Professor Markem Cancels Class
It was 8:15 on a glorious Wednesday morning in late April on the campus of Heliotrope University. Lancaster Markem sat at his desk doing some last-minute preparation for his nine o'clock Senior Seminar class when he made a serious mistake. He closed his eyes for an instant, and in that moment appeared a vision so sublime that Markem sighed heavily. Not many people knew that Markem was a genius at mental imagery—how could they? What had appeared that moment on the movie screen of Markem's mind was a picture of a dead elm tree surrounded by a profusion of morel mushrooms. To Lancaster Markem, that image was beatific, and he began to salivate worse than Pavlov's dog Rovanovitch at the ringing of the bell. Markem trembled and realized that he could not teach class on this day.
What Markem saw in his vision was the mother lode of morels, the dream all morel mushroom hunters have.
Markem quickly picked up the phone and called Della Alley, the secretary of the dean of arts and sciences. ”Della, I think I'm coming down with something. Would you please dismiss my nine and eleven o'clock classes? Both meet in 204 of Hypotenuse Hall.”
“Is your post-nasal drip flaring up again?” Della asked.
“No. I fear it is something far more serious than post-nasal drip, and I don't want to pass it on to my students. I could never forgive myself if I did,” Markem answered.
Here, Della tried a little levity, “It must be serious because I know that you never exaggerate. You sometimes procrastinate but never exaggerate. You had better go straight home or to the hospital. I will take care of dismissing your classes.”
“Thank you, Della, I'm going to do just that.”
Della's suggestion would have been sufficient for most other faculty members, but not Markem. He felt guilty about skipping class when he knew he wasn't ill. Ever since his first year of teaching, Markem had importuned his students not to skip class, and for him to skip was a serious violation of his own code ethic, a betrayal of the sacred relationship he maintained with his students, a dereliction of duty comparable to the unpardonable sin.
Markem opened his office door and peered out to see if anyone was in the hall. Seeing no one, he dashed down the stairs and out of the building to his car. So good so far. He had not been spotted.
When he reached home. He informed his wife he had given his students a reading day and was going to spend the day hunting for morels. “That's nice, dear. I'm sure your students appreciate your gesture,” Mary Markem opined.
Before Markem could change his clothes, his wife said, “Dear, I'm in the middle of making treats for my card group. Could you do some shopping for me? It's a short list.”
Mary Markem's request posed a problem for the good professor. He did not want to deny his wife's request for help, but he did not want to be seen at the IGA when he should have been teaching his classes. It was a major problem only for a moment. Markem decided he would use a disguise. Thus, he donned Karhide coveralls, a ragged Chicago Cubs sweater, and a DeKalb seed cap. To complete the disguise, he wore a fake full-length black beard that must have weighed five pounds. Then he was off to the IGA.
At the entrance to the IGA, Markem encountered a stern lady collecting money for the Salvation Army. She looked closely at him and declared in a loud voice, “I know you! You're a professor from down at the college!”
Needing to silence this lady quickly, Markem came up with a Kurt Vonnegut limerick. “No, madam, my name is Yon Yohnson. I live in Wisconsin. I work in a lumber mill there. The people I meet when I walk down the street, they say 'What is your name?' I say, 'My name is Yon Yohnson. I live in Wusconsin. I work in a lumber mill there. When I walk down the street, the people I meet they say, 'What is your name?'”
The lady shook her head, “I guess I was mistaken. Have a good day, Yon Yohnson.”
Markem picked up a small basket for the four items on the list. He got three very quickly, but the fourth one bewildered him. On every list his wife had given hm there was one item he had no idea where to find. On this list it was garbanzo beans. Now where on earth would garbanzo beans be shelved? Markem decided to ask the girl who was shelving items. “Megan, where would the garbanzo beans be?”
Megan smiled and said “They’re in aisle three. I’ll show you.” And Megan led the grateful professor to the beans.”
With the items in hand, Markem raced to the checkout counter to pay for his purchases. Sure enough, there was a long line of customers waiting to check out. And the checkout person was new and as slow as a glacier. She was checking out a customer who had two shopping carts piled high, apparently intending to feed the Chinese Army.
Markem sighed and took his place behind an elderly man who, with piercing eyes, looked at him and said, “ There is no need to hurry, Phidippides. There were no survivors at Thermopylae.”
Markem ignored the man and whistled the conclusion to “The Grand March to Aida.”
The elderly gentleman took umbrage at Markem’s refusal to acknowledge him, and he said. “They have all been killed. I alone have escaped to tell thee.”
Markem wanted to say. “Well, please tell me something I don’t know," but wisely he decided not to rattle the old fellow’s cage. Instead, he said, "Did you see Elvis back in the fruits section, watching the fruit flies fight over the bananas?” Then Markem put his finger to his lips as if he was revealing a deep secret.
“My goodness, no," the elderly man nodded and whispered. “Is he here? I have been wanting to speak with him for a long time.” Then he turned on his heel and raced back to seek for Elvis among the bananas and the fruit flies.
Markem sighed thankfully, rolled his eyes heavenward, and took the elderly gentleman’s place inI line.
Finally, the checkout girl was able to take care of the lady with the two shopping carts when Markem heard behind him a soft, musical voice saying, “Hark.” Since almost no one uses the word “hark” these days, Markem turned to see who had uttered it. He was shocked to see that the person was Mrs. Sylvia Penn, the AP English teacher at the high school. Markem had been a reader for her master’s thesis at Heliotrope University. “I have bought the farm,” Markem muttered.
Mrs. Penn then remarked, “Well, it’s either Blackbeard the Pirate, the Menards Man, or Professor Lancaster Markem, and I suspect the latter. “Don’t worry, Professor Markem, your secret is safe with me. I know your deception is innocent and you want to take the day off and hunt the morel mushroom. You always try to be the first In Illinois to find a morel.”
Markem sighed in relief, but then Mrs. Penn said, “You have another problem, though. The Earl of Ogden is here in the store looking for you. He wants you to take him to Willoughby so he can sign his income tax papers. Your wife told him you were here, so I wouldn’t tarry if I were you.”
Markem lost it. He shook his head and muttered, “Is there no Balm in Gilead?”
Mrs. Penn came to the rescue, “Give me your purchases and I will include them with mine and drop them off to your wife on my way home. That way you can leave immediately before the Earl of Ogden can find you.”
Markem was overjoyed and he wanted to thank Mrs. Penn profusely, but she said, “No time for thanks. You had better leave pronto.”
Markem raced out of the store to his car, but as he turned off on the Old Boggs Road he was stopped by a police checkpoint. When he was approached by a policeman, Markem asked, “What’s the trouble officer?”
The officer replied, “A dangerous clown killer escaped from Peoria. We think he might be using a disguise. May I see your driver’s license and registration, please/”
Now Markem realized that he had really bought the farm. The officer glanced at the license and the insurance card and yelled, “I think we have him, but be careful he might be armed and dangerous.”
Six policemen converged, guns drawn, and one officer had a police dog that was straining at the leash to take a bite out of crime when one of the policemen said, “Relax, fellows, that’s only Professor Markem from the college. He’s harmless unless you put him in front of a class of students.”
“Well, what is he doing looking like a tatterdemalion? Maybe he’s a mule and is carrying a shipment of the righteous weed,” opined an office who looked as mean as Ernest Borgnine in “From Here to Eternity.”
The officer who recognized Professor Markem was Lance Strombolian, who once again defended his favorite prof. “No, he wouldn’t do that. He is even afraid of second-hand pot smoke.”
Ruefully, Markem admitted that Strombolian was right.
“But he must be guilty of something, else why the disguise?” the officer with the dog argued. “Fess up, Buddy, or I’ll turn McGruff here loose on you.”
Markem was saved because the Killer Clown drove by and flipped the bird at the policemen, who forgot about Markem and raced after the Clown.
Hurriedly, Markem got into his car and drove to the spot where he knew he would fill his sack with morels. He parked his car by the side of the road, removed the heavy beard, the coveralls, and the Cubs sweatshirt, but kept the DeKalb seed cap and started for the woods and the dead elm tree he had seen in his vision. Before he had taken two steps, his heart sank when he saw Boone Fowler emerging from the trees. Boone was carrying wto large sacks full of morels, smiling, and singing “One Way or Another I’m Gonna Find You, I’m Gonna Getcga, Getcha, Getcha, Getcha!”
Lancaster Markem wanted to cry, but instead he wailed, “Alas, There is No Balm in Gilead and no morels left in Tooter Martin’s woods.