By Jamal Malik
Last year I was originally very impressed with the degree of courtesy displayed by everyone here at Macalester. My second day of school one of my friends asked me, “How are you?” I was stupefied by the question and was unable to come up with a coherent or even tasteful response. That someone was actually inquiring about my well-being was a foreign concept to me. I am still shaky in these simple matters of courtesy that are so commonplace here at Macalester. Often people will ask me questions about my life and I will fail to respond with a similar question just because I am still not used to people being inquisitive or courteous.In short, my friends here are nicer than my friends at home, and I can’t complain about that, although it took some adjustment. However, within my little microcosm of science peers, one can see that the prototypical Macalester student has some cracks. Last semester I returned from Fall Break to several people asking me, “How was your break?” As I opened my mouth to respond, my peer would inevitably follow up with the real question, “How’s O-Chem?” Funnily enough, the “more important” issue is essentially a rhetorical question, designed for the knee-jerk response of “fuck school” or some variation therein.I quickly tired of the assumption that was made about me: that my happiness rests on my progress in chemistry. I am a chem major. I spend lots of time in class, doing homework, in lab and in review sessions learning the subject. I am, also, strangely enough, a human being. It is possible for O-Chem to be going poorly but for my life to be wonderful.I am, with few exceptions, still more comfortable with my friends at home than I am at school. The level of discourse is refreshingly lower. No one asks me about my grades. No one talks about politics. Mostly we sit around and engage in inane banter. We curse loudly. We exchange slurs based on anything that can be classified about a person. We go out of our way to be politically incorrect.Winter break is arguably my most enjoyable time of the year because I return home for an entire month of sloth and gluttony, unfettered by jobs and school. My January is as much a break from the people here as it is from the school. My friends at home are not, on the whole, as intelligent as my peers here. They are by no means stupid; several of them are doing quite well at the University of Maryland and other comparable schools. A few of them go to community college and one is a Marine. It feels quite refreshing to be in a group of people where I am not the dumbest one.Last year a few of my friends and I set out from Macalester with five Don Quixote books, lighter fluid, a lighter, and an evening to kill. We set fire to the books that no one read the previous summer and watched them burn down. After that was done there was still some lighter fluid left in the bottle so I poured it in my soda can and prepared to concoct a fireball. I was quickly and overwhelmingly vetoed and apprehended by my friends (“That’s dangerous!” “You could set off a forest fire!” etc.)A few weeks ago, I showed up at my friend’s house. He greeted me with a jab at my sexuality. I replied with a racial slur. We picked up his stash of fireworks and headed down to the park. I was relaxed and comfortable. My O-Chem book was caged in my drawer, halfway across the country.