Despite taking Latin for five years, I still managed to eke out only a 3 on the AP. Not having placed out of the language requirement at college, Latin was an appealing alternative to the spoken language requirements, which consisted of three quarters instead of only two, as well as a pretty intensive early morning lab. Latin 1 was a breeze. But when Latin 3 came around, I was serving as pledge trainer in my fraternity, and was also taking an extra class at the time. After doing okay on the first couple of quizzes, I missed a few classes, with hangovers and whatnot, and by the time I realized I had done really badly on a few tests, it was pretty much too late to salvage a decent grade. As it turns out, the other kids in the class were not really translating the Latin into English, like I was. They were memorizing the passages in English. So, even though I was doing things the “right” way, I was basically being graded against a standard of perfection. Although this seemed “unfair”, I really couldn’t complain too much, given all the classes I had missed, etc. The deadline for dropping the class had long-since passed, but a friend told me that you could probably take an incomplete, without penalty, if you went to the Dean and told him you had some type of sickness or emotional problem or something. Which I did. But that night we had something called “Bequests”, where the graduating seniors hand down various fraternity trinkets and artifacts to the next generation. Mike Ebberstadt, who had been the president of the fraternity and was kind of a mentor to me in terms of trying to write something decent, got up to give one of the last bequests of the night. He had just run the New York City Marathon, and talked about how he had hit a wall around mile sixteen. But he kept going, and going, and ultimately completed the race. His time wasn’t very good, but he was proud of the fact that he finished. I’m not sure what he said next, or what really this had to do with me, but he took out the foil that they apparently wrap you up in when you finish a marathon, and he bequested it to me. After that, I decided to complete the class. I studied for the final. Tried to memorize the passages in English, (which is how you are supposed to learn Latin, apparently). Based on my calculations, which were based on what I thought the professor had said about how the grading would be determined, and my first few quizzes, on which I did pretty well, even if I failed the final, the worst I could do, theoretically, was supposed to be a C-. Despite this, and although I thought I actually did pretty well on the final, I got a D. Which pretty much destroyed my GPA. But I was always kind of proud of being punished for doing the right thing.
Which takes me to the Top Chef I saw a few weeks ago. Which is one of these reality shows where a bunch of chefs, or aspiring chefs, live together and compete and are kicked off Survivor-style, until the “Top Chef” remains. Anyway, there was this contestant named Otto, who was on this team with these other chefs that were given a specific amount of time and money they could use to shop for ingredients to cook up some type of feast. Based on the way the video was cut, it looked like Otto realized, when they were loading the groceries into the van, that the cashier hadn’t charged them for something. “I think we got a free case of” whatever it was, he said to this annoying whiny pastry chef as they were loading the stuff in. Even though she doesn’t say or do anything about it at the time, when they get back to the Kenmore Pro Kitchen, she starts to tell the other teammates about it, and seems to get very upset. They call in one of the judges, and what seemed to be a fairly innocuous thing is made to look like some type of elaborate heist or something. But so Otto brings the item back to the store and apologizes, and goes on cooking his meal. At the same time, the whiny annoying pastry chef volunteers to handle dessert, as usual, and tanks the dish. The team ultimately loses, because of her bad dessert, while the part of the meal that Otto was responsible for came out surprisingly well, (despite the fact that he lost an hour and a half bringing the stuff back to the grocery). When they get in front of the judges, she blames Otto, for being a distraction, and destroying the team’s chemistry, and wasting time bringing the “stolen” item back, etc. The judges then excuse the contestants, to talk privately about who should get kicked off the show, and, at least based on the way it’s edited, they decide to kick off the whiny pastry chef who actually screwed up the dish and caused the team to lose. But when they call the team back in, to announce their decision, Otto bows out of the competition.
I have said before that I like reality tv because it is “modern”. You never know who the real “character” is. It’s like the Heisenberg Principle; you can’t observe something without changing it; and you never know what’s acting, playing for the camera; or how it’s edited, or framed. And so, for the viewer, the reality tv contestant is largely what you make of him.
In this case, though, there was a naked moment. Unambiguous. Real.
I doubt that he ultimately would have won, (Cliff and Sam seem to be the best two chefs), but I’ll take Otto in my kitchen any day.