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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Physics Apnea: Why Im so proud to be a college student

Published: February 3, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Are you proud to be a college student? What I mean is, do you wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat, scratching yourself in various unsanitary places, wondering where you are and smelling like a pizza/vodka smoothie? And who IS that in my bed?

Well, I am, and for a few reasons. We, as a caste, are known and renowned throughout the world for many significant achievements, one of which is our rampant, though entirely unsuccessful reproductive activity. The fertility rate of the average college male is approximately on the order of some very very small number below π

, according to a well-researched article in a journal somewhere. At college you learn these types of things. You learn about imaginary numbers like π

that never end in calculus class, why these numbers are so important for keeping crazy people occupied trying to memorize them and away from productive members of society in psychology class, and how to cite your sources in cites class. This is why Im so proud to be a college student.

Dont get me wrong. Theres a lot about college I dont like. For one, I dont like physics. In fact, I hate physics so much that Ive recently been having second thoughts about being physical. Right now, were learning about Gaussian surfaces and Coulombs Law, two terms that make so little sense to me that they actually shut down my brain stem and I stop breathing.

I was having a conversation about this with a friend of mine the other day, Jeremy Novich. At first he didnt understand what I was saying, but he caught on rather quickly. It went like this:

RAFI: Jeremy, I think Im going to die of physics apnea.
JEREMY: Whats physics apnea?
RAFI: Its like sleep apnea. You know, you go to sleep and then you just stop breathing for a minute? Well, you go to physics, and then you stop breathing for 40.
JEREMY: Oh. That happened yesterday to my professor.

There are only certain keywords that trigger the condition. Gaussian does it. Coulomb comes close, but the fact that Coulomb was probably French is just entertaining enough to keep me breathing at a rate just fast enough to maintain consciousness. Electric flux, another thing were learning about, keeps the breathing rate up and regular, since my brain is forced into a loop of imagining the professor.

Teach me, teach me, teach me.

Hell teach me the Electric Flux.

Then he does the dance and we all breathe along, slowly, in rhythm. Then the loop replays itself until he says Gaussian, and I wake up on the floor 40 minutes later gasping for air.

Oh, theres always the occasional exciting moment when the professor tells a joke and you cant help but breathe a little. Once he told a joke about how the standard kilogram was invented. I remember it to this day, which is obvious, since Im writing about it now.

PROFESSOR: Well, these two guys took a chunk of metal, one looked at the other and said, Does that look like a standard kilogram to you? And he said, Sure, what about you? And he said, Yup, thats a standard kilogram.

We all laughed, which is surprising, because that requires a lot of inhaling.

The other thing about college that I dont like is the fact that once youre done, you have to find a job. This is what Im trying to do right now. Ive developed the unique strategy of composing reallyinteresting cover letters to famous people, hoping theyll figure out that Im famous, too, for Petes sake, and I should be paid extravagant sums of money for it already, for the love of God, etc.

This is an example of something I actually wrote to a famous person recently:
My name is Rafi, Im from Miami, right now Im a senior at one of those colleges in Boston or thereabouts, and I am a pretend journalist. I decided that I wanted to be a pretend journalist ever since I started writing excruciatingly boring stories for my university newspaper while wondering to myself if anybody who wasnt missing several essential internal organs and a frontal lobe could ever possibly care about anything I was writing. I certainly didnt, which is why, generally, I sat at the interview table slowly drooling with a blank stare for an average of 15 minutes after the interview was over, thinking that whoever was talking to me was still there and that I should start jotting down quotes. This would go on until, inevitably, a janitor, thinking me catatonic, would jab me in the ribs with the end of his mop.

I would then collapse from journalism apnea. This was a year and a half ago. Then a rival newspaper opened up and was on the lookout for writers, so on a whim (I get a lot of whims) I decided to write an article about student government, which I entitled Student Government Body Goes to the Weight Room. Now I make things up at random without collapsing from lack of brain activity. This was very encouraging for me. I have collected 12 of my best articles, carefully selected at random, for you to look at. If you can give me some feedback, a recommendation letter to a newspaper, a job, advice on how to get one, a really giant apple (I love those), or my missing car keys, I will put them in a safe, lock it, and forget the combination. That way I can never take them out, and never lose them again.

The famous person, who well call Dave Barry, has not yet gotten back to me. I have a few theories as to why. Theory #1 is that he is genuinely busy. This, though, is highly unlikely in my opinion. Famous people generally have way too much time on their hands, which they spend doing nothing important, like book tours, which are designed to make you MORE famous so people will realize that hey, you DO exist and hence buy your book. Theory #2 is physics apnea. Somebody must have called him up and said Gaussi