Posted by: nickgerlich | March 13, 2008

How I Met My Children’s Mother

The following is a classic from the vault, a story I have told many times since 1984. Ooh, how Orwellian! And as Barney Stinson on HIMYM would say, this one is “Legen…wait for it…DARY!

Don’t listen to your Professor.

I’m sure most of you have entertained the thought at one time or another that your professors are a rather strange lot, and you certainly shouldn’t listen to everything they say. After all, they’re goofy enough to have stayed in school for the better part of 25 years to earn a Ph.D., and they’re more likely than not to have coffee stains or remnants of their breakfast on their shirt.

Yes, we are kinda weird.

And so each year as Spring Break rolls around, I retell this familiar story. It’s a story of taking a dare. It’s a story of romance.

And it’s a story about me.

It was the Spring of 1984. I was in my first year of the Ph.D. program at Indiana University. I was also just starting my rehab from fathood, and had taken up cycling to help trim some weight. The year earlier I had weighed over 215 pounds, which is a lot for my 5’8″ frame. As my younger brother loved to say, I had TB…Twin Bellies.

I was loving being back on the bike, and the fat was starting to melt off. I heard through a friend that some folks from my undergrad alma mater were planning a Spring Break bike trip to Florida, where they would ride about 400 miles, spending the nights at churches. It sounded like good, cheap fun, and I could work on my tan while losing weight.

But that semester I had the hardest prof in the whole School of Business, a Marketing guy who prided himself for having failed many a student, tripped up numerous Ph.D. candidates, and rejected every article he ever reviewed for the Journal of Marketing. Picture your hardest prof at WT, and then cube him.

He was that hard.

I had endured Dr. Summers in the summer of 1982 in an MBA Marketing Research class. Summers used brute-force memorization exams, with (a) – (m) options being the norm. As it turns out, I have a little Rain Man and Forrest Gump inside me (like you didn’t know that already), and so memorization tests were a snap. I nailed that guy to the wall with his tests, totally acing them.

In my Ph.D. Research Methods class with him, he took his testing techniques to higher levels. First of all, we actually had class at his house. He apparently didn’t want to have to drive in on Wednesday nights, so we had to go to his house, endure Girl Scout cookie pitches, and limited street parking.

He appeared in his basement one February night and declared, “We’re having our midterm the Wednesday after Spring Break. And I don’t want to see any of you guys in here with a tan.”

Gulp.

I had already paid my deposit for the Spring Break bike trip. I wasn’t going to back out now. Why ruin a perfectly good Spring Break by staying home and studying?

And so I hatched a plan. I would take all of my books, notes, and journal articles with me.

I’d ride all day and then study at night. And never mind the 1000 miles each way on the church bus. Why, I’d just stay awake all night and study.

Yeah. In the dark.

So, while all my classmates had the fear of God in them, I secretly planned my departure.

FloridaThe 9th of March 1984 found me standing outside the gymnasium at Anderson University with a bunch of college kids, none of whom I knew. I caught the eye of a cute co-ed and made a point to find out more.

As I socialized on the bus, I realized I hadn’t yet cracked a book. Nah…it’ll wait.

Besides, I still had 12 days to get ready. I knew that Summers’ test would be hard, for he had warned us that he would pull quotes out of books and articles, and we had to fill in the blanks he inserted. In other words, we had to have an enormous number of passages completely memorized.

I found out that girl’s name, and struck up a conversation. Of course, it’s hard to make a good impression on a college kid when you’re a dweeb doctoral student. Even the Members Only jacket I was wearing couldn’t help.

As the week wore on, I rode with all of the gang, soaked up a lot of sun, and made friends with this girl as well as another dating couple. While everyone slept at night, I would find a quiet place where I could study.

At week’s end, we rode into New Smyrna Beach for our final miles, and then a day at the ocean. Afterward we loaded up for the long drive back to Indiana. I was starting to panic a little now, for I had a great tan, and I wondered how I could disguise this at the exam. I studied as much as I could, going over and over the same material. (Note to self: Memorization exams stink. I don’t remember a lick of it.)

Back at home that week, I spent Monday and Tuesday cramming, and Wednesday trying to keep my lunch down. But I decided to walk in to that exam with a confidence I had never shown before. After all, I had aced this guy’s exams before. I could do it again.

And so I walked into his house that Wednesday night with my sleeves rolled up. There you go, Dr. Summers. Like my suntan? Get over it. Grrr.

My peers looked at my like I was insane. Their lily-white skin bespoke what they had done over Spring Break. Not only was Summers mad at me now, but so we’re my classmates. Way to go, Gerlich. Now you’re a pariah.

Once the exam was handed out, quiet fell over the room. I regurgitated everything I knew, and was one of the first to hand it in after four hours. Sleeves still rolled up, I left the house and heaved a sigh of relief.

The next week we got our tests back. I scored the second highest with an A-. But I could tell Dr. Summers was really…um…upset with me, for I had made him look bad. There I was, suntan as dark as a Coppertone ad, and I nearly nailed his exam.

I kept in touch with that gal all through this, and we started dating. We went on lots of bike rides together. And we got married on 14th June 1986, nearly 22 years ago. Six days after our wedding we flew to Los Angeles with our bikes, and started pedalling east. Fifty-three days and 3730 miles later, we made it to Boston.

As for that other dating couple, they married the year prior. She was in our wedding party, and he had become a minister. We were his first wedding.

Had I obeyed Dr. Summers, I would never have met Becky, the woman who became my beloved wife. All the high grades in the world cannot begin to compensate for something this good.

The moral of the story? Don’t listen to your professor. You never know who you might meet.

Have a great Spring Break, gang!

Dr “Relax, Be Happy” Gerlich

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Responses

  1. Loved the story Dr. G!

    I met my wife at a fraternity mixer. Today, I tell my kids to stay away from the frat houses.

    I doubt they listen.

  2. If I had stayed on campus one weekend in October working on my Fulbright proposal like my adviser suggested, I never would’ve met my partner-in-crime… and now we’re going to graduate school together.

    Spot on advice!


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