Bar Jester Chronicles 4: Notes for a Campus Novel

professor-jennings

ROCK ISLAND, IL

Setting: Flahtsum College, located somewhere near a dam on a major river in the Midwest town of Flahtsum. Liberal Arts. Tuition-Driven. Motto: In Farrago Veritas. Mascot: Carp. Student Body: 1,700. Popular majors: business, pre-physical therapy, pre-nursing, pre-chiropractic, pre-MBA. US News & World Report ranking: unranked.

POV: First-person present-tense. The narrator, a gym rat and sardonic professor of American literature known for teaching eight o’clock classes only, has inexplicably scheduled himself for afternoon classes second semester. (He’s taken a job on a golf course to preserve his sanity and he can’t get to campus before 2:00 p.m.) He ducks into doorways and hallways to avoid almost everyone on campus—and not because he’s covered with grass clippings and smells of diesel fuel. Rather, he’s convinced that his enemies are framing him and preparing slanderous accusations against him (including failure to use gender-neutral pronouns). To what end? To get his tenure revoked. And who are his enemies? Everyone.

It is true he has insulted just about everyone of late:

—Did on one occasion say to a football player in College Rhetoric, “why do you need a neck that thick to support a head that empty?”

—Having caught a sorority girl tossing a cigarette on the ground, did on one occasion pick it up, hand it back to her and say, “That’s right, Princess. The whole [expletive] world is your private ashtray.”

—Did in excess of three times say to a line-backers’ coach waiting for an elevator, “Elevators are for line-backers and other pussies!”

—Did say, when a colleague failed to show up for a department meeting, “Her meds are out of whack.” Met with what he regarded as cowardly silence by his department, he continued in mock incredulity: “What? She’s a single female academic. Of course she’s on medication!”

—Did in a memo to the dean recommend several methods of self-slaughter, including “subjecting yourself to courses in sociology.”

—Did at a cocktail party confide to the president’s wife that, for the “good of this once middling, now moribund, institution, you should put out more—and not with the soccer team.”

And so on. He is convinced that peaceful mornings with a greens mower (an old Jacobsen walker) might restore the love he feels he has lost for his fellow man, which loss he blames on the proliferation of the comma splice and the fact that people are in general bastards, fools, knaves, sonsabitches, and/or Progressive Fundamentalists.

Principal Characters:

Dr. Fanny Lickliter: Diminutive single woman, sociologist, mid-thirties. Wears beige cotton floor-length skirts, Birkenstocks, and loose tops of indeterminate style. Short spiked hair. Shows up to work every month or so with an angry overpicked cyclopsic zit between her eyebrows. Likes to say that “lesbianism is the flowering of a woman.” [Be sure to have the narrator ask: “Does she have to tell us everything—the whole sixty-nine yards?”] Has a life-size cardboard cut-out of Gloria Steinem in her office. Narrative purpose of this character: not sure yet.

Dr. Carry Grudge: Large jello-y bitter old erstwhile chair of Women’s Studies. Specialty: Nineteenth-century American literature. (Only major publication: Seeing A Phallus Behind Every Bush: A Comparative Study of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.) Of Anglo-Arian descent but dresses in African garb. Always walks as if in a minefield. Sweats like a rice paddy. Recently accused the dean of hiding microphones in her office fish tank after her piranha died. Once, in an all-faculty discussion of the campus set-point policy for building temperatures (69 degrees maximum by a vote of 51-49), stood, raised an arm, pointed to the ceiling, and blurted out: “Alice B. Toklas, we believe in you!” then sat back down sullenly. Former umpire. Now advisor to CLAWS (Campus Lesbian Awareness Web Service). Drives a Subaru with two bumper stickers: “Pro Choice” and “Fur is Murder!” Narrative purpose: possible love-interest for Fanny; otherwise, not sure yet.

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