An official-looking envelope arrived for me through intercampus mail labeled, “Your Ticket Package.” We had recently outsourced security to a private firm—although no one yet, to my knowledge, had observed a new presence on campus. I opened the package and several forms spilled out. One appeared to be a survey; another, a list of prescriptive Biblical passages keyed to the survey. I set these aside and kept looking. At the bottom of the stack was a voucher. I was cited for hurrying to my car too quickly to talk to anyone. Was this a ticketable offense? Obviously, the mysterious issuer had thought so. The amount of the fine was $52. As with all tickets, I had to wonder if the simplest thing would be to pay the amount and forget about it. Strangely, however, something about the easy solution troubled my conscience. Money was one thing—but I didn’t want this invisible firm to think badly of me.
It was once my good fortune to take a graduate seminar from François Truffaut. Our final assignment was to prepare a syllabus for an undergraduate cinema class. I was essentially finished, but for the final week had listed a chapter for students to read and thought I should provide the pages. I knew I had the numbers for that chapter written down somewhere—or printed on an earlier draft—or as a failsafe, could always pull out the text. The problem was, I simply had too many options. And I wanted to resolve the issue as soon as possible, for other students had left, and M. Truffaut was rustling papers up on the podium; it wasn’t right to keep him waiting another minute. So I decided to just turn in the work as is, but realized, to my horror, I had misplaced it in the mound of papers and folders in front of me. This mess only grew bigger as I searched. I discovered a Tupperware container of meatballs left over from a Swedish cinema night sponsored by a student club, and, close to it, another industrial-sized pan of uneaten meatballs. From all sides, I found myself besieged by meatballs.
1:15 p.m. Student Center Auditorium
Amberson’s Fields features a man, evidently a pig farmer, standing in his field like a one-man gauntlet. Pig after pig is chased in his direction while he supplies a voiceover narration concerning each one—its name, how old, how cooperative or willful, any special qualities or memories, etc., before clubbing it unconscious with the blunt end of an axe. Cut to an actual slaughterhouse, where, in place of cattle, actors are suspended from an aerial conveyor, some with skin flayed open, trying to understand what is happening to them. Stars: Kate Trotter, Kevin Bacon, Val Tasso. The afternoon showing is sponsored by the Vegan Club as part of its Dine & Discuss luncheon series. HA!
traffic island stay
Driving along a country highway, I become so hungry I decide to risk a ticket and pull my car up to a center traffic island to eat my lunch there. Despite the occasional stares from my fellow commuters, it is actually an enjoyable spot, replete with many wildflowers, and even some wild blackberries. I sample one, quite happily, until I notice a nearby squirrel waiting its turn.
I was giving some inebriated academic types rides to and from a conference party. Outside the venue was a pear tree with ripe fruit bursting with juice. A group of passengers insisted I drive onto the lawn so that they could pick the pears through the sunroof—they were too drunk to support themselves standing. And they became so unruly when I tried to fend off this suggestion and drive away that to keep the peace, I circled back and let them have their wish. Excited, they began referring to themselves as “fruit pickers” and humming off-tune as they worked. My small car was soon filled. OK, that’s enough, I said. You guys aren’t union.
In my poetry workshop, one older student distributes a sheet to the class detailing the cost of his home when he first purchased it, the values of various upgrades, and the amount of a recent appraisal required by his divorce settlement. Turns out, this guy is a contractor. Another student objects, That’s not a poem! Seeking to encourage, I suggest that rather than listing home improvements, he might try describing the property at different times: how it first appeared to him, how it changed over the course of the marriage, and how it impresses him now, after his wife’s departure. He looks at me and asks: Then will I pass?