January 7-8, 1998.  A silly new word for a new quarter. (#159)

For reasons I would never find out, whoever was in charge of scheduling at the University of Jeromeville did something different for the winter and spring quarters of 1998.  Winter classes began on a Wednesday instead of the usual Monday.  I did not have a problem with that, but pushing everything back two days like that had a ripple effect on the rest of the academic year, leading to a very annoyingly inconvenient schedule for spring break and spring quarter.  But that is a story for another time.

I had to get up early five days a week now for a class at eight in the morning, but the class was not on the UJ campus.  I locked my bike in the bike parking at Jeromeville High School, which was much larger than the bike parking I had ever seen at any other suburban school.  Jeromeville touted itself as a bicycle-friendly community, and this local culture trickled down to all ages.  I walked to room E-3; I knew my way around the E building, where the mathematics classes were, because I had done this same thing before last year, only with a different supervising professor back at UJ.  I arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time for class; the door was open, and a few students were sitting in desks, talking.  A middle-aged man with graying brown hair and a mustache sat at the teacher desk.  He was of averageheight, slightly on the heavy side, with graying brown hair and a mustache.  He wore a dress shirt with a tie.

“Is this geometry, with Mr. Gibson?” I asked.


“I’m Greg, the intern from UJ.”

“Yes!  Greg!  Nice to meet you.”  Mr. Gibson shook my hand.

“So what should I do?”

“For today, you can just sit in the back and watch how things work in class.  If you feel ready, you can start walking around and helping students at the end of the period when they start homework.”

“Sounds good!”

After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson read the morning bulletin to the class.  “If you look in the back of the room, you will notice someone new with us,” he announced.  “This is Greg.  He’s a student at UJ, he’s studying to be a math teacher, and he’ll be helping out in our class for the next few months.”  I waved as the students in the class turned around to look at me.

As Mr. Gibson began his lecture, explaining relationships between angles when two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, I looked around the classroom.  Many of these students looked bored.  Mr. Gibson was standing at the front of the room lecturing, and some students were occasionally copying things from his lecture into their notebooks.  I took some notes of my own while Mr. Gibson lectured, but instead of writing down theorems about parallel lines and angles, I wrote my thoughts on Mr. Gibson’s teaching style and how students responded.

I had done an internship like this the previous school year, in Mr. O’Rourke’s precalculus class.  My professor of record last time was Dr. Samuels of the mathematics department, and this internship was set up through Dr. Van Zandt of the education department, so it would show up on my transcript as Education 197 instead of Mathematics 197.  I was told that this internship would essentially be the same thing, although I could see a few subtle differences in the classes themselves already from the first day.  Mr. Gibson’s lecturing style seemed more bland to me than that of Mr. O’Rourke, who was funny and had more interaction with students.  Mr. O’Rourke was older than Mr. Gibson, but he did not fit the stereotype of older teachers being boring.  Also, typically only college-bound students took precalculus.  A geometry class had a mix of college-bound younger students and upperclassmen who were behind grade level in math.  The best students that Jeromeville High had to offer would never even be in this geometry class.  They would have finished geometry before even getting to high school, two grade levels above state standards.  That option, apparently commonplace in a university town like Jeromeville, was never available to me growing up in working-class Plumdale.

Students began their homework with about fifteen minutes left in the period.  Mr. Gibson addressed me at this time.  “You can walk around answering students’ questions,” he said.

“I’ll do that,” I replied.  I began circulating up and down the rows of desks, watching to see what students were writing.  I did not engage any of them in conversations yet, although I thought about doing this sometime soon after I was more comfortable in this new position.

At one point, one of the students raised his hand as I walked by.  “Hey, can you help me with this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I replied.  I looked at the top of his paper, where he had written his name.  “Matt,” I replied.  “I don’t know everyone’s name yet.  What was your question?”

“This one,” Matt said, pointing at a diagram with two parallel lines labeled l and m.  A third line labeled p intersected both lines, with the acute angle between p and m labeled 37 degrees.  The question asked to find the obtuse angle between lines p and l.  “What did you learn about this today?” I asked.

Matt turned back a page in his book and recited from it.  “‘If two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, the alternate interior angles are equal.’”

“The angle you know, and the angle you’re trying to find, are they alternate interior angles?  Look at the diagram.”

“I don’t know.  They don’t look equal.”  Matt studied the diagram.  “I don’t think so.”

“They’re not, because they’re on the same side of line p.  So did you learn something about angles on the same side of the transversal?”

Matt turned back to the page with the theorems on it and continued reciting.  “‘The angles on the same side of the transversal are supplementary.”

“Are those angles on the same side of the transversal?”

Matt looked at the problem again.  “Yeah.”

“And what does supplementary mean?”

“Isn’t it, like, the angles add to 90, or 180, or something like that?”

“Yes.  180.”

“So to find the angle, I would do 180 minus 37?”

“Exactly.  Good job.”

As I continued walking around the room, it occurred to me that maybe I should have asked Matt to look up the definition of supplementary himself.  But I think that was a positive interaction.  Matt figured out most of the problem himself.

After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson asked me, “So what did you think?”

“It was good,” I said.  “It’ll be good to see your teaching style and compare it to others I’ve seen.”

“Have you worked in a class here at Jeromeville High before?”

“Yeah.  Last year, with Mr. O’Rourke.”

“I’m a little different from him.  He’s good, though.”

“It’ll be good seeing a different perspective.”

I rode my bike from the high school to the Memorial Union on campus, a distance of about a mile.  I arrived a little after nine, giving me almost an hour until my next class.  I had no homework yet on the first day of classes, so I grabbed a copy of the Daily Colt, found an empty seat, and read.  My friend Eddie Baker was a writer for the Daily Colt, and he had written a fluff piece in today’s issue about made-up slang words and what some would call the butchering of the English language.  My eyes landed on a pull quote in the middle of the article, in bold font and slightly larger printing:

“I have a roommate who always says ‘buttass.’  It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jason Costello, senior

I laughed out loud.  Buttass.  That was hilarious.  Something clicked in my brain after a few seconds.  I knew Jason Costello; he was one of Eddie’s roommates in that big house on De Anza Drive.  I knew all of their other housemates too: Ramon, Lars, John, and Xander.  I had never heard any of them say “buttass.”   It was probably Lars. “Buttass” totally sounded like a Lars thing.

After skimming the rest of the articles, I folded the paper over so that the crossword puzzle was showing.  I finished it in about ten minutes, so I tore the puzzle out and put it in my backpack to put up on my wall back home later, next to the other puzzles I had finished.  Today’s puzzle seemed fairly easy, compared to others I had done.  Buttass easy, I thought, giggling to myself.

My next class was Mathematics 150B, Introduction to Abstract Algebra.  This class was a continuation of 150A from last quarter, except that the same professor did not teach it.  This new professor, Dr. Lisitsa, was a large gray-haired Russian man whom I could understand although English was clearly not his first language.  Many of the same familiar math majors from 150A last quarter were in this class, including Katy Hadley, Jack Chalmers, and Melissa Becker.  Most of 150A was easy, but it had started to get difficult toward the end of the quarter, so I was a little apprehensive about this class.  By the end of the first day, though, I was still following along with everything just fine.

After Abstract Algebra, I felt like a change of scenery, so instead of going back to the Memorial Union, I walked to the library.  The library had been expanded several times in the history of the university, to the point that it had become a rectangular ring with three distinct architectural styles surrounding a courtyard.  Behind what was now, but had not always been, the main entrance, a wall of windows three stories high looked onto the courtyard, with stairways in different directions leading to the basement, second floor, and third floor.  Part of the building had a fourth floor as well, but it was not accessible through these front stairways.

I climbed all the way to the third floor on my left.  I could have used an elevator, but I felt like climbing the stairs.  At the top of the stairs, I turned right toward the back of the building and walked along stacks of books on my left and windows on the right.  The wall was almost two feet thick, and the windows were recessed, flush with the outer wall facing the courtyard.  This created a rectangular cubbyhole-like space in front of each window, about five feet long, where students could sit and study.  I sat parallel to the walkway, with the walkway and book stacks on my left and the window on my right, my legs stretched out as far as they could.  I read through the section of the math book that we started in class today, then began working on homework.  With a three-hour gap between classes, I may as well get an early start on the quarter.

A little after twelve, I was hungry, so I walked back to the MU and got in line for a burrito. I walked to the tables, looking for a place to sit, and found Sarah Winters and Caroline Pearson, whom I had been friends with since the first week of freshman year.  “May I sit here?” I asked, gesturing toward an empty seat at their table.

“Sure!” Sarah said, smiling.

“Hey, Greg,” Caroline added in her Australian accent, slight now after having lived in the United States for a decade, but still noticeable.  “How are your new classes?”

“Good.  I’m TA-ing at Jeromeville High again in the morning.  Then today I had Math 150B, and I have Ed 110 later this afternoon.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m TA-ing again, and then Math 131.  Probability.”

“I took 150A and B last year,” Sarah said.  “I thought 150B was kind of hard.  But I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“You’re a teacher’s assistant at the high school?  Is that for a class?” Caroline asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Education 197, for two units.  I did something similar last spring.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that.”

“When is your next class?” Sarah asked.

“Not until two,” I replied.

“Do you have that big gap in your schedule every day?”

“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It’ll be a good time to get work done.”

“Are you tutoring for the Learning Skills Center, like you did before?” Caroline asked.

“Not this quarter.  I didn’t want to overdo it.”

“Good idea,” Sarah said.  “Now, you can have meet someone for lunch at eleven, and meet someone for lunch at twelve, and meet someone for lunch else at one.”  She smiled.

“Haha.  I guess I can.”  I’d probably run out of people to have lunch with quickly, though, I thought.

“How was your winter break?” Caroline asked.

“It was good.  I made a silly movie with my brother and his friends.  And I went to Valle Luna to see Brian Burr, for his New Year’s party.”

“How is Brian doing?  Where is he now?”

“New York Medical College.  He seems to like it.  What about you?  What did you guys do for your break?”

“Just hung out with family.  We went to the snow for a weekend.”

“Nice!  Sarah?  How was your break?”

“It was good. I had Christmas with family.  Saw a couple of my friends back home.”

“That’s nice.”  I thought about how I did not have friends left back home, except for my brother’s friends Cody and Boz, but I decided not to bring up that topic.

By one o’clock, Caroline and Sarah had both left for class.  I still had another hour free.  This three-hour gap between classes would take some getting used to, but within a few days, the workload would ramp up and I would be buttass busy, with plenty to do.

Today, though, I was done with homework, I had read the Daily Colt, and I had eaten lunch with friends.  I walked south to the Arboretum, which ran for a mile and a half from southwest to northeast along a creek bed which had been filled to become a long, narrow lake.  I sat on a bench amidst trees from all over the world and took out my Bible.  I opened to the back, where there was a plan to read the Bible in one year by reading three passages per day.  I turned to the chapter and verse that was listed for September 15.  I started in January of 1997 with the passages for January 1, but I had fallen behind by a few months at this point, since I only read four or five times per week.  After I read, I prayed.  I thanked God for this beautiful nature area right on campus, and I asked God that I would do well in my classes and not feel overwhelmed.

When two o’clock approached, I walked toward Orton Hall and my Educational Psychology class.  The course catalog listed Psychology 1, which I had not taken, as a prerequisite.  Josh McGraw, one of my housemates, had taken both of these classes, and he did not remember anyone checking to see if everyone had passed Psych 1.  He thought I would be fine without it.  Josh gave me his old textbook for the class too.  After the first day, I was still keeping up with everything.  So far so good.  This was a class based more on reading and writing than mathematics, which was not particularly my strong point, but I had done fine in classes like that before.

The internship in Mr. Gibson’s class was five days a week.  On Thursday morning, the second day of the quarter, it was pouring rain outside.  I took a bus to Jeromeville High School, and later I took a different bus from there to the university, both new bus routes for me.

Lars Ashford was on that second bus I rode after Mr. Gibson’s class.  “Sup,” he said when he saw me.

“Can I sit here?”

“Sure, man.”

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you.  Yesterday in the Daily Colt, I read Eddie’s article about made-up slang words, and Jason said one of his roommates always says ‘buttass.’  Is that you?”

Lars laughed.  “Yeah, dude, that’s me.”

“‘Buttass’ is a great word.  I’m gonna start using it.”


I was a little bit intimidated after the first day of probability class.  The professor, Dr. Craig, said from the start that he usually only works with graduate students and does not often teach undergrads.  I got the impression that he thought we were beneath him.  His teaching style was very lecture-based, as seemed to be the case with many professors who only work with upperclassmen and graduate students.  I was following along okay, I would probably do okay, but that kind of teaching style does not work for all students.  I was starting to see that in Mr. Gibson’s class, where some of the students got easily bored.  They needed a more interactive experience, like Dr. Samuels from Euclidean geometry last year.

By the end of the class, though, I felt a little more comfortable.  When Dr. Craig dismissed us, I got up to leave the room, but a guy who was sitting a few desks away walked up to me first.  He said, “You look familiar.  Do you go to U-Life?  Or did you used to?”

I paused, trying to remember if I knew him.  University Life was the college group affiliated with the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville, which was not my church, but I knew some people from there.  “I did a few times last year,” I said.  “I usually go to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, but I was kind of frustrated with them for a while, and I had made some friends at U-Life and they invited me.  Ben Lawton, Alaina Penn, Corinne Holt…”

The poetry reading!  At Alaina and Corinne’s house!  That’s where I remember you from.  You got up there and said a bunch of math stuff.”

“Yes!  That was me!  I don’t remember your name, though.”


“I’m Greg.  Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too!”

I shook Mike’s hand, and we made small talk all the way to his next class while I attempted to hold an umbrella in the wind.  It was buttass wet outside.  I was done for the day, so I found a dry spot inside the MU to eat the sandwich I had packed.  When I finished eating, I went to my spot next to the window in the library and did my Bible reading for the day.

The first two days of the quarter were complete.  So far, so good.  Mike from Math 131 seemed like a nice guy; I had to think of him in my mind as “Mike from Math 131,” because I knew so many other Mikes and Michaels and I did not know this Mike’s last name yet.  I was enjoying helping Mr. Gibson’s students so far.  And Ed Psych did not seem too difficult yet, although I was going to have to write a buttass long term paper later in the quarter.  The rain was starting to let up by the time I got off the bus, but I still had to walk a few minutes to my house.  When I got home, I took off my backpack and lay on my bed.  It was time for a nap. I’m tired, I thought to myself. Buttass tired. This was going to become my new favorite word. Of course, some would disapprove of making up new words like this, but that is all part of how language and communication evolve. Some new words bother me, yet I have been known to make up new words myself. It probably has more to do with what the new word is. New words that bother me tend to be related to things I already do not like, whereas new words like “buttass” just make my inner potty-humor-loving child happy.

The tree in the library courtyard would not have been so green in January. I took this photo in 2022 at the Spring Picnic.

Readers: Do you and/or your friends have any buttass silly words that you made up? Tell me about them in the comments!

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


December 9-12, 1997.  Not everything follows consistent rules the way math does. (#156)

Three more days, I kept telling myself as I stared out the window of the bus.  Three more days, and I could finally take a break from studying.  I could take a break from everything, in fact.  It was Tuesday morning, and by Friday afternoon I would be done with this quarter.  

I arrived at campus around nine-thirty, an hour before my first final.  I had been studying abstract algebra all weekend, and I felt ready for this final.  But I still found an empty seat in the very crowded Coffee House, across the street from Wellington Hall where my class met, and reread sections of the textbook over again.  That was just who I was when it came to studying.

A few minutes after ten, I saw a girl from my math class named Jillian walk by.  She was a thin, pale girl with shoulder-length straight hair that was dyed black, and she held a large chocolate chip cookie in a paper wrapper.  I did not know her well, we had never really said more than hi to each other, but I recognized her enough to wave.  She waved back and walked toward me.

“How’s it going?” Jillian asked.  “Ready for the final?”

“I think so,” I said.  “What about you?”

“I’m freaking out.  This is gonna be so hard.  Can I sit down?”


“Quiz me on vocabulary.”

“What’s a group?”

“It’s a set with, um, an operation on the elements of the set, and the inverse property.”


“Oh.  And the identity.”

“And there’s one more thing.”

“There is?”

“Another property that the operation has.”

“Commutative.  No, associative.”

“Associative, yes.  And a group with the commutative property also, what’s that called?”

“It’s that one that starts with A.  Crap.  I don’t remember.”

“You’re right, though.  Abelian group.”

“Oh, yeah!”

Jillian opened her textbook and skimmed through it as she took a bite of her cookie.  “It’s a little chewy,” she said after swallowing. “It’s like it isn’t cooked all the way through.”  She took another bite and continued, “I guess I should say it isn’t baked all the way through.”

“That’s weird,” I said.  “Why do they call it a cookie?  You bake it, you don’t cook it.  They should call it a bakie.”


“I’m gonna start using that,” I said.  “Chocolate chip bakies.”

Jillian looked up at me.  “How are you doing this?  We have a final in a few minutes, I’m freaking out trying to cram as much as I can, and you’re over here talking about bakies!  I wish I could be as calm as you right now.”

I laughed.  “I guess I just feel ready for this final.”

“I wish I did.”

Jillian and I sat at the table for another fifteen minutes or so, occasionally quizzing each other about abstract algebra.  When I noticed it was almost time for the final, I asked, “You want to walk over now?  It’s almost time.”

“Sure,” Jillian replied, grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder.  I put on my backpack, and we walked together across the street to Wellington Hall.

“What are you doing over break?” I asked.

“Just going home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Capital City.”

“That’s not far.”

“What about you?  Are you going home?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”  By then, my fourth year at the University of Jeromeville, I no longer waited for people to ask “Where’s that?” when I mentioned Plumdale.

“How far is that?  Couple hours’ drive?”

“Yeah.  Two and a half.  Then for New Year’s, I’m going to see my old roommate at his parents’ house in Valle Luna.  He’s in medical school in New York now.  And apparently he always has these massive New Year’s parties at his parents’ house.  I’ve never been to one.”

“That sounds fun.”

The math final was straightforward, and I thought I did well.  I hoped that Jillian did well too; she seemed really worried about this final.  Although fourth-year university mathematics courses were not as easy to me as high school math was, I still felt bad for people who struggled so much with math when I did not.  Everything made so much sense, and everything followed consistent rules.  But those people who are not good at math are good at other things in life that I am not.  Unfortunately, not everything follows consistent rules the way math does.

Part of the reason I felt like the rules of life were so inconsistent were that I, like all people, was often not in control of the things that happened to me.  I had heard all of the clichés about making things happen and not being a victim of circumstances, but that could only go so far.  I was not in control, and I never would be.  But occasionally, the unpredictability of life worked out in my favor.

I had two other finals, my other math class tomorrow afternoon and English on Friday.  I wanted to find a quiet spot in the library and study this afternoon before I went home, but first it was time for lunch.  I walked back to the Coffee House where I had been sitting earlier.  The student-run Coffee House, despite its name, also sold burritos, pizza, sandwiches, and many other food items.  I got a slice of pepperoni pizza and a Coca-Cola and carried it over to the tables, and I saw something that had the potential to make this good day perfect.

Carrie Valentine was sitting at a table, eating lunch, alone.

I walked closer to make sure it was her, since she was facing away from me.  The girl at the table was taller than average, with straight brown hair, wearing a dark red long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans that were frayed at the bottom of the legs.  I approached from the side, hesitantly at first until I recognized her for sure, then more purposefully.  Carrie saw me approaching out of the corner of her dark brown eyes.  As she turned to look at me, I said, “Hey.”

“Hi, Greg!” Carrie replied enthusiastically.  “Sit down!”

I smiled and sat across from her.  “How are you?  Did you have any finals yet today?”

“I had one this morning at 8, and I have another one at 4.  I’m staying here all day to study so I don’t get distracted.  But I’m taking a lunch break.”

“I just got out of a final, for abstract algebra.”

“Abstract algebra,” Carrie repeated.  “The name of that class makes my brain hurt.”

“That’s what a lot of people say,” I said.  “The final was pretty straightforward.”

“Good!  How many more do you have?”

“One tomorrow and one Friday.”

“That’s not too bad.”

“Yeah.  I’ve been working on a new episode of Dog Crap and Vince during study breaks at home  I should have enough time to get that done this week.”

Dog Poop… what?”

Dog Crap and Vince.  I haven’t told you about that?”

“No!  What’s that?”

“Did I tell you about the movie I made with the youth group kids from church?”

“Yeah!  That sounded like a lot of fun!”

“I do a website called Dog Crap and Vince.  It’s a series of illustrated stories about two weird teenagers and their friends.  I’ve been doing things with these characters for several years now.  And that movie was based on those characters.”

“What did you say it was called?”

Dog Crap and Vince.

“Dog Crap?”


“One of the guys is named Dog Crap?  Why?”

“Because I was sixteen when I made them up, and anything related to poop is funny.”

“That makes sense.  I guess, at least.  I only have a sister, so I don’t know what goes through the minds of teenage boys.  So you write a story and draw pictures to go with it?”

“The drawings really aren’t that good.  It would probably work better as animation, but I don’t have the capability to do that right now.”

“That’s so cool, though!  What’s this next one about?”

“It’s a Christmas special.  The guys and their friends do a Secret Santa exchange.”

“Secret Santa?”

“Yeah.  They all get randomly assigned someone else in the group to buy a gift for.”

“Oh, okay.  I’ve heard of that, but I’ve never called it Secret Santa.”

“Dog Crap gets someone he doesn’t know very well, and he keeps buying exactly the wrong thing.  And Vince has to buy something embarrassing for the person he has.  And then when they meet up to exchange the gifts, all these weird things happen.”

“That sounds funny!   Are you looking to get this published someday?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “For now I’m just doing this for fun.  You want to read it?”

Carrie’s eyes lit up.  “Yeah!” she said, smiling.  “It’ll probably have to wait until I’m done with finals, but I’ll totally read it!”

“I’ll send you the link when I’m done.  I should be done later tonight.”


“So what are you doing over break?”

“Just going home.  And my sister is coming over.  She’s older, she lives on her own. What about you?”

“Same, going home.”  I told Carrie about going to visit my family, and about Brian Burr’s New Year party in Valle Luna.

“I remember Brian,” Carrie replied.  “That’ll be fun seeing him.”

“Are you doing anything for New Year’s?”

“Not really.  I don’t usually.”

“Nothing wrong with that.  Brian said everyone can stay over at his house, so I can try to sleep before I drive home.”

“That’ll be good.”

Carrie and I had both finished eating by then.  “I really should get going now,” she said.  “But it was good hanging out with you!”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I’ll send you a link to Dog Crap and Vince.”

“Yes!  That’ll be good!  Good luck with the rest of your finals, and enjoy your break!”

“Thanks!  You too!”  Carrie gave me a hug, and I walked toward the library, to find a quiet place to immerse myself in number theory in preparation for my next final exam.

Later that night, after I finished the Dog Crap and Vince Christmas episode and posted it to the website, I opened a blank email and began typing to Carrie.  I copied and pasted the link to Dog Crap and Vince, then continued typing, “How did your final go?  How many more do you have?  I hope you did well!  It was good to see you today.”

Earlier today, an opportunity had fallen into my lap when I got to talk to Carrie at the Coffee House.  Now, it felt like time to seize that opportunity and use it to take a giant leap forward.  I paused, trying to think of exactly how to word the next part.  It had to be absolutely perfect.  After I deleted three or four attempts at the next sentence, I came up with this: “Would you ever want to get together for lunch again sometime?  If you’re busy with finals, we can plan for after we get back from break.  Take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.”

Now all there was to do was wait.

After I finished the number theory final on Wednesday afternoon, I felt confident.  I was pretty sure I answered everything correctly.  When I got home, the first thing I did was check my email.  I heard the sound that I had new messages, and I could feel my body tense up when I saw that one of the messages was from Carrie.  I took a few deep breaths, then double-clicked Carrie’s name to open the message.

From: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 14:06 -0800
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

Hi Greg!  Your Dog Crap and Vince story was funny!  Thanks for sharing!  Also, thank you for the offer, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to get together right now.  But good luck with finals, and have a great Christmas with your family.

– Carrie

I closed the message on the screen, then climbed up to my bed on the loft above the computer and lay down, face down.  What did I do wrong?  Why was this not a good idea?  I was confused.  Did this mean that Carrie did not want to talk to me at all anymore?  Was she only being nice to my face because it was proper, and she really hated me and did not like talking to me?  Should I leave her alone now?  Should I have left her alone yesterday?  Or was she just busy with finals?

As I thought about this, I realized something.  If Carrie really was just pretending to like me, and we were not really friends, then maybe I had nothing to lose by asking her why she turned me down and finding out what was really going on.  What would happen if I asked her?  She would get mad and never talk to me again?  Maybe that was for the best.  On the other hand, if there was some other reason Carrie turned me down, then she really was enough of a friend that she might actually be honest with me.  I typed another email before I went to bed that night, trying not to sound presumptuous, arrogant, or anything else that might jeopardize this friendship that may or may not exist.  It took several tries to get the wording right, and I still was not sure it came across the way I wanted.

To: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
From: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

I’m sorry if I did anything wrong.  May I ask what you meant when you said it wasn’t a good idea to get together?

I spent most of Thursday studying, although the English final tomorrow would not exactly be the kind of exam where I had to memorize facts.  I went to campus for a few hours just to get out of the house.  I checked my email when I got back, and this message was in my inbox.

From: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 12:29 -0800
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

I just meant that it kind of sounded like you were asking me on a date.  I’ll see you after break.  Good luck with your last final!

I thought, what does that mean?  Of course I was asking you on a date!  Why is that a bad thing?  If Carrie really was not interested in dating me, why could she not just say so?  I noticed she did not answer the part of the question about if I had done anything wrong.  It would be nice to know if I did something wrong, so I could fix that for future interactions.  It was possible she was just not attracted to me that way; I had plenty of single female friends I was not attracted to as more than a friend through no wrongdoing of their own.  That answer would have been disappointing, since that seems to be the case with all girls I am interested in, but at least I would not be left to wonder what I did.

I thought I did fine on the English final, it seemed like a simple enough piece of writing, but when grades were released, I ended up with a B in that class.  It was my only B in five years at UJ, from freshman year through the teacher training classes I would be taking the following year.  I did not have a perfect 4.0 grade-point average before that, though, because I had gotten two A-minuses over the years and would get one more later that year, and an A-minus only counts as 3.7 grade points in UJ’s grading system.  There were now two reasons that 1997 was ending on a disappointing note.  Hopefully Brian Burr’s New Year party would be awesome enough to make up for this disappointment.

I still was not sure how to interpret Carrie’s remark about being asked out on a date.  Was the act of someone asking someone else on a date being construed as a bad thing in and of itself?  Why?  Was it not true that people asked other people on dates all the time?  If this confused me now, then it is little wonder that upcoming events of 1998 and the years beyond would find me even more confused and frustrated.  But that is another story for another time.

None of those things ended up being the reason why Carrie had written what she did.  I was a little distant for the next couple months, but Carrie and I did stay friends after this.  An opportunity arose a few years later to bring this up and ask about what happened.  By then, it was less awkward to discuss, since it was clear that it did not matter and I was not trying to rekindle anything.  Carrie and I lived sixty miles apart at that time, and she was already in a relationship with the man she would eventually marry.  I found out that the reason she rejected me was actually more complicated than any of the scenarios I had considered in my head, and her side of the story definitely cleared things up.  Because of that, it is no coincidence that Carrie is the only one of my many failed love interests at UJ whom I am still occasionally in touch with today.

But there was no such comfort in my mind as I packed my car and drove down Highway 6 through the hilly outer suburbs of Bay City to San Tomas, then down Highway 11 to my parents’ house.  All I knew was that I had failed again in making any meaningful steps toward finding a girlfriend.  This had been the story of my life so far, and I was learning nothing that would lead to more successful outcomes in the future.

Readers: Merry Christmas! I’ll be taking a break from writing for a while, as I always do whenever character-Greg takes finals in December and June. Keep in touch, and leave a comment about anything you want… something this story made you think of, something you’re doing for the holidays if you celebrate anything this time of year, or just something random and silly.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.

November 30 – December 8, 1997. But he won’t admit he has a problem. (#155)

I realized that I was so busy and scatterbrained last week that I forgot to acknowledge that last week was four years since I started this blog. Thank you so much, loyal readers, for sticking with me on this adventure.

As church dismissed and the congregation filed out of the building, my mind was on one thing: a quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon at home.  Today was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and church was noticeably emptier than usual.  In a university town like Jeromeville, everything gets less crowded on major holidays, when students go home to visit their families and do not return until the very latest possible minute.

I went back to Plumdale to visit my family for Thanksgiving.  Growing up, we always traveled north to see Dad’s side of the family in Bidwell for Thanksgiving.  But now that my brother Mark was in high school and playing basketball, his first tournament of the year was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we could not travel far from home.  We had a small Thanksgiving celebration at our house, and my grandparents on Mom’s side, who lived nearby, came over.  I came back to Jeromeville last night, because my bike was here, my computer was here, my family was not doing anything particularly noteworthy the rest of the weekend, and I liked being able to be on my own.  Sam and Josh were around the house for the weekend; neither of them had to travel far for Thanksgiving, with their families both nearby, across the river in Capital County.  Sean’s family was farther away; he would not return until tonight.  I had the bedroom to myself for another several hours.

Of course, my Sunday afternoon was not as quiet as I was hoping.  Jim Herman approached me as I was headed to the parking lot.  Jim was a scrawny-looking man, older than me, probably in his late thirties or so.  He did not have a spouse or children as far as I knew, but he seemed well-connected around church.  He had told me before that he was a real estate agent.  When I made the Dog Crap and Vince movie earlier this fall, Jim had asked if he could help, and I appreciated having another person to run the camera.

“Hey, Greg,” Jim said.  “Can you help me out this afternoon?”

“What do you need?”

“I need to borrow your car.  I’m showing a house in Woodville, and I don’t have a way to get there right now.”

I was not entirely thrilled about someone else driving my car.  What if something happened to it?  “I don’t know,” I said.

“I won’t be gone long.  I’ll bring it back by three o’clock.  I’m really in a bind here.”

I had heard a lot of talks and sermons recently about showing God’s love by helping and serving others, and Jim was a church friend, so I figured I could trust him.  “Okay,” I said.  “I walked here, but you can follow me home and leave from there.  Be back by three, because I need to go grocery shopping later.”

“Okay.  Thank you so much.”

My Ford Bronco had two separate keys, one for the door and one for the ignition; this was common in cars from that time period.  When we got to my house, I took both keys off of my key ring and handed them to Jim.  “I need it back by three,” I reminded Jim.

“I’ll be back here soon,” Jim said.  I went inside, trying not to worry about the car.

I noticed a message on the answering machine.  “Hi, Greg,” Mom’s voice said on the recording.  “I just wanted to make sure you got home okay, since you never called when you got home last night.  But I know you forget sometimes.  Let me know you’re okay.”

I rolled my eyes at Mom being a mom and worrying, but she had a reason to, since I had forgotten to call.  I dialed the number, and when Mom answered, I explained that I was fine.

“Glad you made it back,” Mom said.  “How was your day?  How was church?”  I explained that I had let Jim Herman borrow the car, but I was a little uncomfortable with that, and having second thoughts. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with that either,” Mom said.  “And it’s still our car, technically.  What happens if he wrecks it?  Then you’re stuck.”

“Yeah,” I said, knowing now that I had screwed up.

“I’m sure you trust this guy, your church friends seem honest, but please don’t let people borrow the car again.”

“I won’t,” I replied.  Mom and I made small talk for another few minutes, but we did not have much to say since I had just seen her and Dad the day before.  After we hung up, I tried to take a nap, anxiously awaiting the return of Jim with the car.

Jim did in fact return the car on time, undamaged.  “Hey, thanks again,” he said.  “Can you take me home now?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I drove east on Coventry Boulevard just across the railroad overpass to Jim’s apartment.  I tried asking him about his showing, how it went, but he gave answers using some real estate words I did not understand.  It seemed like his client had not made a decision yet.  Jim said I could just drop him off at the entrance to the parking lot; I waved and turned back to my house.  Something told me that I had dodged a proverbial bullet, with Jim having brought the car back intact.  Something also told me that I would eventually have to confront Jim, that he would ask me again to borrow the car and I would have to tell him no.  I had an excuse this time, though.

My chance came three days later.  I got home from class on Wednesday afternoon, and the light was blinking on the answering machine.  The message was from Jim, needing to borrow the car again tomorrow for another property showing.  I did not look forward to conflict, and I was nervous to call Jim back and tell him no, but I knew that I had to.  I called Jim back, and he did not answer; I left a message on his machine explaining that my car technically belonged to my parents, and they did not want me letting others drive.

About an hour later, I was in the living room, doing homework while watching reruns of The Simpsons.  The phone rang, and Sam, who was in the kitchen cooking something, answered since he was closer.  He called me over, indicating that the phone call was for me.

“Hello?” I said.

“Greg,” Jim said over the phone.  “I really need to borrow your car.  If I can make this sale, that would be huge for me.”

“I understand,” I replied.  “But I can’t help you.  I don’t own the car.  It isn’t mine to lend.”

“Look.  I’m really in a bind here.  I promise nothing will happen to the car.”

“Can you rent a car?”

“I can’t afford it right now.  Just let me borrow your car.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus says to help those in need.”

Was Jim right?  Was I being un-Christlike?  Jesus made it clear that all earthly possessions paled in comparison to the rewards of heaven.  But did that mean that I must put myself and my driving record at great financial risk so that a friend could do his job?  Was it worth disobeying my parents?  “I told you,” I said, “It isn’t my car, and the car’s owner said no.”

“Look at the early church in Acts,” Jim said.  “The believers had everything in common.  No one was in need.  By leaving me in need, you’re sinning against the Lord.”

Jim had Scripture to back up his point, but his aggressive tone certainly seemed un-Christlike to me.  After a pause of a few seconds, I realized that I had Scripture on my side as well.  “One of the Ten Commandments says to honor your father and mother.  So I can’t let you borrow the car without dishonoring my father and mother.”

“Have you read Acts?”


“Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they held back their money and didn’t give everything to the Lord?  They died.  They fell down and died on the spot.  Paul writes in Galatians to bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.  This is the law of Christ.  It’s what Jesus is calling you to do.”

“I’m not lending you the car,” I said.  “I feel caught in the middle here, and you’re unfairly taking it out on me.  The car is not mine to lend, and as much as I want to help you, I can’t.”

The conversation continued for another several minutes, with Jim twisting Scripture to make the point that I was a bad Christian for not letting him use the car, and me trying, with great futility, to reason with him.  By now, Sean and Josh had emerged into the living room, and all three roommates intently observed my phone conversation.  Sam began miming hanging up the phone with his hand.

“Jim,” I said, “I told you, I can’t lend you the car.  If you can’t accept that, if you’re going to continue to rant at me like this, I’ll have no choice but to hang up on you.”

“You’re a brother in Christ,” Jim replied.  “At least I thought you were.  But right now you aren’t acting like it.  Are you really saved?  Do you know–”

I hung up the phone without letting Jim finish the sentence.  I sat at the dining room table, emotionally exhausted, not even going back to the couch and my studies.

“Good for you,” Sam said.

“Who was that?” Sean asked.

“Jim from church,” I explained.  “He was the one holding the camera when we made the Dog Crap and Vince movie with the kids from The Edge.”  I told Sean about the time I let Jim borrow the car, and Mom telling me not to do that again.  “Am I in the wrong here?  Was it un-Christlike of me to say no?”

“Not at all,” Josh replied.  “You said it wasn’t your car to lend.  And Jim definitely has some problems.  I know there’s been some issue before with him wanting to volunteer with the youth group, but the parents aren’t comfortable with his behavior sometimes.”

The phone rang as I was talking to Josh.  I did not answer, because I assumed it was Jim continuing his rant.  I let the machine answer the call, and after I heard the beep, I heard Jim’s voice say, “The law of Christ.  Look it up.”  Jim then hung up.

Josh never said anything mean about anyone, so the fact that he characterized Jim as such really made me feel like Jim had some serious problems, problems that I did not want to get mixed up in.  But I did not know how to deal with Jim’s problems, and I had a feeling he would not just leave me alone.

Friday was the last day of classes before finals.  On Saturday afternoon, Andrea Briggs invited a bunch of us from the Abstract Algebra class to a study group at her apartment.  Actually, Andrea Wright invited us, but I still thought of her as Andrea Briggs; she had just gotten married a few months ago.  She and her husband, Jay, lived in an apartment complex at the corner of Coventry Boulevard and G Street.  The C.J. Davis Art Center, where I had seen a now-defunct band perform a benefit concert a while back, was across the street.

I got home a few hours later, feeling much better about the upcoming Abstract Algebra final.  When Sam heard me walk in, he called to me from the living room.  “Yes?” I replied.

“Your friend left you another message.”  Sam pointed to the blinking light on the answering machine.  I pressed Play and listened to Jim ask to borrow the car again, then launch into another rant about how I was a hypocrite and a bad Christian.  After about a minute or so, I deleted the message without listening to the rest or calling him back.

The following Sunday after church, I asked Dan Keenan, the college pastor, if I could talk to him about something.  “Sure,” Dan said.  “Wanna come to my office?”

I followed Pastor Dan to his office and explained the situation with Jim.  I also told him that I was wondering if Jim was right that I was being a hypocrite.  “First of all,” Dan said, “you’re not doing anything wrong.  I think you’re handling this just fine.  And you aren’t the first person who Jim has done this to.”  I nodded as Dan continued.  “Jim will often find someone who agrees to something that he wants, then he will continue to harass and manipulate that person.  He claims to be a real estate agent, but he lost his license some time ago.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly realizing that I had been taken advantage of to a much greater extent than I had thought.

“You said he’s living in an apartment now?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“I don’t know who set him up with that, but he’s been homeless for much of the last few years.  He doesn’t have a stable job or a stable living situation.  He used to be a leader with The Edge, but we asked him to step down when he was stalking some of the kids at home.”

“Wow,” I said.  To me, the events of the last week made Jim seem annoying but relatively harmless.  This allegation made him sound much more dangerous.  No wonder the youth group parents had complained about him, as Josh had said. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have let him help with my movie, with kids around.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  No one blames you for that.  But if he won’t leave you alone, call the police.  Other people have, and they’ll know that he’s still someone they need to keep on their radar. Jim has been in trouble with the police before, so hopefully that will get him to leave you alone.”

“I will,” I replied, not exactly enthused about having to call the police on someone I thought was my friend, but ready to do what it would take.

“Would you be willing to submit a written statement about your interactions with Jim?” Pastor Dan asked.  “The church board was looking at actions we could take after the last incident, and now that he is harassing someone else, we need to revisit that.”

“Yes,” I replied.  “I just hate that it has come to this.  It sounds like Jim really needs help.”

“But he won’t admit he has a problem,” Dan explained.  “And no one can really get that kind of help without admitting that there is a problem.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’ll write that statement and email it to you.”

“Also, be careful.  Watch for him stalking your house.  He’s been known to do that before.  Make sure you lock the doors.”

“I will,” I said, a little more scared now.  I had not noticed anyone outside, but I did not like thinking about this possibility.

The following day, while I was studying for finals, the phone rang.  A few of us who had been to Andrea’s study session on Saturday had exchanged phone numbers, and I thought it might have been one of my classmates calling to ask a math question.  But it was Jim, asking if I had repented and decided to let him borrow the car.

“Please stop calling me,” I said.  “My answer has not changed, and it won’t as long as you keep ranting at me and twisting Scripture.  If you don’t hang up now, I’m calling the police.”

“Calling the police just proves you’re not following the commandments of God.  It says in the Bible that we must obey God rather than human authority–”

I hung up and immediately called the police.  I explained my situation to the dispatcher.  “There’s nothing we can do right now, but if this person continues to harass you, you can look into filing a restraining order.  What is this person’s name, and what is his relationship to you?”

“He goes to my church.  His name is Jim Herman.”

“Oh, we know Jim,” the dispatcher said.  “We know him very well.  We’ll add your complaint to our files.  Have you notified him that you’ll be getting the police involved?”


“Hopefully he’ll leave you alone now.  Just let us know if he doesn’t.”

“I will.  Thank you.”

Jim did leave me alone after that, for the most part.  I did my best not to interact with him at church, although we did cross paths a few more times over the years.  I got a letter from the church in the mail a couple months later; I opened it and began reading.  “We are writing to inform you that the Board has voted to remove Jim Herman from the membership roster of Jeromeville Covenant Church,” I read.  I assumed that I was on the list to receive this letter because the statement I wrote was part of what led to this decision.  About a year after that, I was still a volunteer for The Edge at church, and as the kids were getting picked up at the end of one rainy night, I saw police car lights outside.  I poked my head out the door and watched as an officer led Jim away in handcuffs.  Apparently, the church had a restraining order prohibiting Jim from being on church grounds during youth activities.

I spoke to Jim once more, in 2001, a few months before I moved away from Jeromeville.  I was walking home from church, still living in the same house on Acacia Drive, when I saw Jim going through the dumpster of the apartments across the street.  He made eye contact, and I said hi, because it would have been awkward not to.  We made small talk for about a minute, ending with him asking if he could borrow my car to go to a job interview.  I said no, wished him well, and walked away.

I saw Jim in person without talking to him one more time after the conversation at the dumpster.  It was July of 2002, I was living fifty miles away in Riverview, and a bunch of my friends from my church there were driving up to the mountains for the weekend.  We stopped for dinner on the way at In-N-Out Burger in Jeromeville, the one that was under construction at the time that Jim was leaving me harassing messages.  After we sat down with our food, I spotted Jim sitting alone at the other end of the restaurant.  “Don’t make eye contact with that guy,” I whispered to my friends.  “Avoid him.  I’ll explain later.”  Jim did not see us.

Many years later, in 2021, I was scrolling Facebook.  Someone shared a post from a page called Arroyo Verde County Crime Watch, warning parents of a pervert living in the community who often sat in areas with outdoor tables and benches. spying on young girls.  The author of the post was the mother of a teenage daughter; she explained that this pervert got her daughter’s name from looking over her shoulder at something she was writing.  The mother told the man to leave her daughter alone, and the man said, “There’s no law against reading.  I didn’t do anything wrong.”  The mother explained that she had contacted the police, and that this man was well-known to them and had been doing this kind of thing for years.  I looked at the attached photo; sure enough, there in the picture, seated at a picnic table in front of a familiar sandwich shop in downtown Jeromeville, was Jim Herman, now aging and gray but still clearly recognizable.

Seeing this made me sad.  Jim and I were friends once, at least I thought we were, and he really was helpful when I was making my movie.  But now, over twenty years later, Jim had not changed one bit.  Jim claimed to have such a fervor for Jesus, and he clearly did have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but his delusions had kept him from truly advancing God’s Kingdom and using his gifts for good.  Jim needed professional help, yet he denied this and refused to get help for decades.  All I could do, all anyone can ever do, is pray that Jim will truly be healed of these demons before it is too late, and before anyone else gets hurt.

Readers: Have you ever had someone harassing you like this? Tell me about it in the comments.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.

December 4, 1995. A silly new shirt and the best day of bowling class. (#62)

In early 1993, when I was in high school, a new television show took the world by storm… at least it took the teenage boy world by storm.  Beavis and Butthead was a cartoon on MTV about two not-so-bright high school boys.  The show featured the boys failing miserably while trying to act cool or meet girls, with clips in between of the boys delivering pointed commentary on some of the weirdest music videos ever made.  The usual public voices complaining about the lack of morals and virtue in entertainment were all up in arms about this show.  I, however, enjoyed it for the brilliant satire it was, and I also laughed at the dumb jokes about poop, sex, and private parts.  At the beginning of my senior year of high school, my friends talked me into playing Butthead in a school skit.  It was the first time I had ever performed in front of a crowd that size, and it felt so freeing.  I did not have cable at my apartment in Jeromeville, but I still watched Beavis and Butthead sometimes when I was at my parents’ house.

On the last day of Monday classes  of fall quarter of my sophomore year at the University of Jeromeville, a week before finals started, I got out of the shower and got dressed. The previous Saturday afternoon, I received an unexpected package in the mail from my mother, something soft in a large envelope.  Inside was white folded fabric, with a note saying, “I saw this at the mall the other day and thought you would like it.  Love, Mom.”  I unfolded the fabric; it was a T-shirt, with a picture of Beavis with his shirt pulled over his head, his arms bent upward at right angles, and a crazed look in his eyes.  I AM THE GREAT CORNHOLIO! was printed at the bottom in the usual Beavis and Butthead font.  A recurring plot line on Beavis and Butthead involved Beavis consuming too much sugar or caffeine and transforming into his alter ego The Great Cornholio. He would then go on incoherent rants about bungholes and Lake Titicaca while responding to others with “Are you threatening me?”

I wore the shirt for the first time that morning, although I put on a jacket over it before I left the apartment.  I could see blue sky behind the clouds outside, but it was too cold at 8:25 in the morning for one layer, and it would probably not warm up much today.  I started to walk outside to catch the bus, but then, remembering something I had to do later that day, I walked back inside and grabbed a postage stamp from my desk, putting it in the front pocket of my backpack where it would not get lost.

I walked to the bus stop across the street on Alvarez Avenue.  A large crowd was standing there; I had a bad feeling I would not get a seat on the bus.  When I boarded the bus, I stood with one hand grabbing the rail at the top, almost falling over once when the bus made a sudden stop later.

About halfway through my first class, math, I took off my jacket, appearing in public with the Great Cornholio shirt for the first time.  As class was leaving, Jack Chalmers made eye contact and pointed at my chest.  “Nice shirt,” he said.


“That show’s funny.  It’s so dumb.”

“I know,” I replied.  I told him about the time I played Butthead in high school.

“That’s great.  That must have been fun.”

“It was!”

Bowling class was right after math on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I left Wellington Hall and walked to the far side of the Memorial Union building to the bowling alley in the basement.  I did not know anyone from my bowling class well, and none of them said anything about the shirt when I took my jacket off.

Frank, the instructor, got our attention a few minutes later.  He had told us at the beginning of the quarter to just call him Frank, but it still felt strange to me.  He was an instructor, I felt like I should have called him Dr. White… but can you even get a Ph.D. in bowling?  Maybe Mr. White.  But he said to call him Frank, so I would call him Frank if that was what he wanted.  “We have two classes left,” Frank said, “and there is no final for this class.  So we’re just going to bowl, like we did last week.  Get in groups of four to a lane, and use what you learned.  But I added something special for you today.  I put a few red pins in with the regular white pins, and if the head pin is red and you bowl a strike, you get a coupon that you can exchange here for a free game in the future.  If all three pins in front are red, and you bowl a strike, everyone in the class gets a free game.”

I could hear a few students audibly excited about the prospect of winning free games.  I was frustrated at the beginning of the quarter, as I had had to unlearn all of the wrong ways I had bowled in the past, but I thought I was getting used to some of the techniques we had learned from Frank.  I found a ball that fit me and brought it to lane 9, which was not yet full.  On my first frame, I hit four pins with my first roll and two with my second… maybe I had not learned as much as I had hoped.

About three frames in, I heard Frank call out, “Red pin over here!” I looked, and someone on another lane had a red pin in the front.  If she bowled a strike, she would win a free game.  I watched as her ball rolled wide of the head pin.

Every couple minutes, I could hear someone getting Frank’s attention when a red pin showed up in the front of the lane, and two bowlers had won free games by the time a red pin was placed in the front of my lane.  It was not my turn when it happened, though, and the student on my lane missed the strike.

I did get one strike and a few spares in that first game, and I finished with a score of 109, about average for me.  I bowled a second game and scored 102.  It appeared I would have time for one more, but my arm was getting sore at this point, as often happened after I finished two games.

The reason I found it difficult to control the ball the way Frank taught was the same as the reason my arm was sore: the ball was heavy.  Frank said at the beginning of the quarter that the ball should be one-tenth of my body weight.  But I was a pretty big guy, and one-tenth of my body weight was around 22 pounds.  The heaviest bowling balls were 16 pounds, and I could not control a 16-pound ball well.  I thought a lighter ball might be better for me, but most of the lighter balls had finger holes too small.  My right thumb naturally has a wide spot that requires an unusually large thumb hole.  I found a 14-pound ball that just barely fit my thumb and brought it back to my lane.  I was not sure if I would get in trouble for using a lighter ball, but the rule about one-tenth of my body weight did not seem to be an official rule of bowling.

Switching to a lighter ball paid off.  I bowled a spare and a strike in the first two frames of the next game.  At the start of the third frame, a red pin appeared in the head position for the first bowler on my lane; his roll went just about an inch wide of the head pin.

“Nice try,” I said to him.  “You’ll get it next time.”

“Thanks,” he replied.  “You’re off to a good start.”

“Thank you.  I hope I can keep it up.”  When my turn came, though, I hit five pins on my first roll and three on my second.  In bowling, a strike or spare is scored as 10 pins, but for a spare, the total of the next roll is added to the score for the spare frame.  For a strike, the next two rolls are added to the strike frame.  So my strike in the second frame was scored twice, as a bonus of 10 added to my first frame spare, and as my score in the second frame when I actually rolled the strike.  Because I got a strike, the score for the second frame would include an additional bonus equal to whatever my next two rolls hit.  The result of this scoring system is that these boni add up quickly with consecutive strikes, or with spares followed by strikes.  After three frames, my score was 46.  That was not a bad score for me for three frames, but I had cooled off after my good start.

It did not take me long to heat up again.  I got another spare in the fourth frame, and consecutive strikes in the fifth and sixth.  I was not the only one heating up in the bowling alley; by the time I rolled my consecutive strikes, three more students had won free games with red pin strikes.  When I stepped up to the lane for my turn in the seventh frame, I let the fan blow on my hand for a few seconds, as I always did, while the pinsetter machine swept away the previous bowler’s pins and placed new ones for me.  I grabbed my ball, looked up at the end of the lane, and gasped.

There they were.

Three red pins in the front.

“Frank,” I called out, waving my hand to get my instructor’s attention in the noisy bowling alley.  A few seconds later, he looked up, saw me waving, and then looked at my pins.

“Three red pins over here on lane 9!” Frank called out.  “Free game for everyone if he gets a strike!”  The students who were getting ready to take their turns stopped and put their balls down, all so they could watch me.  I noticed that Frank did not call me by name, probably because he did not know my name.  In a class like this, Frank and I had not had much one-on-one interaction of the type where I had to say my name.

I put my hand in front of the fan for another few seconds, to dry the sweat that had started to accumulate from the pressure of free games for the entire class riding on this one roll.  Everyone was watching me, in my Beavis and Butthead shirt.  I did not want to let everyone down.  I had bowled two strikes in a row; why not just do the same thing I had been doing?

I took a deep breath.  I positioned my feet where I had been positioning them all day.  I lined up my arm where I had been lining it up, a little bit to the left of where Frank had taught us, because doing it my way had been working better for me all quarter.  I brought the ball behind me above my head and began approaching the lane, as I swung the ball down, releasing it and stopping my forward movement before my feet crossed the line.  The ball went sliding and spinning down the lane, headed straight for the cluster of red pins in the front.


As I heard my ball loudly knocking down pins, I watched all ten pins tumble to the lane.  The entire class erupted into applause.  I pumped both fists into the air as I turned around.  The others on my lane all high-fived me as I walked back to my seat.

“Free game for everyone!” Frank announced.  “I’ll give you your coupons as you leave class today.”

That would be the last strike I would bowl that day.  On the eighth frame, I hit seven pins with my first roll and two with the second.  Since I did not bowl a strike or spare, no bonus from the next frame would be added, and I could calculate my score so far: 151.  That was already my second highest bowling score ever, in my life, and I still had two frames to go.  I bowled a spare in the ninth frame and began the tenth frame with a 7-10 split, leaving only the two pins in the far corners.  It was almost impossible to hit both of those pins with one roll.  I knocked over one of the two pins on my second roll, for a final score of 178, my best game ever.

Frank stood at the base of the stairway leading outside as we left class a few minutes after I finished my third game.  “Good job,” he said as he handed me the coupon.

“Thank you,” I replied. “That was my best game ever.”

“Good for you!”

I had an hour until my next class.  The campus store was right next to the stairway to the bowling alley, and I had an errand to run there.  I walked to the greeting cards and looked through birthday cards, trying to find something simple.  This card was for someone with a very different sense of humor from mine, someone who did not appreciate the kind of sex- and poop-based humor that I had come to associate with birthday cards.  I found one with a drawing of a cake that simply said “Happy birthday!” at the top and “Enjoy your special day!” inside.  I paid for the card and took it to the Coffee House at the other end of the building, looking for a table with an empty seat.  I did not find one, this was a busy time of day, so I sat on the floor against the wall.  I took out my binder to use as a hard surface to write on and filled out the inside of the card.

Dear Grandma,

Happy 75th!  I hope you have a great day!  I just got out of bowling class, and I bowled 178, my best game ever.  Finals start in a week; I think I’ll do okay with these classes.  I’ll be home for Christmas soon.  See you then!


I licked the stamp I had brought with me and placed it on the envelope.  I wrote my return address in the corner and Grandma’s address in Gabilan in the center of the envelope.  I put it in my backpack and got out my math book, doing homework for about 45 minutes until it was time to go to chemistry class.  When I finally stood up, my foot was asleep from having sat cross-legged for so long.  I shook my leg, trying to get the blood flowing, and began awkwardly walking toward the mailbox, having to stop and lean against the wall after a minute as my foot became numb again.  After the feeling returned a minute or so later, I continued walking, dropping Grandma’s birthday card in the mailbox.  Next, I walked diagonally across the Quad in the general direction of chemistry class in Stone Hall.

I looked up and saw Liz Williams, my friend whom I knew from my floor in the dorm last year and also from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, approaching.  I saw her look up, and I smiled and waved.  “Hi,” I said, as Liz pointed toward my chest and began laughing.  I looked down to see what she was pointing at.  The shirt.  Beavis.  Of course.

“Oh my gosh, that shirt,” Liz said, chuckling.  “Where’d you get that?”

“I just randomly got a package from my mom the other day.  This was in it.”

“Your mom gave you that?  That’s hilarious!”

“I don’t have cable now, but my brother and I used to watch that show all the time.  And senior year of high school, I played Butthead in a class skit.”

“You?  No way!”

“It felt great, to finally be able to get up in front of a crowd and do something silly.”

“That’s awesome!  I just can’t picture you doing that.”

“That’s why it was so much fun!  How’s your day going?”

“Pretty well, except I have a paper due tomorrow that I still need to write.”

“Good luck with that.”

“How are you?”

“I’m having a great day!  I had bowling class this morning, and I bowled the best game of my life.  There were some red bonus pins, so if we got a strike when the bonus pin appeared in front, we got free games.  I won free games for the whole class!”

“That’s great!  I need to get to class, but hey, I’ll see you soon?”


I was in a great mood for the rest of the day, all through chemistry and physics classes and the two groups I tutored in the afternoon.  It was my last full Monday of the quarter, my last full Monday of 1995, and my winter break was in sight.  Only three of my classes actually had finals, and math, chemistry, and physics all were typically pretty easy for me.  And after coming through and winning a free game for my entire bowling class, I felt like a hero.

After the bowling class ended, I never really bowled on a regular basis again.  For much of my young adult years, it was something I would do socially every couple months or so.  I used the free game coupon later that school year when some people at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship invited me to go bowling with them afterward.  By the time I reached my 40s, bowling had become something I do very rarely.  I have no specific reason for not bowling anymore; I would enjoy it if I did.  I just don’t make time for bowling, and I don’t hang out with people who bowl much.  That game of 178 is today the third-best game I have ever bowled.  My two games that were higher than that also happened during my UJ years, stories for another time. 

The night after I bowled 178 was uneventful, in a good way.  I went home and studied and did homework for most of the time.  I got a lot of work done, and I went to bed happy and satisfied with how my day went.  As Beavis and Butthead would say, this rules.  Huh-huh.

Mid-June 1995.  The worst finals schedule ever and the last great adventure of freshman year. (#42)

Every college town is known for little hole-in-the-wall restaurants popular with students.  Jeromeville had one called Redrum, but during the time I was there, it was called Murder Burger.  The sign said their burgers were “so good, they’re to die for.” Murder Burger was just off Cornell Boulevard and Highway 100, across the train tracks from downtown.  It was a greasy little nondescript building without enough seating, which meant the food had to be really good. Toward the end of the time I lived in Jeromeville, around 2001 or so, someone complained about the violent connotation of the name, and after taking suggestions from customers, the owners changed the name to “Redrum,” the nonsense word popularized in the book and movie The Shining which is actually “murder” spelled backward.

The last great adventure of my freshman year at the University of Jeromeville took place at Murder Burger.  But before that happened, I had to get through the worst finals schedule ever. Finals week at UJ required six days, so there would always be one Saturday at the end of every quarter when some finals were held.  And because of a quirk in the calendar, there was no dead time this quarter, no day to study without classes. My last class for Physics 9A was Friday at 11:00, and the final was less than 24 hours later, Saturday at 8:00.

On the last day of physics class, the instructor, Dr. Collins, was about a day behind where he had wanted to be.  It seemed like he was going quickly through everything he had not had time for earlier in the quarter. I kept thinking, what if the entire final is about this stuff that he had not adequately prepared us for?  But I kept reminding myself that I had 20 hours to do nothing but study physics. Hopefully I would sleep for part of that time, though; I was going to study my butt off for this final, but I was not planning to pull an all-nighter.

“Remember, the final is tomorrow at 8:00,” Dr. Collins said as his time ran out.  Then, gesturing toward the back of the lecture hall where two graduate students stood with stacks of paper, he said, “The TAs here will be passing out instructor evaluations.  Please leave them in the box in the lobby as you leave.”

Dr. Collins walked through the door behind the front of the lecture hall as I received my evaluation form.  This had been a new concept to me when I started at UJ, giving instructors feedback at the end of the quarter.  I gave Dr. Collins mostly positive ratings, but I did mention the section from early in the year when he did not follow the book.  He asked a question about this on the midterm that I did poorly on, and since his teaching did not follow the book, I had no idea what to do.

As I had planned to, I spent the entire afternoon studying physics.  I went through every problem set at the end of every chapter, making sure I knew how to do all the important things.  I reread all the formulas and made sure I knew them from memory, including what all the letters stood for. I reread vocabulary, making sure I knew the definition of force and torque and momentum and energy.  I did every problem from both midterms again.

Later that night, as I was attempting to reread my notes, I discovered that they took a long time to reread, mostly because of my messy handwriting.  I turned on the computer and, after a quick break to check email, I began retyping my notes. This took longer than simply rereading, even with the messy handwriting, but it seemed to help since I had to think more about what I was reading and typing.  Then, if I had time to reread it all again, it would be easier to read since it would no longer be in my messy handwriting.

When Saturday morning came, I still felt uneasy about the exam.  I rode my bike from Building C to Ross Hall, already wearing shorts at 7:45 in the morning because it was warm and would probably only get hotter.  I sat near the aisle on the left side of the lecture hall (my left, the instructor’s right). As the rest of the class arrived, I nervously reread the notes I had retyped and printed the night before, trying to glean one last bit of information in the few minutes that remained.

When the time came, Dr. Collins and his teacher assistants passed out the exam paper.  I looked over it and read all of the questions first. As I read each successive question, my state of mind went from worried to calm to excited.  This was easy. I had studied in detail every single thing that was being asked on this test, and I knew how to do every problem. I began working, writing, typing on my calculator, sketching diagrams of forces acting on objects.  When I finished, I double-checked all the answers. I redid all of my calculator work. And I turned in my paper and walked out of 66 Ross with almost half of the allotted two hours remaining.

The finals for Chemistry 2B and Psychology and the Law were both on Monday.  My next two days looked much as the previous one had. I spent most of my time studying.  I reread and retyped notes, just as I had done for physics. I redid chemistry problems, calculating theoretical yields of chemical reactions and molarity of solutions.  For Psych-Law, the test would include both a multiple choice section and an essay. Dr. Kemp had given us a choice of three topics so that we could prepare in advance, but the essay itself had to be handwritten on the day of the final.  I made outlines for my chosen topic, so that I would be able to remember what I wanted to write about.


Dr. Kemp was the instructor for Psychology and the Law, or as the class was formally called, Integrated Honors Program 8B.  It was a class open only to students in the IHP, one of three that we had to choose from each quarter which counted as general education requirements.  Dr. Kemp was a gray-haired man in his 50s who wore a dress shirt and tie most days, not exactly someone I expected to have much of a sense of humor. He proved me wrong on the day of the final, when he announced, “I put some funny choices on the multiple choice part of the test.”

I began working on the test, wondering exactly what he meant by this.  The fifth question said this:

5)   The McNaughton Rule applies to criminal cases featuring which of the following:
Expert witnesses
A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity
Repressed memories
A hung jury

I tried not to chuckle too loudly when I read “Aliens.”  This was a test, after all.

A few minutes later, Dan Woodward quietly asked Dr. Kemp a question.  Dr. Kemp looked at the test again, appeared to think for a minute, and then announced to the class, “Don’t mark the funny choice for your answer.”  People softly laughed. I assumed that one of the questions had been worded in a misleading way so as to make the funny choice a possibly correct answer.  I found the item in question at the bottom of the page I was on:

14)   Which of the following IS NOT one of the Miranda rights?
A. R
ight to remain silent
Right to consult a lawyer
Right to bear arms
Right to a lawyer present during questioning
Right to eat donuts during the trial

I was right.  Technically, according to the question, both choices C and E were correct.  Dr. Kemp had probably needed another option, and had just made up something funny without realizing that it did not fit the wording of the question.

The rest of the multiple choice test was fairly straightforward.  I thought I did okay on the essay section as well, even though I hated essay tests, but this time I had time to prepare.  I remembered all the main points I had written on my outline the night before. I submitted my test at 9:50, toward the end of the two hour time slot.

The chemistry final was at 4:00 that afternoon, so I spent the rest of the afternoon studying for that.  I felt confident about that one, though, and it seemed easy while I was taking it. I got back to the South Residential Area just in time for dinner, relieved that this nightmare of three challenging finals at the beginning of finals week was over.  It was a good feeling, and I was just going to relax for the rest of the night, chatting on IRC, reading my usual Usenet groups, and playing Tetris and SimCity 2000.


Tuesday and Wednesday were among the best days I had all quarter.  I went on long bike rides both days, through the Greenbelts in north Jeromeville on Tuesday and through the Arboretum and the rural part of campus across from Highway 117 on Wednesday.  I spent several hours chatting on IRC and made a new friend, a 19-year-old girl from Missouri named Stacey with blue eyes and a nice butt (at least that’s what she said about herself). I took naps.  I organized my desk drawers and my clothes, so that packing on Friday would be easier. And, since I still had a math final coming up, I spent a few hours Wednesday evening studying.

I also spent most of Thursday morning studying for math, with a break in between to email Stacey.  I probably had not needed to study that much, though, because I had no trouble with the math final.  But as with all exams, there was a lingering feeling in the back of my mind that I did poorly and did not realize it.  This feeling had been stronger in my mind for every exam since I failed the first physics midterm in April, although that time I knew I had done poorly before the exam was even over.

I spent most of Friday cleaning and packing.  My things were organized enough that packing did not take long.  The problem was that I did not have many boxes. I still had the two boxes my computer and monitor came in; I had been using them as a makeshift table.  Instead of putting the computer and monitor back in the boxes, though, I put clothes in the boxes. I carried the boxes of clothes out to the car.

Next, I walked down to the Help Window and asked to borrow a socket wrench and screwdriver, so I could disassemble the bed loft and return the extra pieces.  I checked my email one last time (Stacey had not written back yet; for that matter, we only stayed in touch for about a week total), then I disconnected all the cables and took the computer and monitor to the car, in two separate trips, leaving them without boxes since I was using the boxes for clothes.  I wrapped the computer and monitor in the blanket and sheets from my bed; students purchased these from the Department of Student Housing and kept them at the end of the year. I used these sheets and blanket for the rest of the time I lived in Jeromeville, and today they are on the guest bed at my house.

When I got back to the room, it was finally beginning to sink in that this was my last day in Building C, and my last day in Jeromeville for this school year.  Everyone had to be out of the dorms by noon tomorrow, but I was finished with finals and had no reason to stay. I had called Mom yesterday and said I would be home sometime tonight, although I did not say when because I did not know.

By late afternoon, I had finished carrying everything out to the car.  I was sweeping the room with a borrowed broom, with the door open, when Liz walked by.  “Hey, Greg?” she said, peeking her head in the door.

I stopped sweeping for a minute.  “Yeah?” I replied.

“A bunch of us are going to Murder Burger tonight, and then bowling.  Wanna come?”

“Definitely!” I said.  “Sounds like a great way to celebrate the last day of school.”

“Meet in the common room at 6.  We’re gonna walk. It’s not that far.”

“I’ll see you then!  Sounds good!”


By the time we left for Murder Burger, I had turned in my keys.  I had no way back into Room 221, although I could still get into the building with the magnetic stripe on my registration card.  This was not just a small group of friends heading out to dinner; this was a massive caravan of almost half of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  Liz and Ramon, Taylor, Pete, Charlie, and Jason. Sarah, Krista, Caroline, Danielle, and Theresa. Pat and Karen, and Pat’s twin brother who lived in the North Residential Area.  Mike Adams and his roommate Ian. Gina Stalteri, Derek Olvera, Stephanie, and Schuyler. David, Keith, Mike Potts, Yu Cheng. Jonathan, Spencer, Jenn from the first floor, Cathy, and Phuong.  Skeeter and Bok. Rebekah and Tracey. And I probably forgot a few others.

We walked the same route I usually took to get to chemistry class in 199 Stone.  From there, we continued walking east on Davis Drive to the edge of campus at Old Jeromeville Road.  We turned left and took the next right, First Street, walking four blocks along a vacant lot lined with old olive trees, across the street from a few fraternity houses and small hotels.  We turned right on Cornell Boulevard and walked under the railroad tracks; Murder Burger was just on the other side, about a mile and a quarter from Building C.

“How’d you do on finals?” Taylor asked me as we were approaching Murder Burger.

“I think I did pretty well, actually,” I replied.  “What about you?”

“Uhh… I took finals.  I showed up.”

I chuckled.  “That bad, huh?”

“It wasn’t great.  Have you ever been to Murder Burger?”

“No,” I said.  “I’ve driven past it many times, though.”

“I’ve been here once.  The burgers are really good.”

We did not all fit inside the building.  We made a long line extending out the door.  I started thinking about what I wanted as soon as I got close enough to see the menu.  I pointed to the part of the menu saying that they could add flavors to drinks for a small additional charge.

“Vanilla Coke?  Chocolate Coke? Orange Coke?”  I asked rhetorically. “What is that?”

“Flavored Coke is so good!” Sarah said from behind me in line.  “There’s a place back home that has vanilla Coke. I love it!”

When it was finally my turn to order, I asked for a double cheeseburger with just ketchup, mayonnaise, lettuce, and cheese; a large French fry; and a vanilla Coke.  I wanted to see if this was really as good as Sarah said it was. (Of course, now most grocery stores around here sell Vanilla Coke pre-made in cans, but this option did not exist in 1995.)  The cashier gave me a stub with a number printed on it. I looked around for a place to sit. The kitchen was behind the cash registers, with the dining room to the right.

“We’ll be outside with Liz and Ramon,” Sarah told me as I started to walk away.  “Come sit with us.”

“Okay,” I said.  I walked out the back of the dining room, opening to a parking lot, and then back around to the opposite side of the building.  Liz and Ramon were sitting on a picnic bench, along with Taylor and Pete.

“Come sit with us,” Liz said.  “We saved you a seat.”

“Thanks,” I replied.  “This is so cool. One last time hanging out together.”

“Looking forward to summer?” Ramon asked.

“Yeah.  A friend of my mom’s works in a bookstore, and she got me a job there, so I’ll have a little bit of money coming in.”

“Are you going to see your high school friends this summer?” Sarah asked, arriving as I was talking to Ramon.

“I’m not sure.  I didn’t usually see my friends when I wasn’t in school.  And some of them haven’t stayed in touch.”

“Really.  That’s kinda sad.”

“I hope I get to see some of them, though.”

About fifteen minutes later, someone called my number over a speaker next to the outdoor seating area.  I got up and returned a minute later with my food, taking my first ever sip of vanilla Coke.

“You were right, Sarah,” I said as I swallowed.  “Vanilla Coke is good.”

“I know!  Isn’t it?”

After we finished eating, around eight o’clock, we cleaned up and walked back across the railroad track.  About half of the group walked back toward Building C while the others walked toward the bowling alley; I told them goodbye and said that I would see them next year.

The bowling alley is on campus, in a secluded room called the Memorial Union Games Area.  The part of the Memorial Union where the campus bookstore is located has a basement, with coin-operated video games, pinball machines, a pool table, and sixteen lanes of bowling.  From Redrum, we walked back down First Street, turned right on A Street, and then left across from Second Street through the path that had been the main entrance to campus when it was built 90 years ago.  I had been bowling once here earlier this year, with Liz and Ramon and Jason and Taylor and Danielle, all of whom were here tonight.

I bowled a strike on my first frame, and everyone on my lane (tonight it was Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Krista, and Charlie) cheered for me.  I smiled. But that would be the only strike I would bowl that game. I finished with a score of 96, third place out of the six of us.

“Do you want to play another game?” Taylor asked.

“Sure.  But I should go find a phone and call my mom to let her know when I’ll be home.  She’s probably worried about me.”

“You’re driving home tonight?  Doesn’t that mean you’ll get home really late?”

“Probably around midnight if we play one more game.  I can do that.”

“Okay.  Be safe.”

I found a pay phone and called home using my parents’ calling card number, so that they would be billed for the call.  Calling outside of your local geographical area was expensive using 1995 technology, but with this PIN number that my parents told me to use, I could call them from any phone and it would go to their bill.  “Hello?” Mom said, picking up on the third ring.

“Hi.  It’s me.”

“Where are you?”

“Still in Jeromeville.  A bunch of people went out to Murder Burger and then bowling.”

“Yummy!  That sounds fun!  So are you coming home in the morning instead?”

“I was still going to come tonight, after one more game of bowling.”

“So you won’t be home until really late.”

“Probably around midnight.  Is that a problem?”

“No.  Just call me again if anything changes.”

“Okay.  I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Drive safe.  And have fun.”

“I will.  Thanks.”

I bowled much better the second game.  At one point, I had two strikes in a row.  When I went back up to the lane with my ball, Charlie said, “Come on, Greg!  You can do it!”

“No pressure,” Taylor added, laughing.

I carefully moved my hand back, then swung it forward, releasing the ball.  The ball appeared to be going right where it needed to for me to get a third strike, but one of the pins remained standing.  I hit the pin on my second roll for a spare, and I finished the game with a score of 127, one of the best games I had ever bowled at the time, and higher than anyone else on my lane.

“All right, guys,” I said after the second game.  “It’s time for me to go. I’m driving home tonight.”

“Drive safely!” Sarah said, giving me a hug.

“You too, Have a great summer, everyone.”

“Bye, dude,” Taylor said, shaking my hand.

I spent about five minutes saying goodbye to everyone, with handshakes and hugs for some of them.  I walked back to Building C alone, because some people seemed to want to bowl one more game, and they were all going home in the morning.  It was a little after nine o’clock. The sun sets late enough this time of year that there was still a slight dusky glow to the west. I had enjoyed tonight, I had enjoyed the entire year in Building C and the IHP, but there came a time for everything to end, and it was time for me to go home.  I was done with my freshman year.

I went back into Building C only to use the bathroom; I did not see anyone while I was there.  I walked across the street to the car, where my stuff was still packed, and began driving. I put on a tape I had made of Bush’s Sixteen Stone album as I headed south, smiling, thinking about the great night I had.

Murder Burger felt to me like a major landmark and institution in Jeromeville, but I really did not eat there that often.  That night at the end of my freshman year was the first of maybe no more than five times that I ever ate there. Despite this, I felt sad when I read in 2019 that Murder Burger, which by then was called Redrum Burger, was closing.  A college town like Jeromeville needs a greasy, locally-owned burger place, and because of changing demographics and a changing economy, Jeromevillians do not have such a place anymore. I thought about making the trip across the Drawbridge last summer when I heard that it would be Redrum’s last weekend in operation, but I had a lot to do at the time, and I had heard that long lines of customers who had heard the news were already wrapped around the building, so I ended up not making the trip.  I am not a big fan of crowds.

Some of the new friends I made freshman year I did not really see again after that year, or I saw them only occasionally around campus.  Others I stayed in touch with for a long time, and a few of them I have been in touch with continuously since 1994. I have been to six weddings of people I met during my freshman year at UJ, and two of those weddings were two people who were in the IHP with me marrying each other.  I was going to miss having a built in social group next year, but I had met enough people this year that I would probably be okay.

My freshman year at the University of Jeromeville had been life-changing.  I made so many new friends. I discovered the Internet. I discovered the joy of a good bike ride.  I was still getting straight As; I even got an A in physics after doing so poorly on that first midterm.  (Technically, I did get an A-minus in Rise and Fall of Empires fall quarter, and at UJ, an A-minus counted as a slightly lower grade than an A in terms of calculating grade point average, but I was still doing pretty well.)

Of course, not everything was perfect.  I spent a lot of nights sad and alone. I still had no girlfriend, but hopefully that would come soon.  I would not see these people for three months, but I had ways to stay in touch with the ones I wanted to stay in touch with, and in September I would be right back in Jeromeville to pick up where I left off.  Freshman year was pretty good overall, so hopefully sophomore year would be even better.

And, of course, as the case often is when looking back on the past, I can say that on that final day of freshman year, I never would have guessed what major life changes were coming my way sophomore year.

20190927 redrum 4
The old Redrum/Murder Burger building, now deserted, photographed in September 2019 about a month after the last business day.


June 6, 1995. New music for the difficult week approaching. (#41)

Back in 1995, before YouTube and Pandora and satellite radio and MP3 players, we had to buy music on CDs at music stores.  The biggest music store in Jeromeville at the time was Tower Records. Tower Records started in the 1960s in Capital City, just across the Drawbridge from here, and it eventually grew into a chain with locations all around the world.  The Jeromeville location of Tower Records, on G Street downtown, was a new one; it had only been open for six months. I had read in the local news that many downtown small business owners and local elected officials were angry at the opening of Tower Records.  They believed that a chain store had no place in their precious quirky little town, and that the City Council should take more action to ban chain stores. I thought that those people saying that were pretentious, and that it was not the place of a City Council to protect small businesses from competition, so I had no problem buying music at Tower.

New music was always released to stores on Tuesdays back then.  I had math at 9:00 on Tuesdays, and then a three hour break. On the last Tuesday before finals, I got on my bike after math class and headed straight for Tower Records.  It only took me about five minutes to get there. As I walked in, I saw a display for new releases in front of me. Half of the shelf was taken up by a CD case with strange abstract artwork on the cover.  In the center was something resembling an eyeball, but the pupil of the eye was a solar eclipse with a corona around it, and a planet overlapped the solar eclipse on the upper right side. Above the eye was a beach, partially covered with clouds; on the lower left, puddles of water scattered on dirt gradually metamorphosed into fish.  On the left spine of the custom-made CD case was a small blinking red light.

This was it.  This was what I had come for: Pink Floyd’s Pulse album, the live album from their tour last summer and fall (which would be the band’s final tour).

The album had been released a week earlier in the UK, so many of the British people from the Pink Floyd Usenet group had already been talking about it.  It was two and a half hours long, containing two full discs of live music. The first disc contained mostly well-known songs, as well as Astronomy Domine, an obscure song from their first album, which I had never heard.  The second disc contained every song from their legendary 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon performed live, in order, and an encore of three more of their biggest hits.

After I grabbed a copy of Pulse, I looked around the store to see if I saw any other music I felt like buying.  I also bought the album Sixteen Stone by a British grunge band called Bush.  I had heard a song from it on the radio, and also someone in my building had it (I don’t remember who) and I remember really liking some of the other songs on it.

I got home a little before eleven and spent the rest of the morning listening to Pulse.  I looked through the book that came inside the CD case several times; it contained photographs from the tour.  Several pages had an abstract symbol in white superimposed over a photograph of a member of the band or one of the additional touring musicians.  I noticed that some of the symbols and drawings resembled letters and figured out fairly quickly that the letters in question were the initials of the person photographed.

I logged on to the Pink Floyd Usenet group while I was listening.  A Usenet group is a text-based ancestor of today’s Internet forum, and Pink Floyd’s group had been relatively active since I discovered Usenet groups a year ago.  Someone with connections to the band had posted last summer, using the pseudonym “Publius” and an anonymous email address, claiming that the album The Division Bell had some kind of secret message and a reward for whomever decoded it.  With the recent release of Pulse, the discussion had picked up again.  I found the post where people had debated the meanings of those symbols and drawings, and someone had already pointed out the resemblance to band members’ initials.  I decided not to reply, since Usenet users sometimes looked down upon those who posted without having anything useful to contribute to the discussion.

I did not get to finish listening to Pulse in one sitting.  Right at the end of the song Eclipse on disc 2, the last song before the encore, I noticed that it was time to go to class.  When I got back from class later that afternoon, I turned the music back on. But a few minutes later, during the second verse of Comfortably Numb, my music was suddenly drowned out by a loud techno reggae cover of the Beatles’ Come Together, coming from outside the room.  I smiled, paused the CD, and walked out of room 221, down the hall toward room 222.

“Hey, Greg,” Ramon said when he saw me in the doorway.  “You like it?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Is it too loud?”

“It’s ok.  I’m not doing anything where I need it quiet, or anything.”

Liz Williams and Tina Nowell lived in room 222.  Ramon Quintero had been Liz’s boyfriend since the middle of fall quarter, and he spent so much more time in Liz’s room than he did in his own room that he had moved the sign with his name on it from the door to his actual room on the third floor to Liz’s door.  Tina had some kind of music-making software on her computer that Ramon liked to play with, and I was used to hearing this kind of loud music from down the hall by now. I did not mind, as long as it was quiet when I was trying to sleep.

A few days earlier, I had been sitting in Liz’s room, and Ramon was talking about his music.  “I want to do a reggae version of Come Together,” he said.

“That sounds really cool.”

“I was thinking, like, what makes reggae sound like reggae?  I had never really thought about it before,” Ramon said. I realized that I had never really thought about this either.  “So I was listening to Bob Marley and stuff like that, and I noticed there’s more of a stress on the second and fourth beats instead of the first and third.”

I wasn’t an expert on Bob Marley, but I started singing One Love silently to myself, since that was one of the few Bob Marley songs I knew.  “You’re right,” I said. “Interesting.”

“So how are your classes going?” Liz asked me.  “Getting ready for finals?”

“They’re going okay, I guess,” I said.  “I bombed my first physics midterm, but I’ve been studying really hard ever since.  That’s the one I’m most worried about, just because I did so badly on that first one.”

“When is the physics final?”

I paused to think.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “I haven’t looked at my finals schedule yet.  I should probably do that.”

“Yeah, you should.  I have one Monday, two Wednesday, and one Thursday.  That won’t be too bad.”

“I can’t believe the school year is almost over,” I said.  “It seemed to go by fast, especially here at the end.”

“I know!  We’ve almost finished a year of college!”

“Hey, listen to this,” Ramon said.  “I turned up the bass a little.” He played his techno-reggae Come Together again, supposedly with more bass.  I could not tell the difference, honestly.

“I’m not sure which way I like better,” I said.  “Can you play the first one again?” Ramon did something on the computer and played it again the way it was the first time, and I said, “I think I like the second one better.  I need to get to work, though.”

“Okay,” Ramon said.  “Have a good one.”

“It was good talking to you,” Liz added.

“You too.”

I walked back to room 221 and got out the course schedule for this quarter.  Finals did not happen at the usual meeting time for a class. The course schedule for each quarter had a page that said the final time for any given class.  It was based on the time that the class usually met, so that, for example, every class that usually met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9am would have the final at the same time, but this time would not necessarily be 9am.  Each class was allotted a two-hour time slot, regardless of how much time the class normally met for. All of the necessary time slots required exactly six days, so finals week was the one time each quarter when classes were held on a Saturday.

I looked up the times for my four finals and thought, no, this can’t be right.  That doesn’t make sense. I double-checked, and it did not make sense, but it was correct.  This finals week was going to be a disaster.

For one thing, there was no dead time before finals this quarter.  Fall quarter classes had ended on a Friday, and finals started the following Monday.  For winter quarter, classes had ended on a Thursday, and finals began the following Saturday, so there was one so-called dead day of no classes before finals began.  But this quarter, the last day of classes was Friday, and finals began on Saturday. To make things even worse, my physics final had the earliest time slot possible, Saturday morning at 8:00.  This was less than 24 hours after my last actual physics class, Friday morning at 11. My final for Psychology and the Law was Monday morning, chemistry was Monday afternoon, and math was Thursday afternoon.

This was the worst possible scenario for me.  My three most difficult finals fell on the first two days, and my easy final would not be until the end of the week.  I was scared, and I did not know how I would be able to do this. I could have checked what my finals schedule would have been like before I registered for classes, but I figured it was just one week and that it made little sense to schedule my entire quarter around finals week.  I wonder now, though, if I would have done things differently had I taken the time to check my finals schedule. Too late to change it now.

Later that night, after dinner, I wandered down to the common room.  It was full. Liz and Ramon, Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Danielle, Gina, Mike Adams, Karen, David, Yu Cheng, and Schuyler were all watching the movie Forrest Gump.  Ramon had bought the movie on VHS a couple weeks ago, and it seemed like he, or at least someone, had watched it every few days ever since then.  I found an unoccupied seat on a couch and sat down. I had work to do, but it could wait. I didn’t need to do it right now. I loved this movie, and in the worst case, I had seen the movie before, so if I had to go get some work to do and not give the movie my full attention, I would not miss out.

The movie had just started a few minutes earlier.  In the movie, Forrest was explaining that he was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a relative whom he called a Civil War hero.

“Forrest was named after the founder of the Klan,” Gina said.  “I forgot about that part.”

“That must suck to have a famous relative, but it’s someone like that, not someone you want to be associated with,” Mike said.

“Probably,” I replied.  “I don’t have any famous relatives.  I wouldn’t know.”

“I don’t either.”

“My great-great-great-great-grandfather was a Vice President!” Karen exclaimed.  At that moment, a thought crossed my mind. Maybe it was because Karen had talked about growing up in the South, or maybe it was because I knew someone else who was related to a Southern Vice President from early in the history of the USA, but as soon as she said that, I just knew that her famous ancestor was going to be John C. Calhoun.

“Who’s that?” Mike asked.

“John C. Calhoun!” Karen said.  “He was Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.”

“I remember that name from history class,” Gina said.

“If that’s true, then you’re related to one of my friends from high school,” I said.

“Huh?” Karen replied, caught off guard by my comment.

“Do you know the Hallorans from Plumdale?  Jessica Halloran? And her sister Jamie, and they have a bunch of younger siblings too.  Jessica said once that she was related to John C. Calhoun.”

“No.  But that’s funny that you know some distant relatives of mine.  Weird.”

“Yeah.  Jessica was one of my best friends.  She took a year off to go volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala.”

“Wow.  That’s cool.  Adventurous.”

“I know.”  Currently as an adult, I am in Facebook contact with both Jessica and Jamie, but I never did find out if they knew Karen, nor do I think I’ve ever mentioned that I went to Jeromeville with some distant cousin of theirs.

I had noticed earlier that Jared was sitting in the corner alone with his Scrabble board, seemingly paying more attention to the board than the movie, placing tiles on the board.  He was clearly not playing an actual game, since no one else was sitting with him. I walked over to him to see what was going on.

“Hey, Jared,” I said.

“Hi,” he said back, gesturing toward the board.  “Check this out.” Jared had filled the entire board with interlocking dirty words.  Private parts, biology terms, sexual slang, pretty much every inappropriate word I could think of was on the Scrabble board somewhere.

I began laughing.  “That’s hilarious!” I told him.  “This wasn’t a real game, was it?”

“No.  It couldn’t be from a real game,” he explained, pointing toward the middle of the board, “because EJACULATE couldn’t have been played here in a real game.  It’s too many letters, and none of these other words were here before, only this one.”

“Oh yeah.  But couldn’t you… no, I guess not, there’s no shorter word you could have played first.”

“Yeah.  I have three letters left, D, A, and E.  I’m trying to figure out where to put them.”  Jared scanned the board. He put the tiles going down from the D at the end of LAID, so that they spelled DEAD.  “DEAD!”

“That’s not really a sex word, is it?”

“No, but it’s hilarious!”

I pointed at the H in HYMEN and gestured toward the empty space next to it.  “What about HEAD?” I said.

“That works, but I like DEAD.  It’s just funnier.”

“If you say so.  It’s your game.” I did not understand why DEAD was so funny, but it is not important.  I walked back across the room and sat next to Liz and Ramon, directing my attention back to the movie.

“My name’s Forrest,” Ramon said in an exaggerated Southern accent.  “Forrest Gump.”

“Forrest Gump is kind of a cool name,” Mike said.

“Yeah,” Yu replied.  “Except for the Gump part.”  I laughed. Yu continued, “That could be my name.  Forrest Cheng. Or maybe Yu Gump.”

“Yu Gump,” Mike repeated back.  “I’m going to start calling you that.”

I was not looking forward to moving back home and being away from these silly, nonsensical random conversations.  It seemed that these conversations were an essential part of the dorm life experience. Maybe I would have neighbors at my apartment next year who had random conversations like this.  Or maybe I would still get together with some of these Interdisciplinary Honors Program friends next year. I hoped I would find something, because the IHP had really helped me feel like I had a home, a smaller group to belong to within the context of this very large university.  I would need to find a new group next year.

“Hey, Greg?” Liz asked.  “Did you ever figure out your finals schedule?”

“Yeah,” I answered, “and it’s going to be horrible.  I have my three hard finals on the first two days, and then the easy one, math, isn’t until Thursday.  There are less than 24 hours between my last physics class and the final.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah.  I’m really going to need to study hard over the next few days.”

“I know you can do it, Greg.  And just think, once those three finals are over, you’ll only have an easy final left, so then you get plenty of time to pack and clean your room.  And you’ll get time to hang out too.”

“That’s a good way to look at it.  Thanks.”

“I had a hard schedule like that last quarter, with all my hard finals first.  It wasn’t that bad, though. You’ll do fine.”

“I hope so.”

After the movie, I went upstairs.  I could still get a good two hours of studying in before I went to bed.  I put on Pulse for the second time that day and told myself that when the music ended, it would be time for bed.  That sounded like a plan.

Forrest Gump’s mother said that life was like a box of chocolates, because I never knew what I would get.  I did not know I would get this difficult finals schedule. All I could do now was make the best of it. One thing at a time.  I had three more days of regular classes left, and I would use as much time as possible over those three days to study for physics.  Once I finished physics Saturday morning, I would spend the rest of the weekend studying for my two Monday finals. And once Monday night came, I would do as Liz suggested and let up a bit.  I would still study for the math final on Thursday, but being my easiest one, I would not need all day to study. I would take my time leisurely packing and cleaning. I would go on bike rides.  I would probably spend some time in chat rooms. And I would hopefully have some more of these great random conversations with my IHP friends. The second part of finals week would be nice and relaxing.  It would be fun. And it was only a week away.


April 28-May 2, 1995.  The first physics midterm. (#36)

I sat in math class on a Friday morning, listening to the instructor talk about finding derivatives of vector functions.  It seemed simple enough… just write the vector components of the function and find the derivative of each component. When I registered for classes, the name “vector analysis” made me think the class would be difficult, especially since I wasn’t entirely sure what a vector was, but so far the class had been easy.

I wished that had been true of all of my classes.

After math class, I walked to the Memorial Union.  I only had an hour between math and physics class, and I had finally figured out that I did not have to go all the way back to my dorm room between classes.  This quarter, when I had a gap of an hour or two between classes, I would go find a table at the Memorial Union and read or work on homework. I tried to do math homework today, but I was having a hard time concentrating, dreading what was coming in an hour when I got to physics class.

Physics was in a small building called Ross Hall.  This building had a lecture hall of about 200 seats on one side and another lecture hall of about 100 seats on the other side.  Inexplicably, the two lecture halls were called room 55 and room 66, with 66 being the larger one. I still didn’t understand how rooms were numbered in some of these buildings.  Upstairs from the two lecture halls were 12 small laboratory rooms with numbers in the 150s and 160s. That numbering was consistent with most buildings on the University of Jeromeville campus, with the room numbers being 100 greater than the room numbers below them, but I still didn’t understand why they didn’t just start with something like 1 and 101. I’m a numbers guy. I think about these things. 

UJ offered three different physics classes: Physics 1, a very general class that counted as a general education requirement for non-science majors; Physics 7, focusing on concepts and procedures, designed for majors like biology and pre-med; and Physics 9, teaching all the details and theory and mathematics behind general physics, for students of engineering, the physical sciences, and mathematics.  I still hadn’t declared a major, but all of the majors I had been considering, including physics itself, required this last physics class, so taking this class was a given for me. Unlike most year-long classes, Physics 9 started in spring quarter, and continued through the following winter, April to March, so that incoming freshmen would have two quarters to learn calculus before beginning physics.

Physics was easy in high school.  Most science classes were easy for me.  Science, like mathematics, followed consistent logical rules.  In real life, there were scientific concepts that didn’t follow these rules, because humanity’s knowledge of the universe was incomplete, but those were not the kinds of things taught in high school.

Because physics was so easy for me in high school, I expected physics to continue to be easy in college.  My professor, Dr. Collins, taught one thing differently than the way it was in the book, and I didn’t quite understand it the way he explained it, but I understood what was in the book just fine.  I had a midterm last Monday, and I expected it to be easy, because physics was easy.

Expectations are often different from reality, and this was why I had felt so discouraged after actually taking the physics midterm.  This was also why I felt a sense of dread walking into 66 Ross today, because my graded midterm was there, waiting for me to go pick it up.

The lobby for the lecture hall had a long wooden shelf where instructors and graders could leave exams to be passed back.  The shelf was only a couple inches deep, with vertical compartments to hold papers so that students could flip through the papers looking for theirs.  The papers were separated alphabetically. I found D and looked for Dennison. I nervously removed my paper from the shelf, reassuring myself that it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

It was that bad.

It was even worse than that bad, actually.

I walked into the lecture hall and took a seat in the back.  I felt too ashamed to sit any closer to the front. I felt like I didn’t even belong at this university getting grades like this.

54 out of 120.  That’s less than 50%, and in the high school grading method I was used to, less than 50% is an F.

I looked through my paper to see what I got wrong exactly.  As I looked through the questions, I noticed something that sunk my already low confidence through the floor.

The grader had counted incorrectly.  My grade was actually 44 out of 120. That was certainly failing.

Dr. Collins began speaking from the front of the classroom.  “Your midterms are in the lobby, if you haven’t gotten them yet,” he said.  “I curved them like this.” He put a transparency on the overhead projector indicating what score corresponded to what letter grade.  Apparently I wasn’t the only student who did poorly. 54 out of 120 was being curved to a C-minus. 44 out of 120 was still curved to an F, though.  I wasn’t sure how the curve worked exactly. I never did figure out if there was a set formula which instructors used to curve grades, or if they just looked at how everyone did and separated them into five letter grade groups.

This entire quarter was about mechanics: velocity, acceleration, force, torque, energy, momentum, that kind of stuff.  It seemed pretty simple. But somehow, I just didn’t understand what to do with the information given on the test. A lot of the problems weren’t like the homework, and Dr. Collins had included one problem, out of six total, which entirely involved the part of his instruction that wasn’t in the textbook.

I had a hard time concentrating on the lecture that day.  I should be concentrating harder with the kind of grade I got on that test, but I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t stop dwelling on the fact that I had failed a test. I had never failed a test before. School was the one thing I was good at, especially classes like physics.


At dinner that night, I looked around the dining hall for a place to sit.  I saw Skeeter and Bok and a girl from another building whom I knew to be Bok’s friend from high school.  I saw Megan with some girls I didn’t know, probably from her building. I saw Mike and Ian and Gina from the third floor of my building.  I decided to ignore all of them and sit by myself. Why bother sitting with friends when I would probably fail out of UJ at the end of the year and never see these people again?  I was an Interdisciplinary Honors Program student. I wasn’t supposed to fail a test.

My plan to sit alone didn’t work, though.  Taylor and Pete and Charlie saw me sitting alone about five minutes later and approached me with their trays of food.  

“Can we sit here?” Taylor asked.

“Sure,” I muttered.  I thought about telling them I wanted to be alone, but that didn’t seem right.

“How’s it goin’?”

“Not well.”

“What’s wrong, man?”

“I bombed a physics midterm.”

“Is that all?” Taylor said, almost laughing.  “I’ve bombed a few tests this year, and I’m still doing fine.”

“It’s not funny,” I said, a little louder this time, looking down at the table and not making eye contact.  “I thought I knew all of this.”

“Sorry.  I know it’s tough.  But try not to let it get you down.”

“I’m trying.  I can’t help it.  It’s all I can think about.”

“This really isn’t the end of the world,” Pete said.  “Which physics? 9A?”


“My class just got the first midterm back.  I got a B-minus. I think it was a rude awakening for everyone.  How bad was yours?”

“44 out of 120.”


I should have taken Pete’s class, I thought.  Pete’s instructor probably goes by the book and doesn’t add his own thing.  Unfortunately, it was too late to change my schedule for this quarter. I would try signing up for 9B in the fall with a different instructor.  Maybe I’d have an easier time with someone other than Dr. Collins… that is, if I get to sign up for classes in the fall at all, and I don’t get kicked out of school for failing first.

“Are you doing anything this weekend?” Taylor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe that’ll be good.  Just rest, and study physics so you’ll do better next time.”

“We’ll see, I guess.”

The others started talking about their plans for the weekend.  It was Friday night, so they all had Jeromeville Christian Fellowship later that night.  I finished eating as they talked about JCF and the speaker for that night. It sounded like they were going to have a fun night.  I didn’t have anything like that to look forward to, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have felt like going anyway.


I spent the rest of Friday night in my room.  I wrote emails to the girls I knew from the Internet whom I had been talking to.  I checked all the Usenet groups I followed, a few for fans of bands I liked and a few for fans of sports teams I liked.  I got on IRC looking for girls to talk to, but no one I knew was on and no one in the chat was talking to me.

I read for a while.  I had been reading It by Stephen King.  My mom was a big Stephen King fan, and she had read this book when I was a kid, when the book was new, so she had told me a little bit about the book over the years.  The book was very long; I had been reading it for over a month, and I still had over a hundred pages to go.

Around ten o’clock, I walked down the hall to use the bathroom, then walked up and down the entire length of the second floor to see if anyone was around.  As I turned the corner and got closer to my room, number 221, I saw Liz from room 222 come out of the stairwell and walk toward her room. She heard me walking and turned around.  “Hey, Greg,” she said, smiling.


“What’s up?”

“I bombed a test.”

“Oh no.  What class?”

“Physics 9A.”

“I’ve heard that’s hard.  I only have to take the 7 series.”

“This never happens.  Physics was always easy in high school.  What if every test is going to be hard for me from now on?  What if I fail and get kicked out of school?”

“You’re not going to fail out,” Liz said reassuringly.  “Everyone has a bad day sometimes.”

“I guess.  I’ve never done this badly on a test before.  I’m scared.”

“I just got back from JCF.  The speaker tonight spoke on God’s unconditional love.  You know what that means, right?”

“I think it means God loves me no matter what?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes!  Paul wrote that nothing could ever separate us from the love of God.  Greg, you are still a beloved child of God even if you bomb a physics test.  Even if you fail out of school. You’re not going to, but even that isn’t the end of the world, because God loves you, and he has a plan for you.”

“I guess.”

“No.  I know.  God brought you here to Jeromeville for a reason, and it wasn’t to get all down on yourself.  Can you at least think about that and try to cheer up?”

“I’ll try.”

“It’ll be okay, Greg.  It really will. I’ll pray for you.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate it.  And I’m going to start going to office hours and studying harder.”

“See?  You have a plan.  That’s good. But don’t ever forget that God’s love for you is not conditional on your grades.”

“I won’t forget.”


The rest of my weekend was fairly uneventful.  I had physics problems to work on, and this time I read the book far more carefully as I was working.  I would not get caught off guard again by a difficult midterm. I had one more midterm in three weeks, and then the final exam.

The more I thought about what had happened with this physics midterm, the more I realized that the answer to one of the open questions about my life was taking shape.  It was time to make a decision. On Tuesday morning, after math class got out, I had a three hour gap until my chemistry lab, so I went to the basement of Marks Hall. A display on the wall had various forms for students; I checked to see if the one I needed was there.  It was. REQUEST TO CHANGE MAJOR. I picked it up and filled it out, with “Mathematics” as the requested major. I read through the fine print explaining that some majors were impacted and needed prior approval or other conditions; I was pretty sure Mathematics was not impacted in that way.  I submitted the form and left.

My next stop was Dr. Collins’ office hours.  His office was in the physics building, next to the chemistry building and Ross Hall and not too far from Marks Hall.  Like the chemistry building, the physics building did not have another name. Dr. Collins’ office was on the third floor, and when I got there, a line had already formed out the door.  Four students were in front of me waiting to ask questions. I listened and took notes on all the other students’ questions.

“What can I help you with?” Dr. Collins asked when I got to the front of the line.

I showed him my midterm.  “You counted the score wrong.  Or your TA did. I only got 44, not 54.”

Dr. Collins looked at my midterm and thought for a few seconds.  “It was our mistake. Don’t worry about it.”


“Yeah.  Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I was confused about this problem.”  I got out my textbook and pointed to a problem I hadn’t been able to solve from last night’s homework.  I listened as Dr. Collins reminded me how coefficients of friction worked, and how to calculate kinetic energy.

“Thanks,” I said.  “I think I get it now.”

“You’re welcome.  See you in class tomorrow.”

I had my chemistry lab that afternoon.  The laboratory classrooms for general chemistry were in the basement of the chemistry building.  The hallways in the basement were dim and a little scary, painted a drab yellow, with lots of pipes and electrical conduits visible on and near the ceiling.  The lab rooms themselves looked exactly as one would expect them to look given what the rest of the basement looked like; this was the perfect setting for a laboratory.  My lab partner for this quarter was a girl named Marissa. She was a sophomore, a biology major, thin with a somewhat dark complexion and medium brown hair. We met last quarter, when we were also in the same lab section for chemistry, and on the first day of lab of this quarter, neither of us knew anyone else in this lab section, so we decided to be partners.

I arrived about a minute before Marissa did, about five minutes before class actually started.  “Hey, Greg!” Marissa said when she got to our table. “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.  I just submitted a change of major form.”

“Changing your major?  From math to what?”

“From undeclared to math.”

“Oh!  I thought you told me you were a math major.  You hadn’t declared it yet?”

“I was thinking about a few different majors.  Math, physics, maybe chemistry. All the classes I was good at in high school.  I’ve been leaning more toward math. I bombed a physics midterm last week, and that made up my mind for good to do math.”

“Oh no!  How bad was it?”

“I failed.  The grader counted my score wrong, and with the curve, the incorrect score would be a C-minus.  I was honest and told him about the mistake in office hours, and he told me not to worry about it.  But still, if I’m doing that poorly on the first physics test I ever take, it’s not going to be my major.”

“I get that.  My roommate from last year was an engineer until she bombed her first calculus final.  Now she’s an art major.”

“Wow.  That’s a big change.”

“Yeah.  Do you need chemistry for a math major?”

“No.  But you need it for everything else I was considering.  I’ll probably finish out the Chem 2 series, I like chemistry, but I won’t be taking any more after that.”

“Yeah.  Well, good luck with your new major.”



I went to Dr. Collins’ office hours once a week for the rest of the quarter.  I reread every chapter of the physics book in the week before the second midterm.  I paid more attention in class and did my homework right away so that I would remember what I had learned.  I was determined not to fail the next midterm. I had never before studied so hard for a science class.

Three weeks later, as I walked into 66 Ross knowing that I would get the second midterm back, I remembered what Liz had told me after the first midterm.  I was still a beloved child of God no matter how I did on this test. I had done so poorly the first time that I felt like I was ready to fail again. I wasn’t going to be shocked at a bad grade, since I had already done poorly in the class so far, but I was at least hoping that I did significantly better.  I kept trying to remind myself that God loved me even if I failed physics, but it was hard to wrap my head around that. This was the first time anyone had ever told me that God still loved me even if I failed a class, and while it sounded right in my heart and in my mind, I still could not really wrap my head around that concept.

I pulled my midterm paper out of the letter D section of the rack of returned papers, and I nervously looked at the top of the paper.  I gasped and almost dropped the paper when I saw that I got a perfect score. A perfect score, after having failed the last test. I had the highest grade (well, at least tied with everyone else who got a perfect score) in a class of 200 students.  I smiled wide as I walked to my seat. My hard work had paid off.

At the end of the quarter, I somehow still ended up getting an A in the class.  I don’t know exactly how the professor calculated the grade, and I felt like I didn’t deserve the A after doing so poorly on the first midterm.  But I wouldn’t complain. After that first midterm, I knew that I needed to change what I had been doing. Life gets me down sometimes, and the best I can ever do is get back up and try again and see what I am actually capable of.  The hard work in physics continued to pay off as I continued to get As in all three quarters of physics, and I never failed a test again for the rest of my life.

However, this experience also taught me that physics was not my strong point.  I did not enjoy the level of work I had to put in to get good grades in physics. Mathematics was more enjoyable and came more naturally to me.  I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with a math degree, but I was definitely making progress now that I had a goal for the rest of my time at UJ.