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.
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.
Dr. Forrest Reeper. Biologist. Texan. Republican. Memberships: NRA. Deacon at Starlight Baptist Church. Once brought a shotgun to campus when the student paper (The Flahtsummary) reported that a family of possums had moved into the new athletes’ dormitory—then under construction. Discharged fire-arm. Felony charges were dropped during negotiations between college president and city attorneys. Believes in neither evolution nor ecumenical councils. Narrative purpose: to discharge fire-arms and to refuse to sit in the faculty dining room with homosexuals, Darwinians, and Catholics.
Pastor Chad: Campus pastor. Wears Hawaiian shirts to chapel. Believes in “the dignity of the individual” and “the sanctity of the trees, air and sky.” Begins his prayers, “O God, our Dance Partner!” Replaced all the Bibles in the chapel with radio transcripts of “This I Believe” from 1951-52. Vegan. Has tendency to appoint to his Campus Ministries staff young men from the music and theater departments. Organizes mission trips to San Francisco over spring break. Lisps and has trouble pronouncing his Rs.
[Note to self: don’t make this too realistic. No one will believe it.]
Dr. Morris Better. Economist. Drives a Hummer. Office shelves are bare. Fourth wife (Mandy) teaches Pilates two afternoons a week.
Lacey Bachs: Business major, pom-squad captainette, and member of Phi Rho. Narrative purpose: to receive input from Dr. Better.
Suzy Overfeldt: Econ major, cheerleader, and member of Delta Chi. Narrative purpose: to receive input from Dr. Better.
Sharon Sharalike: Accounting major, dance-team captainette, and member of Delta Chi. Narrative purpose: to receive input from Dr. Better.
Dr. Buckminster “Buck” Hookworm: College President and former chairman of the Studies in Excellence Department. Progressive Fundamentalist. Incapable of running a college. Probably incapable of coaching flag football. Narrative purpose: to blame the dean when things go wrong and to take credit when things go right. Regarded by the CEOs on the Board of Trustees as the next best thing since sliced bread, Kojak’s lollipop, and the cat’s pucker.
Adelaide U. Offen: Hookworm’s shapely gum-chewing secretary. Narrative purpose: to announce to the president phantom visitors—a prearranged scheme for terminating excruciating appointments with faculty members (usually the bloviating ethicist) and trustees. Running line: “Excuse me, Dr. Hookworm. [chew-chew] I hate to interrupt you, but Mr. Lou Zimnau is here to see you for your _____ o’clock appointment.”
Dr. Noah Morrills. Professor of Ethics. Queer as a three-dollar bill. Writes a weekly column on “situational ethics” for the local paper (recent title: “Why is Your Son Raising Gerbils?”). Can’t see students on Tuesdays because they are his “writing days,” which he spends at home watching gymnastics on videotape. Believes in “grounding one’s work ontologically rather that theologically.” Campus rumor: a student (later a Jesuit priest) once asked him his definitions of “ontology” and “theology.” Replied Dr. Morrills: “theology answers the question, ‘what’s up?’ Ontology answers the question, ‘what’s going down?’” Whereupon this waggish future Jesuit replied, “Isn’t ‘what’s going down’ existentially conflated in your world with ‘what’s up’?”
Dr. Waldo Wearizzie: Dean of the Faculty. Into everything. Micromanager incapable of tending a curriculum. Fashionable dresser (for a man half his age). Has Blackberry, iPod, Twitter, and cell phone. [Note to self: find out what these are and use them symbolically.] Narrative purpose: to lie, to screw up, to appear to be the cause of every good thing while actually accomplishing nothing, to hand out favors to those who flatter him, and to say “no” to those who don’t.
Dr. Paige Turner (“who, as a scholar, was nothing of the sort”). Sociologist. Specialty: eighteenth-century graffiti written by left-handed pregnant women with syphilis. Very stupid and dull. Average class size: three. Complains about how difficult it is to balance her teaching load and her research agenda. Was married to the dean long enough to get tenure then divorced “that bedroom cadaver.” Candidate for full professor and temporarily married to her department chairman, Dr. Ben Haddigan.
Dr. Libby Doe: Very sexy young untenured flautist. Known party-goer. Once described by an unmarried member of the political science department as “that horny broad over in music.” Narrative purpose: to get drunk at a reception after one of her own recitals and confess to being “even more skilled at the Fellatio than at the Flute.”
Dr. Skip Pitt: Saxophonist. Drunk. Seldom shows up to teach his lessons. Speaks ill of all other musicians and especially of students. Plays in bars most nights. Grows his own pot. Self-absorbed and exceedingly dull. Manages to bring his years at Julliard into every conversation (he was a custodian there as a teenager). Narrative purpose: to represent single heterosexual male musicians accurately.
Dr. Mick Flequeneaux: “Queen of dullness absolute” (narrator’s nickname for him). Duplicitous conniving self-serving—and woefully undereducated—sonofabitch who likes to wear panty hose. Narrative purpose: to show what literary theorists are really like.
Dr. Peter Chaiser. Chairman of the music department [needs more thought]
Dr. Adam Eve: Guilt-ridden physicist afraid to go public with his discovery: that matter doesn’t exist.
Dr. Barb Wire: Professor of Feminist Theory. Refuses to read anything before 1960. Once held a mock memorial service on the campus quad for the “deceased patriarchy”; concluded her eulogy with a promise to “go home and weep like Alexander the Great, for there is nothing left to conquer!”—to the thunderous applause of her sole fellowette mourner, Carry Grudge.
Tip Mehoff: editor, student paper. Narrative purpose: to catch Dr. Barb Wire plagiarizing Wikipedia in one of her articles for Phallusy: A Journal of Theoretical Sisterhood.
Bud Smith: golf course superintendent and man of few words. Well-adjusted, level-headed, and competent. Possesses several practical skills, including the management of unruly crew members. Stays within his budget. Stays out of view of the members; has no truck with pro shop staff. Shows up for work at 4:30 each morning and leaves when the work is done. He and his son are building a canoe in their garage.
Jim Olsen: Crew member. Lives on coffee, donuts, Burger King, and marijuana.
Mark Stanley: Crew member indistinguishable from Jim Olsen.
Tiffany Johnson: Drink cart girl and junior accounting major at Flahtsum. Incapable of real work. Hair color: chemical. Measurements: impressive but subject to change. Enjoys being eyed by the golfers. Should have an empty feeling inside—a “feeling that there’s so much more to life that being looked at and having fun”—but doesn’t.
Plot: Damnation! Almost forgot that something has to happen! [Note to self: consider letting action proceed from character.]