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The bulk of the book is devoted to Lebed's military career, and this makes much of it surprisingly good, particularly where he deals with Afghanistan. It is also characterized by a sardonic wit. He notes that he never heard the textbook order to "charge": "In real battle, people are commanded chiefly through profanity." Referring to the muddy conditions, he writes that a "bigger clod was a vehicle; a smaller clod was a man." Lebed is just to his enemies: The Afghans "were warriors of the first order"; and when Colin Powell visited his division and Lebed was ordered by the minister of defense, over his protests, to conduct a parachute demonstration in dangerous conditions (as a result of which one paratrooper was killed and many injured), Lebed found "unbearably shameful" Powell's repeated question, "What are you doing?" He is disappointing on recent history, in part because of his outspoken contempt for politicians and democracy, and in part because he simply fails to deal with the events. He tells us almost nothing of his campaign for the presidency, or his negotiations with Yeltsin, or his successful peace talks with the Chechens. Too much of it is rhetoric rather than thought: "Brother Slavs . . . in trading totalitarianism for democracy, haven't we just traded one bad thing for another?" Nor are his suggestions persuasive: While noting that Russia is going through "an economic, social, political, and moral crisis," he weakly suggests putting aside all arguments as to which system suits Russia best—socialism or capitalism—until better times.
Lebed reveals himself to be an "army hard-ass" who is actually sensitive on army matters and only asinine on political ones.
ADMIT HIM ON PROBATION
IN MY CHILDHOOD I never dreamed of becoming an army officer. In our family there were no career officers, but we were soldiers. My mother's father Grigory Vasilievich achieved the highest rank among my relatives. He came back from World War II a much-wounded master sergeant. His wounds were so severe that he died of them in 1948. But because he died in bed rather than on the battlefield, my grandmother Anastasia Nikiforovna was denied a widow's pension.
My father Ivan Andreevich was a jack of all trades. But every job that passed through his hands was executed with calm professionalism. He returned from the war as a sergeant first class, and though the war left him prematurely aged, he did not die until 1978. My father lived through hard times. In 1937 he was sent to a labor camp for five years. His crime? Being late to work twice, by five minutes. When the Finnish War broke out, my father was sent to a penal battalion. He froze. He starved. It was so cold he had to cut his bread with a saw. He participated in attacks more than once; they didn't loaf in the penal battalions.
My father never shirked his duty; he had shown his bravery, and God preserved him from bullets and bayonets. But there was a catch--in order to be transferred from the penal battalion to a regular unit, you had to shed your blood, to redeem yourself. But after the Finnish War, wisdom won out, and he was assigned to a line unit.
He fought until 1942, spending the whole time in forward positions. So far unscratched, the wild thought occurred to him that he might have some charm against death and enemy bullets. That summer, while hitching a ride on a tank, a fragment of a lone enemy artillery shell smashed against his right femur. He didn't remember how he got to the battalion aid station, but he spent a whole year in hospital beds. They were able to save his leg, but it was shortened by five centimeters. He hobbled around the hospital grounds, and little by little, he became reattuned to civilian life until an order from Stalin decreed that a shortened leg should not be considered an obstacle to army service. He was sent to a line unit, and back to the front. He did not return home until 1947.
Ten years of lying on government bunks and eating government grub stripped him of any sociability he might have had. He always spoke briefly and to the point. If he saw that someone needed help--if our elderly neighbor needed her fence repaired, for example--he took his tools and fixed it. Silently. Free of charge.
In Novocherkassk my mother Ekaterina Grigorievna worked in the telegraph office from 1944 until her retirement. She met my father there and bore him two children--me and my younger brother Aleksei. We lived on part of an old aristocratic estate. Actually, the stable. No matter. We rebuilt it, and Father helped us erect a jungle-gym in the yard. If Father saw that we weren't using a tool just right, he would come over, silently take the instrument, and show us the right way to use it. He never yelled. He never hit us, although we sometimes gave him cause.
When I was fourteen years old, I became greatly interested in boxing. At the sporting academy, the trainer praised me as a promising fighter. I had long arms and a thick skull, and I wasn't afraid of being hit. I mastered the skills, built my endurance, and learned how to be a disciplined fighter.
Once, in training, we were vaulting the horse. We jumped for a long time, competing with each other, moving the springboard back, lengthening the jump until, at last, I jumped without gathering enough momentum and broke my collarbone. It was Saturday, and the clinic was closed, so they took me straight to the hospital. Perhaps the doctor was in a hurry, or maybe the nurse was inexperienced, but all they said were the traditional words, "He'll live to see his wedding," and put my arm in a sling.
I began to think seriously about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I felt a subconscious pull toward the sky, to be a military flier, the very symbol of courage.
In a week, when my collarbone knitted, it turned out to have shortened by 3.5 centimeters and I couldn't raise my arm. I had to accept the fact that they were going to break it again. After all, I thought, I couldn't become an officer with a collarbone like that--and it was while I was recovering that I decided to be a military aviator--so I'd have to stand the pain. And stand it I did. When my injury had healed, I went back to the sports academy, but my boxing group had broken up. I heard that there was a pretty good boxing team at the polytech, and I was right. But then another blow fell. They kicked everybody off the team who didn't attend the institute. I was forced to train in back alleys. I became a street boxer. As they say, "I've been through a hundred fights, but all on the streets." But I also took part in formal competitions, since trainers who knew me were willing to sponsor me as a promising boxer.
On my vacation after ninth grades, we went out to do farm work at the village of Bogaevskaya. One day, a team from our class was playing soccer with some of the local boys and we beat them pretty badly, scoring in double figures. Everyone parted on good terms, but as soon as it got dark, the sounds of a fist fight and breaking glass woke me. These local boys had come back to get even for the day's match. I jumped up and ran outside to help my classmates. But before I had time to make a fist, I was hit in the face with a board from a picket fence and lost consciousness. My nose was broken and pushed to one side, but I didn't let this bother me. I was no girl. I knew a man needed to be only slightly better looking than an ape, and that a man's true worth wasn't defined by the prettiness of his face.
When I first told my father that I wanted to become an officer, he took it calmly and didn't try to talk me out of it, but I felt he had no faith in my dream. In the tenth grade, I began to prepare for enrollment in a military institute, looked over some prospectuses, and chose the Kachinskoye Aviation School. A popular song at the time went, "Embracing the sky in his strong arms, the aviator climbs the heights." I shared a common dream with that aviator--the heights!
I put an application in to the registration and enlistment office. My examinations were easy enough; all that remained was the ear, nose, and throat doctor. The elderly doctor sat me down, questioned me, examined my tonsils and the curvature of my septum, then silently took my medical sheet and wrote, "Unfit for flight training." I felt beaten. But I went to the hospital, and within two weeks they had taken care of both my tonsils and the curvature of my septum. After the operation, I went back to the enlistment office, but they told me nastily, "Eat all your kasha and get ready for next year."
Kasha is kasha, but you have to earn money to get it, and where can a seventeen-and-a-half-year-old find work? I went to one factory after another. "Too young," they would say. "You're not eighteen." Mama talked me into applying to the polytechnical institute--she saw me as an engineer. On my first entrance exam, in mathematics, I got a B. But I decided not to come back. I didn't want to spend my life staring at electronic schematic diagrams. The sky--the heights--were beckoning!
I went to the raion committee of the Komsomol and asked them to give me a job in a factory. I was sent to the Novocherkassk Permanent Magnet Factory, where I was assigned to the department where they ground magnets. I remember my first day there very well. They showed me how to grind the most primitive of magnets, and I struggled with it the entire shift. As I was preparing to leave, a beautiful young woman walked up to me and said, "I am the secretary of the shop's Komsomol organization. And by the way, we pick up for ourselves around here--we don't have a maid." The girl's name was Inna, and, skipping ahead, I can say that, after four years of courting, she became my wife.
Soon, I was to understand another part of the calculus of the "period of stagnation." It did not profit a man to work too hard: as soon as one's production rose, the norm-setter would come by and slash the piece-rate. The head of my work brigade, Zhenya Barskov, was a straightforward fellow who could work miracles on the job. He built a "night machine" that enabled him to grind ten to fifteen magnets simultaneously with a great degree of precision. But the brigade could use it only on the night shift, when the management wouldn't be around to see it. We would build up a great surplus, and then goof off on the day shift. I signed up with my work brigade immediately and passed the qualifying exams for my position, but I never stopped dreaming, and as summer approached, I again prepared to enroll in the Kachinskoye Aviation School. This time they rejected me because I was two centimeters too tall, but they recommended that I try the Fighter Pilot Training Institute in Armavir.
I was so sure I'd get in that I ignored the shop foreman's advice and immediately submitted my letter of resignation to the factory. I went in for my medical exams, and again it was the ear, nose, and throat doctor who stopped me. This time, she found a darkening of my maxillary sinus and an enlargement of my nasal cavities. They treated me for a long time and cauterized my nasal cavities. Then they decided my antritis required a further operation.
So my application was stalled. Inna thought I should return to the factory. But my pride wouldn't let me. Instead, I spent a year unloading grocery trucks before I could again face the medical commission. I went to Bataisk to see another panel of doctors. The surgeon started carping about my clavicle, and washed me out. I trembled with rage and exploded with shouts of frustration until the head of the medical commission waved his hand and said, "Go to Armavir. Let them decide what to do with you."
I arrived at the Armavir School on May 10, 1960, and found the gray-haired colonel in charge of medical services at the institute. I explained my situation. He was friendly, and invited in the surgeon. The surgeon asked me to do pushups. He noted that my clavicle had knitted in an ugly fashion, but was otherwise fine. The colonel cleared me to proceed with the rest of the required exam.
I began with the ear, nose, and throat doctor, thinking "If I get through this, I won't be afraid of the devil himself." But the doctor immediately detected evidence of several operations, and people who had two or more operations were automatically "Unfit for flight training." Again, I was beside myself, and went back to the head of medical services, who just shrugged his shoulders and said, "There's nothing I can do. It's an order from the minister of defense."
I left the institute in a blind rage. I walked through Armavir, hungry and angry, not knowing what I would do. I had to hitchhike back to Rostov.
They treated me sympathetically back at the registration and enlistment office. The major who had sent me to the institute calmed me down by saying, "Well, why do you have to go to aviation school? If you want to be an officer, we'll find someplace just as good!"
I leafed through their catalogue. I was too tall for a tank. Submarine duty didn't interest me, and neither did the artillery. Finally, somewhere toward the end, my glance fell upon the Lenin Komsomol Double Red Banner Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School, with the ungainly Russian acronym RVVDKDKU. I decided to take a chance. Although I wouldn't be in the pilot's seat, I'd still be in the sky. I went home and told my father.
"Well, son, if that's what you've decided, you should try it. But do you know what you're getting into?"
"I confess, only vaguely."
"It wouldn't be a bad idea to try it out first."
And so I did. When Father spoke, we jumped. I traveled to a little community on the Don River, sixteen kilometers from Novocherkassk, where there was an aeronautics club. I found some guys standing around the airfield.
I said, "How do you get to make parachute jumps around here?"
At first, they laughed. Then they took pity on me and pointed out the instructor. "There's Viktor Sergeevich. You need to talk him into it."
The large-framed instructor looked rough. He greeted me rudely: "What did you come crawling over here for? You wanna jump? Get out of here. Guys like you are always coming around."
I went back to my new acquaintances, who were now convulsed with laughter.
"Run and get some vodka," one of them advised me, "and everything will be all right. Three bottles should do it."
I brought back four--you could get them for kopecks then. The instructor rolled his head and said, "OK, go learn how to pack a parachute." In one day they taught me everything. I packed a parachute, went through the prejump training, and passed my medical exams.
In packing the chutes, the instructor would show us a step, then we would repeat it. The instructor's chute turned out beautifully. The others were fairly close. But mine had four strange tails. I asked my neighbors what I'd done wrong, but they had no idea. I didn't ask the instructor because "ass," "moron," and "cretin" were the nicest words in his vocabulary. I folded the tails accordion-style and closed up the pack. I found out later that I had intuitively done the right thing. It turned out the others were all packing parachute model D-1-8, while I was packing a PD-47 (Parachute-lander, 1947 model, square form, with tails for guidance).
A Pronichev training apparatus--a ten-meter-high tower with counterweights--was part of the training. You'd saddle your equipment, jump, fall about three meters, and then hang five or six meters off the ground. The instructor would command: "Turn right!" "Turn left!" "Parachutist! To the left, to the right, back!" But whose left, whose right? The trainees on the ground would laugh, and the instructor would bark, "You're an ass! Get down!" The assistant would release the lever, you'd hit the ground, and then try to make a dashing jump to your feet before he pulled you back up and dropped you again. Everyone got to laugh at everyone else, because inevitably we stubbornly repeated each other's mistakes.
I went alone to the medical commission; the others had passed it already. I was cautious and tense when I opened the door of the medical station. A young woman was sitting there reading a book. I coughed. Only then did she raise her head. When I explained what I wanted, she took a pointer and tapped at two big letters on an eye exam chart. "Can you see them?" she asked.
"Yes, I see them clearly!"
"That's it. Go jump!" she said, filling out my admittance papers.
I had theater tickets for the following evening, but warned Inna that I would be jumping in the morning. I stayed at the barracks that night but was anxious and couldn't sleep. Many of us stayed up until 2:30 AM, talking. Night was giving way to dawn when we arrived at the airport, where an Antonov-2 biplane stood ready for takeoff. On the field we saw our instructor and several other people. The air traffic controllers were arguing about the weather. According to procedure, if wind gusts arose, parachute jumping was forbidden. There had been some gusts overnight, but they had disappeared. We listened to our instructors arguing. They finally decided it was all right to jump. My feelings when I heard the words, "Fifth plane, cleared for takeoff," were indescribable. I was jumping into the abyss, the unknown, the future! In my mind, I already saw myself as a cadet at the Ryazan School, jumping behind enemy lines.
"Go!" I stepped, awkwardly, into the abyss. My headlong fall jumbled earth-sky-plane--then a bump, and I was bouncing from the shroud lines of a square chute, which looked like a giant handkerchief. I saw the other four in my group descending under round parachutes, and the feeling was remarkable. But about 125 meters off the ground, I was swept away in a gust. I remembered only one thing from prejump training: "Hold your legs along the angle of the drift." I held them in what seemed to be the correct fashion. "Experienced" jumper that I was, I didn't change position when the gust died. So I landed on my tailbone. Following Murphy's Law, I fell onto a hard-packed field road.
Colorful spheres and circles flitted before my eyes. The white parachute collapsed in front of me. I heard no wind, no sound, nothing. My ears rang with silence. As I sat on the road, with a wild pain in my tailbone, none of my comrades came running to me. They took their time, apparently thinking that I was just crazed with happiness after the jump. I tried my arms. They moved. I struggled to my feet and rejoiced. People with broken backs can't stand. I started gathering my parachute. The pain was intense, and the circles and spheres returned. I finally managed to hoist the parachute and shuffle about five hundred meters to a pack table and a doctor. It was the same woman who had waved me through the medical examination so cavalierly. She pronounced her diagnosis: "It's clear. He landed on his fifth vertebra. Get him to a hospital."
I was lifted into an old GAZ-51 truck. I stood in the truck bed, resting my hands on the cab for support. We had ridden to the jump site over the very same road. It seemed so smooth then. Now it seemed like some sort of crazy washboard.
The rest of it would have been funny if it hadn't been so painful. I was dropped off at the air club, where they called the ambulance, saying in the heat of the moment that a parachutist had crashed. The pain was overwhelming me. My ears were ringing, and my head was spinning. When the life-support ambulance arrived, I was leaning against a fence, not fully understanding what was going on. The ambulance doctor asked where the seriously injured parachutist was. When they pointed to me, leaning up against a fence, the doctor let loose a torrent of swear words. This damned oaf needed life support? He threw me rudely onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. At the October Settlement Hospital in Novocherkassk, they discovered that not only was my coccyx broken in three places, but I had severed tendons in my left arm.
I was in pain and weary from not having slept in twenty-four hours. The hospital bed with its thick mattress was a deliverance. But they quickly took the mattress away and replaced it with a felt-covered board. I howled.
"You have a fracture," they told me. "Don't even think about getting up, or it might go badly for you." I collapsed in exhaustion. When I opened my eyes the next morning, I realized my parents probably didn't know where I was. I raised myself, put on some pajamas, and hobbled into the corridor, looking for a telephone. The orderlies caught me, stripped my pajamas, and put me back on the board. They warned my neighbors, "Anyone who gives him pajamas will be confined to the ward." As it was a warm, sunny spring, no one wanted to be trapped inside.
My immediate neighbor was an old man who had cut his hand on a table saw. I convinced him to call my parents. When my mother arrived, she was too scared to speak. It turned out that the conversation between the old man and my mother had gone something like this:
"Do you have a son?"
"Did he go sky jumping?"
"Well, he crashed." A long silence. Then: "Don't worry. He's still alive." And he hung up.
That "he's still alive" part showed a real knack for words--and for hanging up the phone--leaving my mother to imagine a rickety bag of bones might live. . . a day? an hour? I wanted to pound a lesson into the old man, but instead, we two invalids had a fierce argument.
When I was finally released from the hospital, I discovered I had to learn to walk all over again. My normal gait had become a pigeon-toed shuffle.
At the military reception center, all the applicants for the military school were received coldly. They warned us immediately: "Tomorrow you'll go before the medical commission, and after that, we'll talk with those who are pronounced fit."
Well, I thought, here we go again. I've no sooner gotten here than I'll have to turn around and go back.
All the same, I decided to fight it out to the end.
The next morning, I began with the surgeon. A young second lieutenant was sitting in the surgeon's office, looking as though he didn't give a damn about any of us. He ordered ten of us to take off our shorts.
"Anybody here got a hernia?"
No one did, so he pronounced us fit for duty. Imagine my joy when, after three years, I was finally pronounced: "Healthy. Fit for service."
But my celebrations were cut short. Like a bucket of cold water, the words hit me, "Now you need to pass your exams."
There was reason to be afraid. I hadn't cracked a book in the past two years. Various worldly-wise elders had told me, "The important thing is to get past the medical commission. After that, even if you're dumb, they'll take you." Now I faced a battery of examinations with roughly six candidates competing for every slot.
My first exam was in mathematics. I got a D, although that poor performance wasn't really my fault. The reception center was busy as an anthill: everyone running around, fussing, making crib sheets, looking for people from their hometowns--preferably smart ones. I found a guy from somewhere in the Kuban. Although it might have been far away on the map, he was still like a neighbor to me. He was strong, happy-go-lucky, perhaps a bit too talkative, but everyone has his faults. He was stuck on the idea that he was a pure-blooded Kuban Cossack, and the Don and Kuban Cossacks were brothers, and all that. I'm not sure how he decided that I was the smart one, but he kept buzzing around trying to convince me that I should display my brotherly feelings during the exams. Finally I gave up and said, "All right. Sit in front of me. We'll work something out." At first, everything went according to plan. He sat immediately in front of me. They gave us all two sheets of paper, with the stamp: "Education Department" in one corner. The assignment turned out to be in two parts--two models, and one problem in geometry with trigonometric applications. I'm not quite sure how, but I solved the two models almost instantaneously, and the geometric part of the problem seemed to solve itself, but then I got stuck. I remembered that there was a formula you needed to apply to get the answer in this type of problem, but I'd forgotten what it was. I looked around, and everybody had their noses buried in their tests, breathing heavily, straining, not wanting to ask anybody, much less copy someone else's answer. I had the feeling that I was just about to remember it, just a little bit more and it would come back to me. Then the fellow from the Kuban popped up and said, "Well, how are you doing?"
"I've got the two models and half of the problem. I'll get the rest of it in a second."
"Let me see what you've got."
I pushed the sheet with the answers to the front of the table. He whipped it off, tore his second sheet of paper into strips, copied my models onto the strips, jauntily rolled them into balls and threw them right and left, to his buddies. I took my sheet back, but the formula was still elusive. My second sheet began to irritate me, and I pushed it to the edge of the table. The guy from the Kuban had finished writing, and, with a satisfied grunt, sat up and relaxed. The proctor of the exam, Mathematics Department Chairman Ivan Ivanovich Kuzin, walked toward him.
"Are you finished?"
"Hand it in."
"Here you are.
"And where's your second sheet?"
Something distracted Ivan Ivanovich for a moment, and in one quick motion, the guy from the Kuban grabbed the sheet from the edge of my table.
"Here it is."
It all happened so quickly that I didn't understand what this would certainly mean. After torturing myself for another ten minutes, I decided that I wasn't going to remember the formula. I wrote out its approximation in words, what was needed in the equation, and what the answer should be. At the same moment, two rows ahead of me, a small scandal erupted. Ivan Ivanovich had found a young man using a crib sheet stamped "Education Department." Ivan Ivanovich took the sheet away from the young man, and showed him the door. I was captured between a sense of doom and disbelief. Ivan Ivanovich turned his glasses on me.
"Are you finished?"
"Hand it in."
I held out my one sheet.
"So it was yours." He put the sheet on the table, and with a thick red pencil wrote a D about eight centimeters high.
"If you please," he smiled, making a friendly gesture toward the door.
It would have been useless to plead that I was innocent, because I wasn't. I was choked with cold fury. I went silently to the door, and as it happened, the first person I saw on the other side was the guy from the Kuban. He was so happy, rubbing his hands together, telling someone a story. He turned to me, and fear flashed in his eyes. I brought my fist down on his jaw, putting into that punch all my overflowing emotions. His teeth rattling, he slid several meters until he was stopped by his head colliding with a door. I walked to the exit without a word.
I went back to the barracks and packed my suitcase before I was halted by a wild thought: "Let them kick me out officially." I had no basis for hope. That big, red D had been written right in front of me. I had been shown the door, and then I had laid out my partner in crime with a nasty blow. What hope could I have? Still, let them kick me out.
The next day at the reception center, they read off the list of people who had gotten a D. It was a long list that cut the crowd nearly in half. My name wasn't on it! I didn't believe my ears. I wanted to check, but I stopped myself. I was afraid they would answer, "Sorry, friend, I skipped your name. You're on the list." If they didn't read my name, that meant I should go study for physics.
I was ecstatic. I knew the D was there, but it didn't matter. I knew there were plenty of witnesses to my knockout the day before, but they must have thought I had a good reason, and kept quiet. And the guy from the Kuban had disappeared. The physics studying was coming along wonderfully. In fact, I had the impression that I knew the whole textbook, cover to cover.
The day of the exam came. This exam was proctored by the Physics Department chair, Igor Ivanovich Perrimond. Igor Ivanovich was famous for ranting about how all physics textbook authors were incompetent. The true nature of physics could be comprehended only through the textbook that he, Igor Ivanovich, was just finishing.
I selected quite an exam in physics--the resolution of forces along a parallelogram, Faraday's second law, and a problem. The problem I solved immediately, and I also sketched out parallelograms loaded with all the various vectors around them, but Faraday's second law escaped me. I remembered it had the letters "a," "v," and "o" in it, and that it contained a fraction, but what did it all mean? That, I couldn't remember. I turned the page over and began to write out the letters, enumerating all the possible alternatives. I chose a moment when Igor Ivanovich was busy with one of his poor victims, and maneuvered to be examined by his assistant, Klavdia Ivanovna. She quickly determined that I had gotten the right answer to the problem, although by some method previously unknown to science. We came to Faraday's second law, and I turned the page over. She saw my copious notes and asked, for some reason in a whisper, "What on earth is that?" To maintain the conspiracy, I also whispered, "Faraday's second law, as I understand it."
"Oh, get out of here," she said, using her full voice now.
I left depressed, thinking that I had gotten another D, but this time for impudence.
At the next day's gathering, the "blacklist" was read again, and another third were "washed out." But I survived.
I didn't bother preparing for the upcoming composition. My high school teacher in Russian language and literature, Lyudmila Ivanovna, was a World War II veteran and the widow of an officer. She was a very strict and demanding person. Tall, skinny, primly dressed, she was absolutely merciless. Her demanding nature, which admitted no compromise, had so thoroughly beaten Russian grammar into me, that to this day if I ever see a document with a comma missing, I immediately add it. She was a remarkable teacher, but we understood that only later, when we were out in the real world. At the time, we used to make fun of her behind her back.
I got an A in composition. That meant I had nine points on three exams, which averaged out to a C. Again I wondered why I had survived when others had been washed out for far less.
The oral examination in mathematics was next. In school, I had always loved logarithms, both simple and decimal logarithms. I don't know why--I just did. I lazily leafed through my beloved logarithmic tables, and then went off to the exam thinking "Come what may." And what came? When I saw Ivan Ivanovich and looked at my ticket, it was a miracle. The whole exam was on logarithms. I was prepared to answer the questions at once, without making any notes. Here I made a crude tactical blunder. I should have put on a studious face, waited my turn, modestly collected my A, and left. Instead, I went up to answer without preparing, and what the panel of professors (there were three of them) must have thought I can only guess. They listened to my brilliant logarithmic computations rather absent-mindedly, and then began to ask me extra questions that had nothing to do with logarithms. Inspired, I managed to remember all sorts of things, even if I didn't express them very clearly. The result? I got a B.