Murf the Nerf Misses the Final
I don't think I've ever told you the story of Murf the Nerf--so-called because he was about the soft-headedest football player ever to be awarded a scholarship. Total wastoid, this guy. Barely showed up for the Intro to Mass Media class (big lecture gang-bang with over 100 kids in the room on a good day). Never uttered one blessed word in the whole semester. Slept on the back row with his cap over his eyes.
For every class, I require one one-on-one meeting, prof to student. It can be five minutes or 30, depending on time and the student's conversational skills.
Murf never set up his meeting. He was throwing for a loss the whole semester. Didn't turn in all the papers. Missed a few quizzes. Got a C on the mid-term, which was so screamingly easy that some students made more than 100 points on the thing by simply filling in the extra credit question.
Comes the day of the final and Murf is a no-show. It's an 8 a.m. test, three hours allotted. Most students finish the 100 multiple choice questions in under 90 minutes. A few of the anal retentive ones stay a bit longer to quadruple-check their Scantron sheets and sharpen their Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils a few times between test sections.
Don't ask me why but I was feeling generous as I sat in my office that afternoon, grading the exams and totaling up the final grades on the computer. Murf's last name popped up and I thumbed through the alphabetized exam sheets to see if I'd misplaced his. Nope, wasn't there. Oh, boy. The kid probably overslept. If he misses the final, he'll flunk the whole course. It's 30 percent of the total grade.
I look up his phone number on his grade/attendance card and punch it into the greasy beige office phone. "Hullah," he answers sleepily. It's after 1 p.m. by now.
"Mr. Murfree? It's your Mass Media teacher. Did you know you missed the final exam this morning?"
"Huh?" Coming to consciousness now. "Shee-it, I thawt it was at 2. It was at 8? Shee-it."
"Mr. Murfree, if you can get to my office in the next half-hour, I'll give you the exam. If you don't take it today, you're going to fail the course."
"I'll be there," he says shakily. I can almost smell the flop-sweat beading up on his low-hanging brow.
He ambles in about 20 minutes later, wearing droopy shorts, flip-flops and a Senor Frog t-shirt from Spring Break in Cancun. I set him up in the conference room next door and give him the exam stuff and a Scantron sheet. He has to borrow a pencil. Didn't even bother to bring a pencil.
Every 15 minutes or so, I check on him--the rest of the building is nearly empty--and he seems to be clicking along slowly but steadily. Takes him about two hours to get it done. He shuffles off down the hall and I start grading. By the end of the first section, I can tell he's going to muff it pretty badly. He places the invention of the phonograph in the 1700s and identifies "MPAA rating" as the "Thumbs up or down given by critic Roger Ebert" (one of my so-easy-it's-idiotic choices among answers). A monkey throwing darts at a Scantron would have better odds of picking better answers than the Nerf. But somehow he pulls a D on the thing, giving him a D in the course overall.
The grades go up on the computer system that students can check within hours of my posting them. You can usually tell when the grades hit the cybersphere because the phone calls and emails start coming in.
Mr. Murfree is one of the first. "A D? How could I get a D?" he asks, his voice rising with indignation. He protests heartily and asks for a meeting in my office to discuss it. They always want the meeting.
The semester is over, I tell him. The building is locked up. No meetings. The grades are final. And BY THE WAY, BUDDY, I did you a big, fat favor by letting you TAKE THE EXAM, which you SLEPT THROUGH.
Now comes the sob story part of the show. He's about to lose his scholarship. His girlfriend is pregnant and her parents kicked her out so she's living with him. His parents are divorcing. His mother's an alcoholic. Four great excuses and he uses them all.
My ears turn to lead as he prattles on and on. The grade is final, I keep telling him. You were lucky to get the D. YOU DESERVED AN F.
He will call and email me constantly for the next two weeks.
No good deed goes unpunished.