Three Stories


Collecting Trollopes

English department nerds inhabit the same campus but a different planet than science nerds. At a faculty event this afternoon involving wine paid for by the taxpayers, I remarked that, “I collect Trollopes.” Several pairs of scientific eyebrows rose. Silent sanctimony filled the air. After a pause—awkward on their part, pregnant on mine—I added, “First editions!” (For the record, I do have a The Way We Live Now first edition in respectable condition.)

One would expect mirth to have ensued. One would be mistaken. Violet Merkin, astrophysicist and marathon runner, nearly choked on her Brie and carrot sticks.

“Considering what happened with that adjunct piano teacher last semester, Geoffrey, I find that pretty tasteless.”

Violet likely has never heard of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, despite her Victorian sensibility. I suppose I should be grateful she at least knows what a trollop is. As for my other interlocutors, Ed Hayes from chemistry and Marcie somebody, a new hire in physics, I had my doubts. Their disapproval could have been an academic version of Stockholm Syndrome.

“Just some English department humor,” I said, edging away toward the bar. “What we might call a dollop of Trollope.”

The piano teacher had been canned for canoodling with a student, about which I feel profoundly ambivalent. Faculty-student “dating” or “relationships” are verboten these days, because of the inherent power difference (not, God forbid, “differential”) between the participants. Makes sense. But I have a student who’s a good friend of the “victim” (as the newspapers called him), and he says the only trauma the kid felt was from losing the most entertaining piano lessons of his life. Colleges used to have plenty of professors married to their ex-students, and some of those marriages lasted. Now they can’t happen, which amounts to one less possibility in your life.

As I handed my plastic cup to the bartender for another infusion of Merlot, Katie O’Connor crept into my mind. Why at that moment? Aren’t memories supposedly triggered by something? I hadn’t thought of Katie for a month or seen her for twelve years, since that Friday night we drank a quart of vodka at her studio apartment and I turned down her offer to stay over, wanting our first sex to be special, not drunken fumbling we’d forever associate with vicious hangovers. Instead I tried to drive home, an action that encompassed the two worst decisions of my life: I was arrested for DUI, and when I called her on Sunday Katie said her boyfriend from home had proposed, and she was getting married.

This happened at a large state university, where I was a grad student teaching a section of creative writing and Katie was a senior biology major taking the class “for fun.” She was by far the best writer in the group, and a serious student as well, which led to increasingly frequent visits to my office, which led to . . . well, in the end to nothing but regrets for the road not taken (not to mention the road taken, considering that damn DUI).

Maybe Katie is a college professor now. That was her plan, after all. Maybe she sips wine at university functions, a science nerd communing with nerds from math, history, philosophy—and English. Maybe, every once in a long while, she remembers the English nerd who rejoiced to see half a dozen Trollope paperbacks on her bookshelves, who will never forget the worry on her face as he bumped the car behind him before pulling out into the damp, empty street.


Drinquility and the Red Carpet

Trying to achieve drinquility via Red Draws (beer and V8), Mehrtens thinks about Academy Award speeches written but never delivered. Where are those pieces of paper? Do the losers keep them? For that matter, where do women keep them even during the ceremony? Tuxedos have pockets—at least Mehrtens supposes they do.

Valerie always hogged the TV for the Oscars, so until tonight he always watched, bitching about how lame they were.

He’s sure Red Draws are healthier than Valerie’s damn Bloody Marys. V8 has more vitamins than tomato juice. A bitter hunk of celery can’t make much difference.

He remembers the Oscars last year, when out of nowhere Valerie said “drinquility” during the award for Best Makeup, and they laughed like two kids on summer vacation.

Reaching for the V8, Mehrtens has to admit he sort of misses that.


Just One Rule

Heffernan wasn’t my friend, just a guy I used to work with, and I hadn’t seen him in three years when he emailed to ask if I’d be his best man. Really, dude? Email? Like a sap I said OK.

He started bugging me about a bachelor party, which I hadn’t bargained on. I found a hall where a woman told me, “There’s just one rule—no dope smoking outside. I don’t want any cops in here.”

Heffernan was pissed that I didn’t hire a stripper. He was distant at the wedding, and his much younger wife smiled too hard.  

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