Fuckin’ Columbia. I’ve been trying to get them to send my diploma for months. The advising office called me about three weeks ago, apologizing for sitting on their asses for so long, and then said, “Oh, we have to clear your nonstandard curriculum with the film department.” What this means is, while the film department sets out certain guidelines in order to get a concentration in a certain area (e.g., cinematography, editing, screenwriting), as long as you complete the core and fulfill the number of credit hours needed to graduate, students can take whatever the hell classes they want. So I knew in advance, after this has been drilled into my head for years, that this would be fine.
“Oh,” my adviser—who, in five years, I’ve never met (and this was the first time I’d even spoken to her)—continued, “there’s one other thing: academic computing says you never took the Foundations of Computer Applications test.”
“Uh…” I said. Because here’s the thing: I paid for the test, I signed up for the test, I told everybody on the planet I took the test—but I didn’t. In the words of Marcia Brady, “something suddenly came up.” At this point, I can’t remember what. But I was scheduled to do it in April of 2003, so chances are it had something to do with the huge crush I had on my friend Gina.
I had intended to register to take it again, but really, it was about the lowest thing on my priority list, and it would alternate between slipping my mind completely and entering a mind that quickly dismissed it as something I’d do later.
And then I went off toLos Angeles and the last set of classes I’d take before graduation, and I thought, “So long, suckers!” I sent out my graduation application…and heard nothing until January of this year. They’re on the ball over there at Columbia. By this time, I had come up with a cunning new strategy: lying through my teeth.
“I took the test,” I said. “I remember—I needed to take it to get into Production II for the summer.” That last part was actually true. One method for lying successfully is to drizzle a little bit of truth on top. That way, they have no idea what hit them. But that was the weird thing about it, and one of the reasons I never bothered to take the test—when I registered for Production II, the computer allowed me to do that even though I hadn’t taken the test. The class or test was a prerequisite, so when the computer let me slide, I let myself slide.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll talk to somebody in the department and try to find out what happened.”
That was…so…easy. Too easy, in fact. My adviser called the next day and told me she had spoken with somebody. “You really remember taking the test?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Definitely.”
“But you probably didn’t save anything saying what you got on it, huh?” she said, like this was already a foregone conclusion. So I went with it—lying’s easier when you don’t have to do anything but confirm or deny.
“I figured as much,” she said, “but you definitely remember taking it?”
“Of course,” I said. “I remember it was winter—probably February, right at the beginning of the semester, because they said it took four to six weeks for it to be graded, and I wanted it to be in the system for when I registered for the summer session.” Note to self: when lying, don’t tip your hand by spewing out all sorts of unnecessary information.
“Our records say you were signed up to take it April 14th,” she said.
“Oh, right,” I said. “Yeah, I remember it being cold, though. Unusually cold.”
“Okay,” she sighed, “I’ll tell them you took it and hopefully this will all be resolved.”
I thanked her, hung up, and didn’t hear another word for three weeks. Just when I had reached a point where I thought the issue would work itself out and one day I’d arrive home to see a diploma wedged into my mailbox, I got another call.
“Hi, this is your adviser,” her VoiceMail said (I wasn’t home when she called), “I’m calling because our records show you didn’t take the FOCA test. Please give me a call back as soon as you can.”
It seemed like she didn’t remember talking to me at all. Maybe I could try starting the lie over, correcting my previous mistakes, and everything would be fine. I called her back immediately.
“Oh, Stan, thank you for calling,” she said. “Listen, our records say you were registered to take the FOCA test on April 14th, 2003, but you were listed as a no-show. You remember taking the test, though?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Basic PC stuff, Word, Excel. It was really easy.”
“Uh-huh,” she muttered. “Well, listen, I’m gonna put you in touch with somebody from academic computing, and hopefully we can straighten all this out.”
Academic computing? Oh shit, the jig was up! I could lie to her until the cows came home, but my false testimony wouldn’t stand up under cross-examination by somebody who actually knew what they were talking about. I just knew they were going to ask me all sorts of really complicated questions, such as, “What was the answer to question three of section two?” and “Where was the test held?” Questions I couldn’t answer.
My adviser couldn’t find the number of the person in academic computing, so she said she’d find out and give me a call back. I received a call about ten minutes later, but to my surprise, it was the person from academic computing herself. Crap, I hadn’t properly Zenned myself for the upper-echelon of weaseling my way out of this. My whole balance was being tossed out of whack. She was talking, and I was responding, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything that was going on. My mind was swimming, trying to keep up and fabricate a story that has little detail but still seems plausible; then I had to wait for the right moment to launch into said story.
“Usually what I do in this case is just have you re-take the test,” I heard her say.
“Okay,” I said. “When should I come in?” I admit, I crumbled under the pressure.
“We have a test tonight at five”—this was Tuesday—“or this Saturday at 10AM.”
“Saturday,” I said without hesitation. There’s nothing I enjoy less than going into the city at rush hour.
So she signed me up, and this morning I woke up early to make the trek downtown. It’s hard to believe that I haven’t made this commute in over a year at this point. She told me the test would take about an hour and a half—I estimated it would take a third of that, but just to be safe, I decided to take the el down there, just like the good old days. I didn’t want to get caught in weekend-afternoon tourist traffic on my way out, even though on Saturday mornings it’s ridiculously easy to drive down and find street parking.
On top of all that, I missed the old commute that I did nearly every day for five years—driving 25 long, horrible minutes to the dreaded Rosemont park-‘n’-ride, passing familiar sights such as Adult World on my way; sitting on a cramped el train for 45 minutes, trying to avoid eye contact with all other humans by sticking my nose in a book; and, more often than not, getting off a few stops ahead of schedule for a long, brisk walk downtown. I dislike many aspects of city life, but for the most part I really enjoy walking around the Loop. I guess when you grow up with narrow, suburban sidewalks and a general inability to cross any street easily because suburban traffic never stops for pedestrians, walking along those wide city sidewalks is a little bit freeing. Also, I like the white noise from the traffic and trains, the obnoxious conversations I over hear, and the rampant pigeons getting in my way. It’s a weird experience.
This time around, though, things were a little different. Saturday mornings, the universe is pretty much dead. The drive didn’t take more than 15 minutes because there was no traffic, the train was virtually empty (but two bums sleeping on seats contributed to the delightful train odor I had missed so much), and when I went a-walking—well, let’s just say from the few pedestrians I saw on the street, I can see why we’re the fattest city. I can also see why I consider myself thin despite being 20 pounds overweight; on a relative scale, I’m downright scrawny.
Oh, also, I had my first cup of coffee in over a month. And shit, it wired me good. Remind me not to do that again. But goddamn, with a Dunkin’ Donuts on almost every corner—including a new one right across the street from Columbia—how could I resist? Also, with a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, I once again see why we’re the fattest city.
So I went up to take the test, and…I was the only one there. This really nice, just-past-middle-age fellow helped me get started, and I zipped through the entire test in less than 24 minutes (and I passed with hovering colors, too). What did I tell you? An hour and a half, indeed…
I took a walk down Congress toward the LaSalle Street subway station. It was a little trick I learned late in my college career: tons of people get on and off at the nearby Jackson Street station, so you always have to fight to get a seat. If you go one stop further, to LaSalle, very few people are getting on, and even if you don’t get a seat right away, half the train gets off at the next stop.
And as I walked down the steps at the LaSalle station, I saw a middle-aged man just standing on one of the steps. He was holding something that appeared to be drai—
Holy Jesus, that’s a penis he’s holding. Fuckin’ guy’s pissing all over the stairs.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” I shouted.
He looked up at me, like a deer in headlights, holding onto his johnson for dear life. He stopped urinating immediately (I need to learn that trick—once I start, I can’t stop) and withdrew his schlong into his pants. He shuffled up the steps as I cautiously descended, hoping I wouldn’t step in anything—or, worse, he’d whip it out and finish off all over me—and it was all good. Although, as soon as I passed the man and his puddle, I heard him stop, whip it out again, and finish (on the stairs, at least—if he had touched me, I would have beaten him to death with my Dickens-filled backpack).
Seriously, though, my God. I’ve had instances where I’ve had to piss like a racehorse, and I know a lot of urban places are cracking down on letting any random schmo use the bathroom, but there are some places (like, for example, the Subway/Taco Bell RIGHT ACROSS THE FUCKING STREET) that have no problem with it. There are some things that just…I mean, on the stairwell?! This city is filled with foul-smelling alleys. What, was he afraid of getting mugged while pissing in non-bathroom environs? Goddammit! Decency, people. Decency. “When you gotta go, you gotta go” doesn’t fly with me if I have to step into or around it.
The trip home was otherwise uneventful.
And with that, I am complete, 100% finished with college.