This is from the time I was a stats student. It was a trying period that turned into a fond memory.
I was repeating a unit. But this time, we had a new professor. This was a snapshot of the day of the welcome barbeque.
It was spring and the campus was at the peak of its beauty. I remember the air, hot and dry, ghost gums, the chatter of birds, damp grass, and red bean bags scattered across the lawns of Rush Court. The heart of the campus was abuzz at the University of Purth.
I was a fourth-year law and business student, and from May of the year before, a mathematics and sciences student enrolled in a statistics minor.
I’d argued back and forth with myself about the decision to enrol, convinced myself it’d be child’s play then swallowed an aspirin as the disturbing image of a septuagenarian with a student loan settled on my mind.
Many a late night I spent hunched over my desk in some attempt to decrypt the meanings from textbooks, and theory, and a program called ‘R’.
I was redoing the final hurdle. The nightmare I’d crashed out of six months prior and relegated to the basket of bad ideas: Statistical Theory and Data Analysis. Sizzles, a final-year stats unit.
Winter passed and my law and business units went without a hitch.
I have a feeling it had something to do with the copious amounts of fairy floss I was eating at the time. For the yet-to-be-enlightened, fairy floss attracts fairies—and I credit that semester to fairy dust working its magic. As the sting of failure subsided, a positive affirmation meme appeared in my feed. I gulped it down with the mindset of a uni student with a drinking problem: another shot won’t hurt.
The unit the first time I attempted it was chaos. I felt I’d made progress, but the problems multiplied like cane toads. I’d deal with one and ninety-nine more would appear. I was at war. My rations, Tim Tams, went missing in the night. Hip pocket losses and hip gains were made as my replenishment footmen stocked the pantry. Enemies left their muddy tracks over crumpled foolscap pages. Ants infested my confectionery-wrapper filled rubbish bin.
I hypothesised and concluded with ninety-nine percent confidence that the founders of statistical theorems were just double-plus kind of intelligent. I, obviously, wasn’t. Dreams of one day turning out a smart cookie turned to ash as crosses and strike-outs overwhelmed my ‘best effort’ submissions.
Today was the start of my redemption. Re-enrolled I was attending the welcome barbeque. A welcome day, the chance to get to know your peers. Attendance came with an implied condition to perform advanced social acrobatics, viz. ‘networking’. Not difficult to attempt; just difficult to get right. I peered around, where were the mathsy, statsy types? Individuals who didn’t sit around coming up with arguments about like we did over at the law school? I was pleasantly surprised. It appeared that both groups of individuals were indistinguishable. The choice of attire for both were either of a Bintang single, a tidy Kmart polo, or a dress shirt for those that wanted to be picked on.
The smell of fresh meat wafted through the wind-tunnel where we were gathered. Tom, Dick, and Harry, arrived. They announced their arrival with introductions, like naff vegos on their particular brand of veganism. The three of them had been invited along to the sausage sizzle because they were smart. You couldn’t argue that a free lunch was great bait, for the smart and the less so.
The barbeque was going, half the meat was done, and a bunch of us were milling around like seagulls.
I was standing alone next to the incumbent ugly painting—this one was Picasso-inspired and had its authorship imprinted all over like a poor-man’s Warhol.
I had finished with the tomato sauce bottle. The hot, chargilled sausage and bun was in hand. It was measuring up to the Bunnings’ standard. The flavours of a caramelised exterior washed over my palate as I took a massive bite.
‘Where are you from?’ came the bright voice of a tall gentleman.
Always. It was always the wrong timing.
He must have been in his late twenties. He had thick dark brown hair, bushy brows, and was wearing a tablecloth chequered shirt.
I have always wondered about fabrics like these. Men seem to like them. Men seem to wear them a lot. Pigeonholed to the patriarchy as smart officewear, I feel I may be alone in seeing walking reminders of the kitchen table all around the office. Thankfully feminism and humour about women and a connection with the kitchen has purged ladieswear of patterns of the sort. More likely, tablecloths are out of fashion.
He too had gone for a sausage rather than a meat patty.
‘Is it that obvious?’ I joked, ‘I’ve crossed faculties to steal from your sausage sizzle!’ I dabbed my face. The feeling that I was wearing tomato sauce would not settle.
‘Welcome all then! But you haven’t, have you? It’s Miss Take, Avery, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. Wait. How?’ I said.
Bloody hell. If it wasn’t tomato sauce, it was the dastard sausage casings getting stuck in my crooked front teeth. As if I needed to be reminded of my braces-free childhood.
He talked at great speed: ‘I spy on my students when they sign up. On the roll!
So far we have thirty-two. And you, I remember because you’re the lucky last to sign up.’
His green eyes were twinkling.
‘Professor Henley?’ I asked quizzically, extending my free hand. We never called our professors by their titles. Heck, we didn’t even call them professors. His professor-like demeanour was like that I’d always imagined. A state of awe had taken over and compelled me to address him with formality.
‘Gerard! Please!’ he batted back.
‘Of course,’ I said smiling. I could live with the new student label.
‘I’m your lecturer for the next few weeks, and of course, the assignments after that.’
He took a bite out of the snagwich, his eyes scrunched with approval.
‘I can see why we do these welcome parties.’
‘You’re really young to be a professor,’ I blurted out. ‘I only mean, are you really? I mean, younger than most’, I stammered.
His replies and the speed of his words were wickedly fast.
‘No- no- ask away. I went right into work, a shipping company, as luck would have it, for eight years after graduating. I decided it wasn’t for me. I went back to study and four years later. I’m a lot happier’, he explained.
‘I’m assisting with the mean around here. You guys are only my second cohort. I hope that’s okay. I’m prepared to take suggestions, on help with assignments, my teaching style’, he looked up, ‘Anything really. I want you all to pass. If my students find they have a passion for stats, and that’s by some tiny part by my doing, I’m going to be on cloud nine!’
‘That’s awesome to hear. I’m looking forward to it. It’s my last stats unit. I need to pass this’.
‘Oh, you will. I’ve made some changes to the unit. Hopefully make it more straightforward.’
He continued, ‘Now, do I have tomato sauce on my face?’
A question I would have asked!
‘You’re good.’ I gave him the thumbs up.
A largeish boy with an even larger backpack pushed in front of me, interrupting the conversation.
‘I look forward to seeing you this afternoon.’
‘See you then, Professor. I mean Gerard.’
‘Sausage sizzles!’ did mathematics and science students have all the fun.
As well as being my story on the stats welcome barbie, it was the birth of the barbeque-inspired exclamation I have tried to work into recent conversations. With varying degrees of success, I might add, much like the jobs I’ve been applying for since graduation.
I did end up passing that unit and finishing my stats minor.