Monday, June 13, 2005

Double trouble Part 3

Scroll down to read Parts 1 & 2. Or click on them on the menu at left.

January turned into February, with all parties in the “Change Ariel’s failing grade” ruckus still at it. I wasn’t budging and neither was Mrs. Prospero. A meeting was arranged where I was to sit down with her and Dr. Frinck. I also asked that Ariel be present.

The four of us gathered in a tiny conference room on a freezing Monday morning. Frinck and I sat on one side of the table, Ariel and her mom on the other. Ariel looked her usual mess, with a curtain of stringy blond hair hanging over her glasses. She slumped in her chair and didn’t make eye contact with me or Frinck.

Mrs. Prospero was quite a sight, dressed in a skintight brown Chanel suit (the kind with the little chain sewn in the jacket to make it hang just so over the skirt), brown stockings and brown alligator stilettos. Her hair was slicked back in the same chignon style that Ariel had worn for the last of the two oral presentations she’d given in class the previous semester – the only two assignments she’d managed to complete and receive a grade for. Mrs. P. was drenched in a quart or two of Jungle Gardenia. I could feel my lungs straining to expand as the cloud of perfume replaced the oxygen in the room.

Dr. Frinck offered a few half-assed opening remarks, some mealy-mouthed phrases about students taking responsibility and professors being flexible.

Yeah, I’d show him flexible.

As Exhibits A through F of this little kangaroo court, I’d brought along a stack of student papers from Ariel’s class section. Over the break, I’d emailed half a dozen of the best students and asked them to send me copies of graded assignments. They’d obliged, so I had come armed with examples of what was expected in that course and the level of writing that received high grades.

Mrs. Prospero thumbed through them with little interest. Ariel played with the ends of her hair.

“As I’m sure Ariel has told you, she didn’t turn in any of these written assignments,” I said.

“She said she did,” said the mother, tossing the other students’ work onto the table with a huff.

“Ariel? Straight up now. You didn’t do any of this work, did you?” I said, looking right at the girl.

Long pause. Mrs. P. thrummed her Jungle Red nails on the table top.

“No,” she finally said in a whisper.

Case closed as far as I was concerned. But her mom kept at it like a dog with a bone.

“Obviously, dear, you have something against my daughter,” she barked. “I think it’s because she’s pretty and you – you – well, dear, you’re the type of woman who doesn’t even wear makeup.”

I was tempted to dig around in my handbag for my Bobbi Brown compact and lipstick, but why bother? This bitch was on a roll.

“I know women like you, dear. You’re jealous of girls like my daughter. And you punish them by making sure they fail your class. She doesn’t need to take your class anyway. She made A’s in English in high school and she went to the best private school in San Antonio.”

Dr. Frinck didn’t say a word. Not even about the “dears” Mrs. P. was tossing my way.

My class helps teach young journalists the craft of writing, I said, but it’s also about meeting deadlines. Maybe she is a fine writer, but in a writing class, you have to do some writing. And since Ariel never turned in a single page, I really didn’t have a chance to evaluate her skills with spelling and grammar.

“Spelling and grammar?” sniffed Mrs. P. “You don’t need to know that stuff. In the real world, there are people who will correct those things for you.”

It was twilight zone time. I was bumfuzzled. Dr. Frinck didn’t exactly have my back in this scenario. He was gazing blankly at the door.

Mrs. P. continued. “We’re very disappointed in this university. We have not gotten the education for our daughters that we paid for.”

Daughters? Ariel has a sister here?

“Ariel and Mariel are identical twins. Mariel is the outgoing one,” Mrs. P. explained. “Ariel’s the quiet one. Mariel’s the talker. In high school, whenever Ariel needed to talk to anyone, she had Mariel do it for her. Nobody ever knew the difference. They look exactly alike. Well, they do when this one here makes an effort and gets the hair out of her face.”

Click, click, click. The wheels were turning over faster and faster. I looked at Ariel, who glanced at me quickly before turning away. I could see that there were tears on her cheeks.

I didn’t say it, but now I knew. The only two things Ariel had accomplished in my class were those two oral stand-up reports. And she’d had her proxy do them for her. Very slick. Very smart.

I could have busted her, but I didn’t. She knew. I knew.

The meeting came to a close with me again refusing to change the grade. Frinck looked disappointed. I knew he’d be eating more shit from the dean about it. He left the conference room without even a comforting word in my direction. Mrs. P. click-clacked after him on her little brown heels, chattering away. Ariel hung back for just a moment.

You thought you fooled me, didn’t you? I said to her.

“I’m sorry about my mother,” she said damply. “She’s always been like this. It was just as bad in high school. I just let her do it. I can’t stop her anyway.”

It was the most I’d ever heard Ariel say.

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