Title: Chemistry on Friday Afternoons and the Aftermath

Category: Fiction

Date Occurred (If it Had Occurred): Fall 1981 and Registration Day, August 1982

Date Written: March 13, 2019

Copyright (c) March 13, 2019

Written By: Joel T. Kant


The weather was warm as I headed across the Cornfield University campus to Glenview Cafeteria even though the semester had been going on for a while already. Glenview Cafeteria was the only cafeteria on campus. The weather had been cold for some weeks earlier, but today was warm. About a third of the way into my first semester at college, routines had developed. The backpack I carried was heavy as it contained my Calculus textbook and notes, as well as for another morning course that followed it, Computer Programming for Engineers. Although I could have gone to my dorm room first to drop off my heavy backpack, I was hungry so went straight from the classrooms to the cafeteria, still wearing my heavy backpack.

I regularly saw Bruce Brown at lunch, but if he was there today, I did not see him in the crowd. However, I saw a couple guys from my Calculus class from earlier that morning. I went and ate with them. We talked about the heavy load of work that Dr. Tough had just assigned us this morning. I mentioned I had Chemistry that afternoon with Dr. Peppers. The other two also had Dr. Peppers in Chemistry, but they were already done because they had him in the morning at the same time that I had been in Computer Programming for Engineers. I asked if they had seen Bruce. Bruce's Calculus class was at a different time than the one us three had been at early in the morning, but they knew him.

The missing Bruce, the two guys I did eat lunch with that day, and I were all engineering majors. The Freshman course load was very similar for all fields of engineering at Cornfield University. However, with the university best known as an engineering college, that brought in many students who at least their first year claimed that as their major. This was despite the university having many other majors. Almost everybody I knew my first semester said that their major was engineering, although only a minority claimed electrical engineering as I did. Mechanical seemed the most popular flavor of engineering there. While some students did come to Cornfield University planning immediately to study English, Education, Business, or many other majors, I did not seem to run into them my first semester as a Freshman. With so many students trying to become engineers of various flavors, several section numbers were run for many of the Freshman courses.

Around twelve-thirty, I left my two friends. I headed to my dorm room at Third West Morrow Hall, Room 304. Even though the room number starts with a 3, it was four flights up. There was a Ground West floor. There was no elevator in that building. I felt the weight of the bookbag as I reached my floor.

As I opened the door out of the stairwell, the first room to the left had its door open wide. About half a dozen guys sat in it, a fair crowd for the smallness of the room. Two belonged in that room. They had their beds raised up on 4-inch by 4-inch posts. This left floor space for cushions and bean bag chairs. Two sat on the normal desk chairs at the desk, so sat higher than the others on cushions and beanbags. The top of one large wooden dresser had a component stereo on it. A record spun on the turntable. The speakers blared out music.

On the wooden dresser on the other side of the room was perched a larger-than-normal dorm fridge.

Everybody had a beer except one guy, and I think he had a glass of wine.

Unlike in the past, nobody tried to force a beer on me. That battle had been over with a month or so ago. I gave a friendly wave and kept on to my room further down the hall.

I unlocked my room. My roommate was not around, but he usually wasn't at this time. I dumped my morning books out of my backpack, stowing them on a bookshelf above the desk. I swapped in the Friday afternoon binder and books. The Chemistry book was about the same weight as the Calculus book. It was now about 12:45 pm. Since my door was open, a friendly, good-natured, almost-always cheerful guy named Bill popped in. Along with Bruce, Bill and I both shared the same Chemistry class starting at 2:00 pm.

Bill asked a little nervously, "Did you do your Chemistry homework?"

I replied, "Sure."

"Did you get that last problem? The long one?"

I replied again, "Sure."

"Can you show me?"

I glanced at my Timex wind-up watch, then replied, "Okay. We've got time."

Bill disappeared for a moment to his room, then came back with his homework. I pulled out my own. We spend about fifteen minutes doing the last problem. It would have been much faster if I just let him copy mine. Instead, I gave him advice and led him to the solution. He seemed happy to have that done. However, he had another problem to ask me about, and then still another.

I liked helping Bill with homework more than others on Third West. The others once they realized I would not just let them quickly copy mine verbatim had stopped asking me early in the semester. In contrast, Bill had patience. He would listen attentively and understand as he got the problems done.

Somebody else came to my room. It had been one of the guys from the room where the stereo was still loudly playing. He took a swig from the bottle of beer that he carried with him down the hallway.

The interloper said, "Hey, Bill. Come have a drink with us."

Bill declined by saying, "No, thanks. I have class in less than an hour"

With a strong evil eye directed at me, the interloper said, "One beer won't hurt you. You don't want to be like HIM!"

That changed Bill's tone, so he replied, "All right, just one."

That ended me helping Bill with the homework problems he still had not gotten correct for that day. I waited a little while, spending the time re-checking my own homework. I found and corrected an error, so was glad I did that. Bill hadn't come back from the party room, but I had not really thought he would. I packed my stuff up into my backpack. I lifted it to my shoulder, with it about as heavy as it had been in the morning.

As I went down the hallway, I poked my head into the party room, which still had its door open. There was still about half a dozen guys there, but I saw no sign of Bill or the interloper. I got glared at from the half dozen or so guys like I am as unwelcome as a vice cop! Not a word was exchanged, though.

I continued down the hallway. I found a second party room still on my wing, maybe eight or ten doors down, around a corner. This door was also wide open. A stereo blared in this room as well, but not as loud as the other party room. There sat Bill on the floor with a completely full beer bottle in his hand. The interloper also sat on the floor. This room had no beanbag chairs, so they were sitting just on the hard floor. It had been about thirty minutes since he gave up on homework, so given this is a full beer bottle, I guessed it was probably not his first and only. As usual in these situations, just one never really did seem to mean just one.

I said, "Bill, I'm off to Chemistry. We've got fifteen minutes. You coming?"

Bill replied, "You go. I'll catch up with you."

I responded, "Remember, the homework is due today."

The others in the room glared at me like I was an evil villain as Bill replied, "Sure thing."

Rather than using the staircase on the west side of the building, I crossed over to Third East wing on my way out. A door was open with Bruce, who was also in my Chemistry class, putting books into his own backpack.

Bruce saw me and asked, "Hey, Joel. Going to Chemistry?"


Bruce pulled some papers back out of his backpack, and I knew what was coming.

I said, "I didn't see you at lunch."

"I skipped lunch to finish this homework. Did you get that last problem?"

That was what I expected as I replied, "Sure, but this'll have to be short."

I gave him a couple pointers, and he wrote fast. He shoved the homework with the fixed last problem into his backpack, and zipped it up. With only about eight minutes until class, Bruce and I gat out of the dorm building. Walking fast, we made it just in time, not even tardy.

I learned much in that day's Chemistry class. I learned much in almost all the Chemistry classes. Dr. Peppers had a way of explaining things that made concepts that had been a complete mystery to me quite clear. I felt embarrassed already how little I had learned in my high school Chemistry course. I felt like I was rapidly making up for lost time. It was almost like learning a new language that was making more and more sense.

As not a surprise at all to me, Bill never walked in tardy to "catch up" with me.

On Monday morning around nine-thirty am, I stopped by Dr. Pepper's office. This was his scheduled open office hours. A pre-Lab question for an upcoming lab that I was working on this week confused me. I am surprised that the office door was closed. Unlike some other professors, Dr. Peppers was conscientious about being at his office during all his scheduled office hours. I could tell the light was on because there was a gap under the door. Through the closed door, I heard arguing. Now I understood. Dr. Peppers was there for office hours as usual, but had shut the door to discuss something private with a student. In fact, by the voices that are quite clear despite the closed door, I could tell it was Bill inside. Bill was trying to persuade Dr. Peppers to take the homework that was due on Friday afternoon even though it was morning on Monday. Dr. Peppers was refusing to take it.

I waited, backing off about six or eight feet from the door to give some privacy that the closed door clearly intended.

Through the door and despite my discretely backing off, Bill's voice boomed, "But I was sick!"

With that claim even though I know exactly what Bill was doing last Friday afternoon rather than going to class, I figured the professor would accept the late work after all. From what I saw, the only sickness Bill had had was the intense hangover on Saturday morning. Bill had been puking in the communal men's room on Saturday morning, but so had a couple others. It was typical for most Saturday mornings on my wing on of the dorm, and it really stunk there on Saturday morning. The bad hangovers with puking never seemed to discourage anybody that I knew from doing more heavy drinking the next time. Still, Bill's genuine sickness had not been until Saturday morning.

The door then opened. Bill saw me waiting in the hallway some distance back for the open office hours. He glared at me like I did something terribly wrong, or was about to do something wrong. Perhaps he feared I would tell the professor what Bill had really been doing on Friday afternoon rather than actually being sick. Bill had nothing to fear on that regard, but he did not seem to realize that. It seemed to me that Bill had gotten his way with the late work being accepted.

With Bill gone, I got my lab papers out. I explained that I had a question about a substitution reaction in the Pre-lab. Dr. Peppers looked relieved with Bill gone to now be talking about actual chemistry questions. He explained that a certain ion has a charge of negative two, not negative one as I incorrectly had it. It should have been obvious, but I had not noticed that. He gave a little more explanation, and it all became clear to me. Now, the equations balanced. Other chemistry students were showing up in the hallway for their turn, so I left.

The weekdays passed quickly. The weather rapidly got cold, but cold was expected this time of year. Now in a thick coat, I found myself again returning from the cafeteria after lunch to swap my books in my dorm room before the Friday afternoon chemistry class. As I wandered by the party room that was closest to the west stairwell, there sat Bill in the middle of them. He had switched party rooms. This was the room with beanbag chairs and sofa cushions but no sofa, just the cushions. He had a beer in hand, apparently in the middle of telling a joke or a story until he saw me walk by in the hallway. He suddenly stopped talking to glare at me. It felt like I was being treated as the villain yet again as everybody in the crowded room stopped laughing to join in glaring at me. Yet, nobody said a word. I did not give a friendly wave this time.

I had not seen anybody from that room at lunch. I vaguely wondered if they even bothered with lunch anymore, or just get their lunch calories in liquid form. I would see the whole group for supper on Friday. They were loud and boisterous, often obnoxious, clearly very drunk after having been drinking since lunchtime at supper on Friday. I tried to sit on the other side of the single cafeteria on campus from them.

Something was different for me this Friday afternoon. Bruce had crossed over from his room on Third East to Third West. He stood waiting at my door. He told me had some Chemistry questions. I unlocked more door. I quickly swapped my books. We then went to his room, not mine. Both rooms from last Friday afternoon were again party rooms with loud stereos on Third West. There was only one loud party room on his East wing, and it was a greater distance from Bruce's room, about twelve rooms away, than either of the two party-rooms were from mine on the West wing. It was almost quiet enough in Bruce's room to think about Chemistry. Here, for party room, I mean a party in a typical dorm room with more than three guys drinking in it. There was one large room in the basement designated a party room, but due to the paperwork requirements, I saw an actual party happen there only once a month or less.

In the relative quiet of Bruce's room, we went over the newest homework. It turned out Bruce gave me good payback for my helping him because Bruce correctly solved a problem I had done wrong. Once Bruce showed me his answer and how he had gotten it, I saw what I had done wrong. In turn, I helped him on other problems. Yet, there was one problem neither of us could solve.

Bruce asked, "Bill's in our class. Do you think he'd know?"

I pessimistically replied, "I don't think so."

Bruce thoughtfully said, "I think Bill missed class last Friday."

"Uh, huh," I said, not elaborating.

I thought if Bill would put down his beer and come over to Bruce's room and join us, he could turn Chemistry all around. Bill knew who Bruce was, and that Bruce was in the same class with us.

Bruce proved to be a more kind-hearted guy then I tend to be. After we had the homework issues cleared up to the best of our shared ability and ready to turn in, he suggested we wander back to my wing to see if together we could convince Bill will come along. Privately, I thought that there was little chance because I figured that Bill was having his drinking fun. Then, I felt a little ashamed for being so pessimistic. I realized it would not hurt anything to follow Bruce's suggestion. It seemed the kindly thing to try. I suspected Bruce did know the score with Bill, and wanted me along when making the pitch.

As expected, Bruce and I found Bill with his already now-usual crowd in the original party room. As expected, Bill had a bottle of beer in his hand. Clearly not the same one I had seen him with over an hour ago. Four to six others were in the room. Some did not hold a bottle of beer because they held a can of beer. I had no idea why some chose bottles and some cans.

Bruce informed Bill that he and I were going to Chemistry. Bruce strongly suggested that Bill should join us. With two of us asking him, Bruce and myself, I thought I had misjudged Bill as he stood up from the cushion on the floor.

Bill still had his bottle in one hand, so one of the other guys of the drinking party broke the spell by saying, "You've not finished your beer, Bill."

Bill looked at what was in his hand as if suddenly again aware of if, then guzzled what remained in a few seconds. That over with, he looked at his buddies who remained seated except for one. That other guy also got up. I think the one who also got up had also been in the same Chemistry, but I had heard he formally dropped the course two weeks ago. Why would he join the merry party to go attend a Chemistry class that he had already dropped? As far as I knew, one could not "un-drop" a class. The mystery was solved as the other guy who had stood pulled a fresh bottle of beer out of the oversized dorm fridge atop the wooden dresser. That could not be reached while seated on a beanbag chair on the floor.

Bruce looked at his watch, but said nothing. I looked at my own watch to realize we had to leave now, or we'd be tardy. Bill sat down again. He took the bottle of beer that his buddy who had stood up handed over that had just come out of the dorm fridge. The standing guy then got a second beer from the fridge, and sat down himself. All were now seated except Bruce and myself.

Bruce gave me a glance, then without a word marched off. I also said not a word, hurrying after him.

Bill did not even bother making a phony claim of catching up with us later.

Bruce and I walked very briskly, almost a jog. We got to class slightly tardy, but not enough to matter. What is probably self-evident is that Bill never showed up for that Friday afternoon Chemistry class, nor for any for the rest of the semester.

Bruce was not a strict teetotaler like me I was back then, though. Friday after supper is over, he would go out drinking at the bars with some of his friends. However, unlike Bill, Bruce kept his drinking time and his academic time separate. I never saw Bruce miss a class, but missing lunch to finish homework seemed an increasingly common habit with him.

* * * * *

Cornfield University had no computerized registration. Instead, different departments set up large fold-up tables in the fieldhouse. Students rushed from table to table, trying to get a workable schedule to get them to a timely graduation before the classes filled up making that difficult or impossible. This being the registration day for start of my sophomore year, I had a better idea how to play this game as it was now my third time.

As my course schedule rapidly came together as I went first to the tables with classes likely to fill fast, I noticed something I found strange. Nothing I was taking had a Friday afternoon session. Very few Friday afternoon sessions were available in anything, despite being common the last semester and the semester before that. Although that seemed odd, I rapidly had my schedule in good shape. I could stop racing around.

I noticed Bruce, and he seemed to have stopped racing around. I went over by him. We compared our schedules.

Bruce remarked, "Did you notice the strange near-absence of Friday afternoon classes in the offerings?"

I replied, "I did."

Even as I did that, I heard some other students passing by. These were strangers to me. Yet, I noticed their conversation was on the same topic. One of the strangers was delighted, but the other disliked the the longer meeting times on Monday and Wednesday versus the older Monday-Wednesday-Friday versions from last year.

Bruce commented, "I suppose having to have a cop stationed at the cafeteria every Friday night last semester might have something to do with this."

There had been no police officer in Glenview Cafeteria during the fall semester of our freshman year. However, during the spring semester just a few weeks in, a police officer was stationed there every Friday at suppertime. He roamed up and down the entire time, deliberately lacking any subtlety about his being there. Students would hush as the officer ceaselessly roamed the cafeteria tables. That had continued every Friday supper for the rest of the semester.

I replied, "I heard that came after drunken brawls at the cafeteria, but I never saw any. Just the cop always there afterward. Did you see any of brawls?"

Bruce speculated, "No, I just heard about them. Still, I think this has something to do with the removal of most Friday afternoon classes."

I responded, "It seems that will make Friday afternoon drinking parties more likely, rather than less. That could make the cafeteria problem worse."

Bruce gave a glance across the fieldhouse. I looked in that same direction. Bill was wandering the tables, still registering. Not at all surprisingly, Bill had not passed Chemistry during the fall semester. He had not re-attempted it the spring semester, but had changed to another major that required no Chemistry and no Calculus.

Figuring out that I was seeing who he had noticed, Bruce asked, "Do you think Bill might have passed Chemistry and still be engineering if there had been no Friday afternoon classes last year?"

I thought about it, then gave my answer, "No, I don't think it would have made any difference."


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