(a chapter within Wonderbread Man, novella, foundation for a film)
They were walking across the green at the University of Maryland on the College Park Campus. Most people were solo getting to and from class, thinking of the homework they should have gotten done or the assignment they had to do, or the library where they had to study or the food at the Student U. John waited for his compatriots who regularly met at the cross street near the library which seemed to dissect the campus in half. As usual, the religious zealot kid was there, in his own square of cement pavement that he had designated as HIS space in order to rant and rave about the next coming, the teachings of Jesus Christ and all us sinners taking Quaaludes, smoking pot, drinking too much, fornicating(a word I had only heard on the radio), and the dangers of sex. He might be the next Billy Graham but to just about everyone else, he was a nuisance and felt the jeers of the crowd daily.
The blather went on, as small crowds coalesced together and then dissolved like drops of rain upon a windshield. John waited for there was still time and then came Robert, Ham, and Tara from different points on the compass having to do with their dorms around campus. Ham was his fraternity brother but others knew him as Paul. They began their walk, often uninterrupted by any outside force, like a small moving marble running down its own track, as the four walked one of the paths across the green to Taliaferro Hall, the English major’s building. “Tolliver Hall” as it was pronounced almost gave majors the feeling one was entering a secret society.
“How the hell did you get an “A” on that Wuthering Heights paper? You didn’t even read the first four chapters! God, you piss me off,” said Ham to John.
“I read enough and will get to it. You see and feel the labyrinth of lies, the passion, the darkness, the upheaval, the moors, the harshness of the weather, and it all seemed to me there in the first chapter. Still can’t believe written by a women–where did she find the time?” said John.
“Don’t start on the girl thing,” said Tara, a demonstrative, slight character, agile as a gymnast but too tall for such a sport. She could easily be a tri-athlete if she wanted but she would have to curtail her partying and love of dancing on bars, in bars, and at the mention of a frat party.
“You know what I mean, the complexity of it, versus the household chores, the farm, the day to day dayness of a life spent in the 1800s.”
“How could it all be there?” said Ham.
“Come on, Heath-Cliff, heath-the actual heath in surroundings, the moors, and then a Cliff? You know it couldn’t turn out well. Then Lock-wood, certainly, he upsets or let’s the ghost in whose name is inscribed i.e. “locked” on the window sill. So this strange gentlemen comes to the Moors for solitude, which is never good a sign. All stories that go from a balanced state go to unbalanced and aright themselves whether by hook or crook, or chance or righteousness or happenstance, or Deus ex Machina.”
“What is he talking about?” said Ham.
“God out of the machine,” said Tara from the Greek I think or Latin, no pertaining to the Greek plays where a plot device comes out of nowhere to solve the problem, like God intervening and dropping down a solution in front of the characters to solve the plot. Like a lottery ticket to solve all your problems.”
“But you’d have to find it or someone you didn’t know would have to give it to you. It’s in Huck Finn when Jim is set free almost outside the story of the entire book and in Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan suddenly appears out of nowhere and saves the day,” said John.
“What are we talking about? I was referring to Bronte,” said Ham.
“We know, in any event…” said Tara.
“Yes, in any event,” piped up Robert who had been completely silent and deep in his own thoughts.
“What are we going to do about this faggot teacher or ours?” said Robert.
“Who Dr. Mavery? What are you talking about?” said Ham, “He’s a puff?”
“Are you nuts, he flaunts himself all over the room like a Peacock, talks about clothes, and flowers, and order all the time,” said Robert.
“Didn’t really think about it. Just thought he was a genteel, old southern gentlemen with a ‘penchant’ for sounding like an Englishmen, ” said John.
“Dude, you’re either English or you ain’t and this guy’s a freaking homo,” said Robert.
“Dude, man, take it easy…what’s it to you if he’s a flamer?” said Hamm.
“He’s f—- teaching us, “The Bible as Literature,” …He’s f—teaching us The Bible as Literature… is that not the greatest irony of it all!” said Robert.
“Listen, you aren’t going to change his “preference” or “lifestyle” or “attitude” and the dude’s been teaching here forever so maybe he’s not gay, just one of those people who are agnostic to sex, familiarity, or personal relationships–maybe he just loves books and has this platonic relationship to other human beings?” said John.
Tara was getting visibly upset almost shaken at the outright slander of her favorite teacher and mentor. She rebounded, “And England, he’s told us how he’s always been an Anglophile and has some home there? I’ve always liked him. In fact, admired him. I work harder for him than any of my other professors. Look how much he’s made me grow. I can think now. I can think!”
“To please a fag,” said Robert.
“Dude, you got issues. I know I have issues, but dude you seriously have some real issues,” said Ham.
“I’m just saying, if you’re putting all this time in to please a Queen, who has some kind of power over you or is on some pedestal just because he prances around and talks with a funny made up accent, you need to take a closer look at yourself. Daddy issues? Mommy issues? Lack of self worth?” said Robert.
She lunged at him with both fists. Her books and composition books dropped out of her hands as she flailed at him. Ham just happened to be closest and was able to grab her but only slightly as she was able to get a few punches into Robert’s face, mouth, and chest. Robert, pulled back quickly, and like a Heavyweight title boxer just smiled and jeered at her with his hands up.
“Chill, woman, Chill! If you had bigger tits, you wouldn’t be giving this guy the time of day,” he replied.
“What the hell’s gotten into you!” shouted John as he pushed him with one hand. “Take it back and apologize for being an asshole. You’re the f—asshole. Apologize. Jesus Christ, we got three minutes before we’re taking f—notes.”
“Right, right, sorry Tara, but come on, the dude’s ready for a walk on the wild side and my bet, he’s already been there…’And the colored girls say, Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…”
“You know Robert, you are an asshole, ” shouted Tara, “the genuine article. Don’t ever talk to me again, come over, ask me to dance, drop by at 1:00 am in the morning ‘to talk.’ I don’t have to listen to your stupid, idiotic, backwards, homophobic rants. We’re done.”
“Fine. Done,” he finished as he helped pick up her books. “Give these to her Paul.”
They sat in their prospective seats, 20 in all. All set in a perfect square, at five by four rows. Usually, some 14 attended with five to six absent given the previous night’s parties going on in the dorms or frat row or some event at the Vous, the college watering hole.
Per the usual entrance, everyone was seated for the performance. A minute late, and Dr. Mavery jauntily walked in as if on his tip toes.
His black suit with thin lapels, a white crisp starched shirt, and thin tie where the collar had no buttons unlike the current mode. He resembled an apparition from an earlier time period. Cary Grant or Noel Coward might be seen in such a suit entering a railway station with cigarette in hand or walking nonchalantly up to a bar, “I’ll take a vodka tonic please, no lime.”
The scene was set. The podium as centerpiece. For some reason, the two windows always played a role, stage right, to the audience’s left. He would be happy. He would always be happy with the world. And he would talk about everything save for literature. A treatise on life, manners, social mores, landscapes, reminiscences, remonstrances, and then, if they were lucky, literature.
John could see Robert was beginning to get agitated at the outset. He heaved a deep breath and opened up his notebook. John, on the other hand, perhaps thought too much of the professor and that these stories were somehow connected to the readings, that these little ditties were somehow a parallel track of thinking for the readings themselves. Does he mean to talk of order? Does he mean to introduce the fact of storytelling in his Aunt and Uncle’s discussion on green tomatoes at the dinner table? Does he mean to share the fact that no one on the school faculty is willing to speak up about the current situation regarding lack of raises?
“Good afternoon. It is a good afternoon, isn’t it,” said Dr. Mavery. “I mean every day is a good afternoon if you are in it, ” he continued as he bandied about his papers. “My, what a darling little frock you have on Tara? Where did you get it?”
“This, oh, this was my mother’s,” she said.
“Your mother’s. I love it so when one generation looks back to another’s with such familiarity and honor really. You know, you are honoring your mother for wearing a garment from some 30 years ago, don’t you and all of that generation, really. Lovely, just lovely.”
“Well, it’s vintage,” she continued.
“Yes, vintage. It’s all the rage and it always is. I remember wearing my father’s bowler hat and everyone was dying to get one.”
“And Mr. Cooper, I have seen you wear suspenders on occasion, haven’t I?”
“Yes, sir,” said John looking down at his notebook and clicking his pencil against his desk.
“Well, actually my grandfather’s and my grandfather’s coat, too, which you may have seen.”
“Yes, that John Dillinger look.”
That wasn’t it at all, just a cool looking gray and black formal lined coat that went to the ground. Everyone was wearing long coats in the winter.
“Yes, and I like the capezios and what do you call them “Vans” that everyone is sporting in the spring and summer…sporting is such a ‘sporting word’, isn’t it?”
He went on, “Ah to be young at heart, full of the future, full of promise and lack of direction, full of hope and hunger and thirst for knowledge, come what may…”
“Full of S—” said Robert under his breath.
Dr. Mavery began his ceremonious walk to the windows.
Here we go again thought John.
“Symmetry is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Here we have two windows perfectly apart, astride the wall, the same measurements to the 16th of an inch, above and below, and side to each side wall corner just as the man planned and crafted it, to the blueprint. The blinds, similarly when placed at the same level,” and he walked to both to be sure they were even, “give us a sense that there is order in the universe, no chaos shall exist, no harm to come, no foul play, no dissidence, no discord, only the harmony of two equal parts, unlike a novel, of course, no, you wouldn’t have a carpenter write the story of a novel for there is always conflict, always one versus the other, always friction, and blood, yes Shakespeare was right, “blood will have blood,” but never the serenity of these two widows in perfect harmony.
The class sadly was always at a standstill at this point for they never knew for certain if this were the time to join in the argument or simply let the lecturer wax on for the interminable remainder of the hour. John, too, always felt almost ill, at these times which is why he never really enjoyed any lecturer. A lecturer held the power. There was no argument only the Professor’s right and his wrong. Why step into a trap? Why place a foothold onto a slippery slope? But he had had something on his mind and at one time during this entire course he would have the courage to say it. Perhaps it was today. Tara’s outburst on the green had given him something.
“But chaos is the universe,” John blurted out.
“Why, yes John indeed it is.”
He was desperately waiting to see if he were to get a chance to speak his mind if only for a few short declarations. He didn’t want to spit into the wind. For this was the essential problem, an argument with a professor, any professor for that matter, felt like a fight to him, a knock down, drag out fight and there were no two ways about it. Nine times out of ten he would be knocked out. Would Mavery finally concede to a discussion?
There was another pause and John knew he was allowing him an opening.
“The universe, ultimately, is a cosmic chaos of matter, antimatter, globes spinning through stray space, asteroids falling into one another, objects being hurled and swallowed, and captured, and thrown into an ellipse and others are dying and being created at every single moment.”
“Yes, John, go on.”
“Well, then why shouldn’t chaos be the balance, the status quo, and unbalance be-” …this is not where he wanted to go, but he couldn’t stop himself now.
“That is a question, indeed. Would anyone like to respond?”
“I think,” and Tara joined in stammering at first, “I think we are an anomaly of epic proportions. We are thinking, sentient beings, with arms and legs and hearts able to view this cosmic theater and we are also given the unique opportunity to somehow try to puzzle our way through it. It is a masterpiece of form, function, light, darkness, birth, death, decay, progress, and it is such a blessing to have so much bestowed upon us to witness and try to come to grips with…”
“But I think if it weren’t for God, we would have none of it,” said Geraldine, a women from the third row. “God has created all of this, he is the alpha and omega as we have been taught, some of us at least, and we should take the time to praise this life, his work, his son, this being, and our daily bread.”
“I agree,” said Robert who seemed to entirely forget what had happened earlier and was suddenly in the midst of the argument. “In fact, like my dad says, “You should just shut up and pray.”
“Yes, yes… “said Mr. Mavery. “And I don’t think we are talking about the practice of religion or even it’s worth, now. Please don’t be misled…but you would agree that (and here is where he inserted a pregnant pause), isn’t it fortuitous, that a man was there to write down those words on the very first day?.. it is there in your Bible, first page, first paragraph, Act One, Scene One, your book, that Testament, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’ How fortunate he must have been….”
The class was beginning to feel uneasy, even anxious, as everyone knew what he meant even though he hadn’t stated it in a sarcastic or sardonic tone.
The uncomfortable silence grew louder and a slight moving of bodies in their own chairs began to break the concrete silence. And then he continued, “My, yes, my, that these days should be outlined so neatly, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, like a laundry list of things to do and things to be done. Rather simple, isn’t it? Like the building of a house on Day One, we will dig the foundation, on Day two, build the foundation up, on Day three, build the walls, the floors, and the windows,” to which he pointed in a gingerly manner. “And those first stories, chapters, Books of the Old Testament, are so… how should we say…” and he waited…
“Strong?” said a student.
“Bold?” said another student.
“Factual,” said another.
“Didactic” said John.
“Why, yes… didactic.” said Mr. Mavery. “Explain to us what you mean there, Mr. Cooper?”
“I only mean, that it is what it is. This is the way it is going to be. This is how it is done, was done, and this is the Word, the Final Word, the only Word. The God of the Old Testament is a Monster.” John didn’t mean to say monster and shrunk a little back in his chair, but again it was too late to take it back and he had to go with it. He had decided to go all in.
A few gasps came from corners of the room.
“I don’t mean monster in the Frankenstein sense,” he said as he turned partially around. “I only mean, what the God of the Old Testament stood for, stands for, is the only way. As if with a violent, pounding fist, God laid down the law to man in no uncertain terms. Defy him and you were forsaken, banished, broken down, played with, disenfranchised, plagued, and smote. I don’t think you will find the word “smote” in the New Testament. That is an entirely different rendering of facts and details told in such a different tone. The father and son don’t even seem genetically disposed.”
“Well,” said Geraldine. “You are right. The Bible is fact and all else is bunk.”
“I like that word, ‘Bunk’ ” said Robert.
Dr. Mayzers seemed slightly pleased but quickly moved back to the podium to continue on some notes of dates of the writing of Bible, the life of Abraham, and the class looked at a few passages to talk about voice, audience, and tone, symbols of light and dark, and a theme of the enlightenment as a future topic was touched upon. He completed the lecture with a preview of the next lecture which was to be on: Joseph Campbell, “The Man of a Thousand Faces” and a look at various creation myths from differing cultures throughout time.
As the four walked out, Robert went his own way without even a nod to any of them. John said to Ham, “What did you think of that Mr. Bio?”
“I was afraid to talk and not really sure what to offer,” he said. “I kept on thinking of the only law we ascribe to is ‘adapt, migrate, or perish’ for all living things.”
“Don’t get it,” said Tara.
“I mean,” he continued, “these concepts are discovered against certain hard facts at the time and made into laws that everyone can understand or utilize in some way. I mean what’s wrong for that woman in the back to say all the rest is ‘bunk’ or for Robert to say ‘shut up and pray’ if they believe this is the way our sociological….our species has…..been created, established, or whatever.”
“We could go on all day, couldn’t we?” said John.
“And maybe, what’s the point?” said Ham.
“The point is that this is the point!” said Tara overly ecstatic and slightly jumping about while waving her arms like a puppet without strings.
“I can’t wait to get to back to my petri dish,” said Ham.
“So if his point was who was there to write it, then that would mean all else…” said Robert who quickly shut down and was immediately lost in thought.
The three laughed and all agreed to grab a slice of purple pizza at the Matrix and then meet at the Vous for happy hour. Tara gave John an added heart felt touch on the shoulder, and he thought there may be something there. Robert peeled off down another lane on the green towards the Tustedo statue.