The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary December 9, 2005

Obies Are [Not So] Brilliant

My paradigm of Obies as inherently brilliant has been falling apart due to recent events at Decafé.

This long-held paradigm of Obies as brilliant is substantiated by such prestigious college ratings as those assigned by U.S. News and World Report and Fiske Guide to Colleges. According to our own admissions website, Oberlin has received “exceptional ratings for academic quality” from both organizations, and is considered to have “five-star academics” by Fiske.

It is these ratings which make such encounters as I am about to divulge rather unfathomable, or at least strong producers of cognitive dissonance. If, as those in admissions and the business of college ratings would lead us to believe, Obies are indeed brilliant, then how can the following encounters be explained?

Situation one occurred around midterms this year. I was working the sandwich line right after flex had rolled — a situation known to induce sandwich lines that rival the line of hipsters waiting for ’Sco concerts — when she came to the front. After the normal exchange of which breads and toppings were desired, I asked if she’d like the sandwich grilled. “To go,” was her answer.

Such miscommunications are understandably commonplace — “muenster” sounds quite a bit like “mustard” through the plastic sneeze guards. However, when I finally got her to understand the difference between “grilled” and “to go,” she gave me a look of utter dismay, and inquired, “So, if you don’t grill it, it’ll be, like, cold?”

I tried not to laugh — I’m a student manager, a position clearly demanding Miss Manners-esque decorum at all times. Instead, I composed myself and gave her my best brilliant Obie answer, “Well, I’d posit that, seeing as the majority of the ingredients in your sandwich are rather cold in temperature, the absence of grilling might suggest an overall state at least lukewarm in nature.”

She paused, pursing her lips. “So...if you do, like, grill it, will it be warm?” Enough said.

Situation two occurred during the first week of classes, and I know the responsible party to be a then-recent addition to the Oberlin campus. It was the smoothie bar this time, and we’d gotten past the “two pieces of mango... wait, no... papaya, with a dozen raspberries, and — what tastes good in a smoothie?” phase. It was so close to a flawlessly-normal exchange, and then it happened. “Yogurt or juice base?” I asked her.

She was floored. She looked at her companions, momentarily distracted by their bulging muscles, and finally stammered, “What’s the difference?” Vegans and cows alike collapsed in agony at her response.

The final situation I cannot take credit for observing, although had Piaget observed it, I’m sure his theories of development would be staged slightly differently. The party in question had discovered the joys of bulk food — so much, so cheap — but was apparently a Scrooge-like money-grubber and clearly has yet to fulfill her natural science requirement. Bringing her plastic bag filled with yogurt-covered pretzels to the cashier, she pursed her lips, and shattered every brilliant Obie paradigm on the planet.

“I have a theory,” she began, eyes sparkling. “Will you weigh this first without a knot in the bag, and then let me tie a knot? I think it weighs more if you tie a knot.”

The cashier, bemused, obliged. When the weight was the same, the girl frowned. “Maybe it has to be a bigger knot,” she pondered aloud. The cashier and I suggest remedial math instead.

After observing the above situations, is it any wonder that my fifth semester of Decafé labor has me questioning not CDS, but Oberlin students? Perhaps the admissions interview ought to include a Decafé session in which the ability to function in a normal social situation is assessed. But, then again, Oberlin is a place where people fit in because they don’t, or at least haven’t. Brilliant individuals are notorious for lacking everyday skills — tying one’s shoes, for instance. In fact, perhaps the nonsensical, nauseatingly-inept situations I described above are purely evidence that we Obies are now, maybe more than ever, brilliant.


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