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From the files

I’ve just learned that thanks to Barack Hussein “Reverse Discrimination” al-Obama, I’m not even eligible for the Supreme Court.  Well, I’ve suffered long enough, I tell you.  Because I was born by the East River, in a high-rise apt, and just like the river I’ve been thwarted by PC government regulations ever since.  It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

In the meantime, though, I can console myself with the thought that I’m giving the commencement speech at Marlboro College on May 17, right after delivering the keynote at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society on May 16.  So that’s going to be a busy weekend.  This is my first commencement speech.  I wonder if I should say anything about sunscreen?

Actually, I don’t think of it as a “commencement speech” so much as a warmup to the valediction, which, I’ve recently learned, will be delivered by A. K. M. Adam, Biblical scholar and renowned blogger—whose son just happens to be graduating from that very same Marlboro College.  (Congratulations to Josiah!)

So I have to, you know, start writing the thing soon, as opposed to just composing it in my head the way I’ve been doing the past few weeks.  And yes, I’m sorely tempted to open with, “More than at any other time in its history, mankind stands at a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total destruction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” But I hear that one has been done to death.

While I’m writing my warmup-to-the-valediction—and since I’ve been reminiscing lately about the vicissitudes of my days as the Director of the Institute for Advanced Consultation with People Who Weren’t Consulted—I thought I would post one of my favorite things from Ye Olde Correspondence Archives.  It’s a blog exclusive!  No one’s ever seen this before; it’s just been sitting on my hard drive for oh, almost ten years now.

Here’s the context.  I used to say to Janet that a good day at the humanities program was a day on which I learned stuff, preferably stuff about other people’s work or about how to be a better administrator (because I had a great deal to learn on that front).  A bad day was a day on which someone planted a “kick me” sign on my back, except that it wasn’t exactly a “kick me” sign; it was a “waste my time” sign, and it was large enough to be seen from blocks away.

So one day, after what seemed like week after week of “waste my time” days, Janet sent me the following sympathy email:

Dear Dr. Bérubé,

I have been perusing your program and your web site and I believe that you and your people can be of some help to me.  First, I have a large kernel of corn lodged in my nose.  Can you get it out?  Second, I need a ride to Jerry’s IGA to buy a lint roller. Will you take me?  Third, my cat is smelly and seems to need a bath.  You will of course see to it. When I arrive at your home I will require several rooms for myself and full use of your printing press.  Other than that only 36 yards of sheer muslin and a pair of stainless steel antlers. 

Many thanks to you for your generosity.

Helena Heleniaphorism
University of Guesswork
Bromisphere

When I had finally picked myself off TF after ROTFLMAO, I wrote back in the idiom to which I had lately become accustomed:

Dear Professor Heleniaphorism,

Thank you for your recent letter.  As you may know, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, located in central Illinois, is deeply concerned about food production and new technologies in the twenty-first century.  As part of Partnership Illinois, we have been working to ensure a more productive corn yield in FY2000, and we understand that on occasion some of our bio-enhanced kernels can lodge in the nasal cavities of the higher-order primates, such as yourself.  Although we cannot at this time reach into your nose, we can direct you to our nasal extraction website at http://www.uiuc.edu/iprh/biotech/corn/nose/out for further information.

I have directed your request for a ride to Jerry’s IGA and a bath for your cat to our staff secretary, who is currently bathing her own cat in one of our unused offices and will be happy to toss yours in the mix for a nominal charge.  Although we have no printing press at this time, you should be aware that our fax and photocopier facilities are available to the general public and can be taken home over the weekend for special events.

Thank you also for asking about our supplies of muslin.  Would those be elk or moose antlers?

We look forward to your continued association with the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.  Don’t forget to call us at home in the middle of the night if you require any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Obvious-Schmuck Bérubé
Director

Good times!  And thanks to the elusive Janet Lyon for summing up my “waste my time” correspondence so brilliantly.

Posted by on 05/06 at 07:39 AM
  1. And in in conclusion graduates, I want to say one word to you. Just one word. South America, the sleeping giant on our doorstep.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  09:19 AM
  2. OMG!  I get that same letter all the time!  Actually, as chair, I’ve found it’s more like the FedEx guy in collusion with someone from the mailroom deciding that I am now personally responsible for accepting my department’s mail (that was just yesterday).

    Posted by Jonathan Sterne  on  05/06  at  09:31 AM
  3. As a faculty member in the ag college at University of Illinois, I really appreciated the first paragraph, especially the link.  You captured perfectly our culture and administrator-speak.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  09:46 AM
  4. If I could return to the Supreme Court issue for one moment—now, are you saying you’re out of the running because of the whole “empathy” issue? I agree that the reverse discrimination against people lacking empathy has gone too far. Empathy! We really are on the path to hell.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  10:19 AM
  5. Because I was born by the East River, in a high-rise apt

    You were born in an apt? Big whoop. I was born in a pith. Under the river.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  10:47 AM
  6. I tried the nose-out link but it didn’t work. Perhaps someone forgot to create the faux page that would have rounded out the joke.

    At least the Sam Cooke allusion was nice.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  11:12 AM
  7. I was born in a pith. Under the river.

    You were born?  You modern life forms have it so easy.

    I’m giving the commencement speech at Marlboro College on May 17,

    Whoa, verrrry nice photo they’re using.  So, who all is up for a Marlboro road trip?  We can meet up in the college sauna afterward.

    This e-mail exchange somehow reminds me of an anecdote (Gasp!).  The phone number for our graduate student office was apparently sufficiently close to that of the hospital’s hearing clinic that people would frequently call seeking results of their hearing tests.  In fact, following our recorded greeting that listed our names and department, they would leave messages to that effect.  Whereupon our greeting was (very briefly) changed to contain the addendum, “If you leave a message about your hearing test, you failed it.” We would also leave one another messages under ridiculous names, asking for our ear prescriptions and the like, which is apparently why I was reminded of this.  (Not really similar to the point in the post, or a particularly witty OT observation, but I have a quota to fill.) The moral?  Abolish telephones and e-mail in the workplace, and force Western Union to restore telegram service, so we can all be hassled the old-fashioned way.  Now get off my lawn.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  11:14 AM
  8. Because I was born by the East River, in a high-rise apt, and just like the river I’ve been thwarted by PC government regulations ever since.  It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

    Well, I had to brave the mean streets of Long Island as a lad. And then my parents cut me off after paying for only four of my college years. I’d like to see some of these “complaining” “minorities” overcome such a beginning.

    So I can understand where Professor Heleniaphorism is coming from—there’s no telling how far people like us can go if someone will just give us a fighting chance.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  12:08 PM
  9. the new mantra “no more Scrotums for Scotus”

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  12:18 PM
  10. What’s all this about supplies of muslims?

    [ / Emily L.]

    In Soviet Union, there is no supply of muslin!

    [ / Yaakov S.]

    I don’t want a revolution unless I’m the only one who tells the jokes!

    [/E. Goldman][ / E. Hound]

    Posted by John Protevi  on  05/06  at  12:18 PM
  11. Eveningsun @ 6:  I tried the nose-out link but it didn’t work.

    Yeah, I know, but I’m kinda enjoying the fact that a nine-year-old joke letter with a false url in it actually takes you to Illinois’ website when you put it on a blog.

    Paula @ 3:  As a faculty member in the ag college at University of Illinois, I really appreciated the first paragraph, especially the link.  You captured perfectly our culture and administrator-speak.

    Thanks!  It took me two years to do that.  I had to learn how to leverage our synergy and talk a lot about new technologies.  It was a lot like this sequence from The Thirteenth Warrior, if you start at the 1:40 mark and let it run for three minutes.  Actually, it was exactly like that sequence, word for word.

    Jonathan @ 2:  OMG!  I get that same letter all the time!

    Welcome to the admin machine, d00d!  Asch naglach fjornisson leverage niht werlokissa synergy sjostran, eh?

    Captcha:  meaning, as in only you and I will get my.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/06  at  12:20 PM
  12. Michael,

    One small correction: If the e-mails were on your hard drive for 10 years, they were very likely seen by the good people from homeland security in the previous administration. Though I doubt they would get the joke - more likely they would have thrown $$$ to Lockheed Martin Archer Daniels Midland to come up with a weaponized version of that corn kernel.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  12:47 PM
  13. Actually, elroy, I copied the email exchange into WordPerfect.  But I don’t doubt the previous administration’s ability to scan my hard drive, and I expect that corn-kernel-weaponizing Predator drones have been in development for some time now.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  01:01 PM
  14. and I expect that corn-kernel-weaponizing Predator drones have been in development for some time now.

    Gad, that brings back memories of the Iowa State physics department.  What pranksters we were.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  01:33 PM
  15. I’ve noticed that Dennis Dutton and Brian Boyd have come up with Darwinian literary criticism!  Any comments on them?  To be fair, I haven’t read their books yet.  But I have read “Ada” and that strikes me as a good reason to think the exact opposite of anything Boyd says.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  02:23 PM
  16. Marboro college, no kidding. While you are in the vicinity, you should make the pigrimage over to McNeil’s in Brattleboro. He makes some of the best cask conditioned ales you can get your hands on.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  02:31 PM
  17. Sitting in a local coffee house fifteen years ago, a group of us were discussing the upcoming commencement address season (those times {captcha} keep comin round).  Utah Phillips was participating in this discourse, actually pretty much carrying it along as a monologue, and got a bit peeved about the twadle and prattle of the oft heard phrase: “You are the nation’s most important resource.” He could not understand how anyone sitting there listening to that phrase would not first think of how we, in this country, actually treat our natural resources. 

    John Trudell had described the same construct as mining the minds of our children, throwing away the 90% of waste and toxic residue while keeping the precious ore to be used up in the machines of progress and capital gains.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  05:45 PM
  18. That great photograph of you at the Marboro site makes you look both supreme and courtly in a most handsome way. I hope you took what you learned as a program director to demand a bowl of M&Ms without the green ones in addition to your exorbitant speakin fee.

    My SO’s e-mails to me (to the effect of: “why don’t you stop snorting corn, get a real job, and earn some real money you lazy jerk") really pale in comparison to Janet’s e-mails, I have to say.

    Have a great time in Halifax, and take my word on this—they don’t find Titanic jokes very funny there, and don’t even think about criticizing Sid the Kid for whining too much to the referees (which he does).

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  05:51 PM
  19. damn…

    from AP

    “Sessions said that Obama assured him in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday that he was not planning to nominate a “bomb-thrower.” The senator said he told Obama that Republicans would treat his nominee with respect and said that “we’re not going to misrepresent their record.” “

    I guess that means Ayers is NOT going to be the nominee…

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  05:53 PM
  20. Nor Zombie Jack Kemp!

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  05:58 PM
  21. John Trudell had described the same construct as mining the minds of our children, throwing away the 90% of waste and toxic residue while keeping the precious ore to be used up in the machines of progress and capital gains.

    Modify that to “elect the 90% of waste and toxic residue to represent us,” and I’m on board with the analogy.  If only Trudell had consulted me first.

    Sessions said that Obama assured him in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday that he was not planning to nominate a “bomb-thrower.”...“we’re not going to misrepresent their record.”

    So, since Dawn Johnsen is a perfectly respectable IU professor and legal scholar, who even has the Richard Lugar stamp of approval, are they going to stop lying about her record?  And if this offer only applies to judicial nominees, then Sessions would have no problem with her joining the Supreme Court?  And have I used up my quota of rhetorical questions?

    Nor Zombie Jack Kemp!

    This is vaguely disappointing, if true.  For it would be a Senate hearing to behold.  Zombie Jack Kemp would seek to sate his hunger for human flesh, while Senate Republicans expressed shock that anyone would be so crass as to bring up his flesh-eating record.  Senate Democrats would leave their shotguns on the table, citing the need to “keep our powder dry.”

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  07:28 PM
  22. With all the talk about appointing people without judicial experience I think Michael is just the sort of person I’d like to see on the Supreme Court—even better (since this is not an either or blog) why not nominate all of Chavezian airspace? Commentors could write the all important footnotes.  Perhaps that might help to mitigate Michael’s gender problem.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  08:39 PM
  23. I think if Obama actually believes that the Republicans are not going to misrepresent the record of any nominee he might choose…

    ... sorry, it took me some while to stop laughing. Anyway, Atrios would remind us of Lucy and the football. I stand by my prediction that Posner is going to eventually be the new justice, after the first nominee ("radical feminist”, ie, a woman) is regretfully rejected.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  09:58 PM
  24. I think if Michael is nominated, certain show trials may be dragged into the proceedings… better scrub those archives now, make clear that Kirby Olson is the only valued commenter here.

    Posted by  on  05/06  at  09:59 PM
  25. That great photograph of you at the Marboro site

    makes me look like a 47-year-old guy who was persuaded to pose for the high school yearbook.  But hey, it’s all I’ve got.  Thanks for the encouraging words, Chris!  I can tell that’s the post-Rangers-collapse trauma speaking.  But I’ll forward the photo to Obama’s vetting team anyway, safe in the knowledge that Jeff Sessions will not misrepresent my record.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/06  at  10:15 PM
  26. At my college graduation, an actual Supreme Court Justice was the speaker!  However, I can’t remember anything he said.

    Posted by  on  05/07  at  08:40 AM
  27. Hey, at my sister’s graduation from law school, Warren Burger gave the commencement address.  I don’t remember anything he said, either, but I do remember that when the ceremony was over, an enormous trap door opened beneath the auditorium, and all the graduates were swept up into a pneumatic tube and whisked from the Marshall Wythe School of Law directly to DC.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/07  at  12:20 PM
  28. Hey, at my sister’s graduation from law school, Warren Burger gave the commencement address.

    I bet he wasn’t slathered with froofy Dijon mustard.

    Posted by  on  05/07  at  02:42 PM
  29. I’m still on TF, thanks....  tongue laugh

    Posted by 99  on  05/07  at  08:27 PM

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