The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

An Excerpt from Backseat Professor: True Tales from Inside the Ivory Tower by Slone

Part One:  Ineluctable Friction
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things:  freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practise either of them.
—Mark Twain

To:  Henry Cromby
From:  Dick Redley, Dean of Faculty
RE:  College offices and their proper usage
I've heard informally that you have slept (overnight?) in your office.  Is there a problem we could help you with?

The Interview
I stepped off the plane.  Too bad it had landed at a small airport in upstate New York.  I'd been living alone on a houseboat for nearly nine months in the boonies in upstate Georgia, sending resumes out.  Now, there I was again... in an upstate boonies. 
“Henry?” asked a short wedge of a white-haired woman walking up to me. 
“Yes,” I responded.  
“I’m Renate Kort from the College,” she declared.  “The car’s over there.  Do you want to comb your hair before we get going?”  I’d been losing hair for the past 20 years, a family thing, so I’d stopped using the comb and brush long ago.  “I’ve got a comb if you need one.  You don’t have dandruff, do you?”
“Actually, uh…”

The Classroom
“Professor Cromby, why do they use tu and vous?” asked a student.  “It seems so stupid.  Why don’t they just say ‘you’ like everyone else?” 
“Well, it’s uh just different, Molly,” I responded, not quite knowing what to say.  “Besides, English is more the exception than not.  Most languages have more than one way of saying you.” 
In my 1:15 class, some of the students couldn’t grasp the simplest of concepts.  Some of them cried readily or broke into hysterical fits of giggling.  Nearly all of them were female and from wealthy, conservative upstate families.
"OK, allons-y,” I said, pointing and gesturing with my arm that we’d go around the class, one by one, one letter per student.  “On fait le tour.  Sharon.”
“Ahh,” said Sharon.
"Bien," I said.   “Susie.”
“Bay,” she said. 
"Allons-y!” I encouraged.  “Un peu plus vite!"
“Say,” said Marsha.  But then Bonni came storming into the room late. 
“Hi, I was down to see that Tonka lady, you know, at the Registrar’s,” she said.  “She dicked me 60 bucks.  Can you believe that?  I’m really pissed off, so please don’t call on me today.”
“Okay, Bonni, have a seat,”  I said.
“Dr. Cromby, can I say something?”
"Oui, vas-y, Laura," I said attempting to move the class more into French.
“Well, Dr. Cromby, my parents think you're cool, you know,” she said.  “I told them all about you.  They wanna read all your editorials.  They love anyone who wears shit-kickers.”
“Okay, Laura, thanks for the information,” I said.  “Now, let’s get moving on.”
“No problem, Mon-Sir,” she said.  The class laughed.  Then Bonni raised her hand.
“Yes, Bonni, what do you want?” I asked.
“Oh, never mind!” she said.  The class laughed again.  I liked jogging, even in the winter.  It got
me outside and generally alone.  Just the same, I decided to drop it for a while because of my knees and feet.  Besides, it necessitated more frequent shower use, and I didn’t have a shower.  The college gym had one.  Immediately before my 1:15 class, I usually used it.
“Bon, ” I continued.  “Allez, l’alphabet.  Ellen, vas-y, s’il te plaît!"
“Ah, bay, say, day,” she repeated. 
A mentally retarded guy named Luke did all the dirty work around the gym.  He was always mopping and watering down, keeping the benches, seats, handlebars, water fountain and air in a constant drench of suds and Lysol.  Sometimes it got me peeved, but Luke was a decent, pleasant sort of guy.  Some days his would be the only smile I’d ever witness. 
"Très bien,” I said.  “Jennifer, continue!"
“Uh, eff, uh, I don’t know,” she said.  “This is so boring.  Last year my high school French teacher, Mrs. Day, used to teach us games.  She was so good!  Do you want me to teach you any, Dr. Cromby?”
“Any what?” I asked. 
In the beginning, classes were fine.  Students seemed pleasant enough.  Teaching seemed possible.  But as we progressed beyond the introductions and arranging of the seats in semi-circle, it became very difficult.  Many students had minimal attention spans.  The topic of the moment was constantly assailed and displaced. 
"Oke, Mandy, l' alphabet, s'il te plaît," I said.
“Ah, bay, say, uh, uh...” she said.
Oui, oui, c'est ça," I said..  "Continue!"
            "That’s all I know,” she said.  “Dr. Cromby, when are we going to see a movie again?  It’s getting close to the long weekend and we’re really tired.” 
I thought about what the college president had said during his address to the faculty:  “We are very pleased with this year’s enrollment.  Not only are we now attracting more students to Mark Twain College, but the quality of students that we attract is very high.  We have eleven Valedictorians this year, and that’s five more than last year and more than ever before.” 
“Why don’t you bring a cup of coffee next time, Mandy, a king-size cup,” I suggested.
“I don't drink coffee,” she said. 
“Well, bring a cup of tea then,” I suggested.
“I don't drink tea either,” she said. 
“Well, what about coke?” I asked.
“It’s against the college rules to bring food into the classroom, Dr. Cromby,” informed Cathy. 
I wondered where the hell the Valedictorians were.  I hadn’t gotten any of them in my classes.  Or maybe I had.  Maybe Mandy was one of them.  Anything seemed possible at the college.
“Look, we’ll see a movie after you’ve learn the French alphabet, Mandy, okay?” I said.
“Oh, that’s unfair,” she complained.  “It’s not easy.”
“Well, get a tutor then!” I suggested tiring of her complaints.  “They’re free at the college.  Take advantage of it!  Anyone that’s in college should be able to learn the French alphabet.” 
“It’s just so tiring, that’s all,” she said. 
“Well, why don’t you try coming to class with hy


"Let's, uh, have the quiz now.  We can't spend all term learning the alphabet. "
"But some of us are slow learners I"
"Yeah, Dr. Cromby.  Some of us are totally lost in this class I"
"And some of us have never had French be fore I"
" I don ' t know what ' s going to happen to my grade-point average after your course I"
"Yeah and there's a few of us that are on scholarship tool,” she said.  They were scared shitless for their
grades.  I tried my hardest to ease their fears.  I assured them that if they simply came to class the least they'd get would be a 'C' and that if they did a little work they'd probably get a 'B'.  But they all wanted 'A's... for attendance.
"Take out a blank piece of paper, put away your books and write your names on top.  Don't forget your
names I"  I looked over at Mandy because she'd forgotten her name on the last quiz.  She looked up at me.
"Don't worry Dr. Cromby, I already put my name on the paper."
"That's good, Mandy."
I uttered five French letters, each three times and very slowly.  The were supposed to write down what
they heard.  When I finished, Ellen finished writing her name.  She said:  "Now, what are we supposed to do. Dr. Cromby?"
The Interview
"That guy we interviewed last week was something else, Henry.  Can I call you Henry?"
"Yeah, sure."
"He had a degree from Princeton.  I don't know why he was interviewing here.  But I've never seen anyone
babble as much as he did...  well, maybe LeCon.  I think LeCon's taking you out to dinner tonight.  Well, that guy gave me such a headache, and I never get headaches I  I'm a vegetarian.  You know what he told me?"
"He said he was so pleased to have been able to interview me.  I didn't know what he was talking about.  I
was the one who was interviewing him.  He kept going on and on about how much he liked phonetics, or something like that.  Felon was the only one who liked him and I'm not surprised because Felon's a fat, pompous blowhard.  He'll be going with you and LeCon tonight.  Anyhow, I knew I wouldn't like that guy as soon as he got off the plane..."
I was given a room on the seventh floor of Hiroshi, the tallest of the dorms, a mini-skyscraper for the
Town.  The first night, I explored the eighth, which was as deserted as the seventh, and bumped into two blonds, whose initial surprise quickly turned into authority.
"SIR, WE'RE RA's!"
"Oh?  What's that?"
"Residence Assistants.  Don't you know what that is?"
"No, I never heard of that before."
The eighth floor was reserved for Japanese businessmen from the local Westinghouse plant, which had
recently been rebaptised Toshiba.  It was a jungle of refuse:  liquor bottles, beer bottles, pizza boxes and cigarette butts, all over the place.  They'd moved out for a couple of weeks for Fall cleaning and had left an unopen can of beer in one of the refrigerators.
"RA's have the responsibility in the dorms to make sure everything is okay.  There are rules and they have
to be followed, and the rules say that you can't carry open containers outside your room.  You should know that, sir.”
"Well, I don't.  I'm new around here and nobody ever told me that or anything else.  Besides, the can isn't
even open."
I'd been drinking a lot at night, alone, and was quite content doing so.  I'd spent many months in solitary
moored by the dock in my brother's houseboat.
"Sir, it doesn't matter.  No alcohol outside your room.  That's the rule I"
"Well, how do you get it into your room without having it outside first?"
My room would be cleaned periodically.  The maid would change my sheets and give me fresh towels
every so often.  She'd even collect my beer bottles and put them into a green, plastic bag, which she left under my desk.
"Okay, don't get excited.  You don't want to give me a bad impression of the College, do you?"
The eighth floor was Myrna Oscarmyer's pride and enjoy.  Myrna was the President's wife and the 
College's unofficial interior decorator.  The floor was replete with plush, purple rugs, textured purple wallpaper, framed paintings of purple pansies (the College's official flower) and purple-painted TV’s bolted on to purple panels.  Purple was the College's official color.
"Seven thirty-two."
One of them pushed button seven.  The doors closed.  The three of us stared at the wall.  Then the doors
opened.  I stepped out and started down the purple hallway.
I didn't answer.  They didn't like me.  I wasn't shaven.  I was old and wasn't wearing my suit.  I didn't like
them either.  They were young, pretty and pretty snotty.  The next night, I heard a couple of voices whisper in the hallway by my door.
"Maybe he's dead.  What do you think?"
"Shhh.  I don't know, Andy, hahahaha..."
"Hahahaha... "
The Interview
“Why do you want to teach at Mark Twain College, Henry?”  Renate was right.  Max Felon was big.  His lower abdomen was a watermelon.  He was an Alabaman and breathed heavily like a dirty-phone caller.
“Well, I'm sure it would be challenging,” I said.  “Isn’t it an historical institution?”  When I first saw
Felon, I knew instinctively that I wouldn't care much for him and worse yet that he wouldn't care much for me.
“Yes, it is,” he said.  “I see you’ve done your homework, Henry.”  But I hadn’t done my homework at all.  I just assumed that most small, mediocre colleges were historical, for one reason or another.  That was the only card most of them had to play.
Phone Call
"Henry, this is Doug in Counseling and Career Services.  I just wanted to tell you that one of your
students, Becky Hobart, is in love with you."
"Do you know who she is?"
"Yeah, I know Becky.  But I haven't noticed anything unusual.  I really don't know what to say, Doug.  I
mean, I certainly haven't come on to her. That'd be unprofessional, wouldn't it?"
"Yes it would, Henry."
"Well, what should I do?"
"I've been discussing the problem with her for several weeks now."
"You're kidding.  Several weeks?"
I didn't mind starting the new job.  It gave me something to do.  It made me feel I was part of the world
once again, for better or... for worse.
"Yes, Henry, I'm quite serious.  Anyhow, you don't really have to do anything.  It seems to be her
problem, not yours."
"Yes, that's true, but will it become mine?"
"Well, I really don't know.  I sure hope not.  You keep me informed and I'll keep you informed,
"Sure. "  Plouffe was the kind of employee the College liked to have on its payroll.  He was married, had
two little daughters, didn't swear, said "yes, sir" to the Dean and, most of all, didn't write articles in the student newspaper, criticizing the hand that fed him.
"You know, this thing seems to be driving her crazier by the day, Henry.  I mean she doesn't seem like she
can function any longer."
"Sounds serious."
"Yes, I know.  This must come as a big surprise to you, but, well, these things do happen around
here.  My wife was a former student of mine, you know.”
"Oh, really?"
"Well, yes, and, uh, that's between us, okay Henry?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Anyhow, I've advised Becky to drop all activities that concern you and not to hang around after
class, nor go to your office anymore.  I've also told her that if she couldn't get this thing unde control, she'd have to take an 'Incomplete' in your course."
"Good.  I just can't believe that she's in love with me.  I mean I really haven't noticed anything
unusual about her behavior.  Are you sure it's Becky and not someone else?"
"Yes, I'm sure.  I've been counseling her since the first day of classes, your classes.  To tell you
the truth, I think her sexuality is quite confused. "
"Well, whatever.  Just keep me posted, will you?  I don't want any problems. "
The Interview
"Now, I'd like to ask you a pedagogical question, if I may, Henry.  How would you teach the
imperfect tense?"
Renate had said that Felon had fallen down the stairs in his own house and that he'd been lying on
the floor for a whole day before anyone had found out he was there.  She'd said it had taken four firemen to carry him out to the ambulance and that, unfortunately, it had taken him only a month to recover.
"Well, I'll have to think on that a second.  Let's see.  I like to teach it by comparing it with the, uh,
passe compose.   I'm not even sure how you say that in English."
"The preterite, I believe."
"Yes, that's it, the preterite.  Anyhow, I list the differences up on the board.  I think students like
Renate had said that she'd bumped into him in a restaurant one day, that he was sitting by himself,
so she'd gone up to him and asked if he minded if she sat at his table.  He was reading The New York Times, said no, and kept on reading.  So she sat down and picked up a section but he'd slammed his fist down on top of it and said:  "I don't like anyone to read my paperi"
"Good, Henry.  Now, would you speak in French for me, please."
Renate had said that when she first came to the College, he was always on her back because she
was also a language teacher.  German.  He taught Spanish and wanted her to be in the classroom 20 minutes before classes started, so she could pick up the garbage and wipe down the boards.  Renate had said that one day she'd had enough and told him to leave her alone, and he did.
"Sure, what would you like me to say?"
"It doesn't matter."
I talked for a while and wondered if he understood anything I was saying because he didn't
respond.  He just stared down at the floor at my black-leather tennis sneakers...
Teen Crush
I was sitting in my office watching thick-winged ants drop from the fluorescent lamp and ceiling. 
They made little thumps as they hit the floor.  Apparently their wings no longer did the job.
"Come on in, Becky.  Entre."
"Oh, okay."
Becky Hobart was standing by the door squinting at my office hours.  I'd watched her for a few
seconds, tugging away at her underwear.
"So, how's the French coming along, hah?"
"Oh, not bad.   I study a lot."
She paced back and forth in front of my desk, with her head bowed to the ground.  I told her to
relax and sit down.  It was the first time I ever had an office to myself--armchairs, a couch and wall-to-wall carpeting.
"I studied chapter two until five in the morning, you know."
"Come on, are you kidding?"
"No, really I did."
"Well, that's good, Becky.  So, do you need help on anything?"
"No, I think I understand everything."
"I bet you do.   So, uh, what can I do?"
She took off her glasses.  The lenses were very thick.  She was overall a very thick coed.  She
blushed and didn't say anything.
"So, what do you want to talk about, Becky?"
"Well Dr. Cromby, you know that guy I mentioned the last time I was in your office?"
"No, what guy?"
"You don't remember?"
"No, I don't.  I've got a bad memory."
"Oh, come on Dr. Cromby, you must have a very good memory.  I mean you're a professor and all."
"Well, just tell me."
"Remember I told you that I was having trouble doing my homework because, well, I was in
She looked right into my eyes.  I thought, oh shit, here it comes.  Let ' s get it over with.
"Don't you remember. Dr. Cromby?
"Not really.  So ...who's the guy?"
"Well... he's you I"
She stood up and walked around the corner of my desk.  I panicked.  She was riddled with
freshly-picked zits.  Just my luck.
"I know. Dr. Cromby."
"BECKY, I'M NOT JOKINGI  SIT DOWNI" She backed off and sat back down on the couch.  "Listen, you have to get this idea out of your head.  I'm too old.  You ' re too young. "
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time for me.  The last guy I dated was in his fifties."
Christ, how the hell was I going to deal with this one?  "You got to be kidding. "
"No.  There's a lot of couples around like that where I'm from."
"And where are you from?"
"Where's that?"
"Twenty miles east.  It's off the highway.  You know. Route 88...  Dr. Cromby, why can't we just try
“Because you’ve got too much nervous energy,” I said.  “You need to jog, or something.”
“Well, I do jog, but it doesn’t help,” she said.  I could see that all right. 
“Maybe you're not jogging enough,” I suggested.
“Can’t we just try it?” she pleaded.
“Try what?” I asked.
“Going out together!” she said.
“There’s a moral issue involved here, Becky,” I said.  “What do you think people would say? 
I’m your professor.  Don’t you see, they’d think I was taking advantage of you or that you were trying to get a higher grade.”
“Well, I don’t think so,” she said.  “Besides, I already have an A in your class.”
After Hiroshi, I rented the top floor of a house on Abbott Street, about five minutes away from the
College and five minutes away from the infamous Barno Hospital, known for its assembly-line operations and high patient death rate.
My rent was cheap, but Jim Blavis, the landlord, lived below me with his girifriend and teenage
daughter.  He was a shouter, especially when the girifriend's son came over.  The door slammed a lot.  The son ran around the house a lot.  Jim ran around the house a lot too, hollering and unable to catch up.
The woman next door was also a shouter and had a cat named Chucky.
In the morning, Jim and his woman woke up always around 4:30.  First, the smell of nicotine
seeped upwards through the floor boards, then the voices ripped out the nails.
"Why don't you learn to be nice, Jim?  You're always hollering, you are. . . "
A month later. I'd made a decision.  I got up, got dressed and walked out the side door as always. 
It was the second.  The front door opened soon after the side door slammed.  I didn't turn around.  The black-box lid flapped up like a sledge hammer on an anvil, then down as I stepped on to the
I turned around.  I'd almost made it to the car.
"Jim, I think I'm going to move out.  This place is a hole, with the doors slamming all the time.  I
can hear you get up every morning, and that daughter of yours with that loud mouth of hers..."
"Listen, Jim, I'll have to think about it."
I drove off and put on the radio.
The Interview
"Now, this is Mole Hall."
"Yes, it's one of the great landmarks of American education and is actually listed in the National
Register of Historic Buildings."
"No kidding," I said.
"Really!" they said.
A couple of female students were taking me on a tour of the campus.  Both wore purple and gold
beanies with 'MTC' inscribed in the front.  They were joyous Wizard of Oz inhabitants and had added to my growing anxiety and desire to get back to the South, which in itself was amazing.
"Look down here at these beautiful purple flowers, professor."
"Yes, they're called pansies in case you don't know.  The President himself planted them just last
"Yes, and he does that every year.  It's one of our traditions."
The tour was longer and more detailed than I'd ever thought a campus tour could be.  They
practiced their routine well and were probably getting academic credit for it.
"We know if you're hired you'll like the College very much because we've got a lot of exciting
traditions here."
"We do have so many of them, don't we. Lisa?  There's Freshman Orientation and Midnight
Breakfast and, uh, don't forget Puddle Day."
"Yeah.  There's also Parents' Weekend, the Nonagon Fair, Spring Weekend, the Holiday
"And what about the Candlelight Ceremony and Patron Saints.  It would take us all day to explain
all of them to you. Doctor, really."
"I'm sure it would.  What's Patron Saints?  I thought this was a non-denominational college."
"What's that mean. Lisa?"
"It means there's no religious affiliation," I said.
"Oh, well, anyhow. Patron Saints is, uh. Lisa isn't that when a professor is saint of each class? 
Like the senior class has one patron saint, I think its Dr. Stentberg, and the junior class another.  Isn't he Professor LeCon?"
"Yes, Mindy, and the patron saint is supposed to help you get through your college years, right
up to when you reach your baccalaureate-hood."
"What's baccalaureate-hood?" I asked.  "Is it life between childhood and adulthood?"
"Oh, that's funny, professor.  But it's the word we use for when you get your degree at
commencement. . . "
"Don't you have a girifriend, professor?"
I'd moved into the backseat of my car.  It was peaceful as hell.  But it got cold and my knees and
hips felt the dead pain of cramped quarters.
"Well, if you don't. I'd love to go out with you, professor."
I'd moved into my office.  Besides the couch, there was light and heat. It was also very quiet at
night... except around midnight.
"Huh?  What do you think?"
I didn't answer the question.  Harriet was part of the night cleaning crew.  She was a big woman
with tattooed arms who moved like a big white penguin.  She was also a talker and thought I was cute.  She looked like she would have spread her legs right there on the couch for me, but I didn't want that.  I didn't like big penguin-shaped women with tattoos.
"Well, I have to go now.  If you need anything, just holier.  We're waxing the bathrooms tonight,
so you'll know where to find me..."
Jack Kerouac was right.  He'd said the woods were full of wardens.  The next day I got a
MEMORANDUM from the Dean.  Someone had informed on me.  It could have been anyone, even Harriet.  But I didn't think it was her.  She and the Dean didn't keep the same hours.
The Interview
“Do you know what Speech and Hearing is?” asked a thin, thin-lipped Speech and Hearing
Disorders professor chosen to be one of my interviewers. 
“Uh, yes, I think so,” I said, glancing down at her desk and pointing to a blue ceramic dish with pink belly button in the middle.  “Oh, that’s very interesting.” 
“Oh, thank you,” she said.  “You know, my husband made that.  He’s an art professor at the college.  He’s made a lot of those.  So, Henry, what uh position is it that you’re interviewing for?”
“Uh, French,” I said.
“Oh how interesting!” she said.  I’d also end up meeting separately with a blond Associate Professor of Physical Education, who would ask if I could play soccer and if I’d be willing to help coach the team.  I’d tell her that would certainly be a possibility, if hired.  She too hadn’t been informed as for which position I was applying and asked.  When I told her, she replied:  “Oh, how very interesting.”
Morning In Town
"Mary, they don't have croissants here.  That was at Burger King's where you got that.  This is
"Oh, well, what do we have to eat then, Charles?"
I changed parking spots frequently to avoid suspicious neighbors, patrol cars, shopkeepers,
colleagues and other wardens.  Sometimes I slept by the tracks in a quiet area by the abandoned factories.  When it rained I was in heaven.  I'd listen to talk shows on the radio while the roof pattered away.
"We don't have to eat anything, but they have English muffins with a fried egg on them. "
"Well, I guess so then."
A slow boxcar train would come by every so often, pushed by a locomotive instead of pulled.  It
took nearly half an hour to pass by.  When it finally did, the engineer would stick his head out the window and look down at my red glowing face.
"Here's yours."
"But this doesn't look like a croissant, Charles.  I WOULD LIKE TO EAT A CROISSSANT,
I ' d raise my beer high up in his honor and in honor of my temporary moment on earth, but he'd
scowl right down through my window.  I didn't care really.  I'd repeat my gesture each night I saw him.  I guess he didn't care either because he'd repeat his.
"Well, all right then."
I ' d wake up very early in the morning when the cold and the ache in my knees and hips would
be at their peak.  I'd try to keep warm and wait until McDonald's opened at seven-thirty.
The Interview
The President was from Texas, so was the Dean.
'OH LORD, HELP ME KEEP MY BIG MOUTH SHUT!'   I stared up at the plaque, while the
President talked.  The letters were big and purple.  It hung on his door.
"...So you've come up from Atlanta, have you?  You don't sound like a southerner."  The
President was a large man with a full head of white hair. He had the grin of a three-year old bad boy.
"I had a long discussion with a couple of your students this morning," I said, "so I'm quite aware
of your traditions."
"Well, that's really good.  My favorite one is Pansy Planting Days. Remember the time, Dick,
when we were in back of Mole Hall?  Oh, it was a couple of years ago.  There was a great turn-out.  Even the priest from St Anthony's had come out to help.  That's the church across the street, Henry. We sang '0 Samuel Clemens' to him and he was really moved.  Wasn't he, Dick?"
The Dean was a short fat man with a full head of brown hair.  He had the demeanor of a monk. 
"So, Henry, you can see that we're really quite the family here.  We're a small institution and we're happy about that.  It makes for an excellent social environment.  Now, I don't want you to get me wrong because we're also quite the scholarly institution.  I've seen that you have published a few articles and we'd hope that you'd continue to do this. Publishing would be part of your responsibilities.  Does this sound like the kind of situation that would, uh, suit you?"
"Yes, it does," I said.
"Well, that's fine.  Now, is there anything else you'd like to say?"
"Not really.  Except, well. I'm very interested in the position, and I know I shouldn't say this, but
has anyone ever told you that you look like Dan Akroyd? "
Conformity is the fascist's cleaver, used to butcher the solitary wolf of individualism. 
Unfortunately, we all must conform to a certain extent to avoid being butchered. . .
Like every college, Mark Twain had its student newspaper.  Unlike the College's other printed
organs, it seemed willing to publish anything and everything that came its way.
.. .For me,  growing up in the 60s was a revelation of the strange manifestations of conformity
and intolerance.  Non-conformists, who were not tolerated by traditional conformists, became conformists and intolerant themselves, shunning the glabrous-cheeked, short-haired, un-bellbottomed, non-dope smoking, non-LSD tripping, non-organic food eaters...
The Nonagon, as the paper was called, was named after the College's nonagonally-shaped, historical Mole Hall building.  Because of the building, the nine-sided polygon enjoyed official
College-symbol status.  Its proliferation in and around campus was matched only by that of the pansy and purple things.
...Today intolerance is still prevalent.  It is even prevalent here at the College, where some
professors and students have a difficult time dealing with those who do not meet the standard image of the Judeo-Christian lawn-mowing parent.  I discussed this with Professor Halestone the other day.  She said:  "But we must be good role models for our students..."
My first submission to the paper was a response to a group of colleagues who had been discussing
my case over lunch.  Renate had told me that they'd expressed 'concern' about my 'strange living conditions'.  She'd also said that one of them had asked;  "Why can't he just be like everyone else?"
.. .Perhaps a tolerance workshop could be created where students and faculty could get together
periodically to discuss intolerance at the College. Sure, there' d probably be difficulties at first like, how to get those who might benefit the most from such a workshop to attend, but...
I respected the student editors for printing my submissions.  But after reading some of their
editorials, I began thinking that maybe they were out to bury my ass by doing just that.  I clobbered myself in the chin with "A Case For the Creation of a Tolerance Workshop".
The Interview
"Don't worry, the College will reimburse you for your things.  We've hired some new people
and apparently they don't know what they're doing."
"I've had experience with reimbursements from colleges, Pete.  Listen, I can ' t leave without my
keys.  I don ' t care about the other things.  My car ' s parked at the airport down in Atlanta and I've got to drive it home."
Pete Stentberg was the Division Chair for the Humanities.  He was short and had a weightlifter's build.  His latissimus dorsi muscles were in constant flex like Sean Penn's and Sylvester Stalone's.  His shoulders were somewhat rounded but broad, so he hunched like a mountain gorilla though he walked on
his toes like a chimp.  He'd looked at me, incapable of comprehending my dilemma...
Peanut Butter
My second editorial was a poem about my elevator experience with the RA's.  I was in the
cafeteria when it came off the press, eating lunch with some students who wanted to practice their French.
I turned around.  She was holding a butter knife.  I wasn't sure if it was because she was pissed
off or if she'd just finished making a peanut butter sandwich.  Peanut butter was popular at the College and was offered free of charge as a condiment alongside the ketchup and mustard.  I'd never
seen her before.
"Well, what do you think you're doing?"
I'd find out later that it had been years since a Mark Twain faculty member had written such
things.  Sure there 'd been the movie and book reviews and the submissions on ecology and distant wars, but never anything that hit home, never anything about the wars at home.
It was naive to think that the College would encourage the open discussion of ideas.  But I was a
new professor.  I'd discover that well-known didn't necessarily mean well-liked.
The two students with her must have gotten worried when I started hollering because they
dragged her away.
Everyone in the cafeteria was staring at us.  No doubt, we'd provided entertainment in an
otherwise dull day of classroom lecture.
"Well, I guess The Nonagon came out.  Who was that?"  I asked.
"Oh, that was Bernie.  Everyone knows her.  She's an exchange student from Germany and an RA
in Hiroshi. "
"I see.   So what's her problem?"
"She's real conservative.  Just mention marijuana and she goes nuts. She wants America to be
drug-free, you know."
"What the hell does she care for?  Is Germany drug-free?"
"Who knows?"
"Yes, who knows and who cares..."
The Interview
"The President's a real dick. Henry..."
I stayed at Stentberg's house that night and downed ten of his generic beers.  He downed ten of
his generic beers too, but for other reasons no doubt.
"...The Dean might be honest, but I wouldn't trust him with a ten-foot pole.  He does whatever
Oscarmyer tells him to do.  And I think that means anything... "
Stentberg believed that he was living in some kind of abject poverty and that the College was at
fault.  I wondered what he must have thought of me. After all. I'd actually come to the place for an interview.
"...They're planning on a new prison here and that means more jobs and more people looking for
homes. "
"Oh. "
"I bought this place in '85 at only 45,000.  Now it's probably worth over 90."
"Oh. "


To:  Dr. Henry Cromby
From:  Juliet.t.e K. Bachmann, Dean of Students
REi  RA's and their responsibilities
During the past several months I have been troubled by information that was authored by you and published in THE NONAGON.  After long deliberation, I have reached the decision that it is important that I share my concerns with you.
I am specifically troubled by the poem "Nailed On Floor Seven" and the editorial "In a Sea of
Bouse de Vac-he".  I am uncertain of your goal in writing these, but can assure you that the outcome of their publication has been very negative for many of us.  My concern regarding both of these items focuses on the reference to the Resident Assistants, of whom I am in charge.
For your information, all RA's on this campus are undergraduate students and individuals of the
utmost integrity.  They devote many hours every week during the entire academic year to their position.  Their job is largely designed to support the growth and development of other students, and, I assure you that this does not mean introducing them to marijuana and heavy drinking bouts at King's Bar, which you seemed to imply in your editorial. RA's are in an extremely difficult position.  They are required to share with me any negative information that they have about the behavior of other students while at the same time maintaining a good relationship with the very students they have negative information on.  Indeed, their value systems are tested on a daily basis.
RR.'s do not. make the policy decisions regarding what: occurs in the residence halls at: Mark
Twain College.  If you disagree with the policies that these students are asked to enforce, Henry, I would ask that you address these issues to those of us on staff who are responsible for these policies.  If you have difficulty with the way an individual RA has performed any of his duties, and that includes searching the rooms of other students, I ask that you also discuss that with Hal Perrin, Director of Residence Life, or with me so that we can support that student's growth.
RA's give more to their fellow students, as well as to the College, than just about any other
undergraduate student on this campus.  THEY NEED YOUR SUPPORT, HENRY!
cc:  Drs. Oscarmyer, Redley, Stentberg and all Residence Life Staff