Jill Manchester

Shel’s news had so shocked me, I clammed up on the ride back from his new house.Only when we crossed the Narrows Bridge did I find the energy to say something real.Hoping to change his mind, I explained my question about his childhood.I had been certain that he and I were the same and that one way or another a fascination with the stars would have been part of his early years.He said nothing when I finished.In a weird switch of topics, he told me the gist of a short story by Issac Bashevis Singer.The opening scene presents two twentysomething revolutionaries.Their story morphs into a scene sixty years later when they bump into each other on a Miami sidewalk.I didn’t see the connection.You want me to shed a tear over some loss of innocence, Shel had said.Ramping off the bridge, climbing up to Sixth Avenue, he had offered me a cigarette.Keeping one eye on the road, he sucked in the flame of his Bic lighter and released a stream of smoke that hit the windshield and spread across the dashboard.Maybe you’re right, maybe we shouldn’t have a military.Or maybe they’ll blow us to bits.I don’t pretend to know the ultimate truth of things.But I’ll tell you what’s real.The cost of college tuition.And I’ve got twin boys.He picked a flake of tobacco from his tongue.Almost as an afterthought, he suggested I join his working group at Boeing.Get in on the ground floor.It’s so new it doesn’t have a name yet.The working handle is ‘the Black Box,’ he said.Who cares about a name when you’ve got bottomless federal funding.I could be part of that.Keep my position at Puget Sound.Clapp might like having me connected to Boeing.One step would lead to another.Was this my route to a house on a cliff overlooking the Puget Sound?In spite of Dad’s neurosis around money, handling it as if it were radioactive?And Mom’s Christianity, certain money was the source of all evil?Shel and Clapp and a whole lot of other people thought otherwise.It was my chance to leave childhood behind.I flicked the radio on and rolled down the window.The swish swish swish of the wipers.High up, far above everything else, the moans of the wind that whipped through the dark branches of evergreen trees.All that consternation I had created.My tenure decision was only two years away.I knew what I had to do.Rocky Point, West TacomaThe very next morning, boiling with excitement, I met with Dolores Maro.I assumed she would be thrilled by this offer from Clapp to transform the University of Puget Sound into the major intellectual center of the Pacific Northwest.My plan was for the two of us to meet with Clapp.The first step was getting her on board.She and I started at the grotto and strolled down the narrow path between the Puget Sound and the railroad tracks.To the west, across a mile of sea, was the forest of the Olympic Peninsula.To the east, beyond the railroad tracks, was the shallow lagoon where gray herons hunted for fish among the pickleweed and cattails.I waited as long as I could.When I couldn’t hold back any longer, I blurted out the vision of building a new civilization centered on Seattle.I finished and waited for her to speak, but she said nothing.She looked at me with a half smile.You don’t find this exciting, do you? I said.I’m not so sure, she said.In fact, I don’t find this the least bit exciting.Just the opposite.Her words threw me off.I made another run at it.I know what you’re thinking, but Clapp is for the university.He’s the same as we are on this.We could create something powerful.After a pause, she spoke.She chose her words carefully.Please don’t misunderstand me.You are a fresh and enthusiastic mathematician.I regularly hear praise from your students.Dolores brushed her thinning gray hair back with one hand.She pulled out a flap of her shirt to wipe the lens of her glasses.How do I say this politely?I’ve tried several times already.Brian, you have to imagine we’re living in Germany when the Nazis took over.They’ve asked you to be a dean in a university and you’re all atwitter.Don’t you see what would happen?Whatever came out of your mouth would be twisted into their demented ideology.Here’s the worst part.Your own words wouldn’t require that much twisting.Anyone trapped inside a sick culture becomes pathological just to survive.It’s not your fault, Brian.You’re a victim of the modern industrial university in its decadent phase.I admire what I perceive in you as the truth quest.But to do so will require your becoming keenly aware of the way in which your education has drained you of your humanity.My throat closed up tight.I could hardly speak.I barked out a question.Drained me of my humanity?Not just you, Dolores said.The university has become a toxic dump, and that includes everyone, professors, administrators, and most especially trustees.So you are not immune either? I spat out the words.No one likes hearing he is an undeveloped human being.You will forgive my blunt speech.I don’t know how else to say it.At the very least, your present emotional turmoil will enable you to appreciate the difficulty of Socrates’s ‘know thyself.’ Ignorance is easier.Fantasizing that we are healthy and whole is easier.Remaining deluded about the ways we’ve internalized industrial society’s deformations is easier.I was locked up with fury.Whenever she had lamented the prevailing forms of consciousness in modern society and especially when she bludgeoned the corporations and their control of university life, I had always assumed she regarded the two of us as different from the rest.That we had committed ourselves to a more impressive life than that.

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