Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part I (The Journey Begins)

My first year in college was a short one. During the earlier summer orientation I scheduled myself into Calculus (bringing with me barely any background in algebra from high school), Anatomy and Physiology (plus lab), General Psychology, Chemistry I (plus lab), and some other course I cannot for the life of me recall any more (I should look it up someday). As long ago as that was, I still remember one of the “helper students” looking over my schedule and remarking, “Wow, you must be really smart.” She was cute, so I was flattered by the comment and felt pretty great! But smart? No, only just barely smart enough to have that uncomfortable feeling that maybe I had created a schedule that I might later regret. Indeed, come the first semester of my college life I did not do so well and was invited to not return for a second semester.

It was embarrassing but at the same time, quite a relief. I hadn’t really wanted to go to college. My family expected it, so being a path-of-least-resistance kinda guy, I let the currents sweep me along. But by having the school drop-kick me out, I was released without ever having to go against the family expectation. Yay! Finally I could have some “real world” on my plate!

Turns out real life with only a high school education and no marketable skills can serve up a pretty tasteless plop of inedible nastiness on one’s plate. In a short time I decided to re-apply to college (a different one). Because I’d already established myself as a loser, there were no more expectations about me and what my future should hold. I was on my own. To help out with my real life experience, and in response to hearing that I was planning a return to college, my mother insisted that I start paying rent.

So I applied and was accepted into college (again) – opting to not transfer any of the mediocre grades I had received before flunking out a year ago. It was a clean slate and I was somewhat determined to make a better showing of it. So my first semester I received an A in every class but one. That class was “French I” which was “taught” by an authentic French professor. In his class I earned (get ready) a big fat F+. In my entire history of experience with colleges, I have never since heard of the plus/minus option being applied to anything less than a grade of C. Obviously then, that was not a good class for me and, in addition to what will form the crux of Part III of this blog in two months, it killed my motivation to keep fighting for the A (since I would now never be able to achieve a perfect 4.00). So what would be the best major for me to get into?

My interests have always waxed toward the sciences (physics especially) but back then I was the perfect storm of stupid and lazy. I didn’t want to work hard at learning so I majored in psychology (thinking naively that it was an area built upon a foundation of common sense and furnished with intuitively obvious theories and ideas). By the time I realized my naiveté I was in too deep. But I did what I could to protect my stupidity and nurture my laziness by only putting in enough effort to get fair to good grades. After all, I was starting to consider that graduate school might be a good way to put off the “real world” a little longer. Besides, doesn’t graduate school work where you automatically graduate with the security of a nice high-paying job? It’s pretty much automatic; I think it’s something like a coupon at the bottom of your diploma that you tear off and cash in on the job you want. In case you wondered how it worked.

Not that it’s all that relevant here, but I wanted to add that the ONLY reason I ever even started to consider pursuing a doctoral degree was because I had “that professor” who made me think that, if HE was able to get a doctoral degree, then I certainly can! (I really thought he was an idiot.) So even today, although I hope to genuinely inspire students to continue on and develop their expertise, I secretly wonder if I am “that professor” to some of them.

Without giving too much of a future month’s topic away, I should mention that my best friend and I were living in an all-male dormitory called “Hall” which we lovingly (cough-cough) pronounced as Hell. Fortunately we were moved to the newest dormitory on campus (right next to the library!) the very next semester. It was a co-ed dorm in almost the strongest and most literal interpretation of “co-ed” possible. As it turns out, my future wife lived a few doors down from us. An amazing coincidence, no?

My first ever full year of college was a very long one. I didn’t get many opportunities to get home to visit and there were a lot of events that added stress and fatigue. NOT TO MENTION that winter in the northern parts of New Hampshire involves a combination of two horrible things: Snow and Cold. Correction: FUCKING snow and FUCKING cold. So when the end of the semester began to thaw its way onto campus my roommate and I decided the best way to celebrate would be to borrow a big green wooden canoe from my aunt and uncle (the Blatchfords are always and awesomely generous) and take the Pemigewasset (“Pemi”) to where it runs right into the Merrimack river and follow that pretty much all of the way home! It couldn’t have been more than about 100 miles long of a trip. Plus it was all down-river (we would never even have to row, right?!).

Here, take a look at the map. We wanted to go from the top red circle to the bottom red circle. Possibly further if we had enough daylight, but anywhere in that bottom circle would be a pretty simple pick-up point for our parents to come get us.

So it was settled! My friend and I arranged to get the canoe (with its two wooden canoe paddles) delivered to our dorm for the last day of the semester. We had a pup-tent in case the trip lasted more than a full day and we purchased out provisions: A couple bottles of Coke and a package of hotdogs. This was going to be an awesome first-time canoe trip for the both of us!

Things that never occurred to us at the time we shoved off into the river:
  1. Mosquitos.
  2. There are a bunch of dams that we will need to carry our canoe around.
  3. These damn dams are embedded between steep banks and thick wooded areas with virtually no canoe-sized paths.
  4. Deer ticks.
  5. Just because you are going with the flow of a river does not mean that you will be making any time whatsoever. 
  6. Gnats.
  7. A 95 mile trip moving at 1 mile per hour will take about 4 days of constant travel unless you paddle.
  8. Bugs.
  9. One package of hotdogs is not enough food for a trip that lasts longer than a half hour.
  10. No-see-ums.
  11. A calm lazy river can become a hysterical frenzy of white rapids very quickly.
  12. People should never go on a long canoe trip down an unfamiliar river; especially if they have never been in a canoe before in their life.
  13. Wooden canoe paddles are no match for rocks and rapids.
  14. It is very difficult to paddle through rapids in a big green wooden canoe if you do not have a functional paddle.
  15. It’s pretty easy to swallow one’s pride when you need help from more experienced adventurers.
  16. People have a difficult time hiding that look on their face that says, “This is the last time anyone will ever see these boys alive again,” when they wave good bye and wish us luck.
  17. You should mind your own business when you come across a burning Cadillac in the middle of the woods in the middle-of-nowhere in the middle of New Hampshire.