Humor/whimsy

What is this Waiting for Godot play all about? (essay)

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anyone out there know whats going on in this Beckett play?

something about death

doesn’t get to the point fast enough…like prof winkler

i literally skipped winkler’s last 3 lectures, but with 1500 students whose gonna know?

You get out of it what you put into it.

that’s what she said!

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE ANSWER MY QUESTION?

omg relaaaax

does anyone think godot’s ever gonna come?

that’s what she said!! lol

omg stopppp

he hasnt by the end of act 1

bet he doesn’t come at all. boy, will those two bums be disappointed!

*buns

lotta waiting in this sucker.

Know how long I had to wait on line at Best Buy on Black Friday?

look this isn’t the time

Ten hours. Ten fricken hours. But I got the TV!

then you should just watch the movie version

of what?

Waiting for Godot. can’t remember who stars in it, but it’s really slow. nothing ever happens.

???

Because nothing ever does. it’s like real life

Okay, I’m late to this discussion, but what’s the question?

What are those two guys waiting for, and why don’t they ever get moving?

Good question! Think it’ll be on the quiz?

Doesn;t matter. We can always cheat.

I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.

Anyway its peer review. I’m grading your quiz.

You mean Winkler doesn’t look at them?

You kidding? He’s a prof at Harvard!

but he’s up there every week, talking to us

That’s just a video. Probably made that months ago.

Maybe he’s dead.

You mean like Godot?

Plot spoiler!

its not about the plot, its like existential.

That’s some help.

It’s based on Freud’s trinitarian ego, id, and superego structure, asshole.

No, it’s all about the Cold War.

It’s Plato’s allegory of the cave.

WTF

I want an answer to my question. I’m going to e-mail Prof. Winkler.

You can’t.  It comes back “addressee unknown.”

Really? Thats like so existential.

That’s it. I’m outa here.

            They do not move.

Who typed that? Hey! Is that Prof. Winkler? Are you monitoring this? I wanna know, I wanna   know! And is this going to be on the quiz?

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

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Can Cornell cope with the end of The Office's Andy Bernard? (essay)

This television season, one of my all-time favorite shows bids farewell. After nine glorious years, "The Office" gets downsized.

Well, make that about six glorious years. For the past few, the show has skated by with weak writing and a revolving door of forgettable characters. Nonetheless, the show has its redeeming qualities. My favorite ongoing storyline is Andy Bernard’s love affair with Cornell.  

Andy, we realize, is a bit of a buffoon. He’s an underachiever, or perhaps an overachiever, depending on how much actual talent he has. From what we’ve witnessed, it’s not a lot, at least as it pertains to real office work. As a paper salesman, he stinks. He has a quick temper and was consigned to anger management training after punching a hole in the office wall (Andy took that as a sign he was “management material”). His sartorial choices border on Bozo and his frequent falsetto song stylings — he was a member of the a cappella group Here Comes Treble -- irritate the bejesus out of his officemates.

Cornell plays a significant role in Andy’s life. It’s central to how he defines himself. He readily admits he was always drunk, never studied but graduated “on time.” He’s a silver-spooned Cornell legacy, and there’s a Bernard Hall on campus named for a wealthy ancestor. When, in an improbable turn of events, Andy becomes branch manager, he outfits his office with Cornell tchotchkes and memorabilia. He bleeds red.

With the show’s run coming to an end, so too will Cornell’s free advertising. What effect, one wonders, will this have on the university? I called to find out.

Admissions officials, it appears, already are bracing for the inevitable precipitous decline in applications. “Forget the Flutie Factor,” says admissions dean Rhea Kroot. “For a few days after Cornell is mentioned on T.V., we spike by seven or eight inquiries. It’s awesome.”

Applicants routinely name Andy Bernard among the Americans they admire most. “I want to be just like Andy,” wrote one essayist, “but successful. Cornell must be, like, the coolest place if he went there!”

Kroot admits she’s worried about the post-Andy dip in national rankings. “We’ll become less selective, donations will drop, and we’ll no longer be top-of-mind with all those presidents filling out the surveys,” she said. “The good thing is, we already rank last among the Ivies, so, you know, there’s that.”

Development officer Howie Fliecem agrees and says he’s glad Cornell’s capital campaign is winding down just in time. “We set our goal knowing the impact Andy has on our fundraising totals,” Fliecem said. “You just can’t have a better ambassador for the quality of a Cornell education than Andy. Without his constant boosterism, alumni interest is bound to fade.”

Plans are under way to consolidate the bookstore’s inventory of Cornell garb and mementos and to eliminate the positions of two purchasing agents and one interior designer dedicated to the Andy wing. “I would say Andy’s effect on our bottom line has been immeasurable,” said store manager Paige Turner, “but we actually measured it, and it’s what we in the college bookstore industry term ‘big.’ You wouldn’t believe the crowds that form around the Andy displays and the number of requests we get for ‘Bernard’ football jerseys, even though, technically speaking, he really didn’t play here.” Turner also projects a 14.27 percent decline in online purchases of Cornell stuff following the show’s farewell.

Cole Minor, a student leader, said his classmates were devastated by news of the show’s demise. “It’s, like, the whole reason I came here, dude,” Minor said. “I mean, I had my pick of five schools in the Upstate region. Knowing that the ‘Nard-dog went here cemented my decision. Well, that and the Ivy League thing.”

The university plans to cancel the spring pilgrimage to Scranton, along with the annual Andy doppelganger contest and musical tribute, though this year’s finale will feature an extended set no doubt tearfully performed by the current collection of Here Comes Treble warblers. Campus officials told me grief counselors will be on hand throughout the year for students seeking ways to cope with this unimaginable sense of loss.

Meanwhile, faculty across several disciplines are scrambling to design courses examining the show’s significance in American culture, hoping to lure students seeking solace in a gut elective. Sue dos Eyance, a sociologist, is offering “The Office, Gender Politics and the Culture of ‘That’s What She Said.’ ” Anna Graham, a faculty member in English, has come up with “Derrida’s Office: Deconstructing Andy through a Heuristic Voyage into Structuralism and Poststructuralism and a Smattering of Tropes.”  And, in a daring turn, chemistry professor Al Kaline and biology lecturer Gene Poole have teamed to produce “Neurological Implications of Synaptic Responses to Faux-Reality Sitcoms.” Myriad monographs are said to be in the works as well.

If Cornellians agree on anything, it’s that Andy Bernard has been the best thing to happen to the university since Ezra. They remain cautiously optimistic about the future, confident that the university’s lofty standing within the academic pantheon will enable it to withstand this crippling blow to the institutional solar plexus. “It doesn’t get much worse than this,” said Bea Braver, a longtime member of the provost’s staff, “but we’ll survive. As always, we’ll come together as a community and find individual strength in our collective resolve.” 

Finally, in what’s being called both a stroke of genius and an act of desperation, students and alumni have joined forces to fashion a petition calling for the creation of an Andy spinoff titled “Cornell and Me.” They’ve collected 40,075 signatures and generated 5,280 tweets endorsing the idea. Network executives are considering a pilot involving the very same writers who’ve recently driven "The Office" over the ratings cliff. Continuity, they say, is key.

“Andy Bernard deserves an even brighter spotlight, an even grander stage,” said Hugh Mawran, Class of ‘78. “But if our efforts fail, we Cornellians can take comfort in knowing that some part of Andy, however small and insignificant, lives on in all of us.”

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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The role of humor in the campus work place (essay)

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As the semester concludes, your battery may be running low. Reflect on the potential energy of humor to help you recharge, Maria Shine Stewart suggests.

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U of All People gets into MOOC madness (essay)

To: Provost Will Phayle

From: Assessment Committee #23

Re: MOOC

Tasked with assessing our first massive open online course (MOOC) here at U of All People, we have spent the past month temporizing, asking off-topic questions, and whatever else it is that assessment committees do. See Appendix A for suspiciously precise quantitative measurements. Below is a summary of our findings and recommendations, subject, of course, to the whim of the chancellor.

                                          History

In its proposal, the original MOOC committee decided to retrofit Professor Arthur Treadwell’s Astronomy 101 lecture course, largely because of its huge enrollment (over 250 students) and reputation as an easy A. The “new” course, entitled The Universe Is Ours, consists of fifteen lectures, now copyrighted in the university’s name.

                                         Course Material

The syllabus and course requirements appear satisfactory, save that the syllabus is the same over-Xeroxed sheet from twenty years ago, and a MOOC has no course requirements. The 15 lectures form the backbone of the course; also, the cranium, pelvis, and tibia. It’s a MOOC: what you see is all you get. In general, the lectures are well-presented, though a few glitches remain that should be corrected in the final version.

Lecture 1: Starts too soon, with Professor Treadwell making a lewd joke to a front-row student identified as “Tiffany.” Tell Tiffany to wear more restrained clothing, or else Photoshop a bra on her.

Lecture 2: Camera angle is off; focuses solely on Prof. Treadwell’s shiny bald spot.

Lecture 3: Audio feed occasionally inaudible; fix lapel mic so that it doesn’t slide down Prof. Treadwell’s chest and make that sucking sound.

Lecture 4: Different professors have different pedagogical techniques, but in this talk, Prof. Treadwell exhibits so little body movement that the lecture hall lights, activated by motion sensors, fade after five minutes.

Lecture 7: Missing. The syllabus reads “Spring Break,” which is a poor excuse.

Lecture 10: Prof. Treadwell seems oddly morose and disappears in the middle of his talk, re-emerging from the wings a few minutes later, bleeding from his left ear.

Lectures 11-13: Repeatedly, Prof. Treadwell exclaims, “Now listen up, ’cause this’ll be on the final!”— when in fact the MOOC has no exams.

Lecture 15: For the final talk in the series, we suggest at least a smattering of applause, rather than the profound silence at the end of this lecture, followed by Prof. Treadwell’s coughing fit.

                                         Queries

Is Prof. Treadwell really the best person for this trial course? If too late to change, perhaps provide a body double or a guest lecture by someone in the theater department.

What about trying other departments? Not the English department, which is impossible to deal with, but maybe art or psychology.

If MOOCs at other universities are so “open,” what’s to prevent us from adapting (or adopting) some of those lectures?

Other Issues

                                         Monetization

Through content licensing, the MOOC may eventually generate real income. U of All People can sell the course back to the university (U of A P), in the process charging students per tuition credit. To become a three-credit course, the MOOC may be augmented to include:

            * a Kindle textbook download.
            * discussion forums, with slave or adjunct labor to monitor chat rooms.
            * quizzes and assignments, peer-scored. Tout it as part of the learning process, and put the bastards to work. If successful, can be applied to all other coursework.
            * that final exam that Prof. Treadwell keeps referring to, overseen by enough adjuncts to avoid paying anyone full-time rates. May be replaced by student peer reviewers (see above).
            * MOOC student data forms that we can peddle to marketing firms.

                                         Cheating

Without course requirements or grades, who cares? But if we push the MOOC as a graded, three-credit course (see above, under Monetization), we need some safeguards in place, or at least something more than a lame honor code. The IT group at U of All People has recently developed its own proprietary software, Gotcha, to deal with student plagiarism and copycat Scantron issues. To date, it has caught 100 percent of the student body.

                                         Media Awareness

We could use a good slogan, though the PR department’s “If they can do it, so can we!” sounds too defensive. “At U of All People, the Future Is MOOC!” sounds too much like “moot,” but if no other options, maybe O.K.

We might also develop an alternative acronym to MOOC, something friendlier and more intimate-sounding, though "Mega Enrollment Seminar Series" may not be the way to go.

                                         Conclusion

Given a modest investment of time, energy, and money, U of All People should be able to put forth a MOOC to rival its sister and brother and even cousin institutions. But first, fix that camera angle so we don’t have to stare at Treadwell’s bald patch.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).
 

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Contest examines higher education jargon

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Times Higher Education tries to identify best examples of academic jargon.

U of All People's campus tour (essay)

Welcome to the U of All People campus tour, which should be super-awesome. Anyway, thanks for showing up, as my American history prof last year used to say.

My name is Loftis Wei, but you can just call me Loft. I’m a junior majoring in sociology, at least this semester, and I was told this job would look good on my résumé. Ready for the spiel? Cool.

We’re starting here at Bovine Hall, which is now the admissions building. Historically -- not that U of All People has much history, I mean, not compared to a real school -- but back in the 1930s, the building was a slaughterhouse, and you can still see bloodstains on some of the floorboards. They turned the killing floor into the school’s first seminar room. That’s why the school was once nicknamed Moo U.

Anyway, if you’re looking for leafy green quads and Gothic architecture, you’ve come to the wrong place, but if you’re into concrete and slit windows, take a look at Dayzin Dorm on the right, which sort of looks like a maximum security prison if you see it from the wrong angle -- not that anyone ever wants to leave. We’ve got wifi in the bathrooms and vending machines on every floor. One even sells toilet paper.

Over here is Kent Reade Library, which -- let me check my notes -- at one time, in the 1980s, had over 200,000 books. But books take up a lot of space, y’know, so they, um, deaccessioned a lot of them and installed new research facilities. Over 50 internet terminals in these alcoves. Printers if you can get one that’s working. The espresso bar is pretty awesome. The books are over there, I think.

The building that looks like a smashed spaceship is the Bai O. Kam Science Wing. What? No, we’re not a research university, not really, but we’ve still got some of that going on. You hear about it, y’know?

Check my notes... some weird plastic was accidentally discovered here in 1956 by Professor Paul E. Murr, but they managed to detox the whole lab and the surrounding area. That gray gunk -- don’t touch it -- is what’s left, and it’s now a nature preserve or something. Anyway, it’s not so much research here, like I said. We’re into teaching. A lot of the professors here have been here, like, forever, so you know they really love this place. I overheard someone in the history department say that it’s really, really hard to go somewhere else.

This football-shaped building is the B. A. Jacques Athletics Facility, which you can see is the biggest structure on campus. When you get tired of studying, and that can happen pretty easily, there’s always sports. U of All People’s women’s -- lacrosse, maybe? -- team is nationally ranked. It’s really cool to watch them run around the field with those sticks in their hands.

You can also get on an intramural team or join a student organization. Anime World, Under-Achievers Association, Burrito-Eating Club, Future Baristas -- actually, that club was disbanded after a nasty caffeine poisoning incident last semester. Anyway, get involved, y’know? Be quirky.

Was that a question about academics? Whether you’re a math geek or a psych type, we’ve got a major for you. Like it says in our brochure. U of All People offers over 17 majors, including a few that no one’s ever figured out. If you need help, we have a bunch of academic advisers, and some are actually available during the hours posted outside their offices. I think a lot of them are maybe just shy.

No, we’re not on the quarter system, but on something called the 24/7 system, which means something’s always happening on campus, even if it’s just someone throwing up in the bathroom at 4:00 a.m. Did I mention that the bathrooms have wifi? Anyway, if you get sick of the place, which happened to my roommate in his sophomore year, we’ve also got study abroad programs in at least two places, I think in Mexico. You don’t even have to know Spanish. And with all the online courses, you don’t even have to be on campus all semester. One girl I met on Facebook has taken only virtual classes. I’m not sure she really exists.

What about financial aid? Good point! I know we offer some, but we don’t encourage it. That’s why we have the Junior Entrepreneur Organization on campus, which sometimes gets confused with the Marijuana Growers Co-op, but it’s just a tiny overlap. What else... let me see. We do have internship programs at the Dollar and a Quarter Store and Burger Boy. We also have Career Services, where they can, like, help you with your résumé. You can do a lot with a college degree! That’s also in our brochure.

Anyway, here we are, back at Bovine Hall. There’s the old holding pen, which means that’s the end of the tour.

Any questions?

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

 

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Titles are everything (and nothing) in higher education (essay)

Higher ed, as the casual observer might divine, is awash in titles. We have directors and managers, assistants and associates, fulls and interims. We’re well-versed in vice. Titles mean everything, which is another way of saying they mean nothing.

I’m reminded of that “Cheers” episode in which Rebecca, the bar manager, gives Carla and Woody, barmaid and barkeep, respectively, contrived, bombastic titles because the establishment can’t afford to award raises. They’re thrilled beyond comprehension, sporting their titles like badges of honor and quickly forgetting the corresponding lack of pay.

Back here in collegeland, titles work much the same way. I once went from assistant to associate director of nail clipping, or some such activity, with no raise or change in duties. Nor did I suddenly outrank colleagues and demand they do my laundry. I did, however, have to get new business cards and amend my email signature. For that, I gather, I was supposed to feel professionally elevated and compelled to clip more nails.

Some titles are more self-evident than others. Presidents, we intuit, preside, just as chancellors chancel. An associate vice president is an aide to someone who aids the president. That individual is, technically, an administrative assistant, known in previous generations as a secretary. We don’t use that term anymore because it’s demeaning. Plans are under way in Washington, in fact, to create an “administrative assistant of state” cabinet position.

Provost also is a peculiar title. On most campuses, it denotes the chief academic officer. The equivalent abroad is pro-vice-chancellor, not to be confused with the anti-vice-chancellor, normally the faculty senate president. Some institutions add “academic vice president” to “provost” just to belabor the issue.

Using that logic, we could have a “president and august chief toastmaster” to head up the joint. Did you know that the University of Pennsylvania didn’t have a president until 1930? The campus was led by a provost, owing, ostensibly, to the university’s Scottish heritage. Actually, the phenomenon was the result of 72 failed searches over the span of 190 years.

Endowed positions provide yet another level of titledom. You can be the Ethan Allen Professor of the Ottoman Empire, certainly a distinguished chair, or perhaps the Anna Graham Professor of English Syntax or the Ben E. Drill Professor of Immunology. Some endowed designations have fallen out of favor, such as chairs tied to Enron, Big Tobacco, Arthur Andersen (not the accounting firm but the unfortunate chap who happens to share its name) and Pee Wee Herman. Nonetheless, endowed chairs provide incumbents incalculable prestige in the academy, enviable salaries, and slush funds for research, conference presentations and similarly frivolous junkets.

The longer the faculty title, the more clout it conveys. Having the Dr. Edmund and Ms. Fanny Fitzgerald Exalted Professorship in Midwestern Maritime Studies is clearly superior to the mundane associate professor moniker. Yet among administrators, the opposite holds true: president beats vice president, which in turn beats assistant vice president, which thoroughly trounces assistant to the assistant vice president. More modifiers equate to lower status on the admin org chart.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Thanks to enterprising fund raisers, some non-teaching roles now carry fancy titles of their own. Donors can attach their names to deans, band leaders, coaches and, coming soon to a university near you, their favorite student-athletes. Imagine the country club bragging rights when you announce you’ve established the Duncan Dervish Endowed Power Forward Position, the proceeds of which, naturally, do not attend to the player himself. Naturally.

To manage these ever-elongating titles, the academy has come up with a series of initialisms. We have the CEO (borrowed from private industry, along with the salaries), the CFO, the COO (bloodless, usually), the CIO (which, somewhere along the way, lost its AFL), the CAO (which can be either the chief academic or advancement officer) and the CDO (relating to development or diversity, and never the twain shall meet). Lots of chiefs inhabit our universities, which is chiefly the reason why tuition continues to outpace inflation.

Titles even trickle down to students, beginning with freshmen, who are, for the sake of gender clarity, no longer known as freshmen. “Freshperson” never caught on, likely because of the suggestion of social impropriety, and “freshpeople” sounds like the latest boy band. So we went with “first-year student,” newbies who are subjected to freshman orientation and freshman seminars.

Each institution has its own titular culture, which can be confusing to those outside its gates. When a visitor comes to campus — say, a job candidate interviewing for a title of his own  — we introduce ourselves by stating our titles and expect that person to know exactly what we do. “I’m assistant director of procurement operations,” you announce confidently, only to discover a flummoxed gaze in return. “I buy stuff,” you add. He’ll catch on.

We’ve grown entitled to our titles, forever chasing shiny new ones that bring luster to our resumes and fill us with a sense of pride and purpose. We look askance at those whose title pursuits seem downwardly mobile, even though they might have had good reasons — such as more money or better working conditions or a shorter commute — for their descent.

After we retire, we cling to our titles, often adding “emeritus,” Latin for “no longer on the payroll,” as a suffix. In an age when “personal branding” has become all the rage, we covet things that easily identify and position us. Titles confer worth, or perhaps validate it. They have become a form of currency.  They define our existence.

And yet, they don’t. Titles come and go; intrinsic value persists. Case in point: I tried giving my dog Brady a new title, executive canine, to see if he would stop stealing dirty underwear from the laundry pile. We emblazoned his new title on his bowl and fastened a sign on his crate.

I even wrote a press release for the family newsletter touting his appointment. He did strut about with a more dignified air, but, alas, his malfeasance continued. Stripped of his title and standing, Brady has found legitimacy on his own terms.

He’s a consultant.

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the second installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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Higher education in the express lane (essay)

Welcome to College Express -- the college where you can complete your four-year degree in three or even two years! Our motto is Commodum, vivos, facile*, and we think you’ll agree! Here are just a few of our innovative features:    

We are constantly streamlining academic departments and majors, to bring you just the essentials.

All of our classes are accelerated. Classes that were already accelerated have been further accelerated.

We have the best transfer policy in our corner of the state: We’ve dropped all core-curricular requirements for transfer students!  That’s right: now you can have a diploma from a liberal arts school even if you haven’t taken any classes in art, history, or languages. And for those of you who started your college careers with us, we want to be fair, so we’re working -- constantly -- to pare down your requirements, too!

We offer hundreds of online courses, thanks to the consortium we’ve joined! While College Express has not yet directly participated in the creation of any of the 700 courses, it is proud to act as a broker -- proud to act as your education broker.**   

We also give course credit for MOOC certificates of completion. We understand that there is some controversy as to whether it is actually a certificate or merely a letter of completion, but at College Express, such things don’t matter! Certificates, letters, badges -- just forward them to us, and we’ll find a way to make them count.

We have a beautifully landscaped campus. It is true that we now occupy only one building, having sold off all dorms, the library, the art gallery, the humanities building, and the science building, but the view remains stunning. The former cafeteria is now “Your One-Stop Campus.” Should you wish to visit us in person, just follow the driveway lined with plastic pennants.

Too busy to stop by in person? We offer personalized online, phone, and fax service. Just contact our new friendly Call Center, located in the heart of “One Stop,” for all of your registration and advising needs.  The center is open 24 hours a day. Be assured that all of our operators are former faculty members.

And you can also be assured that we will continue to offer a sampling of traditional courses. A storage area in the basement has been converted into two classrooms. One great new feature of College Express is that classes will now run through the night. (That is correct -- no more daytime classes -- we hope that you are as excited as we are.)

Finally, the graduation ceremony itself will be a thing of the past. However, we understand that some of you may still wish to come to campus to receive your degrees. Just stop by the drive-through window, conveniently located on the west side of One Stop (for those familiar with the old campus, the ticket office of what was once the performing-arts theater).

We trust that you will be as delighted as we are to embrace these changes. Now, let’s all make it a great (half) year at College Express.

*“Convenient, quick, easy.” Source: Satisfied student in parking lot outside College Express.

** Check your Sunday paper for our flier with special tuition-remission coupons.

Carolyn Foster Segal is an adjunct at Muhlenberg College and a book-group facilitator for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

New collection of "exam howlers"

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What did Stalin really build across Eastern Europe?

Humor: Our columnist fails out of clown college

Pretty much anything passes for higher education these days. Enterprising institutions routinely offer intellectually challenging programs such as cosmetology, astrology, thimble repair, linen folding and bikini waxing. But hey, if it’s at a university, it must be rigorous, right? And these academic pursuits, let’s not forget, do lead to jobs, a concern that college students ranked first, second and fourth in a recent survey of desired outcomes.

Coming out of high school, I too was in search of a job, a career that would make my family proud and let me show off my true talents. So naturally I applied to clown college. I conducted extensive research, talking with guidance counselors, reading the viewbooks and underground accounts of campus life, consulting the U.S. News rankings and other magazines touting the “best values” in clown education, visiting campuses and chatting with current students (not the mimes, of course).

The standardized exam, called the Comic Reasoning and Performance test, was especially tough. Ostensibly designed to test only your clown aptitude, it did pose questions that presumed an existing knowledge of clown history and culture. I sensed an inherent bias toward those who had grown up in a clown family or had somehow been exposed to clowns, in a good way. I did well enough, scoring in the 80th percentile, though at that point I knew the most elite bastions of clown education might lie beyond reach. I wished I could have opted for the CRAP prep course or hired a personal admissions consultant, who purported to know all the clown-admissions insiders and whose advice came at a reasonable $150 per hour, but family funds were tight.

By comparison, the application form was a breeze. It asked a bunch of hypothetical questions, such as, “If given the chance to travel with a top circus troupe or to corner the Long Island Bat Mitzvah market, which would you choose?” It also required you to write an essay that asked which clown, living or dead, you’d most like to share a cotton candy with. I’d read in online discussion forums that it’s best to stay away from hackneyed choices such as Bozo and Clarabell. I instead chose Krusty.

As I’d feared, I failed to get into my reach school, Ringmaster U., but my admission to Jester College came with a partial scholarship and my choice of housing among the finest on-campus tents. I figured my mediocre CRAP scores nixed my Ringmaster bid, but I later discovered the school has a strong tradition of admitting children of alumni — Ringers, as they call them. I never really stood a chance.

My first year was predictable, largely because of the general education curriculum. We all took the same courses, such as Rodeo Responsibilities, Props and Pratfalls, and Legendary Clowns of the Western World. Electives allowed us to explore our personal interests in topics like unicycling and stilt aerobics. Some required courses were oversubscribed, shutting out students and leaving them to doubt that they’d be able to graduate on time.

Even with my partial scholarship, I still could barely make ends meet. I landed a work-study job custom-fitting floppy shoes, a commitment that absorbed 20 hours a week. My performance began to suffer as a result. I couldn’t get my lapel flower to squirt straight and my “mime trapped in the box” routine evinced a more rectangular than square orientation. Even worse, while plowing a pie into a classmate’s face, I dislodged his foam nose and knocked his derby askew, thus exposing a rubber chicken’s beak. Shame and scorn fell upon me.

Perhaps my major downfall, however, was my inability to find myself. Clown elders spoke of creating a personal brand, a professional identity that would set me apart from legions of other performers. Should I be Sinisterio the Dark Clown? Take a more playful approach and bill myself as Quacky the Six-Foot Duck? How about Moody the Contemplative Clown? Brainy the Intellectual? Nothing seemed to fit.

Nor did I assimilate with any of the clown cliques — the jock clowns with their acrobatics, the pothead clowns, the earnest ones who formed study groups. I was a loner, a sad clown who didn’t need tears painted down his cheeks. The Office of Clown Counseling and Retention offered some consoling advice: when you flop, get back up and keep dancing. They tried.

Eventually, alas, I failed. My CPA, or Clown Performance Average, dropped below 2.0 thanks to D grades in poorly chosen electives — Hobos of the Great Depression and Combating Coulrophobia. I became yet another clown dropout, a lost soul destined to forever wonder how many smiles I might have engendered. I can’t blame the system, really; generations of successful alumni testify to the college’s ability to pump out performers. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I just wasn’t clown material.

I harbor neither regret nor bitterness. I have moved on, though I do keep tabs on former classmates via Facebook and the alumni magazine, which I receive along with calls and letters seeking donations. On some level, I suppose, I am an alumnus. And a part of that experience will stay with me. I may not be a graduate, but I’ll forever be a clown.

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This marks the debut of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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