Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Now here's Chapter Six:
The auditorium on the University of Maine campus was big, old, drafty and, at the moment, nearly empty. Professor Kenneth Dye looked out at the smattering of college students seated in a more or less random pattern throughout the room and wondered if even one single person was paying the slightest bit of attention to his lecture. Judging by the bleary looks on most of their faces, he guessed not.
It was 8:30 on a stormy, icy morning, which meant it was roughly four hours too early for most of these kids to be awake. The few that did seem chipper and bright-eyed, large Styrofoam cups of coffee fueling their engines, seemed much more interested in text-messaging, game-playing, and whatever the hell else kids could do on their cell phones these days than in paying much attention to Professor Kenneth A. Dye.
The professor paused in his lecture, looking up from his notes, not even really needing them. He had been giving the same stock presentation for more years than he cared to remember. The only reason he was still teaching at this institution of higher education located in the middle of nowhere was that he needed a reliable source of income so he could afford the purchase price on his next bottle of Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey. In fact, now that he really thought about it, Professor Dye decided he probably looked more bleary-eyed than most of the kids slumped in their seats in the unnecessarily large auditorium.
Lecturing in the monotone he had perfected over the past two decades about material he had been teaching for nearly that long, Ken Dye reflected on the incident that had become the turning point in not just his career but his life.
At one time, he had been an up-and-comer, an aggressive young teacher and researcher rocking the academic world with controversial theories based on extensive research in his chosen field of Native American studies. Dye didn’t just peruse historical accounts of life in North America prior to the European invasion of the 1600’s and 1700’s, he traveled extensively in the field, interviewing Native American tribal elders all over the United States and even going so far as to live with a number of different tribes in different regions of the country for several illuminating years.
After completing his research and reaching some controversial conclusions regarding the mysticism inherent in virtually all Native American cultures, Kenneth Dye made the fateful decision which would change his life forever and not for the better. He wrote a book detailing his findings and almost overnight was reduced to a laughingstock, both in his beloved academic community as well as the real world outside the ivied walls of academia.
Dye came to consider publication of the textbook the biggest mistake of his life. Publish or perish indeed, he thought wryly. More like publish, then perish. Following the book’s release, other professors gradually stopped coming by his office to discuss campus politics, invitations to academic affairs dried up, and colleagues began crossing to the other side of the quad when he approached so they wouldn’t have to be seen with him. Ken Dye became a pariah; the guy no one wanted to get too close to, lest his disease of insignificance rub off on them as well.
He had never married—who had time for romance when there was so much research to be done?—and after the release of his book, the professor became such a celebrated kook that the only women interested in dating him were either a little unhinged themselves or curious to discover whether he was really as loony as he was portrayed in the media.
Eventually, Professor Dye retreated into his solitary prison of semi-academia, lecturing bored kids who needed an easy elective with which to pad their schedules without expending too much effort. Administrators at the University of Maine at Orono were only too happy to let him keep his job—in the beginning—because he brought a measure of welcome attention to the out-of-the-way school.
After becoming the subject of near-universal academic scorn, though, the administration felt it even more prudent to retain the man, if only to keep an eye on him. Out on his own in the world he could potentially do real damage to the school’s academic reputation. Better to keep him under wraps.
Outside, the storm pounded the centuries-old building with high winds. Rain pelted the campus, freezing solidly on every surface within minutes. Professor Dye tried to convince himself that the low turnout for today’s lecture was due in large part to the treacherous weather—college students will take advantage of any excuse to ditch a class—but he knew from long experience that even if the conditions were seventy degrees and sunny, there wouldn’t be many more bodies in the lecture hall than were here right now.
Dye shot a glance at the portable alarm clock he had placed on the podium. It was important to track how many more minutes he had to suffer through before he could get home and dive back into his bottle of Jack. Eight-fifty-five. Ten more minutes and the day’s first class would be in the books. Only three more tedious, boring, mind-numbing lectures to go. He wished he had poured some whiskey into his water bottle before leaving for work this morning. A powerful thirst was starting to build, and it was barely past breakfast.
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