Remembering Mary Wood by Robert Day

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To celebrate Mary Wood’s life is to celebrate a life worth emulation: for her friendship, her wit, her gifts to the culture of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, her vision, her political savvy, and her présence.

At the beginning she was my student, then my friend, and far from the end she became my teacher: Her sense of balance and judgment always exceeded mine, but it was my pleasure (as it might have been for you) to try to keep pace. In her own difficult times I never saw her grimace — in fact, I doubt that any of us in the orbit of her life ever saw that expression, and it was only after Donald Trump became President that I saw it at all, and then it was usually followed by understated contempt and derision.

Long before either of us understood the terms of our mortality, we would swap final words by various authors, which we would repeat in edited forms by way of saying à bientôt (meaning “See you later”; Mary eschewed au revoir as goodbye, not what she had in mind).

Mary’s favorite quotation was Oscar Wilde’s quip as he lay dying in a Paris hotel; “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.” Mine was W.B. Yeats in the south of France when he heard that his malady was arteriosclerosis in an antique frame. “My god it scans,” Yeats said. And died.

My habit over the years was to take Mary my copies of the New Yorker with something dog-eared I thought she might enjoy. To visit her a few days later was to visit a reader who had not only two or three books to recommend, but to have finished the New Yorkers should I want to pass them on. In her later years, she’d remark that she was at the mercy of an active brain being hauled around by a decrepit body. I said my problem was an active body on top of which was a disheveled mind.

Among her gifts to the college is the endowment of the room in which this event is being held: The Mary Wood Readers Room. Douglass Cater, the president when the room was dedicated, worried aloud what Betty Casey might think about having room named for Mary inside a house named by Betty. It was my task to ask Betty, who thought it was just fine. Which has me observe how much our literary culture at Washington College owes to women: Sophie Kerr, Betty Casey, Maureen Jacoby, and Mary Wood. Among them, they have given Washington College students many rooms of their own.

A few days before Mary died, I called to ask how she felt. “Medium,” she said. And we both laughed.

Mary, now in your spirit world, be careful about rooms with ugly wall paper, and I will take what care I can of my antique frame.. à bientôt.

Robert Day was founder and first director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House. Along with Meredith Davies Hadaway, Richard Harwood, and Mike Kaylor, he founded the Literary House Press. He is the author of twelve books, including “The ABCs of Enlightenment: A Memoir of Learning and Teaching” that features Washington College.

Op-ed: The Big Gun Buy Back Program – Go Long by Robert Day

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Tom Brokaw of NBC News said that in today’s American culture: “If you have a problem, get a gun.” He might as well have continued: “If you have a big problem (with Gays, Black, Muslims, Syrians, Obama Care, your own dark madness), then get a big gun.”

I am one of those fringe folk running for President (see note below), and as such I propose the Gun Buy Back Program. It goes like this:

First, reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban (they are called Assault Weapons for good reason). Second, establish the Gun Buy Back Center composed of private funds and government offices that offers to buy back all Assault Weapons in the following manner: 200% percent of the documented purchase price for 2017; 150% of documented purchase price for 2018; 100% of documented purchase price 2019. In 2020 the possession of an Assault Weapon becomes a felony. No, the devil is not in the details (they can be worked out), it is in the guns.

Yes, yes: But what about the Congress? I have a friend who proposes that all those who want everyone, everywhere to carry guns: into schools, churches, on playgrounds, at football and baseball games, at funerals for those who have been shot—that they all move to Texas along with those who oppose a woman’s right to choose, favor the death penalty, and want to deport anyone not white. Texas could then secede from the United States (the Tex-ext) and build itself a wall. Happy trails.

Well! as Jack Benny used to say (thus dating myself). Well, indeed.

Of course, my proposal has no chance these days to pass the high dollar bar set by the NRA. But times change, our culture changes, and it might change more quickly for my efforts. Go Long. Remember when it was thought manly to not wear seat belts: My paraplegic body is nobody business but mine. Or that it was Marlboro Man toughness to smoke: Anybody can face a heart attack, but it takes a real man to face cancer.

In fact, the country is sick to death of all the death from guns. The culture has changed. The politics have not. But times, they are a-changing. Thus updating myself.

Robert Day is the author of ten books, the most recent being Robert Day for President: An Embellished Campaign Auto-biography.

The Resurrection and the Life of the Republican Party by Robert Day

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Casa Botin, Madrid, 2016 – We are four at a Holy Week dinner at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Spanish restaurant and, over bread and wine, we have consecrated ourselves as saviors of the Republican Party. None of us are now, nor have ever been, Republicans; but our parents were in the days of a lot of Ike and a bit of Taft–as the writer among us put it. We believe in the two party system. Beyond the writer, one of us is a painter, another a psychologist, and the fourth a medical doctor.

The psychologist proposes a bolt of Electroconvulsive Therapy for the Republican Party and be done with it: Remember the scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” she says. Randle McMurphy is an amusing version of Donald Trump. Think of Hillary as Nurse Ratched. They deserve her.

We could, says the painter, gesso over the Republican’s recent past. Cover up the canvas of Billy Graham, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon’ s Southern Strategy; Reagan’s speech at Philadelphia, Mississippi; Lee Atwater bragging about the success of the racist code in “state’s rights”; Willy Horton; Fox News; Russ Limbaugh; Glenn Beck–and make for the Republicans a better painting of themselves. Or at least give them a blank canvas to see what they can do on their own. So long, see you never again: Karl Rove, George Bush, Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz et al. The painter is the only one among us who is also clairvoyant.

Over Casa Botin’s famous suckling pig and with more than a bottle of Rioja Alta, we talk about these ideas and wonder among ourselves if it is worth it to save the Republicans from themselves. Why not just let them slice and dice themselves into the garbage disposal of history: Think of the Whig Party. But then the doctor has an idea:

All disease is either self-limiting or fatal, he says. And even if it is potentially fatal, you can sometimes cure it by treating the symptoms. Rabies is a rare example. If the patient survives the treatment, the body is purged of the disease and it can recover. But the cure has to run its course.

Then is it true, I say, that in this case the Republican Party is the patient and Donald Trump is rabies? And if that is true, and if we can cure the Party of the disease by treating the symptoms so that it is purged of Donald Trump, it might recover to its former, non-religious, non-racist self after the fever has broken.

There is some talk about writers making metaphors in excess, but after we get a third bottle of Rioja Alta we toast the idea and start on making it work.

Station one: to convince all the Republicans from Brownback in Kansas to Kasich in Ohio, to William Kristol on television and everyone in between, to not only stop bashing Trump, but in a moment of televised unity on the Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show declare themselves in full and active support of Donald Trump: Pan to Trump smiling. Continue to “The Morning Joe”: Pan to Joe Scarborough smiling—not that it would be new. For 24/7 on the split and half split and full screens all over America with lines of text scudding across the bottom we see and hear the likes of Peggy Noonan opine thatTrump is tres tweet. And Anne Coulter says: Hair we are, at last, at last.

Station two: The Republican editorial writers and Talking Heads stop nattering on about the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Goldwater (a oxymoron in last two cases) and get with the program. No more speeches about how Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be President like nuke em Henry!- Nixon. No more pious lectures from New York Times writers about Trump, No, Never with quotations from the Bible to make the point. Or the resurrection of the Lincoln Battalion to ride to the non-communist rescue. Stop the mantra of Conservative Values (whatever they are). No more Third Party plots (Trump is his own Third Party). “Get over it,” as Justice Scalia sneered.

Station Three: The liberal press needs to deep-six its grin. No chortling about how the Republican Party is so worthless it could not even defeat a presidential candidate who was a Black Socialist Muslim born in Kenya. Like foxes with a mad dog on the loose: go to ground. Write columns and editorials about sunshine and rain, clouds parting, patches of blue sky and the benefits of a liberal arts education. Do not (DO NOT) go on talk shows either in person or by phone.

But, we wonder, what will the cure-in-progress look like? How will we know the fever of Rabid Trump is infecting the Republican Party, and when will we know the fever has broken?

There will be six signs, says the painter.

Like the red calf, says the writer. If she is the psychic among us I am the cynic. Meanwhile the Doctor is getting concerned that our systemic metaphor is making a mess of medical science. I don’t want the AMA to know about this, he says.

The first sign is that Jeb! drops out after spending x to y $$$$$ per vote. The second sign is that Trump says Japan and South Korea should have their own Atomic bombs; the third sign is that Ted Cruz chooses Carly Fiorina as his running mate; the fourth sign is that William Kristol goes on national television where he claims Trump must be stopped and is told by the program’s host that he needs to move on from “denial,” “anger”, “bargaining” and past “depression” straight to “acceptance”. The fifth sign is people burning their Republican Party Membership cards. The sixth sign is that Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, observes that Donald Trump exemplified a “textbook definition of racism” and then Ryan endorsed Trump to be President of the United States.

Three of us shake our heads in disbelief.

There will also be an apparition, the painter continues.

Jung writes about signs, dreams, and apparitions, says the psychologist who still thinks a bolt of Electroconvulsive Therapy is the best bet. Just let the Republicans have that dead stare in their eyes like Jack Nicholson while Political Science Professors take their students on field trips to have a look-see at recent American History.

So, I ask, in the end, Hillary wins two elections in a row, the fever breaks and the Republican Party is cured and resurrected?

I’m glad I’m retired, says the Doctor.

What about the apparition? The psychologist asks. There is some excitement among the waiters near the front door not far from our table. A young woman will appear before us, the painter says. She will be wearing a black beret over her blond hair. It is as if she has been studying Spanish for a semester in Madrid and sometimes comes into Casa Botin to cheers of ‘Rubia!,’Rubia!’ ‘Blond! blond!’ We will make of her what we want her to be.

‘Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so,’ says the doctor, as into Casa Botin arrives a vision of youth, health and well-being.

Robert Day is the author of ten books, including novels, works of literary non-fiction,, collections of short stories, novellas, and poetry. His most recent book is Robert Day for President: An Embellished Campaign Autobiography

The Myth of Good College Teaching by Robert Day

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Myth of Good College Teaching

At some point during the upcoming college graduation ceremonies there will be a moment when a member of the faculty is honored for excellence in classroom teaching. The chances are, even given local college politics, that the teacher deserves the recognition. That there is good college classroom teaching is not the myth: that it has any value in academic marketplace is. Think trading in Rubles.

Consider my friend for forty years, the brilliant American novelist John Barth. Over time I have met more than a few of his students from his Johns Hopkins teaching career. All of them praised the precision of his advice, his candor, his careful reading of their work.

Yes. And because of who he was as an important novelist he held their attention with Coleridge’s “glittering eye.” And because of who was he could have obtained distinguished professorships at a number fine colleges and universities. Now consider this:

How about we create a doppelgänger of John Barth albeit with few (if any) publications? Let us make him a teacher with deep knowledge of his subject; a teacher who prepares his classes with care. A teacher who is honored at graduation for his dedication to his students. And now let us imagine that this John Barth seeks the same professorships that author of The Floating Opera (among many other novels) is seeking. Futility to the x times y power.

But of course John Barth’s Hopkins students had the best of his glittering eye. Think about the well-published scholars and scientists in all academic fields, the specialists who are never going to be honored for their classroom teaching because they are neither good at it, nor care much about it. Imagine they have won national and international prizes and awards far beyond their college and university. It doesn’t take much to imagine that they too will get “the jobs, the dollars” to quote a line from Dee Snodgress’ poem April Inventory.

Each year I drive west on Interstate 70 from the East Coast to a remote town in Northwestern Kansas and along the way I see billboards advertising universities and colleges: One school claims a celebrated basketball player starred on its team; a small college asserts that it has a business program that will get its students jobs; a state school announces it is a nationally recognized “Research University;” another college brags that a famous speech had been given there; and, (my favorite) a university shows a massive picture of two clinched bare knuckled fists sporting ten championship rings from various NCAA playoffs. Taken together these billboards are fifteen minutes of fame for the colleges and universities that line the interstate highways of America (well, 15 seconds at 7O mph).

To be fair, you can’t put a picture of a celebrated teacher on a billboard (who would pay the bill?—not the athletic department), nor would any good teacher want that: Praise to face is open disgrace, as the old rule would have it. And if you were an honored teacher, you would probably not want to be celebrated at the half time ceremony of a football game—something I once witnessed.

So what’s to be done? Not much as it turns out. There is of course satisfaction in itself from teaching well; not unlike the pleasure of learning is the pleasure of learning—thus a liberal arts education, also not a valued currency.

Or there is this, again from April Inventory:

“There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.”

Robert Day is the author of ten books, including novels; works of literary non-fiction; collections of short stories; novellas; memoir; and poetry. His most recent book is Robert Day for President: An Embellished Campaign Autobiography. He has lived on the Eastern Shore since 1970. 

This essay was originally published in the Baltimore Sun and used with its permission. 

Allen Ginsberg Levitates Chestertown by Bob Day

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Editor Note: This originally appeared in “Here on the Chester” edited by John Lang in 1992. 

Since the early 1970s, Chestertown has been host to hundreds of literary figures from all over the world, including scores of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, half a dozen or so Poet Laureates, plus four winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: Toni Morrison, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott and J.M. Coetzee.

Among the other literary greats brought in by Washington College were the playwrights Edward Albee and Israel Horowitz; the French author Alain Robbe-Grillet; the poets William Stafford, Carolyn Forché, Henry Taylor, James Dickey, James Tate, Billy Collins, Dave Smith and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; the Woody Allen screenplay writer Walter Bernstein; novelists Anthony Burgess, George Garrett, J.R. Salamanca; fiction writers such as William Gass, Mavis Gallant (of New Yorker fame), Joyce Carol Oates; plus our own William Warner, Chris Tilghman, Douglass Wallop and John Barth. And that isn’t the half of it. Just typing the list I realize I left off the poets Richard Wilbur, Donald Justice, Marvin Bell, Anthony Hecht and Gwendolyn Brooks—as well as perhaps the finest American short story writer of the 20th century: Katherine Anne Porter.

Not all of these writers ventured into Chestertown for any length of time, but many of them did. I remember walking to the White Swan Tavern one day to pick up Joseph Brodsky (he had come to Washington College with his translators, Anthony Hecht and Derek Walcott) and before I got there I found Derek Walcott browsing through the Compleat Bookseller. As I was early, I stopped in and Walcott talked a bit about the books he was buying (a copy of John Barth’s Letters if I remember correctly, plus William Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers).

Going out of the store, he asked me to walk him around town, and I did; he wanted to hear “apocryphal” stories of Chestertown and so I told him the one about how the local paper once carried the headline: “Baltimore Woman Dies at 92,” referring to a woman who had come here when she was two and lived the rest of her life in town but alas, was never considered a native, by the natives. I told other tales as well, some of them irreverent and politically incorrect, and he seemed to like those best.

When we got back to the White Swan, Brodsky and Hecht were in a debate about some translation problem in one of Brodsky’s poems and asked Walcott to settle it, which Walcott did by first looking at the Russian text of Brodsky’s poem, then at Hecht’s translation of the line, then at Brodsky’s translation of the same line. After a moment Walcott fished a coin out of his pocket and flipped it: heads Anthony Hecht, tails Brodsky. Brodsky won. In such ways are Nobel Prize-winning poems translated by Nobel Prize-winning poets. On High Street in Chestertown no less.

Later all four of us walked around, and the three of them recited various lines of Brodksy’s poetry, sometimes in Russian, and then in various translations. When we got to the town dock, Walcott retold a few of the stories I had previously told him, and Brodsky recited a poem to the river. As it was in Russian I had, of course, no notion why the Chester River should inspire the recitation of a poem, but it did: I do remember a waterman in his bateau looked at us, no doubt sure we were from “up to the College.”

There were other writers who took time off from their duties at the College to walk into Chestertown. In the early seventies, William Stafford (the only poet to get an honorary degree from Washington College) wanted to see the Chester River, and at the town dock he also recited a few lines of poetry, this one (in English) being:

“What the river says, that is what I say,” which is the final line of his famous poem “Ask Me.”

A few years later Katherine Anne Porter and I were walking from the College to the home of Norman and Alice James for dinner when she wanted to know if we could get a bottle of Virginia Gentleman at the Past Time Bar (now Andy’s); we could not, as it turned out, so she got it the next day on our way out of town. She did, however, stand me for “three fingers” of the “bar’s best,” and we arrived at the James’s “refreshed,”—to use Miss Porter’s word.

Gentleman at the Past Time Bar (now Andy’s); we could not, as it turned out, so she got it the next day on our way out of town. She did, however, stand me for “three fingers” of the “bar’s best,” and we arrived at the James’s “refreshed,”—to use Miss Porter’s word.

But the most celebrated walk through Chestertown was taken by Allen Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlofsky, followed by a dozen or so Washington College student poets: a peripatetic Aristotelian stroll through the heart of town.

The night before, Ginsberg had given a reading in the Norman James Theatre (spelled with the “re” that Norman James preferred). The place was packed, mainly with students and faculty, but with many people from Chestertown as well. At the reading Ginsberg read some of his more famous poems: “Howl” (“the best minds of my generation have gone mad”), “Supermarket in California” (“What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman”), “America” (“I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”), but Ginsberg also read for the first time his now celebrated poem “Mind Breath,” a poem that in its story circles the globe, starting that first night at Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland, and traveling through the times zones of the Western United States, then on to Asia and Europe, to return to the podium from where he read. It was an astounding poem.

The next day Ginsberg and Peter Orlofsky sat on the steps of the Richmond House (the Literary House of those days) talking about poetry. I remember Orlofsky had a guitar on which he would strum now and then in some relationship with whatever Allen Ginsberg was saying; I suppose it was a kind of emphasis, but I could never figure out a pattern.
After about an hour of talking with the students, Ginsberg got up and asked me if we might walk the campus and then through town. He wanted to levitate some of the buildings—both on the campus and off. “Sure,” I said. The dean had recently admonished the faculty to provide “unique educational experiences” for our students, and I thought a building levitation might look good on my annual report. “Engaged learning” we now call it.

“Levitate whatever you want,” I said.

“Can we watch?” asked one student.

“I’ll bet you can’t levitate Reid Hall,” said a woman with red hair.

Off we went, Ginsberg leading us with Orlofsky among the students strumming the guitar. Our first stop was the administration building, Bunting Hall.

With the students gathered behind them Ginsberg started a chant. “Ohmmmm. Ohmmmm. Ohmmmmmmmmm.” After a few moments when the building did not move, Ginsberg took small metal finger cymbals out of his pocket and, closing his eyes, rattled the cymbals and chanted with what seemed to me special vigor. “Ohmm! Ohmm! Ohmm!”

Still no movement of Bunting Hall.

“It is a very heavy building,” said Ginsberg. “No doubt full of bureaucrats.”

“Let’s go downtown,” I said. “They’ve been talking about moving the old jail from in front of the court house and maybe you can help them.”
“Lead on,” said Orlofsky.

So off we all went down Mount Vernon Avenue, then took a right at Kent Street, a left at Calvert past the post office (“Very heavy buildings,” said Orlofsky) through the park then to the jail—which has since been moved to the edge of the town by the railroad tracks.

Ginsberg and Orlofsky looked at the jail for a moment. They left our group and went around to the side by Emmanuel Episcopal Church and looked at the jail from that angle. From where we were standing we could see they were in earnest conversation, no doubt discussing the best angle by which to raise the building—Orlofsky apparently wanting to pry it up from the side, but Ginsberg holding out for a full frontal floatation. They returned. By now a number of townspeople had gathered around our group.

“Where do they want it moved?” asked Ginsberg.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I think they’d be grateful if you just got it off the ground because that would at least be a start.”

“Jails are very heavy buildings,” said Ginsberg. And then to Peter Olofsky he started a spontaneous poetic chant (accompanied by Orlofsky on his guitar) enumerating the various jails into which one or the other of them—or both—had been tossed over the years. It was a splendid chant, and I wondered then if someday I might not see it in print as a poem. By this time I noticed that some of the men who were in the jail on the second floor had come to the windows to see what was going on.

“Maybe Reid Hall would be easier,” said the young lady with the red hair. But by that time the chanting and finger cymbals and the guitar were in full swing: “Ohmmmmm! Ohmmmmmm. Ohm! Ohm. Ohmmmmmmmmmmmmm!”

It didn’t work. For half an hour it didn’t work. No jail moved. Maybe a hundred “Ohmmmms!” The jail stayed on the ground. The inmates seemed disappointed.
But in the end it seemed not to matter that the buildings of Washington College and Chestertown could not be levitated. There was the story of them not moving. The story of the chanting. The story

of the walk back through town as Ginsberg recited Whitman’s poetry and his own, speaking a line of his, and then a line of Whitman’s, weaving an American poem a hundred years old and twenty years old at once. These stories were levitation in their own way.

Years later a student wrote me to claim the jail had in fact been raised by all the “Ohmmmmms.” He could see it in his mind’s eye, hovering above the ground, then easing down Cross Street toward the train station. The men in the jail were cheering as they went, as if to be in the air was to be free. I wondered what my student had been smoking that day.

Robert Day is the author of seven books, including works of fiction, poetry, and literary non-fiction. Forthcoming in 2015 are: The Billion Dollar Dream and Other Stories (Book Mark–BK/MK) and Chance Encounters of a Literary Kind, autobiographical essays on poets and writers (Serving House Books). He is the founder and first director of the Washington College Literary House Programs (Richmond House and the Rose O’Neill House), as well as founder and director of the Literary House Press.

Terry Scout: Elevating The Art Of Teaching Business

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Terry Scout

Terry Scout

The e-mail subject line from Marcia Landskroener says: Terry Scout. Before I open it I recall that I haven’t seen much of Terry in recent years. Sometimes on campus as I walk to a lecture or concert. Once in a while in town. But not in the routine way we’d meet for so many years, me stopping by his office in Daly Hall to gossip and tell him one, sometimes two, of my PIJs (Political Incorrect Jokes.) The second one usually a gift from the late Bob Fallaw, whose office was also in Daly.

Not to see Terry is to miss the most cheerful member of the Washington College faculty. Not even the election of Democrats (Terry is one of two Republican professors at the College; the other has not been identified) could make Terry sour, much less Rush Limbaugh-angry. As to my jokes, terrible as they were, he was always pleased to hear them. It made me realize what a good teacher he was, being such an appreciative audience. I can see him in the classroom listening with care to a student’s question or comment. Good classroom teaching includes good listening.

Aside from his jocularity, there could be blunt pragmatism. I remember a lunch we both attended to meet a review team studying the Admissions Office, headed at the time by Kevin Coveney. For the reviewer’s benefit there was a discussion of what made Washington unique, and therefore constituted our bragging rights: small class size, favorable faculty-to-student ratio, the high number of faculty with PhDs. It was Terry who, at the end of the discussion, observed that other small colleges all over America could come with their own list of bragging rights and theirs would not be much different from ours.

It was the quality of our teachers and programs and students that made the difference, Terry said. Boast about that. And further, he continued, we had spent all too much time in this meeting (although the free lunch was good) discussing the obvious: That Kevin Coveney’s Admissions Office was doing an excellent job in bringing Washington College to the attention of good students. And here he raised a glass (of tea) to Kevin and hoped that gesture would be included in whatever report the review team wrote.

In the late 1980s I started the Washington College Literary House Press. Not that I knew what I was doing (or would be doing), so I roped in Richard Harwood of the Washington Post, Maureen Jacoby of the Smithsonian Institution Press (both of whom became major benefactors of the College), plus our own Meredith Davies Hadaway, then Vice President of College Relations, to help. Good help indeed. But not good enough when it came to the business side of publishing. Enter Terry Scout.

A business major is not in itself a liberal arts program. Accounting is not Aristotle nor Jane Austen. The business management curriculum had to meet the  professional standards set by outside agencies, which it did thanks to Mike Malone, professor of economics, whom the College had drafted to begin the program. He established a business writing workshop, a speaker series, and a business club—programs similar to the programs the other academic disciplines had in place. Terry continued these and further integrated his students into the tradition of the liberal arts in ingenious ways.

For the Literary House Press, he’d show up at my office to explain various business aspects of, say, marketing: We could price our books at $1,000 a copy and by selling one copy meet our costs and show a profit; or we could price the books at $1 a copy with hopes of selling 1,000 to meet our costs and make a profit. By understanding our clients, we could price our books somewhere between $1 and $1,000 to make our profit. “Profit,” I noticed, was an important word, one that does not turn up when explaining the metrics of a Robert Frost poem.

Terry also made arrangements for his students to intern at the Literary House Press. One year we sent business and English majors on a sales trip down the Eastern Shore to peddle our list to bookstores (Crab’s Hole and Talking Tidewater were big sellers). Other business majors earned internship credit by organizing our accounts; one did a “reconstruction” of our expenditures by going through my grocery store bag of receipts and sales records; one very patient senior taught me “double-entry bookkeeping” (don’t ask me now what it is or how to do it, I just remember that Lou Stettler, Vice President of the Business Office, was pleased).

Beyond these successful efforts to assimilate his majors into the liberal arts culture, Terry established a global education component to the business management program. Why should Washington College business students be parochial? No other major in our College is. Think of Renaissance painting or the plays of Ibsen. Plato. Russian history. Now think: business practices in Hong Kong.

Not all business majors were all business. One student stopped by my office to ask what novels she might read where women had jobs. A Google search of my graduate education turned up only Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders as a shoplifter and Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets who was… well, a girl of the streets. Beyond that, I was hopeless and helpless. Another student wanted to know about the “math” of poetry, by which she meant the variety of numbered stanzas; here I was helpful, showing her the patterns of sestinas, sonnets, and villanelles. A third had been reading Jane Austen’s Emma for her English class and noticed no one in the novel worked. What was that about? Not men, not women. Nobody worked.

What it is about is early 19th-century English history, the economics of class structure, the role of women as delineated in fiction (no jobs for women); in short, the departments and programs of a liberal arts education, as in: Washington College.

When I opened Marcia’s e-mail it read:

Hi Bob,

You may have heard that Terry Scout is retiring at the end of this semester. He has always said that he wants you to deliver his “eulogy.”  It might be nice if we beat him to the punch and not wait for his demise. Would you be willing to offer a tribute to Terry in the upcoming issue of the Magazine?

 I have, and it has been my pleasure. I raise a glass (not tea) to you, Terry, in hopes it becomes part of this tribute.

Robert Day is the author of seven books, including works of fiction, poetry, and literary non-fiction. Forthcoming in 2015 are The Billion Dollar Dream and Other Stories (Book Mark–BK/MK) and Chance Encounters of a Literary Kind, autobiographical essays on poets and writers (Serving House Books).

 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the Washington College Magazine.

 

Remembering Mike Forney by Robert Day

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mike-forney

It was 1970, and more than half way through an early autumn night when I first met Mike Forney. Rebel, a Labrador retriever of mine, had been missing for two days and returned home in bad shape. Rebel was a male and probably in rut, Mike said later.

I was new in Chestertown, having just taken a teaching job “up to the college,” as my landlord Charlie Stokes at Fair Hope Farm put it. The yellow pages listed the Chestertown Animal Hospital, with an emergency number that turned out to be Mike’s home on Quaker Neck Road—not far from where I lived off Wilkins Lane. I had caught him just as he’d been awakened by another call: a barn near Still Pond had fallen on a horse; Mike said he’d stop by after looking at the horse.

All of you who knew him can see Mike now: He has driven his white vet truck to the Still Pond farm, getting out to greet the farmer and taking stock of the matter. Indeed, the barn has collapsed on the horse that is trapped under it. The farmer has a flashlight. Mike peers into the wreck, spots the horse, and then goes back to his truck for supplies. Making his way through the timbers and splinters of I-beams and broken trusses, he crawls up close. He is a man gentle with horses, lame or strong. Gentle with dogs in rut.

Watching Mike, as the farmer might have been doing that night, we see him go to the horse’s head. He lays his hand on its neck, talks to it and, as the farmer passes the light along the flanks and belly and haunches, sees what scrapes and wounds need tending. My guess is he gave the horse a shot to tranquilize it. The farmer has his tractor ready to clear away the rubble. Be careful, says Mike, backing out to help pull away the debris.

In the dark the two men wait for the tranquilizer to wear off. Finally, the horse lifts and shakes his head, then pulling itself together with Mike holding the halter, stands up, front legs first as they do. Mike uses a can of yellow spray antiseptic (that he would later use on Rebel) to treat the wounds, checking the condition of the legs and hoofs as well. He should be fine, says Mike. I’ve got to go on another call. I’ll stop back by.

Mike Forney was to me what he was to most of you who knew him only, with a few exceptions, maybe more so. Maybe not. He was learned (not only in veterinarian medicine, but in matters of music, literature, and general science). He was quick-witted, curious, had an affection for words, and told jokes and stories with glee. Along with Buddy Moffett (the three of us shared a blind in Morgnec Creek), we’d laugh our way through an afternoon’s shoot. Our jokes—even to the last years of Mike’s life—would now land us in a Political Correct Rehab Clinic. Yet he was neither a racist nor a chauvinist.

I remember his story of an African American couple who had returned late one summer night from Atlantic City to find Baby, their pet rabbit, dead. But maybe not. They drove to Mike’s home off Big Woods Road and, turning their headlights off and on, finally brought Mike to the window, asking what was the matter: I think Baby is dead, says the woman. But she still twitches, says the man.

Mike gets dressed and comes down to examine the rabbit. It is indeed dead, its twitching means that it has not been dead very long. Mike is sorry. Would you like me to dispose of her for you? He asks.   No, but thank you, says the man.   We want to bury her at the house, says the woman, taking Baby from Mike. But we don’t have a shovel, says the man to the woman. Mike lends them a shovel and off they go. We’ll bring the shovel to the office tomorrow, says the woman. No hurry, says Mike. What beautiful folks, Mike would say as a coda every time I’d hear him tell that story.

And so it was, and so Mike Forney was, for nearly fifty years of taking care of what he called “his people”—white or black or Hispanic, rich or poor, or somewhere in between. “His people” were any and all of us who had cats or dogs or horses or milk cows (or once I knew of a pet snake, and of many more than once, badly shot deer or geese or ducks brought in by non-hunters) that needed care. Because he understood his clients were human as well as the broken-legged 18-year old cat that my wife took to him to be put down, he treated both with respect. It was the kind of compassion that calls for emulation.

How we became friends (how any of us become friends) is part luck, part coincidence, part who we are, each of us, to the other. Thus in this combination, Mike and I became friends that first night with a tailgate examination of Rebel. I found a blanket and a flashlight. Mike got medical supplies, a stethoscope, bandage wraps, sutures. Rebel was bruised and battered, but no bones were broken. Mike put the dog under with a shot so he could work. Two gashes, one on the neck, the other on hip, needed cleaning, and then stitches (Mike could tie a surgeon’s knot with one hand.). I brought the flashlight to bear on the procedures.   An hour later, Mike was finished and I took Rebel into the house. He slept through dawn and then twenty-four hours more.

A few days later, Mike stopped to check on Rebel (he was doing fine) and to bring me a bag of fresh “calf fries” from working bull calves that morning. He had somehow learned I came from Kansas and so thought (as anyone naturally would) that a man from Kansas likes “calf fries.” I did indeed, saying that in my country they were called Prairie Oysters, and that further west in Colorado they were Mountain Oysters. In trade, Mike would, over the next few years, teach me the language of the Eastern Shore: “Neck,” “cove,” “bite,” “line” (not “rope),” “… get up and down with you.” He was William Warner before Beautiful Swimmers. “Bob, you need to know the lexicon of the Shore,” he told me: “Bug-eye,” “sook,” “doublers,” “trout lining,” “she-crab,” “bateaux.”

My lessons of Eastern Shore life and language were “peripatetic” (yes, Mike knew the word), but instead of me walking behind Aristotle, I rode in his truck while he drove from one farm to another. In those days, he didn’t much like the office so he took every outdoor call that came. If I was free (especially at night), I could ride along. On one trip I met a dairyman with a 19th-century chandelier in his milking parlor to give it… a touch of class, he said. He milked his twenty cows by hand; I had in Kansas milked one and when I bragged on it, the dairyman asked if I might like to do the afternoon milking: The dog will bring them up, he said. It was the dog that needed care; a cow had kicked it bad. Mike said it would live.

On other trips I got to know a treasured crab-picking woman in Rock Hall (sick parrot), who taught me the Crisfield-crab-ladies method. Also in Rock Hall, I was introduced to Paddles Orr; and later to Termite Coleman who, as folklore would have it, could eat a bushel of crabs at one sitting. Mike pointed out a hut at the end of a pier where I could get up and down with a man who sold soft shell crabs: Ask for the hotel size, Mike advised.

In this way we drove off and on, for years.   Fixing dogs, tending to lame horses, putting cats under, and once pulling a calf (I had done that in Kansas and was of decent help with the calf puller, tying it to a gate post in proper style.)

One night as we were driving Mike asked what English Professors do. He wasn’t being coy, just curious. I said I taught my students the lexicon of literature, using examples: Poetry, novels, short stories, drama. These were genres, and they had their general definitions. More precise definitions came as my students advanced: English sonnets, Italian sonnets. Then into the interiors of these forms: dramatic irony, first person narration (and the rules), point of view, the language of prosody. Monologue as opposed to dramatic monologue. Villanelles as a form of poetry.

What’s the difference between an elegy and a eulogy? Mike asked. We had just put down a horse for a man who, knowing I was an English teacher, wanted something to say as it was dying. Go gentle into that good night, I said. Go gentle into that good night, the man said. Thank you.

An elegy is a poem that honors the memory of the dead, I said. A eulogy honors that memory in prose.

Bob Day

 

A Colleague Remembers Professor Bob Fallaw

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Bob Fallaw and I met on the basketball court. One afternoon as I was putting on my sneakers, I watched him taking shots, first a two-handed set shot, then underhand free throws, then a turn around jump shot. He made them all.

“They are,” he said when I introduced myself, “from an all star team in my mind. Bill Sharman from the Celtics; George Mikan from Chicago; Dolph Schayes from Syracuse. Others.”

“I have a Clyde Lovellette hook shot from the University of Kansas,” I said and, from the middle of the paint, I made it after warming up. “Also a Bob Cousey running set shot from when he was with Sharman in Boston.” I made that one as well.

“Pretty good,” he said. Then the all of his of my one-on-one to a , to , to , at , after which , to Montaigne, of his Walter Mitty mine.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 1.56.53 PMThe year was 1970. Bob and I had been hired along with more than a dozen other faculty, the largest incoming class at the time, and perhaps even now. In that group were Larry Logue, and Dan Premo who, later along with Barry McCardle, Alan Berg, John Conklin, Ed Athey and others made up a Faculty Basketball team to compete with the Washington College fraternities. We were old, we were slow, but we had been well coached from playing high school basketball (or, in Alan Berg’s case, college ball), and we kept our professorships on the court.

“Excuse me, Professor Premo,” a fraternity player said when Dan Premo set a screen for Professor Fallaw, who then sank a Bill Shaman set shot. “I’m sorry, Professor Fallaw” said another student to Bob, who had set a pick by abruptly stopping at the top of the key to take a hit, which resulted in a charging foul on the student. At 5 foot 8 inches and close to 200 pounds, Bob didn’t budge when run into. “Excuse me,” Professor Fallaw.” In those days we called Bob, Fats Fallaw; but after he lost 20 pounds, he renamed himself Slats Fallaw.

Our team was not so much a starting five as a rotating ten; we would take ourselves out when we got tired by running toward the sidelines while a replacement was heading onto the court. And instead of cheerleaders, we had our wives watching from the bleachers, one of whom (Rita Premo), observed that she’d seen so many of our games she didn’t recognize us with our clothes on.

To his students, Bob Fallaw was Google before there was the Internet. He seemed to know all there was to know about American History, and more than one student told me how they’d conspire to learn from him in ways beyond whatever lecture on, say, Post World War Two America, he might have prepared that day: “Professor Fallaw, is it true that the pumpkin papers were buried in Maryland?” And that would start Bob off on a mini course about the Whittaker Chambers/ Alger Hiss scandal, the students fascinated not only by the lurid details (including that Whittaker Chambers once lived in Professor Tatum’s apartment on Water Street), but about Bob’s delight in recalling them: He held their attention with what Coleridge called “the glittering eye” of the story teller, but in Bob’s case that eye was his knowledge of American History, his teaching subject which, in those days, was the primary requirement for appointment, promotion and tenure at Washington College.

I remember when the Ken Burns film on The Civil War came out, promising in all the T. V. ads that it would reveal never before known facts about the long conflict. I happened one day to be sitting next to Bob in the Faculty lounge shortly after the series ended and asked what he made of it.

“Very well done,” he said. “But there was nothing new.” You had to be Bob Fallaw to be able to say that.

It was also in the faculty lounge where Bob and I would swap jokes, trading them back and forth like passing the basketball as we ran (well, jogged) down court. Our colleagues in those days took politically incorrect pleasure in hearing us, so much so that one of them, (John Taylor, I think) dubbed us the Bob and Day show.

Then there were his ties; not that they were as ugly as mine, but worn over and over again they gathered burn holes from the small Muriel cigars he smoked in class (it was that long ago). More than one student told of Bob putting out his smoldering tie fires, never stopping his teaching in the process.
Bob knew what he knew about American History because he read books on American History. With glee and pleasure. You could hear it when he was asked “How’s history?” probably meaning his department. In response he’d quip: “There is more of it every day.” And I recall he delighted in a passage from Kingly Amis’s novel Lucky Jim where the Chairman of the History department answers the phone with: “History Speaking.”

I suspect that he had more books than any of us in those days. In his office in G.I. during the early 70’s, they were stacked in boxes in front and around his desk, the bookshelves being full. For awhile, students sat on the boxes instead of using the chairs. Later, when Fergerson Hall was built, he had all the wall space in his office filled to the ceiling with bookshelves. After about a year I noticed there was a slight bow to the floor in Bob’s office as if the bookshelves were depressing the load-bearing walls, which it turned out they were. Bob would jump up and down (not his Slats version) to show me how the floor joists bounced. It wasn’t long after that his entire office floor collapsed, the books and the desk (but not Bob, as it occurred during a Department meeting) falling into a hole under his office. Ever unflappable, Bob looked at the mess, flipped his cigar, and said: “That’s History for you.”

When my wife Kathy’s son Beau Orme graduated from Washington College we had a party for him and, at Beau’s request, invited Bob who was his favorite teacher. There is a basketball goal in our driveway, and as Bob was leaving the party, I brought out a ball and we played one on one, our teams tying as usual, but because it was getting late in the afternoon, we did not go into overtime to settle the matter.

Tonight, when I go home I’ll get out the basketball and, in Bob’s honor, play for both of us, shooting his shots and mine for the memory of who he was at Washington College, on and off the court, in the classroom and beyond into the lives of his students where his legacy now resides. Slats: Goodbye.

Bob Day retired in 2007 from a career teaching creative writing at Washington College. He was the founder of the O’Neill Literary House.