Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect – #91

The college professor clicked a button and the photo appeared on the screen behind him. He addressed the class before him. “Today, we will learn about the variability of perception. How surfaces can inadvertently lie, which can then lead to lies maliciously surfacing. Tell me your first impressions. No editing. Go.”

Donnie, wearing a letter jacket that he didn’t actually earn and plunked in the first row because that’s where he always assumed he belonged: “Is that two guys, with one guy sitting on the other guy’s lap? That’s not right.”

Luna, sitting beside him, most likely due to limited seating-availability and not any birds-of-a-feather alignment, brushing away an annoying lock of vibrant red hair, bracelets jangling: “So what if it is two guys? Doesn’t bother me. Still, all I see is two good friends having a very intimate moment, sharing their thoughts.”

Darcie, continuously-selected cheerleader since junior high, Facebook page full of cute puppies available for adoption although she had never adopted any of them or been anywhere near a pet shelter: “They’re also sharing cigarettes, which is stupid. Smoking kills and they obviously don’t care about their health.”

Dianne, a few rows back and raspy-voiced: “Do you really want to get into a discussion about addiction? Because I will, but I’ll just politely say that it won’t be an equal fight. Judging by the lack of pores in your store-bought complexion, you’ve never had a bad day in your life.”

Professor: “Let’s not turn this into one of those horrid family reunions at Christmas. Focus on the photo.”

Brian, doing an Alfred Hitchcock: “I get the impression that one of the two has done something they shouldn’t have. Then again, I was raised in Oklahoma where guilt is a cornerstone of society.”

Belinda, backstory unknown because she had just transferred into the class and still had that aura of mystery to the other students: “Interesting that you should mention society. Maybe this photo has something to do with social breakdowns and a descent into savagery at an elite prep school, a sort of ‘Lord of the Flies’ except everybody has lots of money and personal servants. I’m a little confused by the rolled-up sleeves, though, as they imply physical labor of some kind, and we all know that most people with money these days didn’t actually do anything to get it.”

The rest of the class quietly reaches the conclusion that they don’t care for the new student, with her uppity way of appearing intelligent and making literary references. Sort of like “Lord of the Flies” but on a college campus.

Gregor, foreign exchange student: “In my home country, we never have enough chairs for all to sit. Perhaps is the case here, yes?”

Donnie: “Sounds like we should build a wall.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, surprising everyone by apparently pursuing an education: “Well, I agree with Donnie. We shouldn’t have to sit here and put up with pansies playing squat tag and foreigners trying to steal our furniture. I’m outraged!”

Professor: “Interesting. I’m outraged as well. To the point, Sarah, that you need to leave this classroom and plan on not coming back.”

Sarah, reading from her teleprompter: “You can’t do that! I have freedom of speech! This is fake news!”

Professor: “Of course you have freedom of speech. But what you fail to understand about the First Amendment, just like many people who cherry-pick the Constitution, is that freedom of speech only protects you from retribution by the government. It does not protect you from employers, the media, prosecution in civil courts, diversity agreements that you apparently signed without reading before attending this college, or any decent person who wants to call you out for being a blithering fool.”

Sarah: “Donnie! I’m saying exactly what you told me to say. Help me out here!”

Donnie, finishing up his latest tweet before responding: “Disposable Underling, I’ll get back to you after I review the latest polls and figure out what crap I need to say to keep my core-base of sheep in line. Say hi to all the other people who were forced out of my administration because I have the loyalty of a gnat. I’d tell you their names but they weren’t here long enough for me to learn them.”

Sarah: “This is discrimination, Professor and Mary Ann! Donnie is saying the same things as me and you aren’t making him leave.”

Professor: “At this point, the only thing that can remove Donnie is Congress. You, however, are not an elected official, which makes your loyalty to the gnat even more baffling. Good day.”

Sarah made a huffing noise, threw her notepad into her Ivanka Trump backpack, marched out the door, left the building, and promptly joined Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes.

Professor: “Okay, folks. Judging by my watch, which I no longer really trust because the best and brightest in our nation can’t even figure out how to secure the Internet, let me wrap things up. The photo is a shot of Klaus and Erika Mann, son and daughter of Thomas Mann, a prolific German writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. As a side note, Thomas wrote “Death in Venice”, an intriguing piece that, most likely but vaguely, did involve one man sitting on another man’s lap. Look it up, people. Broaden your horizons, even if you live in Kansas.”

In any case, Thomas Mann and his family eventually emigrated to the United States in 1939 to avoid persecution by the Nazis, which he vehemently opposed. He then spent considerable time railing against the fascism of Adolph Hitler and his yes-sir legion of Sarah Huckabees, Cabinet officials, governors of firmly-red States, and all the Vladimir Putins that Adolph slept with but pretended to not recognize the next morning.”

Luna: “So, basically, what you’re suggesting is ‘Lord of the Flies’, but set in modern-day Washington, D.C.”

Professor: “I won’t discourage that analogy. But the whole purpose of today’s lesson is to point out that so many of us, including me, try to force our own values into the images that we see, instead of letting those images make us yearn to learn. There is always more going on than we realize, and basic decency requires that we should never assume we know the beginning or end of someone else’s story.”



17 replies »

  1. Liked this, obviously didn’t get all the “in-house” references/names. (I don’t watch or listen to the news – my choice is to be, mostly, blissfully happy without it – when the “it’ hits, at least I won’t have angsted about it for ages beforehand – your mileage may vary!)
    We shouldn’t judge. We all do. Some of us try harder than others not too. We are all evolving. try to be kind if you can.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Loved the Lord of the Flies references … I too would not discourage the second one. Death in Venice is a masterpiece in my opinion but I hope I am humble enough to accept that my opinion is simply that. None of us should foist our values on others however laudable they may be … suggestion is quite different to demand, after all. The picture just said beautiful to me. Two people caught in a moment of happiness. We should bottle those moments. And we should never, EVER assume. Lord of the Flies with servants …. please do write it, just please 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Death in Venice” is wonderful, both the novel and the film. (Dirk Bogarde’s finest acting hour? Quite possibly.) The two are different but mesmerizing animals. (Trivia: Warner Brothers almost didn’t release the film in the United States, justifiably concerned that Americans would not appreciate the subject matter. They changed their minds after Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anne attended the premiere in London.)

      As for the photo, I fell in love the first time I stumbled across it. There is just so much quiet intimacy about it that you can easily fall into the frame and imagine what led to this moment, which indirectly led to this post. For the record (you may know this) Klaus and Erika (and I believe two other siblings) went on to become noted writers as well. Sounds like a wonderful environment. The family that writes together…

      Liked by 1 person

      • So you will not be at all surprised that I share your love of ‘Death in Venice’ …. the novel and the film. I did not know that nugget of trivia. How I love that Betty and Anne unwittingly allowed America to see it. My own piece of trivia … Bogarde lived for many years in Hertfordshire very close to my Grandmother’s house. She was fond of him. His had high walls and grand gates and I was captivated by the notion that I might see him (and Anthony whom Granny also spoke of very openly and warmly … she was an extraordinary woman who refused to engage in bigotry of any flavour – she would be 120 years old this year if I had been able to preserve her forever as I so longed to). I saw him only once. He bought greengages from the garden for Granny, shook my 10-year old hand and admired my frock. I was overwhelmed, I remember and didn’t wash the hand until supper time when Granny said ‘washing doesn’t take away a touch’. Looking back, I imagine he must have been making or at least reading DIV almost exactly then. Of course at that age it was the Doctor films that made me swoon. I must be honest about this!

        The Mann family are a fascinating study … what a wonderful way to live *sigh*

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Huh. Em, sitting behind Donnie and feeling whiny because she cannot EVER see through that faux hair piece that fools no one, but which Donnie insists is real. There are evil plans afoot involving head lice and the application of super glue. Em is startled. That’s a picture of SIBLINGS? Gender non-relevant. She is reminded of a really cute meme she found on Facebook, while strenuously avoiding Darcie’s page, even though the puppies are incredibly cute. Em is not into social constructs. The meme read “Everyone is fighting a secret battle of their own that the world knows nothing about.” She ponders the fact that judgment is so over-rated and labeling (profiling – let us be honest here) is something she leaves to mini-minds like Donnie and his minions. Em is further startled because she was of the opinion that the photo was of a teenager gazing, as teenagers are wont to do, into a mirror. In the throes of self-love and narcissism that won’t be replicated at any future time in their lives. Sort of like “Lord of the Flies”, even though Em never got past page 39 in that book. The ill will she bore the main character bordered on psychotic and a firm desire to murder the little bastard, even if he was merely fiction.
    She now has to go find a used Kindle copy of “Death in Venice” and find out what all the fuss about people sitting on laps is about. I mean a seat is a seat is a seat, right? Just ask Donnie…who is shortly to be voted off the Island. The Professor and MaryAnn were in total accord on that one, even though the Howells didn’t agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This comment is absolutely stellar, and I moved it to my “Save this Now!” folder before I even finished reading it. You hit so many high points with this one. (Not that you normally don’t, please refrain from taking it that way.) It was just one solid whack after another, the best way to write. And the cherry on top? You zoomed in on the Professor and MaryAnn reference, a toss-away that some might not notice but is actually one of my favorite bits in this piece. I have an alarmingly-wide grin on my face right now… 😉


  4. “…surprising everyone by apparently pursuing an education” — that line had me guffawing, and I rarely guffaw.
    Professor Brian, I am in awe of your masterful approach to teaching. You use humor to lead us in, then catch us with a relevant twist. It was lovely, through and through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thanks so much. I’m not so sure about masterful, but I’m a firm believer that one should engage first, build a tentative but comfortable bridge (ergo La Humor, as you noted) with an appetizer or two of giggles, and then gently slip in the main entree, usually in a covered dish that you don’t reveal until the timing is right. I don’t always get the recipe right, with my tendency to choose especially ripe ingredients, but if I carefully monitor the simmering and don’t let things scorch, hopefully everyone will enjoy the meal…

      Liked by 1 person

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