The Embarrassing Tales of an Undergraduate Student
Or: The Inadvertent and Completely Unintentional Torment of Dr. Haller
I’ve always tried to live my life with no regrets. This means that I try to balance my logical brain with following my heart. The results, so far, have led to a life full of stories that, while I think are funny, when I tell them, I watch the people I’m talking to cringe.
When I was in undergraduate school, I was one of the few women in my major. I was surrounded by men, and I spent years with them as my cohort. With such a small department, I got to know most of my fellow students. I also got to know my professors really well, to the point where they would occasionally make remarks on my various eccentricities.
There was this one professor, Dr. Haller. He taught many of the more logic and writing based courses in our curriculum, and he watched me go from a whacked out 19-year-old, to a whacked out but somewhat more tame 23-year-old. I was part of our debate team, which he and the chair of the department were in charge of. Our team was going to regionals, and the night before, we decided to go to a restaurant for some comradery and team-building. Our professors, obviously, were over 21 years old. At this point, so was I and a few other of my teammates.
The chair of the department, Dr. Gallud, told me at the table that he’s amazed at my transformation over the years.
“You were really weird when you first started here,” he said. Dr. Haller, halfway into a giant glass of beer, looked at him beleaguered and said, “...was?!” That was the first time I saw someone have a thousand-yard stare in person.
So, some context for you. I was a prominent student in our department. I was also doing a full course load while working 60 hours a week at various part time jobs in order to pay for silly things like rent and tuition. To stay on top of my studies, I didn’t have time to sleep properly, or even eat like a normal person. One of my fellow students, after two years of being friends and classmates, realized that he had never actually seen me eat. At the time, I was eating a burrito, and he was transfixed.
Since I was so busy and going from class to class, team meeting to club meeting, and then to any of my various jobs, suffice it to say that I was a bit...whacky. Dr. Haller was teaching a course on how to write in our specific academic discipline. You don’t write a biology paper the same way you would write a comparative analysis paper for English, for example. Dr. Haller kept the lectures interesting, and he would sometimes go off topic.
Now, I don’t remember why, probably since I slept maybe two or three hours a night, but he was asking the class about our various fears. I raised my hand, and he called on me.
“Barn owls,” I confessed. He laughed, and so did my fellow classmates. “I’m serious,” I continued, “Look at their faces. They KNOW things about death.”
Dr. Haller went silent and scooted his podium further away from me. In the same class, he was giving us guidance on not getting too hung up on the mundane parts of our topics. “We need to cut down on the banality,'' he said.” I raised my hand, and he called on me.
“Wait, it’s pronounced ‘banal’, like ‘canal’?” I asked. He said yes, a little confused at my question.
“I thought it was pronounced ‘banal’, like ‘anal’,” I explained. He started laughing so hard he was bent over, as well as my classmates. A hush came over the class when I said, “I’m serious!” Dr. Haller scooted his podium away from me.
Since I was so busy, I didn’t have time to make food ahead of time, not normal meals, anyway. My solution was to hard boil eggs at the beginning of the week and keep them in a Thermos throughout the day, and eat when I could tell I was getting hungry. I also kept avocados on me since they were easily portable.
One day, in a different class, Logic II, my stomach audibly grumbled, so I got out my Thermos and took out an egg. I peeled off the shell quietly as Dr. Haller lectured, and my boyfriend at the time, who sat next to me, silently handed me a salt shaker. I salted my egg, and continued to eat while taking notes.
Eventually, Dr. Haller became too distracted and asked, “Are you eating an egg?”
He slowly turned around and went back to his lesson on the projector. In the same class, I was out of eggs, so I pulled out an avocado, and my boyfriend handed me the salt shaker. I carried a spoon and butterknife with me, and began to consume the avocado after salting it while Dr. Haller lectured.
He was distracted again, “Are you just eating an avocado, straight?”
“People usually make guacamole or slice them up or put them in sandwiches.”
“This is how I do it,” I explained, continuing to eat and waiting for the lecture to restart.
A classmate, John, who sat near me was talking about some fancy sunglasses he’d acquired through his job. I asked him if it was a gift for Mother’s Day. Then, I remembered that his mother passed away years ago.
Tired, hungry, and sore from lugging around all of my books, I said in the strangest, wobbly voice, “Oh wait...she’s deaaaaaaad.” Luckily, he wasn’t offended. However, class hadn’t started yet, and Dr. Haller was setting up the projector. He overheard our conversation, and looked at me with bewilderment. He put his palm to his face, shook his head, and kept working on the projector.
A few weeks later, in the same class, I had finished my egg during lecture and had my coffee in front of me. I almost always had coffee on me to get me through my grueling schedule. Mid-lecture, Dr. Haller said something hilarious while I was mid sip. I started to choke on my coffee, and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep it in and swallow it.
I quickly assessed my situation. My boyfriend was to my left, so I couldn’t get it on him. Directly in front of me was Dr. Haller’s laptop, so that was out. There were too many people sitting behind me, as I was the nerdy one who always sat in front. That left the empty chair to my right. I tried to aim carefully as I choked and gagged, because on the other side of the empty chair was John, and I didn’t want to traumatize him.
Finally, I could not control it, and the coffee streamed out in a perfect parabola and hit the empty chair. The class erupted in laughter, and so did I, with tears in my eyes and coffee coming out of my nose. I pulled a roll of paper towels out of my backpack to clean it up, which was also apparently weird.
Anyway, these were my experiences with Dr. Haller, leading up to that dinner before regionals with the debate team. He had seen so much of the insomnia-ridden version of me that he couldn’t agree with Dr. Gallud that I was no longer “weird.”
Despite this, when it was time to weed out potential candidates for a newly opened tenure-track position within the department, they tasked me with taking the candidates around campus and having lunch with them, as well as sitting in on their guest lectures and taking notes.
“Now, Mimi,” Dr. Haller started, “We’re going to give you money to pay for their lunches, but we can’t pay for yours. You can just watch them eat. Or, you know, you always bring your egg-shaped food, so that could be good. Or you could spew coffee on them.” He paused for a moment. “Maybe we should consider someone else,” he joked.
We all laughed, and I somehow still spent time with the candidates, showing them the campus, and treating them to lunch while I contentedly ate my avocados and eggs while I asked them questions. I was the tutor for the department, the scholastic winner of our discipline for the year, as well as one of the few students in our program to be selected for an important conference in our field. I’m not bragging, I’m just explaining that this is probably the reason Dr. Gallud and Dr. Haller chose me to be the student liaison.
When I look back on those days, I wish I’d been less...demonic. I mean, I literally spewed coffee in an amazing stream in class, and spoke of my fear of barn owls as they seemed to have chthonic knowledge that humans didn’t have access to. I spoke in strange, wobbled voices when I realized I made a social faux pas with my fellow students.
And yet, while I still cringe at some of those moments, I can’t help but laugh. Dr. Haller, if you’re out there, I seriously hope I’m not in your nightmares.