The reality is fascinating. I have thousands of hours experience flying planes on the computer, in games, but flying in one for real is a totally new experience. I end up trading seats with a human kid about seven years old: her at the window and me looking over the top of her head. She splits her time between looking out and touching my fur. In the alleged breakfast she and I dislike complementary foods; she gets two Danish pastries without her mother's knowledge, and I get two muffins which are leaden but at least I can get them down.
San Jose morning is warm with light high clouds. Now at last I can straighten out my tail, which in the narrow seat had to wrap around my body. From the neat, bustling airport and its smell of burned jet fuel there are special busses to Stanford. I use money to buy a place on one. We're deposited at the Student Union building. I was expecting grass but the walkways are paved over, with borders of drought-resistant plants. A small lawn area relieves the pavement. ``Profros'', prospective freshmen, mill around. At the check-in desk I receive a pin-on name tag; what am I supposed to do with that? The lady suggests I put it on my pack strap. We got the timing just about right; I only have twenty minutes to wait before the introductory event. I chat with humans sitting near me who, no surprise, have never seen a lion person before. Someone in a suit gets things started with a welcoming speech about how wonderful the Stanford Experience is. Though I pay close attention, the information I receive is similar to what is in the various college descriptions. Now the payload: present freshmen have appeared to lead us profros to the dormitories to meet our hosts. I memorize the route. The hosts are waiting, with name tags, in the yard outside.
Me: You're Jerry Randall?
Jerry: You're a lion person!
Me: Yes. I'm Simba Leones. Um, do we go in now?
Jerry: Uh, sure, sure, come this way. The room is on the third floor. Is that too high? Were there any problems getting here? Are you hungry?
Me: Jerry, Jerry, slow down, take a deep breath and let it out. I have only a small experience meeting new people, and none with new humans, and I'd like to go real slow so it's fun for you and for me. OK?
Jerry: I'm just a little hyper, sorry. I've never seen a lion person before.
Me: Few have. Is the place?
Jerry: Yes, here it is. Sam, I have a surprise for you. Meet our profro: Simba Leones!
Sam: Oh! Um, hi, um...
Me: Hi, Sam. Both of you, if there's a problem, and particularly if I go against human customs, I want you to be very frank about telling me. A big part of my job here is to learn what the problems are going to be when we lions go to college, and I'm depending on you to tell me and help me to find ways to work around them. I can't do anything about the fur and the fangs; without them I wouldn't be a lion person and it would be no fun for me at all. But lots of things can be worked around. Sam, would you start please?
Sam: Nothing's wrong. Well, it's a little embarrassing; I guess you haven't seen it yet. The, um, toy.
Me: What toy? Oh, do you mean the lion person stuffed animal? That size yields five cents toward my college tuition. Please buy more! If I have a problem with something I'll tell you, and we'll be a lot happier if you don't do the embarrass thing. OK?
Sam: OK, thanks. I had no idea a lion person was even thinking about Stanford. My dad made me get the disc when I was a freshman in high school, and despite what I told him, and despite what I thought at the time, I got something out of it. Leo's a gift from a girl at high school. I went to Marshland; you may have heard of it?
Me: I'm glad our disc is working for you. The staff put a lot of work into it. I'll tell Leo, the real one, about your Leo.
Sam: No, don't, you said not to be embarrassed, but I would be.
Me: I won't if you say so, but Leo would be very happy. We like humans to enjoy having us around. It's a survival issue for us, remember; when there are only eight of us, it's important to have a good relation with our neighbors, and your Leo would make our Leo worry less about that.
Sam: OK, Simba. I never thought of it like that.
Jerry: Did they give you the same schedule they gave us?
Me: It looks the same. I haven't had a chance to look at it: too many people wanted to meet the lion person. Could we go over it together?
Jerry: It looks like there's a lot to choose from. Obviously the barbecue comes first; I'm sure a lion person will enjoy that. But after that, do you have questions already worked out? Or are you just going to watch and observe?
Me: Both. The number one concern is, if I get into Stanford how would I pay for it? I can come up with $10K to $12K per year. Without financial aid that's not enough. The number two concern is, Sam knows about lion training. Our style of learning is very different from typical human kids. These class things you have, I need to go to as many as I can and assess how lion people are going to react to them.
Sam: At Marshland a lot of kids had lion discs. The teachers weren't all that happy when we ran sideways through their lesson plans. Obviously your school was based on lion training, and if you don't know how classes work, well, you would have to learn what the profs expect of you, real fast.
Jerry: Here's a suggestion: Financial aid workshop, that's a must. How to get in, for juniors. Is that what you are, a junior?
Me: I don't know. What's a junior?
Jerry: If you haven't applied yet -- that's your situation, isn't it? Then I think having them tell you how to get in would be a good idea. Now, let's fill in classes around those two workshops. You could come with me to my writing class; they said it would be OK to bring profros. And Sam's Anthro lecture, yes, it fits. And then it's time for dinner, and you can plan tomorrow, tomorrow. Which concert do you want to go to? A capella groups, or some classical stuff.
Me: What's the first one?
Jerry: Kind of singing and comedy; lots of people join them. Some of them even have CDs out. It's a lot of fun. The other one is the university orchestra; they're playing Bach and whatever.
Me: Rachmaninoff and Hindemith. I don't have any discs of his music; you know, is there a place nearby where I could buy discs if I have any money left over at the end?
Sam: Yes, the bookstore has a big selection, classical and popular. Plus books, of course. You like classical music?
Me: Yes. I'm picking up some emotion here. My mate and I have worked out a rule, that we try to do things together, but if one wants to and the other doesn't, we don't spoil it by dragging the other person. I've never heard real musicians before, just discs, and I'd really like to go to that, but if the a capella concert is more fun for you two, certainly you should go. Just help me find the right room. Is that OK?
Sam: Actually, don't tell Dad, but I've found I like classical music, at least some of it. I'll go with you and Jerry can listen to a capella.
Jerry: That's fine. When you say your ``mate'', what exactly is that?
Me: The one I'm going to live with the rest of my life. Her name is Tiger.
Sam: I don't believe this! Married! What surprise comes out next?
Me: Maybe that the barbecue is starting and I ate at 0430 this morning. Perhaps we should talk on the way to getting our food. Look, there's another action item. We lions don't know much about money. Buying a place on the bus was about the third or fourth time I've even had it in my hand. We've been warned that failure to manage money properly is a major threat to college students. I've read a book on money management my supervisor found for us, but I would really appreciate it if you two would tell me the reality, what you really do about money. For example, Mr. Rothko uses the Lion Foundation credit balance to buy short term treasury bills that mature just before big payments are due, and it seemed to us that the same strategy could be used for tuition payments, but there's not a word about treasury bills in this book. Is there a reason you avoid that strategy?
Jerry and Sam burst out laughing. I guess there is a good reason to avoid treasury bills.
Jerry: You came to the right profroho! I'm an absolute klutz when it comes to money; I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. While look at Sam, the hole in his jeans, the ratty backpack, but he pays cash to the bursar; he could buy a Porsche and pay off the bursar with the change.
Sam: Yeah, it's kind of funny you should ask just that question of just these people. Your ladder investment strategy is good, but what I do, see, the tuition and room payments are due quarterly, and I leave the money for that in my brokerage core account. I can cash it out whenever a payment is due; their fund manager handles the laddering and I'm willing to pay his fee so I can study rather than deal with pipelining short term tax free paper. At my income level, T-bills aren't favorable.
Me: Look, it's not a happy thing to talk about troubles with a stranger, but the lion people would really appreciate any warnings and hints that might be given.
Jerry: In other words, with Sam's example why do I have so much trouble with money. Sam, tell him.
Sam: Compare and contrast Jerry and Sam. I'm rich, and Daddy is richer. I've had about $60K a year feeding into my account since I was born, as an estate tax evasion scheme, plus the income from that. Dad and Mom knew it was important that I learn about money, so starting when I was real little I did jobs like helping the driver detail the cars. I dug up a vegetable patch and sold the crop to the cook. Stuff like that. And I bought my own toys, but it had to come out of what I earned, not the investment income. I could live in the big house and ride in the Mercedes, but if I wanted something of my own it had to come out of my own sweat. I'm legal now on my accounts, but I haven't forgotten digging that damn garden, and the rocks and adobe, and when I buy something I always ask, is it worth it? The ratty backpack holds my books and isn't ugly. But for the president's reception tomorrow -- you're going, of course? I'll wear the Armani suit, because it's appropriate for that, and for a suit, Armani is worth it.
Jerry: Now your analysis of me.
Sam: Let's get our food, then I'll tell the story. You could take more than one rib. Are you sure you don't want more corn? And more pasta salad? For a hungry lion you take less than I expected, and much less meat.
Me: I'm hungry, but if I eat more than I need I get a bellyache. Is this a good place to sit? Look how I eat corn; my fangs block it from my incisors so I can't eat like you do, but the fangs can peel the kernels off in sheets. That tastes good. Now I can get the rib into my mouth and crunch it up. It's a good piece, lots of marrow.
Jerry: You eat the bones?
Me: Sure. So does Panthera leo. My human friends could handle this bone easily, and humans need a lot of calcium phosphate. Try it; yours looks easy to eat.
Jerry: I think I'll pass.
Sam: Weird. You just swallow the fragments?
Me: Right, but pick out any big ones and either spit them out or crunch them again. One bone has more calcium than a cup of milk or yogurt. Humans should only do this on well-cooked bones with a thin outer layer, like these; lions could handle raw bone if we were desperate, because our opal teeth are harder.
Sam: Now that's a taste experience. OK, Jerry manages money like his mother does, because he learned it from her. He never had a job until now, working in the bookstore. He sees, he asks, she feels guilty, she buys. The connection between work product and purchased goods is lost, and he has to learn that now.
Jerry: Right, I see, I give credit card, get the picture? I'm really a lot better now; Sam helped me get my act together, but I'm still five thousand in the hole.
Me: Could you tell the lions what to do, to have their act together from the beginning?
Jerry: Sure. Lose the credit card. Which I've effectively done. Make a list of when payments are due, and how much, and the same for income and student loan credits. Plus predictable expenses and estimate the rest. Sam pushed me to make a database app on my computer and update it weekly; in fact, today is the day, and you can watch me do it. You make a budget for things and you don't ever go over without rerunning the database, making sure the money is really there. For example, I've budgeted twenty bucks for this weekend, and five is encumbered for my ticket to the a capella concert, so I won't spend over fifteen more. It's hard; I mean it's easy to get the numbers, particularly with the computer, but hard to do what they say.
Me: And that's working out? It sounds a lot like what we've been taught. It's kind of easy for me to stay under budget for this weekend. When it's gone, there just isn't any more money.
Sam: Didn't you get any ice cream?
Me: I'm eating this banana. For me it's a treat; we only have them when there's a supply run.
Sam: OK, when we finish lunch I'm going to take you to the financial aid workshop and spend the hour in the library for my Civ paper. I'll meet you back there and take you to my Anthro lecture. Then we'll meet Jerry at his English class, and he'll take care of you until dinner. OK, Jerry?
So that's how it works out. The financial aid administrator spots me as soon as I sit down, and when the session begins she doesn't even wait for me to ask any questions; she makes me an offer I can't refuse to have my situation analyzed. The family income assessment is bizarre from the human point of view. As experimental animals we are essentially the property of the Lion Foundation, whereas the charter seems to say that we own the Foundation. It's rare for humans to either own or be owned by a nonprofit corporation, nor to derive most of their income from royalties on stuffed replicas of themselves. But the administrator seems to accept our figure of $10k per year, and recommends equal parts of self payment, income from a job, and a student loan. I tell her that debt would really delay the breeding program, and I would rather eat bread and water, which I'm capable of doing unlike a human, to minimize the debt. I'm serious, and she doesn't laugh but gives me the address of the board plan office. At the end of the hour Sam is waiting in back.
Sam: Did you see how she keyed on you? When you went in I spotted it, and I listened from the back door to find out what would happen.
Me: Jeez, I like smiling faces but I don't like people falling all over me. You'd think I was some kind of furry monster!
Sam: You do have that effect on people; look at them looking at you. Now what do think the admissions committee will think when they see that furry face on the photo? I think they'll have an orgasm. This place runs on diversity, and you're as diverse as it gets. If you put together a credible application, you're in. Period.
Me: You really think so?
Sam: As you put it, it's a survival issue. The kids learn from each other more than they do in class. No diversity, no lessons. The university knows this. Now here's Anthro; let's get a good seat. Volcek is pretty interesting.
We learn about matriclans and the difference between age sets and age grades. There are a small number of questions during the lecture. Finally Prof. Volcek invites questions from the profros. I raise my hand. He clearly has me spotted but very deliberately calls on me second.
Me: As I understand classes, the professor has a definite agenda of items you want all the class members to learn, and resource levels to be expended. In my lion training I make similar judgments. How do students and profs reconcile agendas that are not necessarily the same?
Prof. Volcek: Anthropology of the classroom: reconciling agendas is a big activity in all cultures and is something we study heavily. To give a glib answer, the students who share the prof's values and successfully finish the agenda get A's. To the extent that the execution is less successful the grade is lower, but also, when the student's agenda differs and the student carries out his or her version, the grade is also lower. I'm aware of lion training and I know this isn't the way you operate. So here's my suggestion: check the class web pages carefully and choose classes where you and the prof are not too far apart in agenda. And another point: this class meets the social science requirement. Many students would rather be in a chemistry class, or dance, or literature, but the university says, thou shalt study social science, and we have good reasons, which you can read about on the catalog page. I'm listening for the snickers on this, but the current students have learned from my lectures that it's essential in a culture that the old fossils propagate the culture's values to incoming youth, that's you, and the university's general education requirements are one example of that, and the professors' choice of agenda is another. Consider going along with the instructor's agenda rather than your own, because he might know a little more than you do about what's important. OK, the lady over there, what's your question?
As the class breaks up, Sam guides me toward the Quad, where Jerry's class meets.
Sam: So, anthropology of the classroom. What do you think of Volcek?
Me: That answer is a lot to think about. I'm trying to memorize it so I can tell the other lions. Is this the room? Thanks for taking me around. I'm going to write up the answer as quick as I can. Bye.
I do that, on my laptop, rapidly. The room is small and all of the twenty seats end up occupied, plus two people are standing in back, looking surreptitiously at me. Jerry doesn't get to sit next to me. As the prof arrives, right on the hour, I saw off the essay.
Prof: Good afternoon, class; I see we have several profros with us. I'm Sandra Atkins. Feel free to pop in a question, but of course it helps to have read the material beforehand. Remember that, whichever college you go to. And opportunity is knocking for me too. The lion person, there, I see it on your pack: Simba. May I ask you something? As I came in I saw you burning up your keyboard. Is there a lesson in that for our class?
Me: Well, the Lion Foundation put me here so all the lions could learn something. I got something important in the previous class. I'll finish it up as I have time and post it on our site so the rest of the people, humans included, can read it. I guess the lesson is that by a written record you can share information efficiently.
Prof. Atkins: And about how many words did you get down in the ten minutes between classes?
Me: One second... 212 words counting format effectors. We had to walk over here. I'll need to expand it and finish the last part, and merge in other things I learn, of which there already are several.
Prof. Atkins: That's fast work; I'm impressed. Tell us, please, what do you get out of your regimen of writing every day? And is it literally every day?
Me: I can't remember the last day I didn't write something. Yes, I can: when we got lost all night in the forest. What we get? You're kind of seeing it; if I want someone to know what I have in mind, I can handle that as easily as I can run or climb trees. And it helps me too to get my thoughts organized; I can psychodrama the other person reading and wanting more, or spotting something dumb, and I can go back and do the research and get it correct or complete. And I enjoy writing. Mostly I have a purpose, but it's also fun to do a fiction piece, a fantasy or something.
Prof. Atkins: Or erotic love poetry? Class, do you recognize some of the points we discussed earlier in the year? Simba lives what you are supposed to have learned. That's a hint. Simba, what's the biggest writing project you've done recently?
Me: Recently? The college analysis, I guess. Over about two weeks I think each of us put out, well, we didn't count, but maybe five to ten thousand words. Most of the work was research, not writing.
Prof. Atkins: The students are working on a paper about that size, for this class. Here it's considered a moderate size paper. But yours was a group effort?
Me: Yes. Do you think writing larger essays might be kind of a gap in our training? We don't do it often.
Prof. Atkins: Hard to tell. I would recommend this, however: with your training you might be able to get a waiver of freshman English, but I suggest you take the class anyway. There might be, as you put it, gaps in your training that might not be obvious.
Me: Thank you very much for that. And for the poetry idea; I'm sure my mate misses me and a haiku or something might set her tail twitching.
With a smile, Professor Atkins gets the class rolling. The topic is the nature and function of literary criticism, with some humor about authors' attitudes toward critics. Prof. Atkins' style is to cue the class what the next topic is, to get one or more of them to say something useful, and then to inject her observations, and to contrast her own ideas with the assigned reading material. Literary criticism isn't something I can eat, and Mr. Chernik's style is much more laconic, but I think I could handle Prof. Atkin's class, stylewise. The big lectures like anthro would take a lot more getting used to.
When the class lets out, Jerry guides me to the auditorium where the admissions person, Mr. Dykstra, will counsel juniors. He reads his lessons on the steps outside, as the meeting gets under way. I let a few questions go by, put up my hand, and am called on fairly promptly.
Me: I have no GPA to give you. I do have a topic list, but our rule is that we work on a topic until we know it. We don't have better or worse; we only have success. Sometimes I got mad and swore to abandon a lesson set, but none of us had to give up for real. So the question is, how do you compare someone who does lion training, with people who learn partially and get grades?
Mr. Dykstra: The issue comes up more often than you might think. The question we have to answer is, will this person be able to handle Stanford academically? Likely you can imagine that many people can't, and our rule, unlike some competing schools, is that we try to identify people who can make it, subjectively, rather than doing a strict cutoff on scores and hoping that the scores mean something, and kicking out almost half the class at the end of the freshman year. I think we do a pretty good job. Here's what you do: get a good score on the SAT, and take more than the usual number of topic tests. Take the test on writing where you actually write an essay, so we can see your work. We want to see your ability in math and science. Et cetera; go down the list and whatever you're good at, take the test. I assume you go to a special school; does it have an advanced placement program? No? Here's something you can do: locate a nearby school that does have AP classes in your topics, and get your teacher to arrange for you to take the exam there. You can take the exam without taking the class, although of course it's a lot easier to do well with proper preparation. AP scores can give us confidence in your ability to handle work at our level. An additional possibility is to post on your web site a small number of short samples of your work, considering that each admissions committee member has to read over a thousand applications. From a musician, for example, we would prefer a three-minute song to a symphony. This isn't required, understand, but some students have used a portfolio very successfully. And some have made asses of themselves, so be careful in selection, and in code debugging. Does that answer your question?
I say it does, and he goes on to the next student. But Mr. Dykstra's answer bothers me. We have a cram book for the SAT, and we lions aren't impressed with the questions. For assessing factual knowledge the multiple choice format is fine, or for seeing if the student has been exposed to a broad range of topics in, let's say, chemistry, but does he have a feel for what different classes of elements will do? Does he know how to plan an experiment, and execute it without splashing acid on his fur over the apron he's supposed to be wearing? The lion disc software is pretty good at interpreting free-form answers, but even it is no use when hands-on skill is needed. Hands-on: I remember when Mr. Lewis went around for a month with a yellow stain of nitric acid on his hand...
Dinner is just starting when Jerry takes me back to the dorm.
Sam: Roast beef! Don't be tricked, Simba; they want you to think the food is good here. This is the best meal we've had all year, meaning that most of the meals are nothing like this. You don't eat! You wouldn't survive at my house. I have to beat my Mom off with a stick. You're so skinny, she says. Really, you could have more... Well, it's your stomach and I don't want you to feel I'm acting like Mom.
Me, to the server: Could you slash this roll in half, and give me just one small piece of roast beef to put in it? Small, please; I'm a lion person but I don't eat like Panthera leo. Thanks.
In addition to the impromptu roast beef sandwich I have a little of each of the starches and vegetables, plus a sesame bagel, and bug juice, some kind of synthetic fruit drink. As we eat the conversation turns to girls, or the lack of same.
Jerry: I can't imagine ever getting married. Does it work differently for lion people?
Me: Well, yes and no. We should build pair bonds somewhat similar to what humans do, but there are only eight of us, and we and the staff felt we couldn't risk people falling in love in an unbalanced way, like two males wanting one female and leaving one female without a mate. Plus the unsuccessful male. The very day I became sexually mature we did mate selection, and by lion person custom we consider ourselves married. But I hope our children won't have to do it so roughly.
Sam: An arranged marriage? Who did the arrangement?
Me: We did; we assessed who would probably be able to make a solid pair bond, and then we did what we had planned. The Lion Foundation staff concurred with our assignments, and we did let them observe and we asked their opinions, but we didn't ask their permission.
Jerry: I can't even meet any girls, much less, what do you say, make a solid pair bond. That sounds kind of gross.
Me: They're all over. You do classes with them; you eat with them; you can hardly avoid meeting them. There's a table full of females right behind you. I'm not going to stick my nose into your sexuality, but in your position I'd turn around and start chattering. Invite them to join us; we could push the tables together.
Jerry: I... couldn't.
Me: None of my business. But I'm surprised none of them have tried to join us themselves; every one of them has looked at me several times. If you want to take advantage of my conversation value... No? OK. I'm not disappointed. I've gotten more attention today than I've had in my whole life before this.
Sam: What you call mate selection has to be done very, very carefully in my case. I'm afraid I've been holding back, same as Jerry.
Me: Carefully, yes, but very, very carefully? Why?
Sam: The money, of course. I couldn't stand a divorce, financially.
Me: Oh. We can't stand a divorce either because we need everyone to do his or her part raising 32 kittens. With only eight lions our species is precarious.
Sam: I'd never thought of that aspect of it. Hey, I think we're done eating, and I have a suggestion. It's kind of a tradition for the ho's to take the profros to the coho for a froyo after the concert. The place will be packed. How about we go over there before the concert, like now, for a second dessert? You guys interested?
Me: Interested, yes, as in finding out what that is.
Sam: We have this code to snow the profros. Snow the profros, hah, it rhymes! See, we string together the first syllable of the words, preferably ending in `o'. The hosts take the prospective freshman to the coffee house to eat frozen yogurt. Heh, heh, what do you think?
Me: Weird. I've never had frozen yogurt. I'd like to try it.
Jerry: I never met a dessert I didn't like. Let's put away our trays and go over there.
A number of other host and profro groups have the same idea we have. I'm able to guide us to sit at a large table where others, some female, are already located, and Jerry actually gets his tongue untied a bit. It seems that essentially all of the profros have financial concerns and wonder if they'll be able to handle the academics at Stanford. And all of them are intrigued, not shocked, to be talking with a furry nonhuman. That's good news.
Afterward Sam takes me to the music department's auditorium. The University Symphony Orchestra, composed of faculty and advanced students, puts on a varied program, with two department faculty members as soloists. There's the Bach Violin Concerto no. 2 in E major, and the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2 in c minor, both of which I have discs of, and Hindemith's Music for Strings and Brass, which I've never heard before. Hearing my old friends played live is fascinating, and I bombard Sam with questions about the various instruments during the intermissions. And the Hindemith is spectacular, and the dynamic finale has the audience on their feet. I resolve to save enough money to buy a disc of it before I go home.
Home. I'm comfortable being on my own, at least so far, but I'll be going back on Sunday. A year and a half from now, on the other hand, I'll leave home, possibly coming here, and never go back. Growing up is something I really wish I didn't have to do.