Prose, Grades 7-9: First Place

Ulysses the Failure— Eitan Weinstein

Ulysses was a failure. He never did anything in his life worthy of praise or recognition, that is, until now. See, he’s been in jail the past few years for automobile homicide while under the influence of illegal substances. And you know what they say: being in the system can really change a person.
This was a completely accurate statement in the case of Ulysses. For his first year in prison, Ulysses just moped really; he didn’t think that his life was going anywhere and essentially gave up. That was until he was in the library one afternoon and saw a book laying on the floor with its pages ripped and strewn about. Its title was The Discovery of Subatomic Particles by Steven Weinberg.
Intrigued, he walked over, collected the misplaced pages and, having had another 32 minutes before he needed to be back in his cell, started reading. Incapable of putting it down, he snuck it out of the library with him and kept that book with him and read it as if his life depended on it.
After numerous weeks of Ulysses’ reading and ultimate memorization of The Discovery of Subatomic Particles, he returned to the unorganized prison library to find more on this interesting topic. Being that this was a penitentiary, there wasn’t much in the way of quantum mechanics, but he found some newspaper articles and other scraps of information like things on the Higgs boson that suited his needs.
This newfound habit of his lasted for the remainder of his prison time and by the time he got out, it was like he had a degree in subatomic physics from a subpar school like DeVry University. Even though his education wasn’t outstanding, it was good enough for Ulysses, especially considering the fact that he had never gone to college in the first place. He felt a new sort of power with his knowledge, but he knew within himself that things still weren’t going to be easy.
Every day for a whole year, Ulysses would walk the odorous streets, looking hopelessly for a job like a rat in a disgusting sewer searching for food. One day as he did this, he noticed a wealthy-looking man being mugged across the street in an alleyway. Despite the fact that he may have gone to jail for killing someone and doing drugs, Ulysses was not a bad person, and he knew that he should stop the mugging.
Without further contemplation, he sprinted across the busy street, narrowly avoiding a speeding red minivan and a Mini Cooper, while charging at the criminal. The mugger noticed Ulysses running; it was pretty hard not to because he hadn’t shaved for months and he looked like a deranged and murderous Samson. The mugger focused his attention and his dagger upon Ulysses, preparing to do whatever necessary to stop the crazed man running at him. Ulysses stopped short of the thief, trying not to get stabbed in the stomach with a deadly weapon.
There was a tense standoff between the two men. Ulysses, preparing for a brutal fight, picked up an empty beer bottle from the ground and hit it against a wall, transforming it into a sharp and dangerous weapon. The crook lunged at him with the knife, but Ulysses dodged the attack. He tried to take advantage of the mugger’s unsteadiness by thrusting his makeshift weapon at him.
Ulysses was not as good of a street fighter as he hoped, though, and the mugger used this against him by slicing his lower arm, making him drop the beer bottle. Ulysses fell to the ground in pain. As the mugger came in for a final strike, he was suddenly struck down by the forgotten man behind him, who was just minutes ago the one being mugged.
“Let me help you up,” said the man, reaching down to Ulysses. As he lifted his rescuer from the sidewalk, he noticed the cut on his arm and said, “This looks bad, we better get you to a hospital before that cut gets infected.”
“Thanks,” replied Ulysses, as he leaned on the man’s shoulder for support.
They stood there until the authorities arrived, and while they waited, the man introduced himself as Dr. Rufus Brown from MIT’s particle physics department. Ulysses introduced himself as Ulysses Lee but intentionally disregarded his profession. They kept on talking until the police came and arrested the mugger, and the ambulance came for Ulysses. They told him that his cut wasn’t dangerously serious, so they could put some gauze on it on the spot while the police could question him about the incident.
When Ulysses and Dr. Brown were released from the police station after their questioning, Rufus looked over at his new acquaintance and asked him, “Hey, do you have a place to stay tonight? You look a little dingy, and it looks like you’ve been living on the streets for a while.”
Surprised by Rufus’ upfront speech about his homelessness, Ulysses replied quietly, “No, I don’t have a home, but I’ll be fine. I’ve been living like this for a year.”
Rufus was unwilling to accept no for an answer, seeing that Ulysses would not be fine. Not really wanting to sleep in a cardboard box again, Ulysses took up on Rufus’ offer. At the police station, they waited for a taxi as a cool October wind blew gently by.
When they finally arrived at Rufus’ apartment building, it was 3:09 a.m., and both men looked like brainless zombies. They slowly made it to his apartment on the third floor, and they looked like drunks as they attempted to walk across the hallway to apartment 305. Without even bothering to wash up, they both fell asleep on the floor.
In the morning, as Rufus was getting ready to go to work, he asked Ulysses if he had a job. Ulysses knew he should tell the truth, but it would make him look like an invalid if he told “Mister Big Shot Physicist” that he didn’t have a job.
Deciding that he was truly useless either way, Ulysses said, “I don’t have a job. I’m unemployed probably because I am unqualified for practically anything, and I was in prison which makes people less willing to hire me.”
Rufus nodded knowingly and replied, “Get dressed. You can come to work with me. I’ll see if I can at least get you an internship at my laboratory. If I can’t, I’ll help you find a job, and I promise that I will help you succeed.”
They left the building and got into Rufus’ sleek BMW that sat in the parking garage of his home. They drove for a while because they hit morning rush hour, taking them 43 minutes to get to Dr. Brown’s lab, multiplying the 20-minute drive by more than twice itself.
When they arrived, Rufus led Ulysses through the automatic doors and up to his office. “I’ll be right back, Ulysses,” said Rufus. “I’m going to get my boss to see if we can try to get you a job.”
Ulysses sat in the cold room, waiting, knowing that his fate could very well be on the line. Every minute he sat on that chair, he felt as if the temperature dropped five degrees, until the point where he was shivering and he broke into a cold sweat. The green walls seemed to be closing in on him, and he nearly lost all degrees of mental sanity.
As Ulysses was freaking out, Rufus’ boss walked into the room and sat across from him at Rufus’ desk. He grasped control of himself, knowing that if he blew this interview, he’d be back on the streets.
In a very heavy Russian accent, the man said, “Hello, Ulysses. My name is Dr. Ivan Golodyayev. I am the head experimental physicist here at the MIT’s particle research facility. My friend here, Dr. Brown, said that you were interested in a job. Please tell me, do you have any credentials or previous knowledge on quantum mechanics?”
Ulysses cleared his throat, and with his heart nearly beating through his chest, replied, “Not officially, but when I was in prison, I read a lot about particle physics, and I feel as if I could be beneficial to the institute in researching subatomic particles.”
The doctor chuckled and said, “Ваша уверенность награды вас. Я предлагаю Вам работу.” Ulysses was confused and Dr. Golodyayev recognized this and translated from his native language saying, “Your confidence awards you. I’ll offer you a job.”
Relieved, Ulysses felt the room grow again and the temperature return to the standard 72 degrees. He smiled as dopamine came rushing through his body and he was honestly happy. For the first time in his life, he felt successful; he was no longer a failure. He changed his fate and his destiny to be more than what he thought he could ever be.