February 4, 2011

Just Another Week at Rutgers

The following account is based upon real events of the past week.  Any resemblance to characters living or dead are likely purposeful.

I sighed and pushed the elevator button again.  That was the one downside to living on the thirteenth floor; it took forever to get anywhere (especially at prime traffic hours).  Luckily, due to the fact that I was leaving early to attend a certain pre-class event, I had not hit prime traffic hours; the elevator was just slow.

I had been in Dr. Lynch’s classes long enough to call him “Jack” over “Professor” or “Doctor Lynch”.  I had worked closely with him as a grader and general mentee ever since my arrival on campus.  Jack habitually hosted pre-class “saloons” in which he invited his graduate students to come and bullshit socially for an hour or so before we dug out our books and started talking literature.  This semester, however, due to a long and varied series of circumstances, was the first time he had been able to hold these regularly since my acquaintance with him.  And, though it was the third week of class, this was the first one that any of us would be able to attend.

Just as I began to wonder about the merits of button-mashing as a come-hither tool on elevators, my cell phone dinged announcing that I had a text message.   I smiled knowingly as I dug for my phone.  I had wondered when I would hear from Ben that day.  Steadfast comrades at arms against the deepest darkest armies of literary theory, Ben and I had similar taste in classes and thereby saw a lot of each other.  We also both love Joss Wheedon.

I managed to juggle my already-full mug with one hand and my bag with the other as I fished my phone from its depths.  I glanced at the screen to see that I was correct; it was Ben.  However, instead of the “want to get coffee before we meet Jack?” text, my little screen read “there’s a fire in Robeson and Hill Hall is on lockdown.”

Robeson was the building where Jack was to hold court.  Our class was in Hill Hall.  The course had been cancelled last week due to snow emergency.  It was the beginning of the semester, we couldn’t lose two weeks!  “Where are you?” I replied, mashing the elevator button despite myself.

“Outside Hill; campus side.”

“Jack with you?”

“No word from him yet.”

“On my way.”  I fairly jetted through the doors when the darn thing finally arrived and used everything I knew about being a New Yorker to get myself to Hill as fast as possible with only one thought pounding through my head: the building which Jack was supposed to be in was on fire.  I had to rendezvous with Ben as quickly as I could so that we could use our wonder-twin powers to swoop to the rescue through the towering inferno.  Jack was but a Professor, without his graders he could easily be burnt at the stake or crushed to death!  Part of our job description was “brute force muscle” and “personal rescue squad”.  And besides, I had questions to ask him about submissions for publication!

I arrived in the quad to large groups of people milling about in front of the two connected buildings.  Though I saw no smoke or flames licking the sides of the brick, I knew the situation must be dire to evacuate in this fashion.  I scanned the crowd for Ben.

“Danielle!”  I looked to find a small group of my colleagues had spotted me and were milling about in a small group. 

I nodded at the one who had called my name then shouted back “I have to find Ben and Jack!”

They followed in my wake as we made a wedge through the crowd, not pushing per se but not being entirely pleasant either.  I spotted Jack out of the corner of my eye; tweed suit and all.  He was well-attended already with two other professors walking at his elbows.  Ben wasn’t far away and I made eye contact with him as we swooped into bodyguard formation.  I readied my tome of Gothic novels in case rioting ensued and we had to clear a quick path for the good Professor to escape. 

We had just moved into flanking position when we noticed another colleague of ours assembled with a group of his fellows nearby.  Perfect, a good way to cover the fact that we had Jack so well in our sights.  Nothing throws off would-be Professor-muggers like nearby students having discussions. 

“How’s your semester going!?”

“Great!  But we haven’t had a serious class session of this Wednesday class!”

“Yea, this day seems to be cursed.”  It was then I realized… it was cursed.  Gothic literature.  A Graduate course Jack had never taught before.  First the skies opened up to prevent our meeting with tumultuous snow, then we had been stricken down with fire.  Clearly there was no other explanation.  Much like the castles and abbeys, graveyards and labs, monks and aristocrats we read about, this class was cursed.  Doomed never to meet.  Always meant to be barred from assembling by some freakish intervention of nature.

I caught Ben’s gaze and I knew he had come to the same realization that I had.  We didn’t know what was to be done, but we were sure it had to be something.  A fire in a municipal class building was one thing, but what next?  Carpenter ants attacking the library in droves?  EMPs outing all of campus?  Or worse, an attack on Jack himself?

Jack had, by now, finished his conversation so we politely said goodbye to our friend and moved to stand closer to our charge.  He glanced to each of us, then sighed heavily.  “They are saying that you may as well go home if you have class in those buildings.”

“Well… we’re here anyway.”  I said, adjusting my grip on the tome in case anyone got any ideas about bum-rushing potential exits. 

Jack scanned the faces of the assembled quorum.  Not the entire class, but enough of us.  “Can we reach the others?”

“We can begin to.  I think between all of us we should be able to spread the word to most of the class.”

He nodded.  “Well then.  Class at the pub today?”

Ben nodded and gestured briefly with his hand.  In an instant, cell phones were whipped out and the chain of communication had begun.

When Ben confirmed that the calls had been completed, we fell into line for traveling.  I took point and he guarded our rear.  We weren’t exactly with a group of vets and greenies in situations like this could get people killed.  I would feel better when we had crossed University place, the great dividing line between Campus and the rest of the world.

We turned the corner of the library and walked right into them.  They must have been waiting for us.  Expecting us.  It wasn’t exactly like you could be silent with all that ice and snow crunching beneath your feet.  There they stood, armed to the teeth and angry as the hell they came from; Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida.  I swung into action and immediately produced a pencil weighted (and sharpened) for throwing from my hair.  I had several of these pencils, actually, but this would start us off.  Foucault was massive so I knew he would be slow, but Derrida had gotten the drop on us and was quickly approaching.  I aimed for his eye.

With a small “whoosh” noise, the pencil flew from my fingertips and landed clean in the socket.  Derrida screamed and clutched his face, falling back to where Lacan was preparing to attack with a flail made from what looked like a steel umbrella, a length of chain, and a paperweight.  I readied my Gothic tome to use as a shield and reached into my bag to pull out something to use as a weapon.  The first thing my fingers closed around was my netbook power cable.  Not perfect, but it’d have to do.

Lacan swung the flail and I blocked it squarely with the book.  The business end slid off and he swung it behind himself again, ready to go for another hit.  In that instant, I looped the power cord around my head like a lasso and  circled it around Lacan’s feet.  There wasn’t much weight to the swing, but it was enough.  He tripped and fell, crumbling to the ground which gave me enough time to advance on him and bludgeon him with the book I held.  He fought.  Hard.  Scratching, biting, as contentious as his work was.  He kicked out with his feet, looping around my calves and taking me to the ground with him.  We grappled for a bit and, though he was much larger than I, I had better balance.  I threw my head back, uttering my war cry (a dramatic rendition of Sonnet 109).  As I hit those last lines of Iambic Pentameter, the throwing pencil I had managed to grab hold of glowed in my hands.  A divine beam shone down from the sky, empowering my strike.  I used all my might to heave the weapon into Lacan’s jugular, and the wound exploded with blood and the white light of my faith.  I held Lacan down until he ceased to struggle.

“What was that?” came a voice from in front of me. 

I looked up and realized it was Ben, “Bardolotry ain’t just a source of inquiry anymore.”  I tilted my head back and uttered a thank-you prayer to my God Will and felt my faith swell within my heart.

…just then, I felt it.  He snuck up behind me so quietly that I didn’t even have a chance to gasp.  Foucault had me by the throat, the pencil that I had thrown through Derrida’s eye held menacingly at my temple.  “Nobody move.”  He uttered.  “I’ll do it!”

My hands went instinctually to his forearm to try and pry him off of me, but it was no use.  He had me in his clutches.  I tried to remain calm, looked to Ben to see if he had any plans.  His eyes told me that he was just as surprised as I was. 

“Let the girl go.”  It was Jack.  One of the greenies had known enough to get him covered and keep him out of the altercation.  “It’s me you want anyway.”

Jack took a few steps forward, but Ben read it in my eyes.  “Do not let him do this” and put out a hand to signal him to stay back.

Derrida laughed.  “That easy, old man?  I’d have thought that there would have at least been some bartering before the offer was made.”

“What can I say, I’ve grown soft in my Full Professorship.  She’s nothing to you, she hasn’t even finished her MA.”

“Oh but young blood is so much sweeter.  At this level they aren’t yet indoctrinated into some university’s backwards school of criticism.  She has potential; worlds of potential; unlimited potential.  I could teach her.  Show her my ways.  She’s fresh meat.”

“She’s an Early Modernist, you two won’t get along too well.”  Ben reminded.  I could see that he was trying to buy time, but I couldn’t tell why.  I guess as long as I wasn’t going to get one of my own throwing pencils through my head it didn’t really matter, right?

“All the better.  I can bend her scholarly inclinations to my own work and then – oh and then – she will be mine!”  He threw back his head and laughed diabolically.  His breathe stank of cheap red wine. 

I cringed at the scent and the sound, but the laughter was cut short by a small squish followed by a grown.  Derrida’s grip on me relaxed, and I was able to wretch myself free.  I spun, ready to do hand-to-hand with the Frenchman, when I saw what had Ben and Jack willing to buy time in such a risky fashion.

There he was, my Man Will, the Bard himself, wielding an iron quill as long as my forearm and a copy of the first folio.  The quill was currently sticking out of Derrida’s chest (though Will was standing behind him).  Derrida sank to the floor, blood pooling at his feet.

“Goodnight sweet Prince.”  Will said, “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Will stepped over the fallen Derrida and I sank to one knee, head bowed to the ground.  I didn’t know what to say.  It was like all my words had been taken right out of my mouth along with the air from my lungs.  I felt his hand on my shoulder, and I looked up at him, trying not to gape.

“Thus ever do I keep my faithful.”  He said, gently helping me to my feet.

“I… don’t know what to say.”

“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy.  You were but little happy if you could say how much.”

“I can no answer make but thanks… and thanks… and ever thanks.”  I quoted back at him.  Two could play at this game.

“Doubt not that wherever thou art in this world’s globe, I’ll have an iris that shall find thee out.”  His face looked set, but kindly.  I felt the warmth of his gaze wash over me and comfort me.

I said the only thing I could think of.  The only way I could express the depth of my emotion at that moment.  So it’s from a sonnet, not a play, sue me.  You try quoting Shakespeare with Shakespeare at Shakespeare.  “If the while I think on thee, dear friend, all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

“I go.”  He said, and gently kissed my forehead.

“And take my heart with thee.”  I said, quietly.  He turned and walked purposefully down the path into a waiting beam of white light which seemed to swallow him up and, like a flash, he was gone.

I stood for a moment just breathing before I turned to face the assembly.  The greenies were giving me that terrified look that meant they would never argue with me in class again.  Jack was smiling knowingly and I wondered if he had ever met Swift or Pope that way (if he had, god bless him).  Ben was giving me that look that meant he didn’t quite know what to believe (but he’s a secular critic so really that comes with the territory I think).

“So,” I said, “Beer and Vathek?”

1 comment:

ldyravnyarnmavn said...

This is the best thing I've ever read. Dani, you had me laughing so hard I had tears pouring down my cheeks. I freakin' love you.