Prose Header

Student Learning

by Erik Weiss

part 1 of 2

“So tell me, Mr. Laux, what did you learn from our little experiment?” Dr. Moure asks me.

“Well, I uh...” my words trail off as she interrupts me, yet again. I am a fifth-year senior at Concord State College in Auglaize, Ohio. I’m pre-med and due to graduate in the fall. For the most part, college has been one giant party for me, endless amounts of friends, alcohol, and girls; classes have been a breeze.

Oh, sure, I’ve struggled with the odd calculus course, but on the whole, I don’t worry too much. Typically, I don’t have to. The department chair is also the Athletic Director and he wouldn’t want his number-one pitcher’s grades to fall below the eligibility mark.

Not that I’ve had to depend totally on my ability to throw a ninety-one mile per hour fast ball, but it never hurts to have an ace in the hole. Life’s been good to me, that is, it was until I met Janelle Moure.

“Matt Laux, All-American,” she taunts me, “apparently can’t finish a sentence without sputtering. Speak clearly Mr. Laux, and if you say ‘UHH’ to me again I’ll flunk you. It is the most ignorant sounding word in our culture, if you can even call it a word at all. Fill the silence with something intelligent, Mr. Laux, not some random noise.” She finishes with a smile and I sink down further in the thick leather chair across the low table from her.

Dr. Moure administers the senior projects with the pre-med students. She works with the other instructors so the projects will fit with our curriculum. Last year everyone had to perform a mock autopsy on one of the cadavers. Fortunately, I dodged that bullet because of my full schedule.

This year we’re administering various experimental drugs and monitoring the effects they have on our volunteers. These are legitimate experiments, performed with drugs that are due to be released to the public, pending the results of various trials.

We each have two volunteers, one is the control, and is given a sugar pill; the other subject is given the actual drug. Neither of them knows who the other participant is or whether they’ve received the real thing or the fake. We, the administrators of the experiment, don’t know either. Only Janelle has the master file. The goal is to monitor the subjects for abnormal side effects. My drug is a new type of acne medication that is going to liberate teenagers everywhere.

“I put my findings in the report, Dr Moure,” I respond. I’ll admit that I am thoroughly intimidated by this woman. She’s a tall redhead in her late thirties whose professional dress skirt is just short enough to hint at shapely thighs above those long muscular calves. She’s the sexiest teacher I’ve ever had, and she’s taken a cruel interest in my personal development.

At first I thought she had a thing for me, but when I tried to flirt a little, I earned myself an extra research paper for my trouble. She won’t let me get away with a damn thing.

“I’ve read your report, Mr. Laux, and it’s interesting. However, I’d like to hear the story from the horse’s mouth.” She gives me that smile again.

I take a deep breath and sit up a little straighter in my chair. She has crossed her legs at the knee and idly bounces her foot. Very distracting. I need this grade to graduate, and no matter how much this woman torments me, I must placate her. So I will tell the story of my senior project, as briefly as possible.

* * *

I met Missy on October fourteenth, a full five weeks into the fall quarter. I didn’t get to pick my subjects, Janelle did that. I just met with them and started them on the drug.

Missy was nineteen, tiny, blonde, and perky as hell. Her acne was mild, two or three blemishes on her face was all. She was the kind of girl I liked to run into at frat parties; they always look up to the upperclassmen, especially a celebrity like me.

She babbled on for fifteen minutes or so about the conference tournament last year, apparently she was there and cheering for me in the stands, whatever. I finally stopped her with an upraised hand; I had to get to class and this girl was starting to get on my nerves.

I carefully explained the potential side effects of the drug. Blackouts; dryness of the mouth, eyes and nose; dizziness... the list went on. I gave her all the necessary literature and the pill bottle.

“Take one pill every day when you get out of bed,” she giggled at that, “and be here every Tuesday at two-thirty.”

“When do I get the three hundred dollars?” she asked.

“At the end of the term, when you’ve completed the study.”

She smiled and bounced out of the small conference room I’d reserved for the weekly reviews, her ponytail swinging back and forth.

After my sociology class I went back to the conference room and found Don waiting there for me. He was sitting in one of the chairs with his head resting on his hand. His long dark hair hung lank onto the table.

When he looked up at me I saw he was the polar opposite of Missy. His eyes were hooded and I could smell the combination of weed and cigarettes as he sat up. His acne was somewhat worse, a dozen angry lumps on his face.

I took the seat across from him and slid the information packet and pill bottle across the table to him. He didn’t say a word. I repeated everything I’d told Missy: the potential side effects, take the pill every day when you wake up (he didn’t giggle), and be here every Tuesday at five o’clock.

He nodded and stood. I thought his jeans would fall off as he shuffled towards out of the room, but he caught them with his left hand and hitched them up in one practiced motion.

He paused at the door and turned. “The money?”

“At the end of the term. You have to successfully complete the study to be eligible for the payout.” He rolled his eyes at that before continuing his shuffle out of the room.

The next week I found Missy waiting for me in the conference room.

“Where’ve you been?” Looking back on it I think she was more agitated than she was the previous week, but to be honest I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what she was saying. She rambled on about not getting much sleep and I noted that she was wearing an admirable pair of jean shorts and a tube top that stopped well short of her navel.

Later, I was proud of myself for showing some restraint. I forced myself to ask her the questions I needed to get the basic information necessary for my report. “Have you noticed any unusual dryness? Have you had any blackouts or dizziness?”

She said no, “but my Mom told me that you can’t always predict what side effects might occur with these drugs. She says that it was stupid of me to enroll in this program and that this is how LSD got introduced to the public in the sixties.”

I rolled my eyes. “Is your Mom a doctor? A scientist? Or maybe a chemist?”

She shook her head no.

“Then tell her to lay off the acid.”

I skipped my Sociology class; I remember, because my buddies and I went down to the IHOP for a late lunch. Benny ended up getting into a fight in the parking lot and the cops were called. I had to post bail and I ended up being late for my appointment with Don. I showed up at five-thirty and he was gone. I don’t share all of this with Dr. Moure, obviously.

I called Janelle and explained to her that my grandma was sick and I missed the appointment because I was down at the nursing home with her. “It was a close call, but she’s going to make it,” I lied easily.

Janelle gave me Don’s phone number and I called him on my way home. I’ve rarely had such a boring conversation. I’ll just tell you that he didn’t suffer any of the expected side effects. I apologized for missing our meeting and promised to be prompt next week.

Missy showed up with her Mom for the next meeting and I suddenly felt awkward for making the comment about her Mom needing to lay off the acid, in our meeting the week before. Her Mom sat silently at the end of the table while I asked Missy the routine questions required for my report. Missy was not as bubbly this week as she had been in our previous meetings. She sat calmly and answered my questions. When she was done and I closed my notebook her Mom cleared her throat.

“I didn’t approve of this little experiment you people are performing on my daughter.” She was a small woman, like her daughter, but with a hawkish nose and a pinched expression. She shared none of Missy’s good looks.

I turned my palms towards the ceiling in a helpless gesture that just seemed to provoke her. Her face turned dark and she opened her mouth, no doubt to share more of her useless insight.

I spoke first. “Ma’am, I’m not responsible for who volunteers for the studies. I’m just a student, like your daughter. You’ll need to take your concerns to the program administrator, Dr. Moure.”

She looked like she would spit on me, but she said nothing more, just sat there with a sullen look on her face. I turned my attention back to Missy. “Three more weeks, then the study will be over. Have a good week.” I smiled invitingly and briefly covered Missy’s hand with my own. All for mom’s benefit of course; her face looked like a thunderhead. Missy was beaming.

I cut class again. After dealing with Missy’s Mom I needed a beer before meeting with Don and going to my night class. As I left the parking lot in my Camry I saw Missy and her Mom walking out to the car. I couldn’t help but notice that the bounce was gone from Missy’s step today.

Don walked into the conference room and I thought I’d get high just sitting across the table from him. I don’t typically smoke weed myself, I don’t want to jeopardize my athletics, but I don’t have any moral aversion to it. Don, however, took it to a whole new level.

His brown eyes were bloodshot and hooded. He plopped down in the chair across from me and pushed the hair out of his eyes. He cracked open a bottle of Dew and gave me a senseless smile. “Hey.”

I chuckled and got out my ink pen. “Have you had any blackouts?”


“Would I be wasting my time if I asked you about having dry mouth?”

He laughed at that. This is the most noise I’ve heard him make.

“Three more weeks.”

“Yep.” He shuffled out of the room with his left hand on the belt of his pants to keep them from hitting the floor.

The fourth week Missy came to our meeting wearing sweatpants and an old tee shirt. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and her hair wasn’t done. It was hard to tell if her acne was doing any better; I thought no. But then, neither was Don’s. “I haven’t been sleeping,” she told me.

“Dry mouth?” I asked her.

“I don’t have any of the symptoms on that paper you gave me,” she pouted. “But I haven’t slept more than a couple of hours all week and I want to cry all the time.”

I put on a thoughtful expression and scribbled in my notebook. “Have you had any cramping?”

She said no and I scribbled in my notebook some more. “Any nausea?”

“No.” She pouted again.

“Hmm, well, it doesn’t sound like you’re pregnant.” I kept a straight face and her jaw dropped. I was just trying to lighten the mood, but she didn’t think it was too funny. “Maybe you should take a sleeping pill,” I suggested.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Erik Weiss

Home Page