Monday, February 24, 2014

The Gauntlet: 3 Days in February

     There comes a time in every man's life when he has to put up or shut up.  Stare evil in the face and spit directly in its eye.  You've got to take the gloves off and handle business.  The following story does not fall into that category, but it should.  I am quickly approaching the end of a 25 year quest.  The quest to obtain a degree.  A Bachelors of Arts in History to be specific, because everyone knows that History rocks!  Right?  As a 42 year old college senior I have come to expect the unexpected, and I know that I put the non-traditional in non-traditional student.  Once again I ran into a brick wall last week and to break through I had to get nasty and handle business.  Three days in a row.  Three continuous days of tests in both Science and Math.  Did I mention that I'm a History major?  I don't play nice with Science and Math.  In this particular case the Science was Geology and the Math was Algebra, but its all Greek to me.  That's actually an insult to Greece, because I am very fond of all things in the Mediterranean especially Greece (see Cristos the Spartan).  At this stage in my life I'm always up for a challenge, but this one just about knocked me down.  Down for the count?  Well, you'll have to keep reading to find out the answer to that one.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Rocks and Polynomials await!

     At the end of the Fall Semester I knew that all I had remaining on my "Road to Graduation" as far as classes was:  Two Math classes and a Science with a lab.  Core stuff.  You have to take Math and Science with Labs to get a degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham that's just the way it is.  I had already knocked out one Science and lab with Environmental Science, and I found it quite enjoyable while maddening all at the same time.  I had to choose one more Science to fill out my degree requirements, and I make it a point to stay away from anything "Biology" related due to the fact that UAB is a top notch medical school and they get kind of hard core in that area.  At least that's what I've been told.  I had heard about this class that people referred to as, "Rocks for Jocks."  I thought to myself, "Sounds good to me."  Earth Science 101 and 102 (lab) was the actual name, and I thought I had performed a coup for the ages and I would "Rock" this class, sorry for the pun.  I could not have been more wrong.  This class is tough.  Doable, but tough.  You have to study and be able to identify all types of rocks.  With no word bank.  Just know them from memory.  Igneous, Minerals, Sedimentary, Metamorphic, and so on and so forth.  My mind is full of rocks.  Literally.  Fast forward to Mid term Hell week Spring 2014 version.  Both the lecture and the lab had tests on back to back days.  No surprise since we have tests in this class every week.  Seriously.  It is the testingest class I have ever seen in my entire life.  Once you are finished with one set of rocks and information you have to immediately prepare for the next one, because in mere days another test will be given.  Never ending rocky process.  I've been doing well in the class, but it hasn't been a walk in the park by any means.  The class has brought out the beast in me from time to time, and I was quoted as saying, "Pretty soon I'm gonna stop identifying these rocks and start throwing them."  I can throw a rock with the best of them, but I was only joking, as far as you know.  How many rock puns can one come up with?  Quite a few.  Wednesday was Rock ID day and if you've ever tried to identify rocks it ain't as easy as one would think.  It seems like no two rocks of the same variety look the same, and you can be assured that the most random goofy looking rock will end up on the test.  Green Calcite?  I believe this is only grown in the Rock Lab at UAB.  I will abide regardless of what is thrown at me, rocks or not.  I've been through some Rocky patches in life and came out Rock solid.  I always know when it's time to Rock-n-Roll, and when it's time to stone wall.  Bottom line.  Rocks suck. However in the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor, "I will Survive."  Just like a rolling stone.

     Math.  I do not believe there is a more evil entity in the universe.  However, it is purported to be the universal language so you have to sort of get it to get out of college, I suppose.  If I have to write a paper on the Spartacus War, Xerxes and his affinity for Zoroastrianism, or even good ole Louis XVI and the French Revolution I am in my element.  However, if you ask me about exponents or polynomials trouble will likely ensue.  The funny thing about this semester has been that I have actually developed a weird love/hate relationship with Quantitative Literacy.  I chalk that up to having the best teacher/tutor in the known world.  Dr. Cheryl A. Perry is a Math Deity, and she doesn't mind teaching a high strung loose cannon like myself.  Dr. Perry has patiently sat by my side week after week and explained the ins and outs of Algebra, and I am forever in her debt.  Oddly enough it all started to make sense or at least as much as it could possibly make sense to a guy who flunked Algebra in the 8th grade and has never taken anything other than basic math since.  All of a sudden thanks to the genius of the lovely Dr. Perry I can evaluate an expression with the best of 'em.  I realize that the marriage laws of the State of Alabama kind of put her in a bind, and she didn't really have much of a choice to help me overcome my Math ignorance.  Through it all she did with a smile on her face.  I have went up against tougher foes back in the day while in Law Enforcement, playing sports or dealing with my own personal demons, but this opponent kicked like a mule.  My darling wife had my back through thick and thin, and I owe her much gratitude.  Now, on to the third day of the gauntlet:  The dreaded Math mid term!

     Preparation and hard work are the keys to success.  I kept telling myself that over and over again as I drove to the campus of UAB last Friday.  Have faith!  I said.  You got this!  I said.  Trying ever so hard to convince myself that I truly could beat the odds and pass a Math exam.  I put in the work and now it was time to shine.  That's what I tell my kids every day.  It has to work doesn't it?  I arrived at lovely Heritage Hall and immediately saw many familiar faces.  History folk mostly, but I've met some really outstanding people on this University adventure of mine.  I have to say that nicer human beings you will not find.  UAB administrators, professors, staff, and students are all extremely welcoming and helpful.  It is a great place to go to school, no doubt about it!  However, on this day I was a bit anxious, and seeing so many friendly faces put me at ease.  I recommended a couple of classes for those who needed them in the fall and summer.  I talked about the potential for graduate school with a couple of other folks.  Eventually the time came.  Time marches on.  It stops for no man.  Not even a 42 year old college senior with Math issues.  I walked up the stairs to the torture chamber, uh....testing area.  I sat outside for a minute or two for a last minute of meditation, prayer, and motivational.  I felt like I was about to step into the batters box at Yankee Stadium with 40,000 eyes on me.  Butterflies aplenty.  I've learned to channel these feelings in recent years, and I always attempt to use the emotional aspect of situations to my advantage.  It's hard to do that on a math test, though.  A few people came up and asked me if they were in the right place for the math test.  I guess I look like someone who knows things or maybe I resemble someone in the custodial services.  Regardless, I took charge and walked up in the Math Lab and talked to a guy who looked like a Spanish version of Will Ferrell.  I asked him where we were supposed to be, and he pointed to the back and literally opened the closed section of the room to allow us to enter.  I walked in with my fellow Math people, but we were told to "get out" by Math personnel.  It seems the room was not quite ready yet.  I told my teacher, "Don't get mad at Spanish Will Ferrell guy,  I kinda made him do it."  Back to the front of the room.  I sat there going over math stuff in my head, but behind me I heard Spanish Will Ferrell talking to some other students about something that could have been math, but it sounded more like Nuclear bomb codes.  I turned around and looked, Spanish Will Ferrell must be a tutor in addition to being the opener of doors.  The problem and formula that I gazed upon reminded me immediately why it is that math makes my head hurt.  I didn't realize stars could be in a math formula.  Now we've got numbers, variables, letters, exponents, undoubtedly characters of some kind, and who knows what's next??  I fully expected my head to explode at this very moment, but luckily we were allowed to enter the testing area.

     I signed in.  I picked out a computer.  I smiled at my teacher.  I was ready to rock n roll!  Wait, is this Earth Science?  Strike that, I was ready to dominate a math exam!  Say my name Math exam!  You will lose!  I sat down and got out my writing instruments.  One pen and one pencil.  The directions were given and we were given the green light to take the test.....and.....my computer wouldn't work.  I raised my hand for what seemed like an eternity, and eventually an extremely soft spoken and very nice Tech Math Lab person came over.  She told me that I needed to reboot the computer.  I did.  It still didn't work.  Have you ever heard of Vesuvius?  How bout Mt. St. Helens?  I was about to blow!  I stood up and asked, "Is there anything ya'll can do to start my test."  I got the response, "Shhhhh!  People are trying to take a test!"  I thought, "Not me."  Finally the extremely nice techy person got my test started, and I got to rolling.  I thought, "Hey, this ain't that bad!  Cool!"  Then my computer crashed.  Turned completely off.  I thought my heart would stop.  I began to think of all the bad stuff that I have done in my life, and I knew this was some kind of crazy karma thing.  Ha Ha Karma, good one.  I literally begged the math people to make my computer work.  I said in as pitiful a voice as I could muster, "I just want to take the test....Please help me."  While they were working on my computer the guy sitting next to me asked me something, but I was so engrossed in my own thing I didn't hear it.  He then reached over and grabbed my pen.  I put my hand on his and gave him the back off look.  For a minute I thought I was going to have to "go hands" up here in the Math Lab.  Dude trying to steal my pen!  He looked at me surprised, and said "Can I please borrow your pen."  I said, "Ok, but don't go anywhere."  Before I could stress out about how much I was eventually going to need that pen, they finally got me up and running.  I took the test for about an hour, and all the while I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  A comet maybe?  Could be a new Ice Age?  I was able to finish, and you know what?  I made an A.  Not only an A, but a 97.5 that should have been 100%, because I made a stupid mental math error early on when I thought the world was going to end.  Turned out good.  I survived.  I walked out of there with my head high!  I told you not to mess with me Math.  I will survive, Math Apocalypse or not.  Oh yeah, I got my pen back. 

     Well, that just about sums up my gauntlet.  3 days of destruction.  I came out of the fatal funnel a better person than I was before or at least better at taking a math test and identifying rocks.  I may actually pull this whole graduating thing off after all.  The sky is the limit!  I'm off to the Math Lab!  I want to find out if Spanish Will Ferrell knows anything about rocks.  That's all I got.