Available for publication.
"It's all in the faculty. We're a close-knit family here."
- Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee
The faculty of Humbert College in Olmstead, New York, disagree about many things, including whether the school's postcard-perfect campus is the ideal setting in which to enjoy one's membership in the academy or a fishbowl whose inhabitants dream of one day moving onto something better. The central story of The Academy concerns Ned Jenkins, a peripatetic junior philosophy professor hoping finally to settle into a tenured position. In the course of his bitter tenure struggle in a divided philosophy department, he has to cope with ambivalent feelings toward the woman in his life, the scrutiny and neediness of fellow faculty members, and unpleasant dealings with departmental and romantic rivals, all the while trying to come to terms with his relationship with his father and the real motivation driving his career.
(72,000 words, 291 manuscript pages)
NOTE: My full-length play, All in the Faculty is based on The Academy.
From across the room, Ned Jenkins spied a woman with long black hair charging through the crowd armed with two glasses of champagne. “Don’t ask any questions; just drink this quickly. Trust me, you’ll need it.” He took big sips as instructed, eyeing her black clothing and the oversized rose pendant she wore over her heart.
“So I guess you’re not the representative from the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” he replied between gulps.
“Honey, we drove those dames out of town years ago. Or, more likely, they left of their own accord when they realized there were no prospects for them in godforsaken Olmstead, New York.” She threw back her head and let out a long piercing laugh.
“Since we’re apparently going to be drinking buddies,” he interrupted, “perhaps I should introduce myself.”
“Oh, I already know who you are, Mr. Jenkins. Your coming is long awaited. Believe me – long awaited indeed! But I have an extremely pressing question. Did you come to Humbert College en famille”? She smiled nervously.
“Did you bring your wife and kiddies with you?”
“Oh, ‘en famille.’ I get it. French. Sorry, I’m not usually so slow.”
“I’ll skip all the obvious retorts. You see, I teach French. My specialty is French drama – Moliere and Giraudoux are my passions, but I spend a good deal of time teaching the Romantics, too. Not that I get to do much with my passions around here, of course – my academic passions, that is. It’s mostly Introductory French for students with no intention of ever using what I try to teach them except for possibly trying out a few phrases in Paris one day – that is, until they find out the natives don’t appreciate having their native tongue brutalized by Americans.”
“And…do you have a name?”
“Oh, excusez-moi!” She held out her hand in a suddenly formal gesture. “Je m’appelle Marlene. Marlene Bernstein. Not a very French-sounding name, alas, but it’s all my very own. But enough about me. You haven’t answered my question.”
“Right, right! No, Mademoiselle – or is it Madame? I’m single and unattached.”
“Very nice. And how clever of you to sneak a question of your own into your answer.”
“A quick study, too!” She smiled broadly. “No, Monsieur, I’m also single and unattached. At least at the moment.”
“Are you a divorcee?”
“Oh, I love that word – divorcee!” She stuck out her tongue as if she were about to lick the cherry off the top of a hot fudge sundae and closed her eyes before repeating, “Di-vor-cee. It sounds so dramatic. But no,” she continued, snapping her eyes open. “I’ve never been married. I have been attached – even around here, if you can believe it – but at the moment I am completely free – completement libre. At least as far as I’m concerned.” She finished off her champagne and winked at him.
He wasn’t sure if it was the champagne or the wink, but he was suddenly starting to feel better about his prospects at Humbert, especially compared to how things looked back in the spring.
“I must tell you how surprised we all were that someone finally accepted the open position in your department. You may or may not know that it’s gone unfilled since the last Ice Age. We were all wondering if maybe you had two heads or a criminal record.”
“I was planning to wait until the end of the first term before revealing my tragic flaws, thank you very much!”
“Oh, be good! You don’t understand about the philosophy department’s reputation. Those guys are famous for putting nervous job candidates through their paces for sport. They could have sold tickets!”
So it wasn’t just him. He cringed at the memory of his presentation before the interviewing committee and how he stood there hoping no one noticed the expanding stains under his arms while he made a mental note not to wear a blue shirt the next time he found himself in that situation. He thought about Ralph Martinez. Calling his work “poetry gussied up in philosophical clothing” and nit-picking every point to death. If it hadn’t been an interview, he would have punched the man out. Or at least wanted to.
END OF EXCERPT