Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

I Think the Ivory Tower Was Really Plastic

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In my last year of high school I sat in on a history class at the college I eventually attended. It hooked me. Not the subject, mind you; I didn’t settle on History as my major until a bit later. It was the professor: he was brash, sharp and quirky, resembling a longer-haired Larry of the Three Stooges, but with half-moon glasses and a nasal voice that called to mind a very fast immersion blender.

I spent a year and a half abroad before returning to that campus, to find out that the professor had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor, and the ordeal had changed him: he was brasher, crankier, more unkempt, and much more bitter. He proved so entertaining as a result that not only did I decide to major in History, I registered for every class I possibly could with him. My junior year he took a sabbatical, and I was crushed. Somehow, I muddled through the mild disillusionment, even succumbing to it briefly enough to declare a Business minor as well. I remember about eight things from that set of courses, among them: Present Value, Amortization, that there’s something meaningless called Total Quality Management, and that some people actually need to be taught to use Microsoft Word. People are morons.

People Are Morons, as a weltanschauung, came to illuminate a good bit of other subjects, including History, as well as prepare me for life in the much-touted Real World that was supposed to begin once I was graduated. In fact I’m still waiting for it to begin, thirteen years later, but People Are Morons nevertheless serves to explain much of current events, bureaucracy and pop culture.

I don’t have the chutzpah to adopt People Are Morons as a business strategy, P.T. Barnum style, because really, the way we treat our inferiors – in material, emotional or mental terms – provides the true measure of our character. The mantra functions mainly in an explanatory capacity, when nothing else quite accounts for the mind-blowing stupidity all around us: Lady Gaga; the popularity of Hummers; Glenn Beck as a torch bearer for Martin Luther King, Jr.; Scientology; reality TV; the 9/11 “truth” movement; and why desserts exist that do not contain chocolate.

But back to college (I would if I could – more on that some other time). The day I sat in on that history class, some of my colleagues audited a session in public speaking, a course I ended up taking – under the same professor who was in that speech classroom a couple of years before. I’m pretty sure it was the same room, in fact. There I was, a quiet, somewhat bookish eighteen-year-old, assigned to give his first informative speech, and I had to perform under the critical eye of – as far as we could tell – a seasoned, cynical observer of human expression, who dropped names (sometimes just for dramatic effect, I am convinced) and intimidated us little nerds. He could tell we were intimidated. Or at least it looked that way.

I chose, as my topic, the Protestant-Catholic violence in Northern Ireland, mostly because I liked Tom Clancy’s novel Patriot Games. Except that it took me a looong time to dredge up enough material to satisfy the structural and annotative material the professor demanded. When I finally stood at the lectern, my voice and gestures brimming with confidence and apparent mastery of the material, he just sat there, dumbfounded. Here was this little pipsqueak, proving the know-it-all judge of personality all wrong. When he got over his initial shock, we warmed to each other (and his critiques of my subsequent presentations were not as kind, even the one about chocolate, and even though I brought in the “visual” aids of Toblerone and its ilk and distributed them freely).

During my senior year he directed the dramatics society in a dynamite production of Inherit the Wind, and I can’t thank him enough for the experience. I was the Reverend Jeremiah Brown; the role called for one fabulous, fire-and-brimstone prayer meeting as my big scene. The director had us rehearsing it over and over one evening, and one element of the production had me slapping my kid for objecting to my calling down “Hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word.” The actor playing the part was supposed to move with my hand such that the sound would resonate, but the pain would be minimal. Except that the last time we did the scene that evening, I didn’t hear the director’s instruction to skip the slap that time. So my interlocutor was unprepared for the blow. Ouch.

I have other fond memories of that period, not least because it’s when I met my wife (well, that’s what she is now; stop getting all picky with my language – that’s  MY job). The campus convenience store was open to students of the affiliated high school during certain evening hours, and my eventual brother-in-law taught there at the time. During some banter with a couple of high schoolers, one said to the other, “You know who he reminds me of? Mr. ______.” “Yeah!” said the other. I observed how funny that was, considering that I was dating his sister. They simply didn’t believe me. People are morons.


Written by Thag

September 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

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