Say Something

college classroom

Dread.
It started in the shower.
Stomach sour – doing loop de loops.
Northern Michigan.
Late November, 1980s.
The morning shower is followed by a long walk in the dark from the dorm.
Square into the teeth of a wicked Northern Michigan wind.
Mitts. Goose down coats. Parkas. Sorel boots.
Students filing in for the 8:00 am class.
I find a seat in the middle-back.  Need to get invisible.
I’m below the stoners and the drunks, adorned with hoodies.
I’m above the whizz-bangs, a**-kissers and kids with coke bottle glasses.
Three weeks earlier the Professor kicks off his class with ground rules.
“A full letter grade is determined by your class participation, frequency and quality.”
Red Pencil in hand.
He’d put a tick mark next to each name who’s hand would go up.
He’d hang over his journal scribbling after a noteworthy comment.
I’m sitting.
And shredded in half.
One half with head down to avoid being called on.
Coward.
The other half, The Angry Man – a full letter grade down before taking a single exam.
I’m half way through the term.
I’ve managed to avoid being called on.
And managed to avoid making a single comment.
No.
Correction.
I’ve managed to avoid making an attempt to make a single comment.
I’m glaring at his journal.
Wonder how many others have white space next to their names.
The classroom discussion turns to fishing.
A sweet spot.
I lift my head.
I sit up in my seat.
I sit up tall in my seat.
Professor is going on about trout fishing in Montana.
He’s backing his boat down an asphalt ramp.
He asks: Has anyone launched a boat off a ramp?
My heart is pumping.
Now.
Do it.
NOW.
My arm shoots up.
The Professor acknowledges me.
The entire class, hundreds of eyeballs weighing down on me.
“No Sir. Not backing down an ashfalt ramp but…
I went on with my story.
A kid from the front of the class is frantically pumping his hand in the air.
He looks up the stadium seating and shouts: “Ashfalt?
I repeat: “Ashfalt, yes.
He repeats: “You’ve never launched a boat down an Ashfalt ramp?
“That’s right. I’ve never backed a boat down an Ashfalt ramp.”
The Professor and Class burst out laughing.
I slump in my chair, puzzled. Dazed.
I note that the Professor doesn’t lift his Red Pencil.
The girl sitting next to me, red-faced, taps my shoulder and hands me a note:

“It’s Asphalt, and not Ashfalt.”


Source: photograph

Comments

  1. I winced as I read this….too familiar to me and my rural background…I took the hits and came out smart anyway but damn, this still stings….

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    • I still wince thinking about it and other similar experiences….my rural background too…I took the hits…and delivered some back to even the score…unfortunate thing when you grow up, you can’t settle scores the old fashioned way. And yes, it stings like it was yesterday. I shared the story earlier with Susan and kids, and they still ride me about it in fun. 🙂

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  2. Can’t stop laughing…..

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  3. so painful, i felt it all.

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  4. David, awwwww…poor baby. And I’m sorry that you will never, ever, ever forget that incident. We’ve all had a few…and we never forget them…ever.

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  5. Wow – that hurt. It happens to all of us at one time or another, and it stays with you as the years pass. If it’s any consolation – I enjoyed reading the post!

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  6. We probably all have a story of embarrassing moments like that, so you’re not alone.

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  7. ow! I feel your pain. I bet you recovered in time so you still got the grade.

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  8. Oh, that was a painful moment – people can be so cruel sometimes! 😐 And we can be sure that absolutely non of them would ever pronounce a word wrong in their entire life of course! 😉 Sounds like the sort of thing that used to happen to me at school! 🙂

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  9. This sounds like one of those ghosts we chase and never catch. How many (most, if not all of them) were having the same anxiety as you, avoiding being called on (picked) and relieved the laugh wasn’t on them. Yes, people can be cruel. Yet, you had the courage to share your story (which, knowing you, was brilliant).

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  10. This hurts too much to like…these painful moments that sting years and years later…I’m sorry David – sorry that it hurt and still hurts. These memories that somehow never leave…

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  11. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    It’s not a rural (mis)pronunciation. It’s a Canadian thing. We all say “ash.”

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  12. I’m with Mimi, it’s tough to ‘like’ this post, but I do think you did a masterful job of bringing what was clearly a painful experience to life in living color for us.

    As someone from a tiny, rural Midwestern town (72 in my graduating class) who attended a HUGE Big Ten school as an undergrad, I had my share of ‘awkward’ moments. Try telling a group of kids who grew up on the Gold Coast of Chicago that a particularly {ahem} dim individual “wouldn’t have sense enough to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel,” and see what kind of a response ya get….. 😉

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  13. ROTFLMAO. My friend, I would posit that it’s a Commonwealth thing, as we would pronounce it “ash” as well. Clearly you were more worldly than they. My take on it is, if they didn’t like it then they could place it in their ass-fault.

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  14. it sounded like me when I move from the island… 🙂

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