Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Playing the Fool, Being Un-cool, Comma Splices, & Teddy Pendergrass

After nine years of commuting two hours daily began to get to me, I recently broke my resolution not to incur any more monthly expenses. The lure of endless oldies on satellite radio finally seduced me. I figured the monthly fee for Sirius would pay for itself if some jazzy radio tunes helped me hang on to a shred of my sanity.

 I got a satellite radio and installed it in the aging minivan all by myself(!), complete with a bird’s nest of dangling wires. A whole new world opened to me. Not to mention I’m sure I'll save money on various prescription mood altering pharmaceuticals.

That middle-aged woman you see singing and banging the steering wheel to the disco beat of The Seventies on Seven at Sirius? That would be me. I don’t even care if I look goofy as heck to observers at stop lights; I’m in another world as I get my groove on to Earth, Wind, and Fire. After all, I’m already driving the arguably most-uncool ride on the planet—a white minivan, complete with peeling paint. The “cool” bus had obviously left me behind some time ago.

One of the better aspects of coming to terms with midlife is finally not giving a …. hoot (keeping it clean, here)… about playing the fool. Life is too short to worry about people thinking I look silly. Beating on the steering wheel is just plain fun, and I think I’m actually releasing endorphins while thumping out the beat.

Today’s especially revelatory song was from 1979, Teddy Pendergrass laying down “Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose.” Dancing in my seat, I forgot how tired I was this morning and how far behind I am in grading dozens of papers. A little seed of an idea was planted in my mind, and when I got to campus, I checked out some clips on YouTube. Uh-huh. Just what I was looking for.

Slowly I walked the hall to room 103. The lesson plan for my 9:00 college composition class was the dreaded comma splice lecture. If you don’t know what comma splices are, count yourself lucky. I learned about them to my great and lasting sorrow, and now, sadly, I must bring the news of these evil saboteurs of college essays to my sweet and unsuspecting students.

I’ve been blessed with a great group of young people in this particular class—they actually listen and have motivation—amen, halleluiah. So it particularly pained me as I saw their previously eager eyes gloss over about ten minutes into the comma splice debacle. We continued on, as I gamely did my best with possibly the driest lecture I give over the course of a semester.

Finally, I gave the class a worksheet to test their comfort level with those devils, the comma splices. I could tell it was a relief to them that at least I had stopped talking! There’s an ego deflator for a teacher.

We checked over the answers to the worksheet together, and the punctuation gods were smiling at the class who were still engaged and trying their best to deal with the comma splice nemesis. I was proud of them. They got through an episode of what I think of as a necessary evil.

And wait—we had three minutes of class time left!

“I have something very important I want to show you before we go,” I said, deadpan.

The overhead projector popped up the Teddy Pendergrass “live” 1979 YouTube video of “Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose.” Teddy was in his glory: fit, handsome, in an all-white outfit, gold neck-chains shining, smiling and working it, man. He had the club patrons at the venue on their feet!

I was dancing and singing next to the classroom computer. Some students smiled, some gaped, some looked shocked, some rolled their eyes, some looked like they wished the floor would open up and swallow us all (or at least just me), some were swaying to the beat, clapping and snapping fingers.  One young man said, “That’s Teddy! Teddy Pendergrass!” I can only assume that his grandmother played the LPs to him in his cradle.

After Teddy sang the refrain several times, adding in “Whatcha come out here for?” I told the class that I saw this song as a metaphor for college. They laughed. No, I said, you took the trouble to get here to college, like Teddy took the trouble to get to the club, and by heck he’s going to get up, get down,  get funky, get loose,  now that he’s there. You’re here to make the most of college, I can tell.

As the class filed out, one smiling young lady said, “Mrs. Bruce, thanks to you, I’ll make it through my next class, ugh, Chemistry, with a smile on my face.”

Yes, my silly, foolish, un-cool, comma splice, Teddy Pendergrass, disco work here is done.

Thanks, Teddy. 

I come out here to party / And party is what I’m gonna do / I done worked hard both night and day / And now it’s time for me to shake it loose / Took me an hour just to get here /
Do you think I’m going to stand up on the wall? / Gonna have myself a ball, do you hear me? / Have myself a ball, come on y’all.”


  1. What a great song to play for your students! Such a fun, uplifting and generation-spanning tune. You totally deserve the Sirius radio, with that long commute!

    1. Thanks, Sharon, only took me 9 years to conclude that anything that helps with this commute needs to be considered! Congrats on your latest great post on Huff/Post 50!

  2. Can you see me dancing, Melanie? Well, I am! I LOVE, LOVE Teddy Pendergrass, and it sure brings back a lot of great dancing days of my youth. And I SOOO loved this post, Amiga. Thank you for the GREAT memories today. This was fun! :)

    And I am so very glad to see that your student can cheer you.

    Big virtual hugs to you today,

  3. A sweet story, sweetly told. Thanks for providing me a smile, commas included. So few people realize that the list of rules for the written language, is finite.

  4. I'm a big mini van singer/dancer--though I just burn CDs from my absurdly large iTunes collection. The right song cranked up loud can comfort (or distract from) all sorts of woes. :)

  5. Great post, Melanie. My boy just started classes at the local community college (thanks to the AWESOME PSEO program.)He's got 4 classes on campus ... his favorites, by far, are the two taught by professors with a sense of humor, and an acceptance of the ridiculous. Teachers like you make all the difference. Thank you.

    Your blog isn't offering me the usual option to post as my wordpress identify -- I'm Renae (The Paranormalist).

  6. Masked Mom-- that is so true. I think I'll save for some of those speakers that visibly shake the car, just to make the youngsters gape even more!

    Hi Renae! Thanks for stopping by-- as a student, I always liked the teachers who had that flair for the ridiculous, and I guess I've taken them as my models! Best of luck to your son at community college!

  7. I'm listening to the song on Spotify now. Nice! Great way to end a class, too. Do you think you'll pull out an end-of-class song as a regular thing?

    My commute isn't as long as yours--it's typically in the hour-long neighborhood--but music definitely helps me. And singing. And dance/driving. Keep on jamming!

  8. Hi Danielle-- been thinking about making a song a weekly event, at least. Students get so stressed out that it seems to relax them (and me).

    Your commute is long enough, at an hour! Music makes a long commute much more bearable. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. The Loft on Sirius -- you won't regret it -- music for adults who still rock.

  10. The Loft -- Sirius -- Music for adults who still rock -- you won't regret it.

  11. I'm right there with you! I love funk, disco, soul. I would have been so happy to have had a college professor play some funk at the end of a lecture. YAY!