Monday, April 22, 2019

Professor Markem Cancels Class

Professor Markem Cancels Class
Loren Logsdon

            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.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Reach Out and Touch Someone
Loren Logsdon

            It was late Thursday afternoon, and Boone Fowler had stopped off at the Tally Ho for a quick bite to eat. The place was empty except for Paige Turner, the English major at Heliotrope University who worked the night shift at the Tally Ho. She beckoned to Boone and smiled when he entered, and he knew immediately something was amiss. “Paige, dear girl, what are you doing here this early?  Thought you worked the night shift.”
“I do, but I was hoping to find you here. I need your help with a paper I’m writing for Professor Lancaster Markem’s class. I’m having trouble with this science fiction novel he has assigned to me.”
Boone looked at Paige with a new appreciation. He had always admired her for her intelligence, her charm, and her common sense. In truth, she made him wish he was twenty again. And now here she was asking him for advice. He felt the pride of manhood and his heart danced with joy to have a fine young woman like Paige Turner ask for his help. “What’s the problem?”
“Well, my faculty advisor has persuaded me that science fiction is trash with its bug-eyed monsters and space aliens and time travel back into the past. She says that at best science fiction is a waste of time. At its worst, it is stupidity, a child’s pathetic way to escape from reality.”
Boone realized that he needed to counter this narrow view of science fiction, so he came out swinging with the heavy hitter named Isaac Asimov. “You need to consider Asimov’s view that there is a variety in science fiction: gadget, idea, adventure. He believes the best of the three is the idea variety, where the work addresses a social problem and asks the ‘What if this continues’ question. I would agree with Old Isaac that science fiction can help us examine important social issues.”
Paige nodded. “I never thought of that possibility. Can you tell me where I can find Asimov’s defense of science fiction?”
“I will be glad to do that. Meanwhile, please tell me about the novel you are having trouble with?”
Paige smiled and said, “It’s about this Martian trip to Earth to explore the planet and study humans. The space ship lands in a remote area in Illinois at midnight near an automobile where a young couple are smoking pot and debating the presence of absence or the absence of presence. At first the space ship seems a vision inspired by the righteous weed, but finally the young woman realizes that they need to report the incident to the authorities. Since there have been so many alien abductions, a SWAT team is immediately dispatched to investigate. The Martian party is discovered and has to hurry back to the space ship. In their haste, one of their number, a low ranking, uncoordinated Martian named Grak Ullg, stumbles and falls, knocking himself unconscious. The rest of the party boards without him and leaves Grak stranded on Earth.”
Boone smiled and said, “The stranger in a strange land theme?”
Impressed with the alacrity of Boone’s response, Paige said, “Why, yes, it is. Grak Ullg regains consciousness and discovers his friends are gone, but he doesn’t panic. He realizes that in order to survive, he must assume an anthropomorphic form.”
“He must do what?” Boone asked.
Paige laughed and explained, “Assume an anthropomorphic form. Disguise himself to look like a human being.”
“Oh,” Boone confessed. “That word is like ‘begging the question’ and ‘quid pro quo.’ I could never understand what those expressions meant.”
Knowing she had to clarify, Paige said, “Grak knew that he had disguise himself so that he could move among earthlings without being noticed, disappear in the crowd, so to speak.”
“How could he do that?” Boone interrupted.
“It seems that Martians have the power of mind over matter. He sits and thinks and forms his visage into the most ordinary of humans, with nothing distinctive about him. Then he enrolls at the University of Illinois and majors in political science. Upon graduating, he promptly enrolls in the university’s law school and becomes a lawyer. Along the way, he discovers a book that really opens his eyes.”
Becoming fascinated by Paige’s plot summary, Boone says, “And what would that book be?”
“It’s a book by Daniel Boorstin entitled The Image. Boorstin argues that image is everything in America because of the graphic revolution. Since there are no real heroes any longer and the news is mainly pseudo-events, it is one’s image that counts. In fact, image is everything and has become more important than character. Boorstin’s book inspires Grak to enter politics because it is easy for him to form his visage into that of the perfect politician. First is the friendly smile, then the look that tells everyone he feels their pain, then the vibes of assurance and trust combined with the confidence that one has all the answers and the self-deprecating voice that makes one think of the benevolent uncle who can always be depended on to be there for you and whose motives and intentions are beyond reproach.”
“Wow! He was able to create a visage that did all that? I suppose he was a successful politician,” Boone commented.
“Yes, he was, but he still had problems. You see, his wife back on Mars didn’t believe he was dead. She needed him to pay the bills, take out the garbage, and help her raise the little Ullgs. So she persuaded the Martian Space Agency to send a search party back to earth to find him. The ship landed near Peoria, and the search party began to look for the wayward Grak.
“Completely unaware that he was being sought, Grak was campaigning to run for legislature in Illinois. He was addressing an audience of oligarchs in Chicago when he had a narrow escape. The Martian search party, following his cellphone bleeps, was about to close in on him, but fortunately he had Growler, an emotional support dog, with him, and the dog alerted him to the danger.”
Boone couldn’t help himself. He muttered in disgust, “Another story about a boy and his dog.”
Unmoved, Paige continued, “Thanks to the warning, Grak escaped through a side door and ran down the street and lost himself in the second-hand pot smoke and noise at a rock concert. The combination of pot smoke and noise disabled the Martians’ sophisticated search devices, and they lost Grak. Their sensitive equipment ruined beyond repair, the Martians had no choice but to return to Mars empty handed.”
Here Paige paused for a sip of water, giving Boone the chance to say, “This novel is beginning to sound like the TV program The Fugitive. What did Grak’s wife do when she learned that he was alive but determined to remain on Earth?”
“She had no choice but to give up all efforts to find him. The Martian economy was worse than that in Illinois, and Mrs. Ullg was told that further attempts were impossible because funds were needed to fix the infrastructure,” Paige explained.
“Fix the what?” Boone asked, completely puzzled.
“The infrastructure—the canals, roads, bridges,” Paige answered.
“I have a question I should have asked early on. Why didn’t Grak want to go home to Mars? I would think the call of home would be strong, not to mention the loneliness of being separated from one’s fellow beings.”
Paige smiled because she spotted one’s of Boone’s favorite ploys. “I know you said not to mention loneliness, but I have to mention it because Grak was not at all lonely. His success as a politician here on Earth gave him fame and a status he never had on Mars. On Mars, he was a minor bureaucrat, lower than a private, a fellow one would not give a second look. Here he was the darling of the political scene. He moved freely among the beautiful people, the rich and famous, the upper crust, the crème de la crème. He was loved by the little people, those who are marginalized and in need of empowerment. Indeed, they felt empowered even when they saw him on TV or at large political conventions.”
Boone would not give up. “Yes, but wasn’t he lonely without a mate, a dear heart, a main squeeze, a significant other?”
Paige laughed. “That was no problem at all for Grak Ullg. On Mars he was somewhat of a misfit. Here on Earth he feels perfectly at home and happy, always smiling.”
“Why” Boone asked, still unconvinced.
“Because his sex organs are in his fingers,” Paige smiled enchantingly and held up two gorgeous hands for Boone to admire and touch if he but had the imagination and the courage to do so.  


Monday, April 15, 2019

What to Do If the Professor Doesn’t Like You

What to Do If the Professor Doesn’t Like You
Loren Logsdon

            It was about ten o'clock on Wednesday night, and Boone Fowler was sitting at the counter of the Tally Ho All Nite Diner, enjoying a cup of coffee and an apple fritter, He was thinking about writing to his Uncle Biff when suddenly the door was flung open and Bulgy Hypotenuse, a student at the college, entered the diner and approached Boone. Bulgy was obviously agitated and as desperate as Richard Egan in Tension at Table Rock.
            “Thank God I found you here. I need your help,” Bulgy exclaimed.
            Boone was always glad when someone needed his help. He had a Guardian temperament, and he fancied himself a problem solver, the tougher the problem the better. He invited Bulgy to sit down and spill the beans, but the anxiety-ridden college student declined, saying, “Let's take a booth where we can have some privacy.”
            Being aware of what had just happened recently at Starbuck’s, Boone told Bulgy to order a cup of coffee and a sandwich. “If you are short of cash, I will buy,” Boone said. “In fact, the treat is on me. Order whatever you like and don't hold back.”
            “Thanks, Mr. Fowler. I'll have the German Shepherd on rye, squid croquettes, and a purple zebra.”
            Paige Turner, an English major at Heliotrope who was paying  her way through college by working nights at the Tally Ho, smiled  and said, “Coming right up. What do you want on the German Shepherd?”
            “Plain will be fine,” Bulgy answered.
            After settling in the booth farthest from the door, Boone looked at Bulgy and asked, “What is the problem?”
            “Mr. Fowler, Professor Korkoff doesn't like me, and I don't know what I have done to him. I have thought long and hard, and I can't come up with a reason for his dislike. He's a reader for my honor's thesis, and I'm afraid I might be dead in the water, up the Little Sleazy River without a paddle, caught between a rock and a hard place, nowhere to turn, out of options, completely rimjiggled.”
            “I get the picture. There is no need to search for more metaphors. Just give me a moment to think,” Boone asked.
            “I just wanted to apprise you of the difficulty I’m facing,” Bulgy added. “I’m afraid I have bought the farm.”
            “Now stop that. Didn’t you hear what I just told you?” Boone said, pointing a finger at Bulgy
            “Very well, but I wanted you to know that I feel like Gary Cooper in High Noon when he went up against the bad guys, like Marlon Brando when Karl Malden mashed his gun hand in One Eyed Jacks, like Spencer Tracy when he was menaced by Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan in Bad Day at Black Rock.”
            “What about Elisha Cook when he went up against Jack Palance in Shane?” Boone offered.
            “Saints preserve us!  I had forgotten that one. Yes, you do understand my plight.”
            Trying to be helpful and get right to the point, Boone said, “There are several reasons why a professor might dislike a student. I will run through the list with you and see if we can detect the reason why he might dislike you." Thus, the following drama unfolded:

            Boone: Do you ever express a conservative political opinion?
            Bulgy: No, do you think I was born yesterday?
            Boone: Did you ever consult your cellphone during class?
            Bulgy: No, I never did. I don’t even own a cellphone.
            Boone: Did Prof Korkoff  catch you passing notes to a nubile maiden?
            Bulgy: No I was very discreet about that.
            Boone: Are you sure? Students do not realize that a professor sees everything
in a classroom.
            Bulgy: I always passed the notes when his back was turned.
            Boone: Did you ever roll your eyes heavenward at something he said?
            Bulgy: No, I don't roll my eyes.
            Boone: Did you ever frown at Korkoff's jokes?
            Bulgy: No, I practically rolled in the aisles at his jokes.
            Boone: Did you ever fall asleep during class?
            Bulgy: Yes, but I was careful to pull my DeKalb seed cap down over my eyes
when I slept in class.
            Boone: There you go!  That's it. Don't you realize that the seed cap pulled low
 over the eyes is a sure sign that a student is sleeping in class. That's probably
 the reason for the dislike.
            Bulgy: No, the entire back row, wall to wall, wears seed caps, and Dr. Korkoff is
friendly toward all of them.
            Boone: Did Prof Korkoff ever catch you cheating on a quiz or an exam?
            Bulgy: No, I am sure of that.
            Boone: Why are you sure?
            Bulgy: Because if Korkoff catches anyone cheating, he will kick the student out
of class and send him or her to the dean. Cheaters in Korkoff's class buy
the farm.
            Boone:Have you ever had a private conversation with a classmate when Korkoff
was speaking?
            Bulgy: No, I'm not that big of a fool.
            Boone: Maybe you are misreading him.
            Bulgy: Not a chance. It's the vibes, man, the vibes.
            Boone: Then my guess is the Seed Cap Theory. But I'll tell you what. On Saturday
 nights Korkoff gets in his cups at Suds Guzzle's Bar. I will be very sneaky and
 see if I can find out what he thinks of you.

            “Thank you, Mr. Fowler, but what can I do in the meantime?” Bulgy asked.
            Boone rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, drummed his fingers on the counter, glanced at the clock on the wall above the portrait of Ronald Reagan, and pointed at Bulgy“You have to do some damage control. Even if you are wrong about his dislike, what you do in the damage control mode won't hurt you. On the contrary, it can serve you well.”
            Grasping at straws, Bulgy sighed in relief. Then he asked, “What can I do?”
            Boone knew he had Bulgy's attention, so he said, “Listen carefully and do the following:
                        Never be late to class
                        At the end of class, never bolt out of the room as if you were a prisoner whose execution has been called off at the last minute. Stay in your seat as if you were thinking deeply about something.
                        Always bring your textbook to class and treat it with reverence.
                        Sit on the front row
                        Look interested even if you are bored to tears
                        Always project a dynamic, positive attitude. Act like a light bulb has just been turned on in your brain.
                        Nod in agreement at Korkoff''s key points, but don't overdo the nodding.”
            Bulgy scratched his head and asked, “Why not?”
            Boone: “Because Korkoff will think you are a simpleton, like a bobble-headed baseball figurine. He will get the image of you as a fawning dog, willing to fall all over itself to get its master's attention. That’s what you need to do in graduate school.”
            Then Boone clarified quickly and cogently, “Do some selective peacocking.”
            “Wait a minute. What do you mean by peacocking?”
            Boone could not believe his ears. He looked at Bulgy as if he was an alien from a place so remote from civilization that inhabitants believed a head shop was a place that sold hats. He decided that he had better explain things so clearly that even a small child could understand. “Peacocking is a postmodern academic term for showing off. It means asking a question that is not really a question but something to show how profound one is. For example, 'Does Herman Melville, in his philosophical bifurcation, overlook the possibility of redemptive cosmic optimism in his story Billy Budd?'
            Bulgy sighed in relief and said, “Now I know what you mean by peacocking. We students have other terms for peacocking. We call it being a Hot Dog or Polishing the Apple. The other day, Boffer Bings asked if Sartre would consider fin de siecle hysteria as having any impact on existential angst.”
            Boone laughed and said, “That's peacocking all right. The answer isn't important; it's the question that is most important. The key is to ask a question that isn't really a question but sounds profound.”
            Bulgy then turned the discussion around and asked Boone, “Have you ever had an experience when you thought a person took an immediate dislike to you for no apparent reason?”
            Boone thought a moment and then replied. “There was one instance where a woman took an immediate dislike of me, but I knew the reason. I was at a Dionysian rites of spring bacchanal party. There was a female guest whose decolletage was extremely revealing. She leaned over to pick up a cucumber sandwich, and I could not help myself from admiring two of the cutest little puppies I have ever seen. She caught me staring at her chest and she gave me an icy glare all evening. But I know why she took a dislike to me. She thought I was a cad, a predator. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I would have worshiped the ground she walked on, and I would not have treated her like dirt. I would have been her love slave. I tried to project that nonchalant, Alfred E. Neuman What-Me-Worry smile. But, yes, there have been a few occasions when I believed a person disliked me without really knowing me.”
            Bulgy was relieved, “Good. At least you know what I mean. Now, do you have any explanation for why people don't like you when they don't even know you?”
            Boone looked up at the clock and then at a Lady Gaga look-alike who sashayed into the diner. “There are all kinds of answers to your question. People live by intuitions, vibes as you call them. Other people call them first impressions. Sometimes a person is thinking of some unpleasant experience and you come into their vision. You become an innocent victim. Sometimes you remind the person of someone who has given him or her trouble. These are but a few of the reasons.”
            Bulgy was impressed. ”What do you do to the person who dislikes you without knowing you?”
            Boone was waiting for that question. “Well, I try to be patient and hope with the passing of time I can provide the person with sufficient reasons to reverse the dislike. You see, I can't be responsible for what other people think. I can only be responsible for who I am. Consequently, I try to withhold judgment and be kind to the person. But mainly I follow the advice of that great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once wrote that 'one had to be prepared to meet a sour face'.”
            “Thanks, Mr. Fowler. Do you know what you are?”
            “No, what am I?”
            “You are better than Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Oprah Winfrey, and Joel Osteen all rolled into one, not to mention the Bhagwan.”
            “What does the Bhagwan have to do with anything?”
            “I asked you not to mention the Bhagwan.”  Then Bulgy guffawed, thanked Boone, and left the Tally Ho singing “The Wild Colonial Boy.”


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Piano Teacher: Part II

The Piano Teacher: Part II
Loren Logsdon

            When Carnella Hartman’s husband Herb followed the sunset to take up permanent residence in the Bide A Wee Memory Gardens, Carnella was far more than heartbroken; she was completely lost and helpless. She and Herb had enjoyed a perfect marriage, a union of the mind and the soul. And now Herb was gone. How could she carry on alone?
            One night Carnella was playing calypso music to pay tribute to Herb’s spirit when she was visited by a divine revelation: She still had her piano students to teach. Her love of music and her desire to give that love to her students would sustain her in the days and years to come.
            And that is what Carnella did, year after year. But as those years passed, the number of children who came to her dwindled until there was only one student left. Little Orville McTavish was the last one.

            Carnella Hartman watched with sad eyes as Orville walked out to his mother's car to go home. Orville was very special, but then they all were special—all of the children she had taught to play the piano in the last 40 years. Orville was special because he was the last pupil she would have, and at the end of the month he, too, would be gone. There were no more children for her to teach.
            Carnella thought back to all of the good times she had with her students. Teaching piano to children was much more than the opportunity to earn a few dollars. Teaching gave a higher meaning and a sense of purpose to her life. Yes, she had been happily married with children, but in her heart every child who came to her was like one of her own children. She wanted to convey to each child a love of music and a pride in being able to play the piano. Some children were talented and caught on quickly, while others were slow to learn, and some were difficult to teach. But she loved them all—those who would go on to become skilled and those who, despite her most loving efforts, would learn only to lose interest and never play again. The key to Carnella’s teaching was that she had a good heart and a love of music. She wanted to empower the children who came to her to love music and be able to play it. The children became even more important to her after Herb died.
            Memories of students flooded her mind as Carnella stood at her window long after Orville McTavish had left. She was trying to account for the lack of interest in learning to play the piano. Just recently, she had read an article about the decline of pianos in people's homes. At one time, at the peak of her teaching, it was a mark of status for people to have a piano in their home. The article reported that now pianos could no longer be given away. No one wanted them. Of course, that was one of the reasons that children didn't want to learn to play the piano.
            What had happened? she wondered. She thought long and hard, looking back over the years, and she was visited with an answer. The change began with the Beatles, and the instrument of choice became the guitar, and popular music tastes changed. Young people wanted to play the guitar, and, even more, wanted to form a band and play to huge audiences. Children were so swept up by the rock music phenomenon that they forgot the piano.
            Carnella’s  teaching was directed toward the student’s heart. The high point of each year for Carnella Hartman was not the Fourth of July or Christmas, her birthday or her wedding anniversary; it was the recital day for her piano students. Even now, years later, she could close her eyes and recall those occasions when she decorated the music room and served punch and cookies to the proud parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents who came to hear their children perform. And the children were so excited and nervous because they wanted to show the audience how well they could play. She carefully selected the music each child would play so that no pupil would be embarrassed by trying to play a piece that was too difficult.
Carnella recalled her favorite recital of all the ones her students had given. Little Laurie Ann London played “The Fairy Court” to perfection. Bulgar Fowler struggled but managed to play “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Robert Huarte was given “The Troll’s Holiday,” a more difficult piece to play. Harry Hunter, who confessed that the only reason he wanted to learn piano was to play “The Entertainer,” was given that very piece to play. Virginia Perry, one of Carnella’s advanced students, was given “Claire de Lune,” which she not only played flawlessly but also with passion. But the greatest moment in all of her recitals was when Valvolene Starr played “Fur Elise” with such skill that the parents were so overwhelmed by the music they sat stunned and in awe as if they had witnessed something sacred. Carnella beamed with joy, almost as if she herself had played the music.
That special concert was the beginning of the end for Carnella, the pinnacle of her teaching, because, as time passed, students were less interested in learning to play the piano. They were harder to teach because their minds were elsewhere and their hearts became almost impossible to reach; in fact, most were there because parents made them take lessons. And so, fewer students came to learn the piano. Finally, there weren’t enough students for her to have a recital. With Orville’s last lesson, Carnella’s teaching ended.
How does one mend a broken heart?  The love of music allowed Carnella to survive Herb’s death, but what does a teacher do when she no longer has pupils to teach? A teacher without students is a sadness deeper than anything in the Book of Lamentations. There is no product advertised on TV to answer those questions, no quick solution promising if she would only use the phone and “Call Now” her troubles would be over.
Despite all of the intellectually elite people who think they know everything and are eager to tell us what to do, life is still mysterious, and we have a lot to learn.  One day when Carnella was passing by an antique mall, she decided to go in and browse around. Feeling somewhat like an antique herself, she wandered through the place, observing the various displays.
One booth, in particular, caught her attention. It displayed the various Elvis Presley memorabilia in the form of a shrine to the King. The most impressive item was a large painting of Elvis in which the artist had captured perfectly that sullen, underprivileged look that had won the young singer fame and fortune. Carnella wondered how Elvis could sustain that look after he became wealthy and people called him “The King.”  Still, she felt drawn to Elvis because he realized that we only go around once in life and we should grab for all the gusto we can. Although Elvis had died young, she envied him because he didn’t live long enough to see his music fall into desuetude. She stood looking at the portrait, and, thank goodness, she could not picture Elvis in his 60s, 70s or 80s. She wondered what Elvis would think of today’s popular music. Would he shoot his TV set? Would he drop his TV set from the top floor of Hypotenuse Hall? Would he stage his death and escape to the wilds of Canada? 
   Carnella wandered aimlessly from booth to booth. There were so many things that brought back memories of her youth. In a back room, in the middle of a pile of battered cooking utensils, rolls of linoleum, and cracked pottery, she saw a player piano, and her heart swelled with joy. Here was something she could understand, a use of technology which seemed completely beneficial to human beings. After all, if one couldn’t play the piano, one could listen to music with the illusion that one was playing it. She was visited by a divine inspiration, and she went in search of the manager of the store.
“How much for that old player piano in the back room?” she asked the man who appeared to be in charge.
Swappy Rippov, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Walter Brennan, said, “That thing is broken. I’m going to throw it out for trash. You can have it for nothing if you want it. I can’t sell it to you since it doesn’t work.”
Carnella was all the more determined to have the machine. “Maybe I can find someone to repair it. Herb could do it if he was alive. There must be people who can do that.”
Moved by Carnella’s interest, Swappy replied. “I examined that thing, and it is in worse shape than Humpty-Dumpty. Not even all the geniuses at Menards can fix this machine.”
The sadness in Carnella’s eyes made Swappy pause and say, “You can have this piece of junk, and I will even move it for you. Just give me your address, and it will be delivered this afternoon.”
When Carnella handed him her address, she also offered him a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Thank you, and please take this for your trouble.”
Swappy’s heart melted at Carnella’s melancholy demeanor, and he said, “Ma’am, I can’t take your money. Please accept this pile of junk—er, machine--as a gift. To me it is nothing more than the proverbial white elephant, but to you it is a sentimental keepsake. As Ray Bradbury would say, ‘One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.’”
“Did Ray Bradbury really say that?” Carnella asked.
“No, but a character in one of his books did,” Swappy replied. 

That afternoon Carnella cleaned up the machine as best she could and discovered that Swappy Rippov had been correct in his statement that the machine was broken beyond repair. Still, she felt she had rescued a sacred icon and would give it a good home because she sensed a kinship between it and herself.

In the middle of the night Carnella was awakened by the sound of music coming from the music room. At first, she thought it was a radio playing somewhere in the house, but she was certain she had turned off the radio when she came to bed.
As she listened intently, she decided that someone was playing the piano. Most people would have been frightened to awaken and hear a piano being played when no one else should have been in the house at this late hour, but Carnella Hartman was not most people. She was open to life as mystery and miracle, and wonders amazed! could that have been Laurie Ann London playing “The Fairy Court?” And was that Virginia Perry playing “Clair de Lune?”
Now, Carnella knew exactly how to respond to a miracle. One didn’t analyze it or search for profound explanations. No, the proper response to a miracle was to enjoy it. And that is exactly what she did. She lay in bed and allowed the music to carry her off to sleep, and no other lullaby—not even Brahms at his finest--could have done as well.
And, embraced by the gentle arms of Morpheus, Carnella had a dream in which she was standing at the door of the music room, trying to decide whether or not to enter. Finally, she opened the door, and there in the moonlight, standing beside a fully repaired player piano, was a shadowy figure, who whistled softly and asked, “Do you suppose there’s any calypso music in this contraption.?”

The End


Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Postmodern Clean, Well-lighted Place

A Postmodern Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Loren Logsdon

            Those who have had an emergency in the wee hours of the morning, when everything is locked up tight and no warm and friendly lights can be seen in any of the buildings, will tell you how grateful they are for Archie Duffy's Tally Ho All-Night Diner. This modest eatery has welcomed CILCO workers during a wild, stormy night, desperate college students facing the brutal final examinations in a few short hours, police and firefighters after attending to emergencies, expectant fathers after an all-night vigil at the bedside of their wives in the throes of a difficult childbirth, homeless people seeking answers to a life of misery and failure. The Tally Ho is also a place for people who for any number of reasons cannot drift off into the comforting arms of Morpheus despite owning a My Pillow. Indeed, the Tally Ho is the most convivial place for those who seek conversations with their fellow human beings. This wonderful establishment is Hospitality Itself.
            Should you be traveling at any time in Central Illinois and you find yourself midway between Peoria and Bloomington and you are in need of a rest stop and a refreshing libation and a snack of toothsome viands, I urge you to drop in at this special place. You will know it is the Tally Ho by the sign portraying a man dressed in fancy clothes, winding a horn and seated on a horse surrounded by excited dogs, with a fox off in the distance.
            As you approach the door, you will see a sign in bold print exclaiming NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES ALLOWED. LEAVE THEM IN THE BOX PROVIDED!  THAT MEANS YOU, BILL GATES!
            Inside, the walls are plain white with no pictures of any kind and no slogans. No memorabilia of the 1950s. No portraits of famous entertainers. The long counter is spotless, and the tables and booths are arranged in a respectful manner to accommodate patrons who desire confidential conversation. Music is not played or even allowed in the diner, and one looks in vain for a radio or a television set.
            If you are perhaps thinking that I am describing an inn in Brigadoon, I will enlighten you as to the secret of the Tally Ho. The owner, Archie Duffy, when he was a student at Heliotrope University, took Professor Lancaster Markem's Survey of American Literature course and was fascinated by Ernest Hemingway's short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Archie vowed that one day he would provide such a place for people—anyone--who needed it. When the previous owner of the Tally Ho sold out, Archie saw his chance and bought the place and turned it into the refuge that it is to this very day.
            Thus, on a stormy night late in March of this present year, Boone Fowler, Tug Armstrong, Lancaster Markem, Wanton Slaughter, and Grant Clements were gathered at the Tally Ho to make fishing plans for the coming season. Despite the inclement weather, the meeting was pleasant because these men had been friends for several years, and they considered their circle to be a blessing of peace and harmony in a chaotic, noisy, violent, and insane world.
            Suddenly, the door to the Tally Ho was flung open and in strode Professor Orville Korkoff, looking like a drowned rat. He was not only wet, he was angry. With fists clenched and eyes blazing, Orville approached the table where the friends sat.

Orville: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any longer.
Grant (smiling):  Isn’t that a line from a movie?
Orville: I don’t care. It resonates with me.
Tug (a puzzled look on his visage): It does what?
Orville: It resonates. Connects with me, Expresses my feelings. Says what I am
thinking. Strikes a chord with me.
            Tug: Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place?
            Boone: What is it that you are so agitated about, Professor Korkoff. I haven’t
seen you this angry since the Cubs lost the playoff game last year.
            Orville: It’s that Russian probe in the news. A waste of time and money!
            Wanton: Why was it a waste of time? Wasting money doesn’t matter, especially
to our elected politicians and the bureaucrats who assist them. And TV loves the drama of it.
            Orville: Because we know the Russians were trying to influence our elections!
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that. For years we have tried to influence the
governments of other countries. Why shouldn’t other countries try to do the same to
us. I can’t understand all of the hoopla and the hysteria about the Russians, but my main
complaint is that the entire Mueller investigation had the wrong direction from the
            Lancaster: What do you mean by that—the wrong direction?
            Orville (speaking with deliberate and pronounced emphasis): I mean that Mueller
should have invited the Russians to interfere in the elections in Illinois and restore
democracy to our state. Maybe the Russians can save us. God won’t, France won’t, Cuba
and Mexico certainly won’t. Canada won’t. Maybe Russia can save us.
            Tug: Now you’re talking in riddles. What do you mean by restoring democracy?
We have democracy in Illinois. Haven’t you heard of voting?
            Orville: Voting doesn’t do any good. Because there are no term limits, we keep
electing the same incumbents decade after decade.
            Boone (trying to send Orville off on a tangent): Now wait just a minute. I don’t
have anything against incumbents. Some of them are fine people. My practice in
voting is to throw the bums out of office. I vote against anyone who is seeking
            Wanton: For crying out loud, Boone, incumbents are people seeking re-election.
            Boone: Well, blame it! Why didn’t he say that in the first place.
            Orville: But these incumbents are not bums. They are oligarchs, and I think
the Russians know how to handle oligarchs. That’s why I believe the Mueller Report
should conclude by asking the Russians for help. Illinois is going down the drain.
            Lancaster (still holding out and hoping for the best): Shouldn’t we give our
oligarchs a chance. Maybe if we told them we were mad as hell and weren’t going
to take it any longer, they might try to do better.
            Orville: No, they are completely indifferent to the voters. Name me one
politician who has pointed with pride to his or her accomplishments to convince
us to vote for him or her?
            Tug (gleefully): Rod Blagojevich
            Grant (sarcastically): Aaron Shock
            Boone: Nancy Pelosi
            Orville: Nancy Pelosi isn’t from Illinois.
            Boone: Well, if she isn’t, she should be.
            Grant (indignant and losing patience): Orville, I think you have been smoking
too much righteous weed with your students.
            Lancaster: I’m afraid Orville is right about the politicians. All the campaign
ads I saw were vicious attacks on the opponent. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any
ads on television that offered positive reasons for voting for the candidate.
            Wanton (trying to calm Grant): Wait just a minute, Grant, Orville may be onto
something. Since Illinois does not have term limits, the oligarchs, as Orville calls them,
have a strangle hold on our state. We could vote them out, but that’s in theory only. In
reality, we can’t vote them out because as Mike Royko said long ago, Chicago is the
only city in the world where people can continue voting long after they are dead. During
the war in Viet Nam, when LBJ promised that we would monitor elections to prevent
corruption, he should have done the same thing for elections in Chicago.
            Orville (beginning to calm down a bit): Thank you, Wanton, it’s good to see
that someone is beginning to see the light.
            Grant: You guys are absolutely crazy! The very idea of asking Russia to help
us. Why whatever happened to Remember the Alamo!  Fifty-four-Forty or Fight!
I Have but One Wife to send to the Country! (And shouting at the top of his voice)
Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet! 
            Paige Turner (an English major at Heliotrope University who works as the night waitress at the Tally Ho interrupting the discussion): You gentlemen are making too much noise. You know that Mr. Duffy doesn’t like the customers to be disturbed. I’m going to have to ask you to use your inside voices and be quiet.
            Orville: But Paige, there are no other customers.
            Paige: If there were, they would be disturbed. Now if you don’t quiet down, I’ll
have to ask you to leave.
            Boone: You wouldn’t actually throw us out, would you? We outnumber you.
            Paige: Do you know who is cooking tonight?
            Boone: No, who?
            Paige: Boffer Bings.
            Boone: Oops!. We will behave then.
            Paige: I thought you ---(the door of the Tally Ho opens and in walks Archie Duffy. He is greeted by a chorus of voices calling “Hi, Arch”).
            Lancaster: Arch, old cabbage! What are you doing up this time of night?
            Archie: I can’t sleep. No matter how much I try to use Hemingway’s advice not to think about it, I just can’t get to sleep.
            Boone: What’s troubling you, Arch?
            Archie: Haven’t you heard? The oligarchs from Chicago are planning to put a 19-cent tax on each gallon of gas.
            Wanton: Why would they do that? Are they encouraging more people to leave Illinois? I can see the rats leaving the sinking ship even more if that tax goes through.
            Orville: Your metaphor is wrong. It’s a topsy-turvy world we live in.The rats will stay and the humans will leave the sinking ship.
            Tug: Why are the oligarchs pushing for the huge tax?
            Archie: They say that the infrastructure in Illinois needs fixing.
            Boone: The what needs fixing?
            Grant: The infrastructure—roads and bridges.
            Orville: They should have been attending to that all along. After all, we elected them to take care of things like that. If we elect the best people to lead us, then democracy will work.
            Wanton: And who pray tell are the best people?
            Orville: The best people are those who use their intelligence and their power to benefit the entire society and not just themselves and their friends.
            Grant (pointing a trenchant finger at Orville): I thought you were a flaming radical, but now you talk like a ballad singer.
            Archie: It seems our oligarchs had other fish to fry.
            Orville: I suppose it does make sense to repair the roads and bridges to make them safe for people to leave Illinois.
            Grant: Orville, you are crazy! I think you may be a pinko, wooly-whiskered commie disguised as a university professor. (then addressing the entire group).  He even wants us to invite the Russians to help us unseat the oligarchs in our next election.
            Archie: Orville isn’t crazy. His mind and vision are clear.  But it’s too late for the Russians to help us. The oligarchs have been alerted by the present investigation, and they will take measures to protect themselves in the next election.
            Grant: What are you going to do, Arch?
            Archie: I have decided to move the Tally Ho out of Illinois.
            Wanton: Where will you go?
            Archie: I haven’t decided, but I’m looking for a place so remote from this postmodern civilization that the inhabitants think a head shop is a store that sells hats. 


Saturday, March 16, 2019

An Afternoon at the Zoo: Life at San Andreas Fault State University

An Afternoon at the Zoo:
Life at San Andreas Fault State  University
Loren Logsdon

            Clay Potter, a lowly assistant professor in the English Department at San Andreas Fault State University, was worried. His familiar world had been upset and change was coming. Dr. Parshall Plates, the man who had chaired the department for the past ten years was stepping down and taking early retirement. Plates had done his best to keep the peace, the students taught, and the Arts and Sciences Dean Harrison Fissure from his door. Kind friends had warned him when he took the job that leading an English department was like herding cats, but Dr. Plates ignored the well-intended advice and believed he could rise above the strife and the factions and treat people in an even-handed manner; then faculty would work together for the common good, dedicating themselves to the education of the nation’s students who were hungry for knowledge. Needless to say, Dr. Plates was an Idealist when the job called for a Guardian, a Rational, or even an Artisan.
            Dr. Plates' idealism quickly faded away like the morning dew when numerous faculty members came to him with petty gripes and even serious charges against each other. Professor Carter Felsic complained that Professor Herschel Musty was giving too many high grades. Professor Sandy Delta complained that Professor Rocky Moraine was missing too many classes. Dr. Flo Lava charged that Alf Gassaway was holding committee meetings at a time when she couldn't attend. Professor Holocene Caldera demanded that Plates reprimand Professor Lance Strombolian because he never erased the chalkboards after teaching his classes. And the gripes went on and on, seemingly without end. There was a constant stream of disgruntled professors lining up to demand that the chairman do what they wanted. Most of the time Plates could not satisfy the complaining faculty members, who then took matters up with Dean Harrison Fissure, adding a complaint against the chairman to their original gripe.
            Dr. Plates began to realize that he might be ineffective one afternoon when Professor Orville Korkoff dropped by to chat. Korkoff was sympathetic to Dr. Plates' plight, but, in a moment of exasperation, he could not restrain himself from saying, “Parshall, old friend, old comrade, old buddy, you are guilty of the Parmenides Fallacy.”
            “I’m guilty of what?” Dr. Plates asked, puzzled by such a cryptic remark from a man he counted as a friend.
            But Korkoff was out the door and gone, singing “Stormy and Donny” as he sauntered down the hall to watch from his office window the pulchritudinous nubile maidens sunbathing topless, breasts down, on blankets on the greensward beside the university tennis courts.
            Later, when two professors stormed into the department office and complained about being scheduled to teach eight o’clock classes and later when Dean Fissure called to say that the young assistant professors in the English Department were demanding that he take a vote of confidence on Plates, it was the last straw. Everyone in the building heard a loud primal scream; then Dr. Parshall Plates emerged from his office, flipped the bird at janitor Dusty Corners, yelled “I’m guilty of the Parmenides Fallacy,” laughed like Dwight Frye in Dracula, left the building and never returned.
            Clay Potter was not only worried, he was alarmed, terrified. Dr. Plates had always treated him well because Clay was never in the chairman’s office to complain. Furthermore, Plates had never heard Clay make any snide remarks about his colleagues. Some professors try to build themselves up by putting other people down, but not Clay. In addition, Clay Potter was not a member of any of the department’s factions; he tried to be a friend to all. He was the very model of collegiality at its best.
            Also, since Clay was a lowly assistant professor, he was apprehensive about who would be chosen as the new chairman. Clay had visions in which he saw himself at the mercy of the new chairman, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Charles Laughton in Mutiny of the Bounty. In the vision, Clay was forced to walk the plank while the other sailors yelled “Yarr’ and “Narr” and “Aarrgh.” Such visions were not unusual because in the academic world one cannot really predict how a new chairman will behave until he or she is on the job. So the new chairman might be a Charles Laughton, a Hume Cronin in Brute Force, or a Madame La Farge.
            Readers may think that Clay Potter was exaggerating, but there was the ignominious instance at Heliotrope University when a candidate for the chairmanship had, during his interview, promised four different people the job of Director of Composition if he was selected as chairman. Fortunately, this sneaky move was discovered before the Machiavellian rascal was offered the position, and thus a disaster was averted. But it was a close call.
            A department meeting was announced to write a job description for the new chairman. The sentiment in the department was to search outside the university rather than appoint a faculty member from inside the department. The various factions in the department didn’t trust anyone inside the department, and probably no inside candidate could have received a majority of support.
            The meeting to draw up a job description would be an explosive one, with each faction seeking a chairman who would support their agenda.  Clay Potter was looking forward to the meeting the way one looked forward to a root canal. Dean Harrison Fissure, who would chair the meeting, had sent out an announcement that all members were expected to attend. He had also invited Provost Richter Scale to attend as well. Dean Fissure knew that he would need reinforcements.
            The day for the meeting finally arrived. Clay Potter deliberately chose a seat near the door so he could slip out if necessary. Factions were huddled together at different places, and the buzz of whispered conversation could be heard in the hall. Finally, Dean Fissure entered the room followed by Richter Scale.
            “This meeting is called to order. We all know why we are here. I call on you to proceed with good will and collegiality as we draw up this important job description. If we work together in a spirit of cooperation, we should be able to accomplish our purpose in a short time,” Fissure said, “Now who would like to offer the first suggestion?”
            Clay Potter had been teaching in higher education long enough to know that the cooperation of people in an academic situation is nearly impossible because of egos, a spirit of fierce competition, excessive intellectual pride, and arrogance fueled with the belief that one is always right. Unfortunately, some people, as in all areas of life, have a deep need to call attention to themselves; hence there is a great deal of peacocking. And the best at peacocking do so in a loud voice that is intended to discourage any disagreement. “Beware the loudest voice” was the common-sense advice one learned in graduate school.
Thus, Rocky Moraine, a champion of rigor, said emphatically. “We need to list that any applicant should be a publishing scholar, with a book or two and several scholarly essays published in a refereed journal.”
            Going for the juggler, Lance Strombolian said, “That’s begging the question.”
            “How is it begging the question?” Rocky responded.
            “If you can’t see how it is, I can’t explain it to you,” Strombolian replied.
            Although he didn’t dare point it out, Clay saw that Strombolian was guilty of ignoring the burden of proof; however, it was not a propitious time to rattle Strombolian’s cage.
            Fortunately, Richter Scale intervened, “Begging the question asserts a conclusion that has not been debated. The question is as follows: Do you want a person who has published widely?”
            “To me, that isn’t important,” said Carter Felsic. “What’s most important is that the person should be a good problem solver, even-handed in resolving disputes and arguments, and able to work with the higher administrator.”
            Getting a bit crispy, Rocky Moraine exclaimed, “That’s nothing but a PR person. We need an intellectual with ideas for research and scholarly activity. We need a great scholar to lead the department to greatness. President Magma wants us to have an international reputation.”
            Felsic would not give up, “No, we need a common sense, practical person who knows how to get things done, oversee a budget, and identify and reward the best teachers.”   
            In every department there is usually a peacemaker. Sandy Delta was that person in the SAFS English Department. “Why not combine the two items under discussion in a balanced statement. The candidate is expected to have some facility at budgeting and handling personnel problems, with evidence of scholarly publications.”
            Quickly, Dean Fissure declared, “That seems reasonable. Are we ready to vote on it?”
            “I call for a secret ballot,” Lance Strombolian announced.
            Carter Felsic shook his head in disgust. “That’s stupid. Why do we need a secret ballot?”
            “The rules of parliamentary procedure state that a secret ballot may be called for at any time in the meeting,” Strombolian pointed out. “All discussion must stop, and we must vote.”
            “Hold on there, Strombolian,” Richter Scale intervened. “This is not a formal meeting governed by parliamentary procedure. It is a general meeting to draw up a job description. There is no need for a secret ballot. Now let’s proceed with the discussion.”           
            “A bit heavy-handed there, Richter,” Dean Fissure whispered in gratitude. Then he turned to the faculty and said, “Ok, people, spill the beans.”  
            “I think we need to stipulate that we want a person who has demonstrated that he or she believes in upholding rigorous academic standards,” Professor Flo Lava suggested.
            “Oh, no, not rigor again, but I’m not disagreeing with Flo’s suggestion. No one dast oppose rigor these days. Why rigor is almost a course in the catalog,” Sandy Delta, the peace maker, said.
            Herschel Musty then raised his hand to be acknowledged. “I think we should stipulate that we want applicants who have had administrative experience. Our department is large, and I do not believe a young person could be effective in fulfilling all the duties a chairman has to do, not to mention the trouble of factions.”
            “What have factions to do in a job description?” Dean Fissure asked, falling for one of Musty’s favorite traps.
            “I told you not to mention factions,” Herschel responded.
            This time it was Dr. Tremor Seismic who played the peacemaker, “Let’s just say that previous administrative experience is desirable but not required.”
            It was amazing, but everyone agreed with Seismic’s suggestion.
            “Now what else?” Harrison Fissure asked.
            “Forgive me for having a firm command of the obvious, and I’m sure I will be accused of begging the question, but shouldn’t we stipulate that the applicant must have a doctorate?” Rocky Moraine offered.
            Lance Strombolian felt he had to put down Rocky Moraine, so he said, rather smugly, “Well, the most brilliant man in the College of Arts and Sciences doesn’t have a doctorate.”
            Later, Orville Korkoff would say the Devil made him do it, but he looked Strombolian in the eyes and said, “I do too have a doctorate, Lance.”
            The room exploded in wave after wave of laughter. There was no way of getting back to serious business. Every time the laughter would subside, someone would point to Korkoff say, “He really does have a doctorate.”   And the laughter would begin again. Korkoff’s levity had saved the day.
Finally, Dean Fissure declared the meeting ended and would be resumed the following day at the same time.
            Clay Potter and Herschel Musty left the building together. Once outside, Musty turned, pointed at the building, and said, “We area prime bunch, are we not?”