MASTER SGT. JOHN “JACK” STEELE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LAW
Sixth Installment: The Faculty Meeting
Most of the faculty members were not terribly happy to be there. However, attending Dean Maxwell’s periodic faculty meetings was a job requirement for teaching law at Blackacre Law School. The tenured professors, who tended to teach “advanced” classes, which usually were scheduled so as to permit them to finish their typical workday by 2:00 p.m., regularly squawked about the timing of the meetings at 6:30 at night. The un-tenured faculty members regularly squawked about the tenured faculty members and their enviable schedules. It was a regular love fest.
The meeting was to be held in the usual place – a large open room that permitted folding chairs to be arranged in different configurations, depending on the event. On this evening, the chairs, approximately 50 in number, were arranged in three rows, in something approximating a semi-circle. Off to the side, was a long table on which coffee, tea, soft drinks and muffins were available.
The arriving faculty members gravitated to the refreshment table, where they clustered in small groups and engaged in small talk while awaiting the arrival of the Dean and the start of the meeting.
Professor emeritus Arthur Merriweather, a 79 year old, well-respected legal scholar, was one of the first to arrive to the meeting. Merriweather was the prototype of a law professor. He had a full head of gray hair, and he wore a full, gray moustache, which along with his twinkling blue eyes and his rosy cheeks caused him to look like everyone’s favorite uncle. He was standing by the refreshment table sipping a cup of tea when he was joined by Gerald Saxon who was munching a muffin with his coffee.
Saxon, an Associate Professor who usually taught civil procedure, property and evidence, greeted Professor Merriweather warmly: “Arthur, how nice to see you. You look terrific.”
“Why, thank you, Gerald,” Merriweather responded. It is nice to see you too. And how is the family?”
Saxon, who had three young children, replied, “We’re all doing well, although I must admit, I often have difficulty tearing my oldest, Kenny, away from video games.”
“Ah, yes. Video games. They are quite amazing. I can remember in the early sixties when electronic calculators and Pong were invented. We all thought that technology had reached its pinnacle. Now you have 13 year olds flying computerized flight simulators in their bedrooms. Truly amazing. However, it would be nice if they’d get a bit of air now and then, don’t you think?”
Before Saxon could answer Merriweather, each heard, “Gerald! Arthur! Hi!” The voice belonged to Marie Potter, who had completed her third year of teaching at Blackacre and was hoping to be promoted to Associate Professor this year. Before coming to Blackacre, Potter had spent two years at a large firm, where she was known for being a hard worker. At the school, she remained a hard worker, teaching contracts, criminal law and family law.
Merriweather and Saxon both greeted Potter, and Merriweather asked, “How was your summer, Marie? Did you find some quiet time to work on your article?” Just before the end of the previous spring semester, Potter had sought some advice from Merriweather concerning an article she had been trying to write, with a working title of The U.C.C.’s Battle of the Forms – A Legal Gordian Knot? She knew that having the article published would just about assure her promotion to Associate Professor. At that time, Merriweather, as usual, was gracious and had offered her some excellent suggestions.
“I wish I had, Arthur. The summer was a blur of activities that generally kept me from even thinking about the article.” Potter was not being truthful, as she had spent countless hours struggling with the article, and it was just not coming together. For the past few weeks, she couldn’t even face the word processor. She loved teaching and was good at it, but she feared that her writing ability was not up to par and that her career would suffer because of it.
Merriweather recognized immediately that Potter was not being forthright. He knew writer’s block when he saw it. “That’s a pity,” Merriweather replied, “because I think the article has a good deal of promise. I’d be happy to discuss it with you at your convenience.”
“Thanks, Arthur. I appreciate that, but I think I’ll be getting back to it some time next week.”
Potter continued, “Hey, Gerald. This is a big year for you, isn’t it? The Big “T?” Potter was referring, of course, to the widely known “rumor” that Saxon was being considered for tenure this year.
Saxon replied, “Yes it is. We just bought the new house, and I really don’t want to have to think about looking for a new job next year, if I don’t get tenure.”
Both Merriweather and Potter assured Saxon of their belief that he would do just fine. While Saxon normally would have written this off to pre-meeting small talk, he felt quite happy to hear that from Merriweather, who was one of the more influential members of the tenure committee.
Saxon said, “To tell you both the truth, I didn’t use to worry about it much, but now I find myself worrying about it all the time.”
“Why is that?” asked Merriweather.
“It’s the atmospherics, Arthur. I used to have a pretty good read on this place. Sure it isn’t Harvard, but it always seemed to me to be a solid, well-run law school that regularly produced graduates who, I think it’s fair to say, were ‘legal mainstream’.”
“And why you think that is no longer the case, Gerald?”
“It’s a combination of things, some of which I cannot get my arms around. I hate to use the word ‘predictable,’ but maybe that’s it. Things just aren’t, well, as predictable as they used to be.”
Recognizing the somewhat puzzled looks on Merriweather’s and Potter’s faces, Saxon tried to be more specific. “Well, for instance – just for instance – two years ago the school hired a couple west coast law school activist types – the ones we call the ‘Westies’ – and because of their presence and their teaching style, I sense a difference in many of the students. They’re angrier and all too often much too confrontational. Hell, because of the influence of this new, and if I may say so, radical breed, even the curriculum has drifted off into a crazy direction. I notice that several of the newer courses all seem to start out with the presumption that American institutions are all corrupt.”
Merriweather, who had been teaching at Blackacre for more than four decades, and who was no stranger to change, listened thoughtfully, and after a short, reflective pause, replied, “Gerald, I have sensed the same things occurring, but I have been trying to keep an open mind about it all, knowing that change is often difficult to accept. While I absolutely agree that a law school should teach its students to confront the mainstream when it should be confronted, I do not believe in confrontation merely for confrontation’s sake.”
Saxon, feeling now that he had Merriweather on his side, continued, “And, just when I find myself becoming accustomed to the type of change I just mentioned, Dean Maxwell hires this Army guy to teach, and he has done a pretty fair job of turning the school on its ear.”
“An Army guy? What do you mean?”
“Just what I said, Arthur – a damned Army guy!”
Merriweather asked, “Is this fellow a retired Army officer? A former member of the Judge Advocate General Corps. – You know – A JAG.?”
Before Saxon could answer Merriweather’s question, Marie Potter stated, “No, Arthur. He’s not a retired officer. He is still in the Army. At least, I assume he is still in the Army because the students tell me that he shows up to class in a uniform, with combat boots and that strange looking hat.”
Now Merriweather was curious. “Strange looking hat? What does this strange looking hat look like?”
Potter thought a moment and then said, “A Smokey the Bear Hat, Arthur. That’s how my students described it.”
Merriweather thought a moment and observed, “You’re describing a Drill Sergeant’s hat, Marie. Drill Sergeants are just that – sergeants – they are never officers – and I have never heard of a drill sergeant who is also a lawyer. Might your students be mistaken?”
Saxon replied, “My students tell me he is a Master Sergeant, who managed to get a law degree from Georgetown while doing a tour of duty in Washington. He told the students that he had been contacted by Dean Maxwell and asked to take an Adjunct Professor position to take over Professor Carey’s torts class.”
“Fascinating,” Merriweather observed, obviously intrigued by the idea. “And I gather that there is a problem with this new Adjunct Professor.”
“A problem? I would say so, if some of things my students are complaining about are true.”
Marie Potter added, “I can back up what Gerald is saying. A few of my students described how he teaches his classes. At first, I thought they had to be joking, but I have now heard the same stories from four or five separate students.”
Merriweather asked, “What is it they are telling you both?”
Marie Potter said, “You go first, Gerald.”
“OK, my students tell me that he makes them stand at attention when he enters the room, and they have to stand at attention again before they can ask or answer a question. He absolutely insists that they attend all the classes, and that they remain absolutely quiet during class.”
Marie Potter interrupted, “He even has strict rules about what can be on the students’ desks during class, for Chrissakes. He hollered at one student for looking at him, and he berated another for the way his shirt was tucked in. Worse yet, he got in some young woman’s face and ultimately reduced her to tears. And, oh yeah, he has the entire class yelling things in unison.”
“Yelling things in unison?” Merriweather asked. “What kind of things?”
Saxon now took the lead and said, “I know that this may seem hard to believe, but the other day I was walking past his classroom, and I could have sworn that I heard the students all yelling, ‘WE LOVE THIS SHIT’.”
At that point, Merriweather broke out with laughter. “Gerald, are you telling me we have law students in a classroom all yelling at once, “WE LOVE THIS SHIT?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you, Arthur. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
At that moment David Pyle and Ronald Moon entered the room. Everyone took notice because Pyle was angrily waving his arms through the air and saying, at a volume that was louder than the sum of the collective conversations taking place. “We shouldn’t have to put up with that shit Ronnie. Let’s tell those corporate pigs that we’ll put together a class, get it certified and sue their asses.”
Saxon observed to Merriweather and Potter, “Terrific. The Westies have arrived. This promises to be long night.”
In stark contrast to the faculty members who came to the meeting dressed in business casual attire, the Westies showed up in torn jeans, and tee shirts. On the front of Pyle’s tee shirt was a picture of Che Guevera. Moon’s shirt was a sixties tie-dyed number similar to one that Wavy Gravy might have worn at Woodstock. Both wore their hair in a ponytail and sported what appeared to be three or four days’ growth.
Pyle and Moon always seemed to be together, although Pyle was clearly the dominant figure. In that regard, one faculty member had once wryly remarked, “If Pyle ever stops short, we’ll have to call the fire department to come here and use the jaws-of-life to pull Moon’s head out of Pyle’s ass.”
As Merriweather watched Pyle and Moon continue to carry on with their animated conversation at a volume calculated to attract attention, he said to Saxon, “That Pyle fellow certainly seems angry about something.”
Saxon answered, “He is always angry about something. I believe that the source of this week’s outrage and the target of this week’s invective is, as he would describe it, ‘The fascist, corporate swine who oppress working people, pollute the environment, and poison the minds of American children’.”
The general conversational volume rose as faculty members tried to compensate for the noise coming from the Westies. In fact, the room had become as noisy as a sports bar during a Monday night football game. Suddenly, those nearest the door became quiet, which created a slow moving wave of silence that worked its way across the room toward the refreshment table until all conversation had ceased. Everyone’s head turned toward the door, where Master Sergeant “Jack” Steele had entered the room.
The majority of the faculty members had heard about Steele having been given an Adjunct’s position, but being busy with their own classes, they never gave it much thought. Very few faculty members had actually seen Steele.
Steele had heard the sound of the crowdspeak as he approached the meeting place. He was, therefore, aware that his entry into the room caused the silence, which was accompanied by stares. Two steps into the room, he stood erect and cast his eyes over those present, his gaze stopping for an extra second or two on David Pyle and Ron Moon. However, Steele’s gaze was such that every faculty member felt the heat of eye contact with Steele. He then took a few steps to his right to a coat rack and slowly and carefully removed his drill sergeant’s hat, placing it on the shelf of the coat rack. He was wearing his Class “A,” uniform, with his trousers bloused over his spit shined jump boots, a practice permitted only to paratroopers.
Surprisingly, most of the faculty members had never seen an Army uniform up close, and they were taken by the splashes of color on clothing they wrongly assumed would be a patchwork of dull, Army green. The gleaming brass, the bright yellow of his Master Sergeant stripes and his hash marks were impossible to miss, as were the multicolored rows of ribbons on his chest and the unit patches on his sleeves. No one was able to resist staring.
Merriweather smiled and quietly said to Saxon and Potter, “I think I can safely assume that the gentleman who just entered the room is the Army fellow you spoke of.”
Saxon said, “Yes, Arthur, that’s him. He certainly just pissed on this parade.”
Potter added, “He looks to me like he is really full of himself – the way he walked in here like some kind of general.”
Merriweather, with a distinct gleam in his eye, said, “To tell you the truth, all I saw was a soldier enter the room. Nothing more. Everyone’s silence and their gawking was not his doing, but rather everyone’s reaction to seeing a drill sergeant in the flesh – a reaction I find both fascinating and amusing.”
No one approached or greeted Steele, but rather the faculty resumed talking in their respective groups. Doubtless, the topic of all the conversations had turned to Steele.
Steele did not mingle or help himself to any refreshments. Rather, he looked at his watch and took a seat in the third row. Shortly after Steele was seated, Dean Maxwell entered the room in the rear, and briefly stopped to exchange pleasantries with a few faculty members. As he was moving to the front of the room to the desk and lectern, he saw Steele already seated. He walked up to Steele, smiled warmly and extended his hand.
“Hi Jack. I’m glad to see you. I was hoping you would accept my invitation to attend.”
Steele rose from his chair and shook hands with Dean Maxwell. “Hi Sam. It’s nice to see you. I was honored to receive your invitation, and I’m happy to be here.”
“I see that you already found yourself a seat. Did you have a chance to meet any of the other faculty members?”
Steele responded, “Well, I arrived at 1825 hours, and I knew that the meeting was scheduled for 1830 hours, and I also knew that you would be on time Sam, so I decided to just find a seat and make myself comfortable.” Steele did not mention that the “welcome” he had received was anything but warm. Besides, he really didn’t give much of a damn.
Other faculty members could hardly miss the friendly exchange between Steele and the Dean. It was obvious that the two really were friends. That sent shivers down the spines of several of those in the room. David Pyle certainly didn’t miss it. “Hey Ronnie, get a load of that shit! Maxwell is falling all over that Army asshole.”
Ronnie Moon, Pyle’s loyal minion, replied, “Yeah, that is weird, man. What the hell is that about?”
“I’ll be damned if I know, but I don’t like it. The last thing this school needs is some damned fool GI Joe up the Dean’s ass, and I don’t intend to be quiet about it.”
The Dean took his place in the front of the room, which was the cue for everyone to find a seat. After everyone had settled in, the Dean opened the meeting.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for attending the first faculty meeting of the year. I trust that you all had a pleasant summer. For those of you who were not involved in this year’s summer session, I would like to report that it was very successful.
“OK let’s get right down to it. We have a good deal of business to discuss, and I suspect that, as in the past, we will also spend some time discussing issues that are of particular interest to you. However, before we start, I would like to introduce you to someone who has graciously accepted one of the Adjunct Professor positions this semester. I decided that the best way to do that was to invite him as a guest to our first faculty meeting.
“I would like to introduce you to Master Sergeant John “Jack” Steele, currently serving in the United States Army. Sgt. Steele is a bit of an oddity in the Army in that he is a career enlisted man, who also happens to be a graduate of Georgetown Law School. We owe our thanks to the U.S. Army for permitting Jack to take the time to teach at our school. Jack would you please stand up so the faculty can see who you are.”
Steele rose from his chair, stood erect, and nodded in the direction of the Dean.
Pyle said in a voice that he knew would be heard by others, “Yeah, like he had to be pointed out.” Steele with the hearing of an antelope, heard Pyle, but did not react. Instead, he just sat down.
The first subject on the agenda was the academic calendar. With the predictability of the sunrise, Associate Professor Stuart Ross made his pitch for a shorter school year. Ross, whose name was Rosczewski before he changed it, was the school’s “media lawyer.” His good looks (which were the result of expert hair coloring and a face lift or two), his “winning smile” (which was the result of some very expensive cosmetic dental work), and his engaging personality (which was the result of being a natural-born, first-class bullshit artist) had landed him several spots on network television shows as the resident “legal expert.” As usual, he was trying to start the school year later and finish earlier in order to permit him additional time to cash in on more television work.
After a brain-numbing ten minutes of discussion, which was joined in by other faculty members who were not media sweethearts, but who were just lazy, the matter ended with the Dean promising to take the matter of a more abbreviated academic calendar “under advisement.”
Steele’s impression of Ross, which had been formed instantly when he entered the room a few moments earlier, was confirmed. Ross was a jerk.
The subject then turned to tenure, with Saxon trying to get Dean Maxwell to share more than Maxwell wanted to reveal about the school’s current plans for granting tenure. Saxon, and a few others nearing the time when a tenure decision might be made, urged the importance of giving people approaching tenure a lighter class load in order to permit them more time to research and write.
Steele took this all in and was quietly amazed that these people, who certainly did not do much heavy lifting, were seeking to do even less work. He began to feel somewhat uncomfortable amidst this bunch.
The minutes turned into an hour, and the subjects of discussion included requests for more office space, which resulted in a bit of unseemly bickering between two faculty members, each claiming rights to Professor Carey’s old office (the Professor whom Steele replaced). The Dean stated that he would meet with the two combatants privately to try to work the matter out.
Next there was a small group of faculty members who acted as if the earth would spin off its axis if they could not have flat-screen computer monitors. The Dean, who was by beginning to looking a bit weary from it all, stated that there was no money in the budget at this time for upgrading computer equipment, but that he would revisit the issue in the spring semester.
Steele thought, Flat screen monitors? These people are beginning to sound like a bunch of gott-damned high school kids.
After a downright painful discussion of a few more weighty subjects such as replacing the coffee maker in the faculty lounge, preferred faculty parking spaces based on seniority, and a “faculty only” seating area in the lunch room, the subject of course offerings was raised. As usual, David Pyle and Ronnie Moon took the lead. It would be more accurate to say that Pyle did all the talking, while Ronnie Moon, as usual, stood next to him about as useful as a hat rack.
“The course offerings in this place are horribly outdated. There are at least a half dozen courses offered here that deal with corporations, corporate tax, and corporate securities. All these courses place the corporate form on pedestal at the altar of capitalism. I strongly urge that we add courses that challenge the prevailing philosophical paradigm in society – courses that alter the dominant dialectic such that currently entrenched social structures are challenged by empowering those who are traditionally excluded from such institutional and structural power relationships.”
Dean Maxwell, now three hours into the meeting, was having a difficult time understanding what the hell Pyle was talking about (not that Pyle was ever very clear about anything), nor did he much care at that point. Nevertheless, in order to appear receptive to Pyle’s urgings, he responded, “What kind of courses did you have in mind, David?”
“I would like to see courses that expose the soft underbelly of the capitalist system and challenge the moral and legal right to private property ownership.” Ronnie Moon just stood there and nodded on cue.
The Dean, who by now had just about run out of patience, deflected Pyle’s statement by suggesting that he would form a curriculum sub-committee and he would see that David Pyle was a member.
After listening to Pyle, Steele felt himself approaching critical mass. He couldn’t wait to get out of that room.
Dean Maxwell could not have been more relieved when he asked, “Does anyone have anything else he or she wishes to discuss?” and no one spoke up.
“Very well. Now before we adjourn, I want to do something a little different. I am interested in these meetings being as productive and useful as they can possibly be. However, we have all become accustomed to this forum and, as such, we may not see it as critically as we should. Sergeant Steele’s presence here tonight provides us with a wonderful opportunity to get a more objective view of things. Sergeant Steele has never attended one of our meetings, and as an adjunct, he does not have an official role in formulating school policy. Therefore, I think we can all benefit by asking Sergeant Steele to share his impressions of these proceedings with us.”
“I don’t believe this shit,” Pyle said to Ronnie Moon is a stage whisper.
“Jack, might I impose on you share your thoughts with the faculty based on your experience so far at Blackacre, including tonight’s meeting?”
Steele rose from his chair, stood at attention, and replied, “Yes Dean Maxwell, I will do that, provided I have your permission to speak freely.”
“Of course Jack, I was counting on your being completely frank.”
“Thank you, Dean Maxwell.” Most of the faculty had turned around or sideways in order to listen to Steele speak from his place in the audience. They were caught off guard when Steele walked poker-straight to the front of the room and placed himself between the Dean and the audience.
Steele again passed his gaze over the assembled faculty members before saying a word.
Finally, he began:
“I have been sitting in this gott-damned room for more than three hours, and I have heard nothing but boatloads of bullshit!”
The statement took the faculty by such surprise that their collective gasp literally sucked the air out of the room.
“That’s right. Let me tell you what I heard tonight. What I heard was three and a half hours of bitching and moaning from a bunch of people who probably would not last one gott-damned week in a real job or five gott-damned minutes in the military.
“Now, let me tell you people what I did NOT hear all gott-damned night. Not once – I repeat – Not once did I hear one word from any of you pansy asses about how the faculty might do a better job of teaching the students in this gott-damned place.
“You sorry asses ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Right about now, this room is waist-deep in self-serving horseshit. All some of you want to talk about is tenure, and on that subject let’s cut through the bullshit, shall we? While you may have convinced yourselves that having tenure will give you the opportunity to better serve the school and to make a contribution to the body of legal scholarship, you can’t bullshit me. From what I’ve seen tonight, you want tenure because, once you get it, you can work less and, at the same time, have a secure gott-damned job. You all want the lighter teaching load that comes with tenure, and that includes not having to teach as many first year classes. Hell, some of you are so eager to work less you actually have the stones to request a lighter teaching load so that you can have time to research and write in order to get tenure!
“Hell, the capper was when I heard Mr. Television over there wanting days lopped off each end of the academic calendar so that he can hobnob with network news bunnies and pretend to be a legal expert on every gott-damned legal topic under the sun. One day, he’s a criminal law expert; the next day he is an expert on civil procedure and trial tactics. Hell, one day I even saw his sorry ass on television going on and on about the law of admiralty, when the closest thing to a ship he has ever been on is a gott-damned surf board. And, we all know that this purveyor of pig shit has his two – count ‘em – two student assistants up half the gott-damned night doing research and writing his scripts so that he can come off like a television “expert.”
At that point, Stuart Ross objected, “Hey wait a minute. Who are you to talk about me like that?”
Steele shot back, “I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the son of a bitch who can see that if you have one more face lift, your nuts will be chest high, and I’m also the guy who can smell bullshit a mile away, and mister, you are full of shit up to your blue-tinted contact lenses.”
Steele paused a moment to ensure that Ross had nothing further to say. Ross just sat there, wide-eyed and speechless.
Turning his attention again to the entire group, Steele continued, “Based on all the chicken shit I heard tonight I don’t think any of you gives a rat’s ass whether the students in this place learn any gott-damned law. You’re all too busy fighting over who gets what gott-damned office and who gets to park closer to the entrance than the next sorry ass. You want the school to shit money so you can have flat screen monitors? Why? So you can squirrel yourselves away in your offices to surf the gott-damned internet? And, yeah, I almost forgot. You want a separate place to eat your gott-damned lunch so that you wont have to be near any students, who many of you seem to view as a little more than a gott-damned nuisance rather than the reason your pitiful asses are in theses cushy jobs in the first place.”
Pyle, who was sprawled out in the first row with his legs extended and crossed at the ankles, had heard enough, and said as he scratched his unshaven face, “I don’t think any of us needs a lesson from some Army jerkoff about teaching law, especially one with no teaching experience.”
The faculty, already flabbergasted by what they had been hearing, looked with horror at Pyle, who remained seated with a smirk on his face.
Steele walked up to Pyle, stood directly in front of him and said in a voice that was ratcheted up in intensity, “You snot-nosed, wise-ass punk, you get on your gott-damned feet when you talk to me.”
Pyle looked up from his seat and said, “Screw you. Who do you think you’re talking to? One of your basic trainees?”
Steele snarled, “I know exactly who I’m talking to; I’m talking to an unwashed piece of dog shit, who is not worth the sweat off a basic trainees’ ass. Now you get on your gott-damned feet before I drag you out of that chair by your ratty hair! You read me, asshole?”
The faculty members in the room, all accustomed to the genteel and relatively cloistered life of the law school, were shocked beyond belief at what was happening in the room. Still, some of them secretly were enjoying watching one of the annoying Westies getting the business from Steele.
Pyle looked around for support but only saw the fixed stares of the others in the room. He slowly rose from the chair, ran both hands through his hair and said, “So, now are you going to tell me to stand at attention?”
Steele put his face inches away from Pyle’s and roared, “No, you pathetic sack of shit. I’m not going to tell you to stand at attention, because I know that standing at attention requires a gott-damned spine, and I know sure as shit you haven’t got one.
“I listened to all you third-rate, ill-thought, immature, neo-Stalinist horseshit, and I don’t know how everyone puts up with you. And I damned sure don’t know how or why the Dean tolerates you around this place. It seems to me that, other than your pathetic, ass-kissing flunky and about a dozen students who you have conned into believing that you’re some kind of smart guy, everyone in this place recognizes you for what you are – and that’s an empty-headed, loudmouthed, unwashed, unshaven, chicken shit, asswipe who has no business teaching in a law school.”
Pyle, his voice having lost its edge, replied, “You — someone with no teaching experience — have no right to talk to me like that.”
“No teaching experience? Let me tell you something, Pyle. I have more than twenty gott-damned years of teaching experience. I probably have taught fifteen or twenty thousand students over the years — only we don’t call them students; we call them trainees. And unlike the students here, they don’t come equipped with college degrees and high LSAT scores. Hell, in some cases, they don’t even have a high school diploma. And, although I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching them the niceties of contracts and civil procedure, I taught them the skills they need to effectively destroy the enemy and to stay alive in the process. I taught kids who never were in the same gott-damned room with a rifle to shoot like experts in eight weeks. I taught them how to strip down and clear a jammed rifle with their eyes closed because they might have only a few seconds in the pitch dark to do that in order to keep from being killed. I taught them how to treat everything from heat exhaustion to sucking chest wounds and how to carry a wounded buddy out of the battlefield.
“I taught them the importance of showing respect and earning respect. I taught them teamwork so that when the shit breaks loose in the bush, they know that the two most important people in the entire gott-damned world are the guys to the right and left of you and that if anyone screws up, someone gets killed. Your teaching mistakes fail the bar exam. My teaching mistakes come home in body bags. So, you little shit, don’t you tell me I have no teaching experience.”
Pyle tried to speak, but got no farther than “Well…”
Steele cut him off. “I know you teach one of the first year courses in Property, right Pyle?”
Pyle nodded his head. Steele barked, “Answer me, gott-dammit.”
“Yes,” Pyle replied, beginning to wither under Steele’s relentless pressure.
“How many students are enrolled in that class, Pyle?”
Pyle thought a moment and then replied, “I think there are 85 students in the class.”
“Well then, Pyle, why is it that when I walked past your class just two weeks into the gott-damned semester, I saw TEN students sitting in the room?”
Pyle answered, now visibly shaken, “Maybe it’s because I don’t take attendance.”
“BULLSHIT!! The reason they don’t come to your class is because it is a waste of their gott-damned time. And the reason it’s a waste of their time is because you don’t teach property law. You rattle on with your own half-assed pet theories of law that don’t have a friggin’ thing to do with what they have to know when they graduate from this place. What they all end up doing is stripping the bookstore clean of Gilbert’s on Property and teaching themselves what they are paying a large chunk of change to have you teach them. Sure, your captive audience of ten groupies might think you’re a regular Cardozo, but, in truth, if you paraded your stupid bullshit in front of real lawyers, they’d laugh you out of the room. You’re a piss poor teacher, and one sorry excuse of a person.”
Pyle was beginning to feel faint.
“Oh yeah, one more thing. What is your first name, Pyle?”
In a voice that was completely devoid of defiance, Pyle answered, “My first name is David.”
Steele looked contemptuously at Pyle and said, “David is it? Not for me. From now on, your gott-damned name is GOMER.”
The room erupted in laughter, and Pyle was crushed. He knew the name would stick.
“That is all I have to say to you, GOMER. Now sit your sorry ass down.”
With that, Steele turned toward Dean Maxwell and said, “Thank you for the invitation,” and he walked to the back of the room and slowly placed his drill sergeant’s hat on his head. Once he had positioned his hat exactly right, he walked out of the room, leaving the faculty speechless and Gomer wondering if anyone would be able to see that he had wet his pants.
As Steele was walking down the hall toward the exit, he heard someone yell, “Hey Jumpmaster! Wait!”
Steele was startled to hear someone in the school refer to him as “Jumpmaster.” He turned around to see Arthur Merriweather walking in his direction. Merriweather extended his hand and said, “Jumpmaster, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Arthur Merriweather.”
Steele shook Merriweather’s hand and asked, “How did you know that I was a jumpmaster?”
Merriweather smiled and said, “I recognized the master parachutist badge, which means that you were a jumpmaster and that you have made combat jumps.” That’s most impressive.”
Steele asked, “I sure as hell didn’t expect anyone around here to know anything about a parachutist badge. How is it that you know that?”
Merriweather smiled even broader and said, “It’s because I have a badge just like yours at home. I also served with the 101st Airborne Division, but that was many years ago.”
“No kidding. When did you serve?”
Merriweather answered, “I was one of the guys who was dropped into France behind Normandy Beach the night before D-Day. Sadly, most of the fellows I jumped with are buried over there. I don’t believe I have ever told anyone around here about that. Some of it is difficult to talk about, particularly to people who I know won’t get it.”
Steele shook Merriweather’s hand again, this time placing his left hand over the old paratrooper’s hand, and said, “It is an honor to meet you sir, and please call me Jack.”
Merriweather replied, “It is an honor to meet you, Jack. Please call me Arthur.”
Merriweather continued, “I have to tell you, Jack. You’re one helluva breath of fresh air around here. I like your style.”
Steele laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad that at least one person does. I’ve never been known to sugar coat my feelings.”
“I’ve never known a drill sergeant to behave otherwise.”
“That may be true Arthur, but I figure that there’s a good chance that I’ll get a pink slip handed to me tomorrow.”
“Not a chance. The truth is, you were absolutely on the money in there. These people have lost sight of the mission here, and that is to teach these kids what they need to know once they’re out of here and inflicting themselves on the clients of the world. From what I saw in there and from what I’ve heard about your class, you have your eye on the ball. I understand that you even give your class a periodic attitude check.”
Steele laughed loudly, “How the hell did you know that?”
“I knew it as soon as I heard two of the professors complain about hearing your students shout ‘WE LOVE THIS SHIT.”
“Hey Arthur, waddya say we go some place for a beer? I’m buying.”
“OK, but only if you promise tell me if some of my favorite saloons around Fort Campbell are still in business.”
Steele replied, “It’s a deal,” and, with that, the two jumpmasters headed out the door.
(to be continued)