Late last spring I was sitting in my office weighing my summer options. My wife Emmaline and I could take a luxury cruise to Tahiti. We could go on a five-star guided tour of Scandinavia. We could rent a cottage at Martha’s Vineyard.
Actually, I wasn’t weighing my summer options, I was daydreaming.
My real options were much more proletarian. I could get a job stocking shelves at the local Wally World, I could get on as a flagman on a county road crew, or I could sell magazines door to door.
It’s like that every summer. From September to May, I teach info-graphic communicology part time at Letongaloosa Community Junior College. Because I teach part time, my paychecks end
when my last class is over. That’s when the prospect of an impecunious summer looms on the horizon like a cloud of Mormon crickets.
As I pondered these realities, the phone rang. It was my boss, the dean of the college, Dr. Ima Farseer. Letongaloosa Community Junior College has two departments: The Department of Technology et. al, and the Department of et. al., et. al.
“Would you like to make some extra money this summer?” asked Dean Farseer.
“Do I have to bump anybody off?” I asked..
“No,” she said. “There may be some grant money available.”
Dr. Farseer explained that last fall Prof. Johan Swifter and Prof. Leo Toliovsky had submitted separate research proposals to the Federal Furtherance of Communicalogy Commission (the FFCC). In January the FFCC informed them that it would fund a joint proposal.
“Where do I come in?” I asked.
The dean said that after nearly five months of effort, professors Toliovsky and Swifter hadn’t come up with a joint proposal.
“The grant submission deadline was looming like a cloud of Mormon Crickets,” she said. “I want you to work with them. If you succeed in getting them to submit a joint proposal before the
FFCC deadline, I’ll pay you $500 out of the 35 percent overhead that the college collects on all funded research.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s more than I made all last summer working at Wally World. How big is the grant?”
“Eight thousand dollars,” she said.
“That’s big money,” I said.
“Right,” she said, “The overhead on that grant would be the equivalent to the entire discretionary budget of the college for an entire year. That’s why it’s so important. Will you do it?”
“I’d love to,” I said.
I decided to take on Prof. Leo Toliovsky first. He was the senior professor —by two weeks.
Toliovsky and Swifter both joined the faculty the year Letongaloosa Community Junior College was founded. Toliovsky teaches The Theory of Fictitious Creativeness in the department of et. al.,et. al.. He is a prolific fiction writer and poet. One of my students told me that Prof. Toliovsky has received more rejection slips than any other writer in America.
Prof Toliovsky is a tall man with a shock of white Carl Sandberg hair. His office is pincushion neat.
The icons on his computer screen are symetrically aliened. 3
The “IN” box is precisely aliened with the right rear corner of the otherwise empty desktop. The “OUT” box is similarly aliened on the left rear corner. When I visited him, The IN box was empty. In the OUT box was a neat stack of graded papers. The books on the floor to ceiling shelves are meticulously arranged by size and color, rather than by author, title or subject.
“Dr. Farseer wants me to work with you and Prof. Swifter on your grant proposal,” I said.
“The Dean indicated to me that it was her intention to seek the assistance of a disinterested third party in this endeavor,” he said.
“I just want to help,” I said.
“I sincerely hope that you can,” he said. “There is, I assure you, no animus between Johan and me. We have successfully negotiated ninety-nine percent of the joint project on the telephone and by electronic mail. Nevertheless, when we meet face to face to transact the final few details, our efforts are fruitless. I have no idea why that should the case, but it is.”
“I’ll talk with Prof. Swifter,” I said.
“Such an endeavor would meet with my complete approbation,” said Toliovsky.
Prof. Johann Swifter teaches Theory of Techno-creative Expressionism in the Department of Technology, et. al. The disarray in his office was a monumental. Piles of books, file folders, student papers, and pieces of obsolete computer equipment covered every square inch of the office
floor. Swifter’s desk, which was in the center of all this chaos, was awash with debris. Messages, scrawled on yellow Post-it notes, were sticking on every flat surface. Swifter’s huge computer screen was an unintelligible hodgepodge of icons.
Johan Swifter himself can best be described as Shakespeare’s Falstaff playing Professor Johan Swifter.
“Professor Swifter, I’m…”
“Sit down, sit down,” he roared. “You’re the hired gun from the dean’s office.” “You’re well informed,” I said.
“I’m bright too. Bright but slow,” he said.
“I spoke with Prof. Tolivsky just now,” I said. “He told me that you and he agreed months ago on all the major points of the combined grant proposal by email and over the telephone.”
“Right on brother,” said Swifter. “But when we try to work face to face on the final draft, we get nowhere. If we meet in his office, I get goose bumps and hot flashes, and in less than five
minutes, I’m outta there. The same thing happens to him when we meet here in my office. He opens the door, he says “hello,” he sits down, he stands up, he says “goodbye,” and he’s outta here.”
“Have you tried meeting on neutral ground?” I asked.
We’ve tried that several times, but that doesn’t work either,” he said. “We both get heart palpitations and the cold sweats.”
“So you are comfortable here in your office, and Prof. Voliovsky is comfortable in his office, but the never the twain can meet,” I said.
“That about sums it up,” said Swifter.
“I’ve have an idea,” I said. “I’ll work on it and get back to you both,”
“Good luck, man,” he said.
I went back to my office and picked up the telephone.
“This is a job for super geek,” I said, and I dialed my old friend Dr. Henry Mullins, the brilliant research engineer at Middledorf University out in California.
“How are you Henry,” I asked.
“I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest,” he said. “How the hell are you?”
“I’m well, thank you, but I need your help. When I visited you last spring, you showed me a virtual reality gizmo you had just invented. Can I borrow it?”
“Shore thing,” he said, “What ‘dya wanna do, make yer wife think she’s havin’ a vacation in Tahiti?”
“I might do that later, but first I have to make a couple of professors think they’re sitting in their own offices when they’re really sitting side by side in my office.”
“It’ll be a lead pipe cinch with that gizmo,” said Henry. “I’ll overnight it to you.”
And the rest, as the man said, is history. Right now, I’m enjoying my five hundred dollars, and Emmaline is enjoying being on vacation in Tahiti, virtually.
Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co