BREMER IN EXTREMIS by Fred White

May 15, 2016

Professor Karl Bremer walked rapidly from his office to Gottlieb Hall to teach his poetry class. He was early, as usual; he enjoyed chatting informally with the students. As he crossed the campus, he kept his head down to avoid eye contact with colleagues, especially administrators like the Dean of Liberal Arts or the Provost or the Vice President for Academic Affairs or the Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development or—God forbid—the Department Chair or the Coordinator of First-Year Composition or the Chair of the Curriculum Committee, or any member of the Chair’s Executive Committee. He’d resolved not to be yoked to yet another ad hoc committee or task force; after all, his mental health was at stake.

Bremer glared at the recently constructed building looming ahead: Gottlieb Hall, new headquarters for the Ernst Gottlieb School of Business, where his poetry classes had been assigned—vindictively, he couldn’t help suspect: Gottlieb’s classrooms were lecture halls with terraced, bolted-down seats, odious whiteboards, and state-of-the-art computer projection systems that Bremer never used, despite the Chair’s mandate that department faculty cut back on photocopying, if nothing else. Bremer had repeatedly requested classrooms in old Jaspers Hall (the traditional venue for English classes), with its threadbare carpeting, chalkboards, and wobbly but movable chairs that made small-group interaction so much easier.

Bremer struggled to preserve his faith in academe as the last best hope of humankind despite the changes that were taking place more rapidly than he could assimilate. But today he felt overwhelmed, and was tempted to cancel his remaining class, his office hours, and spend the rest of the day meditating.

But his pragmatic side prevailed. Inside Gottlieb Hall, Bremer swiftly climbed the metal stairs to his classroom. Students were spilling into the corridors, phones pressed to their ears. Several students nearly collided with him.

Poetry! Auden’s “the clear expression of mixed feelings”; Frost’s “a way of remembering what would impoverish us to forget.”

Today they would discuss T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Poor Prufrock, leeched of joie de vivre, imprisoned by his own incapacitated psyche. What a loser, his students will say. Carpe diem!

The clock keeps ticking, honey, so unhook your bra.

No patient etherized upon a table, moi!

Bremer took a deep breath. It was time to ruffle students’ feathers; time to unbolt the seats, time to smash the overhead projection system. The clock was ticking! Time to pay homage to the Muses; carpe diem indeed! Time to transform this well-endowed but anal-retentive Gottlieb Hall into a den of aesthetic iniquity. Time to disturb the universe!

Professor Karl Bremer whispered his teaching prayer, and opened the classroom door.

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Fred White’s fiction has appeared most recently in Limestone, Mad Hat Lit, Rahalla Review, and The Brooklyner. He lives near Sacramento, CA.

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