Brilliant Things Said at Evening College – My Undergraduate Education

We were on a quest of unparalleled magnitude

After I finally managed to earn my Associates Degree in the correspondence program, I took the next step towards furthering my personal journey of educational osmosis; I enrolled in one of the most prestigious evening college Bachelor of Accounting programs in Cincinnati.  Ok, you got me, it was the only evening option available to me.  But hey, I didn’t just earn a degree, the degree was just part of the deal.  Icing on the cake conversation osmosis; things I will never forget.

The earliest memory of UC brilliance comes from one of my very first classes.  If memory strikes me correctly, it was in a 19th century US history class where I was having a conversation with a young lady who was sitting in front of me.  She said, (and I quote), “I think Time Bandits is the most brilliant movie ever made“.
Ok…clever, yes.  Cute and funny?  Yes.  But “brilliant”?  Umm…
Don’t get me wrong – I own the dvd and I watch it maybe once each year.  The first few episodes of time travel are hilarious.  I especially liked Robin Hood and Napoleon Bonaparte:
“That’s what I like!  Little things hitting each other!”
Brilliant though?  Eh….worth a watch though so check it out.
Another of my early memories has to do with Cincinnati’s local culinary preferences.  A direct quote from a young man who called Chicago home:
“Cincinnati is strange because they boil their beef”
At first, I didn’t have a clue as to what the heck he was talking about.  But then he exclaimed, “you know, the chili here”.
Ah…now I get it.  He’s of course referring to our famous local chili parlors – Gold Star and Skyline Chili.  If you’re a Cincinnati native, (or frequent visitor), then I don’t have to explain to you what Cincinnati chili is.  Your mama likely mixed some into your Cream of Wheat when you were a baby.  Or maybe while visiting a loved one in the hospital, you spotted the chili-IV with the direct connection into the veins.

             mmm…the famous 5 way

Of a Greek or Macedonian origin, Cincinnati chili isn’t really “chili” per se.  It’s more of a meat sauce used to top spaghetti and hot dogs (for coneys).  According to this Wiki link, it appears Empress Chili was first out in the 20’s but as of this writing, there are only two left.  Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other locations all across town and it’s easily the most famous food associated with this specific region.  Like In & Out burgers on the West Coast, there’s a special lingo when ordering.  My favorite was 4-way bean.
Anytime I’m in Cincinnati, I have to pick up a few spice packets so we can make our own down south here in Arizona.

Picked up 3 of these babies my latest visit

Enough about chili and spice, how about a spicy conversation?  No, I’m not talking about sex so get your mind out of the gutter.  Rather, this was a brief exchange I had with a professor of Geography.  I really liked the topic and the study of geography.  I just wished I had a professor who appreciated diversity a little more (or at least didn’t have so many phobias).  My UC geography professor was of a Jewish faith but I don’t recall the specific denomination.  What I do remember very clearly is that he was quite fond of ‘professing’ how much better he and members of his faith were versus “all of you” (he said this on numerous occasions).
As the weeks ticked by, my own personal level of tolerance for this man’s tactless and discriminant behavior shrank until one night when I felt it was time for ‘someone’ to speak up.
At work, (and in all my jobs), I was the guy who very often would say out loud what many were thinking but perhaps too shy, (or too smart), to speak up.  The culture at college seemed to be a bit different – the professors shared their wisdom and the students captured the genius in notebooks which would hopefully be used later to get a good grade on the final exam.  It will soon become obvious to you that I had not yet been assimilated, (to use a Borg expression).

                    I am Borg

On the night in question, Mr Genius was once again sharing with us just how wonderful he and his kind were.  After perhaps 5-10 straight minutes of that, he let out the following:
“For example, we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the clothing that most of you wear”.
To which, genius me exclaimed:
“Well, we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the stuff you wear either.  You really think you’re that special?”
Oops…did I just say that out loud?  He just stared at me, (as did everyone), and after the brief respite, I saw him make a note in his own notebook.  Evidently I was ready to be the professor.  The lecture proceeded and after that night, we didn’t have to sit through anymore of his condescension.  What’s that you ask, what grade did I get in that class?  Oh, he gave me a D alright.
As it turns out, that was not to be the only D I would get in the UC Evening College.  No, there would be one more.
It happened in my very last Finance Class.  I interviewed on campus with P&G in late January or February and then ended up getting a job offer in March of 1987 (link), scheduled for a mid-April start.  This particular Finance class was being taught by a business professional, not a professor.  These folks can often be a great nuance but this guy was not a ‘teacher’.  A good teacher, (IMO), is someone who has a knack for dissecting complex topics and then converting them into language and concepts that is easily understood and adaptable by the students.  This guy did not have this skill.
The week following the midterm exam, Mr Teacher handed out the results to us.  He told us that the grades were bad and the average score was a 74 and there were no scores over 90.  You read that right, 74 was the AVERAGE.  Wow, I’d never seen a classroom get so disruptive, almost hysterical.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, was outwardly complaining.  Everyone but me, that is.  I had my job offer, what did I care?  All I cared about was getting through the next couple of months until graduation.  After about 20 minutes of solid complaining, (by the students), and defensive retaliation by the executive turned part time teacher, he made a statement I’m sure he didn’t think anyone would take seriously.
“I will gladly give anyone in here a D if they want to leave my class.”
30 seconds of silence
And then……you guessed it, Yours Truly raised his hand.
Teacher – Yes?
Me – I would like to take you up on that offer.  I will take the D.
Teacher – Are you serious?
Me – Absolutely.
Teacher – You would take a D?  You don’t care what it will do to your GPA?
Me – Nope, I graduate in May and already have my job offer.  So yeah, if you’re being honest, I’ll take the D and leave now.
He just sort of shook his head in amazement and said, Come on Up.
I grabbed my stuff and walked up to his desk.  He wrote out a short form with my name, the class and my grade of D and told me I was free to go.  There was total silence in the class as this was all happening.  After I reached the hallway, I glanced backwards into the classroom.  And that’s when I saw 3 more hands slowly raise into the air.  I don’t know how many more left that night, but seeing those hands made me smile.  Now to head over to the bookstore to sell back the book.
At least there weren’t any cicadas that night (link).  Because once I did overhear a girl scream that she couldn’t go outside because the cicadas would get stuck in her hair “forever“.
I don’t want to end the story here.  That might give the impression that I didn’t learn anything, that all I can recall were the idiotic statements made.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  One of the most impactful impressions on me was made one night in a class called Federal Taxation.
As an aside, I have always loved the study of taxes.  In fact, just before getting a promotion and transfer to Louisiana, I had just enrolled in a Masters in Taxation program at UC.  I never got to attend any classes though due to the transfer.  There are two aspects I enjoy most about tax.  One – it’s like a game of Where’s Waldo; what reductions and credits can I find, how much money can I save you?  Two – it’s rule based.  I excel most when I understand the rules and formulas.  I like taxes so much that I spent a few months as a preparer this past tax season (link).
But I digress…let me take you back to my moment of inspiration.  I think we were discussing the general complexity of the tax system when someone asked the professor why the system couldn’t be more simple, fewer tax rates and nuances.  This is what he said…I still remember this like it was yesterday.
“No tax law that is simple can be fair and if it’s fair, then it is not simple”.
And then he expanded on the discussion, asking us to think about it.  He just kept citing rule after rule and each time, he’d challenge us by asking us ‘well, would you deny Mrs X this credit, is that fair to her’?  And as we progressed through the conversation, we all could see he was right.  There will never, ever be a “simple tax”.
But the true ‘aha’ for me came as I began thinking about this statement and how it really applied to just about any process or practice having to do with human beings, people.
This evening in my Tax Class was a great big growing up moment for me.  More than any other thing I ever learned in my many years of formal education, I’d have to say that the – nothing simple is fair and if it’s fair then it can’t be simple – statement was easily the learning that was most beneficial to me.  I was 27 or 28 that year.  So long ago…seems like a different life sometimes.  Whenever I was confronted with a problem or challenge involving people at work, I always reminded myself to think hard on how to come up with solutions that were most fair and least complex and I rarely beat myself up as I sometimes struggled to accomplish this goal.  And while sitting in group meetings, often listening to group arguments or debates, I’d be quietly sitting, thinking to myself about how to best resolve the issue at hand – how to be fair and simple at the same time.  I was the Forrest Gump in the group and everyone got quiet when I finally had something to say, (and it was always something brilliant like “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now”).
And if I wasn’t thinking about how to resolve an issue, I’d be thinking about how Time Bandits was the most brilliant movie ever made!
That’s what I like!  Little things hitting each other!
(if you’ve never seen the movie, this little snippet will give you a clue as to what you missed)

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