Thursday, February 16, 2006

Snaps and Stripes

My mommy got me an intern position at a Beijing TV station for this summer. Whoopee! It seems sort of prefunctory to say parents are constantly worried for their children, but in my case, my mom has been - how should I put this? - on edge ever since I was accepted into my program. Oh sure, she likes to say, only 20 people make it in annually, but where's it going to lead me? She says I have notoriously expensive taste, so forgive her if she thinks she won't be retiring because I enrolled myself in something impractical like journalism and communications (and thinking of minoring in something even less useful like film studies -- but it's my choice and she's been surprisingly receptive). She has a point though. My mom's already strapped for cash supporting my broke ass through university, and knowing I've become a leech is like having her limbs gnawed off by a pack of wild-eyed lemmings with engineering degrees: salt in the wound after a kick in the face.

I'm an academic, damnit! I don't have to follow the rules, man. I can get by on my cerebral prowess alone. Tub o' lard and pancake batter, who am I trying to fool? I'm tripping the light fantastic that she's helping me bulk up my CV because God knows I'm too lazy to compete with the really driven Type A kids who strive and strive and strive and end up at the Globe and Mail with a Governor General's Award (and deservedly so).

Full disclosure: My life has been an easy ride. I've never experienced academic failure. It's always been Poof! here are your straight As topped with caviar garnish. Or Poof! you've been hand-picked to join another select group of self-important bores. Or Poof! ... you get the point. It's not that I get things without working for them. It's that, I don't feel like I deserve any of it because I know I exert only minimal effort. I think a lifetime of silver platter preening has given me an inflated ego, one that believes in getting by on confidence and awe alone. But it's difficult to leave this mindset because a) it's merely troublesome for my conscience and b) it's consistently revalidated. During my Hitchcock and the Thriller class this week, our scatterbrained post-retirement professor was talking nonsense again:

"That ... that .. that ... that," he stuttered like a sputtering tailpipe. "Mother. Psycho. Mother. Psycho." he continued. We were dumbfounded; what was he even asking? The kindly professor snapped his fingers, over and over again, bobbing his head in frustration. With one hand behind his back, he pointed at me with the other. "What's his name?" he demanded.

"Anthony Perkins?" I answered, meekly.

He straightened his back and deadpanned: "It must be hard to be so intelligent and sitting around these people."

I blushed. I had to. He had successfully brought down the noose over my head these past weeks with his flattery, and I'm afraid he unknowingly tightened it that day. My peers would undoubtedly be happy. I wouldn't have mind had he said what he said over a particulary challenging question, but the point of this anecdote is that it illustrates the major peculiarity of my life: Accolades for disproportionate labour. I realize it's a minor complaint and at least I'm grateful. But I have a nagging suspicion that I might simply be addicted to exceeding low expectations and the adrenaline rush that comes with getting away with the facade.

***

There's this 60-something-year-old man in Mass Communications. He makes me angry. He makes me really angry. The guy will cut in no matter who's speaking (90 percent of that time being the teacher) no less than 20, 30 times a class to explain concepts she's either getting to anyway or had relevance back in high school econ. "So, it is like ... quantity over quality," he'd say. Or, "It is like ... supply and demand." The cliches! The freakin' cliches! He'll try to summarize everything with a tray of cliches! Raise your damn hand when you want to speak, Mister. People don't talk during lectures because we're not supposed to. With the amount of crap we need to cover, he has no shame jumping in whenever he wants with thought-provoking gems like, "What about Katrina?" and "Prejudice: it's not good."

So during break yesterday, I complained to a classmate of mine. "Hold it in until next week," she laughed. "It'll be over soon."

"There's no way I can do that. It's like a growing tumour, that man is giving me a tumour," I said as I made a pumping motion with my hand. "If he interrupts her one more time, you watch! You watch."

Lo and behold, the dehydrated monkey (who wouldn't look out of place on the cover of Accidental Ancient Oddities) did it again. (Did I mention he can't hold up in an active debate? Just a fucking a master of l'art de parler pour ne rien dire.) I calmly put my pen down:

"Sir? Sir! I would really appreciate it if you stopped interrupting."

Dead silence. I returned to copying the overhead notes. Across the room, a girl shot coffee from her nose.

"Props to you," she later said. Everyone was close to strangling him.

And you know what? The bastard actually complied. Poor guy never had a chance: He's seeing his wife everywhere.

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