Wednesday, April 13, 2011


 This is neither based upon, nor inspired by, a true story. It is a true story. 0ne name has been changed to protect the sane.

The Commuter's Center was where the students, who couldn't afford to live at the college, hung out.
It was my third year and I was desperately searching for a "gut" course, one in which it was impossible to get a poor grade.  So much for scholastic ambition. A majority of the commuters, being Townies who majored in drinking dime beers (in those days), were also on the same hunt and a lively half-shlossed discussion was raging among those who still had sufficient command over their tongues so as to enunciate full sentences. Various countries were heard from. Indeed, I was not alone in this inglorious pursuit of academic excellence.

Suddenly, as much as a stupor can be sudden, a consensus was reached. PSYCHOLOGY 101. The skinny was that the professor would give objective multiple choice exams every Friday. But wait! These exams would be distributed to the students every Thursday! The weekly results, along with a final exam, would be the basis for the final grade. A select (sober)  committee was formed to investigate and verify. The results were corroborative! We had found our gut course! I signed up.

At the first class, however, I discovered something very upsetting.  I couldn't understand a word the professor was saying. It was all in a  psychological language-a code of some sort-and was as foreign to me as the personal hygiene habits of Mad Max. Taking notes was out of the question and so I spent the hour trying to make plans to escape. It was then that I recognized one of the other 199 students in the class. It was King Kagan! All was not yet lost.

His real name was Mendell Nebish, and he had been blessed, at birth, with the brain of a genius. And he was a friend of mine. Only, now, he would become my best friend.

He was a commuter and so meeting him was inevitable. When he spoke, at our initial meeting, his first sentence made my jaw drop. Incoming flies mandated  shutting my mouth, but not before I grasped his  extraordinary gift of brilliance, and I was determined to  immortalize him. But his name did in no way match his capabilities. Mendell Nebish as the successor to Albert Einstein just wouldn't fly. So, in my world, I successfully petitioned my Probate Court for a name change. Now, the book could be judged by its cover.
And so, it came to pass that Mendell became known and revered, on the Harvard campus, as King Kagan.

I approached King right after class and explained my dilemma. Further, I detailed my plan.

"Listen, King, here's what I want you to do. Each thursday, we'll meet at the Commuters' Center and compare each question with it's several multiple answers and you will show me the correct one. I shall mark it so. At night, I shall memorize which answer goes with each question by picking a key word in the question and matching it with a memorized key word in the answer. Like, in question one, I will have memorized and matched: "bird" with "tree" and voila! I will answer the question correctly without having any understanding of what the hell it's about. A foolproof combination of your  intelligence and my memory"
As  King evaluated my scheme, I could hear Sinatra singing inside his head, accompanying the magnificent machinations of his brain. He administered a full body scan of me and solemnly announced his verdict: "okay".

We did not share our scheme with others. Dangerous to security, don't you see. The operation was in the strict confidence of the King and I.

And it worked! It's success resulted, at the end of the weekly tests, in me coming in at the top of the class. You see, King, relying upon intelligent analysis, made one inadvertent error along the way. Human frailty. I, however, not having a clue as to what I was talking about, relying on the auto pilot of memory, never missed a one. Thus, as we approached the final exam, I was ranked # 1, with a grade of A+. King took it with the majesty that was his. I was looked upon as the Ivy Leauge's Gordon Gecko.
That was the posture of things, on that sunny morning, as we all took our seats and were handed the final exam.

I felt as if I had overdosed on colonics. There were four questions, all subjective essay. What was required was an understanding of the basic tenets of the course. I couldn't even pronounce the professor's  name. The prognosis was bleak. There was trouble ahead. Facing the inevitable, I signed my name on the last page and turned in a blank blue book.

Three weeks later, I was summoned to the professor's office. We shook hands and he greeted me with "I can't say that I recall the face". Wonder why.

"Mr. Alch, surely you realize why you are here. You submitted nothing in your final exam.  Do you have any idea how this has affected what had been your grade of A+?"
I had a thought or two, mostly related to fastening my mouth on the exhaust pipe of my car.
"Unfortunately", he continued, "your grade is now a C-."

I lowered my eyes to the floor, in mocked humiliation. C- was a passing grade! Somebody up there liked me. The light  at the end of the tunnel was clearly visible. I wanted to kiss the professor and, if that went well,  dance with him.

But, he had more on his mind, a change in direction, like the word "however" in an Appellate opinion.

"When I was attending college, something similar happened to me," he continued. "I couldn't concentrate on my studies. I was in a perpetual fog. My grades plummeted. And then, my doctor told me that I was suffering from some sort of virus, perhaps walking pneumonia. He prescribed uninterrupted bed rest for two weeks and, sure enough, I was a new man, at the top of my game, scholastically."
Oh, no.
"I think that's your problem, Alch. Certainly fits the facts!"
Oh no, no, no.
"And so, in two weeks, I shall permit you to take a make-up exam and you'll get your A back. I'm sure of it."
No freakin' way.
I forced myself to look him straight in the eye."Professor, that is most kind of you, but I can't do it. I can't allow myself to do it. You see, (now, ramrod straight and very emotionally determined) I was taught, growing up, that a man must learn from his mistakes. Otherwise, he'll think he can get away with everything and never have to face the consequences. That's not for me, sir. I'll take my C- and shall forever avoid a similar misstep."

"Nonsense, my boy, you shall take the second exam and receive your rightful mark."

Back and forth it went. Second exam--gimmee my C-....second exam---gimmee my C-.

This guy could never even entertain the notion that a second exam would only produce a second blank blue book.

Now, with little to lose, I really laid it on him: "I respectfully say no to your offered kindness and my C- shall serve as a permanent reminder of the consequences of my conduct and will insure that a repetition shall never occur. A refusal of a second chance, which I don't deserve, is consistent with being accountable for one's actions. I am grateful,sir, but it's time to move on." My eyes messaged "end of discussion".

The professor caved. I got the passing C-, and King Kagan got his A.

After closure, I never forgot the incident and did indeed learn from it.

I came to realize that we cannot always be wringing our hands over the past.
In truth,we do what we must and get by any way we can.

We are always on the wheel of fortune.


1 comment:

  1. I remember the fist time you told me that story, it was awesome then and it gets better with age. Look forward to our court cases together.