It’s Friday–the day I’ve been dreading for two weeks since bombing a pop quiz in Jazz 101 at Carl Yastrzemski State College. I got a D+ for mixing up Fats Navarro with Fats Waller and spacing out on “Where or When: Compare and contrast.” That means I’ve got to get at least an A- on the mid-term if I’m going to maintain the B average dad says I need if he’s going to keep me on “the gravy train.” “College bred means a four-year loaf,” he says with that sarcastic laugh of his. He’s always talking about food for some reason.
The proctor goes up and down handing out the exam books, and I’m sweating bullets. Stay cool, I tell myself, like–I dunno–the Miles Davis Nonet? Hope that’s on the exam.
I pop the seal and open it up. Keep breathing, I tell myself, and don’t get hung up on questions you don’t understand. Do the easy ones first, just like on the SAT. I scan down the page, hoping to find some handhold that will get me started up the sheer rock face of my ignorance of America’s classical music.
Bingo–the first question is “How Long Has This Been Going On?” I know I know I know I say to myself, barely able to control my pencil as it races across the page. “There were chills . . . down my spine, and some thrills I can’t define,” I write. If you can’t answer the question completely, you’re allowed to say how you would research it using sources not available within the classroom.
Question #2: Why is there no sun up in the sky? Hmm—I seem to recall a jazz flash card about that age-old riddle. Wait–I know–Stormy Weather! That’s why there’s no sun up in the friggin’ sky! I scribble it down quickly–I may have a shot at an A!
Uh-oh–an essay question. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” Shit. I’ve never been there. I tap my pencil against my head–ouch! I hit a sebaceous cyst I need to have removed, but the shock sets my synapses crackling. “Moonlight on the bayou–Creole tunes fill the air. I dream . . . of magnolias in June. Soon I’m wishin’ you were the-e-ere.” Not too original, but I do have the entire hockey team in my class–they should hold down the curve.
What’s next. “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sure I have, uh, lots of them. Let’s see, what was it like? “And all at once I lost my breath–and all at once was scared to death–and all at once I own the earth and sky.” That oughta do it. Okay–one last question. “Lover man, oh where can you be?”
What kinda power trip is this professor on? I’m a guy. I shouldn’t have to answer a woman’s question! I gaze around the room, trying to find some inspiration. I see Valerie Dickman, the brunette who sits in the front row crossing her legs to improve her score in the class participation component of the final grade. She’s mouthing something to me. There . . . is . . . no . . . answer. It’s a trick question!
So the prof wants us to think outside the Big Joe Turner 5-CD boxed set! Okay–I’ll give it to him, and give it to him good. “I’ve heard it said,” I begin, “that the thrill of romance . . . can be like a heavenly dream. I go to bed with a prayer that you’ll make love to me . . . strange as it seems.” Voila. You want creative gender-blender thinking, you got it.
But I am not doing an oral report for extra credit.