The Legend of Simon Karlsson

A true story:

It was back in -98 when I started my university studies at Chalmers. As part of nollan1 you quickly learned some of the more amusing stories about the students of yore. Tales of drunken stupidity, stupid ingenuity and even some of ingenious drunkenness. There was the one about The Tram Welded to its Tracks, the one about Canoeing in the midst of a Massive Fluid Experiment and the one about Covering a Large Part of Gothenburg with Foam. The first one I heard about was The Legend of Simon Karlsson.

Simon Karlsson was, what is probably justifiably called, a less than stellar student. At this time he had been an engineering student for 7 years, on a program scheduled to require 4.5 years, and he wasn’t close to finished. Anyway, the story goes as follows.

When Simon Karlsson himself was nollan, he decided to get a good start in his studies by making an above-average gyckel2 at one of the first sittnings3. The plan was to perform something silly, be ashamed of his lacking performance and commit seppuku in order to at least retain some honor in his death. Now, he didn’t plan on killing himself, Chalmers hadn’t crushed his life-spirit just yet, so he needed to fake the whole thing.

He took two pizza-boxes, filled the space in between with ketchup, and put the whole arrangement under his t-shirt. This was of course done as a preparation so no one knew what he was up to. Later, when his gyckel had failed and he was shamed, he took his table-knife and, with a loud “Oooh” and then an even louder “Aaah” he stabbed himself in the belly and then cut across. He didn’t get to the part with forcing the knife upwards, in true samurai tradition, but by now the success was certain. With blood (ketchup) pouring out of his belly and in the middle of a quite convincing death struggle everyone in the audience realized what was the true gyckel and applauded and laughed and cheered and drank to his good health.
Something he needed, as it turned out.

You see, being a little intoxicated, Simon hadn’t controlled the force with which he stabbed and cut himself, so instead of piercing only the first pizza box, he pierced them both, and an awe-inspiring layer of his flesh. Caught in the moment he continued to give himself a nice cut across his belly. The ketchup that was supposed to act as blood was in fact mostly blood, but since everyone assumed his screaming and death pains were part of the act, it took some (possibly quite terrifying for poor Simon) extra time for him to get the help he so desperately needed.

In any case, eventually he got to the ER of the nearest hospital (as luck has it, Gothenburg’s main hospital is only 500m from Chalmers) and was patched up accordingly. The ER staff got yet another story of stupid accidents involving students at Chalmers and the rest of us got a nice story to spread around, with the added benefit of the possibility that one might, one day, stumble across the legendary Simon and rumor had it that, if asked nicely, he would show you the stitches.

Back in -98, I was at my first sittning. I was generally keeping a low profile and had no plans of any spectacular gyckels. The story of Simon Karlsson was already common knowledge, and he was such an icon at my department that he was included in one of the more popular drinking songs. In the middle of the dinner, a murmur went through the room, Simon Karlsson was in the building! Everyone started chanting: Show them stitches! and, being a good sport, Simon walked up to the stage, lifted his shirt and exposed his fat, white belly with 8 glorious and famous stitches!

The moral of the story: Don’t fake Seppuku while drunk!

1. Nollan is a rather impersonal term describing students at Chalmers their first four weeks, after which they become Ettan and can be referred to by individual names. There is no singular or plural of Nollan. It can be used in whatever way is appropriate: “Nollan will go over there!”, “Nollan is quiet!”, “Nollan requires no chairs!”. In all cases it can apply to a singular student or to an entire class.
2. Gyckel is a sort of performance intended to amuse the spectators. Can be a song, a sketch or simply something stupid that’s entertaining to watch rather than take part in.
3. Sittning is a dinner at Chalmers (and other Swedish universities). Some kind of food is eaten (not essential) and a lot of beer and different kinds of vodka is drunk. After this there is usually dancing, but since the male/female ratio at Chalmers is 3 to 1, dancing quickly turns into Men Behaving Badly.