Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Smart People do Dumb Things

I am sitting at the reception of the Philosophy department, waiting for an appointment with Dr. Eldridge, my Ethics professor. His office door is open and I can hear his voice as it gets louder and louder in a debate with a student. This is when I begin to realize that I will probably have to wait for a long time given the nature of their discussion: Constructivist theory, but I am glad to be able to escape the heat of summer and I don’t mind killing some time under the air conditioner until the sun goes down. The department is small and one has to take into account that there are only thirty Philosophy majors in the entire school and no more than twelve Philosophy professors to teach us, so by one’s senior year it gets easy to know them all by name. Most of my former professors are hanging out in their offices this afternoon. Dr. Kelly who teaches Aesthetics is eating pineapple slices as he looks through the window, while Dr. Croy, my Logic professor, seems to be trying to fix the printer near the reception desk as Dr. Eldridge keeps on rambling from his office.

The receptionist, Jennifer, is a very sweet lady who takes care of these men’s bureaucratic matters, she is also the one who greeted me with a smile and asked me to take a seat. So I plan to spend at least thirty minutes of waiting time with my nose hidden inside a book, but after a few minutes, Dr. Croy’s complaints distract me:
“Jennifer, I can’t seem to get the printer to work! Do you think it is broken?”
“No Dr. Croy, you just have to hit the red button” answers Jennifer.
“The red button? and where is THAT?”
“To your left Dr. Croy, a red button”

I don’t think that Jennifer is willing to get up from her desk to help him, and I don’t think she should. Dr. Croy has a PhD. He has also published five books on Deductive Logic in the last two years and one would suppose that he is an intelligent man, so we both assume that he will eventually figure this problem out by himself, and find the red button. He keeps looking at the machine suspiciously though, and ten minutes later, Eureka!

“I just pressed the red button Jennifer, but nothing is happening, I think this printer is broken.”
Jennifer is smiling through her desk. “No, it’s not broken Dr. Croy, you just need to give it a minute because it needs to warm up.”
“Oh! Ok!”

A while later Dr. Croy finally made his photocopies. He kept staring at the machine and frowning at it though, his glasses moving up and down, like if this was his worst enemy. This incident brought me back to those evenings in class with Dr. Kelly, when he had to beg students to help him figure out how to use the remote control. Or to my mornings in class with Dr. Eldridge, who says that using markers instead of chalk on the board is the only technological advance he can handle. And I wonder how these men, so prestigious in Academia, manage to survive in the real world.

Smart people do very dumb things, you see. This is something I learned early in life. My mother has a Masters degree in Spanish but has to call my sister for help every time she accidentally logs out of the computer. My father got his Masters at UCLA but does not know how to change the oil of his car. Once, he even confused his parking lights with his brights and had been driving this way for months until my boyfriend noticed and pointed it out to him. My sister is a great artist, who cannot hold a job for more than two days due to her lack of people skills.
But I think that I am the dumbest of the family, I got electrocuted with our toaster once, after sticking a knife inside it to get my toast out faster. Three days later at breakfast, I stuck the knife again trying to get my toast out, and got electrocuted again. I think I was nineteen at the time, not eight.
I also got electrocuted once more, two years ago when I tried to cut a cable with a pair of scissors, except that the cable was plugged in to a switch. This incident made my sister start a series of studies regarding my IQ level which she titled: “Is My Sister Dummer than a Hamster?

Of course, at school I made straight A’s most of the time but that, honestly, said nothing to me about how smart I was when it came to practical matters.

Which is why I went to college I believe, same reason why Dr. Croy, Dr. Eldridge and Dr. Kelly seem to have gone to college: I was too dumb to do well in anything else which did not involve reading various texts or writing various papers about beautifully abstract matters. And the older I get, I come to understand that the reason why I would like to pursue a life in Academia and the reason why I enjoy to spend hours inside libraries, why sometimes I would rather read a book than be with people, is because I simply suck at doing everything else.

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