I decided to write about a bunch of stuff that happened a long time ago. I have too much time on my hands. But first, a super fast bball update: My confidence, playing time and performance have all slipped dramatically. I do well in practice, but it is not translating to minutes or production. The situation is deteriorating fast, but there are still a bunch of games left, so I have a chance to turn things around. Lets hope it happens. And now, on to the stories.
I developed a really apathetic attitude once I officially knew that I was going to Harvard. It was around this time that the academic performance I had so meticulously cultivated for the previous 3 years came off the rails. I did not particularly enjoy schoolwork, and one of the reasons for trying hard was to get into college. Well, at the start of senior year it was mission accomplished, and in my mind, time to slack off like no one had ever slacked off before.
Physics class was spent conducting elaborate NCAA basketball championship style Texas Hold Em poker tournaments. These consisted of bracketing out 64 poker hands and creating a 1-16 seeding for each hand. We would then play the hands out against each other in a best of 7 format. We would all pick the hand we wanted to win, and then root for it as the simulations were carried out. The cheering would get rowdy, and oftentimes we would have 5-6 people at our back table living and dying on the outcome of the cards, although there were no real stakes. I guess you could say the stakes were that if we weren’t playing poker we would have to be learning physics, which was a pretty dismal fate to be avoided at all costs. Looking back, I still cannot figure out how we were able to pull these games off. Gambling and card playing was strictly disallowed on campus, we were all supposed to be at our own lab tables at all times, and we were noisy and disruptive.
Despite the complications we were able to carry on in this fashion for a solid month before action was taken to separate the back table madness. I think the teacher recognized early on how uninterested we were and decided to focus his energy on the people who cared. Probably a good move by him, because rather than stressing about the people he knew were lost causes he could simply teach to the people who had an interest in learning. It’s kind of akin to an occupying country leaving a nation that it has invaded. They know that the results might be disastrous as the nation assumes all its own responsibility, but they also relieve themselves of the burden of having to deal with a disruptive and unruly group of people. I guess after a while the teacher thought that the negatives were outweighing the positives, but it was fun while it lasted
Another favorite way to distract from the unbelievable bore that was physics (and many other classes) was to play video games. Everyone had a TI-83 graphing calculator, and the games on that device were pretty addictive. The TI-83 has to be the most underrated time killing tool ever made. My personal favorite games were Tetris , Uncle Worm, and Baseball, but the selection of games was so large and diverse that I would often participate in intense, hour-long “World Series” of calculator games. These involved picking 7 different games and playing a best of seven series. The winner got ultimate bragging rights and the loser suffered soul crushing ignominy, but both parties got a blissful respite from school, which was the ultimate goal after all.
The level of video game playing got kicked up a notch when my friend showed up one day with a Gameboy Advance, loaded with Donkey Kong. It was not long before entire lessons were spent diligently working to get Donkey Kong from one side to the other unharmed. I swear, on some of the more difficult levels I would have to spend 30 minutes trying and retrying to carefully guide a digital monkey over a few feet worth of barrels, bananas, ferns and bad guys. I’m not sure I ever successfully completed a physics problem on my own, but I’d be willing to bet the resulting joy pales in comparison to the pure elation that comes from finally conquering Donkey Kong.
My apathy for school almost caught up to me when it came time to actually put my college application together. I was in a very unique situation, because I knew that I was going to be accepted based on my good enough grades and my status as a basketball recruit. I took this as carte blanche to submit what is probably the most half-assed, un-inspired admissions application that Harvard had ever seen. Maybe some autistic shut-in from the Midwest had a more barren section for extracurriculars and work experience, but I doubt it.
The ever-important community service part of my application consisted of one item: 8 hours served at the Motion Picture Hospital, a place where anyone with a SAG card can live out their twilight years. These hours consisted of taking some time during my sophomore year to begrudgingly head over to the hospital with a friend and my brother. We met up with a middle aged guy with 2 earrings named Abel (I think), and after an hour or so of intro work we were sent off to do our part for the elderly. One of the main activities was helping them play bingo. I don’t know if show business makes you age faster with all the partying and whatnot, or if this hospital only had residents who were decrepit, but it seemed to me like these people were 450 years old. Saying that they were playing bingo is very generous. It was more like they were propped in a wheelchair, eyes glazed over, mouth agape and bearing an expression that suggested they had not been mentally acute in the last half century. A high school kid would excitedly inform the patient when one of their numbers was called, yet the old person would be unmoved, probably deep in remembrance of the time they played a bit role in some cowboy movie and got to meet John Wayne.
One of the other main assignments for the volunteers was to pick up the patients from their rooms and wheel them down to dinner. The first time I was assigned to do this I picked up a friendly old man and set off for the elevators. Unfortunately there was a little bit of a crowd trying to get on, and I had an unfortunate incident. There was all sorts of protocol I was supposed to follow in terms of getting someone on to the elevator. You are supposed to wheel them facing outward, then slowly and carefully back your way in to make sure that you are in control the whole time and that the patient gets to face the door. I elected to attempt to squeeze into an elevator by whipping his chair sideways and quickly maneuvering into a corner. As it played out in my head we would fit snugly into the front of the elevator, I would not have to wait an extra 2 minutes, and this guy would be one step closer to his pudding. Instead I pulled right a little too hard and ended up smacking this guys legs against the elevator door. Like, not just a bump, I mean bruise worthy even if he was healthy instead of a wheelchair bound old man. I was horrified that I had done something truly awful. Thankfully that was not the case, and this guy was unharmed. He was not happy about it and gave me a little piece of his mind, but he must be sturdier than I give the average old person credit for because he soldiered on down to the dining hall. Definitely a crisis averted.
Another even more horrifying experience also involved a trip to the dining hall. This time I was assigned to pick up an old woman who seemed like she must have been spending her last few hours on the planet. She did not speak, had a pronounced hunch and weighed between 40 and 50 pounds. Despite all this, she had a laser like focus when it came to eating her dinner. I don’t know if she hated her room or if she feared lying down in bed one more time because it might be her last, but she would not let me take her out of the dining hall.
The protocol is to wheel down your patient at an allotted time, stand behind them as they eat their meal, wait for them to tell you when they are done and then take them back to their rooms. Sounds simple. For my friend and brother who were working the shift with me, it was. They had nice, normal old people who came, ate and went back. My lady was not letting me off that easy.
About 30 minutes in she had a prolonged period of inactivity, leading me to believe she was done. I made my first attempt to coax her out, and was met with stronger resistance than I would have thought this woman was capable of. She hissed out a simple, to the point response when I made preparations to leave: “NO!” Woah, OK, I am not a fan of confrontation in general, but especially not with fragile old ladys, so I immediately backed off and left her alone. By this point the numbers had dwindled to about 5 people left in the dining hall. I thought “She must just be taking her time, I guess that is nothing too out of the ordinary for super old people.” The meals must be such a respite from the doldrums of their day-to-day lives that they want to stretch them out as long as is humanly possible. I started to get worried when every other patient had been wheeled out. It was now just me and my girl, in a battle of wills. I could not let this go on forever, so I mustered up my courage and tried again to get her to leave. I was confident a second prodding from a person who was in a position of authority would influence her to listen to me.
Me: “Ummm, Maam, are you ready to leave?”
Great. This continued for another half hour. I would try to get her to let me take her out, she would resist with all the energy her feeble, decaying body could muster, and I would back off. No matter how uncomfortable the situation got I could not bring myself to go completely against this woman’s wishes and rip her wheelchair from the table. Basically, this feeble old woman straight up dominated me. Even from her position of complete physical inferiority she was able to manipulate the situation to get what she wanted, which was apparently to stay in the dining hall the rest of the night. Maybe she had plans of me leaving her alone, at which point she would escape to some imagined lover waiting for her on the outside. Or maybe she knew that if she could just get to the Taco Bell on the other side of the road they would let her eat un-bothered until at least 2 AM.
Whatever her motives, she was certainly on her way to accomplishing them. After an hour or so there was literally no one left but me and my girl. No staff, no food service workers, nothing. Now, should it not be someone’s job to insure the timely exit of all the patients from the dining hall? Are they really relying on 15 year olds to safely return the patients to their rooms with 100% accuracy? Well, eventually my brother and friend realized something was amiss, and told Abel that I still had not returned from the dining hall. He came bursting through the doors with an incredulous look on his face.
“YOU ARE STILL DOWN HERE! WHAT IS GOING ON??!?”
I really had no reply. I just told him she wouldn’t let me take her out. Thankfully, mercifully, Abel did not harbor the same sympathies toward the old woman that I did, for he unceremoniously yanked her chair away and began to take her out of the room. He apologized profusely and told me how acting in this manner was kind of this woman’s calling card. Of the hundreds of old people to take to eat I have to get the manipulative one who won’t let you leave? Maybe this was all an elaborate plan to get back at me by the man whose legs I slammed in the elevator. He could have talked to administrators and made sure that I was assigned to her, knowing the havoc she could wreak. If so, then bravo old man.
Back to another aspect of my application, the personal statement. Another thing that had to be done that I had no interest in doing. I started it a few days before the application was to be turned in, and pumped out some stuff about how basketball was important in my life and it taught me to never give up. It might have been a good message, but I wrote it in a half hour and didn’t bother to edit or proofread. Now, it came to the point where my application was due the next day, and somehow my mother got a hold of my essay. I’m sure helping me through this application process was stressing her out, and this hastily written, error riddled essay sent her over the edge. She flipped out, yelling about how they weren’t going to accept me and this was the only place I was applying and I was gonna have to go to junior college and become a janitor.
The crazy thing is, a reporter for the LA Times was writing a story on me at the time, and when he found out I had written my essay on basketball he asked that I email him a copy so he could use snippets in his story. So I sent off my horrificly bad essay to one of the premier newspapers in the nation (I think? Maybe?), not giving a second thought to the prospect of him using some of the worst parts and the embarrassment that might cause. Thankfully he choose only to use snippets where I sounded semi-coherent and thoughtful. Anyway, my mother forced me to edit my essay before I submitted my application, which bothered me at the time but was probably smart in retrospect.
Topping this whole application business off was a letter I received in the spring of my senior year, after I had already been accepted months earlier. It stated that they had reviewed my second semester grades and were less than pleased with the C’s that I had earned in Physics and AP Statistics. They mentioned the usual stuff about how they hold their students to a higher standard and how they expected more out of me. I thought it was just a letter telling me I better try harder in college. Then, they dropped the bombshell that they were considering rescinding my admission! They said I needed to submit a letter to the college stating what had happened to me and how I was going to change. This was very troublesome and unexpected, but the real problem for me that came out of this whole dilemma was telling my parents about it. Why I always do this to myself I will never understand. I encounter situations that I know will upset my parents but that I can easily handle on my own, and instead of just taking care of it myself I bring my mom and dad into the loop. It’s like I am some sort of low-level masochist.
True to form, they went berserk and insisted on meting out absurd punishments and demanding I ask my teachers for extra credit opportunities. This is one of the most ridiculous requests my parents are famous for making. If something is going wrong in the classroom they demand that you go after class and insist upon doing an extra credit assignment. I don’t know if that’s how the system worked in the 70’s, but that is not a viable solution in today’s school systems. (Some might remember my infamous attempt to bump up my B+ in French by hastily writing jokes for extra points. Apparently the offer to come up with jokes in french for extra credit does not apply if you bring in 5 at once after grades have been haned out.) A teacher is not going to say, “well, you gave 0 effort the whole semester and consistently turned in shoddy work, but I am going to reward you with a BS project to do to raise your grade from a C to a B.” But, as is often the case when dealing with irrational parents, the powers of reason are no match for the powers of rage. In lieu of being able to magically change my grades I had to rely on my letter of explanation to the school. I wove quite a tail, waxing poetic about how my priorities got out of line and how it would never, ever happen again. (I promptly showed up on campus and began struggling in math and economics, but that’s a story for a different time.) Needless to say, I was punished to the utmost extent throughout the ordeal. I tried to make my parents understand that in the grand scheme of kids doing things that required punishment, this has to be near the bottom of the list. An A student accepted to the best university in the world to play basketball, with no history of substance abuse, criminal activity, or anything so much as a curfew problem. I hardly even used bad language for christ sakes. Oh well, I suppose this hard-line stance was part of the reason I was able to accomplish the things I had.
In conclusion, just in case an angry cornell fan somehow read this whole thing, I predict they lose by 20 in the first round.