View Full Version : The Professinal Student (mature themes, light drug use, profanity, ~3500 wprds)

February 9th, 2012, 07:14 AM
This is the first part of the story that contains Sheila’s Tale. I will be removing that soon.

The Professional Student
Part I

He wrote down the first poem for the night’s slam at Nelgri’s. Short and powerful, he thought, that’s how you open.

Working longhand, he dashed it off in less than fifteen minutes and laughed. They’ll eat it up, playing to their animal rights sensibilities. Cretins, what loads of crap they appear to enjoy.

He filled his black marble bowl with a few buds, torched, inhaled deep. He needed the weed for the “process.” He always got high when he wrote verse like this. In his opinion it was pure garbage. The thirty-seven year old grad student and assistant restaurant manager got up from his desk in the one room efficiency, three walk-up stories in the air. He lived in a Second Empire style apartment house on the west side of town. It was the top floor where the walls sloped in as they approached the ceiling making tall pieces like armoires and high-boys impossible to furnish the little room. He went into the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of bottled water. The city water in this town was practically undrinkable. He remembered hearing the students call it “river sludge” because it was drawn from the unclean looking river that ran through the city, not too far from the mark in description. It could be worse; it could be from dockside at the Navy base. Friends had told him that a reverse osmosis filter works very well on city water. He looked into the cost of such a device and just laughed.

His name was Jonathan Reinhart Pillsbury, son of Michael Pillsbury and Anna Reinhart (she never took her husband’s name, too proud of her German origin) of Racine Wisconsin. He grew up in a large pre-depression era brick house with a steep peaked roof and at the front entrance, a semi-circular arch took the place of a standard horizontal lintel. The bricks were not uniform in color. The familiar deep maroon masonry was punctuated by clinkers. (The purplish, sometimes black blocks that had been positioned too close to the fire in the kiln, were usually discarded. At the turn of the twentieth century, creative architects realized their aesthetic value. The term was derived from the discarding operation, where the particularly dense block made a distinctive, high-pitched clink as it landed on the reject pile.) Anna kept roses and multitudes of perennials in the front garden while her husband grew organic vegetables in the back. Jonathan did not have a single bite of meat until age twenty-three when he was a getting his masters in library science at City University. It was a skirt steak with onions and mushrooms. He became an instant carnivore and never looked back. When he went home for Christmas that same year, his mother guessed his conversion because she believed his personality had changed. She told him that his behavior had become cynical, aggressive and less sensitive than was his true nature. That was nearly fourteen years ago. His parents were no longer in Racine. They had since divorced. His mother moved back to Germany. Four years ago, his father discontinued his law practice and now operated a health-food store in Evanston. Jonathan was at the wedding of his father and new bride, Pam. She was Korean, petite, very pretty and two years younger than Jon. The ceremony was small, private and expensive. Pam was now pregnant, his father told him bursting with pride. She was due in early July some time. The sign of the crab, the homemaker, the child will fit right in.

The potency of the pot he smoked was becoming apparent. His head swam and his thoughts were beginning to wander. He should edit the first poem but instead went on to the second.

He wrote for a while. This poem was consuming more time as it had taken on structure. Where is this going? He wondered. Where ever it was going it was truly bad. Just then his cell phone rang. He had no land line. That had made it difficult to get the gas turned on. Should he let it go into voice mail? He looked at the mirrored screen on the device. It was Sheila. He picked up.


“Hi Jon, it’s me. What are you doing right now?”

“Working on some poems for tonight.”

“You sound high. Have you been smoking?”

“Just a couple puffs to clear my head.”

“That does just the opposite you asshole.”

“It works for me, helps me get my creative juices flowing, the poems profit from it.” He said.

“Just because you get stoned to write, it doesn’t make you Shelly.”

“That’s only because my parents couldn’t afford to send me abroad to Eton. I didn’t learn Greek until I was well past the prime age for language absorption. Just think, I could have been the midwest’s next Carl Sandburg.”

“Sandburg hardly went to Eton, jackass, and he was pretty straight and I don’t think he knew Greek. I doubt if he even considered recreational drugs.”

“Bullshit. He used to drink the milk from his milkwagon when he was a teenager. It was laced with rum. They used it as a preservative back then.”

“You’re a jerk and that’s not even funny. I was wondering if you wanted to go to dinner, since it’s really our only night together.”

“Well, I wanted to recite three poems at Nelgri’s tonight. I only have one and a half down and they’re not polished.”

“You’re poetry is always rough.” She told him.

“Oh, thanks.”

“Well, do you want to go to dinner or not?”

“Sure, fine. I’ll save these for next week. My public will wonder where I am but they’ll get over it.”

“Sooner than you think,” she said.

“I wish you wouldn’t say shit like that. I take my art very seriously.”

“You should take getting a job in your field seriously. You’d be happier if you were working in a museum. With all of your education you could probably get a job as a assistant curator. The historical society was looking for assistants last month and you didn’t even do anything about it. You could have sent them a resume you know.”

“Ferdy told me how much that job was paying. I’m much better off where I am.”

“Oh yeah, fifty-four hours a week and you’re not even pulling forty K. Sure you’re better off. You gotta start somewhere, Jon.”

“Fine, when the right thing comes along, I’ll jump on it. Where were you planning on going for dinner?”

“The Pullman Car, they have a Thursday night special menu, all the vegetables will be organic and locally grown.”

“Mike Jantzen defines the mold in his walk-in box as organic and locally grown.”

“I can’t even go out to a restaurant with you because you know and hate all of the people in your business. If you changed your career, you could dine out in blissful ignorance like the rest of the world.”

“Scary thought; I’ll go. I just had to put my two cents in. There’s no chance you would consider going to Abercrombie’s?”

“No way, we wouldn’t be there five minutes when they’d ask you to fill in for a missing expediter. Tammy would try to buy you off with a free meal and I’d be stuck eating alone.”

“At least the food would be good.”

“There’s only so much tempeh a body can stand, Jon. For someone who eats ramen noodles three times a week, you shouldn’t talk about good food. I’d rather be poisoned by locally grown mold than eat by myself anyway.”

“I eat ramen because it’s cheap. You know I still have the candidates’ seminar to take each semester besides the dissertation. That costs money and I hate teaching, so that route is not an option.”

“You’re probably the only PhD candidate in the archaeology department who doesn’t plan on teaching in some capacity. Who do you think you are: Indiana Jones the treasure hunter?”

“He was a teacher too as I recall.” He said, remembering some of the smaller details of those movies.

“Exactly my point, smart ass.”

“Gotta get ready, honey. I’ll be by your place in an hour.”

“Hurry up. It’s almost six.”

“I didn’t know you had a reservation.”

“I don’t, I’m just hungry. So get movin,’” she said. He heard a tone signaling the connection had ended. She’s a real charmer, a somewhat masculine pizza face with sailor’s mouth on a huge pair of titties. The boobs and sex made up for her rough complexion and the nagging.

In the shower his head slowly began to emerge from the THC induced haze. He thought back to his time in Chicago. As an undergraduate in classics he thought that one day he would certainly be teaching. At City U., he got a job as a teaching assistant in the history department. The kids drove him nuts. Half of them couldn’t spell without the aid of a computer. He wished to be working and studying a few hundred yards away at Burnham (where he was now) but they didn’t have a library science program. Acquaintances had told him that the undergraduates weren’t much different there. With slightly more polish, they were mostly still masters of plagiarism and honor code violation. One PhD fellow in political science at Burnham told him that he had been propositioned by female undergrads trying to screw their way to a better grade on numerous occasions. One of the perks of being good-looking, Jon thought. Jon asked if these girls were hot and the guy just stared at him. Stupid question, it was Burnham, not the University of Miami. Jon got no such offers. He was considered only average in appearance with a spare tire around his middle. Jon got bored with his own teaching position quickly. He decided to take a job in the real world and do his studies part-time. His father told him that if he was going to do that, he would have to fund the rest of his education on his own, no more subsides. Whatever, Jon had said at the time. No regrets.

They took a cab to the restaurant, she hated driving in the city at night and he had no car. Sheila paid the fare. He would insist on picking up the tab for dinner, however. She liked to throw her money around and it embarrassed him. “Grow up you jack ass!” she would say. “It’s the twenty-first century for Chrissake.”

The meal was excellent. He had lobster with fresh steamed vegetables. The bread was baked on the premises and was very fresh, made that morning. Sheila had pork loin cooked with white wine, butter and fresh herbs. They had a bottle of white Burgundy. It cost a fortune. They were taking more than two hundred percent markup on the wine. He knew what it should cost and hated paying for atmosphere but the service and food were perfection so he kept his cool. They passed on dessert and Sheila footed the tip. She was happy. The portions were big and filling. The days of microscopic nouvelle portions were coming to an end.
“Do you want to go to the Hard Rock for a couple?” she asked.

“Not really, kid. What about a movie? There’s plenty of time for that.”

“You and your goddamn movies; I want a drink.”

“Okay, but let’s go someplace quiet.” He suggested.

“Like where?”

“What about The Stack. Andrea is working tonight.”

“So I can be mortified while you ogle her tits? I don’t think so. Why don’t we just go into Chesterton to the peep shows on Halder
Blvd. You can meet one of the prostitutes in the parking lot and it will still be cheaper than The Stack. You’re sex obsessed. The only reason we’re together is because of these.” She put her hands under her chest and lifted as they walked up Fourteenth St. towards Pine. “If I were a C-cup, you wouldn’t give me the time of day.” Embarrassed by her frank, public theatrics, he glanced around but passersby seemed not to have noticed.

There was a reason they called it The Stack. The servers were all women with enormous upper body assets. There were three of these clubs in the metropolitan area. The one in city center was mellow and dignified. The girls wore expensive tight dresses with plunging necklines. It was a businessman’s hangout. They did a great lunch business. Jon used to work with Andrea at Abercrombie’s but she moved on looking for a more lucrative gig. Apparently she found it, hauling in over $800 a week for one lunch and two evening shifts.

“What about here?” Jon said, indicating the door of a little country-western joint that he had never noticed before.

“Fine with me, who do you know in here?” She asked.

“I’m not sure, probably nobody.”

They went in. Reba McIntyre could be heard from the jukebox that was set at a merciful volume. The long bar was nearly full with a slightly mature crowd. There were tables at the back where a waitress in tight jeans served food and drinks. Western boots and a black light-weight flannel with the bar’s name in rhinestones across the back and a red bandana round the neck completed the attire. Jon and Sheila sat down at an empty deuce and she looked at a menu that was wedged between bottles of barbecue sauce and Tabasco.

“You can’t be hungry.” Jon said softly.

“Just curious.”

“Morbidly curious, I’m sure the kitchen’s filthy.”

“Oh, who the hell are you, the health department? Lighten up, I’m just looking.”

Jon couldn’t remember her saying more than three sentences without swearing. She could make the boys down at the Navy yard blush.
The mid-twentyish, very slim waitress approached their table. She cracked her gum loudly and asked with a distinctive south-end of town accent, what they wanted to drink. “Lone Star is the special.” She neglected to greet them and introduce herself.

“Draft or bottles?” Jon asked winking at his girlfriend. He knew very well that no distributor in town handled barrels of that brand.


Sheila nodded.

“We’ll have two unless you have Pearl,” Jon said.

“What’s Pearl?” asked the waitress.

“Another beer from Texas,” he said smiling. Now, it was no more than a micro-brew in production volume. He knew there was very little Pearl making its way out of Texas.

“Oh, I didn’t know Lone Star was from Texas. I learned something new.”

A snarky little grin crossed Jon’s face. His girlfriend glared.

“I’m Jon and this is Sheila. What’s your name?”


“Hi Angie, It’s so nice to meet you,” he said.

“Hello Angie,” said Sheila who held out her hand for the waitress to shake.

“Do you live in the neighborhood?” John continued.

“Yeah, not far, I grew up on Twenty-first and Washington.”

“I never would have dreamed that.” Jon said winking at his date.

“Ever been to Texas?” he asked. Sheila’s expression was darkening by degrees

“If I was there, I’d probably know about the beer.” She laughed.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Jon laughed with her. Sheila seethed.

“I’ll get those beers for you.” She drifted away towards the bar as Jon watched admiring the woman’s youthful shape.

“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer is she?” he said with a snide little giggle.

“You’re a fucking nightmare.” Sheila hissed. “She doesn’t know you’re making fun of her. Why can’t you be nice? Mr. goddamned sophisticated, I’m embarrassed for you.” She shook her head and looked back down at the menu. “What’s the difference between chicken fried steak and country fried steak?” She resumed a normal tone.

“I think they’re the same, it’s just how they’re served. Let’s ask Angie when she comes back.”

“You better be nice or I’ll kick you in the shins, and if you don’t believe me, try me.”

The waitress returned with the beer.

“Angie,” Sheila asked, “could I get a glass for my beer?”

“I’ll get you a cold mug if you want.”

“That’ll be great.” Sheila smiled.

Angie came back immediately with the frosted mug.

“Thank you, Angie.” Jon said. “Could I ask you a question about the menu?”

“Sure, Jon, what do you want to know?”

“What exactly is the difference between chicken fried steak and country fried steak?”

“Oh, you’re not the first person to ask that one. Country fried steak comes with cream gravy and chicken fried steak comes with brown gravy. That’s the only difference. Which ones do you guys want?”

“Oh, neither thanks. We were just curious.” Jon said quickly. “We actually just ate.”

“That’s okay. I’m just doing my job.” She scurried off to help people at another table.

“Hey,” Jon said, “let’s ask her about the vegetables. I bet macaroni and cheese counts as one.”

She spoke now in a barely audible whisper slow and measured: “If you don’t stop right now, I’m going to make a scene and walk out.”
He looked down. Wow, she’s pissed, he thought.

They finished their drinks in silence. He asked her a question about her work. She started to talk to him again but she was somehow different, distant, distracted. They had another round and prepared to leave. After leaving a nice tip for Angie, Jon got up from the table first and headed towards the door. On the way out, Sheila watched as Jon pointed with extreme animation to the bottom of a poster that advertised the Lone Star special: “Brewed in Texas by Texans,” the sign said boldly.

As Jon opened the door he felt a blunt pain in the area of his left kidney. Sheila had punched him in the back – hard, probably with all the strength she had.

“What the hell was that for? I was nice.” He said.

“Cut the bullshit. You were still taking shots at her.”

“I was pointing out a funny sign. ‘Made in Texas by Texans:’ that’s a riot.”

They walked up the street towards Walnut. “That’s not what you were up to and you know it.” She said. She did love him, in some strange way but his arrogance frustrated her – often. “I’m not going to discuss it anymore.”

“I think we should. That hurt. I’ll have blood in my urine in the morning.”

“I doubt it, but if you do, you can take the bus to the hospital. I’m showing 2000 sq ft of retail space in Bristol at 8:30.”

“What are you doing all the way out there?” he said.

“It’s not really that far. Besides, you gotta pick the tomatoes where the plants are ripe.”

“Was that original or did you make it up?”

“I could punch you on the other side to even out the pain, you bastard.”

“Not only do you look like Vladimir Klitschko, you punch like him too.” He said.

Her face grew red. “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you.” She prepared to give him another shot. Her pocket book was fairly large with a long shoulder strap. Along with her wallet, phone and make-up case there was a substantial amount of loose change in the bottom. She took it off her shoulder and hefted the weight. Starting from behind her back, she measured her target. The black bag wheeled as she felt the centripetal force increasing in her hand. Thud… it landed on his cheekbone. He went down on his knee and held his hand to the left side of his face, removing it to check for blood. His eye ached.

“Are you nuts!?! I could lose my eye!”

Now she yelled. “While you were in your goddamned preppy college learning about Achilles and his wooden horse in Ancient Greek, like you’re so proud of telling everyone; I was learning how to handle myself on Adams Avenue so I wouldn’t get raped on my way home from school! I’m a street kid, Jon, and I’m not gonna take that shit from you or anyone else!”

An empty cab came down the street. She ran to the curb to hail it. She opened the door and looked back at her boyfriend. He was still on the ground nursing his painful bruise. “Don’t call me tomorrow. In fact, don’t call me for a week, I gotta think.” She said.

He watched as the taxi drove off. She sat in the back seat with her head in her hands. Perhaps she was crying. Hoping that was the case, he rose slowly. He thought about going back into the bar to get some ice but it would be too embarrassing. Jon headed towards Central where the bus to the west end ran all night.

Sheila's Tale follows immediately after.

February 13th, 2012, 03:46 PM
Hi Jim,

I read this a few days ago, and have been trying to get back to the forum all weekend. Fail! But this morning is quiet and the coffee is good.

This segment is much better than the first you posted, simply because it gives me a better window into Sheila's Tale. It's easier to see what a prig Jon is, now that we have met him personally. These two segments, taken together, very good!

Only one quibble: I think, for me, this would read better if you tagged the dialog with proper names, just a little, not every line of course, sprinkled in so to speak (this is a minor nit, your use of pronouns really is sufficient). But that is just me.

Best regards


February 14th, 2012, 04:33 AM
Aside from a few punctuation issues, this is competently written for the most part, but you have some major problems that will need to be addressed before you continue.

The main problem is that it's insipid. There was nothing at all contained in those 3500 words that even remotely piqued my interest. Your characters are weak and vapid, the narrative doesn't flow, and your dialogue isn't realistically written.

If I sound like I am being inconsiderate or harsh, please understand that I'm not trying to be intentionally provocative. I'm simply attempting to be frank for your benefit (as well as the collective benefit of this entire board), because all of the considerate replies in the world, and all of the false praise and delicate nudging I see on this board on a day to day basis isn't helping any of you become better writers, which is precisely what this message board is for. If you're serious enough about your writing to commit yourself to thousands of words, and if you're serious enough to post it for critique, then you're going to have to be serious enough to take criticism that, although may not be pleasant to hear, could really be of service to you and the manuscript you're trying to create.

Here is some advice that will improve your work by a large, multiplying factor:

You're viewing the writing process upside down. It's like a car salesman who, upon spotting a potential customer on the lot, grabs the keys to one of the cars and takes them out for a demo spin. He's thinking about all of the points he's going to make to the potential customer while he demonstrates the car's cornering abilities, He's plotting his next sales move as he stomps the accelerator to demonstrate the car's power. He's got it all worked out in his head. This car is as good as sold. Then he looks over halfway through the ride only to discover that the customer never got into the car with him.

You have, AT BEST, one page to pique my initial interest. Generally it's just a paragraph or even a single sentence, but even with the most generous of potential readers, you're only going to get about a page. And why should you get any more than that? If I am in a bookstore, then I am surrounded by thousands of books, millions if I am online. You have got to grab me by the lapels in that ultra short period of time and shake the hell out of me. I've picked up your book. Don't ever let me put it back down, because I promise you, if you let me, I will.

Now, this is only good enough to get my INITIAL interest. That doesn't mean I'm invested in your story from then on. All it means is that I've given you enough fuel to get just a little further down the road, a page or two, maybe. After that you're going to need to hit me again, and the sooner the better.

A good storyteller is a good salesman, and there are MILLIONS of stories out there.

I hope this helps.

Jon M
February 14th, 2012, 08:17 PM
Your characters are weak and vapid, the narrative doesn't flow, and your dialogue isn't realistically written.This is the 1% of your comment that might be helpful. The rest is pretty vague and pointless. If you truly believe the characters of this story are weak, or that the narrative "doesn't flow" (whatever that means), or that the dialogue isn't realistic, then it is up to you to provide specific examples. Otherwise your critique is at risk of being hot air, noise and no substance.

Welcome to the forums, by the way.

March 1st, 2012, 01:28 AM
Dear wordwreck,

Thank you for reading the excerpt. I am sorry that you found this section 'insipid.' I assure you that the piece gets more flavorful later but I am sure I will have lost you by then. Pity. As for Jon's 'weak' and 'vapid' character, that was the point exactly. I'm glad it came through. If you had also read the second portion, which I posted first, you might have formed a second opinion about Sheila's character. I beg to differ about the flow of the narative and the dialogue that I believe to be quite naturalistic. It is always difficult to thoroughly considerate when one criticizes another's work. This I do understand, no offense was taken.

By the way, I don't ever intend to seek publication for this piece, it is but something I had to get out.

My respectful thanks again for your time,


March 1st, 2012, 02:35 PM
“I don’t, I’m just hungry. So get movin,’” she said. He heard a tone signaling the connection had ended. She’s a real charmer, a somewhat masculine pizza face with sailor’s mouth on a huge pair of titties. The boobs and sex made up for her rough complexion and the nagging.

This parapraph was so snappy, and surprisingly unexpected (surprisingly as it fits the tone perfectly) that I laughed out loud.

An enjoyable read, despite Sheila's propensity for melodrama. I will have to go read the other part now.