stories

Knowledge Bowl

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I was in high school and on the Knowledge Bowl team. One afternoon, we drove to a qualifier for all the schools in the state. I was sick as hell that day. I had a blanket, was chugging chicken soup and popping lozenges like Tic Tacs.

The qualifier was at a high school, so each team was in a different classroom. Once we began, the judges gave us questions as they would in a real competition. At some point, the question "Who is known as the Magnificent Miss M?" was asked. I said, "Bette Midler" and proceeded to pass out. My only familiarity was seeing the trailers for her movies.

Some people have a winning touchdown pass as their proudest competitive achievement. I have Knowledge Bowl.

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Leaving Early

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I went to KU in the late 90s. I remember during second semester of my freshman year, a few times a week when I was walking back from a morning class to the dorm, I would see a car in the loading area. There would be a shell shocked, sad looking, soon-to-be-former student loading their things with their stern looking parents into a van or station wagon. It always made me sad for the rest of the day.

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Bluffing

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I used to go to a fair amount of grad student parties. As one can imagine, there were quite a few people who were incapable of admitting they didn't know something you brought up in discussion.

Whenever I went to one of these parties, I would find out what departments' students were in attendance. I then picked a field with as little intersection with the fields of the people at the party (i.e. math at an English department mixer).

After a few drinks, I would sidle up to the most pompous looking person there and start talking about a theory I made up about my supposed field. The theory's name was composed of two ethnically different names, an adjective and a noun. Like in this game. An example is the Pyrush-Subramaniam Theory of Bovine Defenestration. I would then talk about it at length, without going too overboard. The object was to see if the pompous person would admit to not knowing about the theory. If they challenged the authenticity of my "theory", I would obfuscate by bringing up "papers" that were important to the current scholarship on the subject.

There was only one occasion when someone actually said that they had no idea what I was talking about.

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Fair and Lovely

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I was in Bangladesh back in 2006. I am much lighter skinned than most of the people in that country. While I was there, my 20 year old cousins had several friends over for a birthday party. While we were talking, I let slip that I used 3-4 tubes of Fair and Lovely every day and had done so for the past 10 years. Thus, I had much lighter skin. All of the girls ooh'ed and aah'ed, delighted to see someone they knew who had gotten such great results using such a product. I'm sure they would have bought all of the Fair and Lovely in the country had I not told them it was all a joke.

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Law School Gunners

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In my law school class, there were many people who were smart and well-liked and also spoke up in class. There were also people who talked for the sake of hearing their own voice, belittled others openly, and were generally hated by all except other gunners.

Some examples of "gunner" behavior":
In my Federal income tax class, there was one gunner who delighted in coming up with increasingly convoluted hypotheticals to try and stump the prof.

There were a group of gunners on law review whose pre exam routine was telling each other (rather loudly) that they were smarter and better than everyone else in class and that there was no reason to worry about getting a bad grade.

In my Con Law class, some of the Federalist Society douchebags would debate the prof on cases like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, where the holdings went against their personal beliefs.

One of the TA's in my first year legal writing class had attracted the attentions of a gunner. In a move I'm sure he found charming, he would corner her and then grill her about upper level classes he was thinking of taking. It got so bad that a few of us felt compelled to rescue her whenever we saw this happening. She always effusively thanked whoever got her away.

Finally, at my school, there's a special part of graduation where the graduates of every school walk the campus to the football stadium. The valedictorian of each class held a flag denoting which school they were representing. Everyone usually cheers for their flag bearer. Our flag bearer was so hated and so obnoxious that only his own family cheered him when he was announced as the law school's flag bearer. To this day, I do not feel bad about this.

So, it takes more than simple smarts and engagement with the material. You have to possess a sociopathic malice and disdain for your fellow students while maintaining an unjustifiably high level of self regard.

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Interest

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The one thing my parents taught me was exactly how interest works. So, when I got to college in the late 90's, I avoided the credit card company tables like the plague. My friends and dorm mates snapped up the hats, t-shirts, and knick knacks along with the credit cards they were subsidized by.

One night, I'm sitting in my friend's room and notice that he has a new CD changer. On top of that, he's ordering pizza for the third straight night. We came from similar economic backgrounds and I was skint, so I asked him how he was making all this dough. "Oh man, I just charge it, and then pay $20 on it each month." I began to tell him that he was only paying interest, and if he's only making $20 payments, he'll be paying that card off until he's 30. His face suddenly fell, kind of like when a dog figures out that the steak you've just made isn't for him.

This guy, along with my some of my other pals, had to take on a second job and cut way back on everything to help pay down that stereo and all that pizza. I was still broke, but at least the money I made went to my bank account and Playstation games.

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Mr. Belvedere

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When Mr. Belvedere first started airing in Saudi Arabia, it enthralled me. (Note: I was 8 at the time.) Here's this English dude who seems like he did alright for himself in England. He moves to America and is no better than a common servant. Plus, he knew the Royal Family, corresponded with British officials, and seemed to possess things that only a rich person could afford. It made me think that America was a place where any immigrant would be forced to live in servant quarters and serve his new American master. Which was significant because the next year, my dad announced we were moving to the USA.

Also, didn't he own a Faberge egg?

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NCS Pearson

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I spent a couple of weeks at one of NCS Pearson's grading warehouses back in 2001.

When I got there, it was just as was described in the article: I had a one day orientation and then was given sample essays to grade to see that I could follow the rubric.

Once in the grading center, we were told that at minimum, we needed to grade 8 packets of tests. Each packet had 18-25 essays, give or take. For the first couple of days, I really bore down and read through each essay and tried to justify my grade. I was consistently off on my grades.

So, I decided to judge the tests based solely on the first sentence, the last sentence, and how many paragraphs were in between. Voila! My eight packets were usually done before lunch, and commendations were being handed to me for my speed and accuracy. Most days, I sat around with a packet after lunch and took the whole afternoon to grade it while I wrote out outlines for short stories on a notepad. On the day I decided to see how many packets I could get done if I applied myself, I got through twenty two of them.

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Canadian Disappointment

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have a name similar to the attorney who represented Omar Khadr.

One day, I got a call from a Canadian journalist. He started asking me about this case, as I thought, "Wow, must be a slow news day up North." As he continued our interview, it dawned on me that this man actually thought I was Khadr's attorney.

I began to laugh and told him that he had the wrong guy. He sounded disappointed, in that chipper but slightly downbeat Canadian way, and bit me farewell. I hope his career has progressed since then.

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