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Self-pity time

Consider this. You"re born in the mid-"80s and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., a mid-sized midwestern town, where you live in the suburbs and attend the public schools. Your father works for the local defense contractor; your mother is a librarian who likes to cook and vacuum.
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Over the course of elementary school, it becomes clear that you are smart. You"re not exactly sure how this happens: maybe because you display a basic understanding of the concepts of arithmetic, maybe because you do well on tests, maybe because the other kids pick on you. At any rate, it"s not as if someone sat you down and explained any of it to you; it"s more like the adults got together for a secret meeting, and when they got out they had all resolved to treat you a little differently.
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So you find smart friends and go to gifted classes, where they talk about smart things like creativity and also tell you not to get too full of yourself, but you"re a kid and can"t help it. You walk through the halls at the end of the day, counting the people who are less smart than you and considering who is dumber, the jock who threw a basketball at you in gym class, or the Satanist who has black hair and listens to Marilyn Manson.
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You discover that smartness has responsibilities as well as privileges. So you try to develop a taste for classical music and books about Albert Einstein, and you studiously avoid popular culture. You discover that certain words and turns of phrase make adults more likely to compliment you on your smartness, so you take mental note of them and drop them into conversation more and more often, until you"re speaking your own dialect. Girls don"t like you.
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Eventually, people ask you where you"re going to college. You hadn"t considered it, but you look into it and see that you"ll need to develop a rZsumZ, which you do by becoming president of several clubs and competing in events like debate, where smart kids meet on the weekend to see who"s smartest. You get into college without much difficulty, and you leave Fort Wayne, never to return except for breaks. You think about your hometown, if at all, with the kind of head-patting condescension reserved for children and small animals.
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In college, surprisingly enough, things go much the same. You decorate your room with posters of fine art, not bands, and conspicuously-displayed books, of which you may have read half. You"d heard murmurings about the relative sizes of fishes and ponds, and it had been suggested that college might come as a blow to your self-esteem; none of that really comes to pass. You may be surrounded by other smart people, but they are smart in subjects, like economics and biology, of which you know nothing and can"t talk about. So you sail through four years secure in the knowledge that you continue to be one of the smart kids, and that when you graduate, you will find someone to pay you to be smart, and that will be that.
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And then, when you can see the finish line just a semester away, you come across an article in USA Today: 'Looking for signs of intelligent life in Fort Wayne.' It seems that Men"s Health magazine has taken an Intellectual Index of every city in the United States, and your own Fort Wayne has come in dead, ass-end last. 'This heartland city of 255,000 has been dubbed the dumbest town in all the land,' goes the article. The survey is the talk of the town, at least among those who read.
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It all seems fairly comprehensive: The survey took into account bachelor"s degrees per capita, SAT scores, state creativity indexes, number of universities, and Nobel Prize winners born within city limits. That sounds fair. The rest of the bottom five includes Las Vegas, two cities in Texas and Newark. That sounds about right. But Fort Wayne?
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And suddenly, it all becomes clear: This isn"t just a small pond. This is the mother of small ponds. This is the smallest pond in the country. Not only were you never smart to begin with, but the people who told you otherwise are now officially the dumbest people in America. And you are one of them. It"s all there in USA Today.

Frantically you search for objective proof of your intelligence. You ask your friends how smart you are--they avert their eyes and change the subject. You go after ex-professors, RAs, CAPS, anyone to tell you that sinking feeling in your gut is just a terrible misunderstanding--no one returns your e-mails. You search your files for an old IQ test--you"ve never taken one. Fifteen years of smartness are crumbling around your feet. And you never liked classical music to begin with.
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Thursday night finds you curled up in a ball on your futon, sobbing about that future Nobel Prize that now seems like a cruel joke. And then to your closed eyes comes an unbidden flood of images: the Golf Dome down by Smith Road. The delayed stoplight next to the Pizza Hut. The Meijer"s Superstore off I-69. Your favorite strip mall.

It"s Fort Wayne! And as sure as you know that you"ll never make the ranks of the intellectual elite, you know Fort Wayne will take you back into its big, dumb arms. You can move back after graduation and get a nice apartment down by the river. Maybe you can teach at your old high school. People will call you smart again, because they won"t know any better. Maybe after a while you can set yourself up in business and become known around town for not being very dumb. You might even be the mayor some day! But in the end, it won"t matter very much--you"ll be home among your people, and that"s all that counts.
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Fort Wayne, the town that gave you life and convinced you you were smart, will take you back. And you"ll never, ever read another newspaper again.

Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior. His columns appears every Friday.

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