Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
At the very end of my last semester, I dropped out of college. I was so close to graduating – a Bachelor’s in Software Engineering… But it all fell apart one week before our final exams.
I wish I could say I had planned to leave, that I was trying to make a statement and “didn’t believe in the school-as-a-business model.” I mean I don’t – there should be universal free & public education, period – but that’s not why I left. No, the truth is… I snapped.
I broke down! Went crazy! Totally lost it! Whatever name you have for it, sure, but the bottom line is I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ll admit it! See? I know what everyone says about me, but unlike them I can admit when I have a problem. Of course, none of them want to listen, none of them understand that I wasn’t the problem. I could handle the stress, the curriculum, the grades, losing my shot at the master’s program, the breakup… All of that was… manageable.
But what I really couldn’t stand, what I couldn’t tolerate for one more micro-second…
was that damn projector…
CSE315 – Machine Learning & Applications
In order to get my degree I had to take the class. There was no way around it, just like how there was no way around who taught it.
Professor Whitelow was infamous amongst the STEM department at MAU for being one of the most rigid professors on campus. He rarely deviated from his syllabus and enforced a brutal attendance policy. Truly, the only excuse for missing one of his lectures was that you were dead. I had a colleague who was held back two semesters because of him. Granted one of those times he was shitfaced at a Mountaineers game but the other time his grandma had literally died! So yeah, I was stuck with Professor Cold-Heart and every one of his lectures, which meant I was stuck sitting in the same room as that projector…
Now, the STEM building at Mount Adeth University has long been overdue for a remodel – I mean, some of the rooms are still missing outlets. And due to its outdated design most classrooms are equipped with less than the bare bones needed to teach a modern course. Yet none of that would have to be endured if only the head of department pushed for some renovations. But can you guess who that is?
That’s right. And just like his syllabus, Professor Whitelow is very comfortable keeping to the same classroom equipment as he’s probably used for over two decades.
So, riding along every one of his lectures was that abhorrent machine.
I remember when he first rolled it out, a hulk of beige atop a squeaky black tower. The large overhead projector looked more like a siege ramp than any piece of “tech”. I think I laughed – because, who wouldn’t? This had to be a joke, right? I mean, I had heard about Professor Whitelow’s “traditional teaching methods,” but this? This was archaic! The piece of junk had to be from the early 2000’s, at least!
He turned on the machine, but of course, it still needed to warm up. Is that not a red flag? Like some expired, frozen meal that should have been trashed but now has been so carelessly selected as today’s dietary food poisoning. And the horrible sound it made as it stirred from its slumber; a rubbing, scratching sound, like a hive of bees were bustling beneath its plastic carapace.
I exchanged a worried glance with the rest of the class but Professor Whitelow carried on. He had with him a stack of slides, all translucent and printed on film. A few more minutes and the projector had reached critical mass – a blinding, burning ray that drilled into the wall. Even from the side, that glint, that blaze, stung at the corner of my eye.
I know Professor Whitelow gave some half-hearted excuse for his medieval methods. Something like, “the quality of the lecture comes from the material, not the tools.” But what about the experience? Or the learning environment!? Do those mean nothing? If someone wants to use an abacus, fine, but don’t try to sell me that it’s better than modern computing!
He’s an idiot and he’s stuck in his ways, period.
But, like I said, I didn’t have any issue with Professor Whitelow. Afterall, it was only for one semester. I could endure his idiocracy for that long. But that projector…
That was the issue! That was the problem!
And before you say, “it’s just a projector.” No. Believe me, I’d know if it was “just a projector.” I mean, think about, could “just a projector” strip your sanity?! Could it haunt you day and night and ruin your entire life? No! That’s ludicrous!
But this wasn’t just a projector…
I realized something was wrong right around the same time we got our midterms back. Of course, I knew from day one the projector was detrimental to our education, but I guess I underestimated just how detrimental that was…
My grades had begun to slip. It wasn’t a big deal, I mean, who can blame me given our teacher, but also, I was focused on more important things. Like the Master’s Program.
I had been working tirelessly, studying for entrance exams, compiling references and letters of recommendations, proof-reading letters of recommendations. And I had lost some sleep because of it. At the same time, my girlfriend- ex-girlfriend was trying to buy some of my time. She was a party student, always wanting to go out, to have fun and “relax.” But how could I relax when I was being pulled in every direction? What I needed was some rest.
After one particularly long night, I came home and collapsed straight into my bed. Still wearing my clothes, I closed my eyes and waited eagerly for sleep…
But then, without warning, there came a FLASH!
I squinted and looked around, only to find that my room was entirely empty, entirely dark… So, I closed my eyes again…
But a few minutes later… there it was again! FLASH! It was a bright light, almost like someone had shot a laser pointer right over my eyes!
I looked around, this time getting up to see if someone was messing with me. But I was alone… This time I pulled the blankets over my head and burrowed my face deep into the pillow.
It was BLINDING! I jolted out of bed, eyes red with rage, but no culprit in sight. I ran to the bathroom and tried washing my eyes and then I squeezed them tight… FLASH!
I couldn’t believe it! So, I squeezed even harder, pressed my palms into my eyes. FLASH!
I blinked. FLASH!
And again. FLASH!
And again! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH!
By now I saw it, the light, the scorching glare, it was the burning bulb of a projector…
It was pointed right at me! It was targeting me! Inside my head! It was impossible, yet every time I closed my eyes I saw that it was real! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH!
It looked at me with such discontempt. I wanted to throttle it, grab it by its metal neck and smash it on the ground. FLASH! But my hands met only air, and every time I missed, it mocked me with its glare. FLASH!
Glass shattered along with the illusion…
I stared at the broken mirror and then my hand, bloody and clenched…
I hid my wound from everyone. The next time I showed up to CSE315 I crossed my arms and covered it. I don’t know if projectors have the capacity for humor but I feel if they did this one was cackling.
Art by Anonymous
It knew… Somehow, it knew that I hated it, and it hated me. This wasn’t just an inanimate “thing,” it was a living monster. Yet only I could see it. And that’s because it only wanted me to know. That way no one would believe me, that way everyone would think I was crazy for hating a damn projector!
It was so smug. It would slip me signs in the middle of class, in front of everyone! Professor Whitelow would put up a slide and here or there a word would be out of focus, a letter slightly off. And put together they spelt a message. “Manic episode,” or “scatterbrain,” or “failure,” or “idiot.” Insults! But no one else thought anything of it. Because no one else knew.
Every day it taunted me. And every night it slipped into my dreams. It waited until I was on the cusp of sleep before… FLASH! It threw me awake! And as it ate into my sleep each and every day, my focus began to wane. I was late to class, I missed deadlines, and I even forgot my girlfriend’s birthday.
Then I received the letter…
Despite all my effort, all my preparation… I was rejected from the MAU Master’s Program. Or sure, I could always “reapply” but when would I get back all that wasted time?! Who would explain to everyone that the reason I failed wasn’t because of my “inaptitude,” but because of that DAMN MACHINE?!
Oh but that machine was just so content. Its jolly hum was all I could hear now over Professor Whitelow’s dribbling, droning, WORTHLESS lectures!
You know, at times I even saw them, those wretched little devils that hid beneath the screen. I would catch their shadows flickering across the projector, their skittering forms crawling along the walls. They truly were like bees – buzzing, gnawing, snickering pests!
What have I done to deserve their bite? Hm?! Why should they sting me again and again and take from me everything I earned, everything I DESERVE! I put in the effort! I put in the time! Even knowing my grades and knowing that my Professor was likely to fail me, I continued to show up to class EACH and EVERY day! I put up with his self-aggrandizing, self-serving, RAMBLING monologues every class, and I even put up with that DAMN, FUCKING PROJECTOR!
SO WHY?! CAN YOU TELL ME?!
… Ha… Haha! HAHAHA!
I know! Haha! Oh yes, I know. The reason my life turned to shit…
There isn’t one! That damn overhead projector chose me. Why? Because! Because it’s fucking evil, that’s why! It’s a malicious assembly of junk without a brain or soul! It chose me because it did, and it didn’t even think about it.
Oh, but it should have. You see, that was its mistake, it chose me, it pushed ME. It just couldn’t help itself!
But you see, as it ran its victory lap, it tripped, it had pushed me too far…
That final day, the day I snapped, Professor Whitelow rolled out his precious projector. It stood so tall and proud, it knew what it had done. It thought it won! Ha! Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?
The Professor switched it on, and its hateful glare began to shine. Fuzzy shadows slowly came into focus, and I watched as the little vermin ran around the screen, just dancing with delight. I clenched my teeth and squeezed my chair. I stared so hard my eyes nearly POPPED! But even then, it wouldn’t stop. It couldn’t! It was too STUPID and PROUD!
They continued to dance, continued to buzz, and then as professor Whitelow changed the slide they took their final bite…
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand – how?! The slides from our lecture were gone and now all that remained… was a text message…
It was a screenshot, from last night, from my phone!
Professor Whitelow changed the slide again and the message thread continued. The room had gone utterly silent save for a few students who began… to laugh!
Another slide. And another, and the messages went back and forth, my conversation, between me and my girlfriend, it was our breakup on full display. And everyone was laughing!!!
The projector buzzed with such sadistic joy, getting louder and brighter and LOUDER and BRIGHTER! But HOW?! HOW did it get these?!
And then I remembered who held the slides, who must have printed them. It was the same man who refused to let go of that accursed machine, the same man who kept it alive all these years…
No, I have nothing against Professor Whitelow, but in that moment I realized he was as much to blame for my misery as his dear abomination.
So, while everyone was laughing – laughing at me – I got up. I walked over to the projector, and finally, I did the very thing I had yearned to do since the start of my entire semester. I grabbed the projector by its neck… and I SMASHED IT!
Oh and the CRASH it made was so beautiful! Like the anticipated boom of a bottle rocket, a heavy explosion of plastic parts! It caught everyone in a daze – all of them struck with awe – even Professor Whitelow, as I brought the second blow over his head.
The second swing was more of a crunch – gripping, crushing, broken – it’s how I felt, it’s how I wanted him to feel.
Another swing and he was down. He should have raised his hands higher! I mean, c’mon it’s not my fault he laid there like a stool. He was practically begging for it. Like how he begged for the third strike…
And fourth. And fifth! AND SIXTH!
And I was nearing lucky number seven when finally a few of the students rose from their dumb shock to grapple me.
I was pinned to the floor in a matter of seconds. The seventh blow came from a boot, hitting me square in the face and knocking me out…
I woke up with handcuffs. Me. Can you believe it?
A perfect student, a perfect record – everything demolished because of that projector… Well, now look who’s demolished! I hope that pile of scrap enjoys the junkyard because that’s where it will stay! Forever!
But sadly, some good deeds do go unrecognized…
They’ll never understand why I did it. They’ll look at what I’ve done and assign their stigmas, they’ll continue to say I attempted to murder Professor Whitelow. Ha! Of course I didn’t! He’s alive, isn’t he?! And besides, a few stitches is nothing compared to ten years in prison! So why don’t you save some of your “boo-hoos” for me, huh? Obviously some people are just too dumb to understand that I was a victim too!
But I guess, I shouldn’t be surprised…
After Professor Whitelow was hospitalized, over a hundred people wrote him well wishes. Many were former students, and together they all went online to leave him a good review on one of those rate-my-teacher websites. Most of the reviews were fake, I mean, they had to be… But one, I think, was written just to taunt me…
And you know what it said?
“Professor Whitelow is a master in his field. He’s kind, he’s funny, and he cares for his students. And while it’s a bit old-fashioned, my favorite thing about him is that he still uses his Apollo Horizon Overhead Projector…”