Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Academic U. Opinions of Prof. "Smith"


Full-grown in wisdom and stature in his field, Professor “Smith” teaches an outstanding Creative Writing course. This man has a natural talent for making the course so fascinating that most of the class is eager to spend at least two hours in out-of-class research. Three students who were notoriously poor in previous English courses became intrigued enough to study harder, thereby earning higher grades.

Professor “Smith”, a courteous gentleman of the old school, is always there to greet us as we arrive to class. He starts promptly with a well-prepared lesson-plan, but he doesn’t necessarily adhere rigidly to it if students raise questions or if they are puzzled about something or are interested in discussing a related topic. He is sure enough himself, as a teacher, to allow the class to digress; the result is always a lively and enlightened group discussion that he leads superbly. Professor “Smith” is sensitive enough not to fall into the pedantic heresy of forcing his opinions upon his students. Instead, he pays us the supreme compliment of allowing us to learn from our own mistakes. On four notable occasions, the discussion was so enjoyable that (as they say in Show Biz) the Professor was “held over” for 10 minutes but no one cared that the class ran long. He has a wonderfully resonant speaking voice, combined with witty, irreverent humor that the class responds to with delight. I think I spoke for the majority of the class when I expressed a desire to repeat this class, which I said was “the best course in the University”.

But one must not think that this course is all fun and games. The professor is ever alert to our weak points and whenever he feels we are scoring poorly on the quizzes he reviews the material by giving us an unannounced quiz, which he grades and returns promptly. His detailed comments are terrifically helpful if we do poorly on a quiz, but when we do well, he never hesitates to offer his praise.

Professor “Smith” is an absentminded professor only in that he often wears the same suit for weeks at a time and he sometimes forgets to remove his galoshes in the winter. The women in the class are fascinated by his penchant for wearing black string ties and some of the more romantic ones think that makes Professor “Smith” look like a later day Mark Twain!


Dear Zeke:

Dropping you a hasty note to tell you I’ll be stuck here in the school library for a couple of hours and won’t be able to meet you like we planned. I should’ve known Prof “Smith”, (the dinosaur) would spring one of his sneaky quizzes on the English class today. What timing that old geezer has the day after Thanksgiving vacation! I’ll betcha he knew I wasn’t prepared. I’m sure he has it in for me ever since I flunked his English course last year.

You’ve never had the dubious distinction of taking his classes, have you? Let me fill you in: First of all, he’s a senile sixty and he’s so deaf he has to practically shout all the time just so he can hear himself. Even then he’s not too sure, since I estimate he says “I think” or “I believe” or “it seems to me” at least 30 times an hour. If he doesn’t know what he thinks how can he expect ME to know what he’s yakking about? And he’s so vague I’m never sure what I’m supposed to bone up on so I have to spend more time studying than I care to. He has a weird sense of time, too. Sure, he’s always there to catch you coming late to class; but on 4 occasions this semester, he ran overtime. And, each time he made me catch hell from the football coach for being too late to practice. The last time it happened I got cut from the squad!!!!

The Prof manages to make this course so damned hard, mostly because he can’t control the class. The students are forever talking and laughing and going off on tangents and the worst of it is, he actually LETS them!! I get so confused when we start off on one topic and then suddenly find the rest of the class yammering away about something altogether different.

The old goat has this mistaken idea that he’s some kind of comedian too. He’s always putting down college athletics, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and organized religion with some snarky remark. This is another reason why I’m sure he hates me. He knows I come from Alaska. I’m just about ready to inform him that I reported him at the last Young Republicans for Freedom meeting. He sure does have some radical ideas and you should hear what he allows the class to discuss!! Why, one student admitted that he joined the Socialist Party and the Prof had the nerve to congratulate him for his “independent thinking”!!! You can be sure I got HIS name down in my book for the Student Survey! I knew he was a subversive the first time I laid eyes on his seedy clothes and that silly black string tie. He looks like a Riverboat gambler and he’s just as shifty as one of ‘em. Well, I guess I should hit the books now – I’ll be damned if I’ll let that Pinko flunk me again! P.S. Zeke— How about getting some of your hometown friends and relatives sign that petition against Obama’s socialistic Health Care Plan I sent you last week??

Your brother in Christ,


Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Modest Proposal to Ian Frazier’s Colloquium

(A response to Ian Frazier's article The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium in the July 20, 2009 New Yorker magazine)

Upon reading your screed in the July 20th, 2009 New Yorker, I feel compelled to set you straight on your portrayal of various famous people complaining about the thermodynamics of Hell; something Fundamentalist preachers also never cease to shut up about.

I offer you a dissent; it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I realized this in 1954 when my husband, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was sent down to their minor league triple A team in New Orleans. That was quite a Hellish summer to endure. Therefore, I propose to prove my thesis:

My husband and I lived through a sultry, steaming summer and the agony of those months is still a vivid memory. The heat was intense and interminable; but surely the equally insufferable high degree of humidity was a brilliant Satanic master stroke. I imagine our whole planet must have been much like that in its primeval state; heat and humidity combining to produce riotous, lush plant life and monstrous lizards and insects. Our tiny apartment contained many descendants of the latter. The entire city was, in fact, the answer to an entomologist’s prayer. Our landlord’s Schweitzer-like philosophy was that the critters were living in the region long before people were; therefore they were actually putting up with us instead of vice versa. Unfortunately, I was never able to reach that level of equanimity, especially after it started to rain.

With Yankee (New Jersey) naiveté, I actually welcomed the forecast of thunderstorms. All expectation of relief from the heat and humidity vanished when the daily rains came.

New Orleans is too far south for the wind to perform it’s merciful task of sweeping out the moisture-laden air; the earth does not thirstily suck up the enormous puddles that cover the land. I had forgotten that New Orleans is below sea level. Puddles became stagnant incubators for giant mosquitoes. The saturated earth evicted the fire ants from their cone-shaped homes and, outraged, they vindictively attacked anyone who didn’t move quickly enough. Extreme precautions had to be taken to hang out the family wash. I found that a combination of bug-repellant (liberally applied), a pair of my husband’s wool athletic socks, and his woolen bathrobe was an effective way to perform this once-simple household chore. Effective, yes -- comfortable, no.

The location of our apartment produced a startling variation to the ordinary thunderstorm. Our windows overlooked another building that provided us a view of a corrugated tin roof. Normally, this roof’s function was to blind the eye with glaring, reflected sun and to supply our valiant window fan with more B.T.U.-laden air than the conservative British ever dreamed of.

Often, the thunderstorms contained hail stones, and it was then that the roof proved its mettle. When the hail came pelting down, the tin roof tattooed a perfect sound re-creation of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. It was an excellent performance; although whenever it hailed thereafter, we were not so impressed. In fact, we were downright blasé after we had mastered that first terrified impulse to dive under the bed. Too, the sweltering heat of that summer soon taught us to be extremely chary about any lively motion at all. That’s Sloth, isn’t it? When I was spraying all those bugs, I was killing them. Murder; right? I can still remember a certain restaurant where they served ice-cold beer in enormous frosted goblets and I developed quite a craving for it; sounds like Gluttony. Anger? I certainly wasn’t even-tempered about my landlord’s refusal to fumigate the building. Jealousy and Envy – all those lucky people living in air-conditioned apartments. Pride took the form of self-pity because I wasn’t living in one of them. I don’t think I was guilty of Lust; I never once that summer saw a streetcar named “Desire”. But, that’s still six out of the seven deadly sins.

I really do think the Fundamentalists/Frazier ought to do some re-thinking and realize that when it comes to Hell… it’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity.