April 2, 2021
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is nine hours, fifty-eight minutes.
I close the box.
I reunite with Lazlo when I discover an old magazine at the bottom of a cardboard box stored in my garage here in Siberia With a View.
The box is labeled “Miscellany-1980,” and it has been sealed by duct tape for more than forty years, duct tape being prima materia for a cash-poor archivist.
Lazlo’s work is prominently featured in the publication.
Lazlo is the first of the pseudonyms I employ as a budding word merchant, to be followed a few years later by Alvin “Call me ‘Al’” DeTerio, Carla Fursberg, Merle Box, and Renata Santini.
The box contains a trove of memoprompts, invitations to reconstruct my past.
I open the box and first find notes for a lecture delivered in the late ‘70s during my stint as the worst adjunct instructor of philosophy in the history of American higher education — a period of time during which I simultaneously prowl Sleazeland with my Oyster partner, Jim, me in the guise of DeTerio or Box, him as Jim Steele, attempting to kick up the money my work at a college often fails to provide.
I am the Jekyll/Hyde of Higher Ed/Sleaze.
The notes I find include a dribble of Danto, marginally coherent references to Clive Bell and significant form, and an inaccurate scrawl concerning Kant, awe, and nature.
The lecture is surely torture for the wretched tykes who endure it — a condition I labor to produce.
On the few occasions I attend a department faculty meeting and am mistakenly called upon for a comment, I advance my theory that encouragement of a student’s confusion and frustration is the optimum strategy in the classroom setting for we philosophers. It is a career-saving move.
Keep ‘em confused, keep ‘em spinning, I say. The kids are either hapless, rejected by better schools and stored at the institution during the day by desperate parents, or they are lollygagging in class prior to their counter shifts at 7 Eleven, certain a bachelor’s degree in the humanities will boost them to store manager, and beyond — perhaps to a low-level corporate position that requires the purchase of business apparel.
I gaze at the vapid faculty nerds gathered around the table in the conference room, scan an array of pallid Ph.D. complexions and self-satisfied, dim facial expressions. As I look at them, I wonder if any of them have watched Tina, a thrice-divorced topless/bottomless dancer at Boogie Down, lower herself on thirty half dollar coins stacked on top of a beer bottle, capture the treasure deep in her special recess, and stride sassily to the dancers’ dressing room to deposit the booty in her locker, oblivious to the danger of infection and the frightening gyno probs that might crop up years in the future.
I’m certain they have not.
Fueled by several bumps of Medellin Genius Dust, I stand when called upon, and I speak.
“Look, guys …”
I say “guys” because, with one exception, everyone in the room is male. We are the inheritors of a tradition that acknowledges Sophia as the goddess of knowledge but maintains that, with very few exceptions, only a man can love Sophia in a fitting manner. I look at my alleged colleagues, big idea dweebs who have never been to Boogie Down, pockets stuffed with coins. They will never hang out with Tina in the club dressing room, sitting close enough to smell the Jack and cigarettes on her breath as she bemoans the unfair incarcerations of her three ex husbands, and complains about the bald tires on her Buick and the bulging disc in her lower back.
“It’s the fucking platform shoes,” she says, exhaling smoke. “I know it’s the fucking shoes.”
All this as Le Freak blasts from speakers on the other side of the wall, the bass vibrating the floor.
“Young and old are doing it, I’m told
“Just one try and you too will be sold
“It’s called ‘Le Freak’, they’re doing it night and day
“Allow us, we’ll show you the way
“Ah, freak out!
“Le freak, c’est chic”
The “guys” in the conference room are simps who have never settled, and will never settle, into a slump on a pillow couch next to a life-tired sex worker at a suburban whore house, to watch The Price is Right, examine her photos of kids being raised by their grandmother, and commiserate with her as she spews contempt for balding, late-middle-age tricks. She points to item 12 on the parlor menu, “The Adams County Smoothie,” and announces with justifiable pride: “I invented the Smoothie, ya know. It’s our top seller.”
Nope, none of them will ever develop a friendship like this.
The one female at the meeting is, like me, an adjunct instructor. Joey (given name, Bernadette) specializes in the work of Ayn Rand and spends most of her time in the classroom talking about herself and her narcissistic schemes. She intends to leave Denver soon and ascend rapidly to the helm at Lehman Brothers, after which she will purchase her own island and cases of Petrus.
This is the late-70s, a brief interlude when both Rand and Gurdjieff are considered worthy of pseudo-scholarly attention. Joey fills her classes. There’s a big run on selfishness. Business administration majors take her course as an elective and leave her classroom swollen with pride and ambition. Frequently they depart swollen in other quarters due to the fact Joey sports breasts that an in-her-prime, chess-with-Duchamp Eve Babitz would envy.
“Look, guys…let’s drop the act,” I say, teetering at the end of the table, the overhead florescent lights flickering and pushing me to the edge of a seizure.
“Allow me to fling a couple of ill-formed and unrelated metaphors, and let’s see if they stick to anything. Let’s say it’s time to turn out the lights, lock the door to the Thought Academy, go to our car, Hegel, Plato, and Locke crammed together in the trunk. We turn the key, the engine fails to start, and…think about it now, think about it…we’re all pragmatists at this moment, aren’t we? It’s real life, running up and smacking us in the melon. This heap won’t start, and it ain’t gonna take us anywhere. Some of us might swerve momentarily to existentialism if we’ve skipped our meds, but we’re pragmatists when it comes to negotiating problems in our dull, daily lives. Admit it. It’s OK, I won’t tell anyone.
“It is bedrock pragmatic method that leads to my Confusion Theory of Philosophy — the tactic that will keep the car running, at least as long as it takes to get to our exits.
“We first need to understand that philosophical ‘problems’ and the so-called deep questions of life disappear once we stop serving word salad at the concept buffet. No one outside a university or seminary ever asks these questions, or uses the mucho-syllable terms we philotwerps love to toss around.
“Regular folk are not interested in the big questions, or our answers. If they are unclear about something moral or teased by a toy-store-level metaphysical notion as they go about their business, they attend a church service, call their uncle, or dial in the weekly Oral Roberts or Katherine Kuhlman broadcasts on the tube. Their simple questions give birth to simple answers, and everyone goes their way empty, happy, ready for a Swanson’s TV dinner and a game of Yahtzee.
“But, our students have decided they are not regular folk, so if we speak honestly and clearly to our students, and we reveal that our knowledge vault is empty, we are doomed. There’ll be no tenure for avid seekers of obscure and useless ideas, no paychecks, no jump up to a four-bedroom ranch in a new suburb, no trip to Athens or to the forest in Southern Germany to visit Heidegger’s hut.
“If we stick to the truth, the philosophy catalog will be reduced to one course, offered for three hours credit. Most of a semester will be spent making sure students can spell ‘philosophy.’ There will be no Department of Philosophy, no nest in which to lay wisdom eggs, no dupes convinced a major in philosophy is the on ramp to fame and fortune, to a fat pension and investment portfolio, and a glorious, extended retirement in a condo complex several blocks off the beach at La Jolla. Students will flee and move on to become certified public accountants or the owners of comic book stores.
“If we insist on conveying the truth, all will be lost to us, and everyone at this faculty meeting will be forced to take community college classes in order to learn Fortran and get jobs writing code for Sears.
“So, it’s time to get pragmatic.
“We need to focus on the fact the students are insecure dolts, regardless of their flimsy poses and bulging book bags. For shit’s sake, they’re studying philosophy! We know who they are…we were once them! They’re nineteen or twenty years old, possessed of high and undeserved opinions of themselves. Their core pursuits are pretending to be smart, getting loaded, and trying to find someone with whom to exchange bodily fluids which is, for most of them, as it is for you, a nearly impossible task.
“We can’t tell them the truth about our gig. To maintain our ground, we need to confuse them, to make them believe we are smarter than they are.
“The more confused we make them, the better the chance they’ll continue to believe that the dipshit standing unsteadily at the front of the classroom knows something, anything, of value.
“Here’s what to do. An instructor should unhinge the kiddies during each class session and every office visit, require two lengthy papers during a semester, then give every student a grade of B when the agonizing process comes to an end. No need to read the papers. Kick back, mix a cocktail, roll a joint, snorf up a couple lines, and have Dorothy, the department secretary, run the papers through the shredder. Dorothy loves to operate the shredder, every bit as much as she loves to run the mimeograph machine. Dorothy’s a pragmatist, her needs are manageable, her goals reachable, she loves Swanson TV dinners. Do this and students are relieved when they get their grades, parents believe their money is well spent, Dorothy gets to operate the shredder, you cash the school’s check. All’s well with the world.
“Pragmatism and confusion, my friends. Pragmatism and confusion.”
The flickering fluorescents cause me to lose my train of thought. I focus on Joey’s breasts, and I collapse to my chair.
My colleagues are not impressed with what barely passes for an argument. They like to believe they understand things, and offer precious gifts to eager acolytes. They have to believe this: they spent way too much time and far too much money obtaining post-grad degrees.
The delusions required for a career as a philosopher are at once impressive and terribly sad.
I lack them. It takes a few years for the Ph.Ds to realize this and to throw me overboard. I stay afloat as I watch the USS Wisdom sail away. I bid it a bon voyage, then I paddle back to Sleazeland where I can recuperate on a pillow couch and discuss the subtleties of The Smoothie.
I find several books in the box, below the lecture notes.
Like most of the books I find in the garage, these are examination texts sent to me when I was the worst adjunct instructor of philosophy in the history of American higher education.
Back in the day (1973-1985), despite the fact I teach only if called up from below decks to man an oar whenever the department chair is unable to locate a better option, I am regularly sent texts in the hope I will order them for Introduction to Philosophy 100 or my special, max-confusion Philosophy and The Arts course (the initial lecture begins with a dramatic reenactment of Helen Frankenthaler’s subdued response to Clement Greenberg’s clumsy attempts at cunnilingus, in which I play both parts).
The poorly written tomes provide me with yet another way to stress the savants-to-be. I order a book, require readings with which I am unfamiliar, unload a truckload of unrelated blather on the tots during classroom sessions, give every student a B, and receive a pittance from the state college system in return.
Since I am regularly propelled by Columbian fun fuel, I am unable to muster the focus needed to “examine” most of the texts, so I order those with the most appealing covers, then hustle back to Sleazeville with Jim.
I am ripped to the tits, a fan of pillow furniture and The Price is Right. I’m no philosopher, but I am a dedicated bibliophile. I store the books.
Several hundred of the books end up in boxes in my garage here in Siberia With a View, the containers unopened since they were sealed more than forty years ago. With duct tape.
I’ve opened one of the boxes and, beneath the notes, I find some of the books.
I remove the texts from the box and place them in the landfill pile in the bed of my 1994 GMC pickup. If my pals who work at the dump go through the books looking for interesting reading material, I’ll suggest they snag Wittgenstein — the Tractatus, not the Investigations, a dumbed-down version of the correspondence theory being within their reach. I’ll warn them to ignore Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, should they find it. I don’t want to further cloud their less-than-clear QAnon-ground lens.
Beneath the batch of exam texts in the box labeled “Miscellany-1980” I discover the magazine — an artifact from a time prior to my employment as the worst adjunct instructor of philosophy in the history of American higher education. A flicker from my final year as the worst student in the history of American higher education.
The magazine is titled “Collector’s Edition.”
I open it.
I find Lazlo.
The publication is the second, and last, of a student-produced, institution-financed “literary magazine” of which I am the purported editor.
As the purported editor, I decide what will go into the magazine, then fall aside, smoke a remarkable amount of Thai stick, eat a button or two of peyote, maintain a glittery waking dream state, and let talented and industrious underlings do the work. I am quite good at this.
This second “Collector’s Edition” is supposed to herald the growth of the college (then Metropolitan State College, in Denver) and its impending move to a “real” campus.
From its creation, to this point, the school has been a unique experiment, its classrooms and administration facilities stashed in commandeered commercial spaces, offices, and houses scattered throughout a seedy quarter just south of downtown Denver. It is a rough-around-the-edges, energetic, fertile place; there are no comfy dorms, no frat parties, no athletic teams. Students leave class and go off to drive cabs, sell drugs, wait tables, or work the swing shift at a mattress factory. A number of us go off to paint, sculpt, open seedy art galleries, and start offensive underground publications.
The move to a new campus, a “real” campus, signals the institution’s ascension in the Colorado higher ed hierarchy.
To me, and most of the “Collector’s Edition” staff members, the ascension means the end of a grand era, the death of a rogue school peopled with misfits and misguided rascals, rejects, poets, painters, jokesters and junkies. And a gang of goofs studying what is generously labeled “Police Sciences.”
We are correct regarding the demise: today the school is a university. It is huge, plain, proper, and deadly boring. There are lawns, parking garages, and ball fields on campus.
Lazlo sees it coming.
Lazlo is a deranged character, like many of the students who attend Metro, and he is not happy as he ponders the pending changes. It’s rumored he spends hours alone in an unheated garret, writing and painting, eating nothing but Psilocybe semilanceata, Funions, and Romaine lettuce, while he constructs the Eatwat vision of what the school will become.
It is not a positive vision, it is a warning. Lazlo is a prophet, drugged, dehydrated, deranged, wailing in the wilderness.
Lazlo’s creation is accompanied by pen and ink renderings produced by the late, great Kip Farris — startling graphics that reject the Renaissance take on perspective, compositions crowded with crude images, arrows, stars, an abundance of exclamation points, babies’ bodies topped with gigantic, distorted heads, packs of drooling feral dogs, mutant reptiles, etc.
Lazlo designs the new campus, names the buildings after serial killers and local TV personalities. Farris draws a map of the campus.
Lazlo makes demands for shared bathrooms, and conceives of a nude-only, coed swimming pool — a “Nudonatatorium” — in which breast stroke lessons are offered throughout the day. He imagines a cafeteria that, once entered, is impossible to exit, but which serves a variety of delicious ethnic foods, free of charge. There are no restrooms available at the cafeteria. A small, “Drug Free Zone” is located behind the admin building. An isolated, single-story building on campus houses the Fascist Studies Department, with an unkempt parade ground behind the structure.
In a key diatribe, Lazlo serves up less-than-complimentary caricatures of the school’s president, its regents, the Colorado governor, and Denver’s mayor — the power mongers pushing for construction of the new campus. He claims that, following their strategy sessions, these luminaries engage in unsavory activities with young locker room attendants at the city’s most exclusive country club — practices that result in relief of physical and emotional tensions for the bigwigs, and economic favors granted to ensure the silence of the initially reluctant participants who undergo full-body hot wax treatments prior to degrading encounters with their overseers.
The magazine is put together to make it appear as if Lazlo enters the offices the night prior to the flats being sent to the printer, and inserts his pages in no meaningful order throughout the 75-page publication, some of the pages upside down, several set atop one another in such a way that the bottom page is largely obscured. There are dark fingerprints and unidentifiable stains on a number of the pages. Several pages appear to be spattered with blood.
Lazlo’s handiwork makes 15 appearances in the publication, his contributions scattered amidst sophomoric poems and pointless short stories submitted by lit majors, and earnest essays burnishing the school’s history and touting its golden future, some provided by ass-kissing members of the student council, others written by faculty and administration notables, one each by Denver’s mayor and the governor of the state. The fellows who roughly manipulate hairless locker room attendants at the country club.
The magazine is a spectacular mess, an artifact the crew at Cafe Voltaire in Zurich could appreciate.
But not the geeks who run the college.
When the magazine is released, an order to confiscate as many of the 10,000 copies as possible comes quickly from on high.
An investigation is ordered by the school’s president. A search is launched by the Dean of Arts and Humanities in an effort to find Lazlo Eatwat and punish the demented churl. Eatwat must be a student of the humanities, since no math or business administration student could be this disturbed. For sure he’s not a Police Sciences major.
Turns out, there is no record of Eatwat enrolling at the college. None of the enraged faculty members who march to the Dean’s office know Lazlo. They’ve heard stories about him, they’ve never seen him. Some stories have him partial to ruffled shirts and corduroy sport jackets with elbow patches. Others claim he smokes Cherry Blend tobacco in a meerschaum pipe, its bowl carved in the likeness of an Ottoman sultan. It’s said by some that Lazlo is missing a hand, the result of a bomb-making project gone wrong. Several reports have it that Eatwat is one of the last polio victims in the Denver area, his withered and heavily braced left leg dragged behind him as he attempts to scurry from one spot on campus to another, Metro’s Quasimodo.
Who is he? He must be found!
As the editor, I’m called before a committee comprising frustrated English professors, arrogant deans, and the prez himself. Criticism and demands are delivered at high volume, threats are made, coffee is spilled, my expulsion and denial of a degree discussed. How could I let this maniac slip his disgusting work into “our publication?”
Committee members exhaust their rage, adjourn for a catered lunch, and never reconvene. It is a tradition in Academia that, once a meeting is over and the pecking order is affirmed, nothing more need be done.
It is the last “literary magazine” funded by the college, and I leave with a degree.
Lazlo is remembered for a decade or so, with a coffee house in lower downtown Denver sporting a small sign tacked to the back wall: “Lazlo Eatwat sips here.” An arrow drawn on the sign points to a chair next to the door to the women’s restroom.
I need to tell this story to my grandsons, so it won’t be lost.
I’ll give them the copy of the magazine.
They can put it in a box, and store the box in a garage, the container sealed with duct tape.