Saturday, November 5, 2011

Attention All Nerds In Sand Land: Keep Your Academic Prowess Under Wraps!

Confession: I am a nerd - a fact which is obvious to anyone who knows me or has glanced at my blogroll. I'm an unabashed dork who proudly earned a varsity letter in high school for winning a "Math-letics Olympiad" and skipped her junior prom to compete at the science fair state finals. When I meet high school age kids, I often ask about their academic pursuits and their post-secondary school aspirations. In the course of conversation, I may let it drop that I'm an ex-mathlete or that I have a degree in chemistry.

But I've learned the hard way that, when in Sand Land, no good comes of people learning about your nerdly glories of yore. In fact, leaking such details can lead to a whole lotta shit coming your way.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Superwasta, a well placed employee at one of my company's key suppliers, ambled into my office with his sulky teenage son, Sassafras, in tow. Why Sassafras was following his father around that day, I have no idea. Perhaps it was Bring Your Child to Work Day in Sand Land and us fuckwits had (thankfully) missed the boat. Anyhow, my company was pushing hard for Mr. Superwasta's company to give us a bigger volume-based discount, so I put on my charm hat and tried to make small talk with the glowering young lad:

Me: So Sassafras, what's your favorite subject in school?
Sassafras (not looking up from his iphone): Chemistry.
Me: Oh gooooood for you! That was my favorite, too! I majored in Chemistry!
Sassafras (looking up at me with excitement. Serious jazzhands excitement): Really? Did you learn balancing chemical equations?
Me: Oh yeah. I learned that in high school.
Sassafras (gazing upon me as if a choir of angels is perched on my shoulders, singing): I'm learning it right now. I think it is very interesting.
Me: High five, brother!

As Mr. Superwasta and Sassafras left, I smiled at having connected with a budding chemistry enthusiast. Later that day, I got an incoming call from Mr.Superwasta's mobile. Sassafras was on the other end of the line asking if I could meet him that night. Based on my recurring experience in Sand Land of being inappropriately hit on by males between the ages of 13 and 97, I immediately began making vague excuses about not having any free time...ever. But Sassafras was not to be deterred. "Look, I have chemistry homework due tomorrow and I don't understand it. So you need to do it." I suggested that he re-read his textbook and email me if he still had general questions and then I waxed poetic about how important it was for him to do his own work if he truly wanted to master the subject.

Half an hour after hanging up, I got another call from Mr. Superwasta's mobile. This time it was Mr. Superwasta himself. "Have you got my email?" he asked, slightly panicked.

"No, I haven't checked my mail in a couple hours."

"Why not?"

"Because it's 11:30 on Wednesday night and I'm at a friend's house."

"Fine, check your mail and call me back," Mr. Superwasta said before hanging up.

I pulled up my email on my blackberry. My eyes bugged out as the screen flashed "downloading messages 1 - 16". All 16 emails were from Mr. Superwasta and all had the same subject: HELP HIM.

Attached to each email was a pdf containing a single page of either a homework assignment or an exam. I replied to the first message saying that I'd previously spoken with Sassafras and would be glad to give him some pointers if he had general questions but I couldn't do his assignments for him, academic integrity sure is a bitch ain't it, blah blah blah...

Within 30 seconds, Mr. Superwasta's reply hit my inbox:

Dear Ms. Adventures,

Sassafras does not need to do chemistry good. He will be a doctor. He will not be a chemist. He just needs the good marks and he is a busy boy. So kindly please do the needful and send him all of the answers tonight.

Best Regards,
Mr. Superwasta

In my semi-buzzed state, I bristled at the notion that a high school student was busier than me. I mean, you all can vouch for what little free time I have these days, right? I turned my phone on silent and returned my attention to my gin and tonic. 15 minutes later my husband came over, his mobile at his ear. "Your boss," he mouthed, handing me the phone. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and saw there were three missed calls from my boss.

"Ms. Adventures, did you tell Mr. Superwasta you would do his child's chemistry homework?" Fuckwittery, Inc.'s owner asked, groggy and irritated.

"Um, no. I told him I would not do his child's homework," I said, cringing at the prospect of being ordered to go home and get to work balancing chemical equations.

"Good," he said. "Mr. Superwasta just woke me up and asked me to track you down so his son could get the answers to his homework from you."

"I'm sorry, sir. But I'm not helping high school kids cheat."

"I'm delighted to hear that. Have a good night."

In all fairness, Sassafras Superwasta is not the only person to have approached me about completing school assignments. It's happened quite a few times, albeit in a less coercive manner. Some of Fuckwittery, Inc.'s more wasteful expenditures involve sending "high performing" employees to the local "MBA" programs sponsored by various bottom feeder universities based in the West. When midterms and finals week roll around, I often get a few wild-eyed panicked employees asking me to solve "business math" story problems and the like.

Fortunately, telling your employees you're not going to do their homework is a less excruciating prospect than swatting away Sassafras Superwasta. But nonetheless, it's always an awkward conversation and feelings get hurt. So from now on, I'll be discussing crap like Paris Hilton's My New BFF with the teenagers whose paths I cross and I'll be doing my darndest to look stupid whenever someone comes to my office lamenting the difficult final exam from Univeristy of Mattressfordshire their teacher's just handed out. I've done a stupid thing or two in my life, so I'm fully confident I can pull it off.

Fellow nerds, I advise you to learn from my follies and act in a similar manner.


  1. You should have traded it for the discount....

  2. You could have traded it for the new discount....

  3. Brilliant! For those of us who no longer live in Sandland it can be very satisfying occasionally to be reminded of those little things we don't miss. Adnan.

  4. Thanks, JD and Anon.

    Blewyn, tempted as I was to do the homework and get the discount, my conscience couldn't suffer the thought of all his hardworking little boys and girls in his class slogging through the assignment on their own...oh wait, I forgot, this is Sand Land...fuck, I should have done it and insisted that he cut me in on the money he would have made selling the answers to all of them.

  5. Your training is complete, sand-Padawan.

  6. I made the mistake of reading this at work, and my co-workers gave me funny looks for laughing when I should be entering I-9 data into the database.

    I'm a volunteer math teacher at the local prison. During office hours, when people drop by to get help on their algebra, conversation often turns to what I do when I'm not teaching math at the prison. I made the mistake once of saying "well, I just finished law school..." Now I hear all of their legal woes. I smile, nod, and tell them I'm not a lawyer (which is true, I'm waiting for my bar exam results), but that doesn't stop them.

  7. This is why the ME will always struggle to compete in business against any foreign competition.

  8. Awesome! Having been turned down, I imagine Mr Superwasta has now done a trawl of his own company for anyone with a reasonable command of secondary education and dumped it on some other poor bastard who's too scared to say no. Yeah, I do mean an Indian...

    Such intellectual rigour and passionate adherence to the principle of effort leading to reward, must make a big contribution to the widespread accomplishment and well-rounded erudition of the average thanawiay 3ama

  9. Ha, I remember learning chemical balancing equations in school.

    I do wonder, why do these various characters (including the MBA-bound employees) ask you in particular for homework help? Is it because you're white and fluent in the language said homework is in (English)?

    -Omani in US

  10. Depressing on one hand, on the other, almost cheering to think that Sassafras is actually required to turn in work of a specified standard to get a pass, which is rather heartening in this great country, don't you think?
    Have to tell you, a fellow Brit horrified me when she told me she and her husband paid £600 to a postgrad to SIT her son's degree exam in maths, and gave exactly the same excuse - he doesn't need maths for his profession. Respected UK uni too. Amazed they got away with it, but even more shocked that she could boast about it as if there was nothing wrong.

    Confused of Muscat.

  11. Omani in US, I think it's because I'm a geek. They can tell I'm a geek because I dress just like Steve Urkel.

    Confused, that is pretty terrible about the postgrad. All this stuff definitely happens wherever/whenever people want good grades but don't want to do actual work. My high school chemistry teacher told me she was once offered a Mazda Miata in exchange for giving a student an A.