At any rate, my scores were at least good enough to get me an interview. I’ll never forget the first day I walked into Harrison – it was like going to college early, since it was on campus, and it felt like college. The first thing I really remember making an impression was when they told us that the lockers didn’t have locks, because it was just more convenient for everyone. Teachers could leave stuff for you there, other students could leave you stuff too. At Western, you huddled over your lock to make sure nobody could see what your combination was. So before they showed us the common area or the classrooms that only had ten desks or the robotics lab or the martial arts class that was what you got to do for PE instead of being beat down with a dodgeball, I was sold.
It wasn’t easy being smart at Western. If you were lucky, getting called “brainiac” was the worst thing that happened. The administration didn’t make it easy, either. You’d get called out of your regular classes late in the day, when all the other kids were about as bored and irritated as they were going to get, to go on your special field trip to the science department at the U or whatever while everyone else watched the clock waiting for their parole. There wasn’t a lot of physical stuff – I only got tripped once – but kids knew you were “special,” and to them retards and geniuses were equally freaky and abominable.
Dad knocked at the door. “Time, hon.” I hibernated and put my shoes on and followed him out to the parking lot. We were having a real fall, so it wasn’t super cold. Our old car had a prestart feature so it was always warm when you got in it, though since it was in the garage it wasn’t that cold anyway. There was no point in turning the heat on in this one until you were on the road since you’d just get five or ten minutes of cold air until it warmed up.
“What’s on the agenda today?” he asked when we were on the road.
“Elective day, happy Friday.”
“Yeah, no kidding. So your science fiction class?”
“Yep, and martial arts, and graphic design.”
“’I know kung fu,’” Dad said, quoting his favorite movie.
“If only it was that easy.”
“If it was that easy it’d be boring.”
“True.” We didn’t say much when we got near the U. We didn’t have to go through our old neighborhood, but we had to go by the street we used to take to get there. I always wanted to say something to him, like “you don’t have to feel guilty or whatever you’re feeling” but maybe he felt sad or angry or something else that saying something would just make worse for him.
He’d been a senior engineer at a big tech company, making bank, and then the Crash came. The company said there wasn’t enough work for the number of people they had, but after they laid off a bunch of long-time employees, they contracted with a company in India to do the same work for less. Mom wasn’t always the most super-sensitive person about emotional stuff, but I have to give her credit because she always “lost” the business section of the paper every three months, when the company reported their quarterly profits – always up, up, up.
Now he did software testing, which was pretty boring stuff. You ran a program, did this and that to see if it would fail, exactly as the script told you to, no deviation. For a guy who taught his daughter programming by having her type “Hello, Clarice” instead of “Hello, world” in her first program, this was pretty mind-numbing stuff. “It’s like microwaving dinner,” Dad said on one of the few times he talked about his job. “There are steps involved, but it’s definitely not cooking.”
I kissed him goodbye in the parking lot by the student union. My badge wouldn’t get me into the Harrison building until 7, but if you were over 16, and had parental approval, you could be on campus by yourself, so I hung out in the union till then. On Fridays Mom gave me money for a bagel and cream cheese from the food court, instead of the health food cereal I had to eat every other school day. “Ancient Grains” always sounded to me like cereal that had been on the shelf for a couple years.