Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons from a Shotgun Rider

Toward the end of basic training, the drill sergeant gave us all a form to fill out giving our first three preferences for our permanent location after technical school. I remember putting down Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. I felt encouraged that the military would actually take our desires into consideration in making assignments. However, after tech school, the great day came for receiving our orders and mine simply said APO 109. Of course, I had no idea what that meant, so I asked the sergeant. “You are going to love Germany, Ford,” he said.

The first thing I had to do upon reaching Hahn Air Base, Germany, was to attend driving school. We had to learn about all the European road signs and we had to try out in all the vehicles we were likely to be driving in our work: VW pickup trucks, half-ton Opals, weapons carriers and other vehicles, mainly large trucks. I passed the course and, sure enough, my unit had me driving great big old vehicles full of equipment from Hahn Air Base up to Bitburg Air Base fairly regularly. They sent a more mature soldier with me to ride shotgun and help me unload. His utterances—mainly advice on how to drive the big vehicle on the crazy German roads—are etched in my memory and I can hear his voice clearly: “Ford, just drive this thing like you know what you are doing. Act confident and you will be confident.”

Well, I took his advice and, sure enough, the driving seemed easier and much of the stress went away. And, my companion’s words had a spin-off use as well. I applied them to other aspects of my life. If I had to make a dreaded oral presentation, for example, I would try my best to look and act confident and that ploy most often resulted in actual confidence.

Without really being conscious of it, I think I must have applied that driving advice I received so many years ago to my teaching as well, especially at the beginning of the semester. I try to walk in with confidence, say a few words, write the assignment for next meeting on the board and then outline the plan for that session. The process gives me confidence as a teacher and it also gives the students confidence that they are in good hands. No, this is not an All State commercial.
Inexperienced speakers often start their remarks with an apology, “I’m not much of a speaker,” or “I’m nervous, so bear with me,” or “I’m having some issues with my voice,” or some other remark about their feelings of inadequacy or stage fright.

Instead, the best approach for the speaker is to stride to the podium looking confident and acting like it is a true pleasure to be there. If you look confident, you will be confident and the audience will appreciate it. Audiences are pained by initial apologies and thankful for that speaker who can launch into the speech with apparent ease. My shotgun passenger in Germany taught me a lot.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Information on Fine Arts Night Slide Show

I can't get the slide show loaded, but if you want to see it, copy and paste this: http://vimeo.com/38615482.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rough Trip

I should have known better than to fly during spring break, but I was eager to get to Columbus, Ohio to see our new grandchild. My itinerary looked simple enough—Little Rock to Memphis; change planes; Memphis to Columbus. I had made that flight many times before. But when I got to the Little Rock airport the first Saturday of spring break, the place looked like Atlanta and everyone there had a pained expression. Planes were late, needing maintenance, overbooked, re-routed, you name it. The poor guy at the kiosk was haggard beyond belief. It was almost comical when he announced that since everyone had been so patient, he was going to hand out $6 meal vouchers.

Anyway, my airplane to Memphis was delayed in Atlanta and couldn’t get to Little Rock until an hour past my departure time, which meant that I missed my connecting flight at Memphis. Now airports have those little scanners that are designed to re-route you if you miss your flight. I ran my boarding pass through the machine and it gave me a new itinerary, this time to Memphis, then to Atlanta, then to Columbus. This meant that instead of arriving in Columbus at 7:30 p.m. as was originally planned, I wouldn’t get there until midnight. My wife was up there, having spent the last weeks of the pregnancy with our daughter, so I texted and texted and texted, confusing all my kinfolk up north until, finally, I had an arrival time for them. And, sure enough, I got there at midnight and my son-in-law picked me up and I got to meet Amelia Rae Bischoff, our new granddaughter. It was worth any amount of flight adjustment.

We spent some very happy family days up there with the Bischoffs, laughing, talking, eating, enjoying the early spring and gazing in awe at Amelia Rae. I dreaded our departure because it is such a joy to be with new life and the other members of my daughter’s family, but we had to get back down here to the real world.

The flight from Columbus to Memphis was on time and quite pleasant. I had plenty of time to get to my connecting flight’s gate, even though I had to hustle from B concourse to A concourse. There was some talk that a bad “wall of water” storm was hitting Little Rock and thought our flight would be delayed but it wasn’t. When we were on the runway, the pilot, who looked like he may have been in the eighth grade, told us we were in for a bumpy ride. But ‘I had been in much bumpier flights. I was a bit troubled by the lightning bursts as we approached Little Rock, but we actually got in a few minutes early. So coming home was a lot easier than getting there. It was just hard to leave the beautiful little baby that had joined our family.

As Amelia Rae looked at me, I believe she was thinking, “Well, here I am in the world. My trip here was rough, but, now that I have arrived safely, maybe this isn’t such a bad place. If I need anything, all I have to do is vocalize and the nice people take care of me. Even if the journey is hard, joy comes upon arrival.” A wise baby.

DEAN’S OFFICE: A Play in One Act

By Dan Ford
CAST
The Angel Lou
Dean Dean: Middle-aged academic type.
Sadie Oxford: Ancient secretary (93 years old)
Eddie Pough (Pronounced Poe): Sleazy security officer. Unkempt and poorly groomed.
Bob Frosty: Distinguished professor. Robert Frost type.
Ernest Anyway: Pugilistic type who seems miscast as a professor.
Denny King: Son of Amelethus King, Prince Hamlet type.
Rosco: Young intellectual, very Elizabethan
Emily Dixon: Anachronism, attractively costumed like 19th Century author.
Amelethus King: Regal older man, pale, haggard, but well-groomed and dressed.
Two uniformed police officers.

Setting: Winter in an Academic dean’s office at a small college in the South. There is a large cluttered desk center stage diagonal so that the dean naturally faces between stage left and downstage. The diagonal arrangement serves the purpose of keeping visitors’ faces visible to audience when they enter and are invited to sit in one of three chairs at the left stage side which are arranged in such a way that the visitors can see the dean, but naturally face between stage right and downstage. Bookcases with books, a hat stand near right stage window, a credenza and other academic accouterments. There is a partition between dean and severely cluttered secretary desk, left stage. At curtain, the dean is working on a pile of papers.
LOU: (Before curtain, Lou enters to front and center in angel costume) Good evening! You are beau-ti-ful people. Very beau-ti-ful! I am The Angel Lou. I am the angel of small Southern colleges, such as the one we are about to visit, Corey Collins Coed College. Oh, My! That is a tongue-twister even for Angels. Say it. “Corey Collins Coed College.” Ready. (Gestures for audience to say the phrase and they try it) Try that again (Pause and audience has another go) not much better. Never mind. Anyway, I am the angel of small Southern colleges. Jimmy the Bald One is over our Northern colleges, in case you were wondering, but the Southern ones are left to me. I was sent here to intercede for a satisfactory outcome for a case of Professorial disappearance, which I have been doing night and day. You will be able to see and hear me throughout, but, of course, those before you will neither be able to see nor hear me. (Off left)
Curtain Opens
DEAN: Miss Oxford. Miss Oxford! MISS OXFORD! WOULD YOU COME IN HERE, PLEASE?
OXFORD: (Fumbles with the clutter on her desk, dropping papers, gets up slowly and walks around the partition into the dean’s office trailing papers, hands on hips and a bit defiant). What is it? What do you want? I’m very busy.
DEAN: What time is my appointment with Pough (pronounced Poe)?
OXFORD: Go where?
DEAN: (Louder) I have an important meeting with officer Pough today. What time is it?
OXFORD: You are wearing a watch. Can’t you tell time?
DEAN: Bring your appointment book. I’d like to go through it with you.
Oxford reluctantly returns to her desk and rummages through the vortex of papers and books piled there, does a little physical comedy including jubilant jig upon locating and laboriously dislodging the appointment book. Meantime, Dean rubs his forehead in despair and frustration. Oxford comes triumphantly back around the partition into the dean’s office and indecorously plops the appointment book down in front of him.
DEAN: (Leafing through the appointment book) Oh, goodness! Oh, goodness! What a busy day you have planned for me today! I wish we could spread some of these appointments out. I’ll barely have time to breathe. Pough is due here now.
Pough enters Secretary Oxford’s area followed by The Angel Lou, moves some papers from a chair, and sits in it beside her desk. Oxford re-enters her area angrily.
OXFORD: (To Pough) What are you doing here?
POUGH: Didn’t you hear me? I was rapping, gently tapping at your chamber door, but you apparently didn’t hear me so I came on in. I have an appointment with the dean.
LOU: ( Entering dean’s office) There is something very familiar about the diction pattern of that Eddie Pough. (Lou sits on the corner of Dean’s desk)
OXFORD: Well, you can’t see the dean without an appointment; you should know that, Eddie. Now where is my appointment book?
Oxford begins to search for her appointment book on her desk, muttering, having forgotten that the appointment book is with the dean, who hears.
DEAN: You can come on in, officer Pough.
OXFORD: (After Pough rises to go in she collars him) Where do you think you are going Eddie?
DEAN: (Loudly) It’s fine, Sadie, he can come on in.
OXFORD: (As Pough walks past her to enter the dean’s office) Well we need to get this straight, Dean Dean. Do people have to have an appointment to see you or not?
DEAN: You had him down.
OXFORD: You can’t go to town now. You have got a full day of appointments. You’d better hurry up with Eddie because we’ve got important appointments coming.
Oxford returns to her area and begins the noisy and clumsy process of making coffee. Pough sits in the chair at the end of the dean’s desk. Oxford seems to relish making noise. Dean winces when his conversation with Pough is interrupted by the loud activities.
DEAN: How are you today, Eddie?
POUGH: A bit weak and weary, ponderous, you know. I need a nap. I like napping…
DEAN: Are you still doing the night shift as security officer here?
POUGH: Yes, it would seem that darkness is my calling. I walk about the campus lonely and I’m the sole and only creature stirring, keeping watch o’er sleeping students, my only company the scurrying rodents that play about the cafeteria door, only those and nothing more.
LOU: There’s that diction pattern again. Sounds downright Gothic. Pough is a security officer. Ironically, he is the most insecure person here at Corey Collins Coed College.
DEAN: You are obviously part of the investigation into the disappearance of Amelethus King by virtue of your position as security officer. Do you folks have any leads?
POUGH: Dean, I’m afraid that as detective, I’m defective . . . I have no clue about clues. I can turn a phrase, give a woman praise, but I never solved a crime.
DEAN: Then the committee does think criminal activity is involved in King’s disappearance?
POUGH: There are some that would question, even make a quaint suggestion that someone had a score to settle, yet I’ll venture he departed of his own volition to avoid evaluation. . .Amelethus was quite evasive and he had ways I’ve always thought were odd. He told me once he’d like to be a vagabond.
DEAN: Don’t take this wrong, Eddie, but there is talk you had a grudge against Amelethus. Has anyone pointed the finger at you?
POUGH: (Laughing) Oh, please, deanly one, I wouldn’t hurt a bird; in fact I have one on a bust of Al Gore, just inside my chamber door. I found the bust stored in old Elinore Hall. No, my thought is this, we must dismiss this talk of crime committed; I’d wager King just bought a ticket and flew the coop, that’s the scoop. I know he was upset that his son, Denny, was seeing that strange girl from Little Hall, Emily Dixon. He thought his boy could do better than some pale versifier with poor taste in clothing.
LOU: How insulting! Pale versifier indeed! Emily Dixon is a beau-ti-ful girl. Beau-ti-ful!
DEAN: Well keep me posted, Eddie, Amelethus King is a very dear friend of mine.
POUGH: (Aside, ominously with a demonic grin) Amelethus King WAS a very dear friend of his.
LOU: I smell a rat. (to audience) You smell one, too. I can see that. We smell the same rat!
Enter Oxford with full coffee pot. She strides between the dean and Pough to pour coffee into the dean’s mug. The dean protests through gestures, covering his cup with his hand as if to say, none for me, but Oxford pours it anyway, burning the dean’s hand. His reaction of jumping up causes Oxford to jump back, spilling the entire pot into Pough’s lap. Pough yelps, the dean goes ballistic shaking his burned hand and tries to admonish and rebuke Oxford but is unable to get words out. Rather than being chagrinned, Oxford gets hilariously tickled and returns to her office with the empty pot, cackling. Exit Pough gingerly, holding his pants away from his skin. Lou tries not to laugh but to no avail. She becomes breathlessly tickled.
DEAN: (Laboring to regain his composure, wiping the coffee from his hand and desk, salvaging some important papers from the puddle) Miss Oxford. Miss Oxford. MISS OXFORD. MISS OXFORD, WOULD YOU COME IN HERE PLEASE?
OXFORD: (Enters still laughing as Lou recovers from her spasm of laughter) You want some more coffee? I’ll put some more on. (More cackling).
DEAN: (Trying for professional tone) Miss Oxford, who is next? Go get your appointment book.
OXFORD: There it is on your desk, all soggy. What a mess. (She picks up the dripping appointment book and finds the entry.) It’s Bob Frosty. (Exit to her area)
DEAN: Oh, good. I haven’t seen Bob in weeks.
LOU: Miss Sadie Oxford has been secretary to the academic dean here at Corey Collins Coed College since 1939 when she was 20. She was a very fine secretary through seven deanships. Then when Dean Dean rose to the position, she began to…to…well you saw it. The president won’t let her go. She is a woman of integrity, the president. She tried to assign her to the library as archivist, but she will not do it. It is as if she owns this place…the joke on campus is that she is the only secretary in history with tenure.
Enter Bob Frosty into secretary’s area.
OXFORD: (Enters with a fresh pot of coffee with Bob Frosty in tow. She reaches to pour coffee, but the dean moves his cup to a bookcase and says as loudly as decorum allows…)
DEAN: NO COFFEE, NO COFFEE, NO COFFEE PLEASE, MISS OXFORD. (Lou laughs again).
OXFORD: Sure, I’ll give you more. Want some coffee Dr. Frosty? (The dean gestures to Frosty not to ask for coffee. She pours some into the cup on the bookcase allowing it to run over a little to Lou’s further amusement before Oxford exits to her area after Frosty refuses coffee).
DEAN: (Rising and shaking hands) Hello, Bob. Good of you to come. How are classes going?
FROSTY: I am overtired of the great teaching assignment I myself desired.
DEAN: Yes, I wondered why a man of your stature would take such an overload this semester.
FROSTY: I’ve bought a pony and a sleigh and vowed to my wife I’d pay for it with the extra money I’d make from the overload.
DEAN: You have a pony and sleigh? What do you do with that quaint mode of transportation?
FROSTY: There are some lovely, dark and deep woods on the back part of campus, Dean, as you know. Just the other day I was taking a ride through there and stopped little Monty, who thought it was odd to stop on the quad. He gave his harness bells a shake to ask if there was some mistake as I got off to wander around a bit. I walked up to the old abandoned dorm we use for storage now, Elinore Hall, you know, and leaned against the wall. I thought I heard a faint cry for help, but it must have been my own inner voice—I had promises to keep and needed sleep. So, to my pony Monty’s relief, we went on home.
LOU: Frosty named his little horse for Monty Roberts, famous horse whisperer.
DEAN: You heard a cry for help at Elinore Hall?
FROSTY: It doubtless was an inner voice, emanating from my subconscious. I do need help. Can’t I get a grad assistant to grade or monitor classes for me? I have someone in mind. A very talented young lady, Emily Dixon. I think she’s dating your friend Amelethus’ son, uh, Denny King. Unusually courtly young man.
DEAN: I don’t know her. I know Denny, of course, but I am not acquainted with this Emily
Dixon. You don’t want to hear this, Bob, but the budget, the budget, the budget. (Oxford pokes her head around the partition, hearing the talk of budget.) We have been on a flat budget for three years now, and our next step will be to trim faculty. I just don’t have the money to hire you a graduate assistant, Emily Dixon or anybody else.
LOU: Emily Dixon is a beau-ti-ful girl. Beau-ti-ful!
FROSTY: Are you trying to tell me something, Dean? Is my job in jeopardy?
DEAN: No, we would not touch tenured faculty at this point.
Oxford enters with a huge printout, the kind with the pages connected by perforation, trailing about 10 feet of the printout behind her.
OXFORD: Here it is. You asked for the budget, didn’t you? Well here it is. (She walks around Frosty a couple of times, apparently looking for an entry, inadvertently wrapping the printout around him, then she hurls it at the dean, making it come unfurled. The dean tries to intercept it, treating it like a sacred document. Frosty tries to disentangle himself to help the dean. They do some physical comedy in trying to reassemble the document. Oxford chuckles and returns to her desk. Exit Frosty after clearing his body from the paper. Enter Ernest Anyway into the secretary’s area, who sits in a chair beside Oxford’s desk.)
DEAN: Miss Oxford. (She ignores him, as she is having a staring match with Anyway.) MISS OXFORD! (She continues to stare Anyway down). MISS OXFORD, WILL YOU COME IN HERE PLEASE AND BRING YOUR APPOINTMENT BOOK. (She wins the stare down and Anyway looks away. She enters the Dean’s office.)
OXFORD: (In the tone of a herald) Ernest Anyway has arrived and is waiting to see you sir.
DEAN: (Relieved that Oxford is more professional now) Send him in. (She leers at Anyway and gestures for him to go in.) Hello, Ernest. Good to see you. How are you?
ANYWAY: I’m well.
DEAN: I see that you are on the committee with Pough to investigate the disappearance of my friend Amelethus King?
ANYWAY: I am.
DEAN: Do you folks have any leads?
ANYWAY: We meet. We talk. We think. We meet, talk and think. Pough talks and I talk and some of the others talk. We all talk. We all think. We have some leads. The leads are diverse. The leads lead us to other leads. Some think he’s dead. Some think he’s gone. We are thinking and talking and gathering some leads.
DEAN: Ernest, what is the nature of your leads.
ANYWAY: Emily Dixon saw him last. She saw him by the woods. She saw him near Elinore Hall. She saw him at night. Emily saw Amelethus on the porch of Elinore Hall late at night. Maybe he was getting out of the snow. The snow was beautiful. The snow came down for hours. It was a long snow. Amelethus was seeking shelter from the long snow late at night. Or he was waiting for someone.
DEAN: You are the third person to mention Elinore Hall. I wonder if there is some connection.
ANYWAY: You might talk with Emily. Emily was there. Emily saw Amelethus. It was snowing a long snow. The snow was long and long and Emily was there on the night of the long snow.
LOU: Emily Dixon is a beau-ti-ful girl. Beau-ti-ful!
DEAN: How are your classes going, Ernest?
ANYWAY: They are fine and long. The students are too wordy. The classes are too long. The classes are long and the students are wordy. The classes are fine and long.
LOU: Ernest Anyway is both cryptic, brief, cogent and digressive, all at the same time. He has the reputation for a journalistic style, but in reality, he is as repetitious as a frog on a pond. Hmmmm, I like that image. Frog on a pond.
DEAN: Thank you for dropping by. (Exit Anyway, who in intercepted by Oxford for another staring session. Dean starts to call her in, thinks better of it, and picks up his telephone, punching numbers). Hello, Dean of Women, please. This is Dean Dean. (Pause) Oh, yes, hello Dean Alcott, I think one of your little women in Little Hall is Emily Dixon. (Pause) Oh no, she’s not in difficulties, but I would like to talk with her about a situation we have on campus. Could you send her over at her convenience? Thank you. Thank you, Louisa.
LOU: Louisa runs a very fine residence hall for women. It’s called, as you heard, Little Hall. Those who live in Little Hall are called Little Women. Many great women have lived there: Tiny Tim’s wife; Paul Ruben’s sister Hermoine; the producer of “All My Children,” June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor and many other Little Women.
Oxford wins the staring contest again and Anyway leaves. Immediately, Denny King and his friend Rosco enter.
OXFORD: What do you boys want? You can’t see the dean without an appointment.
DENNY KING: We have an appointment, dear miss. If you check your book you’ll find that we called in to report that we have an urgent matter concerning the disappearance of my daddy to discuss with the dean.
OXFORD: Who is this rag-tag boy with you?
DENNY KING: It’s my best friend, a philosophy major, Rosco Lockesburg. Mr. Lockesburg, may I present Miss Sadie Oxford.
OXFORD: (She obviously likes the courtly politeness exhibited here and curtseys to Rosco, who bows deeply) I’m so pleased to meet you sir and y’all may go right in.
DEAN: Oh, Denny, come on in. (To Rosco) And good day sir, you are?
ROSCO: (Bowing) Rosco Lockesburg sir, a philosophy major here. Without the sure and true avouch of mine own eyes, I would not have believed I am meeting the dean.
LOU: I get it. He has read Hamlet. That’s Horatio’s line.
DEAN: How do you do? Please take a seat. I understand you have some information for me concerning the disappearance of your father.
DENNY KING: Yes, sir. Emily Dixon and I have been meeting at Elinore Hall. She has a little space hewn out of one of the storage rooms where she goes to write poetry. We spend time together there and yester night when we were talking softly, methinks I heard my father’s voice, a low meditative “help.” Emily had been hearing some scuffling down below her secret place for a day or twain. Anon, I grab my cell phone and call Rosco, a philosopher, who would know what to do. He came immediately. . .
LOU: Emily Dixon is a beau-ti-ful girl! Beau-ti-ful!!
Enter Emily Dixon who is detained by Oxford, but manages to make herself seen by the Dean.
DEAN: (Interrupting) Come in. Are you Miss Dixon? (She nods). Thank you for coming so promptly. Miss Oxford, please bring another chair. (Oxford rolls her ancient secretary’s chair into the office for Emily Dixon and plants herself on the Dean’s desk alongside Lou, interested in the proceedings). Miss Dixon, I hear you have been a regular at old Elinore Hall. What possessed you to go there?
DIXON: Last summer, I was inebriated by the very air I breathed and needed to be out in nature to clear my head from all the academic thoughts to return to the pursuit of truth and beauty when I saw a narrow fellow in the grass, slithering through a crack in Elinore Hall. I wondered where he lived, so I disassembled the ply board window near the front and found the ideal writer’s studio, but never found the snake. When Denny and I began a relationship, we started meeting there.
DEAN: And you heard a voice.
DIXON: I did. A plaintive cry for help.
DEAN: (To Denny) And you heard it?
DENNY KING: Unmistakably my father’s voice.
DEAN: (To Rosco) And you heard it?
ROSCO: Without the sure and true avouch of mine own ears, I would not have believed it.
DEAN: Did you report it?
DENNY KING: First, Rosco and I began to pry up boards and knock bricks away with other bricks until we caught a glimpse of Daddy, bound and lying in the dank cellar of Elinore.
ROSCO: Without the sure and true avouch of mine own eyes, I would not have believed it.
DENNY KING: Emily joined us in our work of digging through the structure. We made a hole big enough to slide down to make the rescue and so we did. Daddy said Eddie Pough had done that to him because of a perceived but unintended insult. He lured him down to the crypt-like depths of Elinore with the promise that he’d found some important forgotten lore down there. You know how my daddy is about forgotten lore and old writings. Eddie was always jealous of my daddy and apparently heard that Daddy had insulted him, made a joke about him, in his literature class. Used the student’s nickname for him, Deputy Dog, or something along those lines. We untied him and helped him in his weakened state up through the hole to safety. We went directly to the town police station, not campus security, because, as you know, that’s Pough’s office.
DEAN: Wisely done.
DENNY KING: Pough is under arrest and at my request the police are bringing him here right away
LOU: I see that truth prevailed. I am pleased. All the students call Pough deputy dog. You’d think he would get used to it. I was in that literature class the day of the alleged offense. What Professor Amelethus King actually said was about what the poet Robert Frost called “displacement.” Deputy Dog, he explained, is a displacement of the correct nomenclature for our security officer. Hidden within his definition was an admonishment for the students to actually stop calling their security officer Deputy Dog. Oh, well, as they say, no good deed ever goes unpunished.
Enter Pough in orange suit in handcuffs, guarded by two uniformed police officers. Following behind these three is Amelethus King himself, pale and thin, but shaven and well-dressed.
DEAN: (Rising to greet Amelethus King warmly) Good to see you, dear friend Amelethus. We feared the worst.
AMELETHUS KING: While I was bound and buried, Dean, walled up alive, I was so angry I couldn’t pray. I tried and tried. My words flew up, my thoughts remained below. Words without thoughts never to Heaven go. At length, I cried out for any help, angels, God or human. And, thank Heaven, Emily had established her study in Elinore Hall. And, thank Heaven, her boyfriend is my son.
Denny King and Dixon look at each other, embrace, and smile.
LOU: Emily Dixon is a beau-ti-ful girl. Beau-ti-ful!
POUGH: I should have put you in a pit and rigged a pendulum with an axe.
POLICE OFFICERS: (In unison), Shut up, Eddie.
Rosco: Without the true avouch of mine own ears, I would not have believed it.
DEAN: How long will Pough be in jail. I mean, when will he get out?
ALL BUT POUGH: Nevermore!
Enter Oxford with pot of coffee.
OXFORD: Fresh pot! Fresh pot! Who wants coffee?
Lou walks forward so that, when the curtain closes, she stands before it.
CURTAIN CLOSES
LOU: Pough, that insecure security officer, was so mad when he heard that Professor King had used the term Deputy Dog in class that he devised a plan to lure the professor into the deep dark basement of Elinore Hall, the condemned women’s residence hall now used for storage. He told King he had located some rare notes William Faulkenberg himself had scribbled on some Jack Daniels labels. When they got down there, apparently, Pough knocked him in the head, tied him up and locked him up way down there in that dank cellar, where he thought no one would ever find him. Thankfully, Emily Dixon, a very beau-ti-ful girl, had a poetry studio on the first floor of the old building, and she heard his cry for help. As fate, or whatever (looking up) would have it, her boyfriend was the son of Amelethus King, and they were able to rescue the professor. Pough is serving time, Amelethus now approves of his son’s relationship with Emily Dixon, the beau-ti-ful, and, and, and, I’m outta here!
CURTAIN OPENS and Lou steps back to join the cast for curtain call.
END

Friday, March 16, 2012

Abiding Friend

I’m really taken with William Faulkner’s story, “The Bear.” I mean the longer version that appeared in his 1939 classic Go Down, Moses, a collection of short stories that Faulkner himself called a novel. The stories that appear in that volume are connected mainly by imagery and place. “The Bear” comes toward the end of the collection and goes this way:

Ike McCaslin has always wanted to lay eyes on the old legendary grizzly that haunts the Mississippi bottoms. When he is 10, his older cousin, Cass, and his woodsman mentor, an old half Chickasaw and half African named Sam Fathers, let him go on the annual hunt with them. When he tells Sam he wants to see Old Ben, the bear, Sam says he has to leave the gun behind to get a glimpse of the creature. He explains to the boy that the bear is very smart and he won’t show himself to anyone with a gun in his hand.

So, one morning the boy gets up before the others and takes only a stick, a compass, a knife and a watch with him into the bottoms. By noon he is very far from camp and he realizes that he must relinquish the accouterments of civilization before he will see the bear. He leaves his knife, stick, compass and watch on a log and goes on alien and small into the windless noon’s hot dappling. (That’s not an exact quotation, but it gives you a sense of Faulkner’s language).

Suddenly, he realizes he is lost, so he does what Sam has taught him, making a large circle to the left, then to the right, looking for his own tracks to trace back. What he finds, though, is the old trap-ruined footprint of Old Ben, filling up with water, the sides caving in. The bear is very close. Then he sees him, even bigger than he thought, looming like a thundercloud above him. Then he catches a glint of light and looks to discover his knife and the other items on the log where he left them. When he looks back, the old bear is gone, having faded back into the wilderness.

The second time he sees the bear he has a gun but can’t shoot. Something won’t let him pull the trigger. When he asks his older cousin about this, Cass reads him Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” that poem about some things being too precious to change. “Forever wilt thou love and she be fair,” is a quotation from the poem that resounds in the boy’s head, until he understands that if he had shot the bear, he would have destroyed the very thing that made him appreciate and admire the love of liberty and all the old truths of the heart, such as love, honor, pity and sacrifice. The boy learns a lot from Sam Fathers and Old Ben. He learns even more from John Keats, thanks to his cousin Cass. That poem also has a line in it that goes, “Thou shalt remain in other woe than ours, a friend to man.” Faulkner’s story is our abiding friend.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Good Samaritan?

I was leaving the gym in Hope before daylight about a week ago and a man with a flashlight flagged me down as I was driving through the parking lot away from the light. I rolled down my window and the man started talking very rapidly, saying something that started, “I swear, this ain’t about money. . .” I could see where it was going, so I told him to knock on the glass door at the gym and someone would help him and drove away. As I did so, he yelled plaintively, “But sir, sir, hey sir!” I then saw him heading towards the gym, supposedly following my instructions.

I had a lot of confidence in a friend of mine who was exercising there, a retired state trooper, and I knew he would either see through the ploy or help the man.
I felt a little guilt for not being more helpful until I thought about the fact that he waited until I was away from the light in the middle of a deserted parking lot at 5 a.m. to flag me down. Perhaps my instinct was right to drive on. I hoped I was not like the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story, going by on the other side rather than helping my fellowman.

This morning, the same man was waiting in front of the gym. As I drove up he started towards my truck with a flashlight. Rather than pull into a parking space, I made a loop around the lot and drove a block or two away, then turned around and returned to the gym. When I arrived the second time, the man was gone. I told my state trooper friend about the episodes and he said, “Yes, he knocked on the glass door last week and told some bogus story about locking his keys in his car and needing money to have a locksmith come let him into his car. If he comes back around here, we’ll call the city on him.”

The trooper told me he figured the guy hung out at the nearby fast food places till they ran him off and then came to the first lighted place with people in it he could find to work his scam. I felt better about not being a Good Samaritan. These days, I suppose, one must be careful about offering aid. I have read about a number of setups that can get motorists into trouble for trying to be helpful. I just hope we can be discerning enough to recognize the opportunities for true service when there is a genuine need.

I know I have been grateful for the help of others when I have had car trouble. One time I was returning home after spending the night on Petit Jean. I was a member of the Camp Mitchell board and we had a late night meeting. I was trying to get home the next morning to teach a 9 o’clock class and I was pushing the Pontiac a little too much in the rain near Benton. I made the mistake of hitting the brakes in a curve and lost control, drifting off a high bluff. A motorist stopped and yelled down to me, “That stuff is slick ain’t it?” I was in no position to argue that point. He came down and helped me climb up to the road and gave me a lift to a telephone. He waited with me until the wrecker came. That was a Good Samaritan and I’m very glad he stopped.

Casual Leave

My seat on the train to Amsterdam was in a little cubical by a window with a great view of the countryside. Across from me was a middle-aged German who spoke better English than I did. He wanted to talk about the Cuban missile crisis which was just then going on and about the Berlin wall and other politically charged matters. My orientation to service in Germany had included a unit cautioning us not to engage in political talk with citizens, so I kept smiling and changing the subject. He finally took the hint and began to ask me about myself.

“Where are you from?”

“Arkansas.”

He looked blank. He could not find that obscure state on his mental map. “It’s by Texas,” I offered.

“Ah, cowboys and Indians!” Then he went into a long thing about the Chickasaw Indians that he had learned in school. He expected me to know more about the subject than I did, I think. My notion of Native Americans at the time had been formed by movies and his comments on the cultural aspects of Chickasaw life were alien to me.

I was so glad when the train rolled into the Amsterdam station. Even though I had no idea about lodging or transportation, I was looking forward to escaping the strained conversation and entering into the Holland I had heard so much about. Not long after I stepped off the train, a taxi driver stepped up and said to me, in English, “Need a cab?”

“Yes, I guess, unless there is a low priced hotel in walking distance.”
He replied, “I can take you to a bed-and-breakfast that has weekly rates and a vacancy. It is near the flea market.”

I said fine and he drove me to a delightful little home on a friendly-looking street. An elderly lady greeted me and told me the rates in American dollars. I was shocked at how low the price was for a week of sleeping and eating breakfast. And they had a great breakfast every morning: ham and eggs, rolls, jams and jellies, and great coffee. The old couple ate with me and a few other guests each day and I began to feel like family. That’s the way they wanted their clients to feel.

My leave in Amsterdam involved that dwelling place and a lot of walking and sight-seeing, just by myself. I tried pickled herring for the first time, gazed long afternoons at the boat traffic on the canals, met a Ben Franklin look-alike who told me people need their hair for proper brain function. In other words, I had an unorthodox vacation there in a foreign city, at 19 with no agenda. It was memorable.