A FRACTION OF AN INCH
© Theo Pavlidis
In July of 1957 I graduated from the National Technical University
of Athens with a degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. A few
months earlier I had heard that I had won a Fulbright Fellowship for graduate
work at MIT. I had been elated but I was soon deflated when I was told
by Greek officials that I could not leave the country until after I completed
the compulsory two years of military service.
A few months later I was in uniform undergoing basic
training. After two months at the boot camp I was transferred to the Reserve
Officer’s School of the Technical Branch. This was the army branch responsible
for the maintenance of the vehicles and other mechanical equipment. Many
of my classmates from college were also there. We were glad to be out
of the grueling physical challenges of the boot camp and were looking
forward to an easier time in place where the emphasis would be on technology,
no matter how mundane.
Unfortunately, the Greek Army leadership had formed the
opinion that even career officers of the Technical Branch were not sufficiently
imbued with military spirit and therefore they could not, by themselves,
transform civilians into proper soldiers. As a result the Officer’s School
was under the command of an infantry major. This person had a mean streak
and never missed a chance to give us a tough time or humiliate us.
We were allowed to go out into town once a week for a
few hours and we all looked forward to that liberty. One day we were told
that our hair had to be short, no more than one inch in length. The infantry
major walked into our dormitory with a ruler. We lined up in front of
our bunks and he would place the ruler on each person’s skull and pull
the hair to make sure that it did not go beyond the one-inch mark. It
turns out that the zero mark of the ruler was not at end and there was
about a quarter of an inch gap between the end and the zero mark. The
major made no adjustment for that discrepancy.
When he came to measure my hair he found out that it
was a quarter of an inch too long. “But sir,” I blurted, “you forgot to
subtract the amount of the gap at the start of the ruler.” “You are right,”
the major snapped back, “you can go.”
Of course, the correct adjustment would have been to
add the quarter of an inch rather than subtract it, so I got away with
hair too long by half an inch!