Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An email from the Assitant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs sets Curmudgeon off

I received an email yesterday from my beloved law school alma mater, specially worded for the holiday season and 'personalized' in the sense that the sender, or rather the very-near-spam program that generated the email, included my name and my class year.

Except, of course, it wasn't my name on the email at all, not the name I use with friends and family, but rather my given first name.

Perhaps it's just an Irish thing, but a lot of people, myself included, are known by our middle names (or, in my case, a diminutive thereof). My parents made this decision before I was held to the font; indeed they'd insisted that the name by which they would call me be expressly stated on the Baptismal certificate. They correctly anticipated that this was the only way the nuns would let me use the name in grade school. And my father, who'd been called Junior in his own time, and who wanted me named for himself, nevertheless wanted to spare me the indignity of that particular handle.

Anyway, anyone who's known me for any length of time knows this and uses my name... and not the name on the diploma or the law license. Of course, the very-near-spam program that sent me this tender holiday email wouldn't have known this.

And I really can't blame the alleged sender of the email, now celebrating his 30th year in the school's administration, for not remembering. Why should he? A lot of people have come and gone in a generation's time. But I remember him.

The venerable Assistant Dean who was the alleged sender of the email was only a couple of years ahead of me in school. He'd gone to work as a divorce lawyer after graduation and rumor had it that he returned to school after losing one or more trials. Divorce trials. Of course the rumor was silly and, I'm certain, entirely unfounded. I don't imagine that a learned judge, upon the conclusion of the proto-Assistant Dean's evidence, determined that his client must remain married. A hundred and thirty years ago, that might have happened -- I've addressed this recently -- but not 30 years ago.

Nevertheless, this individual was not brought in as a scholar to teach new generations of lawyers but as an administrator. He was hired when I was in my last year of school (or possibly the year before) and I had plenty of occasion to observe him in the discharge of his weighty responsibilities. These appeared to consist mainly of hanging around. He wasn't the night watchman -- night watchmen don't have to wear suits -- but, apparently, if a pipe broke, he would have to find a plumber. If someone broke a window, he'd have to summon a glazier. And -- his most prominent and active duty -- if an event was planned (a speech, for example) the Assistant Dean would be the one to set up the folding chairs. Sometimes, depending on when the event ended, he got to take them down, too.

These duties were not so onerous that he was prevented from regularly frequenting the local tavern where most of the law students tried to achieve a state of daily numbness.

It was from a barstool in this tavern that he supervised student activities.

During my third year in law school, I and a friend were co-editors of our student newspaper. It was never entered in any Pulitzer competition. We weren't a daily or even a weekly. We may have published more frequently than once a month, but, without finding the box in my attic where I have kept copies of each issue, I could not say for sure. I don't think we exceeded eight pages more than a few times either.

But I thought it was fun and nearly anything was better than law school. In my opinion.

As with any student group, we depended on volunteers.

Volunteers in school, as in real life, come in two kinds: Those that say they will help -- and those that actually do. I tended to favor the latter -- and did so without apology. A couple of persons belonging in the former category, however, complained about this favoritism, loud and long, apparently, from their barstools at the same watering hole where the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs spent his idle hours.

I was duly summoned to the Assistant Dean's office -- which, surprisingly, was in the school building itself -- whereupon I was informed of the various charges and specifications made by these discontented staffers. I pointed out that we -- myself and the actual working volunteers -- were writing and putting out the paper while the malcontents were nursing their grudges and their beers in lengthy conferences with the worthy administrator. But the Assistant Dean felt the need to do something. So it was agreed that the malcontents could produce the next issue of the paper on their very own, without interference from yours truly, my co-editor or anyone else deemed among our 'favorites.'

When the time to produce the next issue arrived, the dissidents went to the newspaper office on the undergrad campus instead of to the bar. They did in fact work into the wee small hours typesetting and measuring headlines to fit and laying out the paper and sizing pictures and everything. (These were primitive times, technologically, I know. At this time Adobe was only a building material.)

I waited at school with some trepidation on the following day for the issue to arrive. I had no fears that I would be 'outdone' somehow, but I was worried that I might be embarrassed by the content. The day wore on... but the paper did not appear.

Looking back, I'm not quite sure how she found me -- this was also before cell phones, you understand -- but, at some point the editor of the undergraduate student newspaper got hold of me. "Aren't you supposed to have a paper this week?" she began.

"Yes," I said. I may have explained the fact that we had 'guest editors' for this issue.

"Well," she said, "the paper never got to the printer. It's still sitting in a box in the production room." Our super-genius would-be editors -- the ones who'd persuaded the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs of their superior knowledge of all things newspaper -- had neglected to take the paper to be printed. This is rather an important step in the production cycle... but, hey, everyone can forget something, right?

So I and my co-editor headed over to the undergraduate campus (he had a car) and we got the paper to the printer, a day late. And the issue was not worth waiting for.

When I got the holiday email yesterday from the Assistant Dean I promptly forwarded it to my co-editor from all those years ago. (My co-editor is a successful tax lawyer in another state.) I forwarded the email with a message, "Nothing like a heartfelt message from the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs...."

My friend responded, "I kind of remember this guy, but not a whole lot. Did you have a problem with him?"

That's another thing about us Irish. Old grudges never die; they don't even fade away. Thirty years later and I'm still mad about this. But my friend is not Irish.


Cathy said...

You are right about all of it being Irish. I am also Irish and I never forget a grudge. Also, My parents had 4 children and between us there are 3 who go by their middle names. I could never quite understand naming a child one name, and then insisting they be called something else.

Jeni said...

Loved this post -especially the explanation about the Irish and grudge-holding. That probably explains why my ex-husband still acts the way he does around me most of the time -he's Irish (along with some French and German tossed in) and I'm Swedish and Scottish! But for sure, he never forgets and doesn't do the forgiveness stuff much thought either, come to think of it. I, on the other hand, am pretty close to being a Saint! (Hope there's no lightning along the way when I post this comment or I might just get struck by a flash of that stuff for that last line, huh?)

Dave said...

First, Google isn't perfect: your AdSense ads include several for bar stools.

Second, I can't get the Georgia State Bar to quit selling my name. I know when they do it because the pitch is addressed to me as my three named self. I don't use my middle name, just an initial. The only time it is ever spelled out over the past several decades is in a communication from the Bar or its advertising customers.

Third, I guess a one-half combination of Scotch-Irish doesn't count with the middle name thing. That, or it's drowned out by the other half being German.

sari said...

Yeah. I've got the Irish in me, too. Enough to hold a good grudge, anyway.