It was three in the morning, and Fenno was in the middle of repeatedly kicking a hapless, recently-dispossessed car-owner in the groin. He was interrupted by the sound of a familiar voice over his shoulder. “Fenno, why don’t you go to bed already?” Fenno hit pause and turned around.
“Okay, okay. Just lemme finish this mission.” Fenno turned back to the TV.
“Fenno, it’s already February. Shouldn’t you be back at school?”
“Not quite yet, Mom. I’ve got a little more research to do on my paper.” He turned around again to face the screen.
“But all you’ve been doing is playing that stupid game. I’d hardly call that research.”
“Sure it is. My paper supervisor is Professor Stone.”
In spite of this conclusive rebuttal, Mother of Fenno wasn’t finished. “Look, Fenno. I don’t want to be pushy, but your dad and I are a little concerned. First, you seem to be neglecting your studies. Second, your obsession with that game is making you irritable and odd. You don’t have to ‘carjack’ the minivan to drive into town. Third, Dad is a little put off by the satire columns you’ve been printing out and leaving on the kitchen table every Thursday morning for the last two months. I know it’s been difficult for you to find an outlet while The RECORD’s on hiatus, but we haven’t said or done half the things you write about us, and none of it is funny.”
“Yes it is. You just have to understand the highly-nuanced characterizations of all the wacky stuff that happens when you’re enrolled in this house. . . . I mean, when you’re living in this house. . . . I also mean some damn witty things, but they seem to have escaped me at the moment.”
“That wasn’t funny either,” Mom answered.
“Here,” Fenno consoled, “I’ll finish up, pack my clothes in the morning, and fly to Boston tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got to get back in time to check out Reagan Week anyway.”
“Oh, Reagan,” Mom mused. “That’s pretty sad, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, the Alzheimer’s and all? I know. He probably thinks Iran Contra is a Cuban-American lounge singer.”
“No,” Mom clarified, “it’s pretty sad that the Republicans at your school are such a bunch of total geeks.”
It’s got to be in the genes, Fenno thought.
Fenno let himself be driven to the airport in the city of S____ without once trying to force his father from the car at gunpoint. Congratulating himself on his self-restraint, Fenno made his way through the e-ticket line, checked in at the gate and boarded the plane. Though he’d never written one unkind word about the employees of Delta Airlines, Fenno was certain they were trying to punish him when he found himself seated between a Fat Man Who Needed Two Seats and Greg Parets.
“You going back late too?” Greg asked by way of stating the obvious.
“Uh-huh,” Fenno conceded.
“So what do you want to talk about?” Greg pressed.
“I don’t know. I’m pretty tired, actually,” Fenno replied. Fenno rose about a foot in his seat as the FMWNTS shifted his weight to circumnavigate himself with his seatbelt buckle.
“Well,” Greg started in again, “I can talk about four things: jobs, classes, personal financial planning and sports. Take your pick.”
“How about I just let you choose? I’ll listen,” Fenno suggested.
“Well, I’m running a special this week. It’s sort of a medley. I can talk about how doing well in your classes can get you all kinds of great jobs, which will give you the money to exercise some fantastic financial options, including buying an awesome entertainment system to watch the Knicks and the Mets. It’s fantastic.”
“So,” Fenno replied, “what you’re proposing is that we have an SDCP.”
“A what?” Greg asked, not understanding.
“A Shockingly Dorky Conversation in a Plane.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Greg agreed.
“But what will the FMWNTS think about it?” Fenno inquired.
“The FMWNTS? Oh, I think he’ll be fine with it,” Greg responded. The FMWNTS grunted.
“By the way,” said Fenno, “how’s Raj?”
“Ra-who?” Greg answered.
Back in Cambridge, after castigating his roommate for neglecting to keep up the beer supply and for strewing unread newspapers around the apartment for the benefit of a nonexistent and apparently un-housetrained puppy, Fenno made his way to campus. Once in Langdell, he pulled up Internet Explorer on one of the first-floor computers and typed in the law school email web address. After almost two months of not checking email, Fenno was sure he would encounter a staggering backlog of messages. But instead of the friendly crimson and white page he’d come to know, love, and even call by the name “Barry” from time to time, Fenno was confronted with a completely unfamiliar screen. He typed in his username. He typed in his password. He pressed return. He got an error screen. He typed it all in again, slowly, watching his fingers hit each key. He got the same error screen.
A sense of unease crept over Fenno. He let his eyes wander around the room. It looked like Langdell. Just to be sure, he stepped outside, walked down the steps, and surveyed his surroundings. Yes, there was Hauser, and the Hark, and the quad that nobody uses for anything because of the strange buildings on the other side full of Frankensteins, Igors and Madame Curies engaged in vivisection. There was Maxwell’s Silver Dworkin building, coming down upon his head. Assured that he was at the right law school, Fenno turned around and re-entered the library.
After retrieving the error message four more times, Fenno asked Dori Kornfeld, at the computer next to him, if he was doing something wrong. “Oh, yeah,” Dori said, “they changed the e-mail system to make it easier to use, more secure, and more reliable. One small side-effect is that now you have to type in your full e-mail address as your username.”
“Bah,” blurted Fenno. “That’s like . . .” (he began to count on his fingers) “. . . um, many more letters.”
“I know,” Dori agreed. “You’ll get used to it.” She turned around and departed, leaving Fenno to figure out the rest on his own. Fenno typed in all forty-five letters of his username, his password (uncle_f—-r), and hit “Enter.” Finding the inbox, labeled “Read Mail” (how practical!), Fenno saw that he had absolutely no mail whatsoever. Pleased with his enormous good fortune in not having missed anything important, Fenno made his way back home, humming a happy tune.
Fenno spent the next six hours listening to the voices of friends who had called to yell at him for not responding to their e-mails. Finally, he listened to a message from the director of legal hiring at his firm. Fenno had apparently missed today’s deadline for confirming his continued intention to join the firm in the fall. The request had been sent by email. They were very sorry, but in the absence of a reply they had no choice but to revoke his offer and, out of sympathy for the position of those affected by a down hiring market, give it to another student. “Dammit!” Fenno thought to himself. “I knew I should’ve accepted my offer from Brobeck.”