I Faced the Machine Gunner

One of the most challenging classes Freshman year at Cornell was M. Gardner Clark’s Comparative Economic Development class.  It compared the economic development of the Soviet Union, Indo China and the United States.  For example, for a given level of output, a farm in Russia may have 20 workers, vs 12 in Indo China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) vs 3 in the US. 

We used to call Dr. Clark, “Machine-Gun Clark,” since the prelims (preliminary exams) each had 150 True/False questions one had to complete in 50 minutes – 3 questions per minute!  If you didn’t know the answers cold, then you wouldn’t be able to finish.  And the questions kept coming rapidly, like machine gun fire.

Dr. Clark’s personal collection of Christian Science Monitors (CSM) dating back to 1948, provided first-hand reporting of details not otherwise available. 

I resolved to do as well as I could in this class.  I took copious notes, transcribing each of Dr. Clark’s lectures word-for-word. For this, I developed my own unique abbreviations and symbols, so that I could review – and try to memorize EVERYTHING.

I found the best place to study in Myron Taylor Hall Law Library.  Each floor had a walkway, with the stacks to the left about 25 feet to the wall, with carrels with a desk and a shelf and a light.  Each carrell had a window, which could be cranked open to get fresh air and hear Cascadilla Falls crashing down the adjacent Cascadilla Gorge, 150-200 feet down.  There was a radiator to control the temperature. 

There was also a single squash court with a shower in the basement, where I could shower during marathon study sessions.

Thirty-six hours before the first exam I seated myself at an empty carrell in the virtually deserted upper stacks.   I got to the exam a little early, completed it in 40 minutes, and got a 98 – the highest grade ever.  

When classes resumed, I continued to take my copious notes, but I forgot my notebook in class one day.  When I went back to the class, it wasn’t there.  Someone had stolen it!

Word had gotten around about my grade.  I had told my room-mate Howie who, I guess, told everybody else.  A few days later, my notebook re-appeared with the note, “I can’t read your fucking handwriting!”

I repeated the 36-hour study in the Law Library for prelim two and got a 96, finishing again in about 40 minutes.

The third prelim was on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  After studying for 36 hours, I got back to my dorm room at 8 AM, as Howie was getting dressed to go to the exam.  I told him I was just going to rest my eyes for a bit and that I’d see him at the exam.  When Howie came back from the exam, he burst into the room and screamed, “YOU MISSED IT!!! YOU slept through it!!” 

I jumped up from my bed, threw on a jacket, ran outside, ran up Libe Slope through the falling snow, out to Ives Hall to Machine Gun Clark’s office.  I leaned into Dr. Clark’s office… he looked up at me and smiled and said, “I guess you overslept.  I’m just finishing grading this paper.  I’m just going home for Thanksgiving Holiday.”   

Dr. Clark got a copy of the exam, placed it on his desk with a pen, then said to me, “Here’s the exam. I trust you. You know that you have 50 minutes. Just leave the exam on my desk. I’ll see you after the Holiday!”

Dr. Clark left and I sat down at his desk, exhilarated and relieved, happy to be doing one of the things I loved … as it continued to snow outside!

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