My math teacher recently announced at the beginning of a class that he planned to collect the assignment he had handed out a few days before. I watched the Huge Guy who sits in front of me enter a state of vague awareness that something was about to happen. Something bad. Something… bad (this was about as deep as the thought got). Then he entered a state of agitation, and then of panic. He turned around and came face-to-face with a lifeline: a nerd. After a series of grunts and screeching noises, and what I think was some vague reference to being able to crush skinny guys’ skulls, I realized that the Huge Guy hoped to copy the answers from my assignment.
There’s an intricate system of rules and guidelines that outline the laws that govern copying schoolwork. First, there’s the hierarchy of Importance of the Schoolwork. Copying homework answers isn’t a problem, because they don’t count for marks and don’t take a lot of work. But assignments fit both criteria: they count for marks and take a lot of work. Then there’s the Familiarity Factor. It’s bad enough if a friend attempts to copy your schoolwork. But an unknown ape that happens to sit in front of you?
Rather than risking insulting him by speaking his native tongue (as in smashing the surface of my desk, grunting, and then forgetting what I was doing in the first place), I stuck to Nerdian. “I can explain how I got my answer.”
The gesture of communicating with me in my language was an attempt at civility, and he had obviously been establishing his dominance by mentioning the crushed skulls. My response was neutral. I wasn’t going to give him all my answers. But I would attempt to help him.
But “explaining” is five letters longer than, “crush.” It would probably involve work. 30 seconds passed in which the Huge Guy was trying to formulate a second attempt at communication. I stood my ground, unsure whether I should play dead or climb a tree.
He grunted, then searched for another Nerd to squeeze answers out of.
Note: Scott Dobson-Mitchell welcomes reader comments and invitations from major newspaper editors for future work at: firstname.lastname@example.org