Part I of Excalibur’s 2020-21 wrap up: Zoom stories

(Image by Riddhi Jani)

Holly Smith
Grade 12
Excalibur Intern

IMITATION GAMES

The one good thing to come from online school has to be the embarrassing stories that everyone has collected over the past year. I myself have collected quite a few.

Some of them include family members forgetting that I am in class and walking in mid-presentation, or the odd cat that demands attention just as I’m doing a playing test for music class. The worst one has to be the relatable issue of forgetting to mute yourself because then the blame is all on you.

I’m sure most people have experienced the mad dash to hit the mute button after realizing the mic had been on for the past half hour. Which is the exact experience that has stuck with me throughout the whole year.

Imagine it: beginning of the year, art class. Everyone was going around and showing their project to the teacher which involves turning on your camera so already I was dreading my turn. Now for context: my art teacher doesn’t like it much when students decide to take artistic liberties in their work. Doesn’t really make sense, I know.

So his favourite pieces were always the ones that followed the directions to a fault. Which heavily conflicted with my need to add my own spin on things. So needless to say, we didn’t really get along much.

Slowly, one-by-one, everyone was turning on their cameras and mics, explaining their piece and getting advice or just encouraging words. To every single one before me, my teacher would enthusiastically say something like, “Wow, that looks amazing,” or “I really like how that’s coming along, keep it up.” It was almost like he made a point to be as excited about everyone’s work as possible.

Then it was my turn. I had, as usual, added my own element. I turned on my camera and mic, proudly displaying my art work just to receive a low energy, “That’s great.”

I knew what to expect at this point, he had been my art teacher for the past two years. But this time, on Zoom, with everyone listening it made it a little embarrassing.

Now irritated and embarrassed I turned off my camera, and continued to sarcastically imitate my teacher’s unenthusiastic tone, just to myself, while continuing my project. Being someone that just can’t let things go I continued to do this for about five minutes. 

Going on and on, until I hear, “Holly, your mic is on!” I froze and almost just left the call right there. Totally prepared to just pack up, change my name, and move to a different country.

I still have no idea if they even heard anything but knowing that my headphones have a built-in microphone, they probably did. I’m way too scared to ask. Definitely hoping that I don’t get the same art teacher next year. Knowing my luck though, I probably will.


Mahdis Habibinia
Professional Writing, Hons. BA, Alumni
York University

EAT PRAY ZOOM

Working at a university publication, you can imagine the amount of interviews we need to do in any given work week — be it for hiring or writing an article. And sometimes the latter is with local leaders, influential members of the community, faculty and admin at York, interesting people with interesting stories to tell, you name it. 

Now feature writing is no joke. That’s about 2,000 words (or more) and many, many lengthy interviews with experts. It was a hectic two weeks, to say the least. 

One of my final interviews for a feature was with a speaker from a conference, both of us working from home of course. The conversation was going smoothly, I had jotted down some interesting quotes, and I even had a headline brewing in my mind. The reason I say “conversation” is because a good interview is exactly that: a discussion. It was flowing like one too and extremely productive, so I didn’t see the need to hit the mute button constantly when I wasn’t speaking.

Then all of a sudden, behind me from the other room in the kitchen, I hear: “Mahdis! Do you want tea?!”

Now if you’re raised in a Middle Eastern household, you likely know that your parents don’t just stop at chai

“Fruits? Almonds? Did you even eat lunch yet?!” my mother continued to shout, oblivious to the fact that I was technically working.

My interviewee laughed, as anyone would in that situation, whether out of pure amusement or awkwardness. I smiled, embarrassed, and apologized before muting myself briefly.

“Earl Grey please!” I shouted back. “I’m also in the middle of an interview, mom!”

Unmute.


Shivam Sachdeva
Political Science, 3rd year
York University

SCREAM: ZOOM EDITION

So, there I was, sitting in on yet another dull Zoom class in late September. Though I love the subject of political science, maintaining adequate attention for the duration of the class can definitely be a challenge at times.

On this day however, it was far from that. The professor was in the middle of a lecture when all of a sudden, a high-pitched scream erupted from one of the students. I yanked my headphones out right away out of sheer panic. A Zoom meeting full of students began asking what on earth just happened. Before anyone could even answer, the scream erupted again and the student’s screen from which it was coming from immediately turned pitch black. 

The class was in chaos at this point, with everybody panicking and wondering what the hell was going on. The professor, clearly a little unfamiliar with Zoom, struggled to do much. He stated he didn’t know how to mute or remove anyone. Throughout all of this, the horrific screaming continued as students tried to talk over it and help the professor put an end to this horror movie. 

After about 15 minutes of screaming, the student seemed to have left the class on their own, and a wave of relief rushed over me (and likely everyone else). Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Within minutes, the screamer returned with a vengeance. Whatever this was, it was clear that it wasn’t going down without a fight. As the screams continued ferociously and students were yelling and reacting frantically, the noise abruptly came to a stop. 

A TA who joined the tutorial at the professor’s request then softly told the class she had removed the student and blocked them from re-entering – the perfect ending to this horror saga. The class continued as best it could from that point forward, though everything witnessed in the past half hour definitely had students’ minds wandering elsewhere. 

A week later, the same TA announced to the class that after investigating the incident, they concluded that the student had been hacked and the incessant screaming was a result of it. Though somewhat horrifying in the moment, this experience definitely made a memorable mark in what will be looked back on as the Zoom portion of my undergraduate studies.


Kaila Gallacher
Creative Writing, 4th year
York University

YOUR FAVOURITE SCARY MOVIE

When classes moved to an online format, it was a flurry of chaos for students, staff, and their families to accept the adjustment. Though for some families, my brother in particular, this move to online learning turned out to be a perfect opportunity to have some fun.

I was having an incredibly difficult time with the transition to online learning and I wasn’t coping well with the sheer amount of stress that occupied life; though my level of stress didn’t have as much to do with the new online format as it had to do with the stress of the pandemic playing out around me.

Most of us students were fortunate, as it was March, there were only a few classes left of term. With the worsening situation in Toronto and my chronic health conditions getting worse, my partner and I were invited to go stay with my family. We decided to go back to Barrie before everything locked down. Going to live with family, after being on our own, came with its own adjustments, though we navigated them with more or less grace and fun. As it happens, going to stay in Barrie proved to be the best decision we made as it played host to one the most hilarious, and for my classmates, probably startling Zoom calls I have ever had.

My computer was set up in the large basement where we were staying. The lighting was poor, but I made do with it as it was the quietest place in the house — though with two dogs and three cats, quiet is relative. No matter how far you go in that basement, barking or meowing inevitably finds you. I had this in mind while I was preparing for one of my last classes — stressed and dealing with off-the-charts anxiety, I could hardly think straight.

I turned on my computer, set up the camera, and logged onto my class.

We were about halfway through discussing our readings and the pandemic when I spotted the reflection of my camera. My brother’s door, shrouded in shadows, began creaking open. A moment or so later, he emerged, stepping out of his room, standing just over six feet, hidden in shadows, he was wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet and held onto a broken broom handle.

He took a step closer behind me. His image appeared subtly in the camera.

For my classmates, I am sure, it was like something out of a horror movie.

He took another step closer — his face obscured by the dark visor of the helmet.

I struggled not to laugh. The teacher on screen continued lecturing. My phone started dinging — the group chat we all shared blew up.

Oh God, I thought. I’m going to disrupt the entire class.

The anxiety at having disrupted the class dissipated, as my brother incrementally crept up behind me, till he stood over my shoulder.

My entire body shook from silent laughter.

I turned off the camera, laughing with him.

OMG. KAILA WHO IS THAT? read the first message that popped up on my screen.

OMG. R U OK? XD

All I could do was laugh and eventually told them it was my brother.


Brittania Fusca
Mathematics, Spec. Hons. BA, Alumni
York University

BOLSHOI & ME

“Oh, hello there!” said a classmate during a video meeting.

“I see something white,” remarked my students during their virtual lesson.

“Please introduce us!” exclaimed my professors during class time.

“You have a beautiful cat,” admired a professor during office hours.  

In nearly every Zoom meeting of the year, Bolshoi, my Siberian cat, made her presence known by jumping right up onto my desk to see who was keeping me away from playing with her. At times, other members of the meetings would only see her side, but at others she would just decide to sit on my desk right in front of the computer as if she could participate in the meetings for me.

One particularly funny story was on a Zoom call with a student I was meeting to discuss potentially living together for a year when I start my Masters. Of course, my cat and I came as a package deal as I could not fathom the thought of leaving her for a whole year. I always describe her as most people would describe the Siberian cat: hypoallergenic, super chill, very friendly and quite social … that is, social for a cat.

Bolshoi enjoys making herself comfortable on my desk during exam week. (Courtesy of Brittania Fusca)

As this student had never lived with a cat, I felt I should prove my point. I looked back to assure that Bolshoi was relaxing in her bed as we spoke, only I noticed that on this particular Wednesday afternoon, Bolshoi was agitated by the fact that one of the windows in my room was not open.

“Excuse me,” I said in a voice that I hoped sounded calm as I got up to open the window.

The student and I continued on, speaking about some of our expectations and things in particular that we could not stand. My list, of course, included wearing shoes in the house, leaving dirty dishes around, and trying to lift up Bolshoi when I wasn’t home. Then all of a sudden, Bolshoi jumped right up onto my desk blocking me from my webcam, but not preventing me from hearing the student’s scream.

We quickly ended our Zoom call and I realized that to save time in meeting new people I should probably open with, “I hope you like cats!” 


Michael Karpati
English & Creative Writing, 5th year
York University

SING FOR THE MIC

Zoom is a way of life. I’ve been chatting with friends on Zoom; we play video games and sometimes share the stuff we’ve been writing. We chat whenever we have time. I went to my classes via Zoom, an act which grew tiresome quickly enough. I talk with coworkers on another app, but in my head, it’s Zoom. Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon…yeah, let’s just say my head isn’t quite glued on straight like it used to be. 

There are a lot of issues with Zoom. Not only does the internet periodically cut out (“Hello? You there? I think you cut out, dude. I’ll just sit here till you deal with it.”) but people you thought wouldn’t ever meet each other suddenly did — world’s colliding. 

Parents meeting teachers, for instance. Not like those meetings in elementary school where teachers update parents on your progress and, to use the clinical term, social development. More like both your parents coming in talking about fruit in the middle of a university class and the professor saying, “Michael, I think it would be best if you turned off your microphone.”

As I recall, my immediate response was to apologize the Canadian way (about eighteen times), and then to turn off my mic. 

Later, I was talking to a friend from York and playing a video game — probably Donkey Kong — in the Wi-Fi corner, the one area of the house where the Wi-Fi (eternally intermittent) always works (we should be ensconced in it). 

“Zip-a-DEE-doo-DAH, zip-a-DEE-day!”

That would be my mother doing a remarkably accurate imitation of the Brer Rabbit from Disney’s Splash Mountain in Disney World. I fumbled to pick up my phone.    

“MY oh MY, what a WONderFUL day!”

We looked at each other; I could see her deciding to switch songs. 

“OH, SuzANNA!” I blinked, wondering if she was expecting me to join in. “Don’t YOU CRY for ME!”

She likes to mess with me; and, frankly, I like to do the same. I let her sing another verse and then said, “You know I’m on the phone, right?”

She covered her mouth as if to say ‘he must think I’m a crazy person’, and backed out of the room, fighting not to laugh. I turned the audio back on and finished the call. He didn’t seem to have heard anything. Thankfully this was a social call and not a work one. I’ve been seeing a lot of stories of people doing weird things in Zoom meetings with their coworkers and, in certain disastrous instances, their bosses. 

I could hear my mum in the other room telling my dad what had happened, laughing hysterically. A few minutes later, when the incident had largely passed from my mind, I started murmuring, “Zip-a-DEE-doo-DAH, zip-a-DEE-day…”      

And that, my friend probably heard.


Part II: Lessons learned

Part III: Skills and hobbies acquired

Part IV: Then and now

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