Recently emeritus from the English department at U of All People, Professor Jack Krammer has set aside the month of July to clean out his office at 115 Richard J. Hall Hall. Hired in 1969, Professor Krammer specialized in Shakespeare, business English, poetry writing, occasional Victorian classes, and whatever else the strapped chairs threw at him during what one UAP administrator termed “the lean years.”
By the end of his career, he had taught half the courses in the catalog and published nothing in any of them, despite a wealth of notes for a book to be entitled Jack of All Classes, Master of None. In recognition of Krammer’s long service, Provost Grudge granted him a dedicated carrel in the Pabst Blue Ribbon Library. The space limits of 3" x 4" prevent the accumulation of bulky books or papers; hence, the necessity for “weeding the pile,” as Grudge, a former botany professor, noted.
The first aspect one notices about Professor Krammer’s office is that the door will not close properly, its jamb wedged on a sheaf of papers shoved into the office beyond deadline. On the front of the door are the requisite cartoons: a cow teaching other cows, six monkeys writing Shakespeare, and a professor with a rubber duck tucked under his arm addressing an audience of similarly accoutered professors. Inside the office, the atmosphere is Dickensian, partly because Krammer taught David Copperfield for a record twenty-one years, starting in 1975, and seven and a half editions weigh down the windowsill like a flock of hunched birds or, alternatively, a testament to Victorian profusion and its hectic prose style.
The lone bookshelf that came with the office has been augmented over the years with a jury-rigged structure of planks capable of supporting the weight of a generation of PMLA issues. Nearby sits a row of The Norton Anthology of Everything, eighth edition, like an armored battalion, canons rampant. The battered fiberboard desk -- “My God, you’re not going to hang on to that, are you?” asked his second wife, Irene, not to be confused with his first wife, Irene -- has a surface like an old-fashioned blotter and a flat middle drawer that slides halfway out whenever no one’s watching.
Inside are 47 paper clips, including two novelty clasps in the shape of a butterfly and a dollar sign. On the far right top is a pile of exams from Krammer’s Modern British Novel course in 2004, in case any students still want to see how they did on the multiple choice. In the left drawer are change-of-grade forms, advising sheets (the obsolete ones), travel requisition forms, blue books, and other ephemera of the pre-Web age. A graying desktop computer with an undiagnosed virus hogs the front area. The sprung desk chair is no longer adjustable for height, but the departmental furniture budget has been converted to travel mini-grants.
Flanking the desk is a three-story file cabinet that features, among other items, 250 Xeroxes of “Ode on a Grecian Urn”; a long correspondence between Krammer and a man named Crammer from Nebraska, cut off after the simultaneous realization that no family ties existed; proceedings from two decades of the Colley Cibber Society; and a folded white button-down shirt pressed between two sets of lecture notes, “in case of emergencies,” after that one disastrous evening in 1992 at the dean’s social.
Half a dozen photos cling to the wall, including two from the graduation of 1975, the last time that Krammer showed up for the event. A drawing of a sock, from the student art fair of 1988, hangs from the back of the door. Seven tchotchkes stand on his desk, from a leering gnome, given as a joke for God knows what; to a paperweight in the shape of something that once offended the first Irene.
Stacked in the corner are 37 overdue library books, or rather, books that would be overdue if the faculty were held responsible and fined. The books were mainly due in 1995. One volume in particular, The Painted Saint, was requested back three times by a junior colleague named Hayton in 1996, a plea blissfully ignored, justified by Hayton’s moving to Hoo U three years later.
Everywhere else are papers, papers, papers. On second thought, Professor Krammer has decided to put off the clean-up job till the fall.
David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.
Read more by
You may also be interested in...
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading