The Bad Project

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Chapter 22. Talking with Dr. Snow/Marianne

Marianne combed her hair, twisted it up into a bun, and changed into a sedate dark green sweater set and fresh jeans. She told herself she wanted to look more academic, but she was really just putting off her meeting with Dr. Snow. She read her new quotation as she started out, “Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat. Anais Nin.” She thought that could symbolize the whole Bad Project, except that she didn’t want to suffer only defeat.

With Crystal’s help, she was passing by her experiences unscathed as much as possible. So far, she was lucky about that, much more than Crystal had predicted. And she had written two nonfiction pieces and three short stories this semester, all rising from her experiences. But that impunity might be over.

Would Crystal get in trouble too? Marianne knew she hadn’t worried earlier about Crystal’s scenarios about getting in trouble, but now one of them seemed all too real. Helping someone violate the rules against plagiarism was an honor violation almost as serious as the plagiarism itself here at Carson. You got a note in your file just like an honor violation, and being caught again resulted in the same effects as cheating twice. Would the deans consider Crystal for that big scholarship she wanted if she had an honor violation note in her file? She worried that just when she and Crystal seemed to be growing apart, perhaps her roommate would become embroiled in the consequences of the Bad Project.

The early afternoon sun fell gently on the landscaped grounds, but Marianne couldn’t enjoy the fall flowers or golden leaves. Snow’s office was almost all the way across campus, and it took her fifteen minutes to arrive at Menseth Hall. She walked slowly down the musty hallway, looking hesitantly at each office. Which one was his? There was no directory, but every office had a name plaque, hard to read in the semi-darkness unless she went up close to the door. She tried to clear her throat, and Dr. Snow popped out of an office across the hall.

“Hello, are you Marianne Wu?” he said brightly, appearing out of nowhere rather like an elderly elf escaped from Santa’s workshop.

“Yes, I’m Marianne,” she said softly.

He beckoned her into the door of his large office. Walls of bookcases, which were crammed with books and magazines from floor to ceiling. He even had piles of papers and books in stacks on the floor and on most of the chairs. But the chair at his desk and one right across from it were clear. He waved her to the seat across the desk and sat down. Dr. Snow had rumpled his white hair so he had two cowlicks, and his glasses weren’t quite square on his face. His three piece tweed suit reprised old movies of Oxford dons. There was a red pencil behind his right ear.

Once he sat down, Marianne could only see Dr Snow’s head and the top of his shoulders over the piles of papers on his desk. But the area on his side of the desk, right in front of him next to his computer, was clearer. It had only one small pile of paper, marked here and there with red ink including a few proofreaders’ marks that Marianne recognized from her high school literary magazine experience, delete, stet, etc.

It looked like he had been editing a manuscript for publication before Marianne arrived. He pushed it aside tenderly, smiling at the pages the way Marianne had never seen him smile at a student. She remembered the first day of class. He had said, “I don’t like interruptions during my lectures. You don’t know anything and I’m not going to pretend you do. Please hold your questions until the end.” He hadn’t said it unkindly, but it was so dismissive it felt like a slap. And later on, he always ran late, so there were never any questions. Perhaps he enjoyed publishing much more than interacting with students.

He peered over the piles at Marianne, who perched on the edge of her wooden chair, clutching its smooth, bent arms tightly with both hands. She felt cold, and was sorry she’d taken off her cardigan sweater. But she was too nervous to retrieve it from the back of her chair.His bright eyes behind thick glasses fixed on hers. “You, young lady, turned in a paper that was not from this year’s experiment. We do make small changes, and you’ve given me the experiment from year before last. What do you have to say about that?”

For a second, she sat immobilized like a rabbit surprised by a flashlight, but then she could almost hear Crystal’s voice in her ear telling her what to do. “I’m so sorry. I don’t understand biology report, I don’t understand experiment. I borrow report from older friend for help, but I don’t understand report. So I just copy it.”

She felt un-American speaking pidgin English like that, but Crystal had advised her to pretend English was hard for her, and she was going to carry it through. It made her feel even less like a Chinese person, but more like an American who wasn’t quite honest. She wasn’t an immigrant. What was she doing? This sham definitely felt wrong. But her Philosophy class had left her confused about right and wrong, so she told herself to think of it all as more experience, grist for writing.

“You need to comprehend the laboratory work, Ms. Wu. We give you these laboratories so you’ll understand the lectures better. You didn’t get it at all? Let me see how you’re doing on the tests.”

Dr. Snow opened a desk drawer and pulled out an ancient dark green grade book. Most of Marianne’s professors used computer software to track grades but evidently not Dr. Snow. “This book can’t crash and stop working if you’re all writing your papers at the end of the semester like those computers do. It’s always ready,” he said to Marianne with a chuckle. Obviously a well worn joke, she thought. She bit her lip to stop it from trembling, knowing what he was going to find inside.

“Oh, no, you really struggled with the first examination I see,” he said. “Do you have trouble with English?”

“No trouble. Good English. I understand English. Just not Biology.”

“Hmm. How is your writing in English?”

“It’s not so good. I am not good writer yet, sorry to say. I will take class next semester, not yet.” Marianne wondered if she was laying it on too thick. But, she thought Dr. Snow wasn’t really seeing her as a person, just as an interruption to his editing of that manuscript he had looked at so lovingly. She hoped he would decide not to report her to save himself trouble with testifying at the honor court. He scrabbled inside another desk drawer, muttering to himself.

Dr. Snow looked up and said, “I had a list of the Student Affairs-office-certified Biology tutors here a couple of days ago, but I’ve misplaced it. But if you go over there, they’ll provide you with a free tutor. You should work with him for three to five hours every week, trying to learn the important principles of Biology.” He looked hopeful. Was that because he had devised a strategy to send her elsewhere? Why had he said “him,” were there no female tutors?

“Could you write note for me?” Marianne said, “So they understand?”

“Of course, my dear. Let me get out a piece of stationery.” Dr. Snow’s tiny hands dived into yet another drawer. He made an amazing amount of noise rooting around in his drawers, but the process wasn’t successful. Finally he took down an expired lecture notice from his bulletin board, cut off the blank lower half of it, and scrawled a short note: “Ms. Wu is having difficulties in my section of Biology 1 and needs to have a tutor provided by the Office of Student Affairs.” He dated the note and handed it to her.

Marianne looked at the note. She was getting into the part she played more and more. “Dr. Snow, please could you sign?”

He smiled, got out his fountain pin again, signed it with a large and decorative emblem of his approval, and handed it to Marianne with a flourish.

“Oh, look, there’s an arachnid on your chair,” he said suddenly.

Marianne squealed, jumped up, shook her shoulders, brushed herself down in the back as best she could, and said, “Where is it? I absolutely hate spiders.”

Snow looked at her with a sideways smile. “I know you’re pretending not to speak good English,” he said. “Be careful, young lady, I’ll be watching you.” Marianne didn’t answer. She held her lips tightly together, shakily grabbed her cardigan, put the note into her backpack, and got up to leave. Dr. Snow said, “You’d better behave yourself from now on.” His cold voice made her feel tiny and inadequate. She heard the door close with a loud click behind her.

As Marianne walked back down the dingy hall to the door, she thought about what he had said. He had caught her out. He sounded scary, but he didn’t say he was planning to report her for an honor violation. She was giddy with relief. Should she go by the room to tell Crystal? Yes, probably she was worried, about Marianne and about herself. Marianne knew it would be hard to tell her about what he said at the end.

As she came into their room, Crystal looked up from her desk. “What happened? Did you get off?” she asked.

“Sort of,” Marianne said. “He went along and recommended me to get a tutor, but at the end he tricked me into showing I speak good English.”

“Oh, no. I’m sorry it went wrong. Bad advice, huh?”

“Not really. He seemed to be looking for a way to push me off onto another office, like the Dean of Students, to get tutoring. But he said I’d better be careful.”

“That’s bad. Might he report you later?”

Crystal’s lips were tight and she had a worry line between her eyebrows. Marianne said, “No, I doubt it. He’d have to say he let me off when he knew I’d done it. I think I’m okay.” But there was still a tendril of doubt.

Crystal was reassured, though. “Good, I’m glad he won’t tell the deans.” She seemed relaxed again. Marianne told her goodbye and set off for the lit magazine work room. She saw Professor Sandstrom walking across campus and he looked up and smiled and waved at her. She felt a strange flip-flop inside when she saw him now. He had been perfect at the dinner, joked around with all her friends, drew them all out about their future plans, been quite interested in Marianne’s dreams of being a writer and Crystal’s of being a doctor in Africa.

“No one wants to be a philosopher?” he asked in mock horror. “Who will carry on my field after I’m gone?”

Elise said, “There’s a while yet, a good long while, before you’ll have to retire. Surely someone will come along with enough brain power to major in Phil before that.” Everyone laughed.

Marianne thought she’d like to find out more about the ethics of having sex without being married, but she was not really comfortable with the idea of talking about it with Dr. Sandstrom. She couldn’t discuss it with Sharon either, since Liu was her brother and he was the one she thought would work best for the Sex Bad. She thought about Joyce Lee, but she was more of an acquaintance, not really close enough. And Jim wasn’t the kind of friend with whom intimate conversation seemed possible. Neither were Bella and the others in her critique group. Maybe she should just keep Sex Bad planning to herself. Or maybe some day she would get up the nerve to ask Sandstrom what he thought about it.

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