All “Toe” Beans wanted for Christmas was to graduate from college with a 4.0 GPA. If he left with a pristine academic record like that, he would be a shoo-in at all of the prestigious business schools to which he had applied. His manifest destiny, which entailed his landing a job that paid the big bucks, would be fulfilled.
But that son of a bitch Professor Tunnell refused to budge on the A-minus grade he had given “Toe” on his Introduction to Post-literacy term paper. Sure, it wasn’t his best work, but hadn’t he told Tunnell at least ten times prior to turning it in that he had better things to do? That he needed to be cut some slack on account of it being “rush week” for his fraternity?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to work out, not at all. “Toe” hadn’t matriculated at State University to learn silly lessons about personal responsibility or engage in frivolous discussions about the writings of a bunch of dead French guys. He had come here solely to pad his CV, which is what life was all about, and instead found himself facing an insurmountable roadblock.
Tunnell, who didn’t earn the big bucks and doubtless never would, had no right to undermine his progress. His only responsibility was to slap fat red A’s on “Toe’s” paper in much the same way that earlier assistant professors had awarded high marks to papers written by Beans père. Where, “Toe” wondered, did this tubby cipher develop such a highfalutin attitude?
“Look, I’m not sure why you’re doing this to me,” “Toe” said when he met with Tunnell during the latter’s office hours.
“Doing what to you?” Tunnell asked.
“Toe” brandished the paper in his nemesis’ face. “I need this grade, man. I need it because I’m looking to go to a prestigious school. One of the top ones, you know.”
Tunnell was usually so burdened with his own assignments that he gave high grades to all of his students with the hope that they wouldn’t complain to the chair of the department and might even decide to repay his favor with good performance evaluations. However, this semester was an unexpectedly light one for him, so he had found time to read this obnoxious, overachieving undergraduate’s paper in its entirety. It wasn’t terrible in the way that most student writing is, but it was just bad enough to warrant an A-minus instead of an A. He also knew that this mark would cause “Toe” no small amount of consternation. In response to any challenge, he intended to seize the moral high ground and defend it within an inch of his life. “What’s the problem with an A-minus?”
“I’m not an A-minus student,” said “Toe.” “Never have been. I’m an A student.”
“Well, that’s a heck of a justification for changing your grade,” said Tunnell. “Seeing as how you always get As, let me just open my grade roster and give you an A.”
“This is the rest of my life we’re talking about. Can’t you see what I’m saying? The rest of my life!”
Tunnell nodded. “I can see it, all right. I can see the rest of your life, and it appears that at least one A-minus is going to be part of it.”
“I’m not an A-minus student,” repeated “Toe,” albeit in a whinier and more insistent voice than before.
“You weren’t an A-minus student,” Tunnell corrected him. “Why don’t you find something else to define you?”
“I’ve got to get into a prestigious school, a top school. This is what it’s all about. Can’t you see how hard I’ve worked here? And like I told you, it was rush week and I’m president of the frat. It got so busy and I did the best that I could.”
Tunnell nodded. “No doubt about it: You’ve got a great work ethic. You’re a hard worker. I’m a big believer in rewarding hard work. You earned that A-minus, Mr. Beans.”
“It’s going to kill me,” “Toe” said.
“You’ll be okay,” Tunnell assured him.
“Toe” Beans fought to hold back his tears. In his conception of the university, a series of discrete grade points obscured the whole. He needed a 1600 SAT, a 4.0 GPA, and a business school degree in order to lead the kind of upper-class life that was his birthright. Why was this ridiculous old man trying to rain on his parade of achievements? “No, it’s over. I don’t stand a chance. I’m serious, man.”
“I’m serious, too,” Tunnell said. Deep within the part of him that still believed in the liberal arts, he really was.