Yesterday was a full day. It was a day-tight compartment, a lifetime in a 24 hour window saturated with coloratura and angst and catharsis and exhaustion and alive-ness.
7:30 an electronic cacophony of cellphone alarms fishes me from sleep. I wake suddenly to find myself lost in that very suddenness. Given my habitual addiction to 4 minute snooze alarms, the urgency characterizing my resurrection hints to me that something was special about this morning. I don’t know quite what it is, so I suffocate the alarm and consider further sleep: I have had a few confusing mornings recently, probably due to stress. I even went to sleep once on wednesday in my room-mate’s bed (secretly- he is out of town on business) and woke up in mine. Disorientating. Perhaps not quite categorizable as sleep walking, but close.
Then four letters of grand purpose came to me, before I nod off into the late morning. LSAT. Law School Administration Test. Yippie-Kai-Yay. At least I am up in time, at least in a way it is close to being over.
Heavy caffienation, and bagelation ensue and I am soon winding through a crisp fall morning in Montreal, au velo. I bike through a wash of abandoned sunshine. The cold is sharp, a reminder that I’m alive. But it’s warm enough for me to be happy about that fact. I power up a hill past a lanky skateboarder. It surprises me, makes me feel a little self-conscious and lush, to see a skid like him up on the early hours of a Saturday. Where is he going, this lone four-wheeled ranger? I usually feel proud when I get up early, especially on a weekend. But this guy kind of disinfects it.
The LSAT is so much better but somehow worse than its medical counterpart. It’s not as debasing. It doesn’t try and break you with the weight of four oversized textbooks and an approachable-but-impossible-to-attain state of perfect preparation. It does come with its share of intangible stress. You invest hours. The test approaches. You reach a critical point where you have become helpless to really influence your preparedness further. You are left to wonder if you have done enough. Will you be good enough? Will it be a series of worst case scenarios? Will you be confounded by the subjectivity of Arguments? Paralyzed by the smallest stumble in the logic games section? Drown in an oceanic Reading Comprehension passage? Or will you experience just another mundane averaging of your effort? Will anomalous good and bad moments cancel eachother out, returning you to the barren, sternal bosom of the median?
What is perhaps worse about it is the ineluctability of your score. There is no ‘i could have studied harder’, or ‘memorized more’ type of post-test palliation. You are a number. It’s not all that matters, but in this particular, and at least minimally comprehensive forum of life, you equate to a number. No amount of protestation will change it. It is as real at the serial number tattooed on a prisoner’s arm and it also imprisons you in an evaluative cage of sorts. You grow aware that you have been gifted with language and logic abilities that place you above a crowd of people interested in exhibiting their language and logic abilities. But you are also now aware that there are others who will, in most likely scenarios, continue to be your facultative superiors. This is healthy to an extent, this standardized testing business. It is a salve to the hubris of nurturing parents’ caresses that have left you scarred with a close-to-inviolable sense of superiority and entitlement. A sense that you just might be smarter than everyone else in the world, that only effort separates you from genius.
The test is a breathless, totalitarian affair. I didn’t realize it would be so rushed. Everyone shows up with a 3.78 litre ziplock bag full of LSAT accoutrements: old-school pencils, analog watch, eraser, sharpener, protein bar, water, kleenex. The essentials, according to some sub-committee somewhere who determines these things.
The girls, there are a few cute ones who are wearing too-tight tights for bottoms and baggy McGill sweaters for tops. Some chauvinistic voice within me, perhaps reinforced by the near-ubiquitous coquettishness of women in western society, mutters critically that today is no different than yesterday and they could have at least done their hair up without threatening their test score. Shallow, cynical, I know. But perhaps there is a buried frequency in it. Perhaps it’s a cry to all of humanity to stop giving up the few prideful routines that give life its color under the oppressive heel of necessary-for-success events that demand our full attention.
Nevertheless, formalities and circle-bubbling commence. I battle both clock and bladder. I am in here. Out there are the real questions, all the intriguing complexities of human life. If only I could shed the light of this effort and logical rigor on the darker recesses of the human heart.
If the LSAT was a bit more human, perhaps it would look like this: a David Foster Wallace Pop Quiz courtesy of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and phrased in LSAT vernacular:
Two men, X and Y, are close friends, but then Y does something to hurt, alienate, and/or infuriate X. They had been very close. In fact X’s family had almost sort of adopted Y when Y arrived in town alone and had no family or friends yet and got a position in the same department of the same firm X worked for, and X and Y work side by side and become close compadres, and before long Y is usually over at X’s house hanging out with the X family just about every night after work, and this goes on for quite some time. But then Y does X some kind of injury, like maybe writing an accurate but negative Peer Evaluation of X at their firm, or refusing to cover for X when X makes a serious error in judgment and gets himself in trouble and needs Y to lie to cover for him somehow. The point is that Y’s done some honorable/upright thing that X sees as a disloyal and/or hurtful thing, and X is now totally furious at Y, and now when Y comes over to X’s family’s house every night to hang out as usual X is extremely frosty to him, or witheringly snide, or sometimes even yells at Y in front of the X family’s wife and kids. In response to all which, however, Y simply continues to come over to X’s family’s house and to hang around and take all the abuse X dishes out, nodding sort of studiously in response but not saying anything or in any other way responding to X’s hostility. On one particular occasion X actually screams at Y to ‘get the hell out of his family’s house and kind of half-hits-half-slaps Y right in front of one of the family’s kids hard enough to make Y’s glasses fall off, and all Y does by way of response is hold his cheek and nod sort of studiously at the floor while he picks up and repairs a bent arm-hinge as best he can by hand, and even after this he still continues to come around and hang out at X’s house like an adopted member of the family, and to just stand there and take whatever X dishes out in retaliations for whatever it is Y apparently did to him. Just why Y does this (i.e. continues to come around and to hang out at the Xes’) is unclear. Maybe Y is basically spineless and pathetic and has no place else to go and nobody else to hang out with. Or maybe Y’s one of those quietly iron-spined people who are internally strong enough not to let any kind of abuse or humiliation get to them, and can see (Y can) through X’s present pique to the generous and trusted friend he’d always been to Y before, and has decided (Y has, maybe) that he’s just going to hang in there and stick it out and keep coming around and stoically allow X to vent whatever spleen he needs to vent, and that eventually X will probably get over being pissed off so long as Y doesn’t respond or retaliate or do anything to aggravate the situation further. In other words, it’s not clear whether Y is apathetic and spineless or incredibly strong and compassionate and wise. On only one specific further occasion, when X actually jumps up on an end table in front of the whole X family and screams at Y to ‘take his ass and hat and get the fuck out of my family’s house and stay out,’ does Y actually leave because of anything X says, but even after this further episode Y’s still right back over there hanging out at the Xes’ the very next night after work. Maybe Y is somehow both pathetic and strong…though it’s hard to reconcile Y’s being pathetic or weak with the obvious backbone it must have required to write a negatively truthful Peer Evaluation or to refuse to lie or whatever it was that X hasn’t forgiven him for doing. Plus it’s unclear how the whole thing plays out – i.e., whether Y’s passive persistence pays off in the form of X finally getting over being furious and forgiving Y and being his compadre again, or whether Y finally can’t take the hostility anymore and eventually stops hanging around X’s house…or whether the whole incredibly tense and unclear situation simply continues indefinitely. There’s also the factor of how X’s overt unfriendliness to Y and Y’s passive reaction to it affect certain intramural dynamics within the X family, like whether X’s wife and kids are horrified by X’s treatment of Y or whether they agree with X that Y dicked him over somehow and so are basically sympathetic to X. This would affect how they feel about Y continuing to come around and hang out at their house every night, like whether they admire Y’s stoic fortitude of find it creepy and apathetic and wish he’d finally just get the message and quit acting like he’s still an honorary part of the family, or what.
In fact, the whole mise-en-scene here seems too shot through with ambiguity to make a very good Pop Quiz, it turns out…