Category Archives: Famous Authors

Mr. Cole

Mr. Cole

He lurked out in the hall as we all took our seats and came to order.  He took a drink from the water fountain, putting down what looked like a new briefcase as he did so.  He picked up the briefcase and made for the door, then turned and walked back to the fountain, putting his briefcase down as he took another drink.  He started for the door again.  Changed his mind and returned for another drink.  Then he squared his shoulders, picked up his case, re-rounded his shoulders and entered the room.

He was a little mole of a man—sniffy and hunched with scrunched-up eyes behind thick glasses.  When he entered the classroom, he looked straight down at the floor, as though he wasn’t sure one foot would follow the other without great attention.  He maneuvered his way to his desk and stood with his back to us.  He slammed his briefcase onto the desk, then removed it again, as though in indecision over whether he really wanted to stay at all.  Then he slammed it down again.  Removed it.  Slammed it down.

Finally, he moved around to face us and assumed a more teacherly demeanor.  He actually looked at someone in the front row for two seconds, before retreating back around to the back side of the desk, perhaps seeking some protection.

It was the first day of my freshman year in college. Next to me was a very new friend who not only lived in the same dorm but who also had just pledged the same sorority. We sported our bug-like black pledge pins on the fronts of our sweaters, a hand’s distance above the nipple, as we’d been instructed to wear them.  It was a bit like being in enemy territory, for we had already learned that the English department and the dormitories were not the best places to display our new status as Greeks so openly.  Our sitting together was a bit like circling the wagons on a westward journey.  We had each others’ backs.

“My name is Mr. Cole,” the dwarf said. “This is the honors section of Freshman English 101.”  He had facial ticks and a way of floating off into dreams.  Sometimes the end of a sentence just sort of wandered off, as though some other matter of greater importance had intruded upon his thoughts.  We did not disturb him in these reveries.  My new friend Linda and I would exchange looks and she would giggle the sexy little laugh that was her only laugh.  We both admitted, finally, to having a bit of a crush on him.

It was my first of many crushes on “different” men.  Men who had facial ticks or personality disorders that made others look on in horror or disgust just seemed to intrigue me, and my new friend was someone who gave validity to my strange behavior.  She, too, thought he was intriguing.  When we invited him to be a faculty chaperone for our pledge dance, he asked if he would be expected to function in the capacity of a bouncer and I assured him that no, it was more of an honorary position. To our surprise, he accepted, showing up with a tall willowy English department assistant who seemed herself to be of a literary bent.  I don’t remember if they danced, but I believe they dated for the rest of my college career.

You can see by my relation of these details how little I really knew about this man. On that first day in Freshman English, I remember being frightened and feeling inferior to the big town kids in the class.  If the truth were told, most of them were probably small town kids themselves, but coming from a town of 700, I thought of a town of 6,000 as a city , and I was sure that my own excellent academic record was more a result of comparison (there were 15 in my graduating class) than of true prowess.  Mr. Cole explained that instead of studying grammar, sentence and paragraph construction, that as honors students we would be expected to write an essay or story a week which would then be read in class and commented upon.

The night before our first writing assignment was due, my insecurity had kept me from committing a single mark to paper.  We had been given no topic and no direction.  This paper was to function as a sample of where we were on the continuum of writing skills.  This was to be my introduction to the strange gnomish man who had studied under Roethke.  Although I had no idea who Theodore Roethke was and no easy way of determining who he was in this pre-computer, pre-Google age, I had made one of my rare forays into the college library and found a whole section dedicated to his books in the poetry section.  So, I was about to be read by the student of a very important American poet.  And, I didn’t know what I was doing, really.  Our composition efforts in high school had been for the most part limited to essays and term papers.  I’d once written a humorous sonnet about Goldwater and Johnson and that was about it.  How did one go about writing a vignette, which as I recall was our assignment?  Midnight, one a.m., two a.m. ticked away on the smoking room wall as I sat looking at the blank page.

A fly, brought back to action by the hot light of my study lamp, worried my ear before buzzing off to pin itself to the wall. The smoke of my cigarette curled between us, and suddenly, in a sort of astral projection, I was that fly on the wall getting high on the fumes of a doobie that smoked in the ashtray beneath it.  The room was filled with the imaginary bodies of stoned kids splayed out on the floor or with headphones on their heads.  I started to write.  Forget that I had never smelled or seen marijuana, let alone smoked a joint. It was easier for me to imagine that fly getting high than to imagine myself doing so, but within a half hour, I’d completed the essay, set my alarm clock and had joined the fly in its herbally-induced sleep.

The next day, I placed my own sheet on the pile of papers on his desk.  Mr. Cole entered as usual, slamming the briefcase, removing it, slamming, slamming.  I had never been introduced to the term “Tourette’s Syndrome,” but many years later I wondered if perhaps this accounted for some of his oddness.  He would stand at the desk and crane his neck upwards, roll his eyes.  Sometimes he would look at one back corner of the room and then at the other, as though he were privy to some world and audience we had no access to. Seeing a film on Roethke, I wondered if he had patterned some of his odd behavior on his former teacher. This is just a scrap of a remembrance, so perhaps I dreamed it.  In this era of YouTube it would not be hard to check out.

Three days later, he was ready to discuss our vignettes.  There were many in this class, he revealed, who were able to put words down on paper but who were not writers.  There was one student, however, who had portrayed the truth in a way that the others had failed. This student had displayed courage in telling about a part of themselves that no one else had been willing to be vulnerable enough to display. He then read my essay as an example of superior writing to the entire class.

What I felt? Relief, certainly.  Pride?  Sorry, but yes.  I enjoyed being singled out.  After the class, other students came up to me saying they would not have had the courage to write the truth like that or to admit they’d smoked pot and applauded my success in exactly expressing what it was like to be stoned.  On the way back to the sorority house to do our pledge duties, my friend giggled and admitted she had never smoked pot.  “Neither have I,” I confessed, with a sideways grin at her.

I took three classes from Mr. Cole. In Honors Freshman English, I earned an A.  When I took creative writing from him a year later, he seemed to have me completely confused with another student who had taken a class from him the semester before.  He kept calling me Jenny and commenting on how my writing had improved.  The next semester, I took another class from him and in the margin of one of the first poems I wrote for him, he said, “Not quite up to the sudden fine standards you set for yourself last semester!”  I knew then that he was still thinking of me as Jenny and was disappointed that I’d returned to my former standards of mediocrity.  He’d given me a B+ on the poem.  I tried harder for the remainder of my last semester in his class, earned another A and would like to believe I lived up to his expectations. Of Jenny.

We do not always stand out in the memories of those we admire with the same clarity that they stand out in ours. What happened to Mr. Cole, I do not know.  As with many in our lives, when his importance in my own life ended, so did his existence.  I tried Googling his name once and found nothing, which may mean his own poetry books were published in a pre-computer era.  When I Google my own name, there are 209,000  entries listed, probably most having to do with some other combinations of my name, but most of the ones really referring to me have to do with writing. Probably all of those entries deserve a footnote of thanks to Mr. Cole, who was the first to find merit in my words and also the first to be deceived by them.

(You can see a 25-minutes YouTube video on Theodore Roethke here. Other than his reading style, he really doesn’t have much in common with Mr. Cole at all.)

The Prompt: Teacher’s Pet—Write about a teacher who influenced you.

Mending Pants (With apologies to Robert Frost)

I once again didn’t feel an affinity for today’s prompt, but a friend had suggested that I try this week’s Poets & Writers poetry prompt, so I did it instead.  What follows is a familiar poem by Robert Frost entitled “Mending Wall” and then my parody of it entitled “Mending Pants.”  I hope that I am interpreting that grimace on your face as a smile, and if so, I can link my poem to the Daily Post prompt as well, thereby mending two fences with one stone!!!

Mending Wall   (by Robert Frost)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Mending Pants (With apologies to Robert Frost)

Something there is that doesn’t love a fast,
That sends a frozen pizza to waylay it,
And spills the diner’s flesh out towards the sun;
And makes gaps in his pants legs where two balls can pass abreast.
Those forks of custard are another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left him with new stone on stone*
Until his flesh again peeps by habit out of hiding
To tease the helping girls. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor lady know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to mend his pants
And set him down between us once again.
We keep him there between us as we sew,
To each the breaches that have fallen to each.
Some near his buns and some so near his balls
We have to fuse him well to make them balance:
“Stay where you are, until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One ball on a side. It comes to little more:
She has your pine staff and I your apple, Richard.
Your apple, free, will never get across
And be misplaced to crowd its twin, I tell him.
He only says, “Good pants repairs make good neighbors.”
Frisky with springtime, I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are actually balls? But here there appear to be no balls.
Before I mend thy pants, I’d like to know
What I was panting in or panting out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love tight pants,
That wants them torn! I could shout “Elvis” to him,
But he’s not exactly Elvis, and I’d rather
He saw it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing his stones grasped firmly at the top
In each hand, like an old stoned savage armed.
He moves in discomfort, as it seems to me,
His balls lonely and his blade not yet set free.
He will not go far before his pants start splaying,
Yet he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good pants repairs make good neighbors.”

*a stone is a British unit of measure equal to 14 pounds.

(Wish I could have printed these out side-by-side so the parody is clearer.  If you are really a purist, perhaps you’ll do so to enjoy the parallels.)

Lear’s Fool or Harlequin?

The Prompt today is “A Bookish Choice”—A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

Lear’s Fool or Harlequin?

Obscure or popular? That witch
creates a choice that is a bitch.

For, if at fame I had a chance
only if I wrote romance,

I’d prefer to be unknown,
in my corner, all alone,

writing words they’ll find profound
if in fact they’re ever found.

But wait. Have we two choices only?
Trite and read/genius and lonely?

Where is it written I must depend
upon a witch to plan my end?

Since when has either witch or fairy
determined what is literary?

Once I took a little breather,
I decided I’d choose neither!

Rebellious thoughts swirl through my head.
I’ll simply write my blog instead!!!

Party of Twelve

The Prompt: Seat Guru—You get to plan a dinner party for 4-8 of your favorite writers/artists/musicians/other notable figures, whether dead or alive. Who do you seat next to whom in order to inspire the most fun evening?

I chose twelve guests, plus myself. The seating chart is below. You will have to imagine me sitting in the exact middle of the table shaped like a ring around me.

Dinner for 12 seat chart

Party of Twelve

I have planned the dinner party, set the table, cooked the food,
but decisions about seating charts is ruining my mood;
for I want to sit by everyone, hear every conversation,
and trying to choose only two is causing consternation.
I think, therefore, I’d put me on a chair right in the center
on a sort of lazy Susan so I’d be able to enter
every conversation and to listen in on all,
seeing how they fare just like a fly upon the wall.

I’d have a little foot pedal to spin me at my ease—
enjoy Chaucer with my salad and Jane Austen with my cheese.
Jesus Christ and Whoopi could gang up on Rush and tell
why he’s the one who’s going to be broadcasting in Hell.
Osama bin Laden would be seated ear-to-ear
with Mohammed who would tell him what all terrorists should hear:
that the truth of the religion has got lost along the way,
for no one who is enlightened wants to kill and burn and slay.
Steve Martin would be there for fun to loosen up Osama
and spar with Rush to get his mind off Hillary and Obama.

I’d ask two people from real life to join us at the table:
Doug between the prophets so he’d finally be able
to be faced with the real men so he can sort out fact and fiction
and show it’s the religions that have caused us all the friction.
The men themselves had peace at heart and must bemoan the end
that power brokers bring the world to as their truth they bend.

The other person that I want to have here at my meal
is Ann Garcia, for I know her pleasure would be real.
Seated by Jane Austen, she would question her and tell
of her appreciation of the books she’s loved so well.
Barbara Kingsolver I’d seat upon on her other side.
She, too, would get much praise but also would have to abide
many interruptions from one listening from the middle,
for I’d be hopping back and forth like water on a griddle.

These people all are here because my curiosity
is whetted by my fantasies of what I’ll hear and see.
There is another guest that I’ve neglected to reveal,
but he is central to the plot of this illustrious meal.
Geoffrey Chaucer would be there to listen and relate
the story of this group of people that we love and hate.
So all the world could hear the tale of what we learned at table.
This earliest father of literature is surely the most able
to see the truth of character and spin a tale to tell
the truth of what will save our world from fire, brimstone, Hell!

And then, one final person I’d invite to be a guest
is Barbara Walters, who would come to interview the rest;
so we’d be sure that all received their moment in the sun,
and we could question them after her interview was done.

If you have any questions that you’d like an answer to,
most happily, I’ll ask them and pass answers on to you.
I will not mind a bit assuming this laborious task.
Just comment on this poem and say what you would like to ask
of Chaucer or of Jesus or of Whoopi or of Steve.
If they’re still here, I’ll ask them, or if they have chosen to leave,
I’ll channel them in poetry and say what I believe
they’d say if your request were one they could themselves receive.
But for now our party’s over and our guests have all departed.
Many better-fed, and (let’s hope) some more open-hearted!!!

P.S. The number of guests at my dinner party is coincidental. In no way is this poem meant to allude to another illustrious dinner of twelve plus one.

P.P.S.  Oops..Barbara Walters somehow got bounced off the seating chart.  I guess I’ll give her my seat and I’ll just roam around the perimeter, helping my sister serve the soup, but mostly just listening in and butting in. So this really should be called “Party of Thirteen.” I also had Will Rogers on my original seating plan, but he was somehow omitted.  It was my first time using the program that created the seating chart and it took me longer to get it together than to write the entire poem. Sorry Will, I’ll catch you later.  Perhaps devote an entire poem to you.