Wednesday, August 28, 2013

All We Are is Dust in the Wind

I'm not sure how I ended up getting a minor in anthropology.

Actually, I do. Back in pre-computer days you had to register for college classes manually. By the time the scribe etched out your schedule on your tablets, most of your day was gone. When I got to the front of the line, all the classes I wanted were full. So I ended up in anthropology.

I should have seen this coming -  the same thing happened on my first day of high school. I showed up with everyone else, but somehow my registration wasn't there. The principal said, "Well, it'll probably show up tomorrow. As of now, we have no record of you. Maybe you should just go back home." So I walked back home and missed my first day.

Hey, maybe I was the problem.

Anthropology wasn't too bad once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to minor in art history (where the real money was).  Except for Folk Medicine.

Folk Medicine was one of the classes I got stuck in because nothing else was open. The workload was insane - I still have a suspicion that I somehow ended up in a graduate class. There was a ton of reading, and none of it was what I thought it was going to be - helpful hints like, "to get rid of a cold, take half an onion and bury it at the crossroads at midnight while petting a black cat." No, instead, we read a lot of dry articles about epidemiology and other words I didn't understand.

There was a cool section of the class devoted to a disease spread through cannibalism,which kept me interested in between ...jeez, I don't remember anything else about that class, other than my thinking I was in way over my head.

Speaking of over my head, our final paper was supposed to be 30 pages. I had never written 30 pages before in my life. Just thinking about made me feel like I was supposed to turn in "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace."

Somehow I was able to do it. I have no idea what my topic was. Maybe something about cannibals or cavemen. I was pretty proud of myself. I mean, 30 pages? With an opening and ending and everything? There is no way I could pull that off today. As you've probably noticed, after like 6 paragraphs I get bored and trail off, post whatever I've done up to that point, and go to sleep.

This was also in the days of word processors, where you couldn't save your work. Well, you could, but not that much. Saving a 30 page paper at that point would have taken one of those huge NASA room-size computers, far beyond the processing capabilities of my Brother word processor.

I put the finishing touches on the paper while visiting my parents in Bradenton. It looked pretty impressive in the front seat as I drove back to Gainesville. I imagined I was a respected and famous author delivering his latest manuscript to his New York editors. "This is your best stuff yet," my sexy editor would say. "Let's celebrate by buying some new leather patches for your jacket for your Letterman appearance. Then we'll drink some martinis and have some sexy, literary sex."

But before that could happen, I had to stop in Tampa to buy records. I was still in the throes of a fairly serious record collection habit, and had to stop in Tampa every trip between Gainesville and Bradenton to get my fix.

I rolled down the windows as I pulled off the interstate, possibly in an effort to sniff out vinyl treats.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch weeks' worth of work fly out of my open window onto Fletcher Avenue. As I watched sheets of paper that I had worked on floating in the breeze like a parade, I had a sudden revelation.

Like Bill Murray taught us in Meatballs, "it just didn't matter." Sure, these pieces of paper represented hard work, but in the long run, what did it really mean? Would anyone remember how I did in some class I didn't care about years later? And why was I knocking myself out in school, anyway? Why not just relax for a few years - maybe I should mellow out and wander through America, having real experiences, exploring my feelings, and communicating deeply with other searching strangers.

Then I remembered that I don't like exploring my feelings or talking to strangers and realized I had to corral that term paper.

I screeched into a gas station and ran out into traffic, frantically trying to grab the floating papers.

I straightened everything out as best I could and tried to reassemble my masterwork. I was missing a handful of pages in the middle, and there was no way I could find them.

I stayed up all that night trying to recreate the linking pages from memory. It would have been easier if it were the beginning or the end where I could pad some stuff, but the middle was a lot harder to figure out.

I eventually came up with enough filler to finish my paper and ended up getting a C+. There were no marks on the paper. I'm not sure the professor even read it.

I don't think I've ever written anything that long since. I never got a sexy editor. You know how you'll have nightmares of being back in school and having to take a test you haven't prepared for? Every once in a while I'll have a dream I'm chasing those papers down Fletcher Avenue in Tampa.

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