During my years as a college undergraduate, I pulled tens of thousands of what we in the college-undergraduate business call "all-nighters." And while that's an impressive - not to mention completely fabricated - figure, what's even more impressive is the number of "almost all-nighters" I pulled.
An "almost all-nighter" is when you "almost" pull an "all-nighter." This involves staying up so late supposedly writing a 10-page paper about Samuel Taylor Coleridge - but really reading the Wikipedia entries on topics like time travel, Venn diagrams, and Lithuania - that you get no more than three hours and no less than 10 minutes of sleep (if you get less than 10 minutes of sleep, you've pulled an all-nighter).
That's all well and good, you're probably saying, but what's so impressive about pulling a bunch of almost all-nighters? Aren't real, honest-to-God all-nighters infinitely more impressive? You'd think so (if you were an unenlightened loser, anyway), but they're not.
Most people can pull the occasional all-nighter, so long as they either take a nap the next day or have their eyes pinned open a la Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. But it takes a pro to pull three-to-five almost all-nighters per week, every week of a semester, and avoid 1) passing out in the shower more often than doctors recommend, 2) being involuntarily committed by university officials, or 3) evolving beyond the human form and exploring the universe as a disembodied consciousness.
Unfortunately, while I did pull three-to-five almost all-nighters per week, I wasn't much of a pro. I never suffered any of the consequences listed above - much to my chagrin, because I've always wanted to be involuntarily committed - but I did spend a lot of class time biting the insides of my cheeks to stay awake.
Occasionally, though, biting the insides of my cheeks didn't work. On such days, I would rest my forehead on one hand and pretend to stare intently at my notebook while actually catching a few Z's. To add to the illusion, I mastered the skill of appearing to take notes while unconscious, scrawling meaningless squiggles and swirls across page after page in my sleep.
But one afternoon during the first semester of my freshman year, in the middle of a class called "Early East Asian Civilization," I made a huge mistake. Actually, my real mistake was taking a class called "Early East Asian Civilization" - because "early civilization" (East Asian or otherwise) was a real snore fest. Think about it: even entertainment options that we consider primitive and stupid today, such as going to discotheques and riding bicycles, didn't exist during early civilization. And if living life back then was tedious, imagine how unbearable studying life back then is.
Anyway, the huge mistake I made on the afternoon in question was falling asleep while the professor - who I'll refer to as Dr. X, even though her last name began with a C - was looking directly at me, possibly even asking me a question. Having taught college students myself (I instruct freshmen in the timeless art of writing essays on topics like television's Rock of Love with Bret Michaels and music's Lil Wayne), I now understand the banality of my faux pas. But at the time, I thought I'd committed a sin worthy of expulsion.
I snapped awake to find Dr. X staring at me with raised eyebrows. "Did you just fall asleep?" she asked.
I doubt she expected an honest answer, and I didn't give her one. "Nope," I said, an unbelievably stupid cover story materializing in my brain as I spoke. I rubbed my eyes. "I'm just having trouble with my contact lenses is all. See?" I rubbed my eyes more vigorously to prove how much trouble I was having with my contact lenses.
Smirking, Dr. X nodded, turned, and walked to the chalkboard, where she wrote something that I assume had to do with early East Asian civilization. I don't remember what it was because I fell asleep again before she finished the first letter of the first word.
Despite the fact that Dr. X never mentioned the incident again, it stuck with me. And these days, when I'm teaching and I notice one of my students face down on his desk in the back of the room, slumbering peacefully, I can't help but feel outraged - not that the kid's sleeping, but that he doesn't even have enough self-respect to try to dupe me (however unsuccessfully) into thinking he's not.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.