Friday, December 19, 2008

End of Finals

Starring: Snow, sewers, sticks, students, shovelers, sakebombs, &c.

It was t-minus-3 hours before the start of my last final, and like any hard-working type-A Yalie, I was holed up in the library, bent over my computer, staring intensely at the screen as I reviewed what my friends were up to on Facebook. But since it would almost certainly be unhealthy to keep up such strenuous work for long, I decided around noon to take a well-earned break and get some lunch. 

I came out of the library just as the snow was starting to fall on Wall St., and there's nothing like snow in the collar to remind you that your scarf is warm and dry on a hook in your room. Did I have time to run back and get it? My cellphone informed me that I did. But as I tried to return it to my pocket with my thickly-begloved hand, it slipped free somehow, and with alarming purposefulness shot a few feet along the gutter into a storm sewer. While I was demonstrating to myself beyond all reasonable doubt that the grate would not be budged, a gentleman came over, and with an almost aggressive solicitude instructed me to find a Yale Security officer and see what they could do.

And what was my good luck, but to see a Yale security man coming out of the school? He sent me inside to see another security officer, who put in a call to the custodians. While he was on the phone, my friend Mr. al-Yemeni came down the hall, and hearing of my cellular woes, he went out to wait with me until help arrived. As we went out, the alarmingly solicitous gentleman, still on the scene, asked me urgently whether I had spoken to anyone inside.

The snow was falling thicker now, and I was afraid my phone would be ruined by the snow unless it were rescued soon. Mr. al-Yemeni and I sprung into action, taking dead branches off the trees in the library moat and using them chopstick-style to fish for my phone. We met with limited success until al-Yemeni discovered he could reach around the grate to the muck at the bottom of the sewer, after which I made short work of poking the phone to a place he could reach.

My phone, it turned out, was unaffected by the trauma or the snow, as it demonstrated by ringing as soon as I put it into my pocket. It was, much to my surprise, my old classmate Lord Carroll, calling to ask whether over break I would be finding myself in his part of the British Empire (viz. New York). I told him the story narrated above, which, said the eminent Peer, "Immediately made me think of you as Quasimodo going around in the sewers of Paris." At that remark I almost unconsciously straightened my posture and sternly reminded him that I was not in Paris, but New Haven.

Mr. al-Yemeni and I then went to take a fine and leisurely lunch, which was wonderful until I realized my exam was about to begin. I dashed through the snow (much thicker now), and sat down for the test. Sample questions:
_________________ is to the state as ______________ is to the body.
Law is ________________________________________________.
The abstract sculpture next to Woodbridge Hall tells us ______________
_________________________________ about international relations.
Needless to say many people in the exam hall seemed rather Freaked Out. I was a little freaked out myself, but in the end I managed to draw on the arcane arts of Meaningless Bombast and Pointless Quotation to at least put something down in every blank.

But after the exam—— Snow is wonderful; it humanizes everything. On a city street that normally echoes with the sounds of rushing cars and buses, only a few pedestrians crunch their way through the drifts. The falling snow softens the edges of the monumental buildings, and the little lit windows are a thousand times more cheerful than on a normal day. There's a sort of camaraderie among those out walking in such weather that makes them orgetful of the scene. I was ducking under the porticos of Becton Labs to get out of the snow when I found myself in conversation with another pedestrian:

WEST POINT (Damn, I can't remember this kid's name; was it Max? I know we met at the Game in a haze of Yale fervor and ethanol, andoh yeah, he was a transfer from West Point; I heard somebody call him that.): Hey, buddy, how's it going?
FOREIGN DEVIL: I just finished my exams, so pretty good. Are you done yet?
W. P.: Yeah, except for a lab report due the day after Christmas. And I know I'm not going to start that one ahead of time.
F. D.: Well you can't do a lab report on Christmas!
W. P.: That's why I'll do it the day after. I figure, if Christmas is heroin, the lab report is like withdrawal.
W. P.: What do you think of that metaphor?
F. D.: If Christmas were heroin... I'm sure it's one I'll never hear anywhere else. Well if Christmas is heroin, I'm jonesing right now.
At the corner, the FOREIGN DEVIL dashes across the street to catch a light.
W. P.: Have a good break!
F. D.: Thanks, you too!
The Foreign Devil leaps up the steps to Commons, nearly breaking an ankle in the process, passing a snow shoveler looking absolutely miserable.
F. D. (with an unusual cheerfulness): Hello!
SHOVELER: Hello, sir.
In a second the FOREIGN DEVIL is through the memorial hall and shoving open the strangely heavy doors. A student comes in.
STUDENT: It's crazy!
F. D.: Yeah.

Writing authentic dialogue must be impossible; the above was taken from life verbatim and still looks fake. But I'll leave it. This is no time for literary work; the term's over!

Although I do have one small Duty left to take care of.

1 comment:

Adam Mitchell Bernard Bond said...

Though this is certainly months after the fact, your comment that writing authentic dialogue must be impossible. Modern dialogue is especially difficult, as we are neither particularly careful in our diction nor do we heed the rules of grammar that would otherwise measure our speech. I find that dialogue is far more believable when the characters are far more formal. I have dappled in the creation of such dialogue, though I doubt my skill... I'm unsure, Mr Gallagher, if you have read it or not, but if it interests you--which I should hope I am not being too forthright--I provide a link to A Day at the Lake.