Oh Jesus Christ, what a horrible week this has been. So Monday afternoon I go get the mail, and sitting at the top of the pile is my senior audit. I”m expecting it to say something like “Dear Ben, after taking care of business for four straight years, you”re looking good to graduate this semester now get out there in the real world and show those savages what a Michigan man can do. Go blue!” Instead, it tells me that I”m 54 credits short of graduating, and that I”ve fulfilled almost none of the requirements for the major I have declared, physics.
Needless to say, after a brief moment of denial I found myself feeling confused, upset and very, very vulnerable. “This is bullshit!” I screamed to nobody in particular. And it was bullshit, that is. Apparently, as it was explained to me later, you can”t just declare a major at this school and then take four years worth of courses to get your diploma. A lot of the classes you take have to be related to the major you”ve declared, or in University jargon, your “concentration.” You can”t just take RC courses, and fail half of them. I mean sure, I took a couple mini-courses on, like, astronomy and what-not, but who do I look like, Albert E. Einstein? Physics! Honestly!
I declared physics at the beginning of my sophomore year mainly to impress my parents. I imagined them on the phone with their friends, beaming with pride: “Oh Ben is a famous physicist now. Mmm-hmm, he”s working on complex physical theories of the universe” (or whatever). And sure, I could envision myself working in a professional physics lab for a few years after graduation (doing whatever it is physicists do) while pursuing my true passions, saucemaking and performance art. So right from the start I knew that physics would only be temporary anyway.
But now it looks like I won”t even be graduating, let alone graduating with a degree in physics. And to make matters worse, I wouldn”t be able to find a job in the field of physics anyway. As my “academic adviser,” Joe Henderson, so bluntly put it (and I quote): “No self-respecting physics lab would have you, Ben. You”re way too unpredictable, and you have a grade-schooler”s concept of responsibility. In four years, you”ve managed to humiliate not only the University of Michigan, but yourself as well, not to mention your parents, who have shelled out four years of out-of-state tuition, for what? For nothing.” Thanks for that, Joe.
But the badness didn”t stop there. When I realized what the senior audit was telling me, like when the realization sunk in and everything, I called my girlfriend “D-Town Dana” and told her all about it. After a long silence, she told me that she had to go, and that she”d call me later. I was all “But I really need your support right now, Deedee, I need you to tell me that everything is going to be OK.” But she was like “Later.”
I waited that entire day, but no phone call. The next day, I tried calling her, like every 15 minutes for 17 hours, leaving messages nearly every time, but nothing. I went over to her house and threw pebbles at her window like I always do when I want to be let in, but she never came out. I even called her aunt in Detroit to see if she had heard anything from her, but she hadn”t Dana, made an orphan at age five by vicious gang warfare, was raised by this aunt. There was just no getting ahold of D-Town Dana. My mind raced, considering scores of increasingly horrifying possibilities.
The next day I found out why she had been acting the way she was. I was moping around the Diag for the benefit of my readers who don”t live in Ann Arbor, this is a square at the center of Central Campus where students meet to protest bombings and exchange narcotics for money and I”m basically doing laps around it, too depressed to go to class, and I see Dana, walking with another man. So I roll up my sleeves and get all up in the dude”s grill and I”m like “Hey Dana, so good to see you, who”s your friend?” you know, just staring this dickhead down, not even looking at her, and she”s like “Oh this is my new boyfriend, Rolf. He”s an international student.”
I knew Rolf. I had a couple of RC fingerpainting classes with him back in “99. His accent, a confused mixture of Irish brogue and Castillian Spanish, was totally bogus. He was originally from Canada.
“We”ve met,” I said. “His fingerpainting is pedestrian and uninspired.”
“Begorrah, I should thlit your throat for that, laddy” he said, and popped open his switchblade, one of those cheap-ass Canadian ones, the ones that”ll jam up on you precisely when you don”t want them to. So I pulled out mine, and Dana showing an incredible amount of bravery, as far as I”m concerned, seeing as me and Rolf were both showing our blades stepped in between us, holding us both away from each other.
“Look, Ben,” she said to me, “your life isn”t going anywhere. You have no drive, ambition or marketable skills. Rolf, on the other hand, is graduating. On time. What do you got?”
I had, as it seemed, nothing.
“Well, if you”re done being a jackass, we have to go now. Rolf is taking me to Gratzi, one of the many places you never took me to when we were dating. He says the crme brle is to die for.”
Rolf winked at me, a greasy Canadian wink, and they were off. I was this close to cutting them both with my switchblade. Heartbroken, enraged, and not knowing what else to do, I walked home. On my way home, I was hit by a bus and then mugged.
Shaken, and bleeding profusely from the forehead and upper thighs, I went to ask my dad for advice. You can usually find my dad standing on the corner of State and Huron, holding his hat out to people and muttering under his breath. He”s a really friendly guy I love my dad.
Anyway, what he told me was that every one of us has our bad weeks, from the lowliest Ann Arbor panhandler to Nelson G. Rockefeller, and when we have one of these terrible, horrible, soul-rending, never-think-it”s-gonna-end kind of weeks, all we can do is grit our teeth, put on a smile and soldier on.
He told me that there are only two things guaranteed to us in this life, death and taxes. Then he told me that cockroaches have laid eggs in his head. Then he asked me for change.
My dad is such a kidder! Like father, like son, I guess. I gave the old man a quarter and a nickel and walked home, standing tall, chin up, a new-found sense of confidence carrying me along.
Ben Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.