I feel obligated to finish this. Besides an inexcusable total lack of posting in the month of April, I usually don’t end up finishing series posts (like the summer series… the USAPhO series… the US Team posts that, cough, never happened).
Well, more like, I just don’t post. Besides the Intel STS series, and miscellaneous non-content posts, my last post was in November of 2011. Add six months. It’s May. Each day without posting makes it harder to post the next day because I feel like I need to write something deep and shocking to make up for it.
Since it’s been a few weeks, I don’t remember exactly the events in sequence. Picture yourself rowing a boat, serenely swirling through the dark. The waters are calm. Bright glowing orbs light a liquid path. You gaze furtively over the rim of the boat, catching a few scenes from each fragment of my memory.
My trifold posterboard, awkwardly taped together from scraps of printer paper in all its black-and-white, Times New Roman glory. The title, left out and hurriedly jammed in at the bottom, stuck out like a sore thumb.
Supplied with army rations of bottled water and Lifesavers (for the sugar), we braved the siege, unrelenting, without even so much as a bathroom break.
At first they were sparse and few. A few interested passerbys, or a few of the backstage staff curious about the contents of these forty exhibits they just helped set up. Then came the elementary school class field trips, and the parents, of course. The parents of the other finalists were friendly. Many of them had technical backgrounds, and enjoyed the exhilarating presentations we just began rambling off.
It was still early, and we were still figuring out which lines to use and which concepts to simplify. We were still trying to decide on which figures to point out, which graphs to explain. Assembling the speech in our minds, putting in a nice-sounding line here, or a funny comment that one of the previous visitors had made. Mentally, each time an eager listener approached and we smiled and offered to explain our project, we went through the motions, point by point, figure by figure.
But it was still too soon. It was still too soon when they came.
At first it was just one or two. We didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary — the victims were silenced. But soon, out of the corner of our eyes in the middle of making a funny analogy to our captive audiences, we saw.
Towering, thundering through the crowds. Heavy-duty professional cameras, mounted on their shoulders like rocket launchers. Armed with boom microphones, stabbing like bayonets, inching ever closer to our throats, eager to taste the blood and vibration of our vocal cords.
The media was here.
We filed into the gate, government IDs in hand, knowing not what to expect. We filed into the building, where there was yet another checkpoint. They gave us badges on metal neckchains. We were separated into the citizens and the non-citizens.
We passed doors with impressive name plaques, elevators that we were not allowed to ride, and climbed flights of stairs, finally arriving at a bare, carpeted room that looked like its sole purpose was to receive large groups for photo shoots with the President.
Indeed, the walls were lined with shots of Obama around town. We lined up, stacked ourselves accordingly, switched places and rearranged our heights, gave up, started over by first ordering ourselves by height, and then re-ascended the risers.
Feeling special, and queasy, we proceed to wait another perhaps half hour. The photographers, the White House Press Corps, their own little battalion of shooters, lined up and took their places. It’s very tiring standing on risers doing nothing. Especially when you don’t know when suddenly you hear footsteps, and the President of the United States — at any second now — could walk into the room and stare you down.
So Mr. President walked in. We were gunned down by the photographers.
The shots kept firing as he gave an impressive speech and a big, you-can-tell-I’m-a-professional smile. He dove right into the middle of our euphoric gaggle and flashed that smile right back at the cameras going off.
Hanging out in the eLounge — Apples to Apples, ukulele, Super Mario Bros. Wii (which I later went on to play with my siblings at home), arm wrestling and push-up contests, and of course the obligatory Wii Sports. I thought I’d at least win the push-up contest. I actually do push-ups at home, after all. Although, you really couldn’t tell.
The fancy Gala in the National Building Museum: we even rehearsed for it the night before. My mini-poster board was, of course, just like my larger trifold. After embarrassingly performing emergency surgery and sloppily taping more printer paper to my unfantastic board (not being fantastic always disturbs me; habitual overachiever perhaps, I admit to it), I took my stance and conducted my presentation a few more times to gala guests. I saw an Intel storage researcher that I had talked a lot with on nights previous — they had a “reverse science fair” one day where the Intel researchers presented their projects to us Finalists; it was very enjoyable.
At my table was an important person from the US Chamber of Commerce, a kind lady from the office of a House of Representatives member that had spoken to us earlier in the day, a courteous couple, and many other distinguished guests. It embarrasses me to recall this table conversation as it was very awkward for me. I kind of mentally freaked out and didn’t know how to hold conversation with these important people, especially since they were so kind to me. Ahh, I’m embarrassed just thinking about it.
Ahh, here’s another good memory! Eating lunch in the House of Representatives cafeteria and talking to our guides from Intel was very cool. Here’s perhaps the best moment of that day: sitting in the House of Representatives, in one of the seats. Looking up at the roof, and then gazing at the podium in the center. Poking at the voting buttons around the seats. Those seats — cushions of power, wooden towers of American history.
Inside jokes — monkey physics and the Grand Unified Monkey Theory, the pretzel stand conspiracy, and Fred’s hilarious spontaneity! — good times.
Bowling — my amazing first toss (round? serve? whatever it’s called in bowling) was a strike. And then for the rest of the game I failed, hahaha! Oh, but the food they had at that bowling alley was beyond amazing. All of the food we ate that week was amazing, but the unlimited pizza and fries were a welcome reprieve from fancy seafood and elegant exotic pastas.
The last day was memorable: back from the gala, tired, weary of course. In the Astor Ballroom, where we had eaten many meals, watched many a presentation and met each other for the first time — a dance. Complete with a DJ, catered with popcorn and an ice cream bar. After eating a whole banana split and taking down a few more delicious scoops, we danced. To gloss over the one-second-felt-like-an-eternity final moments together in two words: we danced.
Hanging out in the no-longer-called-the-e-Lounge room, moving up and around and into hotel room and out, being asleep, being awake; it all felt like a dream after that, and I don’t remember a single thing about my plane flight back.
It felt good to be home, and I closed my eyes.
I hope you enjoyed reading.
Yes, I’m reusing the separators from Somehow, Today was a Bad Day all the way back on Feb. 22, 2011. I really like these.
Also, I don’t understand what the deal is today with me and violent imagery.