The Post Graduate
The truth of the matter? There’s no better time to realize your life has been nothing more than a series of mistakes than on the way to a job interview you didn’t give a damn about anyway.
An opportune moment to cop out, he thought.
I finally see it for what it is, he furthered.
He continued to walk across the falsely wooded campus. Everyone so much at home, clinging to the acrimonious pursuits inherent to the stage. Life and setting. Outside, he found himself. They all were, but he happened to be more than the rest. People talk of traveling beyond the limitations imposed by the body. Perhaps they have something there. Only, in this case, the spiritual entity refused to hover smartly above the scene, smug in its loftiness. That wasn’t it at all. He remained too much in charge, and as a result of this insistence on self-possession, he kept passing through himself as the corpulent bag of meat and water he called home pressed on, stride after stride. Past the non-native trees and plant material, which by all rights ought to have been California desert scrub, around the topiaries, amidst the student groups founding themselves on ethics through ethnicity, and hacky sack, beneath the structures only an architect could love…
Many would see little more than a well manicured university quad chock full of ambitious minds amidst the infrastructure of great information. Child-like adults of all ages at the ready for intellectual fortification. He saw nothing of the sort as he floated, not above the scene, but through himself. Never delaying for an instant one way or the other. Back and forth. In and out.
So this is what they mean when they say, “you’ve really screwed yourself.”
Cusp reclined in his chair, grinning that grin of his. If you knew him, you did not want to see it. If you were Mathew Lipman?… Well then it was easy as hell to KEEP RIGHT ON TALKIN’ about your favorite subject.
“I’ve found that my comfort level for group situations stems back to my youth. Having participated in a wide variety of extra-curricular exercises has maximized both my reasoning skills and level potential for rhetorical discourse. I must credit a trip to the Model U.N. for chiseling the rudimentary shape of my academic form. There, at an early and influenceable age, I was able to confront my adversaries nose-to-nose in a forum appropriate for budding minds to bloom. As the Lithuanian Delegate at one such affair, my colleagues and I confronted hostile Soviet adversaries intent on expanding their sphere of influence above and beyond……
The professor managed to get the grating timbre of Lipman’s voice to trail off as he gazed out the 4th Floor window and absorbed nothing of its reality. Part of the bargain he had stricken in order to free himself of the aural assault which originated across the desk. He took a mental ride on a Harley Indian which he had never owned.
“and though we were ultimately unsuccessful in dismantling the takeover…”
The fuel-indulgent machine’s bowel-wrenching rumble, which had deterred him from purchase for all these years, now flooded his cerebral cortex with musical serotonin.
A buzzing brought them both back to the room. Lipman did not know how to out-talk such an interruption. The professor straightened up in his chair as he turned to reach for the offender.
“Yes?” he vollied into the speakerphone
“Dr. Cusp,” said a woman’s voice, “sorry to bother you again. It’s Nairobi this time, and it sounds urgent.”
“Okay, my dear. Please have them hold for two shakes. Line 2?”
To the rambling student he said, “I am sorry, Mr. Lipman. You see what happens? It doesn’t matter how deeply we may be involved in something else. When one of these high-ranking bureaucrats hollers, we have to jump.”
He rose to his feet and reached across the desk to shake Lipman’s hand. As educated in academic decorum as the pear-shaped doctoral candidate may have been, he appeared perplexed by this gesture.
” I’ve enjoyed our talk. Thank you for coming in. My secretary has all your contact information, and you need to be getting back to that section class before they lose the scent.”
The door opened behind Mathew Lipman and the secretary entered half-way, pointing at her watch apologetically. He was lifted out of the chair by unseen forces and found himself at the door looking back at the professor.
“We’ll be in touch as soon as we know something.”
The professor then busied himself with the workings of the phone system, apparently recognizing a voice and responding with the appropriate Swahili greeting.
“I just want to be sure he has everything current, that’s all.”
“Yes, Mr. Lipman, certainly, I understand. It’s just that, if we weren’t current, we could not have set up today’s interview. Don’t you see?”
He knew she was right but continued to bide his time, hoping to be there when the next interviewee entered, certain that his imposing form and reputation would enfeeble any of his likely competition.
The door opened with the gall to introduce someone never before encountered. Lipman's powers of concentration broke and he swayed noticeably as he stepped back from the reception desk. Seeing her opening, the secretary turned her attention to the newcomer.
“May I help you, sir? Do you have an appointment? Are you Professor Cusp’s 11:00?”
“Um, yes,” he managed to mumble as he closed the door behind him, “I’m, uhh, Kevin Revell. The 11:20, actually. I guess I’m a little early.” Nerves had nothing to do with his disorientation. Part of him still remained outside of himself in the hallway. He stalled in the hope that his liberated half would shortly join him, if indeed the door proved permeable.
“Well, hmmm, please sit down then, Mr. Revell.” She warmed to him easily after having endured Lipman. “Let’s see what we can do about that.”
Kevin eased himself into an uncomfortable, but appropriately fashioned chair and picked up the anthropological journal nearest him. He paid no heed to the super-sized scholar who hovered between him and the reception desk. Mathew Lipman recognized his powerlessness in such circumstances, took note of the similarity of their briefcases, placed the amber chapeau on his head, just so, and trundled out the door. Before the door closed completely, it swung open again, this time under the weight of a lanky, long-haired young man who struggled to corral the files and learning materials he carried.
Dr. Cusp’s door flew open, he directly behind it with the flair of musical theatre.
“Send in the next victim!” he commanded, one hand on the doorknob, the other searching for Gene Kelly’s umbrella.
No one moved in response. A long moment passed without further scripting until Kevin ventured to speak.
“I, um, I’m a little early to be here, sir. This gentleman…”
“Mr. McElroy! It appears those inquisitive leprechauns haunting your 201-A section have been up to their usual shenanigans. Why don’t you catch your breath while our mystery guest and I blow some smoke up…each other’s flue.”
Fumbling with his paperwork and cell phone, which had begun to ring the chorus to the Grateful Dead’s “Saint Stephen”, the newcomer mumbled something along the lines of agreement. Cusp smiled calmly and led the way into his inner sanctum.
Before they had even sat down, the professor began. “So, tell me, what brings you back to these hallowed halls after all this time?”
“Well, I…don’t really…other than a couple of under grad courses during a summer session, I haven’t actually studied here, Professor.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean ‘here’ so much ‘back to the academic world’. You know, I have a fair bit of information on you,” he eased himself into his well-worn leather chair. “Dan Labanowski and I have been competing for grant money since the Nixon Administration.”
“I had heard that you had a friendly rivalry at one point. Hopefully that won’t work against me.”
“Huh-huh,” he smiled, “no, it won’t. Just the opposite in fact. I live for challenges that people like him present. Life’s too short for it to be easy.”
They sat in silence long enough for Kevin to decide that at least he could enjoy the next 15 minutes, despite the futility of the meeting’s pretense.
“So I guess the only thing that might work against you is…you. Clearly you have all the makings for success in the academic realm. I’ve never seen anything like it before. They tell me you’re fluent in a couple dozen languages. Is that true?”
“Mostly true. It’s hard to determine fluency, but I can get by in about 25 or so.”
“I also notice that you backed out of your doctoral candidacy just when the finish line loomed ahead of you. Care to explain?”
“It’s not easy to…I believe I might have hit…an impasse…”
“It happens. So, why now? What brought you to the conclusion that you were ready to take it up again?”
Kevin hesitated, unsure of everything he had ever done or ever would do with his life.
“You seem uncertain. Is that because you want to say the right thing? Or is it that you’re afraid we’re both supposed to believe it? No matter, you put one foot in front of the other enough times to get yourself here. Let’s just assume you have your reasons. Tell me this instead. Why this position? You’ve spent all that time in South America, and now you want to jump the pond? There’s a hundred other positions opening for fall quarter which fit your background. Hell, you haven’t even set foot in Africa.”
“I had been saving it for a later point in time.”
“And you believe that time is now? You’re ready to give up your playboy lifestyle and toe the line required by the Regents?Ê There won’t be a lot of freedom to undertake your sea voyages and romance the girls after you’ve driven them into a rock’n'roll frenzy. This is serious business, my friend. You remember….”
Kevin nodded his agreement, unable to add more.
“Let’s say you are ready to take this step. What makes you think that you have the right to snatch this opportunity out of the hands of some kid like that one waiting out there? A guy who’s vested himself since high school in the notion that his identity and professional pursuits are one and the same.”
“Ya got me.”
The Professor sat expressionless for a full minute staring down at his hands while Kevin floated above the two of them, using what felt like his legs to push off from the ceiling and walls at will, as if the room was nothing more than a swimming pool. The relaxation Cusp felt reminded him of a time when explaining yourself equaled a lack of character.
“You’re right. Kissing someone’s ass is for shmoozing a buck or trying to get laid. We’ll leave that to the bureaucrats and theologians. My gang used to say ‘don’t trust anyone over 30.’ ”
“As the resume states, I can’t be trusted.”
Cusp laughed, “At least you aren’t compelled to overwhelm like the last budding statesman I endured.”
“The onus of proof bears down upon him. The party can’t back out of the chaos he’s created there even though…did you hear what I said?”
Matthew Lipman tried to make like he had been paying attention to his cohort and replied, “Exactly.” He dared not take his eyes off of the door. That guy would be coming out any minute. Who the hell was this Kevin Revell, anyway? This position was supposed to be between a handful of candidates from the Ethnology Department, not some kind of casting call. All that time spent with the Regents’ Committee and the Provost’s Office better buy something.
“Well then, I guess we have a deal. I’ll leave it to you to get back to me when you’ve sorted things out completely.”
“I’ll do that, sir. Thank you for your time and patience.”
The door opened and Kevin shook the professor’s hand as he exited. He headed straight for the main door as if calmly attempting to avoid getting sick in the waiting area.
“Now, Mr. McElroy. It seems we have a few things to discuss. Step into my den to admire my etchings.”
Kevin no longer floated. The gravity of his person carried him down the stairs so that he could not imagine re-climbing them or even slowing his descent. His air had nearly run out as he pushed through the glass door and surged out into the open again. Drawing a breath before forcing himself into the throng ahead, he failed to notice the interloper at his side.
“I said, how did that interview go for you?”
Turning to meet the voice, Kevin realized it had been directed to him. But how? Why?
“It went well, I suppose…”
“Listen, Revell, this may come as news to you but that position has already been sewn up by our department. I can’t believe Cusp would even bother wasting your time when he knows the Provost will not throw money at an unproven entity from outside of the fold.”
“Is that so?”
“Furthermore, you should know that Professor Cusp doesn’t approach the academic experience as we do. He has no regard for the intrinsic nature of the highest echelons of scholastic pursuit. To him, it’s just a field study with no higher sociopolitical ramifications than a semester abroad.”
“I’ve spent nearly 6 years here laying the groundwork for my scholastic career and nothing will stand in my way.”
Lipman was serious and Kevin could not help but feel relieved.
“Well, I can’t thank you enough for the heads-up. For a second there I thought I was gonna have to take that job.”
Flabbergasted, Lipman watched Kevin Revell ply the crowd with a spring in his step. Lipman’s academic cohort stepped forward to assess the situation.
“So, your department has things all sewn up, does it?”
Kevin charged forward. Lots to do, lots to do. Charter at 5:00, load in guitars and amps at the Cask and Anchor by 8:30, need to pick up supplies at the boatyard…time for a surf? Maybe, if that damn wind isn’t already blowing. Need to make sure that….
“Here you go. Hey…Professor, ya gotta check this out!” proclaimed the student groupie extending his arm with the flyer about the little club he promoted in order to make sure that “diversity” remained first and foremost on everybody’s mind.
Dumbfounded again that someone had butted into his private world, Kevin slowly realized what had been said to him.
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s name-calling.”
“But Professor, at least check out our website. It’s www……”
“Bite me dot commie!”
Several dozen students turned their heads in disbelief to see the back of the reluctant academician’s head as he smiled for the first time all day. Professor Revell, he said to himself. I’m not so sure I can get used to the sound of that.