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Rutledge: Some college freshmen never quite shake foot-in-mouth disease

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Mark Rutledge


Saturday, July 13, 2019

I encouraged my oldest daughter, Carly, to ask questions during her freshman year of college. “If you want to challenge the answer,” I further advised, “wait until after class.”

Former Vice President Dan Quayle once incorrectly corrected a 12-year-old’s spelling of “potato.” But I don’t need to hold up Dan Quayle as an example. My daughter is far more familiar with her father’s character of misconception.

Carly is about to begin her second year of university life, which places her four years ahead of my collegiate calendar. It’s possible that I needed four years between my freshman and sophomore years to begin recovering from freshman “foot-in-mouth disease.”

On the first morning of a class from which I withdrew before lunch, I corrected the professor. It might be more correct to say that I overcorrected the professor.

Speaking up in class was not a hallmark of mine, but I was feeling especially confident from an experience earlier that same morning during geography class.

The geography professor had been discussing granite, quartz and feldspar when he asked what could be seen on the clear horizon looking south from Denver, Colo.

All I could think of was Pikes Peak, which I had visited as a kid during a family vacation. But that couldn’t be it, I thought.

“C’mon!” the professor prodded. “Someone’s got to know this.”

“Pikes Peak?” I finally blurted.

“Give that man a gold star!” he said.

It was one shining moment in an otherwise dismal start to higher education.

Shortly after swaggering into the next class listed on my registration card, I noticed a scheduling error on the syllabus. I do not recall the specifics of the error — or even the area of study for the class — but I do recall raising my hand and bringing the mistake to the professor’s attention.

He assured me that the syllabus was correct. I assured him that it most definitely was not. I was so sure of it that I politely argued the point back and forth for a couple of rounds before he finally said something to the effect of, “OK, have it your way,” and moved on.

Before the class was over, it hit me that I had indeed signed up for the class but had attended on the wrong day. The professor kindly accepted my apology after class. “Foot-in-mouth disease hits a lot of freshmen this time of year,” he said.

I’ve never fully recovered. I recently purchased new windshield wipers for two of our vehicles. While installing the second set weeks after the first, I discovered that I had been the victim of a wiper caper.

Someone apparently had returned a worn and dirty set for a refund and the store had restocked the containers without bothering to look inside.

“Can you believe that?” I lamented to friends and family. “People are the worst!”

I was halfway to the parts store and still rehearsing my indignation speech when it struck me: I was the one who had put the old wipers in the new container. The new ones for the second car were still in the back seat, covered by an umbrella.

My daughter will do fine. And there might even be some hope for me. Dan Quayle, after all, went on to write a best-seller.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.