Saturday, September 21, 2013


I walked into a cornfield in late September.  The day was nearing dusk as clouds formed on the horizon, shafts of light bursting the white veil.  I parked at the side of the road and got out, not even bothering to shut the door.  It’s like I was heeding the call of autumn, or maybe I just succumbed to corn tassels whispering in the wind.  The smell of smoke from a distant barn wafted through the crisp air.  As I ventured through the threshold from the highway to quietude, my mind was still replete with the affairs of the day.  Traveling from town to town and balancing at least two careers and many roles can take its toll sometimes.  Life is complicated and full of moral ambiguities, I thought, like the cacophony created by a cluster of chromatic notes.   Dissonance resonates with me.  In that moment, though, I heard only the sound of discarded husks crunching under my feet.
I must have trudged about twenty yards into this amber forest when I found myself in a small clearing.  Strange.  Perhaps the rocky soil in this part of the field prevented growth.  Suddenly I felt like the scattered seed of a parable.  I thought to myself: If I could build a little shelter or pitch a tent, I could live here, provided that it remain September perpetually and Farmer Johnson never check on his crops.  Maybe I could drive my Ford Focus in here, cover up the tracks, and reside in my car in the middle of this cornfield.  I’d live off the corn, ants, and a flask of Gentleman Jack that somehow made it into my trunk. 

As I chuckled to myself, a silhouetted figure about twenty feet to my right caught my attention.  It was raised aloft with outstretched, handless arms, looking like one of the criminals on Golgotha.  Scarecrows fascinate me, especially since they always seem to come to life in the movies.  I desperately wanted it to move.  I wanted to see demons crawling out of its mouth or burst out of the black overcoat that Farmer Johnson hastily threw over it.  I wanted to see something.  I looked long and hard into its canvas-sack face.  It had no nose or mouth, just eyes made from cut-off corncobs.  Does he really scare the crows away?  I threw dirt clods at the dark thing hoping to piss it off and animate it.  Nothing.  No movement.  Without ghosts and goblins in the world, I ruminated, life is so meaningless and mundane.  Atheists tell me that you live only once.  That may be, but if I am to expire into nothingness at some future date, preferably later than sooner, my earthly existence in the meantime needs sorting out, disentangling.  I have no time to hide in this cornfield, much less to dream about a future Golden Cornfield in the sky.  I got back in my car and took the county road to the Interstate. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I've been teaching part-time for a private university since July to supplement my income. I have some misgivings about this consumer-driven highly-accelerated degree program, even though I had taught history and humanities for many years as an adjunct instructor at comparable institutions, usually for a business or nursing school. Notwithstanding what the dean and other administrators at this institution’s College of Business and Management say about ethical values and academic rigor, it's all about making money; students pay for serves rendered, fastening a bunch of “A”s to their belt with relatively minimal effort in order to obtain that precious piece of paper and further their career ambitions, or at least retain their job position. And we're talking quick service too: five 4-hour sessions to cover, in my case, Western civilization or a survey of humanities: centuries of literature, history, philosophy, music, and visual art.

Some of these “adult learners” come to class tired and whiny after working all day; rare is the instructor who keeps them beyond three hours.  So, de facto, we’re talking about three-hour sessions.  Moreover, students get to miss one class session and not have it impact their grade; not a few of them use this option.  Years ago I taught a 12-week program, only to have it downsized to 7 weeks (i.e., 7 class sessions) a few years later.  This institution also offered a 2-Saturday course as well, enabling students to get their three credits of general ed. in about 13-14 hours.  Now, with my present part-time employer, I’m supposed to shove all of this information into 20 hours?
Yes, my friend, it’s about the Almighty Dollar.  It’s about being competitive with other accelerated programs that continually reduce the required credit hours so that the consumer, McDonald's-like, can get their degree ASAP. The administration pays lip service to the problem of grade inflation, yet there's a lot of pressure to give students “A”s and “B+”s.  In an unguarded moment I revealed to a colleague at my day job that I was moonlighting.  He did not mince words about the greed and consumerism of private universities.  He’s right.  If the students don't get what they want, and when they want it, they'll take their money elsewhere, and deans and college presidents know this. The administration is all about recruiting as many students as possible; academic rigor can get in the way of that goal. Obviously there's a limit. Students must feel that they're getting a somewhat decent education, let alone the university having a modicum of credibility.  Nonetheless, I have my misgivings about the educational value of this program.  We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Apple Orchard

Bryan was a serial rapist and sadist in his heart of heart.  He sought transcendence and seemed to find it in the degradation of other souls, especially the souls (and bodies) of women—many women, including daughters, mothers…and beloved sisters.  I can appreciate Bryan, well, not the rape part, but the transcendence.  After all, we’re all seeking some kind of higher level or broader purpose to govern our lives and give meaning to our earthly existence.  Still, Bryan took the wrong path in life.  He followed his sadistic heart and never sought the help he so desperately needed.  I often describe myself to friends and especially my Republican colleagues as a bleeding-heart liberal.  I vehemently oppose the death penalty, yet I try not to push my politics on everyone.  I’m also a firm advocate of social justice.  That’s why I didn’t kill Bryan; I wanted to stick to my principles.  Instead, he took his own life.  After I spent some time alone with him, he evidently saw the wisdom of leaving this world.  Perhaps his spirit has found bliss in some other life, but his bones lie buried in my aunt’s apple orchard.  Jennifer would have wanted it that way.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Working on Normal

Having lived alone in a dark cave for twenty-three years, I've picked up bad habits that don’t translate well in urban society—in any society for that matter.  Rousseau was absolutely wrong: civilization doesn’t corrupt and nature isn’t blissful.  I’m finding it hard to adapt as I exit one world and enter another.  You see, my friend, I landed this great teaching job a couple of years ago and I desperately want to fit in.  Problem is, I’m still not ready for public consumption.  We all have hang-ups; we all have peccadillos.  (I once ran over a peccadillo on a Kentucky highway, yet I still have my flaws.)  But I’ve been disturbing my colleagues at the office because I talk to myself, sigh loudly, grumble, and grunt.  One of the administrators, a pleasant young woman with ostensibly good intentions, had the audacity to come over to my cubicle and bring these outbursts to my attention.  Listen, when you’ve lived in a cave for over two decades, you learn to entertain yourself.  I tell people that I don’t talk to myself per se; rather, I’m working through issues or testing how something might sound in the classroom or on the stage.   Such explanations don’t matter, however.  I’m just the guy who talks to himself.
I was raised by a she-wolf out in the wild long before my cave years.  I yelp and scratch my crotch ferociously when things don’t go my way.  This ogre-like behavior has cost me friends.  Faculty steer clear of me and I worry that my job is on the line.  The tattooed guys at the local coffee shop look at me askance.  Who wants to serve an ogre coffee?  When I suckled my mom’s teat, along with her pups, little did I know that I was imbibing lifelong rustic habits.  During committee meetings I mimic the sounds of flatulence with my armpits.  I  still mark my territory when I’m at home.  Guests usually head for the door when they see my trousers starting to foam.  Yes, I’m rather uncouth, but please be patient: I’m working on normal.