The Bohemian Flat Headed Test Cheater

What have I done!?“Let me see your arm,” I say to the boy. We are sitting in the retake test period for students who failed their language exams last spring.

The boy frowns, rolls his eyes and shows me his forearm, which is tattooed by, it seems, the entire English dictionary. “Everyone does it,” he says in an aggravated tone. His subtext is clear: F*ck off.

And then something happens, the origins of which are still a mystery to me. I say, “Well, if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”

There are things in my life which confirm my age: sweater vests, glasses, grunting upon standing, hatred of all music made after 1996, my inability to deal with technology, etc. But to say something straight out of the parental handbook takes me by surprise. I take a deep breath.

The boy looks at me with disdain. “I copied all the wrong things, so this information on my arm won’t even help me at all. You can watch me the whole time!”

Six minutes later the boy comes back from the bathroom, pulls his shirtsleeve up to reveal a scrubbed forearm and sneers at me.

As an old man teaching at a university, I have been forced to face the fact that the last time I understood people in their early 20s my weight began with a 1.

That is, it’s been a while.

The best I can hope for is to be an anthropologist of the cool. And so, mostly for entertainment and research purposes, I observe the goings on of the 20-23 year old college student. I suppose it’s something of a hobby.

Today, the subject is the Bohemian Flat Headed Test Cheater. As anthropologist, I blend in among the students in the testing room by sitting in a back row, reading and occasionally thinking anarchistic thoughts. It becomes very clear, very soon, that several students are cheating on their tests. I pick up my notebook and walk around the room to take notes.

On this day, I observe five test subjects cheating. My notes follow.

5. The Techno-Cheater. This boy proves tricky for me, since technology is to me what water is to the wicked witch of the West. The student I catch has an entire coursebook photographed on his phone. I give him kudos for guts, but take his test. He has failed and I decide that a victory lunch of pizza is in order.

4. The Signal System. This is a buddy system style of cheating based on the idea that if student A has some information and student B has other information, together they form one whole student. The two signallers in the testing period today have made a mistake in judgment. This mistake is a simple one: neither student A nor B has any information as both have decided to rely solely on the other for assistance. The situation degrades a short while later with students A and B mouthing hostilities and epithets to each other across a crowded room of test-takers and one English teacher wearing a huge smile.

3. Cheat Sheet (Cz: tahák). This is a classic and today I get special insight into the hiding places for these useless pieces of paper. There are cheat sheets in shoes, socks, shirtsleeves and zippers. Today, however, marks the first time I have asked a student to give me what’s in her bra. It also marks the first time in a long while that a girl’s bra components are among my daily affairs.

2. Drowning Swimmer. A monkey throwing poop at policemen or a cat burping the national anthem are hard acts to beat. There are times, though, that I allow my morbid sense of humor to prevail over my college sense of humor. Last week I followed a woman for four blocks because she was clearly learning to walk in high heels. In hindsight, it was probably rude to bring popcorn. This morbidity is fondled today when I’m given the gift of watching a student who isn’t prepared for a test looking around the room for some, any, kind of help. It resembles a drowning man in its desperation and the fact that the boy is covered in his own sweat. I leave him be, he’s in his own hell and try though I might, I can’t make it any worse.

1. All of the above by attractive people. Like most average looking people, I hate good-looking people. Good-looking people think they can charm their way through society just by flashing a smile or some cleavage. Making this more frustrating is that they’re usually right. Today I catch a cheat-sheeter wearing a belt as a dress. I protest and demand the paper. The next few seconds are blank and I am blinded by her looks. I revisit my mantra – good looking people suck – and restate my demand. She hands over the paper with a huff and I am left to ponder what might have been. PS: If this offends you, you are not good-looking.

At the end of the retesting period, I am exhausted. I sit again in the back row and review my notes. My anthropological survey is finished for the afternoon. On my way back to the office, I overhear two students discussing something called a “Bluetooth.” But that’s a different test subject for a different day. I go for my pizza, which is cool anytime.

When did you realize you weren’t cool anymore?

  1. #1 by Gabrielle Luongo on September 29, 2011 - 3:48 pm

    I am 23 for two more weeks. I’ll let you know how it feels soon enough.

  2. #2 by Damien Galeone on September 29, 2011 - 3:51 pm

    I should probably have observed you more when we were out in Langhorne, but I think we were both distracted by your husband playing make out chicken with my brother.

  3. #3 by Gabrielle Luongo on September 29, 2011 - 4:03 pm

    Make out chicken is pretty cool, you can still be cool after 23…there is hope for me!

  4. #4 by Peter Giuntoli on September 29, 2011 - 6:57 pm


  5. #5 by Andrew Renfro on October 10, 2011 - 4:01 pm

    …the day I realized that a certain, unnamed mutual friend was the good looking “face man” of the group and I was merely comedic fodder. It was a long, hard look in the mirror.

    • #6 by Damien Galeone on October 10, 2011 - 5:18 pm

      Ha. Well, buddy, you can take solace in the fact that I have never been the face man. Except for maybe that time in jail, but that was just awkward.

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