Monday, April 13, 2009

The Nobodadday Rap

When one hears the term “study group” one makes the assumption that said group has been assembled for the primary purpose of studying something. My “study group” the last semester of my college career—Rhys, Elwood, Garrett, and myself—certainly did its fair share of studying, but that was the farthest thing from its primary purpose.

In the first place, beer has absolutely no business standing seductively on the same table as a midterm study guide. Six proud brown Pacifico bottles sweating sweet condensation through their honey-gold labels, taunting us to abandon our studies of Romantic European Literature. Nope. Something like that has no more business on a study room table than a large-chested stripper pining for singles. But it was sort of a foregone conclusion that halfway through any study session we’d take a beer break, just one drink a piece, so we could free our minds momentarily from the very deep intellectual depths of poetry I myself could barely comprehend.

It’s just that—once in a while—that slight procrastination coupled with that one delicious temptation took us away from what was necessary for our academic betterment. This is what happened the night of Mardi Gras, which doubled as the eve of our Romantic Lit midterm exam. Clearly, stupid things were meant to happen. And happen they did.

Studying for a literature exam isn’t at all like studying for a science or math exam in that chemical formulas and sigma functions have pretty black-and-white answers. You’re wrong or you’re right. But when it comes to literature the grading is subjective, and depending on how ridiculously intelligent your professor is and expects you to also be, getting full credit on deeply analytical questions can be as challenging as childbirth or juggling.

So the environment at one of these study sessions is pretty heavy. Usually we met at Rhys’s building—a converted mansion now used to house several international students—because it housed this fantastic Victorian library room (sans books) with a long oak table down the center. Sitting in there made it feel like you were holding a meeting of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or like Sherlock Holmes were due at any minute to explain a crime to well-dressed men with giant gray mustaches and monocles. It was a cool setting for being intellectual, and it was quiet, and it had those doors that rolled shut instead of swinging on hinges. In other words, it was perfect.

The four of us gathered ‘round one end of the giant table and scoured over notes and tomes, trying to make sense of Blake and Shelley and Keats. We’d argue over what certain lines meant, or how a particularly complex phrase could hold two or three different meanings. I’ve said this many times before, but as I graduated college my English major was right there on the brink of what my brain was capable of comprehending. Had my courses gotten even 5% more difficult I would’ve had to cover my ears just to keep the exploded bits of brain from leaking down the sides of my face. This stuff was hard, no question about it.

Luckily for me, the other three guys in my group all managed a unique blend of intellect, love for literature, and spontaneity. I was the only guy heading into the education field, which meant Rhys, Elwood, and Garrett all would likely attempt careers as writers. You’ve only got three options as an English major—teacher, writer, or editor—and these were not guys meant for cubicles and office buildings, combing through science textbooks for a paycheck. These were the kind of guys who needed to travel to places like Scotland and London to get in touch with their literary roots. These were the kind of guys who needed to smoke things and drink imported beers. They weren’t like me at all in any way except humor, but I always envied them for the free-spiritedness they brought to the table. At 21 years old fresh off not one but two serious heartbreaks over the course of my senior year, I needed them and their stupid ideas more than they’ll probably ever know. They helped me have fun and loosen up my underthings a little bit. Think of that last semester of college as my metaphorical switching from briefs to boxers.

In the spirit of these three guys’ impulsiveness, we broke from studying after about ninety minutes and decided to run up the road to what was perhaps the most shoddy, rundown Kroger in this history of grocery stores to grab a six-pack of something. For some reason Garrett had this obsession with Pacifico back in college, so that’s what we almost always got. By the time we’d returned to the oak table and cracked open a cold, bitter cerveza, the desire to study any more had all but abandoned us. The fact that Mardi Gras parties were taking place on campus that night didn’t help us refocus our efforts.

One would think the simple gravity of a huge midterm examination would be enough to keep us studying despite our restlessness, but in this one would be wrong. Mardi Gras parties meant that women would be exposing their chests to anyone with beads, and as four single males we really wanted to see some exposed chests. So Garrett came up with the plan.

“Look, let’s just go to Mardi Gras,” he said, “and see four pairs of breasts. We’ll see four pairs of breasts, maybe have one drink, then come back and finish studying.”

“Four pairs of breasts?” Elwood asked, “Or four breasts total?” This was apparently an important distinction.

“Four pairs,” Garrett reiterated.

“But we need beads,” Rhys chimed in, a fine point indeed. “Where can we get beads on such short notice?

Suddenly I was inspired. Saving the day, I shared that there had been some beads around the necks of statues at the campus library earlier that day to celebrate Fat Tuesday. Maybe they’d still be there.

So we heartily stomped through the front doors of the library like Reservoir Dogs, splitting up on the ground floor on a search for beads. It was an in-and-out mission, and after five minutes we reconvened outside and counted up our wares.

“Four,” Elwood said, grinning the grin of fate. “We’ve got exactly four.”

And so, we began the cross-campus trek to the fraternity house hosting the biggest Mardi Gras party of the night, intent on coaxing coeds to lift their shirts at us. This is the way we studied for tests.

We must’ve thought the ten-minute walk would involve the usual unintelligent jibber-jabber of twentysomethings, but along the way something interesting happened. Through February chill—bare branches stretching ominously overhead like cracks in a midnight blue sky—we started to study, remembering things from our first two hours of cramming. Except we didn’t do this via witty conversation; we did it via hip-hop.

I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but we started putting all of our mnemonic devices and memorizations into the form of song. Each of us was pretty musical, so we’d take turns beatboxing and humming while the other person rapped. To be honest I don’t remember a single thing from that literary freestyle now except for the word “Nobodaddy,” which was part of a title of a William Blake poem we needed to know.

It passed the time well and surprisingly, though there were quite a few beers and other forms of Mardi Gras entertainment squeezed in between our walk and our exam, we remembered everything we needed to remember. After spending minimal time at the party we headed back with a buzz and finished studying, and the following day each of us did exceptionally well. No one did worse than a B, which was saying a lot for a teacher that awarded A’s only for geniuses and the ghosts of the Romantic poets themselves.

“Studying” for our final exam later that semester was equally eventful, as we hoped our new revolutionary way of preparing for tests would lead us to the same success on the semester exam. It went well, too, as we expected. So confident were we that it would go well, Garret brought a small red cooler to class and stuck it under his chair while we tested. When the four of us were finished, we walked a couple of blocks south to the park on a beautiful April afternoon, and flipped open the lid with an air of finality and celebration.

Inside were six honey-gold Pacificos, nested amidst melting ice cubes blinking brilliantly in the sunlight like wet diamonds.

4 comments:

Michael Theune said...

The French poet Baudelaire advises: "Get drunk. With wine or virtue or poetry, as you please, but just get drunk."

Two out of three (if we allow beer to substitute for wine) ain't bad!

Cheers!
Mike

elwood said...

Can't believe Theune replied!

Joel, thanks for posting this. I had some great times with you guys. A reunion is in order next time I'm in the Land of Lincoln.

Extreme Brigs said...

I'm loving that Theune replied, too... Now he knows what went on behind the scenes. That Romantic Lit class and all its extracurriculars was one of my college highlights. Definitely a great semester :)

And that's a GREAT quote, Theune!

Garrett said...

this post just had me laughing out loud in an awkwardly quiet cafe, and everyone was giving me the "eye." i wish that i remember the words to that rap, but it later inspired me to purchase the complete works of wiliam blake. i hope all is well.