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Gary Beck
New Curriculum

 

James didn’t look up when Arlene said hello, burying himself even deeper in the revelations about O.J., so she knew something was wrong. The unspoken communication system built over the years told her that it wasn’t anything terrible, just a mild disturbance in the sea of tranquility that James preferred to maintain. "What is it, James?" He looked up from the TV, but ignored the question. "I made Suprêmes de Voláille á Blanc. It’s very good." "What is it in English?" "Chicken breasts in white wine sauce." "It sounds much better in French. I’ve got to give the French credit. They may not be able to run a country very well, but they can cook up a storm…. Now what’s wrong?" "Your son is home." "Correct me if I’m wrong, James, but last time I looked he was our son. What did he do this time?" "He dropped out of school. Let’s go in the kitchen and I’ll tell you about it while you eat."
While she ate, James filled in the details of the abandonment of Yale. She wasn’t entirely surprised. Ted had never taken a great interest in academics, preferring the ever expanding world of the computer to subjects like history, english, or biology. He was an excellent math student, but only so far as it applied to programming. Anything that distracted from his latest software project was ignored, including midterms, guidance conferences and term papers. High school, designed in general for limited mentalities, was easily managed by Ted on cruise control. College, though surprisingly superficial, except in the sciences, required a bit more effort and Ted definitely begrudged commitment to anything that distracted him from his preoccupation with computer activity.
Arlene sighed in resignation. "Well, I guess it’s a minor miracle that he lasted two years. What does he want to do?" "He wants to knock around Europe for a while and then decide what to do next." Arlene wasn’t quite sure how to deal with the situation. She knew that Ted was a lot more strong-willed than James and far more stubborn. If he didn’t want to go back to school, she knew that there was no way to compel him. The question was how to get him to do something positive. She smiled ruefully. "Well at least he won’t ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’ like we did in the east village. It’s much too expensive and yuppified these days." James snorted with amusement. "That’s for sure…. Remember that underground club on east 6th Street we used to go to?" She shook off a momentary twinge of nostalgia. "Let’s talk about that another time. What do we do about Ted?"
James was pleased to be consulted for a change and put on his sincere, intelligent business face. "Well, there’s no sense fighting with him about this. What if we let him spend the summer in Europe, as long as he applies to another school in the fall?" She quickly considered the alternatives and couldn’t come up with a better idea. "I guess that’s the best choice, but we shouldn’t give in too easily, or he’ll take advantage of us." He grinned conspiratorially. "Always thinking like a lawyer." She suppressed a flash of annoyance. "I’m just trying to maintain some kind of restraint on him. We can’t tell him what to do anymore, but he’s still our responsibility." James nodded. "You’ve got that right. But not for much longer."
Further discussion was interrupted by Ted coming into the kitchen. He went to Arlene and kissed her on the cheek. "Hi, Mom. How’re you feeling? You look tired." She wasn’t suspicious of his affectionate greeting. "I’m all right. Just my usual heavy case load. What about you? James told me that you don’t want to go back to school." Ted glanced at his Dad to see if he was an ally or obstacle, but couldn’t tell. "That’s right. I finished all my sophomore requirements and I want to drop out for a while. I can finish my degree later." "Wouldn’t you be better off finishing first, then taking some time off?" Arlene asked. "No, Mom. I’ve really had enough of school for the time being."
Arlene looked at James, who just shrugged. She turned back to Ted. "Why don’t you tell us what you have in mind." He took a deep breath and plunged in. "I’m tired of the school restrictions and the requirements to study things that I’m not interested in." "What are you interested in, Ted?" she asked. "I want to learn more about software design and I need a lot more time to think about new applications." Arlene saw that James had that vacant, out to golf look on his face, so she was on her own. "Computers are a nice hobby, but you have to consider a career in something." Ted got a bit impatient. "Computers aren’t a hobby, Mom. They run almost half the functions in the country. In ten years, they’ll run 90% of the country."
She avoided the thin ice of an argument that she was ill-equipped to discuss. "All right. I agree that computers are important. But what specific role do you see yourself playing?" "I don’t know exactly. I have to study the current trends and see where they might be going." "Wouldn’t school be the best place to do that?" "No, Mom. They talk about what’s already been done. They dismiss anything new until it’s proven valid." "What’s wrong with that? It sounds like they’re trying to instill a sense of the practical" "I don’t want to be practical. I want to do something exciting that’ll blow people’s minds away." Arlene smiled patiently. "I don’t mean to sound like a doubtful parent, but don’t you need all kinds of skills to do something like that?"
Ted knew that his growing irritation would only make the situation more difficult, so he forced himself to stay calm. "What do you think I’ve been doing with my time, playing games?" "Well, yes," she answered. "Isn’t that what you do with your friends?" He grinned boyishly. "Only when we’re relaxing. Mostly we develop projects." "What kind of projects?" "Well, at the moment I’m studying a multimedia presentation core. The engine core consists of Active X controls, written in C++, using MFC and Direct X, with a Visual Basic data paring layer responsible for program flow that is fed proprietary script logic from an access database." She looked at him blankly. "I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Can you explain that in English?" "I’m trying to learn more about multi-platform, multi-lingual applications that can be tier developed for a plug-in format." "I still don’t get it. I guess there’s not much point in asking for a simpler explanation." Ted shrugged. "This is technical stuff, Mom. It requires an education."
Arlene couldn’t tell if he was teasing or being sarcastic. "Well let’s hear what your father has to say. What do you think, James?" As if caught while having a sex fantasy, he squirmed guiltily for a moment, then assumed a serious demeanor. "Education is really important for the future. If the boy isn’t happy at Yale, maybe he should take it easy this summer, then start somewhere else in the fall." James sat back, pleased with his reasonable attitude, but Ted shook his head in disagreement. "I don’t want the pressure of a starting date to distract me." "Then what do you want?" Arlene asked. "I want to be on my own and to knock around Europe for a while and concentrate on developing some of my software ideas." Arlene made a last effort to keep him home. "Wouldn’t you be better off working here, where you have your computer?" "I’ll get a portable laptop. They make some pretty good ones now," Ted countered.
Arlene looked at James. "I can’t think of another objection. Can you?" James shook his head, then turned to Ted. "Tell us what you have in mind." Ted was very careful not to show any of the triumph he was feeling." I’d like to go to Paris first and stay there for a while. Once I know where the hot software action is, I’ll check it out. I’ve heard there’s some good work going on in Germany." Arlene smiled. "I thought artists went to Europe to find themselves, not make software." Ted oozed sincerity. "This is what I need to do, Mom." James was all business now. "You want me to pay for this, right?" "Yes, Dad." "What do I get in return?" "I’ll pay you back once I market my software." "That could be a long time away, or never. What about now?" Ted thought quickly. "I’ll take you and your guests out on the boat anytime you like, until I leave."
James would never admit that he was afraid to go out on the boat without Ted, so he grumbled in a feeble protest that didn’t fool any of them. "I can always get one of my buddies to mate for me, but I appreciate your offer." "I think that’s very thoughtful of Ted," Arlene said. "Alright, " James conceded. "What’s it going to cost me?" "I haven’t figured it out yet, Dad. I’ll crunch some numbers and get back to you." "You do that, and don’t expect to live like an oil sheik at my expense." "Sure, Dad. I just don’t want to worry about money while I develop my ideas. Besides, it won’t cost you as much as a year at Yale." "It better not. I could buy a new car for your mom with that money." Ted bit back the comment about his being able to afford both that almost slipped out, and said: "You know she wouldn’t drive it."
Arlene realized that Ted was playing the let’s unite the boys against the girls game. "Alright. I guess it’s settled that you’re going to Europe. Have you made any specific plans?" "Not yet, Mom. I wanted to talk it over with you and Dad first." "I’m impressed with your sense of filial respect. How soon do you think you’ll be leaving?" "Probably three or four weeks. Why?" "I just thought we could spend a little time together before you go, that is when you’re not cruising with Captain Queeg." James glared at her. "What did you call me?" She looked at him innocently. "Wasn’t he the one who his crew cast adrift in a life boat?" "That was Captain Bligh," he answered in a tone that made it clear that their truce for the evening was shattered. Ted recognized the storm warning signs and headed for his room before it involved him. "I’ve got a few things to do. I’ll see you later."
The only sound Ted heard from downstairs as he closed his door was from the tv, so he assumed that James had let Arlene’s provocation pass. He went to the phone and called his roommate at Yale, who was still at school. Kevin was out, so he left a message on the machine. "Hey, Kev. It’s Ted. The folks agreed to my dropping out of school and going to Europe. Now it’s up to you to get your folks to get with the program. Ha. Ha. Pun. Call me tomorrow night and let me know what happens. Why don’t you come here and stay with me? We can use my dad’s boat and maybe sample some of the local babes. Call me." He began to unpack with the growing feeling that everything was going to work out just the way he hoped, and he made a mental note to start looking at laptops.

 

 

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