“So. Tell me. How does it work?”
Everett Channing. Everett was a pretty good guy, but at the moment he simply annoyed me. I showed up at college, and Everett latched onto me. Not like the hanger-on from freshman year that has done nothing explicitly to annoy you, yet you don’t want to hang out with him. Not in that way at all. More like an unofficial mentor. Everett wasn’t my advisor, but he pushed more than Mrs. Greene ever would. Granted, Greene was more concerned with the two years left before her retirement than her students. She had long since given up caring what we did. Advising rates were not her top priority. Tahiti or some other such nonsense probably was.
“Are you going to just sit there, or are you going to explain to me how this works?”
“Everett, it works. My answers using this, uh, you know, it's simple stuff. I mean it's basically just middle school math.”
“Exactly, but can you tell me why it works? That is the question. It would be hard to find anyone who doubts Pythagoras at this point in time, but you still have no idea how this works. And that is the problem.”
“When would I ever need to know how the Pythagorean theorem works? The whole world knows that it works. It’s not like I have convince anyone of that.”
“You’re not listening to me, Thom. I agree that there is no argument here, but you are refusing to explain to me how it works. There are over 350 proofs that you could point to, and you don’t seem to know a single one of them. You are content to memorize a formula and pull it out of your back pocket should you need it, but you don’t seem to care why. And caring why is what I want to find out about. Do you care enough to know why?”
“Why would I care to know why this works? It’s not that interesting, and by now, it’s just accepted as fact? Why do you care how triangle math works, Everett?”
“I care, because it interests me. I care because I don’t have to depend on one person’s words dictating the way I live my life. I care, because questions help knowledge transform facts into some construct that helps me understand life.”
“Dude. That is deep.”
Why do we college guys say that? I mean, sure Everett's philosophy is beyond the normal realms of scholarship I would dare to broach, but “Dude. That is deep” does not exactly speak of intelligence on my part. And the fact is, at the end of my junior year of college, this was one of the “deepest” things I had talked about, and that is plain said.
“Well…thanks,” Everett piped back. “Listen, Thom. The fact is, I have known you for three years, well, almost three years, and you haven’t cared about anything enough to know the ‘why’ behind it. That is why I ask about a theorem. I want to know that you care about something.”
Dude. Low blow. C’mon Everett. Keep it above the belt, buddy. I know there is truth to it, but…
“Dude I care. I just haven’t found anything academically that pushes my buttons.”
“Thom. It’s not academics. You haven’t found anything. No student government, no frat, no organizations. You’re headed for a life of, I don’t know what. But the one thing I know is you’ll be underachieving.”
He's probably right. I've been here at school for three years. Any advisor but Greene would have made me declare a major, but I slowed things down, took 12 hours a semester, took off a semester to study abroad. Most of my friends are well into their studies. I have tossed around ideas, but I have to know something concrete by the end of this year. No more electives, no more basics, finally time to move on to something, and Everett was right, there just wasn’t anything there.
“Everett, if I didn’t know better, I would think you were going sweet on me.”
“Shut up Thom. You know too much for my own good.”
Everett smiled. He is a private guy, but for some reason confides in me, even though he's my elder. He is one of those truly confused guys. Not a guy in denial. He literally has just never had feelings for anyone before. No guy. No girl. No middle school infatuation. No high school lust. Just school. He wonders if something is wrong with him. I don’t think so. He may be a bit rational and lacking emotion, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with him.
“Listen man. I’ll choose something. We still have a few weeks until we choose, well, until I choose courses for next semester. I guess everything is already chosen for you?”
“Yeah. That is a part of being a master’s student here. Small enough school that I am just a train on a track. With any luck, we’ll graduate together.”
“Yeah. Us and Toph. Speaking of, shouldn’t he be here? Toph is always here.”
Toph. Toph was an engineering major. I always think civil engineering, but he's studing mechanical. He's a smart guy. Always studying, but studying with us. His name of course isn’t Toph, it's Christopher. He just stumbled over his words when he met his R.A. freshman year and a nickname was born. Now that he's in his major, most people called him Chris, and some even Christopher. But to me at least, he's still Toph.
“Chris won’t be here today. He has a group project. But, he should be at the apartment, by the time you get back.”
Oh. There is that. I live with Toph. Have since the beginning of this year. And in a university town, plan to live with him next year too. Good roommates are terribly hard to find, and good digs even harder. Everyone says they have the best place in town, or the worst. It’s like we live in this world of black or white subjectivity. There is no, “Oh my place is okay, not great.” No, your place was either the worst you had seen, or obviously the best. That isn’t the case with us. Toph and I have a pretty good apartment. It's not anything special. It's cheap because we are on a middle floor and have no view of the pool. It's a bike’s ride from campus, so you don’t have to worry about parking, unless you're feeling pretty lazy. Somehow our upstairs neighbors are quiet as can be and neighbors on either side keep pretty reasonable hours. Toph says it's because the building is filled with engineering students. They all work pretty hard to keep up with the pace of school so don’t have time for foolishness like drinking binges. That suits me just fine. I'm not a drinker. I don’t smoke. Keep a pretty clean mouth. I guess Adam Ant wouldn’t have much use for me.
“Okay. So, do you want to split, or do you need to hang around here a little longer? I know you have a lot of studying…and grading for that matter to do.”
“I think I can afford to cut out a bit early. It’s Thursday. Only one more day of classes, and for me, that is just sitting in on an undergrad lecture. Soon enough I will be teaching the course, but I know this stuff pretty well.”
Everett, no doubt was a smart kid. He came to school on a full ride, which was good, because he doesn’t have much money. Neither do I really, or Toph for that matter. Everett though, struggles. His parents were torn between excitement that he went to college, and nervousness, because they didn’t have any money to contribute toward the effort. He's a TA in his department and next year, his last year, will actually teach some freshmen classes for some experience, and even better, a little money. His stipend covers his basic expenses, but anytime we want to do something fun, go out of town, Everett usually has to stay behind, or accept the charity of others. It isn’t that he was too prideful for that, it’s just, I don’t know, he’s normal. He doesn’t like taking a hand out. Now food—that was a different story. Everett may have been thin as a rail, but the boy can pack away some food, especially free food.
“How about I treat you to some dinner? We’ll hit that Chinese place on the way back to the apartment. You can grade some papers and I’ll play some video games.”
And with that, we pack our things and head for the door, nothing much on the horizon. Just a typical February afternoon.