I've decided to open this week's column by telling a story I've told before – not because I've run out of ideas (I have at least five of those left, and so what if they're all mediocre?), and not because the story's especially interesting (it's not), but because the story recently got bigger, and I want to refresh our collective memory.
During my freshman year at St. Lawrence University, in what I called "an attempt to determine my interests without letting unconscious biases influence my choices" – but what was really my distaste for making informed decisions – I registered for classes by closing my eyes, opening the course catalog at random, and pointing.
As a result, I wound up in a class called "Early East Asian Civilization." As I said the first time I told this story, I considered "early civilization (East Asian or otherwise) a real snore fest" – so it should come as no surprise that I spent roughly every moment of class trying not to fall asleep. And, thanks to the several liters of Jolt Cola I guzzled each day, I almost always succeeded.
In fact, I can only recall failing to stay awake once – but that one failure was what we in the failure business call a "doozy." See, the professor – who I'll call Dr. History, not because she was a time-traveling educational superhero, but because I enjoy reducing people I regard as bit players in the epic movie of my life to single, easy-to-remember details – was looking at me when I slipped into slumber.
I realized I'd been caught during the last millisecond of consciousness, and my eyes shot open instantly. Dr. History was still looking at me, only now she was frowning. She asked if I'd fallen asleep.
I said I certainly had not. Rather, I claimed, my contacts had dried out. "I just blinked for an extra long time to moisten them," I said, not sure if my obvious lie made sense in scientific terms, but hoping Dr. History knew as little about science as I did. She apparently did – or perhaps, regarding me as a non-entity, she just didn't feel like pursuing the matter further – because she said "okay," gave me a tight-lipped smile, and resumed her lecture.