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Journals of an Insane Genius -- October 1999

I first noticed the plaque in 1991. I was stomping around my old stomping grounds at Western Michigan University, Kohrman Hall to be specific. There’s nothing like being surrounded by a bunch of desperate, overworked engineering students to make you try to find something more interesting to do. I was currently vandalizing a sign. I had noticed that if I blacked out the letters ‘it’ from the sign outside the door of the lab I was waiting to get into it would read "EE 210 Electrical Circu s", a much more descriptive name. I had just stepped back to admire my handiwork when I noticed a plaque in a display case that had the name of the top graduating electrical engineering student and the top graduating computer systems engineering student from each year going all the way back to the mid seventies. Even though I still had two years to go I was cruising right along and figured that if I didn’t screw up I could have a shot at getting my name on it. A lofty goal, but they were going to put someone’s name on it, why not mine?

The problem with overachieving at something is that it keeps raising the expectation level of everyone that happens to notice. There were a lot of times over the next few years that I wished, briefly, that I could be safely nuzzled in the pack. Instead the faculty noticed me. My chemistry professor recommended me for a job as a supplemental instructor. The goal of the supplemental instruction (SI) program is to identify students that overwhelmingly succeed in a class that normally has a fifty percent or higher drop/failure rate and then recruit them to give three workshops a week to students taking the class. This is free of charge to the students and it’s such a boost to the ego of the SI Leader that they will work for just above minimum wage. Over the next eight semesters I did one chemistry, five engineering, and three math skills workshops (I did both math and engineering one semester, definitely a mistake). On the one hand I became a zombie, but on the other it seemed like I suddenly knew everybody on campus. A few months after I graduated my boss from the Academic Skills Center mailed me a nameplate designating me the first SI Leader Emeritus. I use it instead of the one the company I work for gave me. Whenever I’m asked what the SI stands for I reply, "Stupid Idiot, but at least I’m the leader".

One day there was a birthday party for one of the other SI Leaders and we went to Waldo’s, a bar conveniently located right across the street from the university. That’s where I discovered the Pilsen Club tucked away in the basement. The upstairs was a typical college bar, but downstairs had a fireplace, couches, coffee tables, candles, and beer. Lots of beer. Beer labels every color of the rainbow. This was a place I could relax. I started preparing for my workshops there. One day I sat at the bar and I noticed that there was a plaque there as well. I soon learned that if you applied for a "passport" and tried one of each of the beers they served, along with seven different varieties of liquor (I know what you’re thinking - No, not all during the same night) you would get your name on the plaque and a free shirt, well free after the cost of seventy two drinks anyway. It dawned on me that there was an easier way to get my name on a plaque at WMU. Like old man Waldo himself, I would also leave my mark, and in a much different way from my usual technique after consuming a lot of beer and then stepping outside to find the blank canvas of newly fallen snow.

I suggested to my lab partner, Bob, that not only should we sign up, but that each Friday the person with the lower grades that week should have to buy the other’s first beer. We became instant regulars. Bob had previously served nine years in the Navy, the last six on a submarine. I met him in differential equations, a math class that I had to take three semesters of calculus to get to and that he walked into right out of the Navy. He was no slouch and I paid for as many beers as I drank for free. A couple of others tried to get in on the deal, but aside from my buddy Argos, an exchange student from Spain, they always got tired of paying for the beers.

We always saved our empties and that’s how my ponderously large beer bottle collection got started. Every one is different. We soon learned that if there was an animal on the label, the beer would be a harsh one. If it was a dog it would be an exceptionally vile brew. Nothing, however was worse than a goat. Goat beer usually poured out like syrup. One of the beers was called the Celebrator and it featured two goats on the label and a tiny goat necklace around the top of the bottle. I swear mine had chunks in it, a very dangerous beer indeed.

The day finally dawned that I put Kalamazoo in my rear view mirror and headed for sunny Arizona. I headed west with the glowing satisfaction that I was the first person in the history of Western Michigan University to have my name engraved on both the plaque in Kohrman Hall and the one in Waldo’s.

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