Finally, Saturday afternoon, the date set for the delivery of my paper, arrived. Still feeling the baleful effects of too much karoke and too many Schlitz, I found my way to the conference room, where a small group was already gathered.
“Ah, you must be Professor von Korncrake,” said a bearded old coot, whose badge identified him as Prof. X, the prestigious scholar who had invited me, “Welcome!”
He was dressed in a tatty suit of tweed and twill in clashing colors, and his thinning grey hair was combed over into a respectable academic bowl cut.
“Good afternoon, Herr Professor X,” I said, bowing to him slightly in that stiff Mitteleuropean manner I sometimes affect, “It is my great pleasure to at last meet you, and to thank you for your many kindnesses. I cannot tell you how honored I am that a scholar of your reputation has asked me to present my work at this respected conference.”
Never let it be said that old von Korncrake cannot polish the apple to a high sheen when necessary.
“My pleasure, sir. Truly, my pleasure. Please allow me to introduce you to your fellow disscusants.”
He turned and presented an aging academic diva from a large midwestern university, a woman whose work (which I sadly knew) was nearly as unintelligible as mine, but freighted with a white-hot feminist anger that rendered everything she put to paper comically overblown and subject to ridicule in the popular press.
“Charmed,” I said, clicking my heels, taking her hand and bowing forward just far enough to make her worry that I might kiss it, “your reputation preceeds you.”
The old bat smiled, faintly, her ethnic-inspired earrings and bangles rattling with a barely suppressed fury.
I had no doubt that I, or at least a thinly disguised version of me, would eventually appear in her work as a villainous example of the European patriarchy. Happily, no one would ever read it, not even those lucky men, her three ex-husbands.
“And this,” said Professor X, “is Daniel P.”
Standing before me was a wan-looking young graduate student, dressed in that ironic manner — second-hand tweed jacket, blue jeans, and cheap plimsoles — which so many of these mewling dolts have taken as their own.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
It was like shaking hands with a cod; limp, wet, and cold.
Mein Gott, how I longed to slap him, to shout at him, “Flee this place, young man, before the academy eats your soul!” But, it was already too late, the boy had given himself over to it, and any spark he may once have had had already been leeched away by the stultifing inanities of the “life of the mind”.
After that, the actual reading of my masterwork, “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis”, was anticlamatic.
I droned on in as perfect a monotone as I could manage, safe in the knowledge that such a reading would give my work the proper gravitas. When it was time for questions at the end, I filibustered, turning my first answer into the only answer time allowed.
Without doubt, it was a masterful performance, one which left many members of the audience, (which unfortunately included that pestiferous example of the female academic, Professor Sally of North Dakota) agape with admiration.
Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue the story.