By Christine Johnson
Man is always yearning for the unknown, always reaching for the next great accomplishment. Civilizations are born and destroyed by greatness and awful power. This is that kind of story. It started as all greatness does, in small, unassuming places.
If you must know, it’s Ohio.
Maggie Penny, a professor of biochemistry at the University of MO., tucked her hair behind her ear, tugged at the hem of her turquoise cocktail dress and not so silently cursed to herself what she was going to do to her boyfriend, Danny Kensington, who was supposed to accompany her to this year’s Midwestern chemistry conference. Every year there was a chemistry conference held at a promising university. The university that had been selected to hold this year’s event had to back out due to a black mold scare, so the conference heads had to scramble at the last minute and picked Maggie’s University.
Maggie was utterly absorbed in delivering a voice mail message to Danny which consisted of directions to the conference and explicit directions of where Danny could go if he didn’t show up at said conference. This wasn’t the first time Danny, the love of her life, had failed to appear at one of her university events. She didn’t know who she was currently madder at him or her. She kept falling for his award-winning act every time. Maggie would explain to him she needed his presence at an event and he would look deep into her eyes, hold her hand and tell her, that he would stand by her side and they would weather the storm of small talk and lousy food together. They were a team, blah, blah blah. She fell for it every fucking time. Then on the night of the event, Danny would fall off the face of the earth only to reappear several days later. He would either be limping combined with a story involving a trip to the ER or his best friend, Kevin, would have had a personal crisis that he couldn’t disclose.
Maggie had been walking and threatening Danny’s physical wellbeing simultaneously and noticed when she snagged a drink from a waiter that she didn’t need to weave her way around people as the coast was clear in what should have been a very crowded room. But as in the Serengeti, the fitter and wiser prey had already taken cover in groups out of reach of one Dean Gerald Jacquess. Only the weak or in this case the young and stupid in the form of one associate professor, Martin Tranwrach, had walked right up to the Dean and initiated conversation. Tranwrach had never spoken to Jacquess until that evening, and after giving himself, a sweaty fifteen-minute pep talk he approached the Dean. The Dean was easy to spot as he had the body type Legomorph. To the casual observer, Dean Jacquess seemed to be made entirely of Legos. He had a square-shaped head with strange gray eyes and what little hair remained was light blonde. For clothing, the Dean favored blue, and by favored he always wore blue. He once read an article that stated blue was a power color and immediately switched his wardrobe over to all blue. Between the hair and the and equally squared off torso and legs his appearance contributed to one of many nicknames, the favorite being, Sponge Bob Jack Ass. Little boy blue was the least nasty nickname the Dean acquired.
Tranwrach who hovered next to the Dean was in stark contrast to Jacquess. Where the Dean was short and solidly built, Tranwrach was tall and thin. He stood nearly 6 foot 5, and without a muscle in sight, he had the appearance of a straightened out slinky out of control. Most people were initially startled by Tranwrach’s appearance and were amazed that someone had dressed a stork in clothing. He wore his hair in what he thought was a military looking haircut, but the buzz cut only emphasized his birdlike appearance. Tranwrach tended to lose his sense of direction quickly and would whip around and change direction in what he thought was a purposeful motion, but only succeeded in looking like a flapping mother bird protecting her nest.
Of course, Tranwrach or as all his students and his peers called him behind his back and Maggie to his face, “Trainwreck” was not called “Trainwreck” just for giggles. As one of the associate professors for beginning chemistry, Tranwrach had single-handedly been responsible for the most equipment damage to a classroom in the history of the university. If Tranwrach had been doing innovative and instructive coursework people might have left him alone, but he screwed up the most straightforward experiments. Maggie swore that he could turn something as simple as a potato battery into a dirty bomb in a matter of minutes. He had once set an entire class’s exams on fire while grading them without any sign of matches, lighter or any type of accelerant present. At 35 Tranwrach was not going to be climbing through the ranks of the school as a tenured professor but would be lucky not to be found one day in his classroom a victim of spontaneous combustion. He would’ve lost his job a long time ago, but there were very few applicants in line for his or anyone’s position at this particular university.
Tranwrach introduced himself to the Dean and silently congratulated himself on getting the Dean alone. Tranwrach had no natural instincts and did not catch on to the fact that everyone had been avoiding the Dean like the plague.
The Dean had no idea who Tranwrach was as he had never bothered to care or know anyone whom he considered beneath him in intelligence or status. He believed all the professors and employees at the university were his underlings and treated them as such. Jaquess was, however, a shameless social snob. If he even thought someone was connected to high society or had a fat checkbook, he immediately turned into a simpering kiss ass. He took one look at Tranwrach, stepped back and muttered: “How the hell did a bird get in here and why is it wearing such an ugly suit.” The Dean’s brain slowly kicked started and realized that A) birds usually don’t wear clothing and B) Storks or emus or whatever this was probably didn’t talk either. I must be really drunk and should cut myself off, or I need a drink. The Dean was frantically trying to recall who the hell this cartoon character was in front of him, and if he was anyone worth knowing. He didn’t want to offend this person in case the idiot was an eccentric benefactor, so he began to talk about his favorite subject, himself. And talk and talk, on, and on and on, about his rocket-like climb to being the youngest Dean the university had ever had. He rambled on about his many awards and honors and honorary degrees, and how he was always invited to be the guest speaker at numerous events through his various political and government connections. Though as everyone knew except for the dumbass standing in front of him, he was a shill for anyone and everything as long as he could hear himself talk or get a blurb in a newspaper.
Anyone else in Tranwrach’s position would have feigned a stroke, heart attack or even committed murder-suicide by now, but not Tranwrach; he was a dedicated idiot. His inner voice wasn’t much more eloquent than the one that the world had learned to ignore. Christ, won’t he ever shut up and let me talk? I’ve been standing here forever letting him talk. I’ve got to injure, no inject no interject that’s it and let him know what kind of professor I am. I need to let him know how wasted I am lecturing to first grader no that’s not right first-year students; I should be teaching moldy graduate students wait that’s wrong. Molding their minds and writing papers for the university.
It was at this point that Maggie inadvertently wandered too near the Dean’s orbit and was sucked in. She was almost saved by Clint Bell, professor of organic chemistry, who nearly had her arm but saw the Dean’s gaze fall towards his and immediately turned tail and made a full sprint across the room before the Dean’s eyes could land on him. They instead focused on Maggie.
“Maggie, how wonderful it is to see you. How is my favorite little chemist?”
Maggie nearly screamed when she saw where she had wandered, in between the Dean and Trainwreck, who seemed to be smiling and nodding like a parakeet talking to itself in a mirror. He had an even more vacant and glazed looked about him which until tonight she didn’t think was possible. This look would be alarming to see in anyone else, but for Maggie, she was not surprised to see this look on Trainwreck. She once told a colleague at the university, if she ever saw Trainwreck with an intelligent look on his face the coroner needed to be called as she knew that this would be one of the sure signs of death. No pulse, no breath, and an intelligent look on his face.
Dean Jacquess had mixed feelings when it came to Maggie which nearly always gave him a headache as he could usually only handle one emotion at a time. He hadn’t forgotten that incredibly embarrassing incident that precipitated the previous Deans departure. He sure left in a hurry; in fact, Jacquess still had the former Dean’s belongings in storage. Why did every weird incident seem to involve her? Oh well, he was attracted to her, she was very pleasing to look at with her dark wavy hair and athletic build. Maggie had small facial features, except for her wide hazel eyes which always seemed to look right through him and know his most innermost thoughts which unnerved him more than a little. Most of the time around the university she could be found smiling and laughing, however, at this moment she had a complete look of surprise on her face.
“How good of you to stop by and chat with me and, and-”
Again he drew a blank regarding the forgettable stork man next to him and did a sort of a sneeze cough into his sleeve. Trainwreck had only one emotion for Maggie, and that was downright fear, and he fled.
“Whatever is the matter with that man?” Gerald said as he stepped closer to Maggie and grasped one of her hands in his, much to her horror.
“I think he just remembered he left his portable Bunsen burner on in the lab again. Now if you will excuse me, I think I’ll go help him,” Maggie sputtered as she tried to untangle herself from the Dean without spilling her drink.
“Now, now I’m sure Mr. uh Mr. Tracksuit can handle his own emergency, we never seem to get to talk, Mano y errr errrr Womano? Tell me what little chemistry project are we working on now?”
That was too much for Maggie who could tolerate only so much condescending behavior. Actually, she couldn’t stand any condescending behavior and was diagnosed early on by her pediatrician and teachers of being born without a filter. She was incapable of stemming the flow of thought to mouth and damn the place, person, or circumstance. This personality flaw, unfortunately, derailed what would have been a spectacular career in her chosen field of biochemistry. It didn’t matter how brilliant she was she just pissed too many people off along the way. Maggie did manage to obtain and keep her position as a professor by winning several awards including the Chancellors Award for Excellence in Research and Creativity and the Midwest Award from the American Chemical Society.
Maggie took a deep breath thought about what was going to come out for approximately one millisecond and then let fly: “Womano? Really! Womano? Little chemistry project? Do you ask the head of the chemistry department what little project he is working on when you two talk? Do you hold his hand and ask him why you two don’t get together more often?”
Gerald could feel in his gut that things weren’t going exactly as planned, but he could smooth talk anyone and he could salvage this shortly in a few well-phrased words.
“Now Maggie, I may have misspoken there. In fact, Dennis Raymond, the head of the chemistry department, comes to me for advice quite often as do the other heads of the various departments and you’re right I do not hold their hands or speak of their work as little. I stand corrected, please forgive me. I do hate to see you upset, especially someone as lovely as you.” There that should set things right, you are quite the quick thinker or so thought Gerald to himself, totally unaware of the torrent of words that was about to cascade down upon him.
“Come to you for advice? The janitor wouldn’t come to you for advice about what brand of TP to use in the bathrooms let alone a tenured professor come knocking on your door. You’ll never receive the respect of your peers, or of this university, until you take some scissors and cut that horrible comb over you have going on top of that cube you call your head.” At this point she threw any caution, she may have had away, took a deep breath leaned into Dean Jaquess and shouted; “for God’s sakes man at least grow your ear hair longer and weave it in with those pitiful few scraggly tufts you have congregating in a heap on your cinderblock of a head. It’s obviously interfering with any rational thought. You haven’t had an original idea or thought since you slithered into this university.”
As bad as this was, screaming at and insulting the Dean of one’s university, it could have been just between the two of them since no one dared get near the Dean and his monotonous stories, unfortunately, fate decided otherwise. Just as Maggie was winding up and increased her volume to be heard over the pre-conference chatter, the moderator asked for silence and “horrible comb-over,” and the rest could be heard from one end of the room to the other. Maggie’s words seemed to hold in the air, linger and echo and re-echo faintly before complete silence filled the room.
The moderator tapped the microphone and told the audio tech that there wasn’t a need for a sound check after all. He then called Dean Jaquess to the dais as the Dean was the first to speak that evening. Jaquess bolted for the podium as though hit by a surge of electricity. He raised his hand to smooth his hair and then remembered what Maggie had just informed everyone and left his hand hanging in mid-air. Jaquess’s brain was working overtime, and due to years of non-use it could not handle the strain and decided to shut down temporarily. “Due to technical difficulties the system will be rebooting…..please stand by….” This warning flashed in his head shortly before all color left his face and he slowly sank to the floor. The last the crowd saw of him were the few dozen hairs on his head waving to the audience, as though in surrender as he disappeared behind the podium.
Maggie saw that the room’s eyes were divided between her and the lump behind the podium and she decided that this was an excellent time to check on her absent boyfriend, Danny. As Maggie hurried for the exit, she passed Trainwreck who with his impeccable timing had just returned from the bathroom. Thinking he had just witnessed the end of the Deans speech, he began clapping.