Monday, November 12, 2007

Smartypants In Training (Mensa, part 1 of 4)

Call me Dr. Smith, please.

I have a doctorate in archaeology from the University of
Ravenhurst in Amsterdam.

Yes, THAT University of Ravenhurst. If you want to see--


I was going to provide photographic evidence of my diploma, but then I went looking for it and I can't find it. I looked everywhere. Okay, I looked nowhere. I just can't be bothered. If it was from Princeton I might look for it. Then again, if it was from Princeton it might actually be hanging on my wall. The wall of my mansion. The mansion that I earned at a big law firm that hired me because I went to Princeton and NOT the University of Fucking

"So, Dr. Smith,
how did you earn such an illustrious degree from this mysterious Hogwarts-like place that no one's ever heard of?"

Unlike traditional brick and mortar schools, the University of
Ravenhurst provides, according to Dean Tammy Stone, "bachelors, masters and doctorates based on life experience." One must judge harshly their own level of knowledge before seeking out one of UR's valuable parchments. For me it was a time of serious self-searching which began several years ago....

Q: What does nobody want, but nobody wants to lose?
A: False teeth

If you know the answer to that question, you may be a Smartypants and eligible to join Mensa, the Milky Way Galaxy's official Smartypants club.

All my life I've wanted to be a Smartypants. In what I realize now is a desperate desire for parental approval, there's nothing I enjoy more than Being Right. I get no greater satisfaction than showing the nearest person how clever I am with my cute little jokes about other people's shoes or their weight or their missing digits. I'm good at crosswords and can do the
New York Times puzzle Monday through Wednesday without batting an eye. There's nothing more thrilling to me than blasting my opinions through the air--or cyberspaaaaaaaace--like pithy little blow darts. People have actually requested my wonderfully quirky impressions of various teachers, bosses, Joyce DeWitt (bug your eyes out, purse your lips, and shout, in a sharp and clipped manner: "Jack!"), and Stephen Hawking dumping his wife (in your best Stephen Hawking's Wheelchair Voice: "It's not you, it's me.")

I was reading at an early age. By the time I got to kindergarten I was ahead of my classmates in spelling and comprehension. I remember vividly the day Mrs. Donatelli wrote the word "yellow" on the blackborad and I was the only one who could read it. My hand shot up like a bottle rocket, and I held it high, maintaining the desperate, aching Smartypants protocol. Mrs. Donatelli pointed at me with a smile and said, "I know YOU know what it says, but let's ask the rest of the class."

Had I been old enough to ejaculate, I surely would have. To this day I consider that one of the five greatest moments in my academic career. To put things in perspective, the time I won a free Creamsicle on "Lucky Tray Day" runs a close second.

Despite the radiant promise of my kindergarten performance, I quickly became one of the great underachievers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Through sixth grade I did rather well, but the rising star known as ME soon nose-dived into Shit City. I started doing as little as possible to keep my grades at a mediocre level, and by freshman year of high school I had scored my first F on a report card (Algebra 1) and had to be.......TUTORED.

Smartypants, indeed!

By the end of my sophomore year in college, I was a full-fledged drop out. But it was only film school, dropping out of which doesn't make you any less of a Smartypants. It just saves you money. Quitting school never hindered my career in television either. In fact, it may have enhanced it.

Victor Serebriakoff, International President of Mensa, once made up a poem about hyperbolic acid, a substance so corrosive that it would eat through anything. One day, Sir Clive Sinclair, an inventor and British Mensa chairman, phoned his old friend with some stunning news: "Victor! You won't believe this but I have actually invented your hyperbolic acid! Stay where you are and I'll dash over to your house with a flask of it right now!" Victor replaced the phone and chuckled to himself. How could he tell that he was being teased?

I was at work when I learned that one of my colleagues was a member of Mensa. This news took me by surprise. We were both editing a television show called "Doctors' Diaries" for the Health Network. We were both the same age, grew up in Massachusetts, wore cruddy clothes to work and shared a similar sense of humor. Granted I didn't know him THAT well, but usually you can sense it when people are playing the same ball game you are. He was certainly not a stupid man, far from it, but for fuck's sake he was no genius.

I started to subtly investigate his intelligence. I went into his office one day and asked him if I could measure the circumference of his cranium. Told him I was gonna buy him a fedora for his birthday. (Not only did he allow me to do it, but when he got no hat for his birthday he didn't even admonish me. This is a Mensa member?) Once I dropped a handful of toothpicks at his feet, expecting him to count them instantly. He just looked down and said, "The fuck?" My suspicions were growing: he had no idea who Tony Stark's alter ego was, no idea who invented flan and told me he had acid reflux. This man knew so little, and yet he was in Mensa. On two separate occasions he failed to guess the number I was thinking of, and at the company Christmas party I noticed he was slurring his words after only four drinks. Also, he was not in a wheelchair with a crown of electrodes encircling his head. To me he seemed unqualified for both Mensa

That's when it occurred to me: maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe being in Mensa had nothing to do with being a genius who could explain the universe backward and forward and count toothpicks in a pile. I could not do any of those things either. Did I need to fit the stereotype and be some twisted card-counting cripple to be in Mensa? Was being in Mensa all about starting fires with your autistic mind and having an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books? Did every Mensanite have to know that the Irish invented chess or that you can remove blueberry stains from a satin shirt using only a feather duster and a 9-volt battery? Maybe most of the Mighty Mensans were just normal people, the ones who could simplify, understand, decipher, organize and clarify common problems better than others.

Maybe I was underestimating my own intellect.

Perhaps I was the ideal candidate...

NEXT: Part 2, Where I Learn That Not ALL Eggrolls Are Made In China


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