Man is always yearning for the unknown, always reaching for the next great accomplishment. Civilizations are born and destroyed through greatness and awful power. This is that kind of story. It starts as all greatness does, in a small university town in the Midwest.
(If you must know, it’s Ohio.)
By Chris Johnson
Maggie Penny a professor of bio chemistry at the University of MO. is unsuccessfully trying to fish her earing out of her drink and consequently Maggie has wandered into the vortex of one of Dean Gerald Jaquess’s soliloquies of self- importance and a chain reaction of chaos follows.
Every year there is a chemistry conference held at a promising university. The university that had been selected to hold last year’s conference 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.
Unfortunately for Maggie who is completely absorbed in snagging her earring she completely misses the warning signs of her fellow professors. She fails to notice that she didn’t need to weave her way around people as the coast was clear in what should be a very crowded room. But as in the Serengeti, the fitter and wiser prey had already taken cover in groups out of reach of the Dean. Only the weak or in this case young and stupid in the form of one associate professor, Martin Tranwrach, walked right up to the Dean and initiated conversation. Tranwrach had never spoken to Jaquess until that evening, and after giving himself a fifteen minute pep talk, approached the Dean.
Being nearly 6 foot 5 and nary a muscle in sight did not make Tranrach lithe or athletic but more like a straightened out slinky out of control. Most people were initially startled by his appearance and wondered who 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 easily, 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, he single-handedly was responsible for the most equipment damage to a classroom in the history of the university. If he had been doing innovative and instructive course work people might have left him alone, but he would screw up the simplest experiment. Maggie swore that he could turn as something simple as a potato battery into a dirty bomb in a matter of minutes. He once set an entire class’s exams on fire while grading them without any sign of matches, lighter or accelerant present. At 35 he 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 as a pile of ashes, a victim of spontaneous combustion. He would’ve been fired a long time ago but there were very few applicants in line for his or anyone’s job 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 was 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 considered all the professors and employees at the university his underlings and treated them as such. He 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 didn’t wear clothing and B) Storks or emus or whatever this is probably don’t talk either. I must either be really drunk, and should cut myself off, or I really need a drink. The choice was obvious “Bird… I mean son; I’ll have another scotch on the rocks, and be quick about it.”
Tranwrach turned a deep red, introduced himself again, and nearly forgot what department he worked in. Tranwrach thought to himself, “What gave the Dean the impression he was a waiter, and did he just call me a bird?”
The dean saw an expression of confusion on Tranwrach’s face. To all of Tranwrach’s colleagues, this was Tranwrach’s usual expression. Instead of resting bitch face that some poor women had, he had RCF, resting confusion face. The dean, however, was concerned that he might have offended someone connected to high society or for what passed for high society around here. The dean’s thought process slowly turned, with gears grinding, synapses coming awake that had been lying dormant for years, and then a tiny thought blossomed in his square head. This strange person might be important in some way. He may just be eccentric. The rich sometimes dress hideously and work menial jobs as a way of rebelling against society or their parents. I had better find out who he is. He may be useful to me at some point. “Son,” the Dean had already forgotten the pipsqueaks name, tracksuit or something. “Son, I know who you are, and have been following your career for some time now. I was just going to suggest you bring me a scotch and something for yourself, and then we can have a nice chat about you and what you hope to accomplish here at the university.”
Tranwrach nearly burst with pride, “He’s calling me son. I’m on the fast track now.” Speaking to himself and the bartender, who hasn’t heard a word that Tranwrach or anyone ever says during these events, “Just smile and nod at the nobs and hope they fill the tip jar ol’ Jamie.” Jamie watched Tranwrach lurching away from the open bar with the drinks and knew after 5 seconds of contact with the man in the bargain basement suit, that he had come across a complete idiot. “They may have what it takes to work at some fancy university,” Jamie commented to his wife later that night, “but I swear I saw a man tonight that couldn’t navigate around a city block without getting lost or possibly falling into open manhole.”
Jamie wasn’t far off as Tranwrach proceeded to trip forward, stop, spin around, and then finally lurch in the opposite direction from where he had left the Dean moments ago. Rehearsing his speech in his melon shaped head; Tranwrach couldn’t believe that he could lose the Dean in such a short time period. “Where did he go? I couldn’t have been gone more than a few seconds.” In fact the Dean didn’t move at all. When leaving the open bar, Tranwrach walked the opposite way and did a complete circuit of the room before locating the Dean again.
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 and equally squared off torso and legs. The little hair he had left was blonde and contributed to one of many nicknames, the favorite being, Sponge Bob Jack Ass. 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. Little boy blue was the least nasty nickname the Dean acquired, Jack Ass being the overwhelming favorite.
By the time Tranwrach returned, the Dean had completely forgotten about him and drew a complete blank. Actually this was not an unusual occurrence for the Dean as he spent most of his waking days looking and acting clueless. Tranwrach handed the Dean his drink and went into an extensive explanation of why it took so long for him to return with the drinks. “…and so after explaining some difficult equations to my colleagues I had to forcibly eject myself from them and tell them I needed to rejoin your company.”
“Ahhhh…yes, yes of course, my boy.” The Dean was frantically trying to recall who the hell this cartoon character was in front of him, and if he was anyone important. He didn’t want to offend this person in case the idiot was an eccentric benefactor. What finally caused the bubblegum of a memory to pop was the drink the man had just handed him. “Yes, my son, yes you’ve brought our drinks now we can talk.” And talk he did, and on and on and on, about his rocket like climb to being the youngest Dean the university had ever had. His many awards and honors and honorary degrees, and how he was always being asked as guest speaker to many events. 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 to learn to ignore. “Christ, won’t he ever shut up and let me talk? I’ve been standing here for fifteen minutes letting him talk. I’ve got to interject and let him know what kind of man he has working for him. I need to let him know how wasted I am lecturing to first year students; I should be teaching graduate students 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 did a full sprint across the room before the Dean’s eyes could focus 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 Train wreck, 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 would be alarming to see in anyone else, but for Maggie, she was not surprised to see this look on Train wreck. She once told a colleague at the university, if she ever saw Train wreck with an intelligent look on his face she was going to call the coroner 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 Jaquess always had mixed feelings when it came to Maggie which nearly always gave him a headache as he could usually handle only one feeling at a time. He was attracted to her. She was very pleasing to look at with her dark wavy hair and athletic build. She had small facial features, except for her wide hazel eyes which always seemed to look right through him and know his most inmost 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 forgot the forgettable stork man next to him and did a sort of a sneeze cough into his sleeve. Train wreck 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 simply 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 1 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 felt 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 your 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 bathroom 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 to your cinder block shaped head and cut that horrible comb over you have going.”
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 didn’t need to be a sound check after all. He then called Dean Jaquess to the microphone as the Dean was the first to speak that evening. Jaquess bolted for the podium as though hit by surge of electricity. He went to smooth his hair and then remembered what Maggie had just informed everyone and left his hand hanging in midair. Jaquess’s brain was working overtime and due to years of nonuse 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 flashed in his head shortly before all color left his face and he slowly sank to the floor behind the podium. The last the crowd saw of him were the few dozen hairs on his head waving to the audience, and then they too sunk behind the podium as though in surrender.
Maggie finally eased her deep sea diving earing up from the depths of her drink and as she saw the room’s eyes divided on her and the lump behind the podium she silently cursed her conniving boyfriend Danny who claimed to have a work emergency but most likely was playing laser tag with his best friend Kevin.
As Maggie was cursing Danny, Train wreck with his impeccable timing had just returned from the bathroom. Thinking he had just witnessed the end of the Deans speech, he began clapping.