Fenno: The dreaded 3L paper


Fenno was feeling a little anxious. It was really too bad, as it was starting to interfere with his drinking and sleeping. Well, okay, it didn’t really interfere with his sleeping. And it didn’t interfere with, say, drinks two through five. But the guilt on opening that first beer at 8 p.m. was a little hard to bear. Also, apathy wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it had been for the last five months. Starting to feel anxious about apathy: that was simply wrong. Fenno racked his brain to locate the source of his anxiety. After a few minutes of racking, he decided it wasn’t worth it, and opened a beer. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right” – that was the motto he’d learned from Professor Meltzer.

Hanging out on campus at 9:30 the next morning during his 9 a.m. class provided some measure of relief, but by lunchtime he was utterly slightly anxious again. It was terrible. “Hey Fenno,” said a smiling Mike Schwartz. “Finished your third-year paper yet?”

“No,” Fenno answered, a bit put off. “When’s it due, anyway?”

“Well, I’m not really sure,” Mike replied. “It doesn’t much matter to me, since I got a draft in already.”

“Congratulations,” Fenno sniffed. This is going to get worse before it gets better, he thought to himself.

As Mike walked off, Fenno began to wonder in earnest about his due date. The date was critical, as it would provide Fenno a clue about when to start writing.

“Hey, Fenno.” Fenno looked up from his concrete seat outside the Hark. It was Chris Kolovos.

“Oh hey, Chris.”

“Finished your paper yet?” Kolovos inquired.

“No,” Fenno snapped. “What is everyone’s obsession with this thing?”

“Take it easy, Fenno,” Chris calmly intoned. “I’m just checking in with your life.”

“Well, my life was just fine until about five minutes ago,” said Fenno. “Do you know when it’s due?”

“I think it’s due the 29th,” Chris said.

“And how do you know that?” Fenno asked.

“I don’t. I just have this feeling, that’s all.” With that, Kolovos narrowed his eyes and walked slowly in the direction of a lingering odor of perfume.

Fenno sat, staring at his hands for an answer. They just stared back, all fingery and mute. Stupid fingers, Fenno thought. You’re no help at all.

Raising his head from this one-way conversation, Fenno spied Kelly Blevins approaching the Hark from Pound Hall. He decided to try a preemptive strike on this paper business. He stood up. Before Kelly was close enough to start talking, Fenno shouted at her, “Hey, Kelly, how’s your third-year paper coming?” There was no answer.

On reaching Fenno, Kelly took out her earphones. “Hey, Fenno,” she said, “finished your third-year paper yet?” Fenno bit the inside of his lip until he could taste blood.

“No,” he simpered. “Listen, Kelly, do you know when the thing’s actually due?”

“Of course not, Fenno,” she answered. “But I heard a rumor it was due Tuesday of last week.” Fenno could feel his intestines beginning to digest themselves.

“So yours is in already, then?” Fenno posed.

“No,” Kelly smiled, “I got an extension.”

“So when’s it due now?”

“Later, I guess.” Without so much as a farewell, Kelly lowered her head to optimize her aerodynamics and marched rather quickly into the Hark.

This pleased Fenno immensely. Since the paper was due “later,” he clearly had plenty of time left to sleep and cut class. All he had to do was get an extension. Surely the Registrar will come out with some kind of definitive guidance, specifically addressed to the 3L class, Fenno thought to himself. Until then, I’ve got some serious foot-dragging to do. Fenno smiled at his hands apologetically.

No sooner had Fenno sat down than he rose again at the sight of a nervous-looking character in large, dark sunglasses and a trench coat exiting the Hark. As the figure drew closer, Fenno thought it might be-

“George Farah!” Fenno exclaimed on recognizing him.

“Sshhh,” Farah hissed. “You’ll give me away. You’ll lead them to me.”

“Lead whom to you?” asked Fenno, curious.

“Them,” Farah answered, furtively darting his eyes in every direction.

“Of course,” Fenno replied. “Them who?”

“Professor Fried and Professor Ogletree,” George responded. “They’re hunting me down to throw rocks at me in retaliation for my letter about how Dean Clark sucks.”

“Gosh, that’s pretty extreme, George,” Fenno tempered. He felt in his pockets to see if he had any lithium to offer. Nope, fresh out.

“You have no idea how hard it is to survive after digging up dirt on Dean Clark that is solidly supported by a quotation from one alumnus from the class of 1993,” Farah urged.

“I can only imagine,” Fenno feigned sympathy. “It also sucks that probably nobody read your letter, but everyone’s gonna read one signed by seven heavy hitters from the Faculty.”

“Why would they want to do this to me?” Farah pleaded, his voice rising to the breaking point.

“Well, George,” Fenno started, “I’ll put it to you like this: Dean Clark is leaving. You took a shot at him. The Faculty aren’t going to be too happy when you shoot their guy in the back. Let’s just say your action might possibly remind them of one formerly important Western European country that hasn’t won a war by itself in nearly 200 years. It still makes good food, but nobody wants to eat it any more.”

Before Fenno could finish the word “more,” George was struck on the chest by a rock. Fenno shut off his laser beam just in time to shake hands with Professor Fried. “Good work, Fenno!” he extolled.

“Whatever, Chuck. Waste of a perfectly good rock, if you ask me.”

As Charles Fried headed upstairs for a celebratory luncheon in the Faculty dining room, a somewhat rowdy group of 1Ls rumbled around the corner of Langdell. With Jeremy Blachman at the fore, they were murmuring angrily to each other while stirring up a lot of dust from the sidewalk.

“Jeremy, what’s going on?” Fenno asked. “What’s the deal with all the dusty murmuring?”

Jeremy scowled at Fenno. “Curses, Fenno! It’s course selection!”

“Ah,” said Fenno. “I once cursed course selection myself. But no more.”

“And how is that?” Jeremy asked, a note of disbelief in his voice.

“I’m a 3L, stupid.”

“But can’t you just curse course selection with us anyway, having experienced its agonies more times than we have?” Jeremy pressed.

“Hardly,” said Fenno dismissively.

“And why not?” Jeremy rejoined, refusing to drop the subject.

“The only thing,” Fenno began, “I care for less than all the screwed-up administrative bullshit at this place is people complaining about the screwed-up administrative bullshit.”

“Fenno, that’s not very nice,” Jeremy scolded. Some of the cohort kicked dust toward Fenno’s shoes.

“Get used to it,” Fenno replied.

“Well, your affected immovability aside, maybe you can still give us some advice about picking curses,” Jeremy proposed. “I mean courses.” Someone kicked dust at Blachman’s ankles.

“Okay,” Fenno complied at last. “I have just one bit of advice about course selection: don’t think that by picking a course that meets before 9:30 in the morning that you’ll somehow reform your lazy undergraduate habit of sleeping ’til eleven every day; that it’ll make you a more responsible person; that you’ll get more done before noon than most people accomplish in an entire day. Al and Liz Warren may be tough, but they aren’t Army boot camp.”

Greg Lipper, who had been lurking behind a nearby bush, as was his wont, stepped forward. “Wow, Fenno,” Greg said, “I think that’s some great advice you just gave all these 1Ls. Were those semicolons?”

“Yes, Greg,” was Fenno’s answer. “When you’re a fictional character who appears only in print, you get to speak with any number of different punctuation marks.”

“I wish I were a fictional character who appears only in print,” Lipper mused aloud.

“Don’t worry, Greg,” Fenno reassured him, “you pretty much are.”

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