BY RANDY MCINTOSH
The next morning, the interview was all over the internet. Issac used a heavily-edited video from our encounter to reinforce the government’s policy. My wife and I chuckled when he repeated the two-percent figure, “If this represents just two percent of the problem, imagine how much worse this could be. We need a full outing here, folks!”
“Such an asshole,” my wife said as she switched the feed.
On our usual newsfeed, the announcer was a bit more even-handed, but did use the now viral label: “We learned last night that another one of the so-called the Imposter’s has been identified, Professor Terry Chattan. We caught up with his colleague this morning, Professor Paula Sanchez, who agreed to give us her views on this.”
I was frozen in my seat but began to relax when I heard Paula call the new government policy regressive and bordering on fascism.
A few of the other newsfeeds had several images from the video the night before that showed me very clearly, so I decided to not take public transit and grab a taxi instead.
Of course, the driver immediately recognized me and spent most of the trip telling me how important a proper education is and that I should be thankful that I had this opportunity to redeem myself.
I asked the driver to drop me at the entrance in the back of the building so I could avoid any more press coverage at the main doors. I pulled my tuque down low and entered.
The door was heavy and old, announcing my entry into a large receiving area. At the opposite end was a janitor pushing his cart.
I studied him carefully. It took me a few moments, but it was clear that the janitor was the same person who was there when I was in high school.
“Mister Morgan?” I called out.
The old man looked over at me. He wore thick spectacles and had a scruffy gray beard that highlighted his shiny bald head. The odd thing was that he looked like that when I was a high school student.
“That you, Terry?” Morgan strained his eyes, “I recognize your voice. You’ve put on a bit of weight since I last saw you.”
“Ha!” I felt a bit of nostalgic joy, “Mister Morgan I can’t believe you’re still here keeping this place clean!”
“Yeah, well, I ain’t no spring chicken I tell ya. I don’t really do much around here anymore, except scent duty.”
“Scent duty. You know that smell? I spray this stuff all around to make sure the scent stays,” he held up a canister with the words “WET DOG ON AN OLD WOOD FLOOR” on the label.
I was impressed that there was a market for such an odour, but if you can sell “Fresh Cut Grass” as a room freshener, then I guess anything goes.
“Well, I’m glad to see you Mister Morgan,” I walked towards him extending my hand.
Morgan looked down and grasped my hand.
“Good to see you too, Terry,” he stared at me for a moment, “Damn you got old! Remember man, no matter how old you are, you’re still you.”
I smiled not knowing if he was being profound or if sniffing the scent spray had done something to him.
“Thanks,” I released his hand, “thanks, I gotta go to class.”
I tried to enter the classroom without too much commotion. Mister Crandell had arrived early and watched me as I walked over to my group’s table. As usual, he was expressionless. I nodded his way with a slight grin, which seemed to soften the pierce of his stare. He looked down at the papers on his desk.
Heather, Leonard, and Thomas had already arrived and were unpacking their bags.
“Hey Professor,” Leonard looked over as I put my satchel down, “I saw you on the news last night, Great interview!”
“Yeah, sure, thanks, Len,” I managed another smile.
Leonard lowered is voice, “Um, hey, can you sign this for me?”
He pulled a vinyl record album from his bag. The cover was a sketch with the words The Imposters written on the bright red background. He held a silver pen out towards me.
“I didn’t know you were one of The Imposters. Man. I love this album!” his eyes glimmered with anticipation.
“Uh, it’s… I’m not exactly…” I tried to muster a response.
“Oh, Len, you can be so dense sometimes! He’s not that kind of imposter!” Heather rolled her eyes.
Leonard’s eyes continued their glimmer.
I reached for the album and pen.
TO LEONARD, KEEP ROCKIN’ BUDDY! I wrote ending it with my initials.
“Okay team! Let’s get to work. I need to be out of here by noon sharp today for track practice,” Jenny dropped her bag.
Over the coming weeks, our working group really seemed to come together. Jenny was a natural leader for the group and I was happy to follow her task assignments. Heather’s skills were really evident in being able to program solutions, and Thomas had a great aptitude for abstraction and could identify a number of potential solutions for the same problem. Leonard turned out to have a surprising aptitude for probabilities.
“How did you manage to figure all this out?” I asked when he showed great enthusiasm for a Monte Carlo simulation we tried.
“Well, I play cards and stuff a lot, so I guess I learned by doing. I found out I could make better choices if I could track probabilities.”
“So you must make a killing at poker.”
“I wish. If I was so good at it, do you think I’d still be here?”
The team appreciated my knowledge of matrices and being able to work across multiple dimensions. I missed that reinforcement that comes from working together as a team on problems. In my academic career, I was reinforced for my own accomplishments, the papers, the lectures, the grants, and not how well my research team did. It got to the point where there was no team, just me. I resolved that once this class was completed, that I would do my best to link up with my colleagues and try to set up our collaborations again.
With the final exam approaching, our team turned from problem solving to preparing ourselves to work independently. One of the hold overs from the old system was that exams were still done individually, even if all the work up to that point was done as a team.
“The exam is scheduled for three hours,” Mister Crandell said as he concluded the class the week before the exam, “It will be focused on problem solving rather than theory, so expect to have to take some time to understand each problem.”
Breaking down a problem was where our team was starting to show difficulty. It wasn’t an issue at first, but over the weeks no matter how clear a problem was, it always seemed that we could never really agree on the best solution. Part of this was a not-so-subtle competition between Jenny and Thomas, while other times it was Heather who would come up with a strategy that none of us understood. I tried to keep my distance on these group debates, offering to go with the consensus.
After Mister Crandell’s announcement, he dismissed the class and we were free to either continue working or move on to other things.
Leonard and Heather opted to stay so that they could exchange notes on probabilities and coding. Jenny left in a hurry, saying that she needed to get to basketball practice.
Thomas and I walked down the hall together, “Terry, do you have a few minutes? There’s something I wanna show you.”
“Sure,” I followed as Thomas pointed to his locker.
He opened the locker and took out a small package, “Let’s go out there,” he nodded in the direction of the side door.
The door opened into an enclosed garden that was protected from the outside cold. It was used for agriculture classes. Today, it was empty.
Thomas sat on a concrete step, “I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit nervous about the exam.”
“I think that’s understandable,” I tried to sound more like a friend than an old adult, “But we’ve done well on our assignments, so I think we’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, maybe. But why leave that to chance?” Thomas opened the package.
Inside were several USB sticks. He handed one to me.
“I got these from the exam lab,” he held one up, admiring it.
“What do you mean?”
“These have the final exam on it,” he looked at me like I should have known that.
“I can’t fail this class,” he continued, “There’s a big scholarship riding on this and if I miss it by one mark, I’m gonna end up in some shitty college.”
“I don’t get it. You should have no problem with the exam. Why cheat?”
“Why? Didn’t you do the same thing? Didn’t you and your buddies steal a bunch of exams? My Mum told me the stories about you.”
“Yeah, my Mum was your advisor when you were in high school. She told me the stories about you and how they knew what you were doing but couldn’t prove it. You might say that you inspired me.”
“How did you get these?”
“I used her security card to get into the lab.”
I remembered how we had ‘borrowed’ the master keys from the Vice Principal at the time under the pretence of helping out with sports equipment. While two of my gang were in the gym organizing the equipment, I used the key to sneak into the exam lab and grab whatever I could.
“But the entries to the exam lab must be logged, Thomas. Isn’t someone going to check if something is missing?”
Thomas rolled his eyes, “I’m not an idiot. I only took one of the USBs and copied the stuff on to a bunch of others, so there’s only one missing. They’ll never notice that. Her card also accesses the security system, so I wiped the entry record after I got the exam.
“Anyway, I thought that maybe you’d want to have one of these. I imagine you have as much to lose as I do. I’ll give this one to you free.”
“Free? Are you selling these?”
“Of course! This is a great business!”
This left me with the impression that he’d had been doing this for a while.
“Look, in a weird way, you are kinda my role model for how to beat the system, so I figure giving you this USB key is a way of saying thanks for the inspiration.”
Thomas closed the box, stood and walked back into the school. I sat for a few more moments before pocketing the USB key and went out the back entrance of the garden.
My wife and I stared at the USB key on the table.
“I can’t believe he’s Misses Walker’s kid. And to think that all the stuff I did in high school is like some sort of legend. Not the legacy I was hoping for.” I pinged the USB key, sending it spinning.
She grabbed it, “Did you look at it yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Are you seriously considering it?“ her voice was calm.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted. I really do think I’ll do well on exam, but on the other hand, there’s a lot at stake if I fail. I could be out of a job, and that’s not going to make it easy for us financially.”
“Look,” she placed the USB key back down, “I have all the faith in the world in you, and don’t doubt for a moment that you’ll ace the exam. What bothers me more is that if you take the easy way out, you may save your job, but you’ll never get over the feeling of being an imposter.
“Why don’t you go study a bit more in your office and then try to get some sleep, okay? I’m gonna head up now and do a bit of reading.”
I grabbed the USB stick and started walking to the basement, glancing back to see my wife giving me a look of concern.
Plopping into my office chair, I held the USB stick up to the desk lamp.