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The Great Adventure


Brian Hinkle

It all started when I decided to clean off my desk. Not exactly the typical rainy day afternoon activity of a lazy college student, I know, but what else was I supposed to do? My alternative was a slow game of table tennis with my dorm mates, and swatting at a tiny plastic ball didn’t sound as appealing when my grades were plunging faster than a disowned Mafia capo with concrete shoes. So I resolved to hit the books hard, and dragged out my dusty textbooks and highlighters. But there it was, looming higher than the shadowy form of Mt. Everest, casting a threatening shadow over the room, rated number one on the Sierra Clubs Travesties of the Year list the huge mound of papers, bills, handouts, flyers, syllabi, guides and every other paper pulp product known to man that I had collected since first moving into McGregor Hall. I suppose that if geologists were to drill down and take a core sample, theyd find the goodbye notes from my parents that were first to be relegated to the miniature ash heap of history dominating my work area. My heart sank as I surveyed my tiny living area, desperate to find a small nook where I could spread out my papers and books. But, of course, the soda cans, potato chip bags, and miscellaneous items of Metallica memorabilia had commandeered the floor space for their own, and I knew that studying on my bed would result in a premature case of academic narcolepsy. I grabbed my miniature pickaxe and shovel, and vowed to emerge from the detritus on my desk with victory or defeat. Or stale snack foods.

Five hours later, I had made a noticeable dent in the rubble and was looking  through some of my unearthed historical finds for amusement while I rested.  Next item: my class schedule for this semester. I perused the dot matrix printed list with an air of detachment, checking off all of my classes as they came up, until my eyes fixed upon a peculiar sight. Russian Historical Socioeconomics? 

WHAT THE HELL! I didn’t sign up for that! Cold comfort, for the small dots on that flimsy paper refused to go away no matter how much I stared. I grabbed the accursed slip and ran out of my room, almost tripping on a pile of last year’s campus newspapers as I did so.

My first stop (and hopefully my last), naturally, was the counsellor’s office.  I picked my fingernails and hummed off-key tunes from the latest movie soundtrack 
while the bored receptionist did the same, until she finally fixed her glassy eyes  upon me and made a considerable effort, I suppose, to displace the large wad of gum she chewed and replace it with the slowly formed words Well, whaddaya want? 

I stepped up to the counter and forced my steely gaze upon her. The burning heat  of my anger shone forth until her skin heated up, and peeled away, her flesh  shrivelling in the fire of my disdain. Well, her perplexed response indicated that I must have been daydreaming, and she would still be alive to ignore future members of the Williamson College student body.

“I need to see the counsellor,” I intoned, placing as much contempt for her lowly position as I could possibly muster into my baritone voice. She flicked her chubby fingers towards a humble wooden door, and I opened it, hoping to find my destiny within, praying for the cancellation of RUSI 1042 or the death of its teaching faculty member. Keep your hopes up, my mother always said.

Mr. Timothy McMahon spun around in his finely upholstered leather chair, and  kindly asked what I would like help with. With growing fear, I placed the slip upon his desk, and managed to squeak out, “This class - I didn’t sign up for it.  I haven’t gone to the lectures. What do I do?”

His eyes flicked across the printed statement, and groaned the last death rattle of a fatally wounded man not a good sign, especially when he didn’t talk to me for the next thirty seconds. He then managed to get up a good head of steam, and then gave me the bad news: I couldn’t cancel, it was the hardest class of the Russian history curriculum, there were seven books to read, and the cumulative final was at 2:30 PM tomorrow.

Glancing down at the small digital clock on his desk, I saw the blinking numbers that indicated my fate 2:28 PM. Sorry, he said, and gestured towards the door. I could hear the jeering voices in my imagination, all yelling Dead man walking! Dead man walking! Slowly, I shuffled towards the door, and then started to frantically run as I realized what was in store.

Next stop: campus bookstore. “Could I have the assigned readings for RUSI 1042,  pleeeasssee?” I wheedled in my best Im-a-starving-college-student who-needs-seven-books-for-a-final-tomorrow and-cant-afford-them voice. The  clerk pulled out a class list, and then yelled at her lowly student assistant to fetch History of Political Decline in Russia, The Communist Manifesto, Marxist Economic Systems, Microeconomics and Russian Practice, A Concise Guide to Socialist Theory, The Forty-Pound Lamp: A History of Failed Russian Factory Quotas, and Burning Bright: Bolshevik Rebellion against Repressive Russian Communist Interests. My heart sank further with the reading of each of these ghastly titles, so that I was almost catatonic when it came time to reimburse Williamson Bookstore for my troubles. The price certainly didn’t help the growing damage to my psyche: $394.27 after tax.

Gulping, I handed over my pitiful American Express Student charge card, fully  expecting it to melt after the gigantic credit burned through the phone lines into the dark heart of AmEx corporate headquarters. Well, I’d worry about that later. My first issue was to study harder than most medical-school students for the next twenty-four hours, and I would worry about financial issues after I had saved myself from the horrors of academic probation and angry parents. I hefted the gigantic heavy-duty shopping bag, and jogged out of the store with 7,000 pages of Russian socioeconomic history and theory bouncing on my back.

Third stop: Phi Alpha Theta, my beloved fraternity. No, I didn’t want to drown my miseries in the watered-down libations in which our leaders specialized (although that didn’t sound bad at the moment), but instead I was interested in the infamous back room. Within that former janitors’ closet was the official PAT test archive, with hundreds of tests covering the spectrum of higher education curricula at Williamson.

Hopefully, with any luck, one of the frat brothers had a hangover at registration  and mistakenly signed up for RUSI 1042, or my task would be significantly harder.

I entered the room, and slowly crept through the leaning iron file racks that  contained hope for thousands of future slacker students. But would I find what I was looking for? My heart leapt with glee as I saw a newly placed folder labelled RUSI 1042, but it then sank as I discovered the only contents were a single sheet of paper, and a faded brochure that screamed Discover Beautiful Hawaii! The paper was a short handwritten note, essentially stating that the fraternity would indefinitely place on hold any plans for taking that class. Well, so much for the hopes of the easy way out. I would have to study furiously, with the hour now approaching 4:00 PM. 

Fourth stop: the peer-tutoring center. Not that I was looking for actual knowledge  in the subject matter, but I needed an experienced student who could tell me what was on the test. Besides, there was no way I could get even a concise guide to Russian socioeconomic theory without 400 hours of gruelling lectures. I looked  for the cheap, battered foldout table labelled Russian History, and saw only the  glowering face of the resident campus feminist: Maureen Coates. Even though I  ducked my head, she still instantly saw me for the gender I was. You blathering,  repressive, bigoted pig! You foot in the door of social change! Its your kind who  use your greater legal power to dominate and vilify the female gender into mere  subhuman objects through the social transgression of making us The Other!

Something told me I shouldn’t get my hopes up about peer tutoring. I ran out  of the room with Maureen’s verbal shrapnel still splattering against the back of my head.

Fifth stop: the library. Surely someone there would be studying for the gargantuan  final that faced me, and if not, it was open 24 hours a day and would be a perfect  environment for effective studying. At least that’s what I thought until I saw my  friends, Rodney and James. “Hey, man want to play some table tennis?” they whispered as my skin drew tight and I started to sweat. If this were a movie, right now James Bond would be diving towards me in full linebacker stance to knock me out of the field of fire, but I could hope for no such natural or supernatural rescue now.

With a mental effort that would have done Enrico Fermi proud, I forced the words  out of my mouth. “No guys, I have to… I have to study!”

As soon as the fatal word reached their ear canals, their mouths opened in twin  Os that looked big enough to suck in a Corvette. “STUDY!?!?!” they replied in a  loud and incredulous voice that drew the unwelcome attention of all the other  industrious students in the room. “Yep, gotta go,” I shot back, and dashed out of the building.

Well, three alternative plans down, and the hard one to go. It was time to take the dreaded step - work hard and study by myself.

Sixth (and final) stop: McGregor Hall, and my beloved room. And the coffee vending machine, and the snack counter, and the community TV, and the boom box, and the usual group of girls, and the usual group of guys, and the foosball table; you get the idea. But I’d pass up usual entertainment today, and I dashed through the lines to pick up Fritos and a Mountain Dew before embarking on my final adventure. My secret plan was to look through the textbooks for bolded words. If there weren’t any, I would pick the longest passages, write down intelligent-sounding phrases, look at them over and over again until my mind went numb, and hope for the best. After all, why expect too much when you just learned this course existed four hours ago? Besides, I felt incredibly tired, stressed, depressed, angered, saddened, pained, bored and just plain beaten by this situation. 

With symptoms like that, RUSI 1042 should have an FDA warning label. Stepping into my room and slamming my load onto my newly cleaned desk (O Cruel Fate!), I pulled out the first book, History of Political Decline in Russia. Flipping idly through 
the pages, I noticed a lot of text with no pictures or bolded words. Well, my mother always told me that college would challenge me more than high school. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for history of the Revolutionary War right now! 

No hope of any easy way out; it was time to start writing, and fast. The oh-so-reliable clock on the wall told me it was two minutes past seven, which gave me a space until the final of 19 hours, 28 minutes, and 45 seconds 4443424240… There I went again, almost falling asleep without even looking at the acres of small black text that would hold my future grade in Russian Historical Socioeconomics. I popped the tab on the Mountain Dew, ripped open the bag of Fritos, hefted my trusty #2 mechanical pencil,  and made a toast to success. Then, I opened the book again and began to copy the incomprehensible words and phrases that I would hopefully commit to memory before the dreaded test tomorrow.

Ten hours later, I suddenly discovered that my hand refused to move. My head slowly turned towards the mound of crabbed notes I had taken, and I made an executive decision: no more writing. It was time to read and read and read, until Marxist demagogues replaced the little sugarplum fairies in my dreams. Flickering back and forth across my notes, my eyes dried up and my vision began to blur. Strange, I thought that after seeing all the work ahead of me, they would be filled with tears.

Nine hours later, I was in a comfortable seat in Mogelnicki Auditorium, with nervous sweat dripping down the collar of my shirt and my heart beating a thousand times a minute. Figures; I sat on the side where the tests would arrive last. There must be a Murphy’s Law corollary for forgotten classes’ finals, I mused as a huge sheaf of paper landed right beneath my nose. There it was. With a strange sense of detachment I broke the paper seal with my right index finger, and discovered it was an essay question.

The jeering voices in my head were now chanting, ‘Would you like fries with that? Would you like fries with that?’ I disregarded their gleeful ribbing of my present situation. After seeing the grade on my transcripts, McDonalds wouldn’t even let me touch a microphone. My future would be mopping up Coke spills while listening to the raging screams of hungry children. Funny, how you find yourself in an existential quandary as you take the most important test of your life over a subject you know precisely nothing about. I touched pen to paper, and words that I could not understand flowed out of the tip.

Precisely twenty-four hours later, I found myself hovering with a group of anxious students while the nameless professor stuck our grade sheet to a bulletin board. I found my student number three spaces from the top. No, that didn’t make any sense. But there it was, its existence confirmed after borrowing a ruler from a crying student. Good Lord, it was a B-. How did that happen? Then I discovered that our graded tests were available in room 201 of the Werner Building. Of course, I had to see what sort of fantastic answers I had composed to justify a passing grade, so I wended my way across campus and ended up at a small foldout table.

There it was my test, with a sloppily formed red smiley face and Good Job! scrawled across the top. Turning to the first essay question, I couldn’t help but notice his comment that I was wise beyond my years, with a firm grasp of Russia’s problems over the ages. Some of the hastily written passages sounded familiar, and I pulled out my stack of notes, only to discover that I had inadvertently paraphrased direct quotes from the book and interspersed seemingly random phrases derived from the preface. Well, I had just succeeded on a test by regurgitating information from a book, and I felt guilty for the crying students and the C and D grades that were in good measure on that fateful sheet of paper. The feeling soon went away, however, when I realized that they had an entire semester to build up their grades in preparation for the test. Their poor study habits weren’t my responsibility, and neither was worrying about school until I came back from Christmas break. I walked out of the building towards the parking lot, hoping I could make it to the airport on time.

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