My friend Ash recently posted on Facebook a Business Insider article about a college kid who got an 89.22% grade in his chemistry class and emailed his professor asking if maybe there was a way the prof could find an “extra” .78% somehow, somewhere, so that he could get an even 90% grade, which he said would “be a great boost in the GPA for me” and, let’s face it, would so obviously make the difference someday between slaving behind the counter at McDonald’s for the rest of his life and becoming the CEO of Dow Chemical.
The kid finished his email with “Thanks for a great semseter and good luck with medical research.”
Now, first of all, I would have lowered his grade for misspelling “semester.” But that’s just me.
And I digress.
The prof replied by saying, “Never send a teacher a message like this. Whether you know it or not this is strictly against university policy and, moreover, it is morally questionable at best. . . . In the future I suggest that you do the work needed during the semester to obtain the grade that you desire . . .”
My friend Ash got a bit bent out of shape over this and posted on Facebook that the prof was a “punk” and one of “a fair number of teachers [who] are halfwit cowards who bully kids because they aren’t able to compete in the adult world.”
I think Ash was a bit harsh, but I think the prof was a bit harsh, too. As Billy Martin said in a classic Miller Lite commercial, I feel very strongly both ways. I think the kid had some big cojones, but I also think the prof could have answered with a simple “No deal, kid.”
All of which brings us to the day I proposed a deal with one of my college professors, Miss Abigail Mosey of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges math department.
Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the promise I made to Miss Mosey in the fall of my sophomore year, and why I was in calculus class when I most definitely should have been in front of a TV set watching Cleon Jones haul in a fly ball for the final out of the 1969 World Series.
Yeah, that’s right . . . I missed the Miracle Mets’ final game, the greatest moment in the history of the franchise, because I was in Miss Mosey’s calculus class.
But first let me tell you about Miss Mosey. She was a very pleasant old lady, older even than my dad. It says here that she was born in 1914, which means she was all of 55 years old when this happened, but she sure looked ancient to 19-year-old me. She wore round glasses. She had white hair and a wonderful smile. She looked like the prototypical grandma, and I’ll bet she baked a kickass apple pie. And she was very decidedly MISS Mosey, an unmarried status that she actually explained for us in the spring of the same school year.
We’ll get to that.
But back to the fall of 1969.
I’m not sure why I signed up for entry-level calc. I don’t remember if I was obligated to fulfill a math requirement, or whether I actually thought I might have some aptitude for math. I do remember that I had a fairly decent SAT grade, and that I did well in math in high school, so maybe I thought college math would be the same.
What I didn’t know was that I got a good English and social sciences education at Brooklyn Friends School, but the only thing we’d really learned in dear old Mr. Englehardt’s math class was to keep our hands in our pockets when he wanted to talk to us one-on-one, because if you left your hands out by your side, he inevitably would grab one or both and hold on to them throughout your conversation. Which was very, very weird. And uncomfortable.
But I digress.
I showed up for Miss Mosey’s calc class – Calculus 101? – in September of 1969 and recognized one thing immediately: I was way, way out of my league. I mean, I didn’t understand a single word she was saying. Not that she wasn’t speaking in English or anything, but those words she was using were foreign. I mean . . . JEEZUS! Look at this: Antiderivative of a Function? Limit Test for Divergence? Second Order of Differential Equation?
My mind was thinking “WTF?????” and the term WTF hadn’t even been invented yet.
But hey . . . I’m no quitter. A trimester lasted 10 weeks, and there were three classes per week, and I figured that over the course of 30 classes, something would get through that thick skull of mine.
I figured wrong.
I even had my buddy Mark tutoring me. He was in the class with me, and for reasons I’ll never fully comprehend, he understood what Miss Mosey was saying. So several times a week, Mark would slowly and patiently review the material with me. (I, in turn, would type his papers and help him with his grammar and spelling and usage and stuff.)
But nothing sank in. I felt like a kindergartner at MIT.
But I stuck with it. I even went to Miss Mosey’s calc class on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 16, two days after my 19th birthday, the day the Mets, the worst team in baseball history, pulled off the miracle of miracles and won the World Series. I waited till the end of class and bolted out for the basement of Sherrill Hall, hoping to watch the end of the game on the community color TV, only to learn that the game had already ended.
Miracle Mets Win World Series
(Bromberg Misses Entire Game)
But I digress again. Let’s get back to Miss Mosey.
I kept going to class and kept failing quizzes. The last week of classes arrived and I knew I didn’t have a prayer.
But failure was not an option. Failing a class, failing to fulfill the course obligation, could jeopardize my 2S student deferment, which meant I might be forced to spend the next semester at the University of Saigon. This is 1969, remember.
This called for drastic action.
So I made an appointment to speak with Miss Mosey, who knew me well at this point because I’d attended numerous sessions she held to help students who just weren’t doing well in calc.
Miss Mosey, I said, I’m begging you to do me a solid. I am offering you a deal. If you will just give me the lowest possible passing grade, a C-minus-minus to the 10th power, if such a thing is possible . . .
I promise never to set foot in the math building again.
Miss Mosey, god bless her soul, gave me that grade.
And yes, I kept my promise.
* * *
About six months later, America’s colleges were in turmoil, and the debate at Hobart and William Smith was about whether to shut down classes and devote all our time to ending the war and racism, and to freeing all black prisoners (I never really got that one, but the philosophy was that all black prisoners were political prisoners, and you had to be all in on the revolution, because you were either part of the solution or part of the problem).
And there was a big community meeting at Albright Auditorium, and some were calling for all classes to be shut down, and others were shouting that you didn’t go to college to end a war and that you should continue to work hard for your grades, and it was loud and even a little nasty.
And then Miss Mosey got up, walked to the podium and asked to speak.
And I expected her to play the “old person” who supported the war and thought the organizers were a bunch of dope-smoking, long-haired, hippie peaceniks who just wanted to listen to loud music, have sex outdoors and didn’t feel much like doing schoolwork.
And then Miss Mosey told us a story. She had never intended to be Miss Mosey for her entire life, she told us. She had been engaged once, she said to a wonderful, handsome young man who was the love of her life and went to Europe in service of his country.
And never came home.
And that, she told us, was why she was still Miss Mosey, nearly 30 years later.
And Miss Mosey said she loved her country, but she also hated war. And she wished us luck in our efforts to end the one in Vietnam, and said she prayed that we were on the right side.
So did this explain her decision not to help send me to Nam six months earlier?
You tell me.
— 30 —