While I remain far away from home on travel, Daughter’s posts (regarding various subjects – all fairly droll) provide a continual source of distraction for me. Though I may have wanted to didn’t attend an all-girls school*, many of the rituals Daughter describes could easily apply to my experiences at the traditional (public, large, indifferent) university from which I matriculated.
*In a recent conversation with Daughter during our cross-country trip, she claimed she felt she hadn’t really gotten the full “college experience” because she attends a Lesbian Cult School. I gently reminded her the choice had been hers, not mine. She was fairly quiet after that, except for blubbering about marketing ideas for the FaceTent ™.
First day jitters notwithstanding, I cannot remember any class during my entire collegiate career during which a professor/instructor/graduate teaching assistant made students endure social “get to know you” experiments.
That’s not to say I came up with a few stupid ones myself, but early on I mainly focused on identifying pretty classmates (future Soccer Moms, I now realize), and connived how best I could ingratiate myself with them. That’s actually not a true statement, as it infers real social interaction with same. Rather, my initial strategy involved simply maneuvering to a closer seating position so that any subsequent conversations seemed both incidental and natural.
Perhaps this type of thinking explains the spate of abysmal grades I received during my first few semesters in school.
So the strategy I outlined above was really only applicable in the larger seminars, where it was quite easy to become lost in the numbers. A couple of my introductory courses had 300-400 students. For obvious reasons, the dynamic wouldn’t work in smaller settings, where I would come off looking like more of a weirdo than I actually am was.
One of the most memorable scenarios demonstrating this cunning action plan took place in a very large Introduction to Western Civilization course. The seminar itself was perplexing, to say the least. The professor was more of a storyteller than lecturer. He had blazing red hair, and he roamed the auditorium regaling us with his seeming first-hand accounts of the greasy locks that populated the heads of Merovingian Kings. The fact that I can remember these vivid details thirty-five years after the fact simply reinforces his impactful presence.
And he was also a goofball.
The problem was, however, that after listening to his tall tales, I would duly complete the reading assignment in the text (he wrote – $125 at the University Bookstore), and I am not exaggerating when I say that absolutely nothing he talked about was included anywhere in that damn book.
It was incredible, and I duly paid the price after the first exam where I was able to aptly confirm I had no idea about what we were studying. Eventually I broke the code, and I began to visit the “optional” course study halls, where the teaching assistant running the thing basically gave us the answers to the essay questions ahead of time.
I might be dumb, but I’m not stupid.
Okay, so back to the social drama in this course.
Early on I spied a striking young lady who regularly sat in one of the lower seating sections. When I wasn’t paying attention to the lecture (which was frequent, I suppose), I devoted ample thought toward formulating and implementing my plan for Social Interaction with her. And because role was taken the first couple of times we gathered, I actually knew her name.
Ironically, though I still remember the detail about the Kings, her name is pretty much lost to the vagaries of time and my increasingly decrepit memory. I do seem to think her last name was “St. Something”, but that’s about as far as it goes – not that it matters much.
Because she rarely varied a place or two, I began to migrate my way closer to her over the course of the next few weeks. All this time it was apparent that, whatever attraction and/or awareness that existed, it was completely one-sided (me). And to put this whole thing in historical context, I believe Daughter would now describe my behavior as “stalking”. Daughter Number Two, my eleven year old, would simply call it “creepy”, which seems to be the moniker applied today in middle school to anyone slightly out of the norm.
Eventually the day arrived where, you guessed it, I had successfully maneuvered myself near to the object of my poorly planned affection interaction.
If memory serves, I uttered something like, “I forgot to bring a pencil today.”
No. I take that back. That line is way too sophisticated. I probably just smiled.
And, in return?
You probably guessed it – nothing. It seems the key missing ingredient for me, other than self-confidence, maturity, and humility, was knowing how to start a conversation with any other Muggle human being. In retrospect, all of my practice up to that point had been pretty much with cats and dogs, so I was at something of a disadvantage with girls people.
But it was a good learning experience for me anyway. To this day I still retain a modicum of knowledge about pre-Medieval dynasties (a useful icebreaker at most parties, if nothing else), and I quickly figured out that meeting girls required developing a basic ability to communicate using the English Language, mainly.
It has taken years for me to try to develop that skill, and I’ll let you know when I do finally manage it.
In the meantime, I hope Daughter enjoys this last semester at college.
And I hope she remembers that sarcasm has its place, cynicism is a solid baseline for an unhappy life, and, if you can avoid being labeled “creepy” by your little sister, you’re probably doing A-OK!