Beauty, Charm, and the School of B.S.

I used to fret why couldn’t I have been born good looking?  I certainly had the genes for it, at least from one side of my family.

Later I used to ponder, why couldn’t I have been born beautiful and charming?  With both it is possible to conquer the world.  For some people beauty gives them the advantage of developing charm.  Beauty fades but charm can last way past the cemetery.

But no, I wasn’t born beautiful, and I failed miserably at charm.  You always notice the most beautiful woman in the room, an orchid in a room full of nut grass.  Her sparkling smile holding court with silly chit chat.  People inch forward, intrigued by her every word.  Buffoon grinning as if they were listening.

I, mean and petty, have commented in an effort to speed her downfall.  I have picked up on some of the stupid remarks the beauty has made and 12 gauge shot gunned them down to chit chat detritus.  I have stood back waiting to see her crumble in the eyes of her beholder.  But the response I have usually gotten is, “Oh really, I didn’t hear that.”

I just gave up.

One of the reasons I hate cocktail parties is that all the worthwhile conversation could be dropped in one martini glass and poured down the drain.  I realize it is the perfect environment to develop one’s charm.  But I wasn’t and never will be interested in talking about nothing while trying to camoflague it under the magician’s cloak of something.

Except…..

Where I could pull this off in a somewhat limited environment and direction was college.

Essay tests were my own field of charm.  I could take a few facts, throw them up on paper, and spin them in a new direction.  Right off the top of my head, I’d expand why the fact had a flaw or any falsity.  After all, history isn’t objective, it’s highly tuned subjectivity.  More truth can be found in what the historian omitted, than in what he revealed.

Even if my expanding was flawed, professors, though quick to point this out, were captivated by a fresh insight.  They thought I was a “thinker.”  Truth was I had run out of spit up and I knew I needed to fill up the Blue Book.  About the only talent I had back then was sarcasm.  If professors appreciated one trait, it was sarcasm.  Never mind the roots of sarcasm; sarcasm in itself was what counted.

What I ran up against in my major of my final semester and what I thought would completely destroy my GPA twisted into the figurative equivalent of all the merits that charm, beauty, and sarcasm could bring. 

I believe it was the final in Romantic Poets.  We only had the one final.  No mid-term to indicate if we’d sink under the weight of pedantry or “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” as Ali used to say before he was “punch drunk.”  I knew I could not sit down, open my Blue Book, and blow a smoke screen of chit chat onto the page.

I had to know something.  I had to know the relevance of the theme, why the language worked, how the poet had released a phrase or an image un-paralled in literature.  I had to show that I understood, that I appreciated rhythm, metaphoric language, and the sublety of a thought.  I had to add my own insightful phrasing to demonstrate I was worthy to read this poet, take this exam.

I slaved to narrow down what the essay questions would be.  The final would only have three essay questions.  I prepared for six.  I had also pre-written my answers in a tone that appeared to be spontaneous, fresh, charming, and beautiful.  And I memorized.

I was prepared.  I was beyond prepared.

I entered the classroom early, a foreshadowing of my eagerness, preparation, and confidence.  I’d nail this final for a 100 points or I’d know the reason why!  No one would be able to deduct even a fraction of a point.  I was going to be brilliant.

I quickly scanned the three questions.  Holy Mary and Instant Condemnation!  The third question was my Achilles’ heel, my Trojan horse, the end, fini, finis, kaput.

Doom.  Doom.  Doom.  The essay question was something about Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  I reached far back in my memory bank.  I vaguely recalled on the first day of class the professor had told us to read it outside class.  I’d have done it, but in all my preparation I had never looked back to the first day’s notes.

Sick.  Sick.  Sick.  I had never appreciated the cadence, the punch, the onomatopoeic effect of the word until that moment.

Even if I garnered every possible point from my first two essay answers, the best I could make was 67, and that was if she rounded up.  What was the point?  I might as well turn in my Blue Book and sulk out of the classroom.

Finally I realized I had to do the best I could.  I had, after all, overprepared for the first two essays.  I might as well use it.  I filled every inch of the Blue Book.  My Blue Book runneth over onto extra pages of notebook paper.  I wrote rapidly.  Occasionally I took a second to read a sentence or phrase to make certain I hadn’t omitted an important verb that floated my static answers from mundane to heaven.

Even after the class was over, I still wrote.  I went fifteen minutes into the next hour.  I looked frantically at the clock several times to support my theory that time was my enemy.  If only I had more time…  I tried to set my facial expression to match the horror of the deadline.

Finally my professor started clearing her throat.  On her third clearing, I held my hand up, palm facing her indicating, “Just give me one more second.”  I finished out the sentence, making sure the essay was complete, stood, walked to her, laid the stack of papers on her desk, and exited.  I didn’t speak.  I didn’t apologize.  I was a silent, suffering, stoic victim of time.

The class returned one more time to pick up their essay tests which would reveal their grades for the course.

I walked in and sat down.  I didn’t want to but I did.  I deserved the punishment of a bad grade.  How could I have been so stupid?  I could have figured out that Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage would have been an essay question.  I could have prepared.  I could have been a contender.

While I silently blasted myself, the professor began with the opening statement.  “I have here a test paper that I have given an A+.  The only A+ in this class.  Everyone else made a B or less.  Even though this student did not have time to answer the third essay question, I know by the brilliance of her first two essay answers that she would have been just as remarkable if she had had time for the third.”  She walked up to me and in a soft voice said, “Thank you.  It was a pleasure to grade your test.”

I gently responded, “Thank you.”

Words were spoken, but they bounced off my comprehension like water off hot grease.  I clenched my lips into an even thinner line and prayed for it all to be over.  I could hardly wait to leave as I feared I’d blurt out the truth.  I knew a good deal when I saw it.  I had garnered all the benefits that faulty foresight, sarcasm, and irony would allow.

I had one goal when I was graduated, everlasting silence.  I didn’t tell anyone for over twenty years for fear the professor would get word and change my grade.

Finally in the gloaming of my teaching career I told the story to an A.P. Comp. class.  “You might think that beauty, charm, and popularity will get you as far in college as it did in high school, but I have a story that…


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  • I don’t know, Jenny. It sounds to me like you charmed the professor, and you’ve been charming everybody else ever since.

  • Jiji

    This was the only undeserved break I ever got in my life. I have relished it for over 40 years. Charming the professor? I’d have had better luck trying to charm a crocodile.

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