Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By Bruce Levine

Being the new kid on the block isn’t easy. Pairings have already been made. Groups have been organized as if by some unseen and unknown hand sorting everyone; pointing to each person as if saying ‘you go here and you go there’.

            Friendships have coalesced into enclaves with barriers built up by time and other realities.

            The natural sorting process has taken place and groupings have been formed according to an assortment of criteria known only to the groups without regard to any outside influence.

            It was that way for George Andrews. He didn’t know what was going to happen when he walked in. He was the new kid on the block.

            The call had come unexpectedly and if it hadn’t been from his friend he would have ignored it completely. He’d decided to take a couple of years off to write a book about the American Revolution. Not that the world needed another book about the American Revolution, but he’d stumbled on a long-forgotten diary in the university library written by a British soldier who seemed to be involved in every important battle from Lexington to Yorktown Heights to Trenton. George figured that it would take at least a year to research the details described and at least another year to do the writing, assuming the research proved fruitful and not a fantasy created by a scared young man who wanted to leave a legacy of bravery in the face of danger rather than just being another conscript on the sidelines of history.

            When his friend, the Dean, called begging him to take over the American History classes mid-semester because their regular professor had broken his back in a skiing accident in Switzerland and would be unavailable to teach classes for at least the remainder of the year and maybe longer George felt that he couldn’t say no.

            While he knew that he had to complete the curriculum the Dean had told him that he could adjust the focus as he wished. Shifting the course outline to emphasize the American Revolution could be exciting for the students and useful for developing his thinking about a new approach for his book rather than another dull treatise rehashing the same-old-same-old facts and legends.

            The Dean had cancelled classes for a week and told him to take the same period to review the syllabus and the assigned textbooks and make any adjustments he wished. Plenty of time, he’d thought, since he was considered one of the foremost authorities in the field. And he felt completely confident in his classroom management skills. Plus this was an advanced elective for history majors so, unlike a required basic course where there was often resentment at what the students felt was a waste of time better devoted to classes of their choosing or simply playing video games.

            Then why was he feeling an increasing sense of anxiety? True he was replacing one of the most popular professors on campus, but the circumstances should counteract any resentment. And it should be the same with the other faculty in the department, especially as he knew everyone and was a respected authority and author. Why did he fear their antipathy?

            As the week progressed so did his apprehension increase in direct relation to the modifications, he was making to the course outline until toward the middle of the week it took all of his willpower to restrain himself from calling the Dean and backing out.

            But he had never been a quitter and he wasn’t going to be one now. He was resolved to see this through.

            By Friday things had grown inordinately out of proportion and George Andrews began to grow concerned about his own emotional stability. Never before had he felt this way about teaching a class. And he recognized that everything he was feeling bore little relation to the reality of the situation.

            At noon he called the Dean who immediately suggested that, since it was Friday anyway, it was a perfect day to get together for a drink and a chat later that day. “And besides,” the Dean added, “we could use a little friend time to catch up.”

            At 5:30 they were settled in at one of their favorite restaurants, a gin and tonic and bloody Mary in hand, to talk.

            The Dean directed the conversation to lighter topics; their families and joint vacations, fishing trips and why they hadn’t gotten together for the past two months. Avoiding any of the angst he knew George wanted to talk about seemed to be having the ameliorating effect he’d hoped for and George gradually not only seemed to relax, but became more of his old self having a friendly drink with an old friend.

            By the time the social component had finished, and George brought up his concerns he no longer had the same sense of their relevance and, he realized once again, that they were inordinately out of proportion. And, once expressed, George almost felt silly about having brought them up.

            The Dean smiled to himself but said nothing further about anything relating to the university, the class or George being the new kid on the block. Instead he suggested that they call their wives and ask them to join them there for dinner.


            As George walked in on Tuesday morning expecting to see nearly five hundred students and wondering, once again, what it would be like he was greeted by an empty lecture hall and he thought that all his fears about being the new kid on the block were going to be realized and it was going to be worse than even he had imagined.

            Then, suddenly, the lecture screen came to life with WELCOME PROFESSOR ANDREWS and, just as suddenly, both sides of the hall filled with students; one side dressed in the red coats of the British army and the other in the rag-tag costumes of the Minutemen and a pseudo-battle broke out complete with gun shots and fake blood.

            George was so surprised that all he could do was stand, motionless, and watch.

            This was going to be fun.

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