The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holiday Road

CASINO PIT BOSS: Sir, we have reason to believe you’re cheating.

PATRICK JANE: I’m not cheating, I’m just memorizing the cards.

FRUSTRATED CASINO PIT BOSS: Well…well…well, we don’t like people to do that!

--"The Mentalist"

There is a wonderful writer named Mark Clayton who wrote a wonderful essay entitled “A Whole Lot Of Cheatin’ Going On.” This essay exists in a textbook titled The Presence of Others, and since I’m in bed on my laptop and it’s 5:30am, I’m not going to haul myself up and do the citation in correct MLA format.

In this essay, Mr. Clayton discovered that over 80% of college students have admitted to cheating (or plagiarizing) in one form or another in high school and college. And now your mind is going to have to corner like a Lamborghini because I’m going to talk about religion.

For my Facebook Friends, you will see on my profile that under “Religion” I have written “Zero Sum Theologist,” which is a term my most erudite, eloquent and elocutionary British friend Mark suggested. Zero Sum Theology is ridiculously simple. It’s basically the theory that the universe has to maintain balance at all times or it will cease to exist. (Mark didn’t come up with that part—he isn’t quite as insane as I am). Some people call this “karma,” or, as we say in New Jersey, “payback’s a bitch.” Now get ready to corner again because now I’m switching to expensive, high-end electronics.

Machines, in all their forms, see me coming a mile away. Because they cannot move, they can’t make a run for it, which they should if they see me there. The things I most often destroy are copy machines and printers. Usually, the way to get them to work again is “smacking and pounding.” If this doesn’t work, “taking off the back” is a close second.

The more expensive and complicated an electronic device is, the more likely I am to futz it up. In the 1980’s I went through three Walkmans. Computers laugh as they give me the blue screen of death. My iPod has a mind of it’s own. VCRs and DVD players just keep spitting out what I try to put in there. My cousin Annemarie is trying to get me set up with a digital camera, but I know that somehow I’ll burn the lens (and my retinas) out.

My father is a retired engineer, and cannot comprehend why I have this affliction. All he knows is when I go to purchase something very fancy and costly, I get the highest maintenance agreement possible because I know that in a week I’ll be dragging the confounded thing back to the store.

And earlier this week it hit me. All the planets aligned in perfect symmetry. Cheating. Zero Sum Theology. Electronic kryptonite.

Ready to take a journey back in time? Those of you with whom I went to high school with laugh so hard you’ll cough up your own skull.

When I was in the seventh and eighth grade, everybody was required to take shop. I didn’t want to take shop. I knew, even then, that I wanted to be an English teacher of some sort and that knowing how to use a precision grinder, spot welder, coping saw, or a drill press wouldn’t be necessary skills. But I did know that I had to get good grades in shop, otherwise my GPA would tank, I wouldn’t get to be valedictorian six years later, never get into college, be unable to get a job, be disowned by my parents, and die. Alone. On the sidewalk. In a box.

My shop teachers were kind to me, grade-wise. I started electricity shop with good intentions. The teacher was a middle-aged, soft-spoken African American man named Mr. George Holiday, who, thank God, gave out books. Books I could do. I learned all about amps, volts, watts, and joules. There was practical work, too (I was especially fond of soldering). And then he announced that we would all make…a motor.

A motor? Like in a car? Was he insane?

He gave us all the parts, which I vaguely recall being a D-cell battery, some copper wiring to wind around the armature, a bolt or two, and what looked like scrap iron. Passing the class was contingent upon the motor working.

Six weeks into it, I knew I couldn’t do it. I followed Mr. Holiday’s instructions. I looked at the pictures in the book. I asked the guy next to me for help. I couldn’t get that motor stared for a billion dollars. So I decided to do the only thing that would prevent me from dying alone in a box.

I decided to cheat.

One afternoon after electricity shop was over, I pretended to put my little motor back into my locker, but sneaked it into my purse instead. And I took it home, in tears, and gave it to my father. The engineer.

He took one look at it, tried not to laugh, touched two wires together, did something with a soldering iron and maybe a glue gun and within five minutes, the motor was whirring along prettily.

I stuck it back in my purse. The following day, I showed up for school a half hour early, and luck was with me! The electricity shop room was open and unmanned by Mr. Holiday!

I shoved “my” motor in my locker, and proceeded along to Social Studies with Mr. Toci.

When it was time for shop, I sauntered—well, okay, swaggered—into the room with the rest of the class, headed for my locker, and got out the motor for inspection. This was it! If it worked today, I would pass the class!

Mr. Holiday walked up and down the aisles, appraising each aspiring Thomas Alva Edison’s motor. He got to me and he already had a hangdog look. He knew he was going to have to fail me, and it was killing him.

When I touched those two wires and the motor turned on, I honestly thought Mr. Holiday (who I prayed didn’t have a pacemaker) was going to have an apoplectic attack. His eyes got as wide as ping-pong balls. His jaw dropped and his upper dentures clicked. The expression on his face was of one who was actually seeing Jesus. 

And he said to me, “Oh, dear Lord. I can’t believe this. This motor is going in the Project Hall Of Fame!” He was so proud of me. I passed with a very respectable 3.3, and (seriously) never, ever cheated again. If you went to high school with me, you probably suspect that I didn’t have to.

Years went by. (This is the part where the screen gets all wavy).

Going back to earlier in the week, I suddenly had the revelation. The reason I have had nothing but bad luck with electrical appliances for my entire life is because I cheated in electricity shop! Zero Sum Theology! All I had to do (according to the voices in my head) was find Mr. Holiday, wherever he was, and tell him what I had done and apologize for it. If he gave me absolution, maybe I would be able to get the remote for my plasma TV to work!

I immediately jumped on Facebook and shot a message to Mrs. Yuzuik, the most awesome Physical Education teacher I have ever had (and she remembered me!). I asked her if she knew the whereabouts of Mr. Holiday.

Well, you can see what’s coming.

Yes.  Sadly, Mr. Holiday died recently, so therefore I couldn’t apologize to him. But I vowed to do the next best thing. Write out my confession, blog it, and post the link on Facebook so everyone in the world will know.

And maybe now I can get. . . a cell phone!

N.B.  The font is all funky and weird here on my Dashboard--I apologize if it looks weird in the blog.