Wednesday, February 17, 2010


They were, collectively, four of the smartest guys you could expect to meet in any undergraduate program anywhere: Ed, the stereotypically nerdy white guy, studying physics; Lee, the stereotypically nerdy Chinese guy, studying political science; Ricky, the flamboyantly gay Mexican guy, studying performance art; and my little brother, Sol, the stereotypically nerdy Jewish guy, studying math. All seniors at a prestigious state university, all living in the same bachelor pad rental house off campus.

They supported each other like brothers, and were fairly outgoing and extroverted for a bunch of geeks. I visited whenever I could, and we would drink beer, push back the furniture, and dance in the living room, or eat foreign food and attend concerts, or sit around getting high and discussing the nature of the universe. Nice, gentle guys. Non-confrontational.

Lee wasn’t Lee’s real name, but most Americans couldn’t pronounce his given name. Still, he wouldn’t be Americanized, if he could help it, and spoke of his Chinese girlfriend back home. He couldn’t get back to her just yet, though. He needed his Master’s degree. He was the last of the group to hear back from his first-choice school, and announced their decision with a wide sweep of his arms when he saw me.

“So, where are you going?” I asked him.

“Wonderbuild.” He smiled.

“Wonderbuild?” I wondered. With his intellect, you’d think he’d be headed for a school I had heard of. Still, I liked the image it conjured in my mind. Wonder build. To build with wonder.

“Wonderbuild,” he confirmed.

“Where’s that?”

“Tennessee. You know this school?”


“It is a famous school. Wonderbuild.”

I glanced back at my brother, and saw him squinting sidelong at the other roommates. They shook their heads, shuffled their feet, looked out the window. “He means Vanderbilt,” my brother said, his voice quiet and embarrassed. The others hung their heads, avoided Lee’s wide eyes. He had been saying it for weeks. They hadn’t corrected him.

“I cannot say that letter,” Lee confessed. His jaw quivered.

“Vanderbilt. Wonderbuild. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt,” I said to myself. “Here, put your teeth down on your bottom lip when you say it. Vvvanderbilt.”

“Vvvanderbilt,” he repeated. “Vanderbilt.” He nodded.

The other boys looked up at me, faces shining with approval.

“There,” I said. “Now you can go to Vanderbilt.”


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Anonymous said...

Funny story.

Anonymous said...

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