Jethro Woodruff: In Memoriam

 

By Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

July, 2016

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

¡°I tell you Paul, they whooped my ass up there in New Haven and Ann Arbor. I mean for the first time in my academic career I got my ass whooped. Devastated. Just blown to pieces. There was this one professor on my doctoral committee at Michigan who had it in for me in a real bad way, like it was a matter of honor and a preservation of tradition for him to run me through the gauntlet time and time again, until I was transformed and trans-mutated into a mental jellyfish, really on the verge of a serious mental breakdown as I struggled to earn my degree, the Doctor of Musical Arts from The University of Michigan. So believe me Paul, I can empathize with your fictional accounts of life as a graduate student at The University of Chicago. Anyone who knows anything about American universities, and by the way, it is surprising how many people here in South Korea, including both our Korean students and colleagues, as well as many of the Canadians and Filipinos and others from overseas, it is surprising and frustrating, depressing really to notice how many of them haven¡¯t a clue about what it takes to achieve what you and I have achieved. Fortunately those of us ¡°in the know¡± who ¡°know¡± precisely because we are ¡°in the know¡± understand just how rigorous schools like Yale and Michigan are, and especially how difficult the graduate programs are at those schools and schools like them. I know you can understand me about this my brother, because let me tell you Paul, Chicago, that place ain¡¯t no joke. I mean they don¡¯t play at The University of Chicago, even though I also know regrettably that half of our colleagues here in the English Department have never heard of the place. Noble prizes coming out of their ears and the first sustained nuclear chain reaction to usher us into the nuclear age and these yokels over here in Gyeongju have no inkling about why you and I are so proud even though they whooped our asses in graduate school.¡±

 

             A usual, my colleague and friend Jethro Woodruff had delved right into the heart of the matter, as he was so often prone to do, and we found ourselves again, in that spirit of camaraderie sufficient to enable us to laugh at ourselves when we viewed ourselves from the clearer perspective, the bright rays of light and understanding which only hindsight made possible. We were eating lunch in the Building Four cafeteria, Jethro devouring his don gas or fried pork cutlet without much tact or table manners, while I was making do with a bagel and cream cheese alongside an ice coffee hazelnut which one of my favorites among the non-academic staff at the university, the sunny and kind Gracie Coffee Shop ajumma had once again prepared for me with a bright and welcoming smile. All around us were Korean university students eating their lunch in the university cafeteria, a lunch which I could not partake in because as a Jew I did my best to avoid pork, and this in a country where it seemed they included the forbidden meat in almost every meal, an exaggeration I know, but one which only reflects the difficulty I faced in my attempts to lead an authentic Jewish life in a land where my people are very few in number. Indeed I was almost twice again a weiguksaram, that is to say a foreigner here. I was foreign to the Koreans because to them I was just another English instructor from the West, and I was foreign once again to my colleagues because a significant number of them, and especially the Filipinos, Indians, and even more than a few of the Canadians who were raised up in parts of the great white north where people like me were sparse in number, had never actually befriended or even met a real live Jew in person.

 

             A few of them had actually approached me as I sat reading at my desk in our shared office, in order to examine my closely shaven head, looking for some sign of horns. Apparently that age old anti-Semitic belief that Jews are an evil and duplicitous people, spawn of devil himself, continued to persist, even in that bastion of peace and progressive moderation, Canada oh Canada. Even one of my good Canadian friends on the faculty, a bright guy with an unfortunate proclivity while we talked shop and politics in the office, to launch into lengthy left-wing diatribes excoriating American foreign policy, had confided to me that while he was growing up in a small town in British Columbia, his fundamentalist Christian mother had warned him never to trust a Jew. For some reason we had establish a kind of personal connection and affinity for one another, in spite of the deeply ingrained prejudices from his childhood which, to his credit, I will concede he strove to overcome as an adult. I politely played audience to his convoluted conspiracy theory ridden lectures which tested my patience both as an American and as an academic who had no small amount of training in the rigors of social science methodology and the consequent high standards required for any theory, harebrained or not, to qualify as a semblance of the truth.

 

             And how they did like to talk, all of these Canadian progressives. I thought the source and origin of their loquacious nature might be due to the harsh Canadian climate. I reasoned that perhaps it was so cold in Canada, especially during the bitter Canadian winter, that there was not much else to do other than sit around the hearth place and talk and talk and talk some more because it was simply too cold outside to venture out of doors and do something else. So I was convinced it was a collective case of national cabin fever that was the reason why my Canadian friends at the university were constantly flapping their gums in the office, while I, out of sheer politeness, did my best to appear to be listening and interested. I was deeply troubled by the irrational conspiracy theories because I remained a proud American even though I had lived abroad for more than eight years out of the last twenty, earning my living in the English teaching racket.

 

             Jethro explained to me why he could identify with many of our Canadian colleagues, in particular with the ones who had grown up in the rural isolation of some of Canada¡¯s more sparsely populated provinces.

 

             ¡°I have to tell you Paul,¡± Jethro said as he continued to work on the pork cutlet. ¡°I can relate to some of our Canadian friends, even the ones constantly spinning conspiracy theories in the office all day long, only to do so with even less restraint and more reckless abandon and passion and overbearing enthusiasm when half knocked out drunk on soju and beer at the local hoff bar or kalbi sal barbecued beef restaurant. They remind me of the kind of people I grew up with in rural Mississippi. A Chicago intellectual like yourself might dismiss them as just an ordinary bunch of ignorant hicks and rednecks, and you might be right to do so. But that was the social milieu in which I was raised, among my buddies from my hometown, and later in college at my alma mater, Ole Miss, the flagship state university of the state of Mississippi. The deep South and its racially complicated social environment was the atmosphere which I inhaled so to speak during the entirety of my youth, and Mississippi was what formed and shaped me into the person I am today, so I will always remember the good old boys with great fondness and nostalgia, even though it was always my desire, even at a very young age, to escape the provincialism and inward looking setting of all of those black hicks and rednecks from my hometown, almost as if I was trying to escape and extricate myself from the pages of a Faulkner novel. That was the reason why I worked so hard in the Department of Classical Music at Ole Miss, practicing on my bassoon day and night, with the same kind of religious fervor your Ashkenazi ancestors in Europe devoted to the study of Torah and Talmud. I knew I had to escape and find something different for myself, make something better of myself, and create a life more sophisticated, cultured, elevated. I was not content with my origins in little old Beaumont, Mississippi, so I set my sights on New Haven. After I earned my masters from Yale, Michigan offered me a generous fellowship and so I continued on with my bassoon in Ann Arbor. That bassoon, my precious horn, was my ticket to the world of cultured sophistication I longed to join, even though deep down inside I continued to see myself as nothing more than that same old dumb hick black boy I had tried so hard to leave behind from the earliest days of my childhood and adolescence. Fortunately I had been blessed with God given natural talent for that horn, and that in combination with the requisite amount of hard work and determination, something which the public intellectuals writing the op-eds in the New York Times have been recently writing about as ¡°grit¡±, I used my horn as the vehicle which enabled me to escape Beaumont. I did it all in order to immerse myself in the cerebral climate and atmosphere of two of the top universities in the United States.¡±

 

             ¡°All the same, deep down inside I could not shake off Beaumont. I felt I was, even while working assiduously on classical symphonies from the likes of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, that same old dumb hick Mississippi nigger I had always been. Maybe that was why I took all of the criticisms at Yale and Michigan so personally, why anytime I was faced with the tiniest rejection or critique, I felt like the tenured elite had singled me out to whoop my ass like it ain¡¯t never been whooped before. But I persevered, meeting the struggle with all of the fortitude and courage which my pappy had instilled in me from the earliest days of my childhood when he drove me miles and miles, in his old beat-up Ford pickup truck, from our isolated hometown to a bigger town where he paid for my music lessons with the money that was hard earned on the farm. So I earned my degrees fair and square and I today sit before you in this cafeteria in a university in South Korea, literally on the other side of the earth from Beaumont, simultaneously a proud man with my elite doctorate and that same old dumb hick black boy I have always been and will always be.¡±

 

             ¡°So back to the issue of our friends from the great white north, these Cannuks who seem to flock to South Korea in vast numbers due to the less than ideal job prospects for educators in Canada. I can relate to these Canadians, especially the ones from the rural provinces because by some strange coincidence of what are in a way similar circumstances and origins, so many of our Canadian friends remind me of all of those Beaumont hicks I grew up with back home in Mississippi. Why, I can imagine that right now this very minute there are whole groups of them back in Canada, standing around the marketplaces in rural Ontario enthusiastically discussing the price of apples. Right this very moment as I speak, in the fishing villages of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the old fishermen are cleaning their boats with water hoses and loitering around the docks talking about the price of cod. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the great North American continent, on the Pacific coast, the people of northern British Columbia are eagerly discoursing over the market price of fresh crab meat. This is why I understand our Canadian friends, who, in spite of their masters degrees and PhDs in applied linguistics, I view fondly as so much like this sad old black boy, Jethro Woodruff, talking to you here in Gyeongju, South Korea, so many miles away from Beaumont and Old Miss and Yale and Michigan and everything and everyplace and person who has made me what I am today.¡±

 

             ¡°Go get yourself a wet cloth Jethro,¡± I said interrupting him as he related his personal tale. ¡°Your clean white dress shirt is splattered with don gas sauce. You had better wipe it off with a wet cloth or napkin before it leaves a permanent stain on your shirt.¡±

 

             ¡°Damn hick slob that I am,¡± Jethro nearly shouted in exasperation. ¡°I can¡¯t tell you how many shirts I¡¯ve ruined this semester because I feed on this don gas like an old Beaumont hog feeds on slop. Oh damn it all to blazes.¡±

 

             ¡°That would qualify, I think, as a strange case of modern day cannibalism,¡± I said dryly in my best dead pan manner. ¡°You, a Beaumont hog eating another hog in the form of a pork cutlet. I do not believe I could ever dream up a meal less kosher than that; one hog too eagerly devouring another, tref consuming tref in a manner that I would have to consider to be exponentially unclean.¡±

 

             ¡°Ha!¡± Jethro nearly shouted at me. ¡°Always have admired you Paul for your attempts to maintain and keep alive your distinctive culture and traditions, even while you reside so far away from your roots back home in Chicago. I think I will have to take this shirt to the dry cleaners again and see if the ajumma there can¡¯t get the stain out.¡±

 

             Jethro stood up out of his seat at the table in the cafeteria, about to go and try to find himself a wet cloth, when all of a sudden, before he had fully risen from his seat, a smiling young female student who was an attractive junior in the culinary arts program at the university, approached Jethro with a wet napkin in her hand. Apparently she and her friends eating lunch at a table near the two of us had been following our discussion closely, listening carefully to our conversation and trying to piece together its purpose and sense from the insurmountable riddles of meaning our idiomatic expressions posed for the students. The one with the wet napkin, without the fear or timidity that our more typical students habitually exhibited when interacting with we English professors, approached Jethro and immediately, without asking permission first, began to try to rub out the stain, all the while smiling and cheerfully saying to him, ¡°Please allow me to help you.¡±

 

             ¡°Well now, thank you kindly,¡± said Jethro, chuckling with his both hands raised awkwardly in the air to avoid contact with the student while she went to work on his shirt.

 

             ¡°Don¡¯t worry about it,¡± laughed the student. ¡°We culinary arts students are always getting stains on our cooking aprons and uniforms, so we must do like this all of the time. Do you like don gas professor? How is your think about our Korean food?¡±

 

             ¡°I absolutely love Korean food,¡± Jethro answered. ¡°Unfortunately, I also tend to get more of it on my clothing than in mouth. But Korean food is so healthy, and I am always amazed at how many Koreans, with a kind of self-discipline and regularity which we in the West have long ago lost in our hectic, helter-skelter, faced paced world of the twenty-first century, eat three square meals a day, every day without fail. In Korea it is every day breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If a Korean misses or skips even one of these meals, the entire rest of the day is thrown off kilter.¡±

 

             ¡°Ha! You are right,¡± the student agreed as she finished wiping the stain off of Jethro¡¯s shirt. ¡°I need three good meals a day, every day, or I lose my energy. But I think more and more people here in our Korea are nowadays eating on the run like the Americans do. I think it is a shame how our Koreans are losing our culture and traditions, as technology, the media, and globalization propel us through the modern world. I think perhaps one of your students or Korean friends has explained to you all about how we Koreans like to say ¡®Bali. Bali. Bali.¡¯ This means ¡®Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.¡¯ ¡®Fast. Fast. Fast.¡¯ and ¡®Quick. Quick. Quick.¡¯ And nowadays, I regret to inform you, this faster pace of life is eroding our traditions right before our eyes.¡±

 

             ¡°Well now,¡± said Jethro, greatly interested in what this student had to say. ¡°Isn¡¯t that something to think about and a mouthful of English to digest and consider carefully. Young lady, your English is excellent, far superior to that of the typical student at this university. As I said, it was a mouthful of English, while my mouthful always seems to land somewhere on my shirt or tie, or else in my lap. Thank you for your assistance with the stain. I think you have done all you could now and I will have to hope that the ajumma at the dry cleaners can take care of the rest.¡±

 

             ¡°No problem Professor. Don¡¯t worry. Be happy,¡± the student said cheerfully. ¡°Before I return to my friends and my lunch, I just want to ask you one question. I study culinary arts here at the university, and I am very interested in Western cuisine. Please tell me Professor, what is your favorite Korean food that reminds you of the traditional Western food people eat regularly in your home country?¡±

 

             ¡°That is an easy question,¡± answered Jethro. ¡°My hometown in the United States is in the state of Mississippi. In the deep South one of our traditional foods is southern fried chicken. Now I know from talking about it with my students in class, that you students like to stay up late with your friends and drink beer and soju and get all wild and crazy like college students are prone to do, while eating fried chicken from one of the innumerable fried chicken restaurants near the campus. I want you to know that I, as a native Mississippian, born and bred in the deep South, think that you Koreans do a fine job with that chicken of yours. It seems authentic to me and tastes as good as any I have ever eaten back home.¡±

 

             ¡°Oh wonderful,¡± laughed the student. ¡°I will make certain I learn how to fry chickens in my Western food cooking class. I will ask my Korean culinary arts professor to include chicken frying techniques and skills on his syllabus and I will learn how to fry chickens perfectly as they do in that place you talked about a minute ago where you grew up. What was it? Where is it? Mississippilli or Misspissillipilly? Have a nice day Professor, and try to be more careful with your don gas. That looks like an expensive shirt you are wearing, so you had better not ruin it.¡±

 

The student left us as Jethro and I talked briefly in a spirit of jest about which fried chicken joint was the best in Chunhyodong, the residential neighborhood where a significant number of the students and English faculty resided. While the student returned to her table where she and her friends laughed and giggled eagerly about the two of us, Jethro and me, I told him I was sure BBQ Chicken was the best fried chicken joint near campus. He told me he disagreed; trying to convince me that a chicken hoff or bar called Mexicali Chicken was the most authentic and tasted more like the real thing he was used to from back home.

 

While we were talking and laughing about the fried chicken craze in South Korea, another foreign faculty member, Luther Martin, the former engineer turned evangelist, missionary, and English professor, approached us in the cafeteria with a scornful scowl on his face. For the better part of the past three semesters Luther had been on our case, Jethro¡¯s and mine, with all manner of outrageously slanderous skepticism concerning our academic credentials. Luther had time and again accused the two of us, Jethro and me, of padding our resumes. So incredulous was he concerning our credentials and qualifications, he even went so far as to claim I had never attended The University of Illinois and The University of Chicago, and that likewise Jethro had never attended Yale or Michigan. In his opinion we were deceiving the university, our students, and the entire faculty here, and he spread a rumor that I had never in my life lived in my beloved hometown, Chicago. A significant group among the English Department¡¯s faculty had taken sides with Luther who had convinced this coterie of followers and sycophants to distrust us. These skeptics believed Luther rather than Jethro and me because they thought that Luther, a religious missionary, was more to be trusted, so captivated and carried away from logic and reason as they were by his self-righteous claims of credulity, substantiated in their misled minds by all manner of Luther¡¯s outrageous, ridiculous, even laughable accusations against us and our purportedly fake and manufactured credentials.

 

The worst part about all of this was that no matter how much concrete and legally admissible evidence we presented to them in order prove the veracity of our claims and credentials, they never completely discarded their skepticism and doubts concerning our backgrounds. We tried our best to win them over to our side, presenting them with our passports, transcripts, degrees, glowing recommendations from previous employers, financial documentation and tax forms, mortgage documents, and the phone numbers and Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of at least a hundred or more eyewitness to the facts who grew up with us or who had attended college and graduate school with us. Unfortunately we were left frustrated in our sincere attempts to set the record straight, because their faith in the evangelist was strong and because the regrettable fact was that there were in fact more than a few English instructors here in South Korea who had faked their credentials. Who could blame them for the false accusations they leveled against us when the two of us knew full well that it is not every day of the week that you meet people with credentials like ours in what I referred to before as the English teaching racket? Consequently Jethro and I always tried to do our best to remain polite, calm, and patient when defending ourselves, even though it was terribly frustrating and even depressing how so many of our colleagues, including our superiors in the university administration, fell in line behind the evangelist. They all seemed to dismiss our evidence out of hand, claiming it was all part of an elaborately conceived ruse, all of the documentation and contacts on social media in reality faked and manufactured in some inexplicable manner by the two of us who were in their minds, clouded as they were by conspiracy theories and unwavering faith in the missionary Luther Martin, nothing more than a pair of criminals and con men.

 

             Time and again when we tried our best to convince Luther and his adherents that we were telling them the truth, our conversations with this cynic and his cohort of loyal fanatics existed somewhere on the borderline between insane and profoundly stupid. Not only, according to Luther and his disciples, had we lied on our CVs and resumes, but they promulgated a number of equally troubling falsehood about us. The rumors spread like wildfire and they were all talking about how we were engaged in all manner of inappropriate sexual liaisons with female students, even fraternizing without shame on campus with the aforesaid students. They falsely claimed we had been spotted drinking soju in excess on campus between our classes, and that we smoked marijuana in our free time. None of these accusations were valid of course. I tried my best to remain calm and professional when I carefully and painstakingly countered each accusation with my incontrovertible proof and evidence. However, I was particularly infuriated by the false rumors that I was cheating on my Korean wife by sleeping with my students. After all, one of the chief reasons why I had left my tenured position teaching history and social studies in a prestigious high school for gifted students back in Chicago, why I had sold my beautiful Lincoln Square full-gut rehabbed condo with its beautiful hardwood floors and granite counter tops in the kitchen, was to enable my Korean wife Suji to live closer to her family. I must confess that in spite of the fact that I am a religious and peaceful man in my own manner, I more than once seriously contemplated punching Luther Martin square in the face when he or one of his fanatics leveled a particularly outrageous and offensive accusation against me. For some reason I always managed to keep my cool and remain calm, in no small way because I had already lived for over twenty years with my University of Chicago degree, and I was used to facing the resentment of the countless people in the various places and stages I had passed through in my adult life, who like Luther Martin and his followers, were positively green with envy.

 

             Eventually all of them, Luther and his apostles and the rest of the skeptical ones in the English Department and the administration, they all of them came around to seeing things our way. This we knew was due to the consistent and self-disciplined manner in which we maintained our claims to truth and honor with dignity and perseverance, the same way in fact that we had earned our esteemed degrees so many years before. I even, in a spirit of empathy and forgiveness, came to view Luther, who was not a bad English instructor and a man as loquacious in conversation as so many of my Canadian colleagues, as a trusted friend. But on the particular day described here when Luther with his scornful scowl approached Jethro and me in the Building Four cafeteria, he remained unconvinced of the legitimacy of our claims to honor.

 

             ¡°Jethro Woodruff,¡± Luther said reprovingly, ¡°What were you doing with that female student a few minutes ago? I spotted the two of you from across the cafeteria and your interaction with that female student looked like inappropriate contact between a faculty member and an undergraduate. I am of a mind to report this severe infraction of the university discipline code and all manner of professional ethics to the Dean of the English Department. Jethro, you better be able to explain what I just witnessed here or be ready to face the consequences if you cannot.¡±

 

             The two of us, Jethro and I tried to explain what had happened with the student and the don gas stain on Jethro¡¯s shirt. We told Luther the student was only trying to be kind and helpful, but there was no convincing Luther. At that particular point in time, Luther Martin had yet to be moved and convinced by the overwhelming amount of irrefutable evidence of our identities and academic credentials we had painstakingly offered over a period of time amounting to almost two years. He had yet to concede to us the victory we had earned, to formally acknowledge the rightfulness of our claims, so he continued to lambast Jethro for the purportedly inappropriate contact with the female student.

 

             Suddenly, Luther switched gears without warning and began to level his accusations against me, the same convoluted, ridiculous, even laughable canards he had been relying upon for the last two years to ¡°prove¡± that I was lying about my origins, had never attended The University of Chicago, and furthermore had never even set foot in that beloved city, my birthplace and hometown, Chicago and its southern suburbs.

 

             ¡°Tell me again Paul,¡± he said in an effort to reveal my purported mendacity, ¡°Where in Chicago is the Wrigley Building located? During the Vietnam War I was briefly stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Base and later at the air base in Zion, Illinois. My buddies and I from the base made many forays into the city and together we took in more than a few Cubs games at Wrigley.¡±

 

             This particular accusation was one which Luther and I had been over and under and around again and again until I was just about ready to shout him down at the top of my lungs because it was all so fundamentally idiotic. Luther apparently, because he was not a native Chicagoan as I was, was confused about the difference between, on the one hand, our beautiful ball park in the Wrigley Ville section of Lakeview on the Northside of the city, the site of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, home stadium of the Chicago Cubs, and on the other hand, another famous and architecturally significant structure downtown on Michigan Avenue at the north-west corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the site of our beautiful and beloved Wrigley Building. Any true Chicagoan, who knew anything at all about the history of architecture in the city, also had to know that these two structures, though both with the Wrigley name on them, were completely different and distinct entities. I knew more about Chicago architecture than most Chicagoans because during my summer vacations while I was in graduate school, I worked on a historical and architectural tour boat, first as a crew member and first mate, cleaning and sometimes steering the Fort Dearborn, the Marquette, and the Innisfree, and also serving the passengers coffee, ice tea, muffins and cookies. Later, after the tour boat company realized I was too smart to be simply left alone with the muffins and ice tea, I was promoted from what my U of C friends jokingly referred to as the position of muffin boy, to the position of docent or tour guide. I am certain that job as an historical docent had to be the best summer job in the entire city, as it was all lovely day after lovely day sailing on our beautiful lake and river, taking in the sunshine, fresh air, and spectacular views of our skyline while lecturing to the passengers about the history and architecture of our beautiful and beloved city. What¡¯s more is that the pay was quite good for a financially struggling graduate student like myself, and not a few of the passengers gave me quite generous cash tips when I kept them riveted during my lectures, tips which I generously shared with the other crew members.

 

             Much to my consternation and disappointment, Luther claimed that the docent section on my resume, along with the rest of it was simply faked. So the suspicious fool played prosecutor once again when he attempted to ¡°expose¡± my deception by arguing that Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, was nowhere near the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue, which in fact was a true claim, but completely beside the point since he had not asked me about Wrigley Field, but instead had asked about a completely different structure, the Wrigley Building, world corporate headquarters of the Wrigley chewing gum and candy empire.

 

             ¡°Where does it stand, the Wrigley Building? If you are really from Chicago as you claim you are, you should be able to answer this simple question which I think any real Chicagoan can answer.¡±

 

             I sighed in exasperated vexation, as I again, for what seemed like the thousandth time, attempted to explain to this man of faith who had no faith in me, what the difference was between the Wrigley Building downtown, and Wrigley Field in Lakeview, the home stadium of the Cubs.

 

             ¡°Luther Martin,¡± I said to him speaking as calmly as I could hope to remain given my surplus of irritation and righteous indignation. ¡°At the north-west corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge on Michigan Avenue downtown, stands the beautiful and architecturally acclaimed art deco and terracotta masterpiece with a clock tower on top that is a replica of another clock tower on an architecturally significant building in Seville, Spain. This building is called the Wrigley Building.¡±

 

             ¡°I¡¯ve got you on this one,¡± Luther interjected with his habitual spiteful overconfidence. ¡°I know for a fact that the Cubs do not play baseball downtown on Michigan Avenue. Everyone knows that. I have caught you in another lie Paul Robertson, if that is even your real name. You, whoever you really are and wherever you are really from, did not grow up in or anyplace near Chicago. Who are you and where are you from really? What crimes have you committed and how much time have you served in prison? When did they let you out of jail?¡±

 

             ¡°Luther,¡± I entreated him. ¡°How many times must we go over this until it sinks in? Or will this be impossible with you? What is your problem? I am running out of explanations to account for your obtuseness and I am beginning to think that maybe the problem is simply that you are stupid. Have you got rocks in your head for heaven¡¯s sake? As I have carefully and patiently explained dozens of times before, you are correct in your claim that the Cubs don¡¯t play ball downtown. They play in Wrigley Field, in Lakeview on the corner of Clark Street and Addison. The building downtown is a historical landmark office tower, the global headquarters of the Wrigley Company. That¡¯s the one that is world famous for its chewing gum. The difference here Luther is between the two worlds; field spelled as F-I-E-L-D, and building spelled B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G. Although both of these famous structures have the name of Wrigley attached to them, they are in fact two distinct entities, as any Chicagoan can tell you. Why don¡¯t you type both of these designations into Google images and you will instantly see hundreds of images of both of them. That will settle the issue for you in a matter of minutes if not sooner. Jethro and I are honest people Luther. We are the real deal, on the level. You can trust us. Our CVs are flawlessly accurate.¡±

 

             As usually happened after I proposed my simple solution, Google images, which held the potential to resolve our dispute almost immediately with a few clicks of a computer mouse, Luther stormed away from us in disgust, so green with envy was he. Jethro and I had been up against this for the better part of three consecutive semesters, and it felt to us as though we were living in an episode of that old black and white television show, the Twilight Zone. We were both afraid there would be no end in sight to all of this nonsense and the hateful personal attacks which in a legal sense were nothing short of outright slander and defamation. What could we do about it? The Korean administrators, and in particular our Korean Dean and supervisor of the English Department, all trusted Luther Martin more than us because he was a missionary and a religious man. They all said it was our word against his, in spite of the mounds of evidence and documentation we had provided to verify our claims. Much to our chagrin many of our colleagues stood with Luther and against us because they believed the evangelist was a genuine man of God.

 

I returned my attention to Jethro after Luther departed from the cafeteria in his angry fury and envious spite. This was not the first time in either of our careers that we had been singled out for scrutiny by our co-workers and supervisors. It almost comes with the territory once one earns an Ivy League type of degree. True, we were disappointed and frustrated, but neither of us were the least bit surprised to find ourselves once again in this unhappy predicament. I asked Jethro if he had any ideas about how we should respond to the accusations against us this time.

 

¡°There is not much we can do to influence them,¡± Jethro lamented. ¡°If they are intent upon exposing us as the charlatans they believe us to be, our logic and evidence will have absolutely no impact on them. Tell me again, Paul, what Luther said to you about your CV.¡±

 

¡°He said it is full of holes, that I have padded all of my qualifications. I almost had to laugh aloud, and I probably would have done so had I not been so angry at him for slandering me and dragging my good name through the mud. In order to ¡°prove¡± his point he asked me to tell him all about what pledge week was like when I joined the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity house, and he wanted to know about what kind of beer and women we indulged in, me and my fraternity brothers at the Summa Cum Laude fraternity house. I could not believe he had never before heard of these awards and honors, which sound so much like the names of fraternities because they use the Greek words, but are in reality, as both you and I understand, not fraternities but instead some of the highest honors an American university student can achieve and are awarded on the basis of outstanding academic merit and achievement. These awards of honor have nothing to do with pledge week, or beer, or women, but instead are the honors I dutifully earned at The University of Illinois, and are the primary reason why I was able to win the fellowship for graduate studies at The University of Chicago. So infuriating all of this nonsense is. I am working very hard to keep my cool about it all because I know if I let go and punch someone in the nose for all of this bullshit we have to put up with, I will probably get fired for it and lose my visa privileges from the South Korean Department of Immigration. Then I would be forced to leave South Korea for good, a scenario that neither I nor my wife and family want to face when my wife is so at home here in the company of her relatives and good friends.¡±

 

Jethro asked me if I was considering applying for a teaching post at another Korean university, as if that was the solution to our problems with the CVs. I told him I had thought about it, but that I was of the opinion that envious types like Luther Martin were ubiquitous in academia. I told him that this was not the first time I had faced flack for my superior credentials. No, this was not the first time they had tried to run me out of town on a rail. I was determined not to run away again. This time I intended to stand my ground, stick to my guns so to speak. I am not changing my story or my CV, not a single word of it, I told my friend. I also told him there was still much to hope for in the essential decency of the Dean of the English Department. In spite of Luther Martin and his coterie of sycophants calling into question the truth of my very name, I knew I had the trust of the Dean. I knew he had studied many years ago as a foreign exchange student at Columbia University in New York City, and that he had quite a number of memorable experiences studying with Ivy League over-achievers. I talked to Jethro about my first day of work when I arrived here on campus in Gyeongju. I went directly to the Dean¡¯s office to introduce myself, and the exuberant gentleman warmly and politely welcomed me into his office. We both sat down on the office couch for a cup of green tea as the Dean spoke to me the following words of advice.

 

¡°Professor Robertson,¡± the Dean said. ¡°You are a graduate of The University of Chicago. That university in my opinion is perhaps the finest one in the entire world. Our humble and modest university here in Gyeongju is not like your University of Chicago. The two schools have very little in common with one another. Professor Robertson, I advise you, I urge you. Do not push your students too hard here or expect too much from them. They are not like you, not at all like the people you studied with in Hyde Park. Please do not push them too hard. They can¡¯t handle it.¡±

 

I told Jethro that, while I was at first a bit put off by this frank advice from my new boss, and this given to me on the very first day of our meeting one another in person, I very quickly, in the course of teaching my classes during my first semester here, realized that there was much wisdom and wise counsel in the Dean¡¯s advice. I informed Jethro that I was in firm agreement with the Dean on this matter. This place is very different from Chicago, Yale, and Michigan. Our students here are not the top students in Korea, so we must adjust our teaching methods and expectations accordingly.

 

Jethro asked me if I was certain they would not cut us from the faculty. After his students had complained to the administration last semester because they thought his course was too rigorous, the Dean had raked him over the coals, more than a bit perturbed with poor old Jethro. The Dean cross-examined Jethro about his previous employment in the United States before Jethro came to Korea. The Dean was skeptical, almost like Luther Martin, as he asked Jethro to explain what in the world a PhD with degrees from the University of Michigan and Yale was doing working as a clerk in a Kinko¡¯s copy shop. Jethro tried to explain just how difficult it is for PhDs, and especially those who hold such degrees in classical music performance, to find suitable employment in the United States. The bassoonist and the Dean discussed the variety of other positions Jethro had held for a time and then lost. There was the decent post at the traditionally black college in Pennsylvania Jethro had thrived in until the small school went under due to financial difficulties and declining enrollment. After that was Jethro¡¯s foray into high school teaching which did not last half as long. The department chair in the music program was threatened by Jethro¡¯s superior credentials, accusing Jethro of being over-qualified for the job at a high school in inner city Philadelphia. Together with Jethro¡¯s difficulty in maintaining discipline with the inner city kids, the chair¡¯s lack of confidence in him meant his days there were numbered. After a few equally short-lived posts as bassoonist with minor orchestras in various small cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast, he eventually found himself trying to make ends meet as a clerk for Kinko¡¯s. One day during a short coffee break Jethro¡¯s boss had spoken to him about his predicament.

 

¡°Jethro,¡± said the Kinko¡¯s shop manager. ¡°I am not going to fire you because you are doing good work for me here. You are friendly with the customers, you make few mistakes with the copies, and you are always punctual and professional in demeanor. But I have to tell you, as you should already realize, you are vastly over-qualified for this job. You do not belong here. A PhD like you should not be trying to make his living making the copies at Kinko¡¯s. Why don¡¯t you consider teaching at a university overseas? I hear there are great opportunities for English professors in Asia, and that the universities over there are not particular about an applicant¡¯s field of study when hiring for English teaching positions. Certainly such a job would be more appropriate for an accomplished and intelligent man like you.¡±

 

That was the first time Jethro considered taking a teaching post overseas and the reason he now found himself here talking to me in the university lunchroom as we commiserated with one another over the kind of ridiculous flack we had to endure from the likes of Luther Martin and all of the others he had won over to his side.

 

Epilogue

 

A short walk across the car filled parking lot of Donguk University Hospital in Gyeongju, physically unattached from the main hospital buildings, but still on the hospital grounds, there are set aside special rooms and chapels for the mourners of loved ones and dear friends lost. This is where the Koreans hold their memorial services for the dearly departed. Cancer had taken another from us. This time it was my friend and colleague Jethro Woodruff. The body was to be cremated, the ashes to be spread into the East Sea, according to the wishes of Jethro¡¯s father still living on the farm in Beaumont. In the small room where the memorial service was held there was a simple framed photograph of Jethro with some of his students in happier times, and of course there were also some flowers. So many of the Filipinos were crying and I watched helplessly as the mascara ran down the cheeks of beautiful Natasha, the Persian professor in our department, who tried to find some solace by hugging closely her Filipino friends. Luther Martin, because he was the evangelist and missionary the administration trusted, was chosen to perform the short memorial service. ¡°I am the way and the light,¡± sayeth our Lord Jesus Christ. ¡°There is no salvation except through faith in me.¡± The Dean then contributed a few words of parting sorrow in a loud, heartfelt lament. ¡°Oh great Professor Woodruff! Thank you for your service to our Korean students. Thank you great Professor and goodbye now. Goodbye forever dear and honorable Jethro.¡± I did not cry as I was still in that state of shock and denial I always found myself in whenever someone close to me died.

 

Jethro had kept his illness a secret from the entire faculty, the administration, his students, and even me. He was afraid that he might lose his job and with it his health insurance if any of us found out about his illness. It had started in the colon and was already fourth stage by the time it was detected, spreading quickly throughout Jethro¡¯s body. The time from diagnosis to death was merely a matter of months, and when one of my colleagues informed me of Jethro¡¯s passing I had not the slightest idea that he was even ill.

 

¡°Good health is essential for any musician,¡± he had once told me. ¡°I work out regularly because I need to keep my lungs strong in order to play my bassoon for hours at a time. Just when I thought things could not get worse than they already are, I have discovered that my horn has a fungus growing inside of it. Playing it now could be dangerous as my lungs could get infected with the fungus from inhalation. So now I have got to get my horn fixed. I found a guy in London who tells me he can save the horn from the dump, but he does not work for cheap and I do not think I even have the funds right now to pay for the postage to and from London, let alone for the fee for the repairs.¡±

 

After the brief memorial service concluded we all watched as the hospital staff placed the coffin in the hearse and drove it away to the crematorium. I was standing next to Luther feeling numb inside as we watched the hearse drive away. Luther leaned over towards me and muttered something under his breath, but purposely loud enough so I and only I could hear him.

 

¡°He was a sinner. He never set foot in Ann Arbor or New Haven. He lied to us. He lied to all of us and to you too Paul.¡±

 

I was too numb and depressed to dignify the final parting dig from Luther with the appropriate response. I wanted to tell Luther how wrong he was, how he was deeply mistaken about so many important things. But I did not say a word to him at that time. I disengaged myself from Luther Martin and his scornful envy, all the while thinking silently to myself, ¡°When will it end? When will it forever and for good finally come to an end?¡±