Told Between Puffs, March 2014
In which our hero takes a history midterm
Verily Veritas despises the architect of the Fayerweather second floor men’s bathroom. The tall thick wooden stall doors shut out all the light. Inside and upon the commode it is much too dim, even for VV who is accustomed to candlelight, to contemplate the day’s crossword puzzle. Worse are the urinals. With no barriers to separate them, they deprive the act of its dignity.
As VV stands and unbuttons his fly, his his tory professor enters and unzips. Oh, how intently VV does study the wall before him and appreciate its finer points. To simply call it white would be, he conjectures, an intellectual travesty. Rather, the paint has texture, depth, variety, color. He could write a treatise upon this patch of wall. If only his professor’s elbow did not nudge his, diverting Verily’s stream.
VV’s anxiety does not help his increasingly reddening face. Upon his exeunt, he knows that he will climb to the fourth floor and assume his regular place in room 313, row 3 seat C. His lavatorial companion will then stand before the room, say a few words and throw a stack of blue books towards his coercively attentive audience. It will be easy, the tenured man with the protruding neck will say, and besides, he will add, grades mean nothing in the long run. Sputtering dryly, VV imagines the professor’s gnarled, glowering penis, and almost leans over to—
VV comports himself to button up before his acclaimed academic neighbor upzips, and hurries back to 3c.
How the carpenter erred! The angle between torso and thighs, supposes our hero, has been on the rise since the late nineteenth century. But how much, how? He digresses. The professor stands and smiles. Questions, printed on what VV assumes is the same stuff as receipts, are distributed. The blank staple-bound booklets arrive at his inhumanely narrow seatdesk. Commence!
VV studies the questions carefully. He has evidently revised wrong. The exams asks for “compare and contrast.” He knows only “expound and elaborate.” That is all that the man in front has shown. (And is not the high art of the academic realm merely that of parrot and flatter?)
And then the matter of the questions themselves make him furrow his brow. What should he know about the development of the southern French city as a product of barley exchange? That was but a footnote in lecture, he recalls, when the professor contemplated his own sabbatical in Aix-en-Provence and VV drew furious circles and triangles in frustration.
Around him his classmates request second blue books. His first remains closed. Half the period has elapsed. Write he must! But what?
He supposes that anything is better than nothing. VV grasps his pen and writes. He writes that the French city is but to be understood only in light of the American. And the American city should be explored individually. Yes, an essay about the American City it will be!
VV is dizzy. He does not know what he has done. His time has expired, his classmates departed. The professor smiles warmly at him; he pities VV. VV can only stand, collect his belongings, and submit the solitary wrinkled booklet on which his name is scrawled.