PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF’S ENGLISH LESSON
by Michael Frissore
What I didn’t need after three hours in the library was the commotion I came home to. Troy was complaining about a book he had to read for his Irish-American Literature class, Jeep-Jeep was reading aloud to me the dirty parts in James Joyce’s Ulysses that I highlighted for him, and the neo-Nazis Troy hired to fix our refrigerator were here.
“Ah, Professor Wagstaff,” Troy said.
“Pinky, Baravelli, how are you gentlemen this evening?” I replied. It was a stupid game Troy and I played to confuse Jeep, pretending we were characters in Marx Brothers films, in this case Horse Feathers.
“Professor,” Troy said. “You will never believe the crap I have to read for this stupid class. Tell me, what are the two main classifications of books?”
“Fiction and non-fiction,” I said.
“Okay,” Troy said. “Would you believe this piece of garbage is both? She dances between fiction and non-fiction. I just want to grab her and say ‘Pick a section of the book store and stick with it!’”
“Is Jeep reading Joyce?” I said, distracted. “How cute! Where’s the gay erotica we gave him?”
“Uh, nowhere,” Troy said. “I certainly didn’t take it. But listen…”
“Hey Professor,” Jeep said. “This ‘Ulysses,’ by Joyce Brothers…”
“No, Jeep,” I said. “I told you it’s James Joyce. Remember, he wrote ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘The Joy of Sex?’”
“Ich dien weir!” one of the Nazis said. Don’t expect any translations from me.
“Whatever,” Jeep continued. “It’s hilarious. Like there’s these whores, and they say to this guy…”
“Jeep,” I stopped him. “It’s a twentieth century classic, yes. But, please.”
“But,” Jeep said. “Okay, then there’s a picture that this woman, Mrs. Bellingham, has with a ‘partially nude senorita,’ right? ‘Practicing illicit intercourse with a muscular torero,’ whatever that is. She says some guy implored her to ‘soil his letter in an unspeakable manner,’ and to ride him and ‘give him a most vicious horsewhipping.’”
“Shocking,” I said. “That’s just the kind of filth the potato famine caused.”
“Okay, hello!” Troy shouted. “What about me? This nut calls this an autobiography then all of the sudden admits after each chapter: Sorry, this is just a literary orgy of bullshit. Me and my husband caught malaria. Oh, wait a minute. I mean killer bees attacked my parents. She says it was nearly impossible to sort out the guesses and the partially remembered from the unquestionably real. Isn’t there some sort of medical diagnosis for that? They ought to get the net and straight jacket and sentence her to writing fairy tales.”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Jeep stepped in.
“Jeep, shut up!” Troy yelled.
“Honestly,” I said. “The two of you are like children.”
“Listen to this,” Jeep said. “’Did he not lie in bed,’ blah blah blah, ‘gloating over a nauseous fragment…’”
“Jeep, not now, please,” I said.
“What?” Jeep said. “But the nasty harlot!”
“Professor,” Troy said. “Professor, uhhhh…What was it?”
“Wagstaff!” I said.
“Professor Wagstaff,” he continued. “She says ‘We awoke weeks later in the living room.’ She then corrects herself with, ‘It could not have been that long.’ Well, then why the hell did she say it in the first place? Just say ‘We were sick for about two weeks,’ or ‘We didn’t wake up. We died?’”
“Troy,” I said. “Baravelli, that version of the book is like a second edition. She probably felt guilty about all the stuff she said about her family in the first one.”
“Oh,” Troy said. “Well, it still sucks.”
“Admittedly,” I replied.
“This guy Boylan, right?” Jeep said.
“Eureka! Die Zauberflote!” Again, the Nazis were being really loud.
“He holds out his finger and tells Lenehan…”
“Jeep,” I said. “Let’s not make this NC-17 in front of the Nazis, okay?”
“Gluckliche Reise!” one of our repairmen said.
“Then,” Jeep continued. “Boylan tells Bloom he can put his eye in the keyhole and…”
“Jeep!” I said.
“But, he’s with this chick,” he said.
“It’s his wife, Jeep,” I replied. “Boylan is with Leopold Bloom’s wife, Molly.”
“Yeah?” he said. “What a stupid name, Leopold. Anyway, then Leopold thanks him and asks if he can bring some other guys and take pictures.”
“Hapax Legomenon!” I wondered exactly what training these Nazis had.
“Uh, excuse us,” One of the Nazis, a guy named Kool, said. “We’re gonna have to blow this up completely.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. Then he just left before I could say anything else.
“Hoi Polloi!” The other Nazi, Simon, said.
“Are they speaking Greek now?” Troy wondered aloud.
“Hey,” Jeep began again. “Do nude statues have, like, you know, like…Why can’t I say dirty words?”
“Because we have guests,” I told him.
“Hey,” Kool came over and said. “Could you guys keep it down, please, seriously?”
“Can I read the part about the tremendous big red brute?” Jeep asked.
“No,” I said.
“What about when she compares men’s and women’s…”
“Can I field this one?” Troy said to me, then turned to Jeep. “We have guests, Jeepathan.”
“Jeepathan?” Jeep didn’t like this name for some reason. “Come on, the hat rack?”
“No,” I said.
“The wretch behind the tree?”
“I’m confiscating that book,” I said.
“No, don’t, please?”
“You should give him American Psycho,” Troy said.
“If he behaves, maybe,” I said.
“Okay,” Kool said. Apparently the Nazis were done for now. “We need to confer to our boss as to whether…”
“Whether,” I said. ‘Whether’ is sufficient.”
“Confer to my boss whether any papers need to be signed. Some guys only need a verbal agreement.”
“You mean an oral agreement,” I correct him again.
“Okay,” he said. “That’s disgusting.”
“A written contract is a verbal agreement,” I said. “Verbal simply means with words. And I’m sure you meant confer with your boss, not to him.”
“All right,” he said. “Do you want my help, or not? Now, he once told me about a place on the other side of town.”
“All this for a fridge?” Troy asked.
“Am I talking to you?” Kool seemed upset. “All I can tell you is that it has some of the most unique people…”
“Excuse me,” I said. “Unique means without like or equal. Most unique is incorrect. See, there are no degrees of uniqueness.”
“Listen, schmuck,” he said. “You’re gonna be walking in a unique way if you don’t shut up. Now, if we can utilize this facility…”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted again. “But I have a problem with the word utilize. I have an English professor who always says ‘Don’t utilize utilize; use use.’ And I grew up on the word facility meaning restroom. So, utilizing the facilities, to me, simply means taking a leak.”
“Look, Professor Bucket Head,” Kool went ballistic. “Do you have any other corrections? Do you want to edit my film class essay on Hattie McDaniel? Question my use of semi-colons? My spellings of its, there, and your? My non-use or misuse of hyphens? Not enclosing a comma within quotation marks when it’s followed by an attributive phrase? Among or between? Farther or further? Will you please diligently check my work for me? My God! I’ve split an infinitive! Slap me. Please, I deserve it. Hit me. Go ahead.”
“Jeez,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Juss schtop mit ze kaos!” Now Simon was going nuts. “Me und my brudder hav und schtatemet! Gar schone schpiele schpiel, und tanzen und singen der luft balloons! Schtick to der blitzen und vant to hobnobben!”
“Good Lord,” Troy said. “What language is that?”
“Est der job uf me und mein brudder! Dos clammen udderweise art mistokken und wir haben die dumkofs schtifled! Die muss be kilt!
“Chief?” I said, playing another game with Troy to break the monotony.
“McCloud!” Troy replied.
“I schplitz on dem und der mutters! Meine mutter est der betwedden en der mornen!”
It was then that the refrigerator exploded, which was nothing that we hadn’t come to expect. The Nazis sent us a bill and threatened to break our legs and rape our pets if we didn’t pay it. The three of us moved to a school out of state under different names, hoping there weren’t any neo-Nazi organizations there. I couldn’t believe that I was only in college and I was already on my second identity.