Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Chemistry Is Doing to Me, Part 2

Okay, I might as well delay one more day before I get into the effects of Lupron on me. Last time, I wrote about my quick retreat from high school chemistry (1961), and I noted there that I did not take a course in chemistry until I went to Hiram College (1962-1966).

During my undergrad years at Hiram, the college required three science courses of everyone. You could take two bio and a chemistry (or physics)--or two chem (or physics) and a biol. I did the former. I did okay in bio (even got an A in Bio 104--plants; a B in animals), and I learned a lot--much of which I oddly still remember. Mitosis. DNA. Watson and Crick. Meiosis. Other stuff I won't mention because I'm afraid, you know, of misspelling it.

I knew I did not want to take physics (my adventures in advanced math in high school had shown me the unimpressive dimensions of my mathematical knowledge and ability), so that left chemistry. I did have some hope for Chemistry 105 (the introductory course): The teacher was Prof. Ed Rosser, one of my father's best friends. I had known Dr. Rosser since we moved to Hiram in 1956; his daughter, Marcia (now a FB friend!), was in my junior high and high school classes (where she did markedly better than I); his wife, Ruth, was one of my mother's best friends--they even rode together over to Garrettsville , where they both taught at James A. Garfield High School. Our families often got together for Thanksgiving (rotating houses) and on many other occasions.

But I also knew that I hated labs. Hated them. One reason?  I was patently inept in a lab. Another: Labs took time from sleeping and screwing around and doing what they now call "hanging out." I could not understand why some of my best friends were science majors of one kind or another. They actually liked labs, a fondness that to me was jury-proof evidence that they were insane.

But ... a miracle?!? Hiram had recently decided to double the size of its science building (Colton Hall), and during a chunk of its construction time there would be no chem labs for introductory courses. When I heard that, I thought of that chorus in Messiah--you know which one. The famous one. The one that people traditionally stand up for. So ... Winter Quarter, 1964. Chemistry 105. Dr. Rosser.

For many years, I kept my Chem 105 notebook for a single reason--amusement. It bore graphic (literally--graphic) evidence of my inability to stay awake. I would start writing something; then, gradually, I would fall asleep and the words would transform into gibberish, drifting down the page as if I were drawing a jagged line for some perfectly mad reason.

It wasn't my fault. The class was a 8 a.m. (unGodly), and since I usually didn't go to bed until 1 or 2, well, you know, sleep deprivation? Also, Dr. Rosser, who was one of the most interesting men I've ever known (a Renaissance man in many ways), was not one of the most interesting men at 8 a.m. I could not understand how someone who could entertain me so thoroughly at a home barbecue (and, oh, could he and Mrs. Rosser cook!) could narcotize me the next morning in a very few minutes.

There was another unfortunate aspect of having Dr. Rosser: He knew me. He was constantly looking my way during classes--expecting me to answer questions (fool that he was)--looking to see how I was responding to what he was saying. My head slumped on my chest and my regular breathing was probably not the sort of response he was looking for.

Well, part of the sleeping was for another reason: I didn't get chemistry. Not the simplest damn things about it. One of my best friends was Bill Smith, a chem major. (He was best man at our wedding--then got his M.D. from Duke and spent his career as a family physician in Wooster, Ohio.) One night, baffled by my simple homework, I went down to Bill's room to get help on a "story problem." He solved it in about 4.3 seconds, then tried to explain what he'd just done--and why. He was amazed at the vast boundaries of my ignorance. And I remember one example. One sentence in the problem used this kind of construction: If you have three grains per liter ...  Bill promptly wrote 3/1=  I stopped him. How do you know it's a division problem? I asked in all seriousness. He thought I was kidding.  Ha, ha. Realized I was not kidding. Looked at me as he would have looked at some sort of new, mentally deficient simian species that had just swung on a vine out of a jungle. I don't recall what happened next ... well, yes, I sort of do. He gave up (hopeless case). I went back to my room, where I sat at my desk and thought about how profoundly stupid I was (am?).

Somehow, I did okay on the quizzes and tests (how?). And I got a B in the course (how?). And I fervently hoped Dr. Rosser would quickly forget--the next time our families socialized--what a dumb little middle child my parents had somehow produced.


1 comment:

  1. Daniel,

    In the Summer of 1961 I was fortunate enough to be selected for a five-week course for advanced high school students in Physics. The course was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and was taught at Hiram College. To that time, I had never set foot on a college campus, and was really excited by the prospect. The instructor for the course was Professor Edward B. Rosser. My first recollection was that he looked professorial. I recall thinking that Colton Laboratory was a very impressive (and large--building size is inflated by the young) building. Without going into detail, I can say that my experience at Hiram with Dr. Rosser was profoundly life-changing. I never had any further engagement with Hiram College, but to this day I enjoy driving over to Hiram and walking the campus, imagining that I am once again 15 years old, and about to be introduced once again to the world of learning. I currently live in Hudson, and teach mathematics at Kent State. None of my professors occupy a firmer niche in my memory that Dr. Rosser. Incidentally, my lab partner during the course was none other than Marcia Rosser. I was the lucky one, getting the prettiest girl in the class to be my partner!

    Richard Shoop