Thursday, March 4, 2010

Make it Work

This morning I sat at my desk and ate my breakfast (peanut butter and fresh papaya sandwich; Guangzhou: come for the tropical fruit, stay for the drudgery, despair, and cheap handbags) and thought about my most important decision of the day: what to wear.

Please don’t stop reading. I promise this is not going to devolve into my asking what outfit I should wear if I want Michael to kiss me at Spring Fling. This is what girls think about, right? I’m basing this entirely on what I learned in a movie Mel Gibson made about a guy who can hear what women are thinking called The Passion of the Christ.

No, this is going to be about a much more difficult issue. (Answer to the warm-up problem: just be yourself and if Michael isn’t the guy for you then you’ll find someone better. And, frankly, it’s not your outfit, it’s your face.) This problem is called “The Shirt Scheduling Dilemma” and I believe it is NP-complete.

So here’s the deal. I moved to China is August of last year, and I could only bring so many clothes. I did end up bringing all sorts of things I didn’t need, but I was young then. The point is that I have 3 pairs of pants and about 6 acceptable collared shirts to wear to work. This is not enough. So that’s the first problem. I just don’t have enough shirts.

The second problem is that having only six shirts means that my laundry cycle syncs up all too well with my class schedule, so I’m in constant danger of wearing a shirt on the same day of the week two weeks in a row. If that were to happen then there’d be at least one class under the impression that I only own one shirt, which is five full shirts less than I actually own. Once you get over the problem of wearing the same shirt two weeks in a row, there’s still the nagging doubt about whether any day of the week has somehow managed not to see one of my shirts, or on the other hand whether one of the days sees one or two shirts much more often than the others. The point is that I want to give every student the chance to see me in my full range of upper body clothing options, and when I have only six shirt I can’t afford to give one shirt short shrift.

But there’s a third problem. This problem centers around my black and white plaid shirt. This is a picture of me in my black and white plaid shirt.

Me in plaid

I apologize for the weird face; I was caught off guard by the self timer on my own computer. But pay attention to the shirt. I like that shirt, and I’d like to wear it a lot (but of course I have to ration it so that no one gets overexposed), but, by some twist of fate, there is a student in one of my classes who has the exact same shirt. Here is an artist’s rendering of the student in his black and white plaid shirt.

Student in plaid

Even in this crude drawing, you can see that the resemblance is striking. He’s worn the shirt a couple of times this year, and on two occasions I was wearing my black and white plaid shirt as well. So that’s not great. Here’s the problem though — after the fact, I can never remember which student it is, or even what class he is in. That means that wearing my black and white plaid shirt (which, again, I really like) is always dangerous, because I never know when I’m accidentally going to be wearing the same thing as one of my 17-year-old students. I’m pretty sure he’s not in one of the Tuesday classes, so Tuesday is probably safe. But Friday is definitely not safe. And I have one clean shirt left in my closet. And it’s black and white plaid. So tomorrow I’m going to have to make a decision about how afraid I am of synchronicity, and how much I value clean shirts. It’s tough. I know what you’re thinking: what would Jesus do, right? But I don’t know. I’m not sure that really applies here, you know?

Suggestions welcome. (Mel Gibson, I’m looking at you.)