Cover photo

Vaníček'd

A memory and a story

That pic was taken a few months after the events I'm about to describe, I was 19. I believe it will assist with comprehension. I could be wrong.

I started Engineering at 17. I was top of my small rural class in HS and got a scholarship for my first year. It was so intense!!! I made the Dean's list my first year, it was a ton of work. I repeated the performance in my second year and was offered a summer position by one of the most renowned profs in the program.

People scrambled to be picked by this guy. He was tough and his 3rd year course was the one many considered to be the hardest of them all, with a 50% pass rate. It was the only set of exams at the time that was 100% multiple choice. He'd created a database of hundreds of questions and pulled from it each year such that no questions ever repeated themselves.

This was to get around people "cheating" by using old exams to study from. It also proved he wasn't lazy, not by a long shot.

I was beyond giddy when I was offered the job and accepted immediately! I really admired the man and his demeanor. He was always impeccably dressed and held himself with such strength. He was tall and intimidating.

But height never really worked on me since I'm 5'10" myself. It was his stature that I found admirable, not his height.

My first day, he came in and told me to spend the day getting comfortable in his office because that's where I'd be spending all my time. And then he left.

So I looked at a bunch of books, read some of the papers he had lying around, wondered what kind of research he'd be getting me to do with him, that sort of thing. I didn't even consider his behaviour rude or disrespectful. I knew my station, and I just figured he was busy.

The next day, he told me that the first order of business was to catalogue all of the papers he had piled everywhere into his computer and note the ones that referenced him in them. He also added that, while I was at it, I needed to clean his office as well and sort all of his books for him on the shelves in a better order.

I asked what research we'd be working on when I finished all that, so I could get a headstart and he replied with, "You need to prove you can take orders and get the task I assigned completed before we even get to that. Don't overestimate yourself." I felt my face get really hot, I immediately put my head down and, "Yes Sir. I understand." Then he left.

I didn't spend any time contemplating my flushed face. Instead, I got to work. started sorting and compiling. He didn't appear again until the following Monday. He got there before I did to an immaculately organized office. I was fully expecting praise, ngl.

Instead, I got yelled at. For rearranging all of his books and he couldn't find the one he was looking for. I then pointed out the paper I'd left on his desk, describing the new ordering system, perhaps he just didn't see it? He glanced down, saw it, snatched it off the desk and left.

Again, I ignored the emotional outburst and continued catologing the papers into his computer.

The next day, everything changed.

He thanked me for the reorganization, apologized for his outburst, and took me to lunch! It was a fine day, my spririts were decidely lifted. Things continued on a positive note for a few weeks as I finished the cataloging.

While I was going through all the papers, I read the ones that were in English. I didn't understand all of it, of course, but I picked up a few things. He taught me some keywords to look for in other languages, and that helped the mission too.

One day, he invited me to a weekend BBQ at his home. It was THE summer event apparently, lots of people wanted to be invited. I was pretty excited! He said he'd pick me up beforehand but I said I would drive myself.

You see, I didn't drink back then and preferred to have my own means of transportation at a party where alcohol was in abundance, even his. He seemed annoyed by this but didn't persist.

I was so nervous when the day came, hoping I wouldn't say something stupid and embarass myself. I picked my clothes carefully, being sure it was attractive but professional. And off I went!

Surprisingly, by 9 pm, the prof was sufficiently inebriated. I grew up with an alcoholic father and was used to "the change". I was also deeply disappointed.

He asked me to go for a walk, so we could discuss the research he wanted me to do next. I really couldn't say no but I also really couldn't ignore the hairs standing up on the back of my neck either. Thank God he was drunk.

As we walked, I steered him in the direction of where I had parked on the street. My car keys were in my pocket and so was my hand, holding them tightly. That's when he reached out to take me by the shoulders and turned me towards him and started to lean in. I immediately pulled away and asked what he was doing.

His face twisted and I saw rage looking at back at me. What he said next broke me, even though I couldn't see the cracks until a very long time afterwards.

"Look at yourself! You didn't honestly think I chose you for your brains, did you? You WILL do my bidding."

At that very moment, another professor walked by. The smallest, and sweetest, little old german man. He innocently commented, "May I walk you to your car my lady?" And I immediately said yes.

My car was maybe 30 feet away. He hooked his little arm into mine and we walked away. He then patted my arm as I got in my car and told me not to worry. My voice wouldn't work, so I just nodded, closed the door and went home.

I didn't tell anyone. I knew nobody would believe me anyway, I could scarce believe it myself! I didn't know what to do. By this point there was only two weeks left until classes started again but I was afraid to go into his office the following week. And I was ashamed of being afraid. I couldn't not go. And so I went.

He never showed. In fact, he never showed again until classes started.

But I did take that two weeks and did something.

Something brave. Something risky. Something bold. Something highly inappropriate.

Remember that course of his I told you about? The one with hundreds of questions? And a 50% failure rate? Well, it turned out he'd had the whole thing printed, with the answer keys, and they were tucked away in a big box high up on his top shelf.

Every night during those last two weeks, I took a small pile and went to the City library and copied them, answer key and all, until I too had the entire database of questions, on paper, in my apartment.

I then enrolled in his infamous course during the second term of my third year. I knew all the questions and all the answers. I even understood them! I purposefully got a few wrong so he wouldn't be suspicious, and I still snagged an A. Quel surprise.

During my final year, I passed on the "tome of knowledge" to two trustworthy gents who had dodged his class until their final year and made them promise they would pass it on to someone else when they graduated. And so on. And so on. And so on.

A number of years later, I met someone who had graduated quite a few years after me. When he heard my name, he exploded in glee, like he'd just met a rock star or something.

That's when he told me he was one of the ones gifted the database I'd copied and he thanked me over and over again for doing it, it saved him, and he graduated. I was a little speechless. He's thanking me for stealing? And cheating? How bizarre is that???

But then I remembered those drunken words, emblazoned on my brain, even now. And I just smiled and said, "You're welcome."

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