Professor Shipley

Required reading for the English major.

I will never forget Professor Shipley. I met him at UIC when I was taking English classes.

UIC didn’t offer any journalism courses, so I took creative writing courses and ended up majoring in English. I loved taking literature courses because I really felt that I would learn to be a writer by studying the great writers. During my second quarter at UIC, I took an interesting British literature course Professor David Spur where all my classmates and I would try to sit in the front row, in the center. Professor Spur made the class very interesting. I usually would beat everyone to the class and get to sit in the first row, although not always in the center. The class before ours would end promptly ten minutes before the hour and I would have time to sit down, review the assigned readings, and relax for a few minutes before our class began.

After I settled down to my pre-class ritual, I noticed that the professor, Professor Shipley, for that was his name, from the previous class was still there until almost the minute when our class started. Students would continue the class discussion with him for as long as possible. He was an elderly gentleman with distinguished gray hair and reddish beard with some gray. He wore a tie and earth-tone sport-coats with elbow patches. And he always put on his hat before he left the classroom. Occasionally, Professor Shipley didn’t have students detaining him with questions or comments about the class readings. But he would take his time to pack all his notes and books into his brown leather accordion briefcase. He always smiled and looked very friendly.

One day, I smiled as I watched him pack up. He smiled back. He wanted to know why I was so early for class. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that he was actually running late that day. After a while, we always greeted each other and we usually engaged in small talk. I asked him what he taught and he told me Swift, Dryden, and Pope. I was intrigued. I had read plenty of Swift and a little of Pope on my own, but Dryden scared me a little.

The next semester, I enrolled in Professor Shipley’s survey course of British literature based solely on my conversations with him. He was a very interesting lecturer who never bored me, or the class for that matter. He had such a friendly demeanor. In fact, everyone in the class loved him! He commanded such respect. And he was thoroughly knowledgeable about the British literature he taught.

My memory of the class is very hazy now when I try to think back to those days. However, two events do stand out from memories of that class. The first one involved a paper we had to write. I don’t even remember the topic. Sometimes before class, we would sit on the floor in the hallway discussing the readings. Some students would get there at least thirty minutes early and we would have some very good discussions. One day, we were talking about the paper that we were about to turn in that morning. Suddenly, one classmate jumped up and said, “What? There’s a paper due today?” He had forgotten all about it. He told us to leave him alone so he could write the paper before class started. We all stared at him in amazement as he scribbled furiously into his spiral notebook. When everyone turned in their neatly typewritten papers, he asked Professor Shipley if he would accept his paper even if it was  handwritten. Professor Shipley was nice enough to accept it as is. The next class, Professor Shipley returned our papers. Occasionally, professors like to read from a student’s paper that demonstrates exemplary writing and critical analysis. Well, he read from the only paper in the class handwritten on lined paper ripped from a spiral notebook. My classmates and I were all amazed at the high quality of the paper because we watched him write it while he was sitting in the hallway before class. He received a well-deserved A.

The other incident I remember always makes me laugh. We were reading Dryden’s “The Dunciad” in class and he really taught me to find the humor and satire of the poem. One day, Professor Shipley announced that he had a special treat for us. Well, we were all excited because he totally caught us off guard. He had never given us any sort of special treat before. So, he opens his brown leather accordion briefcase and pulls a small book in a plastic baggy. He announces, “I have a first edition book of poetry by John Dryden!” Maybe most of the class was a little nerdy, but we all looked at that book in awe. Professor Shipley slowly opened the bag. With tenderness, he took out the book and carefully opened it. Suddenly, the books started falling apart–actually it was disintegrating! I was reminded of the scene from the movie The Time Machine when they find the last existing books on Earth and when they open them they disintegrate. Professor Shipley stared in disbelief. “Oh!” he said and put the remains of the book back into the baggy.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A rose for you, on Mother's Day.

Happy Mother’s Day! Yes, you! I may not even know you, but if you’re a mother, Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers past, present, expectant, and future! That about covers everyone. But especially to all the mother’s I know, Happy Mother’s Day!!! On Mother’s Day we celebrate our mothers and all they’ve done for us. Happy Mother’s Day!

End of the line

My antique telephones.

Sometimes milestones become tombstones. And so I say good riddance to my home phone! We have reached the end of an era!

Would you like to call me at home? Well, you can’t! At least, not on my land-line. You see, I finally cancelled my home phone service now that I totally rely on my iPhone for all of my telephone communications–not that I make or receive that many phone calls in the first place. This archaic device is slowly disappearing from homes across America. I reluctantly surrendered my land-line, but I knew I must. I have cut my umbilical cord. I am no longer tethered to my home. I am now free to roam about the world!

I’ve been paying for my home phone service for years now even though the only people who call me are telemarketers and collection agencies. And they are persistent! I still don’t understand why the telemarketers called if I never answered their survey or bought their products. Equally annoying were the collection agencies calling for Calvin Thomas or Thomas Calvin. Apparently he gave my home phone number as his and everyone believed he lived with me. I always told the caller that he didn’t live here, but they always called back.

I must admit that I never was much of a phone person in the first place. I hate talking on the phone and I hate being on the listening end of a long diatribe even more. The best way to contact me is via e-mail or Facebook. I dread the sound of a ringing telephone. Usually, it rings at the most inconvenient time, like when I’m in the shower or otherwise busy. When I had my apartment in Marquette Park, I went for about a year without a phone. I really enjoyed the privacy. If someone wanted to talk to me, they would have to physically visit me at my apartment. The advantage of this arrangement was that I got to see who my true friends were.

Unfortunately, everyone demanded that I have a home telephone in order to conduct business with me. My job, my bank, my credit cards, the utility companies, and even my newspaper. No phone number, no service. So I caved in and got a phone with minimal service. Yes, it killed me to pay five bucks per month to Illinois Bell for a service I didn’t even want in the first place. When the federal government broke up the Baby Bell monopoly, my phone bill immediately doubled for the same service I didn’t want in the first place. So how was the monopoly bad? I still don’t get it.

Well, I’m not exactly happy with my cell phone service either. It’s more expensive than a comparable land-line, where all incoming calls were free. Now I’m charged for all outgoing and incoming calls! And I pay much, much more just for the basic service. How is this progress? Thank goodness for the vibrant competition among the phone carriers! Who knows how much more I’d be paying otherwise!

So, everyone seems to be accepting this shift from land-lines to cell phones. When I conduct business, everyone asks for my cell phone number. They don’t even care if I have a land-line or not. So, I now only have a cell phone. But please don’t call me. E-mail me!

And so it goes

St. Mary Cemetery, Evergreen Park, Illinois

I went to WhirlyBall with my son Adam for his eighth grade outing. Adam was all excited about this trip because he’s graduating from grade school this year. Well, I’m excited, too, if you must know.

We met in the Most Holy Redeemer Church parking lot. The bus ride was a boisterous event for all the eighth graders because they’re graduating very soon–but not soon enough for them. This would be an evening of WhirlyBall and all the pizza we could eat and all the pop we could drink.

WhirlyBall is a game like lacrosse or polo, but it’s played in bumper cars. All the kids were excited about playing WhirlyBall and so were some of the parents. Me? I had never even heard of WhirlyBall before. But I like to be open-minded and try new things. I actually had no choice. Adam made sure I went out and played. He also made sure I had plenty of pizza to eat and pop to drink. He insisted that I drink a beer from the bar, but I didn’t want to drink and drive the very first time I played WhirlyBall.

The father who organized the outing made up schedules so that everyone would have a chance to play. I was impressed with his organizational skills–something I sadly lack. He had all the eighth graders playing each other in every combination possible on one court and the parents playing on the other. For the last hour, parents and their eighth graders would play on the same team. An elaborate set of brackets was designed for a tournament in which one team would be victorious and be awarded a special prize.

Well, we played exactly one match of the bracket when the tournament came to a screeching halt. I wasn’t sure why the next match wasn’t starting, so I started walking back to the organizer. I saw an eighth grade boy walking to a corner table. Then, I noticed he was crying. As I entered the main party room, everyone was very quiet. Adam told me that one eighth grader’s mother, Mrs. Menke, had just died. All the eighth grade girls had gathered together and started crying. About half of the boys were crying. Many of the mothers were also crying because they knew Mrs. Menke, or Patty as they called her. The organizer made a brief announcement about the death and then led the group in a short prayer. I had no idea that she was sick and that she was expected to die.

Needless to say, no more WhirlyBall was played. No one was in the mood to play WhirlyBall anymore. We soon boarded the buses and headed back to Most Holy Redeemer. The bus was very quiet. So quiet that I was afraid to ask Adam more details about Mrs. Menke’s death. He told me that she had thyroid cancer and that the doctors said she would die very soon. That’s why her son didn’t come on this outing. She only weighed about fifty pounds when she died. When we were about halfway back, one of the parents made the announcement that we would return to the church for a short service.

The eighth graders had the day off from school for the funeral, but any student who wanted to attend the funeral could also take the day off. I went to the funeral with my sons Adam and Alex. I didn’t actually know Mrs. Menke, but I always saw her at school activities. I felt that I should go to the funeral to be with my sons who were affected by her death. The church was full of family, friends, students and teachers from Most Holy Redeemer and Brother Rice High School, where she taught. The church was quite full. The funeral procession was also very long for the short drive to St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park. Her whole life seemed to revolve around Evergreen Park and according to the speakers at the funeral mass she was very happy. Unfortunately, her life ended at age 47.

The funeral is a ceremony to honor and to pray for the deceased. But funerals are also for the living, to remind us that you and I must also go the way of all flesh. So live each day as if it were your last.