Thursday, September 02, 2004
Jason Mulgrew: No Friend to Professors
As I have written before, I was never one for grades in college. Sure, I did ok, but I was very opposed to the whole "working hard" thing, as I viewed college more as a life experience than an academic exercise. So I took advantage of this life experience by getting drunk and peeing on the T, watching "The Big Lebowski" three thousand times, and sleeping until noon every day. And sure, I still had intellectual interests, but those interests were limited to fantasy sports (Statistics), deciding how I could tell potential employers that I was a worthy hire when I really should be in prison (Marketing/Rhetoric), and figuring out how I could most wisely spend the $75 a week I made and still get my fill of booze and nachos (Math/Economics).
Senior year I was particularly guilty of the "senior slide." Once I got my job offers in January, I pretty much closed down the shop, and focused in my remaining semester on trying to screw up as many female friendships I could by repeatedly asking for sex. It was not my finest moment. Not quite as bad as freshmen year when I was caught masturbating in my dorm's laundry room, but pretty bad nonetheless.
My course load in senior year was all fluff. In the second semester, I had all my classes on Tuesday, and only one on Thursday.
It was in this semester that I took a writing course with my buddies Joe and Dan. Knowing that the class was going to be a bit of hard work, and hearing that the teacher was a ball-buster, we took the class pass/fail. This meant that all we had to do was show up with pants on (with our genitals in our pants), and we would pass.
This course was taught by Steve Almond. I've given some props to Steve before on this site, as he is a pretty bad-ass writer (if you're looking for something to read, you should check out his stuff: My Life in Heavy Metal is a collection of lusty and heart-wrenching short stories, while Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America is fascinating in the "I can't put this down" kinda way, but the absolute worst book to read if you are on a diet).
Steve was also a pretty cool teacher - coming into class hungover, saying "Fuck" all over the place, asking one time after class if we knew how to "score", because he was really feening for some hashish (ok, I made that last one up).
For these reasons, Steve and my buddies and I struck up a friendship. We respected him because he was an established writer and a fuck-up, thus giving us hope. He respected us because though we were taking his class pass/fail and doing miserably academically, we were pretty funny.
Fast forward to the present. As I have written before, I'm going back to grad school. The catch: I'm not officially in. Since I didn't make the application deadline, I can take courses for credit, but I still have to officially apply, at which point credit will be carried over.
And I need two recommendations from professors attesting to my academic ability. This is a problem. When most students were visiting professors at office hours, I was playing Whiffle Ball and drinking Natty Light. Most professors I had barely learned my name, and I preferred it this way.
I thought to myself, "Why not ask Steve for a recommendation? You've been pimping him out to everyone you know, and he knows you're not a total ass. Besides, it's not like I need a good rec - just a blurb saying something like, 'Jason Mulgrew is capable of study at your institution. I do not believe that he will murder anyone. On campus, at least.'"
So last week, I emailed Steve:
Steve-O:I thought that this was pretty much in the bank, until I got Steve's reply the next day:
How are you? How is fame, celebrity, etc? Looking forward to starting up another semester?
Speaking of semesters (nice segue), I'm heading back to school this fall. It's just part-time, for my MA in History here in NYC at Hunter - something to do while working, so then I can work and have the degree and either teach or shoot for the Ph.D. Anyways, I'm currently "non-matriculated", which means I was too lazy to officially apply. So I'm applying now. And I need some recommendations.
As the only teacher that I still keep in contact with, didn't alienate by making a sexual pass at, or doesn't think I'm totally incompetent (not sure of this last one), I was wondering if you could whip one up for me. Nothing special - the form is really short, and it's Hunter, so I'm pretty sure that my "stellar" history grades will get me in, even if your only comment is "douchebag" (if you went to Hunter, my apologies). Anyway, if you have time to do one, send me your address, and thank you in advance. If you don't, no worries.
Anyway, hope all is well and talk to you soon.
yup yup. i hear you. here's the prob: you took my class pass/fail. also, despite yer brilliance (and i mean that, yer a smart fucker -- i read yer on-line shit), your performance in class was average (really, slightly below) because you sort of blew it off. and that's not what i wanna tell these folks, but i'd be dutybound to be straight about your "academic performance in my class." are you feeling my pain?
besides -- i taught you some crazy english shit. i'd find history profs if you can.
does this just fuck you up terribly?
i hope not.
The thing is, I completely understand every point Steve makes. What's even more funny is that I never thought about it like that. It never occurred to me that yes, maybe a recommendation for graduate study in history should come from 1) a history professor; 2) a history professor whose class I didn't take pass/fail; and 3) a history professor whose class I didn't take pass/fail and did well in.
So I wrote Steve and told him no worries, and that I agree with his assessment, and that there are no hard feelings (although when I'm up in Boston next weekend I'm definitely going to steal his car).
But now I'm faced with the task of calling professors I had three to six years ago, who barely knew my name, to ask if they can give me a recommendation. I will be sure to keep you apprised of the conversations like:
Me: "Hi, Professor Morgan?"
Old Ass History Professor: "Yes?"
Me: "Hi, my name is Jason Mulgrew. I'm a BC alumnus, a former history major, who took your 'US 1912-1945' class in the fall of '99."
Prof: [clearly not remembering] "Um, yes?"
Me: "Well, how are you? Are you married? If so, how is your wife? If you are both capable of conceiving and have done so, how are your children?"
Prof: [hesitating, confused] "Can I help you with something?"
Me: "Well, I know you're busy so I won't keep you, but I am applying for my masters and was wondering if you might have the time to write me a recommendation."
Prof: "I don't know who you are."
Me: "That's what I figured. Ok, thank you for your time."
Repeat for every member of the history department. Good times. Good times indeed.