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Chronicles of Alma Mater in April and Other Phystech Stories

Chronicles of Alma Mater in April and Other Phystech Stories

"I am a student, I am glad I am a student.
Only two month ago I was a schoolboy,
Mathematics and Physics were always of interest to me.
That's why I am here. "
From Phystech 1 year English textbook.

As a result of a natural process
of clutter accumulation in my brain
my stories are loosing colors
and details and
some of them disappeared
all together. The only way
to preserve some of those silly,
yet dear memories is
to put them in writing.

First few big words:
Back in the old country,
the proud name of Phystech
had stood for the Excellency in physics
and math. It shaped the minds
of several generations of Russian scientists.
In simple words, our school kicked ass. This Excellency,
as all good things in life, did not come for free.
It was not the difficult exams or the rats in our dorm showers or
god-awful food in the campus cafeteria. We had very few women.
They say that a sum of looks and smarts form a constant.
In my year among 90 or so, borderline genius guys we had one
very smart girl.

Nonetheless, difficulties of everyday life went unnoticed,
because at that moment in our life there was only one thing
that mattered the most, to pass those excruciatingly difficult exams,
everything else was rubbish. Lack of warmth and care from the better,
tenderer half was substituted with abundance of booze
and practical jokes.
Two things combined have been making an explosive combination.
Much later I realized that Phystech was one big, huge,
fraternity house.
Not by coincidence, most popular holiday
at Phystech was April fool's day,
celebrated with overdose on vodka and a barrage of hoaxes.
The time is then, and the story goes like this:

No tracks

1. Probably the most destructive joke orchestrated
annually on 1st of April was painting of the railroad tracks
not far from campus with an ordinary paint of dark color.
This seemingly innocent act had rather devastating consequences
on the local train service on that date.
Painted tracks no longer could reflect the light from a beam
of a front car. In the evening, from the train operator point of view,
it looked like tracks would suddenly disappear into a thin air.
To heighten the effect, a long metal crowbar has been used to short
the rail tracks safety system.
It would switch the semaphore signal from green to red.
As a result, the night of April the 1st local trains spent
a hefty half hour waiting for the resolution.P.S.
I thought of this ‘legend’ as of an amusing anecdote,
until, unintentionally,I witnessed this operation live.
(It also involved setting up tracks on fire and police coming
to investigate). My sympathies go to all passengers on the train
that unwillingly fell victims of this joke.

2. Pool painting was more innocent and more popular joke
on April fools day.Every year on April 1st pools around
the campus were painted in bright radioactive colors.
It brightened the grim atmosphere of midterms and
kept rumors alive about some weird and dangerous experiments
with radiation and acid rain (or something like that)
conducted in the campus labs.
It was also the last resort for the Aprils fool-day joke
for someone who could not come up with something more imaginative,
like ripping off letters off the railroad station signs
and making them really obscene.
(For instance, the name of the commute train station
right next to our school translated from Russian sounded like
“Long-lake” station.
Changing one letter in the name turned it into
a “Long-breasted” station.)
Or painting your neighbors windows and changing their clocks
by 3 hours back so that they would not tell the night
and the morning apart.

Deflowering

3. There were many fake ads and flyers appearing here and there
around the campusjust before the fool's day.
Yet lots of people read them seriously,
and some swallowed the most outrages baits.
Most typical joke of that sort was in the form of the note from dean.
The adstated:"Students who did not go through deflowering
must urgently appear in a dean'soffice and promptly do so ASAP.
"Students, who did not know the meaning of the word defloration,
obediently and promptly indeed would show up at the dean's office.
In the end, it all depended on the dean’s sense of humor
(or it’s absence). You can only imagine the eyesof the secretary
when she heard the reason for their appointment with the dean.
I guess they were as wide the eyes of two girls picked for
the occasion by our seniors, who were in charge
of annual summer-labor camp that we called ‘kartoshka’
(potatoes in translation from russian;
It’s worth to mention that back in the old country
all students were required,
in the spirit of Maos cultural revolution,
to help our comrades in the farmland to collect
annual harvest of potatoes and beets),
when your humble servant barged in with the mentioned
above note-request for defloration.
But this is completely different story.

4. Once with my own eyes I have seen a local train
named after one of ourmost vicious professors.
Those times, the trains used to have the name of WWII war hero
written across the train cars.
But during this time of year different kind of heroes were painted
in bright colors on the side of the commute train.
Those were the kind of names that you could have seen engraved
on the tops of sturdy lecture hall desks and toilet walls.
Inscriptions were too graphical to quote here.
To pull this trick off a group of volunteers had to wake up
real early and make a trip to the train depot with spray paint cans.
All in all the train is much better place
for commemoration than the wall of the toilet.

Wet dream

5. Talking about vicious professors,
there was this one particularly bad,
whose name had been honored with paint in the previous story.
His name was Goga Barachinsky. He was ancient to survive Stalin,
holocaust, war,and teaching at Phystech. This tough life made him
sour as a lemon, especiallytowards us, the students.
One of the stories that I heard quite often involved a girl
who was unfortunate enough to get Goga as her grader.
A calculus question thatshe had was about
a definition for divergent sequence.
Her answer was that " It's when every member
in the sequence is bigger than the previous one".
Gogas reply was as sullen as it was expected.
He gave her "In your wet dream" and the worst grade.
Not all of his grades were the worst some of them were just bad
and he never gave excellent grades.
I witnessed in our first year at the school,
how my classmate after preparing his question
for oral exam well before the time approached the teachers desk.
The system in Phystech was such that if you prepare for your exam
questions before everybody else did you have a privilege
of picking the professor (to give you the final grade)
instead of being assigned to one.
My friend was unfortunate to pick Goga
because of his innocuous appearance,
even after another professor whispered in disbelief “Are you sure?”
In the end he got B-. As Goga explained in the end of exam:
“You, of course understand,
that I gave you an extra grade for your audaciousness”.

6. One of the most shocking stories repeated over and over
again in lecture halls and dormitories involved a rather unusual
for academia artifact, an axe. I have to warn you that this story,
unlike above anecdotes, is more shocking and gruesome than humorous.
I heard about it on my first Physics lecture, and, even before then,
once I found out that students at the prestigious
General and Applied Theory Department are called 'axes'.
The story goes about this very bright guy from this 'Axe' department.
Axes required a lot from its students in terms of grades and studying.
The strain and pressure of staying perfect was too big
for many kids and a lot of them literally flipped out,
some end up in a mental care, some committed suicide.
Right across railroad tracks (see story #1)
there were bunch of birch trees favored
by unfortunate students as the place to say goodbye to a cruel world.
Eventually the faculty had to cut those damn woods down.
Getting back to the story, this guy,
and renown for his scholar achievement
and member of elite intellectual fraternity went nuts.
It's not clear why he decided to kill another kid.
Perhaps he thought that he was falling in love with the girl
from the parallel group and he could not stand any competition.
Or he was just very ill in the head.
Judging by the way he prepared his execution it was the latter.
He waited until his victim would go to a toilet and
would be in the most uncomfortable position,
then he hacked the poor lad's head 5 times,
dropped the axe and went back to his room and
into the history of Phystech.
He was arrested and put in the asylum and he did,
despite the degree of creepiness of that incident,
start the nickname of axes for the whole department of FOPF.
It was pretty offending nickname, not as much
as the department of Aero-Space whose name was FAKI
(FUKI phonetically).
To get back to 1st of April theme,
on this day those two departments would have s
creaming matches from the top of the dormitory roof,
Axes versus Fukis.
Conveniently enough their dorms were next to each other.
Heavy artillery had been used in the form of megawatt speakers
with amplifiers brought, but as far as I remember it was a tie.

7. The eminence and dark influence of the “axe” affected numerous
generations of phystechs and created many copycat nut cases
(psychtechs). I myself had once a duel with my fellow neighbor,
axe in my hands, bedpost in his, which was our weapon
of choice in gang wars against local hooligans.
The duel came to an abrupt stop only after
the axe flew out of my hand almost hitting my friend
and got stuck in the wall.
The tale however is about this Lithuanian guy, my countryman,
with a nickname Gitis.
I’ve heard this story many times while
I was in Phystech and later in US,
from the friends of both sides involved in this incident.
In the end I have averaged the varying,
sometimes very different accounts of the story
to create more or less accurate description.
He was not exactly a crazy psycho, well, not when he was sober.
More frequently than not though he was drunk off his ass,
just like that time when this happened.
There were frequent discotheques in those days,
phystechs dancing with each other and around couple of local girls.
Obviously tension was high and in the dispute over
who’s right is it to dance next things got hot and Gitis went crazy.
A fight broke but several guys,
apparently all roommates, quickly subdued him.
They tied him up, left him under the stairs to cool off
and sober up, and then they went back to their room
to prepare the homework for English.
A friend of Gitis that happened to find him tied up released him.
Gitis was at this junction completely out of his mind with rage.
English studies were in full swing
when they got interrupted with the loud thuds on the door.
It was Gitis armed with an axe, Steven King style,
trying to hack his way through the door
and into the room of his violators.
Here is why this story should be a demo of problem
solving techniques under extreme pressure.
In a few seconds they had organized rescue plan.
One guy pulled a heavy table toward the door.
Behind that door there was another guy
waiting for the signal to pull it open.
Third was preparing to grab the axe from Gitis
as soon as he appears inside,
who made a significant progress with the axe through the door.
In the end, their plan worked perfectly,
hail Phystech problem solving skills.
Those guys should definitely put this in their resume.
Gitis was disarmed, beaten mercilessly and subdued yet again.
It was a true happy end,
since the next morning Gitis could not remember a thing
about what happened.

Profilak

8. In the middle of the campus there was a temporary respite
from harsh schooling, called Profilak.
For some reason Profilak was the most popular
target for nailing entrance doors from the outside
on Aprils fools day even though it was not a bad place.
Every student had a chance to spend one month of a year
away from his roommates and an old dorm room, to change surroundings.
All you had to do is to complain to campus resident doctor
about your physical or mental health and
a month later you were there, eating a better food,
cooked in a separate kitchen, watching free cable TV,
which by the was yours truly helped to install all over the campus,
yet I have never stayed over in profilak.
Now the cable is the base for the broadband network on campus,
but yet again it’s a different story.
This shuffle was confusing at times as one had to adjust
to leaving in a new location.
To no surprise some mistakes happened once in a while.
Once upon a time a girl walked through the wrong door leading
into a room filled with guys. Everybody was already
lying in his bed ready to fall asleep.
They became wide-awake as soon as a girl started
taking her clothes off while talking to them
as if she talked to her girlfriends. Guys tried their best
to keep quite and not to scare her away.
Everyone thought of one question, whose bed she is going to choose.
They could hold their concentration up until the moment she said,
"Girls, I would give anything for a good lay"
at which moment the room broke into roaring laughter
sending semi-naked girl out and away.
I heard this story so many times and read it on
Internet that I cannot be sure
that this really happened at Phystech.
However I’ve decided to leave it and tell it
the same way it had been told me at Phystech.

Cultural women

9. It is not entirely true that there was a complete
lack of women at Phystech.
Five miles from us there was an Institute of Culture,
a generic school that harbored vague specialties
and lots of pretty girls.
It was an exact opposite of Phystech,
with very few guys and absence of technical disciplines.
Trips to this school with a few bottles of Champaign
would yield unforgettable results,
even though you would have to knock at
a dozen of doors to finally find a friendly room
to share this bottle. Girls from this school
would also make trips to our neck of woods.
There were four who would pay us a visit pretty regularly.
They would usually come unannounced,
and we would have to scramble and run for groceries,
to buy food, vodka and candies for them.
Next morning we would be cleaning a total mess left
in our room after their visit and waiting for them to come again.
They were smart enough and had enough life experience
to manipulate us without sleeping with any of us,
at least for a while, until one of them had
a lightning fast crash and break up with one of my friends.
Then it all ended abruptly, but before they
were gone we used them to play couple of dirty tricks on our friends.
One time we had a neighbor in our room.
He brought a gigantic bottle of Ukrainian moonshine
and now he was lying passed out on my bed
after drinking for couple of hours.
We could not move him,
as a moving object he was on a heavy side.
We asked one of the girls to go to his room and
ask his friend who also drunk plenty
from the same bottle but still on his feet.
She told him that she is bored and she would
wait for him in our “empty” room on the closest
bed ‘ready for entertainment’.
We waited outside when his friend stumbled in
and five minutes later both guys run off, sober and shaken.
None of them would tell what happened there.

Here is the legend told frequently around the campus
was about the two classmates who were close friends
and also neighbors living in a luxury of a double
(majority of dorm rooms were quads).
It was the time of overcrowded dorms and unannounced
daily room checkups by student council, Gulag style.
If you room was found in unsatisfactory condition
three times in a row then you are out of the dorm.
Any of those, empty bottles of vodka, dirty floor and litter,
would constitute a violation. Usually those two guys were
very diligent in keeping their room in order,
but one night they had picked up two local girls
and invited them home. The girls never even planned to come.
Our friends however prepared well for the date.
They had bought vodka and champagne and,
in anticipation, moved their beds together.
When it was finally clear that no one is showing up, they,
in their sorrow, drunk all the booze they prepared
for seduction eventually falling asleep on juxtaposed beds.
They left the door unlocked however, still hoping for the best.
They had no idea that that morning the student
council would have their regular check up.
To make matters worse the dean accompanied the council
and he walked in the unlock door first.
What he saw is two guys lying on what looked like a queen size bed.
He walked out without saying anything
and carefully closed the door behind.
Their room was marked in excellent condition.
Only much later he tried asking about those guys only
to hear that they were on their best behavior,
good grades, very close friends who do everything together.
He never asked about them again.

After the third year our life notably improved.
Majority of exams were left behind and living conditions
got a lot better since a lot of us moved to
a different dormitory in the center of Moscow, Zuzino.
The situation with women improved drastically also.
Right next to our new apartment style building
there was a teachers college dorm with lots of single
and more mature women. At the same time the number of stories
and the audacity of April tricks decreased significantly.
We were doing different things now.
Some of us were involved in making money during
turbulent years of Perestroika,
the time of initial acquisition of capital in Russia,
some in writing scientific papers.
Others perished in alcohol rehabs or mental asylums.
Others got married and quit the school.
Most of us were involved in scientific research at base labs.
There were very few stubborn ones who did not want
to enter the real life. This story is about one of them.
He lived in Zuzino for a long time without graduating
or doing anything in particular.
Instead he befriended many women from the neighboring dorm
who would cook for him and give him their love.
In return he would play them a little guitar,
chat about philosophy, life and be a macho.
The story that I heard was about him
and couple of girls and why he was avoiding them at all costs.
At first, he was their frequent guest.
One night they were having fun at their place
when everybody got hungry, girls decided to get some food,
while he stayed in the room.
By mistake or not he was locked inside.
In that type of dormitories rooms
could only be unlocked with a key that he did not have.
There were no separate bathrooms as well.
The shopping took surprising long time,
when he got a natural urge. Not a small one, but really big urge.
Man as he was he decided to go nonetheless right there.
The plan was to do it as fast as possible
to avoid associated smell
and to get rid of any traces by wrapping them in old newspapers
and quickly throwing it in the window.
This plan almost worked, except in all the hurry
his aim was a little off,
he missed and all this mess was now on the window.
At this point there was nothing he could do or explain,
so he just wrote those girls off.
When the girls returned to the room, before seeing the mess,
they saw our friend with his guitar taking off and running
away like a pro-sprinter.

Phystech parable

10. “A beekeeper Valabuev before he engaged in beekeeping
has planted a tree of life, has written the gospel
and has given birth to the god-son.
Then, he abandoned it all and got engaged in beekeeping.
All is vanity except for bees, used to say the beekeeper Valabuev,
Bees are also vanity, it’s just there are lots of them!”

P.S. Some of the stories might sound like the legends and anecdotes.
Most probably they are. Nonetheless those are the tales
that I did actually heard, and some of them
I have seen with my own eyes.
In either case, this is not by any means the pinnacle of journalism.
It’s my recollection of those tales.
So if you see anything that you heard differently please
let me know and I would gladly correct it.
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