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Continuing Education, Or Beyond the Ph.D.

ISSUE:  Winter 1979

I am the best unemployed teacher in the country. When I taught a course, Dartmouth rented the Knights of Columbus meeting hall. Students followed me like canine gentlemen followed Fifi in the spring—that is before the milk truck ran over her. I’m so nice I pour rose water on toads and sprinkle cologne on terrapins. I am the walking Sermon on the Mount. Not only that—I am almost normal. I help children cross streets and kiss old ladies. I am a latent athlete and watch Monday night football. Yet I’ll never teach again. I’ll remain unemployed because I refuse to endure any more interviews, I haven’t been burned; I’ve been cindered. I haven’t been whipped; I’ve been minced. This all started in 1970 when I was a fuzzy-cheeked graduate student at Princeton.

The first school that interviewed me was a small college in Ohio, In the beginning things went well. The school had obviously fallen on hard times, but aside from shuddering at the leafy campus, I was gracious and danced about exclaiming “everything’s all right with the one horse shay.” I first realized, however, that I was not for that bucolic place over cocktails. When I expressed reservations about a distinguished critic, a fat kook wrapped in beads pranced to his toes and waving a finger at my nose snapped “You, sir, are an ignoramus.” Thinking that such familiarity must be an honored local custom, I responded in kind. After elevating my middle finger with solemn dignity, I informed the spangled sausage that if he did not sit down I would kick him in the bottom and he would suffer massive brain damage. After this sparkling exchange, conversation paused and a gaggle of faculty members rushed honking to the bar and dove deep seeking cool intoxication, By the end of the evening, the group resembled Episcopalians on a church picnic: all were possessed by spirits.

I spent that night in the college guest house, a clapboard Victorian eggshell. Towering oaks framed it, and it seemed garishly apart from modernity. Unfortunately, the college chapel was next door, and as I crawled into bed, I realized that the thunder rolling through my head came from without, not from within. Students had erected a loudspeaker system on the chapel steps and were reading the names of the American soldiers killed in the Vietnam war. Morpheus himself could not have slept. All the long night “John Henry Smith” and “John Thomas Smith” crashed around the walls and butchered every lamb I tried to count. By the time rosy-fingered dawn tiptoed over the horizon, I was red in throat and purple in eye. Not even a bucket of coffee could stir me; and at nine o’clock when I met the president, I settled into a chintz-covered chair under a portrait of John Crowe Ransom and promptly fell asleep.

Lunch with a senior member of the English department seemed to go better, however. The man obviously wanted me to join the small talk as he left every third sentence unfinished. I picked up the dangling conversational threads, carried them forward, and wound them about a spool. By dessert, we, I thought, had spun a rounded conversation; and I fairly skipped back to the chairman’s house. Alas, things are not what they seem and life is full of troubles. The chairman asked me if I enjoyed the lunch, saying he hoped my host’s speech impediment had not put me off.”What speech impediment?” I asked.”You must have noticed it, you know,” the chairman answered, “the poor man cannot finish any speech longer than three sentences.” “And,” he added, “it infuriates him when someone completes sentences for him.” “Oh,” I said, thinking the chairman would make a terrible farmer, shutting the barn door long after the grey mare ran off with the mule. Just at the time, however, when the mare and her long-eared lover had broken into the chairman’s house and were eating every antimacassar in sight, the chairman interrupted my reverie, saying, “Your plane doesn’t leave for four hours. What shall we do? Shall we watch the baseball game on television?” “And,” he continued as he turned the television on, “have a roguish apple—from the tree in the back yard, you know.” “Paradise Regained,” I quipped while visions of serpents coiled through my head. After 20 minutes of intense television, I realized that the chairman intended to sleep during the game. This, I thought, was the absolute and utter living end, and I was damned if I would let him get off with an apple, albeit a homegrown one. Literary conversation seemed out of place in such a healthy grave so I focused on the game. When a pitcher threw a fast ball, I said, “Ah, looks like an aspirin going sideways.” A curveball was “the Egyptian Special complete with mummy spin.” No one got a hit. Batters more poetically “laid the timber to it.” The sleepier the chairman became the more variations I rang upon this last metaphor. Depending on their fortunes, batters laid oaks, mimosa, sugar maples, weeping willows, and magnolias to the old horsehide. After 40 silent minutes, the chairman suddenly snorted, looked at his watch, and exclaimed, “I had better get you to the airport.” “What?” I answered; “my plane doesn’t leave for three hours; the airport’s only forty-five minutes away, and this game is just Tom Terrific.” “No matter,” the chairman countered, “we might have a break-down, you know.” One could never tell, he added, what might go wrong with his new car. Within five minutes, we were zinging down the highway 20 miles above the speed limit. I wasn’t nervous, however, because the chairman glared at the road and gripped the wheel so firmly that his knuckles were whiter than the eyes of the unfortunate British soldiers who fought at Bunker Hill. We arrived at the airport in record time. After parking his car, the chairman trotted me to the terminal. There we parted. After I checked my bag, I looked outside, and noticed that when the chariman reached his car he began jumping up and down and waving his arms like a dervish. Something must have bitten him. Certainly it was serious because I never heard from him again.

In 1970 I did not attend the Modern Language Association Convention. Instead, before Christmas, I flew from my home-town, Nashville, Tennessee to a Big Ten School in Michigan for an interview. I arrived in the evening and immediately went to a cocktail party where I was seated in the middle of a large, yellow couch. As I bloomed there, members of the English department approached in pairs and asked stinging questions about prelapsarian authors. This was more than mortal flesh could stand, and being reasonable I set about drinking a bathtub full of bourbon. After two hours on the yellow couch, the stopper in my tub became dislodged, bourbon gurgled in the pipes, and putting my arm around the necks of the men on either side of me—one of whom was quoting Italian poetry while the other chanted Gaelic—I brought their heads together, introduced them, and left. The next day I ate lunch in the university cafeteria with twelve strange members of the department. I had a cup of coffee on my tray, and as I sat down the end of my necktie flopped into the cup. I jumped up and the necktie slapped against my shirt, forming a brown pool and almost burning my navel off. I forced a laugh, but no one else grinned and the laughter stuck in my throat like a green plum. Shingles could not have been worse than lunch. No one talked and boredom hung deadly over the meal like Moses with his truths. After lunch, I walked outside into a blinding snow storm. Six men approached me from the right and said, “so nice to chat with you” and swirled away. The other six approached from the left, said “have a pleasant trip home” and quickly disappeared. I was left alone in the snow. Six months later I received a letter from the chairman. He wrote, “Mr, Pickering, I cannot tell you what a strong impression you made.” If I ever visit Michigan again, I’ll turn Ann Arbor into Cold Harbor. The building which houses the English department will resemble my great-great uncle’s house which was used as a Union hospital during the battle of Cold Harbor. Blood ran from floor to floor and gathered in puddles in the basement.

I got my own back on the way home, however, Flying out of Detroit was difficult, Snow forced the cancellation of many flights, but I eventually caught Allegheny to Cincinnati. Landing in the thick snow in Cincinnati was frightening. As we descended and the “fasten seatbelts” sign lit up, the man behind me handed me a napkin on which he had written, “When the yellow light says “Repent” we are in trouble.” Mutual terror led to dear camaraderie; and when we discovered that we were both flying to Nashville, we decided to sit together. At Cincinnati we boarded an American Airlines flight. The plane was almost empty and we had a choice of seats. In 1970 the rear of the plane was not the No Smoking Section; it was Cowards’ Haven, Comfort lay in resting one’s head against the wall of the John; and when my acquaintance and I got on the plane, we strode boldly to the back. Of the last three seats, one had an “occupied” sign on it, and a small box rested on another. We put the box under the seat and sat down. After we had prayed and had almost relaxed, however, a woman came out of the lavatory and seeing us said, “Oh, darlings, this is my seat and I always travel with my wig next to me. It is in the box,” The woman might have talked like Talullah Bankhead, but people who sit in Cowards’ Haven are usually as sophisticated as faculty members in Ann Arbor. Nevertheless, my acquaintance graciously moved up the aisle; the woman put her wig in the seat, and we taxied down the runway. The takeoff was smooth, but when the wheels retracted with their usual thunk, Tahlullah grabbed my arm, rolled her eyes and exclaimed “What was that!” “Jesus,” I shouted, “the engines fell off!” Dear hearts, you would have thought a little girl had tied a bobcat to a bulldog. Never had I heard such caterwauling. The stewardess scurried back to find out what happened. Later as she mopped the woman’s brow, she said to me, “you ought to be ashamed.” “Bring me some champagne,” I responded, “and a big cigar.”


After my experiences in Ohio and Michigan, I decided not to travel to interviews. This did have drawbacks. In February, 1971, a university invited me to fly to Madison, Wisconsin. When I explained that my wealthy aunt was in the hospital and I was unable to leave Princeton and her bedside, they offered me a post over the telephone, saying I would receive confirmation in two weeks after the completion of certain bureaucratic formalities. I never heard from them again. Like Don Juan with the ladies, academics enjoy titillating throbbing job candidates. In 1970 the chairman of the English department at a school since made famous by Johnny Majors interviewed almost the entire class of new Princeton Ph. D.s. He promised everyone a flight to Pittsburgh. The university, however, must have decided that chartering a 707 to fly job candidates to the campus was a trifle extravagant because three months later a gross of form letters appeared.

Troubles, as Uncle Remus says, are seasoning; persimmons aren’t good until they are frostbitten. Time and cold years in New Hampshire have sweetened the interviews I had nine years ago. Dylan Thomas was wrong. One should not go raging but laughing into the good night. On a bright, clear afternoon, the dean of a distinguished small college in New England asked me, “Mr. Pickering, what earthly use is it to write a dissertation on Sydney Smith? After all, he was a minor figure.” Before I could answer, thunder rolled out of the heavens and shook the windows of the room in which we sat. That, of course, ended the interview. Anyone with God on his side would be too controversial for the Eastern academic world.

Misunderstandings have determined the tone of many of my interviews. Years ago when naiveté purred in my breast, the chairman of an Ivy League English department interviewed me. As soon as I met him, I noticed his necktie. It was the St. Catharine’s College Cambridge Boat Club tie, golden Catharine wheels on a claret background. For two years I rowed in the “engine rooms” of assorted St. Cat’s boats, and I thought, “Good Lord, I wonder who told him about my rowing days? He must really want me if he has gone to the trouble of finding and wearing “my” tie.” Consequently, I relaxed, scratched, and had a wonderful time. At the end of the interview, I said, “Mr. Saltonstall, I deeply appreciated your wearing the tie.” “Huh,” he said looking slightly baffled.”The tie,” I continued, “I appreciate it.” “What tie,” he responded.”The St. Catharine’s Boat Club tie,” I answered; “I appreciate your wearing it in my honor.” Silence drifted like a cloud as the chairman glanced first at me then his necktie. Slowly he turned it around, looked at the label, and said, “St. Catherine’s Boat Club? No, Brooks Brothers.”

Most misunderstandings in the academic world are not sartorial but verbal. There is little that can be misunderstood about a leisure suit. Not long ago when conversation died during an interview with a Western school, I brought up one of my hobbies, snakes, and asked if the university had a herpetology department.”Oh, yes,” an expert on Virginia Woolf said, “we do, and you should see our greenhouses. The daffodils there, I understand, are divine.” Now I am a Southerner; people often have trouble with my accent, and if there were such a word as herbetology, one could confuse it with herpetology. But the word does not exist. Alas, since pointing out the error would have been a trifle harsh, my interview ended in a bouquet filled with chrysanthemums, columbine, phlox, laurel, lilies of the valley, wisteria, iris, and sow-thistle, When I left the room, I felt like the last rose of summer. It goes without saying that I never heard from the school again. Still that misunderstanding was not so bad as the one which occurred when I talked to several faculty members from a state school in Nebraska. For the first half hour, things went too smoothly. Deep in my heart, I knew it was only a matter of time until I dropped the molasses jug. The crash occurred when someone noted that I had been a graduate student at Princeton and asked if I had known Henry Razor, who studied electrical engineering.”Sure,” I answered, “knew him well. A little bitty shaver but pretty sharp?” My jaw sagged when laughter did not trickle forth, but instead I heard, “Yes, that’s him. What’s he doing? How is his wife?” For 20 minutes I answered questions about Henry Razor, a man I have never seen, and if I ever do see, I intend to shoot. I’ll have to kill him because if the lies I told about him ever get back he’ll come after me with a shotgun.

It’s a pity that Western university did not have a herpetology department. If it did I’d be the man to hire. I’ve been snake-bit so many times I wouldn’t even notice a nip by a friendly rattlesnake. Being a typical academic, I’m lazy. Every afternoon a nap attacks me, and I dream of students as sweet as sugar candy. Recently, while I dreamed of committing an indiscretion, the telephone rang. I staggered out of bed and discovered the chairman of a big university in Illinois on the other end of the line. We talked for 15 minutes. Only when the conversation ended did I wake up. I could not remember anything we discussed. The next day I wrote the chairman a letter, saying that on coming home from the office my manservant greeted me and said I had received a telephone call. My manservant, I explained, was slightly addicted to alcohol. When tiddly, he often, much to my embarrassment, impersonated me. I gathered, I added, that he had done this in a recent conversation with the chairman. And if the chairman, I wrote, would be so kind as to write me a letter containing the gist of the conversation, I would respond posthaste. Alas, what they say about the mail service must be true, for almost six months have passed and I haven’t received the chairman’s letter.


Last winter I had several interviews at the Modern Language Association Convention. Not having experienced an interview for several years, I thought things were sure to be better than they were in 1970.I was mistaken. When I walked into the first suite, the past overwhelmed me. The same characters still maligned: Hezekiah the prophet, String-bean, Four-eyes the pointy-headed boy, the Birth-marked baby, Goosegrease the pineapple eater, Lady Fingers, and the Talking Book. The same question with its agrarian metaphor dominated conversation, “What are your fields?” Why, I wondered, did people confuse me with a Holstein; was I a machine for cropping grass and turning it into milk for adolescents? Was I so tightly fenced in that I could not ruminate at pleasure? The people who interviewed me soon discovered that I was not their kind. After nine years of teaching on three continents, a book, 40 articles, and a trinity of national grants, I found it difficult to answer the young instructor’s intense query, “What do you think of Wordsworth’s violet by a mossy stone?” Resisting the urge to be violent with a dusty ashtray, I said that when I saw violets I put weed killer on them—stones I saved for the plumbers when they dug up the front yard to expand the drainage field for the septic tank.

Not all interviews at the MLA convention are held in private rooms. Chairmen who are almost as sophisticated as Billy Whiskers meet job candidates in the communal interview room, a ballroom so crammed with chairs and tables that it resembles a Mah Jong tournament. Thigh to thigh and belly to belly faculty members hover over tables whispering while coveys of new Ph. D.’s flutter in corners waiting to hear their names called: “Would Mr. Hart go to table 38? Would Miss Frankenberry report to table 26?” An interview in a whore-house in Port Said would be more dignified. One university scheduled an interview with me in the ball room, I arrived, looked around, pivoted, and leaped out the door and into the bar. Over bourbon I plotted revenge. The university was in a town Sherman by-passed. The next time I travel south the university will wish Sherman had not skipped them. Alongside me that Yankee will look like the Messiah.

While I was doubled over conspiring with my bourbon, a hand slapped my back and “Hail to thee blithe spirit” burst into my ear. I looked up. There teetered an old graduate school companion. Now chairman of an English department at a small Southern school, he had spent the day interviewing females in the forlorn hope he could shake HEW off his back. Like a horse leech, HEW had dug in and was swelling fat and comfortable. My friend brought his drink over, sat down, and we soon passed through discretion and into originality, Man cannot, however, live on wit alone, and eventually we found ourselves ordering retsina and dinner in Anatole’s Greek restaurant. While visions of the Dodecanese and garlands of vine leaves swam before our eyes, the waiter brought our soup. With the soup, he brought a small bowl containing a clear liquid. We bent over and sniffed it.”Alcohol for the soup,” we decided. And since our wine had not arrived, we poured it into our soups.”Only the highly civilized,” I said, “brew their first course with alcohol.” “Too, too true,” my friend responded and broke into song, “Maid of Athens, ere we part, give, oh, give me back my heart.” When we finshed the soup, our waiter brought the next course. He put it on the table, struck a match, and then reached for the bowl which had contained the clear liquid. When he saw that it was empty, he looked puzzled.”Wants our drink, the greedy beggar,” my friend said and then waving his hand added, “Laddiebuck, bring us some more of that liqueur. Like the nectar of the gods, it does wonders for my spirits. What would Byron say? ‘Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!’ “Regrettably, the waiter’s extraordinary behavior stopped the recital before my friend sank the ten thousand fleets. Batting his eyes and grabbing his throat, the waiter danced up and down, making a noise like an automobile and babbled in the unknown tongue.”Marvelous,” I exclaimed and fishing a dollar out of my wallet gave it to him, saying, “wonderful, now we really must eat,” The waiter refused the dollar; instead he ran back to the kitchen.”Nothing like a Greek restaurant for atmosphere,” my friend remarked and we turned to the second course. Suddenly the waiter was back, carrying another bowl of clear liquid.”How thoughtful,” I said; but before I could take the bowl from him, he had poured the liquid on the second course. He then lit a match and the food blazed.”Oh, dear,” my friend said, “it seems we have drunk train oil.” “No matter,” I answered looking up, “here comes the wine.”

At nine o’clock the next morning I had an interview with a religious school. Everyone in the room was bushy-tailed— except me. I stood in the need of prayer. Train oil oozed through my stomach, and my head was a roundhouse, filled with steaming engines. The chairman began the interview asking, “Mr. Pickering, what do you think you could add to our department?” Woe is me. Just as he finished the question the boiler of the biggest engine in my roundhouse exploded, and I replied, “Sin.” Heat rose about us. Not even Casey Jones could have salvaged the interview.

Atheists can be dealt with, but only the good Lord can save one from Christians. Religious schools are often interested in me because I wrote a book on evangelical religion and the novel. This past spring I travelled to the Southwest for an interview with a big Baptist school. Dancing was forbidden on campus, and the faculty handbook stated that teachers could be fired for “gross abuse of trust in faculty-student relationships.” And this, brothers and sisters, does not refer to turning grades in late—no, siree, bobtail. When I read the rule, I almost refused the interview. When a university is forced to print such a rule, the student body must be rather fundamentalist. Things are bad enough among Dartmouth’s Episcopalians. Today the faculty member who looks cross-eyed at a female student is in deep trouble. He is a lamb baaing among the wolves. Before he can kick up his heels and frisk about, he is mutton on the table and wool on the bedspread. Not even a regimen of vitamin pills can save him.

The interview in Texas was memorable. For two hours the president, vice-president, dean of arts and sciences, and chairman of the English department slapped sizzling questions at me. I fielded everything like Nellie Fox and didn’t dump any tobacco juice on second base. Still I am a man that will, on occasion, spit. When asked what I valued in life, I nailed the vice-president at first, replying “grace, wit, dignity, and charity.” Holding his bat as steady as Aaron’s rod, the dean looked to be a more difficult batter. When he asked, however, what changes I thought would occur in the national morality if the sort of people who went to Dartmouth took over the country, I jumped quickly to my right, scooped up the ball and fired it to first before he got halfway down the line.”Run the country,” I answered, “They already do.” “But,” I continued, “I hope that things will change. Jimmy’s being elected president,” I stated, “was a sign of better times, the dove carrying the olive twig showing that the promised land was near.” After this answer, I relaxed and leaned back on my haunches. Right there’s where I swallowed my tobacco and the ball bounded between my legs.”Do you drink?” the president asked.”Only for medicinal purposes,” I answered. But then, I continued, I was “highly susceptible to the flu particularly on Saturday nights.” At Christmas, I went on like a bad boy tying a tin can to a cat’s tail, I always suffered from scarlatina while the vapors invariably attacked me in the spring. The answer ended the interview. Two months later I received a note informing me that someone else had been hired. That, though, was a school of true Christians, always thinking of others, Obviously they didn’t hire me because they thought the Southwestern climate would undermine my fragile constitution. A man prey to so many ailments would certainly be better off in the Northeast.

After the interview, the chairman took me to the faculty club where a dozen members of the English department joined us for lunch.”Oh, oh,” I thought, “the ghost of Michigan past.” All went well though until thinking the man next to me was a kindred spirit, I described a party I attended in Vermont before Christmas. Although it was a divorce party, civilized joy reigned unconfined. There were no hard feelings and champagne flowed in magnums. Some months before the husband had left his wife and run off with another man. The husband had driven up for the party from Boston with some men friends and had cooked a gourmet meal. His former wife wore a red and green dress and swept grandly about laughing like Santa Claus while the couple’s small daughter decorated the tree and danced among her presents like a pixie amid flowers. Alas, what makes Vermonters warmhearted gives Texans indigestion. As I described the party to the man on my left, a man across the table wagged his head, turned sideways, and bawled, “Divorce?—who got divorced?” The poor man was almost stone deaf. When he spoke, he roared like a cyclone rumbling across the prairie. “It’s nothing,” the fellow next to me said, “Professor Pickering was just describing a divorce party.” “A what!—what did you say,” the deaf man hollered and everyone at the table looked my way.”A divorce party,” I said; “I was just describing a divorce party.” “What—I never heard of such a thing,” the deaf man shouted; “did you say someone ran off from his wife?” Around the table ears flapped like turkey buzzards scraping over a litter of drowned kittens.”Yes,” I answered realizing that I had to bite the bullet, “the husband ran off with another man.” For a moment the deaf man was silent. It was the calm before the storm.”WHAT,” he erupted: “what, he did what! He ran off with another man!” Then looking first to his right then his left, he shouted, “Did you hear that! did you hear that! He ran off with a man! He left his wife and ran off with a man!”

As the old gentleman said when he dropped the whiskey bottle, “Christmas done come and gone.” Conversation flattened out faster than a terrapin trying to cross a busy highway. The business of eating suddenly became important. For a moment I thought I had discovered those starving Armenians I had heard so much about during childhood. Salad, bread, peas, corn, ham, and tapioca pudding disappeared down gullets with unique abandon as everyone glanced at his watch and remembered he had an afternoon class. The finest hour of the deaf man was yet to come, however, Before anyone could bolt away, he spoke up again, asking, “Have they ever heard of us at Dartmouth?” “Of course,” I answered thinking that a bold response tinged with scorn would silence him. “Well then,” he boomed to my dismay, “what do they think of us?” It was not a moment for truth. Dartmouth, I answered, was an isolated backwater. It was a place people retired to after writing one book. By 40 most of the faculty was dead at the top and cared little about the greater university world. And I, I concluded, looked “with envy upon schools like this one so firmly lodged in the mainstream of academia.”


When I played football in high school, I memorized the signs pasted on the walls of the locker room: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that counts.” The child is the father of the man, and I refused to let the Armageddon in Texas discourage me. I gritted my teeth, dug my cleats in, and flexed my forearm. No more schools were going to run over me. Alas, all I heard of the next play was “hup-one, hup-two.” The first thing I knew I was flat on my back and my chest was covered with little round bruises. I had been back from Texas only a week when a state university in southern New England asked me down for an interview. Travelling during a New Hampshire winter is not easy. And I did not make the interview the first time it was scheduled. A heavy snow fell the night before, and after driving six miles, I spun around on the highway. If I had continued, the only interview I would have had would have been with St. Peter for a spot in the heavenly choir. Actually, I would have stood a good chance for it because I understand that St. Peter doesn’t give a hoot about Affirmative Action. Once they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, all souls are white and sexless. The resurrection of the body raises some problems, but that is a different matter.

The second time I set out for the interview I rode the bus. I thought the trip would be easy because I could sleep. A Vermont countryman, however, took the seat next to me. In his hand he carried a mayonnaise jar which appeared full of peanut butter and Dr. Pepper. Too tired, though, to be curious, I just glanced at it, then shut my eyes to nap. In my half-sleep I heard the man unscrew the lid of the jar. Suddenly I was bolt upright. From deep within my neighbor came a rumbling that sounded like the harrowing of hell. The nap was over. Seeing I was awake, my travelling companion asked me if I would like a plug of tobacco. He had a jar, he explained, that I could spit into and he shoved the mayonnaise jar into my lap. Although I told him I didn’t chew quite so early in the morning, a long conversation began in which I was Horatio to his Hamlet. I could not have bored a word in with a gimlet. From White River Junction, Vermont to Springfield, Massachusetts, I heard stories that would have stultified Argus, At Springfield my “friend” changed buses and I rushed into the Necessary House to pour cold water on my ears in hopes of reducing the swelling. Lordy, instead of my ears shrinking my eyes bulged. When I walked into the johnny, I thought I had stumbled into a prayer meeting. The room was filled with people. But, I soon noticed, they were doing things I’d never seen done in church—at least not in my church. Like a hound dog who chased a rabbit into a brush pile but who scratched a polecat out, I turned tail and ran for the kennel.

Although I high-tailed it out of that bus station lavatory in Springfield, I was not very upset. I was a seasoned traveller, and I wasn’t going to let the trip ruin the interview. I was interested in the university, and happily the interview was a success. Things went swimmingly, and I reckoned I was about to reach my island kingdom where palms and maidens swayed pendulous at the sound of my voice. Alas, I forgot the shark. Just as I reached the shallows and was dreaming of coconuts, rum, frosted glasses, and ice, HEW and Affirmative Action swam up open-mouthed. When they finished, I was ready for the Cat’s Meat Man. That was my last interview. I have had enough. I’m not moving out of sight of my own smokestacks. Let the chairmen come to me. Until they do, however, I need a job. Maybe I can survive at Dartmouth. A few deaths just before term would help my chances. I have pondered how I could make room for myself. My first plan was to call one of the hard cases I grew up with in Tennessee and ask him to send me three hundred feet of water moccasin. These, I would dump into Storrs Pond, the faculty swimming hole. Although some folks would be snakebit, I counted more on cardio-vascular storms to create slots in the faculty. Unfortunately this plan seems doomed. The faculty are jogging. Nowadays nothing produces a heart attack, not even fidelity. Consequently I have begun cruising down sideroads waiting to catch a jogger in full stride. I have chased a few into briar patches but so far I haven’t made firm contact. Even worse, these bastards seem born and bred in the briar patch. Not one has been seriously scratched. Still, they had better be careful. My time is coming. If I don’t get them here, I’ll get them somewhere. Maybe I’ll write an essay about them.


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