Sunday, January 30, 2005


This disturbs me...

From the Washington Post:

America's largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch, released its latest product last week -- a beer that contains caffeine.

Obviously, this is a monumental cultural milestone and it raises important questions that we as a society must answer. For instance: Is adding America's favorite stimulant to America's favorite alcoholic beverage the greatest scientific breakthrough of the 21st century? Or the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it? Or what?

To which I must add one word....Zima. If Zima didn't signal the end of civilization by bad malt beverage, nothing will.

Back when that stuff first came out, a friend of mine, the drummer in our band, bought a couple of bottles. He wanted to try it. Our consensus was that it tasted kind of like alcoholic Sprite. Training booze, as it were. Somehow I ended up with a bottle of it in my fridge. It lived there for years. It's gone now, but only because I moved. If I still had that bottle of Zima, it could join my new friends, Mike's Hard Lemonade and O'Douls, in my new fridge. They have been living there happily since my July 4th barbecue, and I doubt they'll be going anywhere soon. Someone might drink them, someday...

When I was a freshman in college, I and the two girls in the room next door used to drink Almanden Moutain Rhine, which came in a large, rather elegantly shaped jug. We'd have it in paper cups and watch repeats of THE PRISONER and GET SMART, and oh yeah, smoke a lot of pot. Who knew GET SMART was so funny? It wasn't just funny, it was a statement on the absurdity of the American military industrial complex! Or not...anyway, after that gathering, which I think was on a Monday, I would attempt to write my weekly philosophy class paper, which might explain why I found the process so traumatic. But not completely. I wasn't really a philosophy class kind of person. I was pretty proud to think of myself as a non-intellectual. No, I was a left-handed, creative girl, into writing, and drama, and political science, but not in an intellectual kind of way. I got suckered into taking this philosophy class because they appealed to my ego: it was an invitation only seminar, and only a dozen incoming freshman would be invited, for two sections.

I bit. I signed up for the class. The professor was a middle-aged woman - though in retrospect, she might have been in her 30s; hey, I was 18 - who wore tweeds and had that nasal, preppy accent that spoke of rarified breeding and lots of contact with horses. She was scarily smart. Intellectual. We were to survey Western Philosophy from Plato to I think maybe Marx, and every week we were to write a paper. So there I'd be late Monday night, snockered on Almanden Mountain Rhine and purple sensimilla, trying to decide if there was such a thing as a coherent self or were we really only random bundles of impressions, tied together by weak threads of experience? Where was caffeinated beer when I needed it, dammit?!

I wasn't the only one who found the class rough going. In the other section, there was a student who was really an intellectual. He had long, black hair that he wore perfectly parted down the middle, and round, black glasses. He was tall and thin and had a long face and a bony nose, and he could really talk the talk. But one time, I got to class early, and he was talking to the professor, who usually confined her remarks to variations of, "Well...ahhhh...what do YOU think, ahhhh?" This time, the student was quite agitated. Finally he blurted out in desperation, "Are you saying that Kant's antimonies preclude the possibility of ever understanding the nature of self?"
The professor paused.
"Well, ahhhh....yes. I'm afraid they do."
At which point the student, tears in his eyes, fled from the classroom.*

*DISCLAIMER TO SURFING PHILOSOPHERS: in fact, I can't remember what their discussion was about and I can barely remember anything about Western Philosophy, so if I've completely distorted Kant's Antimonies, please forgive me.

I struggled through it. But with each passing week, I had a harder and harder time constructing a coherent paper. I just wanted to drink more Mountain Rhine, smoke another bong hit and watch Monty Python repeats (because after all, "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!").

By the last week of class, I was thoroughly blocked. I just couldn't do it. Couldn't write another paper where I acted like I understood the material and presented some half-assed argument that bored me to death trying to write it. I gave up. I'd always been a good student, always. Always had managed at the last possible moment to perform and do well. But that was before I'd started drinking and smoking pot. And this shit made my head hurt.

So, sometime around midnight, I started typing. About how much I hated writing philosophy papers. About how fucking miserable I was every Monday night, trying to work through these mind-boggling arguments and come up with something half-way intelligent to say. I ended up concluding that I was never going to solve these problems, but that the point was to work through them. Something like that, anyway. I was plastered and really didn't give a shit.

I turned in the paper. And immediately was certain that I had committed some sort of academic sin. I'd actually said what I thought and what I felt. I was gonna flunk the class for sure, and I was on a scholarship. I was a baaad student. I'd never been a bad student before.

For the last meeting of the class, we had a cocktail party at the Professor's house. All the other philosphy professors on the faculty were invited as well. After we'd had a chance to drink and mingle, the Professor announced that two of her students would read papers that represented the classes' best work.

The first student was the long haired, round glasses guy mentioned earlier. I don't remember what his paper was about but I remember feeling intimidated by it. The second student was me. Afterwards, one of the other professors came up and congratulated me on the clarity of my argument, or something like that. I was pretty much floored. It had never occurred to me before this night that you could be honest about your feelings and actually get rewarded for them.

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