Tuesday Night Potpourri: Post-Gradeapalooza Edition

I turned my grades in this morning shortly before noon, and had lunch with my friend and sometimes bassist Justin. Tomorrow evening I’ll watch a Mondoville hoops doubleheader, but tonight I just thought I’d catch my breath and check in…

***

I’ve talked in the past about what I call “The Return of the Natives” — when a kid who has been absent for most of the term, has submitted little or no work, and has no chance to pass shows up to take (and typically, to bomb) the final exam. It happened a couple of times in one of my exams yesterday.

One of the kids showed up a few minutes before the exam began. “Dr. Moore, I’m sorry,” he said. That’s the first time I’ve had that happen, and I thought it was respectful in its way. I told him it was okay, that I’d been in the game too long to take it personally. What I didn’t mention is that I had been in his position myself.

It was my first semester at Northern KY U, spring of 1986. I had been bounced from Transy in May of 1985, had spent the fall of the year working at Sears to raise the cash to go to Northern (about a half-hour from my home in Union.) Typically, the Mad Dog rode shotgun in my 1976 Pacer, a vehicle that would become the stuff of my personal legend as the most spectacularly awful car I ever owned. I was taking 15 hours, heavy on math and compsci, as I still thought I would major in both. It was a dumb move — I was never passionate about either, but I was determined to graduate as quickly as possible, so I resolved to ride those bombs down like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. (By that fall, I had discovered that Excelsior College — then called Regents’ — might let me earn my degree the same way my father had, and I knew I had a much better chance of making my autodidact’s bones in English, which I did with my performance on the GRE Subject test that October. But I hadn’t figured that out yet.)

So I was driving over there five days a week, and spending afternoons and evenings at Sears in Florence, KY. I made a few new friends, and discovered I was far more interested in hanging around with them during the day than in going to Data Structures or Multivariable Calculus. So that’s what I did. I’d still pick up the Mad Dog, and we’d still go to campus, but with the exception of an Homors seminar, I basically loitered in the Honors lounge, cultivated a crush on a purple-haired freshpeep named Belinda, and quit going to class. When Todd was done with his classes, he’d swing by the lounge and we’d bail, returning to the burbs, to his job at the multiplex and mine at the mall across the street.

I had no shot of passing Multivariable — I was likely underprepared, having sonambulated through Differential Equations at Transy while in the throes of depression. (Also, I had missed the week of Diff Eq when we covered 2nd-order equations because of a death in the family, so even had I been fine, I would have been hosed.) I didn’t have the level of mathematical intuition that friends of mine like Dennis and Will had, so that was a no-go. And the even bigger thing was that I just no longer cared. I couldn’t get interested enough to go to class, and then I would have felt embarrassed to show up after missing so many days, and it snowballed.

But when finals rolled around, I dragged myself into that classroom and took my shot. And had you asked me why I did that at the time, I don’t think I could have answered. But I’ve thought about it for decades, especially when it happens while I’m on the other side of the desk, and I may have the outlines of a reason.

I think it ties in with my student’s apology yesterday morning. I didn’t want Professor Curtin (I still remember his name — heh) to think that I had stopped attending because of him. I actually kind of liked him in the little I had seen of him; it was the class that I just couldn’t endure, especially when I could be talking about books and music with my friends in the lounge. I knew I was going to fail the course, and that the exam was going to be the exclamation point on my slacking. (I hadn’t done that at Transy; I attended out of desperation to keep my scholarship and the hope that it might all become clear in time to save myself. But it didn’t.) But like a condemned man refusing the blindfold, I wanted to be there, to face my failure, acknowledge my defeat. I wanted to demonstrate on some level that I respected the class, even if I couldn’t bring myself to care about it. So I went, and I failed, and I failed the class as well, and it was the last math class I ever took, so the graph of my math grades has a perfect -1 slope (y= -x+5).

But in the long run, it worked out. I’m here, on the other side of the desk, and when a kid shows up for that last class meeting (even if they aren’t sure why), I don’t tell them they shouldn’t bother. I accept the paper whether they turn it in during the first half-hour (as one of them did) or twenty minutes after the penultimate student leaves (as was the case with the other.) I grade their papers, even though I know it won’t make a difference in their final grade. Whether they knew it or not, they had enough respect to step up and refuse the blindfold. I owe them that much respect in return.

[Side Note: Years later, Mrs. M and I lived near Northern; I had finished my Masters and was working at a magazine, and she was finishing her teaching degree. There was a grocery across the street from our apartment, and as I was there one evening to pick a few things up, I noticed that Prof. Curtin was in the line next to me. He had no reason to remember me, but I remembered him. So I (re-)introduced myself and told him about how my academic adventures had continued after that term. For some reason it was important for me to let him know that I had, in fact, managed to achieve a certain amount of academic success. He seemed understanding: “Sometimes you just have to find the right thing,” he said. I agreed, and I still do. End of Side Note.]

***

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at the Mid-Century Mondohaus. We got a new artificial tree this year — the old one’s built in lights had given up the ghost, and as I said, they were built in, so…

Anyway, Mrs. M and I put the decorations up, and I did my usual level of tree ornamentation. Many of our ornaments date from my own childhood, with more than a few made of wood, hand painted by my mother, with our names written on them in sharpie. My nickname appears on a toy soldier, for example, on his diagonal white Sam Browne belt, and on a green-eyed white cat she painted to look like the one we had owned at the time. My brother’s name was on a little drummer boy, painted with the red hair that three of my generation had — “Little Drummer Boy” was his favorite Christmas song. I think we sent his ornaments to his daughter.

We have new ornaments as well, from the college, and from the Spawn’s childhood. We even have four that we just got last year — personalized for Mrs. M and me, along with the Spawn and Main Squeeze. The actual Spawn and Squeeze will be here in a couple of weeks, and the Spawn and I are already talking about the books each of us intends to inflict on the other. As an added bonus, her employer shuts down for paid holidays at Christmas, so she won’t have to worry about anything but our jigsaw puzzles and Megan Abbott’s The Turnout while she’s here. (I told you we have books picked out.)

***

Speaking of books, two friends of mine reached out to me this week with kind words about stories of mine. One let me know how much he enjoyed “The Jacket,” which you can find here, and the other had nice things to say about “Alt-AC,” from The Darkling Halls of Ivy. And of course, soon enough my story “Lightning Round” will show up with lots of other good stuff in El Bee’s Playing Games. So if you’re looking for something to read, well, there you go.

Meanwhile, there’s no one signed up for the online course I’m supposed to teach in January, so who knows? I might even get more writing done.

***

And let’s exit with some music, eh? Zorba and the Greeks were from Roseburg, Oregon, a town fans of LB’s Keller might recognize. This track — written by the drummer, of all things — came out in rock and roll’s greatest year, 1966. There are lots of things I love about this track: high energy, competent harmonies, and a nice organ hook, but my favorite aspect may be the completely deadpan spoken-word chorus, clearly slapped on as the last overdub. Why’d they do it? All I can say is that it’s Greeks to me. Here’s “One and Only Girl.”

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Music, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

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