View Full Version : The Professional Student (part III) ~1950 words

March 6th, 2012, 03:01 AM
After two weeks of much needed vacation, I have come back to try to finish this. One more part to come. For those unfamiliar with the story thus far part one is located a little ways down this same general fiction section and part two further down ( Sheila's Tale ) which I posted first. I over-scrubbed the language in that section. I think it took away from the story but rules are rules. No f-bombs here. Jon is in a situation where he needs to be on his best behavior.

The Professional Student
Part III
The Tank

Jon woke late Friday, it was 9:15, and the left side of his face hurt like hell’s blazes. He heard the phone’s ring tone as he opened his eyes and let the message go into voice mail. It was probably the only reason he woke at all. He rolled over several times but could not get comfortable due to his throbbing head.

Pillsbury dragged himself out of the rack and into the bathroom. He had to pee in the worst way but checked the mirror first. His face was a mess. The brow over his left eye was swollen to Frankenstein proportions. The cheek below was red and puffed. The bloated flesh covering the immediate area of the socket was dark and purple giving his head the look of a half-man, half-raccoon beast. The blast to the oculus had transformed him. The white of the eye was red beyond bloodshot. He looked like he had actually been on the receiving end of a blow by the heavy-weight champion. After taking care of his bodily functions, he went into the room and sat in the recliner that was shoe-horned in between his sofa bed and dresser.

Picking up the phone from the tiny end table, he looked to see who had called. There was only the one message, it was from his department. He listened: “Good morning, Mr. Pillsbury. This is Gerri-Ann at Burnham Archaeology. Dr. Wilson would like to with meet you along with Dr. Sharpe and your advisor, Dr. Sorensen here at the department offices at 3:00 PM today. Dr. Wilson says you must attend, no excuses. Please call to confirm. Thank you and we’ll see you later.” Then the voice dropped down to a whisper: “ Good luck, Jon.”

What the hell? I have to be at work at 4:30, he thought. What could this be about so close to the end of term? I hope they’re not trying to offer me a fellowship again. He showered, being careful not to let the water hit the tender portion of his face. After getting dressed, he called Sheila to talk to her about the meeting.

“Sorry, I can’t take your call right now. If this is Jon, don’t bother to leave a message. I will erase it. I told you: don’t call me for a week.” He clicked off.

“That bitch! She’s broadcasting to all of her friends and family that I’m in her little doghouse, and letting me know that she’s doing it to boot. She knew I would call. He made himself some oatmeal and coffee and stood at the counter in the kitchenette and ate. All those years in the restaurant business had taught him to eat standing up. The clock on the stove indicated 11:15. How could it possibly be that late? Time continued to fly from then on.

He arrived at the museum at 2:30. He hoped that if they all knew he was there, then they might start the meeting early. He knew that this was wishful thinking.

“Hi Jon,” said Gerri-Ann, the departmental secretary, “Congratulations, I knew you would get it.”

“Thank you, Gerri,” he said. What was she talking about? “Is there anything in my mailbox?” Now he stood in front of the girl straight on.

“Jon! What happened to you?”

“I walked into a door.”

“Oh,” there was a long pause. “I see. I hope you’re okay.” She shook her head and went back to typing.

He abandoned hope of prying anything she knew out of her at that point. She never even told him about his mail. His face was a show stopper. It didn’t matter. He had been there on Tuesday to pick up a week’s worth of grad-student-aimed flyers and other university-wide detritus. He received little correspondence of any importance as a rule.

He went downstairs to the museum basement where, nestled among the vaults of drawer upon drawer of potsherds and original drafts of layouts and photographs of various digs, was a student lounge. In there was Ferdy, grading papers at the round lunch table as was usual for him on a Friday afternoon.

“Hi Ferd,” said Jon.

The twenty-eight year old Argentinean looked with his normal dark and angry eyes. “What the hell did you do, Pills?”

“Sheila belted me with her pocketbook.”

“You must have deserved it,” he said.

“Yeah, guess so.”

“Damn. That’s not going to go over well for you, friend.” Ferdy said, obviously knowing something.

“Do you have some idea why Wilson dragged me down here today? I have to be to work at 4:30.” Jon asked, because now it started to sound ominous, but Gerri-Ann seemed to suggest it was about something good.

Ferdy stared down at the table top and gathered up his papers looking grim. He glared up at Jon and stroked his bushy black beard in a manner that suggested a wisdom abnormal for a man of his youth. “Think about what you are doing here and think about what you just said and try to reason it out,” he said. The specialist in Incan textiles and jewelry placed his stack of papers in his book bag and got up to leave. “Try not to be defensive, Jon. When you take some time to stop and think about it, it will all make perfect sense.”

Ferdy left the room and Jon thought that perhaps he had somehow lost one of his few friends in the department. Jon felt more in the dark than ever. He looked at his watch and went back upstairs and sat down at one of the few waiting chairs there. He saw Dr. Sharpe walk by him towards the conference room. If she saw him, she gave no indication. At 3:07, Gerri-Ann said: they’re waiting for you in the conference room, Jon.

“Thanks, Gerri.”

He went in. Wilson was the head of graduate studies in archaeology. He was seated in the center of the long side of the table with Dr. Sharpe on his left and Dr. Sorensen on his right. Dr. Sorensen, like Pillsbury was an expert in pre-Hellenic pottery. Dr. Sharpe was the chairman of the entire department, both old and new world sections. Jon called her Dr. Arrowhead because she specialized in Native American civilizations and because of her pointy chin. She was well into her seventies but her faculties were as acute as her face. Whatever point was being made here, she was present for emphasis.

“Please have a seat, Jonathan.” Wilson indicated the lone chair on the opposite side of the table. Someone had removed the others.

All that is missing is the bright lights and the cigarette smoke, Jon thought.

“I’m sure you are wondering why we have asked you to come down here today,” Wilson continued.

“Honestly yes, I’m a little bit confused.”

“I’m sure you are,” said Wilson.

Sorensen let out a chuckle which he clipped to a grunt as Wilson looked askance in his directon.

“I am sorry to interrupt, Dr. Wilson, but I have a burning question: what has happened to your face, Mr Pillsbury?” asked Dr. Sharpe.

“I had a fight with my girlfriend.” Jon couldn’t believe he didn’t lie.

“Is she alright?” she asked.

“She’s fine.”

“I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear it.”

He was dying to tell her it was none of her business but he held his tongue.

Wilson began where he left off. “Jon, how long have you been a doctoral student here at Burnham?”

“It will be six years at the end of this term.”

“How close are you to presenting us with your dissertation?” the director asked.

“If I buckle down, I can have it completed by a year from next month.” Jon said.

“You mean next May?”

“Yes.” Jon began to fidget in his chair, this was looking more and more like some kind of inquisition.

“You have submitted a competent summary and outline two years ago. Since then, according to Dr. Sorensen, you have not come to him with the smallest request for advice or guidance, not a single question, nothing. He is here as a resource for you, yet you have not availed yourself of this resource.”

Jon said nothing.

“What, may I ask, have you been doing all of this time?” Wilson continued.

“I’ve been working.”

“You haven’t been teaching or assisting, what is it that you do again?”

“I’m the assistant manager at a restaurant in city center.”

“Abercrombies,” said Sorensen. “He seems quite attached to that job.”

“Are you ‘attached’ to your job, Jonathan?” asked Dr. Sharpe.

“Not particularly.”

“Dr. Sorensen might differ with you there.” Wilson said.

Sorensen spoke: “Three and a half years ago, I invited you to accompany me and a group of classical archaeologists and students from around the world on a dig at a newly discovered settlement on Chios from the Mycenaean period. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, of course. I wanted to go but I had just been promoted to assistant manager and I felt that spending most of the summer on an island in Greece might seem self-indulgent to my employer.” Jon looked down at the table as he spoke and scratched his arm in a vigorous fashion. He knew his advisor was right. He felt obligated to Tammy for making him a manager. I guess my priorities need adjusting. They’re making the point in a grandiose way.

“But Jon,” Sorensen continued, “this settlement was from your period of study. Any objects found there could not leave the country. You could have viewed them in situ and handled them. Instead, you chose to examine the photographs on CD. Being a part of the actual work would certainly have proved invaluable for your work. You chose a mere job over your supposed career. Do you understand the distinction?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why, Mr. Pillsbury?” said Dr. Sharpe. Her questions were the most disturbing.

“As I said, Greece in the high season sounds like a vacation to anyone not in the world of academe.”

“That’s not the ‘why’ I meant, but I will continue in the same vein. Are you outside the world of academe? Why did you choose a run of the mill job over your academic career? Would you rather not be here?”

They’re trying to get rid of me! The thought hit him like a ton of bricks as black and purple as his eye. “No! I want to finish in the worst way.” He tried to curb his emotions but his voice cracked at the end of the sentence.

Wilson came back: “Clearly you want to be with us emotionally, but are you here intellectually?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Is it an organizational problem?” he continued. “Something like that we can help you with. Show us what you have now and Dr. Sorensen will help you organize your thoughts. You can talk it all out. You haven’t been doing this in the seminars. Maybe you need personalized assistance – if that is the problem.”

“Let me get to the nub,” Dr. Sharpe said. “We would like to see what you have now, whatever form it’s in.”

“It’s all together in my head and in my notes. I just need to type it up.”

“So,” said Sharpe again. “You have one fifty to two hundred pages of text all in your head. How much exactly is written?”

“The introduction, nine pages,” he said in a barely audible whisper.

“Excuse me,” she said. “My apologies, my hearing must be going.”

“The introduction,” he announced clearly.

Sorensen slapped his hand on the table. “He has done nothing in two years!” The meeting was about to become, in diplomatic terms: frank.

March 6th, 2012, 03:41 PM
HI Jim

Hope you had a good vacation!

Having read the previous installments, this part went very well to me. Everything had context. Looks like Jon will get his 'come-uppence ' (again). The question is, will he make the necessary changes in his behavior?

This part:

“If I buckle down, I can have it completed by a year from next month.” Jon said.

“You mean next May?” Should we see some indignation or other emotion here? Just wondering...

“Yes.” Jon began to fidget in his chair as this was looking more and more like some kind of inquisition.

I added the 'as' because it seemed to read a little smoother to me that way, but you may not agree. Otherwise, I am looking for the final outcome.

Best regards


March 6th, 2012, 10:01 PM
Hi CB,

My vacation was good and restful, thank you (though it was not as much fun as I imagine a summer on the Aegean might be).

Thanks also for giving this part your usual and careful read. Although Jon deserves his comeuppance, I regret that it took this type of emotional torture for him to develop the necessary skills of introspection required to launch his life out of its current holding pattern. We shall see in the final part how this is achieved, which (with appropriate luck) should be up by the weekend. If not, I regret something will have come up, sorry. Stuff happens.

I kept much description out of the inquisition to help speed things along. Perhaps a heavy sigh might be sufficient.

The ‘as’ you inserted is quite appropriate as it is in keeping with my usual style. Thanks for spotting it.

Grateful for your time as ever,