Six weeks after I graduated from high school, I was about to receive a grade for my first college course . . . and a writing class at that. Sitting in English Composition 101, a class consisting of a hundred students or more, I felt like a true freshman from a small town. The only thing I knew how to write with any proficiency was bathroom wall poetry.
But Dr. Gates was pressing the class with in-room assignments, requiring that we write five hundred word essays on subjects as diverse as strawberries, music, and how we felt about the opposite sex. And so I wrote.
Dr. Gates, a tiny man who lectured occasionally from behind a massive podium, appeared to be little more than a forehead and a nose, and he graded the living-heck out of our essays, marking papers in large red ink blotches and grading down entire letter grades for any number of grammatically-unforgivable errors or sloppy syntax. Much to my surprise, many of my papers came back with no other marks on them other than a large red "A".
On the final day of class, Dr. Gates handed everyone a small dot of paper with a final grade on it. I didn't get a paper, however. But at the end of that final class session Dr. Gates sent my heart into spasms when he said, "Now, as I dismiss class, I need to see Mr. Allycat. The rest of you . . .have a nice life."
Had I heard correctly? Mr. Alleycat? Was that me?
I meekly made my way forward as the masses were exiting the lecture hall and approached the old professor. "Dr. Gates. I'm Todd Outcalt. Did you want to see me?"
"Yes," he said in his nasally voice. He stretched out his hand. "Mr. Alleycat, I have enjoyed your work in this session. I give very few A's in my classes. And in this class, there is only one A. And you have received it." He handed me my slip of paper.
I thanked him. But not enough. I was stunned. I wasn't about to tell anyone . . . not even my parents. Heck, in high school, the other guys would have beaten me up for getting an "A" in anything. I just walked out, headed straight for the registrars office, and signed up for another writing class.