Chapter 5 Summary

The Elevator in the Ranch House

While in high school, Pausch asks his parents for permission to “splash” some of the many ideas swirling through his head onto his bedroom walls. He tells them he wants to paint things that are important to him, things he thinks are “cool”; that is enough to garner their permission. His parents support creativity and passion, and this is not an easy “yes” for his father. His mother is less enthusiastic but also agrees.

For two days, Pausch, his sister, and one of his friends paint an assortment of things on his bedroom walls and ceiling. He wants to celebrate the fact that in a quadratic equation, the highest power of an unknown quantity is always a square, so he paints a quadratic equation near the door. On one wall they draw an elevator; though the house is a one-story ranch, the panel indicates that this room is on the third of six floors. (Because this was imaginary and he was a dreamer, he could have picked a much higher number; he probably did not do so because he had to balance his aspirations with pragmatism.)

Pausch is not particularly artistic, so he paints a simple rocket ship with fins and the mirror from Snow White with this line: “Remember when I told you that you were the fairest? I lied!” On the ceiling he and his friend write a desperate plea for help—backwards, as if someone trapped in the attic were scratching out a message. Tammy has some artistic talent, and she paints chess pieces because he loves the game. Pausch paints a submarine prowling for enemy ships behind his bed; the periscope rises above the bed, searching the room.

The story of Pandora’s Box has always intrigued him, so he and Tammy paint their version of the story. In Greek mythology, Pandora is given a box with all the evil of the world in it; she disobeys the order not to open it, and all the evils are loosed. Pausch is most intrigued with the optimistic ending of the story, that the only thing left at the bottom of the box is “hope.” Above the word “hope” his friend writes the word “bob,” which generally gets a reaction from anyone who enters.

It is the late 1970s, and he writes “Disco sucks!” over his door. When he is gone one day, his mother paints over the second word because she thinks it is vulgar. She never edited anything else in the room. Pausch’s friends are all impressed that his parents let him do such a thing, and years later his mother makes his room the focal point of every tour of the house. She never paints over it.

Pausch is thankful for the constant visual reminder and recommends letting children express themselves without worrying about things that do not matter—like the resale value of a house.