Thursday, November 29, 2007

Higher Learning (Mensa, part 4 of 4)

"No penalty for guessing."

Like "take the pitch," the fateful baseball term that ruined my childhood, this was something I had heard before. Specifically, during my SAT. Like "take the pitch," I didn't quite understand it and was too ashamed to ask what it meant. Like "take the pitch," I pondered its meaning using my own foolproof logic:

No penalty for guessing? How the hell do they know if I'm guessing or not? It's just a bunch of pencil marks! It's all graded using a machine that can't possibly distinguish a guess from a knowledgeable answer. This must be one of those phrases that they throw out to confuse the dumb kids, to separate the mice from the men.

I decided to stick it to the system and leave anything I wasn't sure of blank. I'd show them. Let them taste the bold flavor of genius. My combined score on the SAT was 920. NYU film school didn't seem to mind.

I sit there with my Mensa test answer sheet in front of me. There are many blank answers. The proctor announces that there's one minute left. I notice that everyone in the room starts scribbling frantically. To this genius it looked like they were filling in their answers randomly.

"Hey, people!" I nearly shout out loud. "No penalty for guessing! Relax! You're gonna break your pencils!"

The proctor repeats, "No penalty for guessing..."

Then adds: "It's better to put an answer down than to leave it blank."

I have another Moment of Clarity and start scribbling.

Pear is to apple as potato is to:
A) Banana
B) Radish
C) Strawberry
D) Peach
E) Lettuce

A month later my Mensa letter comes in the mail. It's way too thin to tell me anything except that I am NOT a Smartypants. I open it up and, indeed, I am nothing but a Dumbass.

Not one to resist any opportunity to be in the spotlight, even if it means humiliation and ridicule, I gather my friends together and open the envelope "live." We all sit in the living room of my Mensa-friend's house. I sink into his big leather armchair, knowing that it's the last time we will be on equal ground. He seems to know it, too, which is why I think he allowed me to sit there. Everyone stares at me, resembling greedy heirs at the reading of daddy's will.

I tear open the envelope with a flourish and read the single sheet of Mensa stationary. There is an awkward silence. All of them look away. Mr. Mensa sits across from me, a smile of victory plastered on his face. He comes over and pats me on the shoulder:

"Get out of my chair."

A boy and his father are in a horrible car accident. The father is killed. They take the boy into the operating room--oh never mind....

If the official Smartypants club was not going to have me for a member, then I would have to validate my intellect in some other half-assed way. I needed to go back to school and earn my degree.

did I?

Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internets, all that had confounded me at those pesky traditional learning centers was taken right out of the equation. My salvation appeared one day in my junk e-mail box. Sandwiched between "Ass-Licking Asian Teens" and "You Want to Stick Your Dick WHERE?" was the answer to all my prayers:


Obtain a prosperous future, money-earning power and the admiration of all!

Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience.

No required tests, classes, books or interviews.

Bachelors, masters, MBAs, and doctorate degrees available in the field of your choice.

No one is turned down. Confidentiality assured.

Call now to reserve your diploma within days!!

About three days later my formal education was FedEx'd to my doorstep. There were letters of recommendation from esteemed professors:

A transcript:

3.93. Not too shabby.

And of course....

But what young man's education would be complete with out a super-deluxe, ultra-fine, custom-made, built-to-last....

...laminated mini-diploma.

That's what I call $450 well-spent. I was also able to get the good Dean to send me a doctorate in child psychology for a friend. Makes a great gift.

Call me Dr. Smith, please. I earned it.

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