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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

My other history professor has a British accent and requires a 10-page term paper about some minute aspect of the booming metropolis of Utica, Illinois, population 2. Including the housecats. He feels bad because their Main Street got mowed down by a tornado last spring. He thinks we can bring cheer and joy to the remaining 1.7 people's lives by writing papers about the town's topsoil.

The library is currently flooded with first-years who barely know how to swipe their IDs to get in. Nevertheless, they've snatched all the post-Apple II computers on the floor. And, the book I need to read for class is checked out. So I think I'll just use this time to go for one of my aimless wanderings around Hyde Park, a habit I hoped to wean myself out of this year by overcommitting myself to classes, work, and activities. Instead, I'm ending up wandering around overcommittedly.

Friday, September 17, 2004

And now for a story

When I was in middle school, I was in the gifted program, which was in actuality a glorified playtime for the kids with high test scores. It was a known fact that the regular classes required significantly more effort than the gifted classes, and it later turned out that many of the kids who didn't make the cut for gifted were much more successful in high school than the budding Einsteins in my class. But we got to be treated like royalty and the regular kids did not, so we didn't care. However, as I had less than perfect behavior throughout school, the vice principal--who served as the school disciplinarian--and my gifted teacher teamed up to use my enrollment in gifted as a means to keep me in line, mainly by threatening to kick me out every time I did something they disapproved of. This happened with disturbing frequency, actually.

One day in the sixth grade, we were informed that our class would be going on a field trip to an IMAX movie about some highly educational and boring topic like black holes or red blood cells or something. Since about the fourth grade, I had not been in the habit of attending most field trips, and was used to counting those days as de facto holidays from school. Mainly, I was too cheap to pay the money for these trips, and my mother actually encouraged my chronic truancy at every opportunity, another thing that the dynamic duo of my vice principal and my gifted teacher took issue with. IMAX movies were both especially expensive and especially uninteresting, so I decided to skip this one, too.

The problem was that field trips were actually mandatory unless you either happened to get sick that day (in which case you would not get your money back), or had some extraordinary extenuating circumstance to attend to, like perhaps your own funeral. But nothing less would get you out of the trip. If you parents refused to sign the permission slip, it was assumed that they were barbarians who sacrificed goats in the backyard firepit and therefore could not be expected to understand the measureless educational value of a 4-hour movie about red blood cells, and they would be contacted at work and forcefully introduced to the wonders of Western civilization. If you pled poverty, the district would pay for you, but not before humiliating you in front of the entire grade, so that was out of the question.

However, over the years, I'd developed a flawless method to circumvent this problem. I would accidentally "forget" to bring in the money and permission slip day after day, until they finally told me the day before the trip to bring it tomorrow or else. I never drew attention to myself no matter how many times I did this, because I was one of a large group of students who actually were too stupid to remember to bring in their money. These were also the people who habitually chewed their papers and pencils back into the wood pulp they were originally made from. Except, while they would show up on field trip day all discombulated and requiring a call home to their parents to bring the money because they'd forgotten it again, I would conveniently fall ill that day and have my mother call me out. That way, I'd miss the trip and keep my money.

And that's precisely what I intended to do about this IMAX field trip. But I made a slight miscalculation. In gifted class a few days before the trip, our teacher brought the issue up.

"Who's going on the field trip next week?" All hands were dutifully raised.

I hesitated. If I were prudent, I would raise my hand like everyone else, since it was going to be my absent-mindedness and uncanny ability to get sick on strategic days that would get me out of it, not my lack of desire to go. But if there was one person in the school I liked to pick fights with, it was definitely my gifted teacher, who, in an unrelated incident, explained to our class that buying underwear at garage sales was perfectly normal, and that all that was required was a little bleach and it was good to wear. She had also been found sleeping under a desk one day as we entered class. But our main disagreement was that she hated me, and I did not. So I stupidly kept my hand down.

"Rita, why aren't you going?" she asked suspiciously. And there began my martyrdom.

"I don't want to," I replied nonchalantly.

"You don't have that choice."

"Well, I'm not going to turn in my money," I said snottily. Oh boy, am I brilliant, I thought. I entertained many delusions at the age of 12, and the idea that I was secretly a genius and also always right was one of them. Another was that I was somehow going to change things by being a huge bitch.

"We'll see about that," she replied.

The next day, the vice principal cornered me in the hallway.

"Why aren't you going on the field trip?" Faced with the full bulk of 300+ pounds of pure executive power with terrible fashion taste, I balked. I skimmed all possible replies in my mind. I can't afford it? No, they'll announce that I'm poor to the school. My mom won't let me? No, they'll think we drink pig's blood for dinner. Panicked, I blurted out the truth:

"I don't want to waste money on something I'm going to sleep through anyway!" The glare of her purple eye shadow disappeared as her eyes widened in surprise. Several of her chins quivered indignantly. And she gave me the following ultimatum: Either I go on the field trip or do an "alternate assignment" of much greater difficulty than sleeping through the movie. Nevertheless, I was determined to complete my martyrdom.

"I'll do the alternate assignment," I replied.

"If you keep up this kind of attitude, we will have to re-evaluate your placement in the gifted program," she added. "Truly gifted students would be excited about an enriching activity like this."

I'm sure she and my gifted teacher high-fived each other after I left for that line. They'd probably stayed up late thinking it up so they could find a way to link this, like every transgression, to my being ultimately un-gifted. You'd think I got into the program purely by the grace of God.

The alternate assignment turned out to require me to interview several people who had gone on the trip and write a three-page report summarizing the movie and students' reactions to it. The day after the trip I turned in a half-page report that read:
Yesterday, the sixth grade class went to see an IMAX movie about red blood cells. It was a very good movie. When I asked Lorraine I. about it, she said, "It was a good movie, but I fell asleep after five minutes." Then, I asked Dale M. to tell me what it talked about and she said, "It talked about blood cells, but I didn't really pay attention because I fell asleep." Cathy K. agreed. "I liked the movie before I fell asleep." So I couldn't summarize the movie because I couldn't find anyone who stayed awake through it. But I'm sure it was very good.
Several days later, my mother received a two-page letter from the vice principal explaining that, due to my gross misconduct, I was being placed on probation with regards to my enrollment in the gifted program. I was not displaying the behavior expected of a truly gifted student, and it was hoped I would consider reforming my habits and taking my studies seriously, but it looked like my case was hopeless. Attached was a copy of my field trip report. My mother nearly fell off her chair laughing.

And then, after sacrificing a goat, we sat down to our dinner of pig's blood.