. I didn’t turn green, but I did start shouting and asked to be transferred to her supervisor, the admissions officer, whom I’ll call Stacie (not her real name), because she’ll continue to figure in this tale.

Stacie said it did indeed have to be sent in a sealed envelope, to ensure that it hadn’t been doctored with. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I shouted. “Why didn’t anybody say this?” “It says it on the website,” Stacie said. “Uh, no. It doesn’t,” I said, and challenged her to find it. “That’s what we have to have, anyway.” I started griping that I’d already gotten one and it had taken several days. Stacie, who I must say really was a kind person in the face of more than a little bullying on my part, misunderstood my concern. She said she’d try to call the office at Chapel Hill and see if they’d send a free copy. Not for the last time, I explained that I wasn’t concerned with the cost – only the time involved. But she kept repeating that she’d try that.

Only I don’t think she tried too hard. She called back late that afternoon and said she couldn’t find a phone number for UNC records, so she’d emailed them instead and hadn’t heard anything. She’d let me know if she could get that fee waived. I again explained that I wasn’t really worried about the cost, just the time.

Two days later, Stacie called again to say she still hadn’t heard back and I’d better order the transcripts again. So I did. In the meantime, she said, I could come in the following Monday and take the college placement test so I’d have that out of the way. “Wait a minute,” I said, “isn’t that why I’m getting this college transcript from 1979?” “You mean it’s more than 10 years old?” she said. “Well, yeah. I’ve been saying that from the beginning.” “Well, you’ll have to take the CPT anyway,” she said. “We’ll get the transcript and apply for a waiver to the 10-year rule and see if we can get your classes counted. Don’t worry.”

So, vowing I wouldn’t get upset no matter what, I went to get tested, picking the building that the sign that said “Testing” pointed to. Only it was the other building. The woman at the testing counter was great, she asked what I was there for and I told her the paralegal program – the one that was for people with college degrees (they also have one for people who don’t have them). She looked at me kinda funny but started setting up my test on the computer. She said, “You don’t need to take the math part for that, so I won’t include it.” “Are you sure?” “Oh, yes,” she said. “You don’t need it.”

So I took the test, about 75 questions or so, some of which asked me how much I studied for it – not at all – and how to cut and paste on a computer – remember, I’m not making any of this up.

I finished and went to the registration room to sign up for classes. One of the admissions folks called me in and started looking up my stuff. Turns out the college transcript had gotten there that day. So my application was complete, she said, adding that I’d done extremely well on the placement tests. Stacie was sitting there at the same table, and she introduced herself to me. She took me to the college registrar.

Only the registrar was on the phone. On a personal call. And stayed on after seeing me, and ultimately three or four other students waiting to speak with her. This went on for about 15 minutes.

Finally, she finished and asked me what I wanted. I handed her my paperwork, which included a form to have my transcript evaluated for classes that could be counted at SPCC. “Which classes did you want to be considered?” she asked. “All of them,” I said. “Or at least all the ones I’ll need for this program.” “Which program are you applying for,” she asked. “The paralegal program – the one for people who already have a college degree.” “What do you mean?” she said. “The program is the same whether you have a degree or not.” “That’s not what it says on your website,” I responded. (That’s still not what it says on the website, by the way.) I was starting to get upset.

Then it got worse. “What are the course numbers?” she said. “Is that a trick question,” I said. “I took these classes 30 years ago. How am I supposed to know the course numbers, especially when I had to send the transcript to you in a sealed envelope?” “If you don’t remember the numbers,” she said, “how do we know that you retained the knowledge?”

Now I’m furious. My gamma-ray infused blood is boiling, I’m likely turning green and getting ready to start smashing. I slammed my hand down on the desk and, in my best whiney John McEnroe voice, said, “You have got to be kidding me. You didn’t just say that!” She threatened to have me removed if I didn’t calm down. She then said she’d make me a copy of the transcript (I, of course, already had one, but I didn’t let her know that.) but that I’d need to get the course descriptions as they were written in the college catalog at the time they were offered. “And I’m pretty sure the psychology department won’t accept your Intro to Psychology class. You’ll have to take that again anyway.”

I’m still fuming but keeping my mouth shut and hands clenched at my side so I won’t be cuffed and escorted out – I was at least that sane. Then, she said, “Why didn’t you take the math placement test? You need that, too.”

She finally decided I didn’t, and we agreed that I’d go ahead and register for classes pending the appeal of taking the intro courses in English and psychology.

She sent me to a guy named Kevin, who would help me sign up for classes. And he was helpful, I’ll give him that. First off, he looked at my placement test and said, “Wow! We don’t see these kinds of scores. You did quite well.” I thanked him, and we got down to business. I’d have to take Introduction to Computers, he said. Isn’t there any way out of that, I asked. I’d been using computers for 30 years. He said I’d have to sign up and then I could test out at the first class. Fine, whatever (of course, that meant I’d still be charged for taking the course). We put together the rest of a schedule, determined the rest of what I’d have to take and he figured out what I’d owe and printed an invoice.

Which said I had to pay by the day before. (Keep in mind that registration is still going on and will be throughout next week, too.)

By that time, I’d had enough of SPCC. So I went home to figure out how to get the course descriptions from 30 years ago for appeal to have classes taken at UNC Chapel Hill accepted by a community college.

The following afternoon, Karen and I talked more about the program and decided that all the roadblocks – I’d basically Hulked up at every stage of the process – probably were a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. We’ll try something else, we decided. Five minutes later, I got an email from SPCC telling me my registration would be invalidated if I didn’t pay for classes by 7 a.m. the following day (keep in mind that’s less than 48 hours from the time I signed up – no buyer’s remorse allowed here). We laughed at it, again figuring it was a sign.

But the story’s not over yet.

At 7:57 the next morning, I got a notice that I had been purged – my registration at SPCC no longer existed. Less than an hour later, I got an email from Stacie. Here’s what it said: I am happy to inform you that your admission file is complete. You are now eligible to earn a degree, diploma, or certificate through the program.

So I was purged before I was admitted. I’m now a college dropout, I guess.

And I feel fine.

“Members of the graduating class, I have only one thing to say to you today … It’s a jungle out there. You gotta look out for number one. But don’t step in Number Two …”
_ Rodney Dangerfield (in the movie, Back to School)

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Eggs-ceeding Eggs-pectations … And Other Stuff


Now Playing: Nothing, because I have an ear out for Karen in case she needs help with anything.

I gotta say. Carolinas Medical Center really did exceed my expectations during Karen’s stay there for laparoscopic surgery to repair a (most likely) congenital hernia in her diaphragm. To a person, the folks employed or volunteering there were exceedingly nice and understanding and treated us with great respect. She’s in pain, it’s true, but we think and hope it’s a natural consequence of the procedure. But that’s not what this blog is about.

No, it has to do with the other families of patients there, three sets of ’em in particular.

When we got there Monday, we went to the surgery waiting center, which would become my home for about 81/2 hours as it turned out.

As is my custom, I chose a seat away from other people, and we sat and waited to be called back.

Or at least I thought we had a seat away from everyone else.

Turns out we were sitting fairly near the coffee/tea machine. Which attracted lots of folks, most of whom got their beverage and left. Well, all of whom got their beverage and left. Except for one guy. Who, as it turned out, had just about the most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t that he was Gilbert Gottfried – just irritating on his face. It was just that he had a low voice. That carried. And carried. And he felt obligated to talk. All the time. And to top it off, he was something of a know-it-all. Which I know all about.

We moved behind a partition to get some relief. A few minutes later, Karen was called back to pre-opp, and I got to go see here there a little later.

As it turns out, there was another booming voice next door. We never saw the guy, but we imagined him to be a big old Italian bear of a man. Despite the volume, his voice wasn’t irritating.  By listening, we learned he was a big smoker, with a big family. A toddler – I’ll assume a grandchild – poked his head through the curtains and looked at us. We waved at him. Somehow these folks made us feel better. We didn’t know what he was in for, but given the smoking, we knew it might not be good. Still, I never heard the guy gripe or complain, and I wish him the best.

But after all too brief a time I was back out in the waiting room.

I found a seat, again away from the madding – or maddening – crowd. Within minutes, I’d discover just how maddening. They were older women, and they knew each other but obviously hadn’t seen one another in some time.

I don’t even remember when or why I started listening. Amend that. I listened because I couldn’t help it. They were loud, and they talked incessantly.

It was about eggs. Hard-boiled eggs. I can only think of one sentence to say about hard-boiled eggs. Here it is: I hate hard-boiled eggs.

But these women talked about hard-boiled eggs for what seemed like hours. OK, it was really about 10 minutes. Maybe less. It just seemed longer.

They talked about the correct way to boil the eggs. (I can name that tune in four notes: Boil water, add eggs.)

They talked about the correct way to crack and eat hard-boiled eggs. (I can name that tune in one note: Don’t.)

They talked about adding vinegar to the water: Not white vinegar. Not rice vinegar. Not balsamic vinegar. Apple-cidar vinegar. You know, the kind everybody means when they say vinegar.

To be truthful, they might have been talking about poached eggs by this point. I was trying desperately not to listen – and failing miserably.

I finally put my earbuds in and started listening to music (courtesy of my trusty Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet) just to drown them out. Should have thought about that about a dozen eggs or so sooner, but I didn’t want to risk not hearing them call my name from the update desk.

A little later, they called me to the update desk and said the procedure had begun. I knew it would take a couple of hours, so I decided to go get some lunch – it was 3 p.m. by this time. I got a pager and left my cell number at the desk and went down to the cafeteria, where I had a decidedly unhealthy Philly and fries.

By the time I came back up, my tablet was in need of plugging in, so I found a spot in the waiting room where I could plug in.

Unfortunately, that spot was near a group of folks from Hickory. How’d I know they were from Hickory? Because they were hicks. Among the worst I’ve seen. Make that heard.

There were two 40-ish couples, an older man and a couple of teens. The older guy and the teens were fine. The two couples, not so much. There was a blonde wearing white. Tight white. Sort of sheer white. And tight. Especially around her belly, legs and butt. She and the other woman, a less-flashy brunette, were carrying on, laughing and telling stories, loudly interrupting one another and the guys along with them. Again, grabbed the earbuds, but now I really was worried about missing an update. Each time the intercom would sound, I’d have to rip the earbuds out and hope to catch the name. I shot them several glares, but they either didn’t see them or, more likely, didn’t care.

It bothered me. I was there knowing there was a 99% or higher chance of a good outcome in Karen’s procedure.

But it occurred to me, if not to the Hickorians (Hickoryites), that there probably were lots of people in there for life or death procedures. And they had to listen to a bunch of howling and laughing and foolishness. I couldn’t really move – I really needed to recharge – so I just sat there and seethed. And thought up the surgeries I’d like to see inflicted on them. Most of which involved garden sheers and tongues.

Here’s the … And Other Stuff

The irritating folks from Hickory were originally going to be from Gastonia. That’s because I enjoy poking fun at Gastonia, where I lived from 1993 to 1997. I’ve previously called said it was built on the Hellmouth of Weird, kinda like Sunnyvale was the Hellmouth of Demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But get this. I have great affection for Gastonia. There’s no place on earth that recognizes its shortcomings and tries so hard to overcome them. If I poke fun at the city, it’s in the manner of friends giving one another the business.

Here’s why this matters: The congressional redistricting plan currently before the goobers in the General Assembly puts Asheville in the same district with Gastonia. Which has apparently outraged the folks in Asheville to no end.

I say that because of what I suppose was intended to be a humor column Sunday in the Asheville paper. Here’s a link if you want to see it, but I can’t say I recommend it. The premise was that because they’re in the same congressional district, Asheville and Gastonia must be alike. Here’s what it was in practice: A snarky, unfair putdown of Gastonia, criticizing it for having pawn shops (which I’m betting Asheville has, too), downtown parking (as if that’s a bad thing) and unpretentious restaurants. The underlying theme: We’re better than Gastonia, and we shouldn’t be in the same district).

Hey, I like Asheville. It has a lot to recommend it, including cool restaurants and music venues. But Gastonia has some damn good stuff going for it, too. Like Tony’s Ice Cream (mentioned, but not enough, in the article). Like the Schiele Museum, which is pretty cool in my book. Like people who – as I said earlier – can laugh at themselves and realize they don’t live in paradise.

The two cities definitely have something in common, though: Terrible representation in Congress. Patrick McHenry from Cherryville represents Gastonia, and even his fellow Republicans thought he was over the top recently with his criticism of the woman helping to set up a national consumer-finance agency. As for Asheville, it’s represented by Heath Shuler, the Republican masquerading as a Democrat. Which is fine, since he masqueraded as a quarterback for the Washington Redskins. And who apparently is torn between running again for Congress and being the athletic director at the University of Tennessee. And maybe being a double-naught spy.

Humility and knowledge in poor clothes excel pride and ignorance in costly attire.
– William Penn

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