by Tim Mead
Memorial Hall, now the English Department building, had been built of red brick in the early fifties. Its architectural style might be called Post-War Utilitarian.
Despite its age, it had been well cared for. New brown-flecked carpet now covered the original tile floors. The walls had recently been repainted. They were beige, but at least they were clean and fresh looking. The University had installed fiber optic cables for the campus-wide computer network. Adam's office had bookshelves along one wall, a big window behind his desk, and an up-to-the-minute computer. He was happy to note that he had his own printer, too, so he didn't have to walk down the hall to pick up his print jobs.
It was the afternoon of the first day of classes. He'd met his two MWF courses and then had an apple in the office for lunch. Things had gone well that morning. The students seemed bright and friendly. From the cards he'd asked them to fill out, he'd discovered they were mostly from Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. And they seemed to be typical "what you see is what you get" middle westerners.
The next afternoon he had his undergraduate "Lost Generation" course which would be meeting for two hours each on TTh. He was slated to offer a graduate course in Fitzgerald and Hemingway the second term.
He had printed out the times of his office hours, cut the 8 ½ x 11" sheet down to 3 x 5" size and was tacking it to the doorframe when he heard someone behind him clear his throat. He turned to see a young man with brown hair, brown eyes, and glasses. About an inch taller than Adam's 5'9", he was pleasant looking though not striking in any way. Adam guessed him to be a senior or perhaps a grad student, the latter, more likely.
"You've found me." Adam held out his hand.
As he shook it, the young man said, "I'm Bruce Evans. I'm a TA here. I wonder if you'd have time to talk with me."
The boy, or young man, had a nice voice. And he spoke with a certain amount of poise which, Adam decided, probably went along with his being a TA. He decided young Evans was probably good in the classroom. Scant evidence, perhaps, but that was his first impression. And Adam tended to go with his first impressions.
"Sure, come in, Bruce. Have a seat. Excuse the mess. I'm still unpacking."
There were two chairs facing Adam's desk, so he gestured Bruce to one, removed a box of books from the other, turned it to face his guest, and sat. "What brings you to see me?"
Looking him directly in the eye, Bruce said, "I'm in a bind, Dr. Craig."
"And how can I help?"
"I've finished my course work. I thought I was set to go on my dissertation with Dr. Rademaker. But now that he's left, I'm more or less back to square one."
Carl Rademaker had been the person responsible for early twentieth-century American literature at Colby State until he'd taken a job at North Carolina. His leaving created the vacancy that Adam filled.
"Oh. That's awkward for you. You're probably feeling as if you've fallen through the cracks in the system."
"Well, Dr. Kasmaryk asked me to talk with you. So at this point, let's say I'm feeling more hopeful than depressed."
"Good. Tell me what you and Dr. Rademaker had agreed on."
"Well, I love the novelists who were born in the 1890's. I'd be happy to concentrate on any one – or combination – of them."
Adam noted the light, the excitement in the young man's eyes. This was a guy who was for real, turned on by literature, excited by the idea of literary research. He decided on the spot he'd be happy to supervise Bruce's dissertation.
"You haven't answered my question."
Bruce looked startled. "Oh, sorry. I guess I haven't. Dr. Rademaker and I had agreed that I would explore gay themes in Faulkner."
"That's pretty vague, Bruce. Besides, hasn't it been done?"
Bruce grinned. "Taking your question first, yes, it's been touched on. But only in the odd monograph here and there. And I disagree with what several of those have said. As for the vagueness, I'd really like to work on the novels of the Light in August period if you'd agree to it."
"You're thinking of Hightower?"
Bruce twinkled, obviously enjoying the discussion. "That's pretty obvious. I'm thinking about Joe Christmas – and Hightower, and maybe more. Besides, there are the adjacent novels to consider."
Adam held up a hand. "Whoa! I'm almost persuaded. Did you write up a proposal for Dr. Rademaker?"
"So this has already been approved, and his leaving has screwed up your timetable?"
"Well, yes, to be honest."
"How soon can you get me a copy of the proposal?" Cute kid, Adam thought. Not studly, but attractive. Will have to be careful working with this one.
Bruce smiled and reached into his backpack. "I just happen to have a copy with me." He handed a binder to Adam.
"Are your email address and campus phone number on it?" Adam asked.
"Yes. And I'm in the bullpen on the fourth floor most afternoons – and nights and weekends . . . "
Adam chuckled. "Yeah, yeah. You can spare me the litany about the life of the TA. Been there, done that."
Grinning, Bruce replied, "Sorry," but he didn't really look contrite.
"I'll read this tonight and get back to you quickly. If it won't do as is, I'm sure we can work out something. I don't think we want to hold up your work any more than it's been held up already. I'll be in touch by the end of the week."
Bruce took a deep breath and let it out. "Thanks, professor. I've been a bit stressed about Dr. R's leaving. Especially not knowing what you'd be like."
"I hope I'll pass muster."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean – "
"It's okay, Bruce. Just teasing. But I do have one more question for you. You aren't required to answer it, and it's not a politically correct question. But given your choice of topic, I'd like to know. Are you gay?"
"No, but . . . ." He seemed to think better of what he was going to say.
Adam laughed. "But some of your best friends are gay?"
Bruce grinned again. "My best friend is gay. We lived together for two years before he moved in with his, uh, partner."
"So your topic isn't an excuse for a witch hunt, I take it?"
"Not at all. I'd rather say that critics have been either too timid or too homophobic to address the issue."
"Can't ask for a better answer than that."
"I hope you won't have too many issues with my proposal."
"Did I say something wrong?" Bruce looked puzzled.
"Not really. Have you had a course in linguistics?"
"The Department requires all English majors to have either Intro or History of the Language. I took HEL." He continued to seem puzzled.
"I was just thinking how right the linguists are when they say language is constantly changing. Ten years ago, fifteen at most, issues wasn't a synonym for problems. One would have said `I hope you don't have problems with my proposal.'"
The young man seemed genuinely interested. "So what did issues mean?"
"What it still means, I think. It was roughly synonymous with topics."
"Oh, yeah, I think I've heard it used that way. But not much any more. Do you have any idea what brought about the change?"
"I'm guessing, but I'd say it was the psychologists and psychiatrists and their jargon. They like to say, `You have issues you need to work through.' And that usage has pretty well chased out the older usage."
"Fascinating! Maybe I should have taken Intro after all."
"The fact that words constantly shift meanings didn't come up in HEL?"
"Not that I remember."
Adam didn't say any more, for to do so would have meant criticizing either Bruce or the Department's HEL professor.
"Well, Dr. Craig, thanks for your time. I suppose I'd better get upstairs and start reading papers."
"You gave them an in-class written assignment on the first day?"
Adam grinned. "Nasty bastard!" He stood, as did Bruce. The two shook hands, and the young man left.
Adam sat in his desk chair, leaned back, and clasped his hands behind his head.
Bruce Evans seemed intelligent, and he was certainly pleasant enough. If his dissertation proposal was halfway decent, Adam thought he'd enjoy overseeing his work.
Evans had said his best friend was gay. From what Jake and Jim had told him there was an active gay community in Colby. What was the name of that social group his new friends had told him about? Oh, yeah, the "Colby Queers." He hoped they weren't a bunch of aggressive flamers. But, judging by Jake and Jim, they probably weren't.
Getting back to the size of the local gay community, if ten percent of the population was gay and half of those were male, that would make hundreds of gay men in Colby. Of course, many of them would be in the closet. Not everyone thinks his sexuality is anyone else's business, an inner voice reminded him. Still, things were going well so far. And it was good to be back in Ohio, even if he was 150 miles from where he grew up.
His reverie was interrupted by a tap on the door jamb. He looked up to see a thin man about his own height and age with black receding hair and the beginnings of five o'clock shadow. His intense blue eyes lighted up his face. Adam's first thought was that they were "merry." The stranger wore jeans, a blue Oxford shirt which was open at the collar, and a rumpled linen jacket.
Hearing only those two words, Adam recognized his visitor as a Brit. More precisely, an Englishman. Perhaps a Londoner.
He stood. "Yes, I'm Adam Craig. Come in!" He reached across the desk.
"Nigel Brewster," the man said, shaking his hand. "I'm in the office next door," he said tilting his head to the left. "Just wanted to welcome you to the department."
"It's nice of you to stop by. Have a minute to sit?"
"Right." He sat. "I was away at a conference when you were here for your interview last spring. But everyone spoke well of you." He grinned. "So I've come to see for myself."
Adam chuckled. "You're the second person since lunch who's been here to check me out."
"No problem. So, what was the conference?"
"It was the annual meeting on Johnson and his circle. This year it was in Tulsa."
"Terra incognita, I suppose."
"For this bloke, it certainly was."
"And your field is Johnson and his sycophantic friends?"
Nigel winced. "I hope we aren't going to argue the first time we meet. My field is the second half of the eighteenth century. Nancy Stein covers the first half, which she likes to call `The Age of Pope.'"
"Sorry. I didn't mean to make a faux pas. I confess I don't know much about eighteenth-century British lit. I did as little in that era as I could. But my impression was that Boswell and Goldsmith were pretty much the great Dr. Sam's toadies."
Nigel sighed and then took a deep breath. "Some day, I'll have to enlighten you, to coin a phrase."
Adam was puzzled for a moment, and then he caught it. "Yes, the Enlightenment, I see! But Johnson flourished at the time of the Revolution. Must have been an interesting time for you English."
"In fact," Nigel said, re-crossing his legs, "the literature of the time hardly reflects that you lot were . . . revolting, shall we say?"
"Really? What was a big deal here wasn't such a big one over there?"
"To the politicians, no doubt, though relations with France were paramount. And, though Johnson had a few scathing things to say about the colonials and Goldsmith said some very inaccurate things about the climate and fauna of North America, for the most part your secession went unremarked by our writers."
This wasn't going well, yet he couldn't help liking his colleague.
"I suppose we all seem terribly parochial to you." It was time for a change of topic. "So tell me about yourself. Where in England are you from?"
"I was born and grew up in London."
The East End, I'll bet, judging from his accent, Adam thought.
"Got a grant to go to the University of Wessex, where I took both my undergraduate and post graduate degrees."
"And how long have you been in Colby?"
"I came here after completing my degree. So it's been sixteen years."
"Do you miss England?"
Nigel smiled. "I have no family there to visit, but I go back every other summer."
"And you've obviously learned to tolerate northern Ohio winters."
"I'm not sure `tolerate' is the word I'd choose, but I don't mind them terribly."
Then Nigel asked him about where he had grown up, about how he had liked (or not) his previous job, and then about his interests outside teaching.
"I like classical music and some kinds of jazz, old black and white movies, theater, good food and wine. Oh, and I have a small collection of first editions."
"I assume they're from the early twentieth century, given your specialty."
"That was hardly a great period of book making."
"True. They aren't things of beauty with marble end papers and leather spines. The writers I'm most interested in were writing to survive, for the most part, and these were mass-market books."
Nigel smiled again. "So was Dr. Johnson. All his life. He was the first major English writer who made his living from what he wrote. Didn't have an inheritance or a patron and was damned proud of it!"
"Good for Dr. Sam! I didn't know that."
They talked a bit more about first editions.
Then, noting that Nigel wore a wedding band, Adam asked about his family.
"Oh, I've a very patient wife and two sons, both in their early teens, God help us. You must come for dinner some evening and meet them." He grinned. "I still want to call it tea."
"I'd like that, if your wife wouldn't mind."
"Kate loves to cook. It's part of her heritage. I'm sure she'll want to meet you. She's from near where you grew up. Dublin isn't far from Westerville, is it?"
Adam was startled at first because "Dublin" made him think of Ireland. Then he realized that Nigel was speaking of the suburb of Columbus.
"Uh, no, not far at all."
Nigel stood, smiled, and offered his hand.
"I won't keep you. I'll be in touch about supper. As I said, welcome to the Department. And be sure to let me know if there's anything I can do to make things smoother for you."
"Thanks. It was good of you to stop in."
After they shook hands, Nigel left.
# # #
Adam worked at unpacking books and arranging them properly on his bookshelves until his stomach reminded him it was nearing suppertime.
As he walked from campus to his condo, he felt lonely for the first time since he'd moved to Colby. He'd been busy unpacking, getting the condo set up, meeting people, preparing for his classes, sending out notices of change of address, doing the usual things that come with moving from one state to another. At that moment he felt a poignant sense of loss that he wouldn't be coming home to Brian anymore. However much the passion had dissipated from their relationship over time, Brian had always been a good friend, a comfortable companion. But now Adam could only look forward to an empty apartment and a TV dinner. Oh, he might have gone out, but he really hated eating alone in restaurants.
Maybe I should get a cat or something, he thought.
As he was retrieving his mail in the lobby of his building, someone walked up beside him.
"Hello, Dr. Craig."
He turned to see Tom Nielsen, a man he'd met when he'd been shown through his condo for the first time, the one who owned one of the building's two top-floor "penthouses."
"Hello, Tom, it's good to see you. And it's Adam, please."
Nielsen had a nice smile. In fact, though he wasn't conventionally handsome, he was definitely attractive. He obviously kept himself in good shape. Dressed casually for the warm September day, he had on a pale green golf shirt with a Golden Fleece logo on it, stone-colored chinos, and Italian loafers. He had big biceps and pecs. He kept his head shaved, but his eyebrows and eyelashes were pale blond. His eyes were a light blue. The bald head made him look older, at first. On closer inspection, however, Adam judged the man to be around 30. He smelled subtly of some kind of spice.
"Are you ready to go up?" Nielsen asked.
"Sure am." Adam picked up his book bag, which he slung over his shoulder. He had his mail in the other hand.
They stepped into the elevator and Nielsen punched the button for Adam's floor.
"This may seem a bit off the wall, but I'm going to be alone for supper this evening. My usual companion is working. I'd like to get to know my new neighbor better. Would you be free to have dinner with me?"
Since he really knew nothing of Nielsen or his "companion" except that, according to Jake and Jim it was Adrian, the restaurateur, he was a little reluctant to accept the invitation. He didn't want to get involved with a guy already in a relationship. But his instinct told him that he was merely being invited to supper. And he thought of the alternative, still in his freezer.
"I'd like that, if you're sure it's not too much trouble."
"I wouldn't have asked if it were," Nielsen said with a smile.
The elevator stopped at Adam's floor. "Let me dump this stuff and get rid of this jacket, and I'll be up in a few minutes, okay?"
"I've got a nice red breathing, so come whenever you're ready. I was planning to fix pork chops." He paused. "If that won't be a problem."
Adam chuckled. "Nope. I'm a good Ohio boy. I was raised on pork."
A while later he was sitting on a stool in Tom Nielsen's kitchen sipping a delectable pinot noir.
They exchanged the usual getting-to-know you questions. They had gotten beyond where they grew up (Nielsen was local) and where they'd gone to school by the time Tom put the meal of pork chops, home fries, and kale on the kitchen table.
"Man," Adam exclaimed as they ate, "this is all great! I haven't had kale since I was a kid."
"Thanks! As for the kale, this is the season for it, though it'll be better after there's been a frost."
"You get it locally?"
"Uh huh. Adrian finds all the best local veggies for the restaurant, and he makes sure we have plenty, too."
"Adrian's your partner?"
"You haven't met him?"
"Well, we'll have to take care of that soon."
"I'd like to meet him."
Tom smiled. "I'm sure he'll be glad to meet you, too." He took a bit of the potatoes, chewed, and swallowed it. "You're gay, of course."
Adam raised an eyebrow. "I've never made any bones about being gay. But what do you mean, `of course'?"
"Oh, sorry. Just that I thought when I first saw you the day you were looking at the condo downstairs that you were one of us."
"If you want to call it that. You aren't offended that I brought it up, are you?"
"No, of course not."
"Do you have a guy in your life?"
"Not any more. My ex and I love each other but we split up. He's in LA now."
"You love each other but you split up?"
"Yeah. We both received good job offers and decided that what we had wasn't the "in-love" kind of thing it had been when we got together. So we moved on."
Tom grinned. "Well, Adrian and I will have to have a meeting of `The Colby Queers' to introduce you."
"Oh, I've heard about them. Uh, you. Um, about your group."
"May I ask who told you about us?"
"Jake Handley and Jim Grant."
"Aha! The University connection, of course. Jim's a fairly new member. He hasn't been out all that long."
"It's a long story. Get him to tell you about it sometime. But our group is a diverse one in both age and profession. One of our members is still an undergraduate, but he's been in the Marines and he's the partner of one of the other guys, so he fits right in."
"What do you do at your meetings?"
"Oh, we don't have meetings as such. Mostly we get together for drinks and maybe a buffet supper."
"At Adrian's place?"
"If you mean his restaurant, no. We usually have our do's either here or across the hall in Adrian's condo, though both Jim and Jake as well as Dave and Brody have offered to host this season."
"Dave and Brody? I think I remember Jake or Jim saying something about them."
"Dave's the landscaper and Brody, his partner, is the ex-Marine."
"Oh. Lots to get straight."
"So to speak."
Adam chuckled. "Yeah, sorry about that."
When they'd finished Adam helped Tom load the dishwasher. Then they went to the great room, which had a wonderful view of the campus, and had coffee and apple pie from, as Tom explained, Adrian's restaurant.
"Baked by Albert, the executive chef himself." He pronounced the name the French way. "Adrian has a great pastry chef, but once in a while Albert feels the urge to bake."
"This is the best I've ever tasted."
"Well, you can tell Albert that in person if you come to our next get-together."
"Is it awkward for Adrian and Albert that they are employer and employee?"
"No, they have great mutual respect. Adrian knows he's lucky to have Albert, and Albert seems to love working for Adrian."
"Albert doesn't have a partner?"
Tom smiled. "We're getting you caught up on all the gay circle, aren't we?"
"Sorry. Didn't mean to be nosey."
"Not to worry. " He leaned forward. "Albert and Jim Grant were lovers a few years back."
"Jim was a high-ranking cop, you know. Albert wanted them to live together. Jim said he couldn't jeopardize his career by doing that, so they split up. They're still good friends, but, as you know, Jim and Jake are together now, and that looks like a pretty solid thing."
"So Albert's alone?"
Cocking a head to one side, Tom said, "Good question."
Puzzled, Adam waited for his host to continue.
"He has a boy . . . well, a young man living with him. A Colby State undergraduate. According to Adrian, Albert insists that he's merely allowing the kid to live there, that there's nothing going on. Having seen Casey, I know I'd find it hard to live with him and keep my hands off him, but perhaps Albert has more will power than I have. At any rate, Adrian says he bristles at any suggestion that they're fooling around. Albert's a really good man, but he can be a bit prickly at times."
Tom then steered the conversation to other, more general things and before Adam realized it Tom's case clock was striking ten.
"Tom, this has been great. Loved the home cookin'. And it's good to know a neighbor. I'd like to have you and Adrian to my place, but, frankly, I'd be scared to death to cook for him."
Tom put a hand on Adam's shoulder. "If you decide to have us, I'll tell you something you could cook. Adrian gets tired of haute cuisine. So when you're ready for us to come, I'll give you a menu suggestion or two that I'll bet you can handle. Or we could make it pot luck. You could do the meat and each of us could bring a veggie."
"That sounds great!" The two shook hands. Adam thanked Tom once more and took his leave.
Once back in the apartment he thought, Tom's a very easy person to be around. No pretense. Straightforward. It'll be good having him for a neighbor. Wonder what he does for a living? I forgot to ask. And Adrian sounds like an interesting guy, too.
He stripped off all his clothes except his boxers, poured himself two fingers of bourbon, and then turned on his computer to check his email. As he went through his inbox, he noticed the circular from Biggs and Lucarno that had come the other day and thought once more that he should drive up to Ann Arbor and see the shop. He hadn't been in the home of U of M since he went with a group of his high school friends to see THE GAME.
# # #
The next morning, using his cell phone rather than the office phone, he called the Ann Arbor number for the bookstore.
A deep but young-sounding male voice answered, "Biggs and Lucarno Booksellers, how may I help you?"
"My name is Adam Craig. I've made some purchases from Mr. Lucarno. If he's available, I'd like to speak with him."
"Sure thing, Mr. Craig. Hold on just a minute."
It was more like two minutes. Adam could hear voices in the background. Then: "Hello. This is Tony Lucarno."
"It's Adam Craig, Tony. I've bought a couple of books from you."
"Of course, Adam! The cummings and the Djuna Barnes. How are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks. I'm calling because I'm practically a neighbor of yours now. I'm teaching at Colby State."
"Wonderful! That's only about 70 miles from here! You know, I was going to email you. I have something I think you might be interested in. Why don't you pay us a visit?"
"I'd like that. And now you have me curious. What is it that I'd be interested in?"
"I have a first edition of Stranger in Paradigms with a rather mysterious provenance and an intriguing inscription on the flyleaf."
"Wow! I'm hooked. How about if I come up this Saturday afternoon?"
"I'd be happy to see you Saturday afternoon, but I don't recommend that you come then. U of M has a home game that day, and the traffic will be horrendous."
"Then I suppose I'd better wait until they have an away game."
"I could open the shop for you Sunday."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't ask you to do that!" He tried not to show his eagerness to see the book.
"I wouldn't mind."
"I have another idea. Suppose I come Wednesday afternoon. I could leave at noon."
"That would be fine. I'm eager to meet you. I've read your book on Stearns and also some of your articles. If you leave at noon you should be here before two."
"I think I have your address somewhere."
"Don't bother searching." Lucarno gave him the address and then asked, "You gonna use MapQuest or something of the sort, or do you need directions?"
"I've got a Garmin. I'll look forward to seeing you around 2:00, depending on the traffic, Wednesday."
"Great! If the bossy voice fails you, give me a call on your cell and I'll talk you in."
So he's read my Stearns book, huh? Why would a book seller do that? Don't they just see books as objects?
To Be Continued.
Thanks, as always, to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey.
Emails encouraged at
Please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't
spam. Thanks. --Tim