Thursday, October 11, 2007

One Test, Twenty-Eight Backwards Haikus, and Five Self-Satisfactions

There is a vengeful beast lurking inside the New York City public college system. It’s called the CPE: the CUNY (City University of New York) Proficiency Exam. Administered to every CUNY student after the completion of at least 40 credits, the CPE tests basic academic skills: reading comprehension, comparative analysis, and sitting in a packed room sweating your ass off.

The CPE has two sections, and the first asks the student to compare and contrast two essays. My test, for example, asked me to distinguish between the philosophies of two writers, one who espouses the benefits of modern technology and another who lambastes modernity as a soulless departure from upstanding, traditional living. I called the first writer a sage and the second, Amy Wu, a terrorist. I referenced the Taliban. I figured that was good enough.

The student is allotted two hours for Part A; I finished in 35 minutes, as did most of the people at my table. However, CUNY rules mandate that students must sit until the full two hours expire—even bathroom breaks are, literally, against the rules. So, armed with nothing but two number-two pencils, a pen, and two sheets of scrap paper, I set about writing twenty-eight haikus. However, because I'm an idiot I thought that haikus are arranged 7 syllables-5 syllables-7 syllables, while in fact they're 5-7-5. Herein is a sample of my incorrect work (I just hope the test graders don't see what I did and flunk me for it):

Hand inside the cookie jar
Caught with your pants down
Blowjob and chocolate chips

Trick or Treat! It’s Halloween
Dress up like a ghoul
Don’t rape a kid in costume

Conspiracy JFK
Bullets in Dallas
Texans own too many guns

The haikus touched on a number of significant world issues, from Ahmadinejad (conveniently 5 syllables) to alcoholism (conveniently concealable). At one point, the person seated across from me was scribbling on his own scrap paper and, like me, counting on his fingers. I assumed he was also writing haikus, at least until I asked him about it during the break between Parts A and B, whereupon he said, “No man, I don’t know what I was doing. I was just counting.” That, if nothing else, describes exactly how boring it is to wait for Part A to end.

Part B was even more scintillating than its predecessor. We were given a three-paragraph synopsis of how much meat and vegetables Americans ate in 1970 as compared to how much meat and vegetables they ate in 1980, 1990, and 2000. On the opposite page sat two USDA graphs, one with statistics about meat consumption during those years, and the one below with the same stats for vegetables. Our assignment was to determine whether the paragraphs and graphs said the same thing (really). They didn’t. Not even close. So I said so. We were given a complete hour for Part B, but most of us discharged the task in under 10 minutes. Mercifully, they let us out as soon as we finished, in lieu of making us wait the full hour, noting that, “You guys are really fast test-takers. I guess we’ll have to make an exception for you.”

I took a physical inventory as I left the testing center. Two number-two pencils: check. One pen: check. My bookbag: check. Serious B.O., left armpit: check. Trudging down the hallway afterwards, I called my friend JackO, who had taken the same test in a different room. The exchange:

Me: “I think I’m stupider now.”
JackO: “I finished Part B in 10 minutes. I don’t know what the fuck everyone was writing so much for.”
Me: “I called Amy Wu a terrorist.”
JackO: “I said that modern technology describes not how we live, but what we are.”
Me: “I don’t know what that means. What are you doing tonight?”
JackO: “Going to the Apple Store and seeing Resident Evil.”
Me: “With a girl?”
JackO: “Yup.”
Me: “A little make-out in the theater?”
JackO: “Fuck no, it’s Resident Evil!”
Me: “You know, if you were 14, you’d be dying for any ass. Look how old you are.”
JackO: “If I were 14, I’d be dying for a new type of Vaseline. Or a way to jack off five times a day without getting arrested.”

Confident that I’d passed the CPE (it’s administered on a purely pass/fail basis), and that JackO struggles with some combination of addictive masturbation and the law, I stopped by another building on campus to see Sideburns, who asked me how the test was.

“Retarded,” I told her (yes, Sideburns is a girl. She doesn’t have sideburns. Her nickname for me is “Big White”). “I wrote 28 haikus. And I called a female author a terrorist.” It was almost 10 o’clock, and both of us were exhausted, me from a two-hour, 10-minute brain drain, and her from being forced to listen to at least 10 of my non-haiku haikus.

Thus, a proper way to conclude:

Stay Swapped, Lines in My Haikus
Wu a Terrorist
MC Meat Consumption Stats

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