Missing the Mark in Colorado Springs

(Originally ran on March 22, 2004 as "Aiming to please")

Since I'd spent most of Spring Break in a Vulcan Mind-Meld with my computer in preparation for last Monday’s thesis defense, I decided to leave town last weekend. I determined to take my newly-defended thesis (which consisted of a massive web site and a thirty-four page paper) and cram it into a 15-minute presentation for an American Studies conference that was being held in Colorado Springs.

I am a party animal.

I’d never been to an academic conference before. Last year I presented a paper on Ricardo Montalban at a mock conference on campus, but that was easy, because the people there knew and pitied me. Not so in Colorado.

After a 10 hour road trip with my roommate Houston which featured Bob Kellersburger’s beef jerky, Kool and the Gang’s "Jungle Boogie," and a scenic tour of Price, Utah, I arrived in Colorado Springs and learned that no one in the state of Colorado ever thought to use numbers to name their streets. I was so distraught that I went to bed early.

The next morning I drove downtown to the luxurious Antlers Adam's Mark Hotel*, where the conference was being held. Now, an academic conference is a lot like a concept car show, if you were to substitute professors bantering about academic theory for the space age automobiles. Plus the models aren’t as good-looking.

The great thing about an academic conference, though, is that you can hear presentations on weird topics, like Superman and The Matrix. In American Studies, this stuff is important. It reminded me of the screenwriting program at the University of Utah. I wrote a 168-page screenplay about Kung Fu and brine shrimp, and every time I’d workshop the plot with my instructor, I would laugh because he had to take the whole thing seriously.

Down the hall from the hero conference, Franklin Covey was having a seminar. I’m sure the folks there would've killed to get away from their boring lecture on sales statistics and product development to hear some dude from Kokomo Indiana talk about why John Wayne rules. Those poor people signed their lives away back when they declared themselves accounting majors.

Of course, mere moments into my own presentation, I quickly realized that my academic banter wasn’t nearly as good as that of my peers. It dawned on me that in order to get my presentation down to the required length, I had chopped away everything that gave my thesis validity in the first place. I left with the distinct impression that I had just presented a dozen bewildered conference attendees with what I thought was ground-breaking theory, but what they thought was a egomaniacal sales pitch for deer meat.

Soon I began to question my place in the academic world. Could I really hack it with these people? Should I try tweed next time? It seems like whenever you say the word "Foucault," academic people laugh. Maybe I should have tried that.

I longed for a simpler time, a time when I had simpler goals. Say, for example, during the potty training years. I recently located a tool on the market called "Toilet-Time Targets." They're designed to help young parents train their spawn how to properly use the throne. It’s nothing but a small box filled with little paper targets that you drop in the toilet. Then you tell your kid to aim at them. The box even says that "Dad or older brother" should demonstrate, because it’s a great way to encourage your child with success, plus it teaches hand-eye coordination.

It sure would have been nice to have some of those little targets at the hotel last weekend. Imagine how much better I would have felt after humiliating myself at the conference if I could have gone off to the restroom and shot 10-for-10 on urinal floaters. Don’t try to tell me who the man is around here.

There’s no good reason this valuable tool should be left exclusively to kids. Say you just lost an ASUSU election. Don’t go home and boob about it. Go take a crack at some of these targets.** You may not be cut out to be leader of the free world, but at least you’ll be doing your part to keep it clean.

*Early candidate for "Most Bizarre Hotel Name, 2004"

**Be careful: the box says that "most children get very excited while shooting Toilet-Time Targets, so use a sturdy step stool and a helping hand to prevent your child from falling." You may need the help of a concerned roommate.