TITLE: A Department Head's Fantasy AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 31, 2012 3:17 PM DESC: ----- BODY: (I recently finished re-reading Straight Man, the 1997 novel by Richard Russo. This fantasy comes straight out of the book.) Hank Devereaux, beleaguered chair of the English department, has been called in to meet with Dickie Pope, campus CEO. He arrives at Pope's office just as the CEO is wrapping up a meeting with chief of security Lou Steinmetz and another man. Pope says, "Hank, why don't you go on in and make yourself comfortable. I want to walk these fellas to the door." We join Devereaux's narration:
When I go over to Dickie's high windows to take in the view, I'm in time to see the three men emerge below, where they continue their conversation on the steps.... Lou's campus security cruiser is parked at the curb, and the three men stroll toward it. They're seeing Lou off, I presume, .... But when they get to the cruiser, to my surprise, all three men climb into the front seat and drive off. If this is a joke on me, I can't help but admire it. In fact, I make a mental note to employ a version of it myself, soon. Maybe, if I'm to be fired today, I'll convene some sort of emergency meeting, inviting Gracie, and Paul Rourke, and Finny, and Orshee, and one or two other pebbles from my shoe. I'll call the meeting to order, then step outside on some pretext or other, and simply go home. Get Rachel [my secretary] to time them and report back to me on how long it takes them to figure it out. Maybe even get some sort of pool going.
My relationship with my colleagues is nothing like Devereaux's. Unlike him, I like my colleagues. Unlike his colleagues, mine have always treated me with collegiality and respect. I have no reason to wish them ill will or discomfort. Still. It is a great joke. And I imagine that there are a lot of deans and department chairs and VPs out there who harbor dark fantasies of this sort all the time, especially during those inevitable stretches of politics that plague universities. Even the most optimistic among us can be worn down by the steady drip-drip-drip of dysfunction. There have certainly been days this year when I've gone home at the end of a long week with a sense of doom and a desire for recompense. Fortunately, an occasional fantasy is usually all I need to deflate the doom and get back to business. That is the voyeuristic allure of novels like Straight Man for me. But there may come a day when I can't resist temptation. If you see me walking on campus wearing a Groucho Marx nose and glasses, all bets are off. -----