Back in the early eighties, when personal computers were rather new, I was teaching a computer course at
Father Mac using the language BASIC. At the same time, a Father Mac teacher whose
name I shall call Mr. X, enrolled in a BASIC programming course at McGill University.
Mr. X had to write a project using his newly acquired skills in the programming language BASIC. However, only after the deadline for its submission did Mr. X frantically start doing his project. Knowing that I was teaching computer science, he began pestering me for help.
Every single day, in the morning, at lunchtime and after school, Mr. X went around looking for me at Father
Mac and bombarded me with questions. After a week, I realized that the only way
to get Mr. X off my back was for me to write his project for him as he asked me the same questions over and over again. Although he never actually said so, I somehow sensed that that was exactly what he
wanted. Thus, one Friday morning, in the parking lot of Father Mac, I told him,
“Listen, “X”, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll write your
project this week-end as long as you stop pestering me!” Smiling happily,
he agreed and gave me the requirements of his project.
Basically, the program was a tutorial in learning a topic in algebra. I therefore selected to write his program on using the quadratic equation.
From the beginning, foremost on my mind was the fact that the program I was writing had to be very well written for
two reasons. First, to make sure that Mr. X would pass and thus get rid of him. Second, and more important to me, I had to make sure he would obtain a high mark,
as his mark would be a reflection of my capabilities. Imagine if he obtained
a low mark, or, heaven forbid, a failing mark. Mr. X was just the right person
to brag laughingly that, “Lancione failed in programming at McGill yet he is teaching our students.” I would look like a fool. Therefore, I rolled up my sleeves
that weekend and wrote a program that included all the “bells and whistles” necessary to impress his professor.
Early Monday morning, Mr. X was waiting for me in the parking lot.
As soon as I got out of my car, he approached me and, without even saying good morning, told me, “I hope you
have it.” I felt I was dealing with a gangster waiting to get paid. I resisted the temptation of asking him, “And what if I don’t, what are
going to do, break my legs?” I gave him a large envelope with his project
in it, including a 5.25 inch diskette for his professor to run the program and said, “Here, hand this in and stop pestering
The next day, Tuesday, Mr. X was absent from school. As much
as I was trying to avoid him recently, I was anxious to see him in order to find out if everything went ok. I phoned him that evening asking if he handed in his project. He
told me, “I gave them a piece of my mind.” I asked him, “What
the hell are you talking about?” and he told me, “I was too late, my professor is no longer at McGill, he moved
back to BC”. I became speechless thinking, “Hell, I wrote all that
for nothing?” I simply didn’t know what to say. He then told me, “I don’t want to discuss it now. I’ll
tell you all about it tomorrow, good night.” Puzzled, I said “Good
night” and swore at him in Italian in my mind.
The next morning, I did not see Mr. X. Having to rush to class, I did not see him till lunchtime. At
lunchtime, he told me that he spoke to the department head at McGill University in an effort to have his (or should I say
“my”) project accepted. Nothing doing! The Department Head told him that he was much too late past the deadline, that there was nobody to correct
his work and that, unfortunately, he would have to repeat the course. Angry and
upset, Mr. X complained that his McGill professor (I forgot his name) was a terrible teacher and suggested that Sal Lancione,
a computer science teacher at Father McDonald High School, would make an excellent replacement to the outgoing professor. I don’t know exactly what he said but within a few days the McGill Department
Head phoned me asking if I wanted to teach BASIC programming at McGill in the evenings.
I figured why not, it would be a new experience, so I said “Yes”.
Within a few days, I had an interview, procured all the necessary documents, signed a contract and was told to attend
a meeting the following Monday at 4 PM.
By a stroke of luck on the following Monday, I was off the last period at Father Mac. This was good because it gave me the chance to arrive early at the meeting something I like to do especially
for a first meeting. In fact, when I got there, there were only two professors
chatting ever so quietly at a table in the meeting room. I walked in and sat
down at the opposite end of the table. About 10 minutes later, another professor,
who looked like a friendly “jolly fellow”, sat next to me. While
having a small chat, suddenly my Radio Shack electronic “telephone directory” began beeping, “beep-beep,
beep-beep, beep-beep”. Note that back then, these personal telephone directories
(or what ever they call them these days) were still quite rare. The “jolly”
professor was curious to know what was the beeping sound. I took out my electronic
telephone directory and showed it to him. For some unknown reason, I then told
him, “It even has an alarm that you can set” explaining to him that it was the alarm that was beeping. “That way,” I added, “if this meeting gets boring, I’ll press the alarm button
and the thing starts beeping. Then I leave the room pretending I have to make
a telephone call.” With a very slow drawl, while looking at the gadget,
he said, “In-te-res-ting.” Soon, the room was full and the Department
Head, our chairperson, got up and started the meeting by saying, “Before we start, we’ll have a few words from
our Dean”. The “jolly professor” sitting next to me got up,
walked to the front, and gave a small speech. Surprised, I felt a bit embarrassed. At the end of his speech, the “Dean”, looking directly at me, told the
chairperson, “... and above all, make the meeting interesting, we don’t want anyone leaving before it’s
over.” I immediately made sure the alarm on my telephone directory was
On my first day of class at McGill, the secretary of the
department showed me around and then gave me a number of things including a booklet on the rules and regulations, a parking
sticker for my car, a telephone directory, a McGill staff card (making me eligible to attend all sorts of events including
access to the “Club House” where the professors meet and lounge around), and my class list with the names of the
students in my course. As much as I wanted to go to the Club House and “rub
shoulders” with the profs, I never found the time. We then walked to the
computer lab where I was to teach. The secretary introduced me to my assistant
(a McGill student who looked like a typical nerd) and brought me to a little office whose entrance was via the computer lab. She told me, “This is your office while you teach the course.”
As soon as the secretary left, because it was still early,
I sat down at my desk to relax a little. After a short time, I glanced down at
the class list and, to my great surprise, the name “Mr. X” immediately stood out like a sore thumb. I couldn’t believe it, having failed the course, Mr. X was now a student of mine. I kept repeating to myself, “What the hell is this?” while anxiously awaiting his arrival. However, when I started the class, Mr. X had not yet arrived. I mentally prayed that he wouldn’t show up. Unfortunately,
my prayer was in vain because approximately 15 minutes after the class started, in comes Mr. X disrupting the class by shouting
out loud “Did I miss anything?” Politely, I said, “No”
and swore at him in Italian in my mind. I don’t remember how many classes
there were in the course (12 or 15) but my student Mr. X attended only three or four.
At Father Mac, Mr. X now began calling me “prof”. Normally,
I would take it as a compliment. However, knowing Mr. X, he was really saying
it to make fun of me. I kept telling him to attend the classes because I was
not sure of the exact policy on class attendance at McGill. He cheerfully informed
me that, “It is completely up to the professor, and that’s you.” After
a week of his absence, I began getting very annoyed at Mr. X’s taking advantage of me.
When I next saw him, I told him, “Listen, first of all stop calling me prof.
Second, I want you to attend my classes.“ He interrupted me saying,
“Listen, prof, I got you the job, remember? You owe me!” and walked
away. Disgusted, I swore at him in Italian in my mind.
The course at McGill was going rather smoothly, perhaps because
Mr. X was usually absent. My routine was to teach (or is it lecture?) for about
an hour and then allow the students time to practice on the computers (few people owned personal computers in those days). After my teaching, it became my habit to go to the office attached to the computer
lab and take a break. One evening, immediately after teaching, I went to my office
and sat down at the desk. I phoned home, talked with my wife and kids and then
said goodbye. As soon as I put down the phone, one of the students in the class,
a cute Italian girl approximately 25 years old by the name of Cynthia, frantically knocked on the office door. While turning around on the swivel chair, I said, “Yes?”
The girl came in, sat on my lap, pressed herself to me and said, “Now, what can I do to make sure I pass this
course?” Stunned, I pulled myself back and replied, “Simple, you
do the work like everyone else.” I think she got the message as her facial
expression immediately changed to a look of disappointment. She got up and went
back to work on her computer. I don’t know why, but I remember saying to
myself, “Mr. X must have something to do with this” and swore at him in Italian in my mind. I opened the blinds on the office window that faced the computer room in an effort to make the office visible
to the class. Walking into the computer room, I was reluctant to look at Cynthia
as I felt a bit embarrassed. She, however, thought nothing of it as she kept
calling me over to ask questions during the class. To this day, I can’t
understand it. This girl was doing very well.
What did she want? There was no way she was going to fail. In fact, she got one of the highest marks in the class.
For a few weeks, my sons had been asking me to take them to McGill University, curious to see what
a university looked like. The following week, I brought them with me, announcing
to the class, “Tonight I have my kids with me”, hopefully a clear message to Cynthia and everyone else that I
was married with kids. Wouldn’t you believe it, during the break, Cynthia
starts making friends with my kids talking to them in Italian. What can I say?
Although Mr. X rarely came to class, one evening around the middle of the course, he made an appearance. When I saw him I felt the strong urge of asking him, “What the hell are you
doing here?” During that class, one of the students asked me how I was
going to evaluate them. I said, “We’ll have a test.” Suddenly, almost in unison, my adult students began acting like my high school students wanting to know
why they couldn’t write a project instead. Apparently, this was the preferred
method of evaluating students at University. I gave in, figuring that it would
be much easier on me as I would not have to prepare any test. To this day I think
Mr. X came to class that evening to rally the students to con me into grading them on the basis of a project.
The next day at Father Mac, while I was alone in the teachers’
lounge taking a break, something happened that I will never forget: Mr. X entered
the room and, in his usual arrogant sounding voice told me, “There you are, I was looking all over for you.” As soon as I saw what he had in his hands, I knew right away what he was up to. Politely, I asked him, “What do you want?”
He said, “I want to give you my project for the computer course.”
What a coincidence, the very next day after I told the class at McGill that they may write a project for the course. Recognizing my envelope, I said, “I hope it’s not what I think it is?” He didn’t say a word as I opened the large envelope and pulled out, you guessed
it, my project that I had written for him. At first, I was speechless. Then I said to him, “You can’t be serious?” Then
I screamed, “Are you crazy? You can’t hand in my own project to me? What the hell am I supposed to do with it?”
He chuckled annoyingly saying, “It’s going to be fun to see what you give yourself!” I don’t think I will ever forget those words. I kept
shouting, “You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind!” and
he kept laughing, “It’s going to be fun to see what you give yourself!”
Finally, when he saw that I wasn’t amused, he told me again, for the second time now, “Look, I got you
the job. You owe me. Just make sure
I pass!” and quickly left the room. Completely disgusted, I swore at him
in Italian in my mind...twice.
Of course, I should have given him zero on the spot. But
no, I’m a fool, I gave him a minimum mark just enough for him to pass the course and hopefully get him out of my life.
At the end of the BASIC programming course, the Department
Head asked me to prepare a course on spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3) for the Fall session.
I did that during the summer. In the Fall, on the very afternoon I had
to go to McGill to start my new course, just my luck, I happen to bump into Mr. X who proudly informed me, “See you
tonight prof.” I froze and said, “Don’t tell me you’re
in my Lotus course?” He snaps back, “Yes sir!” Upset, I rushed to my car swearing at him in Italian in my mind.
That evening, Mr. X and his wife, were both students of mine at McGill.
As usual, after attending perhaps three or four classes, Mr. X was absent for the rest of the course. His wife, however, never skipped a class. The evaluation of
this course was going to be done my way, with assignments and a test. No projects,
thank you! During the course, Mr. X’s wife would pick up and hand in her
husband’s assignments that I naively thought he was doing.
One morning at Father Mac, during a period that both of us
were free, Mr. X and I again were alone in the teachers’ lounge. I happened
to have with me the corrected assignments for the McGill course. Rather than
give his assignment to his wife at McGill, I decided to give his assignment directly to him saying, “Here, let me show
you where you went wrong.” He told me, “Don’t bother showing
me anything because I’m not the one who does these assignments. My wife
does them, talk to her.” I pulled back, looked straight at him, and swore
at him in Italian in my mind. Instead of playing the game and pretend to me that
he did his assignment, he had to be unprofessional. However, in an effort to
get back at him, I corrected his (or should I say his wife’s) assignments very meticulously. I think there were 10 assignments in all and he failed in about half of them. His poor wife later told me, “You’re really a hard corrector”. I answered back, “You better believe it!”
When it was time to write the Lotus exam, I was surprised that Mr. X showed up and on time (I guess only
because his wife didn’t want to be late). Then, in full view of everyone,
Mr. X moved his desk very close to his wife’s desk. “Good”,
I said to myself, “I hope you cheat because you and your wife are getting different tests” as I had prepared four
different versions of the test. The lucky guy, he passed, just barely, but legitimately
and on his own. I figured that was great, because if he had failed, he would
be in my class next semester.
When I gave Mr. X his final mark, I expected an argument from him as his mark was rather low. Instead, he said absolutely nothing, not even a “thank you!”
He was happy that he passed and I was happy that he was out of my life.