Martin and Maria



Against the backdrop of the clean-limbed, pertfaced offspring of the eugenetic rich, can you picture a pair of teachers as incongruous of Martin Zielinski and his wife Maria Sambella. Short and fat, with the suspicious animal eyes of the working classes, they were hired to teach to the country club set's cubs, as finishing touches to an expensive education, the niceties of thought.

"Why do they think that the guitar is the only musical instrument, have they never heard of the violin or the piano? And why do they close their ears when any sort of an intellectual aroma arises? We've got to get through to them, Martin, they're so far away, and I think it's our responsibility", she said.

And he replied: "You know perfectly well, Maria, you can't make a Ph.D. out of a silk purse. These people are here to look beautiful, being decorative is their role, and looking right is their function in life, not only here in college, but afterwards in their own world too. That's their function,. just as our function is something else," and Martin sat back in his flimsy office chair, looking roly-poly and perplexed, as he lit up a cheap cigar.

The blackboard in Martin's class greeted him one morning with "Humpty Dumpty", and when in December he was informed in a solemn letter from an official in the college that his contract was not to be renewed for the coming academic year. In truth he had a great fall, which surprised nobody but his wife. She continued to think that he was a great man, and that they were embarked on an important mission in life. One night, finally depressed by her eternal optimism in the face of defeat, Martin went to the local bar which students frequented, sat a while by himself thinking, and then began to drink mugs of sour draft beer. While the thinking and drinking were slowly sinking in, he had not noticed a group of loud-mouthed and exceptionally rowdy students at the other side of the noisy, smoke-filled hall, who had gone beyond the point of razzing each other, and were looking for someone else to annoy. One of the self-style Big Men on Campus, a second line football hero known for sloppy passing, spied Martin, and bawled: "Hi ya, Fatso, wanna beer?"

"Fatso don't wanna beer, fellas. He's gotta go home tonight and the old lady won't let him into bed if he stinks of beer. Right, Fatso? Say, listen, mind if we come over and join you, we'll bring a mug in case you're running dry. (Aside to the others: We'll have some fun with this farmer, OK guys?) What the matter, you unfriendly, you don't like us? We're just trying to be social, you know. "

(Martin had learned years ago in Brooklyn that there were two kind of guys like that. The big-mouth bullies you could just ignore, since all they counted on doing was talking and showing off to the crowd. But the other kind, they were mean, the bullies who really wanted to kick your ass, and draw blood, because the fight was the purpose of the insult and you weren't going to get away. With these guys there was no begging off, talking your way out of it, there was one thing to do. Go in fast and hit first, to be sure that there wasn't going to be anyone coming back at you. The nose was the way to do that, break the nose, and that would be the end of the fight. So when Ron Smith mistook Martin for a pudgy knockover, he missed his guess badly.)

Arriving at the table, the student decided it would be fun to pour the remainder of the stein over Martin's head. Martin stepped aside, helped his adversary crash into the brick wall, and when he came back roaring with anger, Martin broke his nose, and advised his friends to get a taxi to take their buddy to the infirmary where he could get bandaged up for the night.

The next morning Martin was in his office, rummaging through papers for an article he was writing. when a bandaged and sorry looking Ron Smith stood in his doorway and asked if he could come in. He didn't seem able to say exactly why he had come, but there were tears gathering in the corners of both eyes, when he asked to be forgiven, Sir, for the other night, and mainly for being (something he had never thought of admitting)....... a first class jerk.

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William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris