The Garden Path

“He dreamt he was wandering an open-sided, oceanfront pier. Drunk and alone in the mid-morning hours, a random lapse in balance resets his gait with new motion — staggering blindly, then trotting in horror, his eyes opened — ahead his direction, a few several, hazy feet away, he discerns an edge, inches above the Earth’s horizon. Failing to answer, the man charges farther, beyond in continuum his unfortunate road.”

 

“So, that’s Briscoe,” Franklin Brady said to his students.

 

The year was new. And so was the class. It was Franklin Brady’s 2nd year of teaching undergraduate literature at Gramble University. His class in hand: Alternative Cults and The American NovelENG201 — the only course in his department to offer non-literature majors the opportunity to study non-introductory Literature. Although listed as a 2nd level course, ENG201 operated on a basis of Franklin Brady’s own choosing — the young professor had enjoyed a great deal of academic freedom in this regard. Gramble had hired Brady on account of his alternative approaches — though as well for his uniquely establishing reputation, which was predicted to grow rapidly. There was much promise to be had in Franklin Brady. As the youngest associate in the department of literature, and as one among only five black faculty academics in the entire School of Social Sciences, Franklin Brady had pulled his colleagues’ notice with his biological credentials alone — but no matter however much worth had been appraised in Franklin Brady’s proverbial mugshot — regardless of whatever prestige was calculated in the bullets on his C.V. — what had made Franklin Brady be most exceptional was purely intangible.

 

“Realshitters dislike bullshitters because bullshitters walk on lines that realshitters shit on,” Franklin Brady said. He continued, “Unlike realshitters, bullshitters are all of only one type: bullshitters–that’s it. Realshitters, however, exist in an unlimited variety and shit only on lines respective to their variety. A realshitting architect, for example, will not shit on lines shitted by realshitting engineers.”

 

The room had gone silent. Not even the clicks of keyboards could be heard. All eyes were on Franklin Brady — all ears listening to his every word.

 

“Yes, Stacy,” he said

 

Stacy had been raising her hand since the lecture even started — something somewhat typical of her.

 

“Um, so, like, these realshitters, right–could they still ever bullshit despite being realshitters?” she said. She was squinting, staring at Franklin Brady, awaiting his answer. She had seemed somewhat incredulous of the legitimacy of his lecture.

 

“Indeed, they can, absolutely, Stacy,” Franklin Brady said. Stacy’s eyes widened upon hearing this. He went on, “Any realshitter can as well be a bullshitter, and should that realshitting architect desire to walk that line, then he or she may certainly do so. But, crossing over that line and, venturing into the engineer’s realshitting realm, that’s a much different story–boundaries are clear, and every bullshitter knows their limits and knows their limits well. So, yeah. Great question, Stacy,” he said.

 

Stacy leaned back into her chair. And for a moment, she looked down, as if unsure of what he’d said. Perplexed by his answer, but receptive to his praise, she turned a new page in her notes and began a fresh stanza.

 

Stacy was Franklin Brady’s favorite student. And being as attractive as she was smart, she garnered much attention from her peers, especially the men. Her allure was a type that less than common. One could say that Stacy was hot, but a description could be more accurate. She was, as one student had said, an “ugly” kind of hot. And Franklin Brady would be the first to agree with this, though he’d never admit it. Sleezeball professor was the last quality he’d care adding to his still-budding reputation. And unfortunately, as a few at Gramble had already known, Franklin Brady’s history with woman was less than ideal, perhaps damaging enough already, and with that as a fixture in the back of his mind, Franklin Brady’s protocol with students had become something like that of a short-leashed priest to a pack of altar boys.

 

Stacy was diligent in her writing — busy, and consumed with her notes. Franklin Brady observed this and nodded approvingly. He gulped some of his coffee from his mug. He began to walk — pacing — with his hands held behind his back, and continued with his lecture.

 

“As perhaps the realshitters only true contemporary, shitshitters shit also. But unlike realshitters, though, who but simply dislike bullshitters, shitshitters, on the other hand, hate bullshitters, and so because that bullshitters do not bull out shit from shit-shitted lines. In fact, the defining difference between shitshitters and realshitters is this only strict preference which all bullshitters hold. Lack of prestige is intrinsic in shitshitters, and lack of bulling is perhaps one part of its cause if not mere incident to its effect. Nonetheless, the mutual context of shitshitters and bullshitters renders jarring correlations. And the possibility that proverbial mudslinging is the product of something less obvious — quilted deep within complex layers of social fabric — is a quandary difficult to ignore,” he said.

 

He stopped pacing. He had turned away from his students and was staring at the dry-erase boards. He gulped his remaining coffee. He placed the empty mug down on his desk. He then turned around to face his students.

 

“Extra credit to anyone who describes how or why this framing I use affects your own judgment in application to Briscoe,“ he said to them.

 

“Anyone?” he said then asking once more. He examined the classroom, from left to right — none of the students seemed confident enough to orate a response. He looked then for Stacy, but as he attempted engaging her eyes they dropped slowly to the floor. He turned back then toward across the room and setoff to examine his options once more — searching from the bottom to the top and from left then toward right, he stopped middle, having determined his volunteer, “Mr. Morgan,” he said, “Why don’t you help us out?”

 

Terrance Morgan had not once participated in Franklin Brady’s class. He majored in biology and was only there to satisfy a humanities requirement.

 

Franklin Brady reiterated, “What does my speech on bullshitters, realshitters, and shitshitters make you think Briscoe perhaps intended for the man to find in himself, drunk and wandering the pier?”

 

Following a long moment of pause, Terence Morgan firmly answered, “That he’s bullshit,” he said

 

“Ok, why is the bullshit?” Franklin Brady said, and began pacing again.

 

Terence Morgan opened his mouth to speak, but then paused, and closed it back shut. With a slight tilt of his head, he reopened his mouth and slowly began, “The man learns he’s bullshit because he realized he’s been stumbling his way through life, relying on excuses and believing the world misunderstands him when in reality his rejection is rightful and deserved,” he said, and continued, his rate of speech was mounting, “Briscoe uses the man’s drunken stumbling as a metaphor for this. Being drunk is to the same effect as the man’s excuses — in believing that no one understands him, the man manages to mask his own mind from the burden of accepting the truth of his social rejection. In his doing so, the man stumbles through life, just as he stumbles literally on the dock. It’s a metaphor.”

 

Franklin Brady stopped pacing. He turned and directed all his focus on Terence Morgan, “So, then this makes him a bullshitter, right — is this what you mean to tell me?”

 

Terence Morgan cleared his throat, “Yes, the man is a bullshitter. Or, well, at least that is how it seems. So far in the story, from what the man believes of himself, it’s that he’s a bullshitter,” he said.

 

Franklin Brady, without pause, responded to this with a new question, “OK, but then whose shit has the man been bulling?” he asked.

 

“I’m…not sure,” Terence Morgan said, with a slight chuckle.

 

“Have you any ideas,” Franklin Brady said, enjoying the exchange.

 

“The world’s–I don’t know–He’s definitely a bullshitter, though. He’s been bullshitting himself the whole novel,” Terence Morgan decided.

 

“Ah! So, then he’s been bulling his own shit,” Franklin Brady exclaimed. “Damn, well how about that, the man is part realshitter, part bullshitter, and part shitshitter, all three all at once,” Franklin Brady said, confirming. “What a great answer, Mr. Morgan. You really must share your ideas more often. I never had considered the man in this way before. Thank you. Really,” he said, and continued pacing the room.

 

“Yes, Stacy,” Franklin Brady asked, but kept pacing.

 

“I just wanted to add my own opinion, if there’s enough time for that,” she said.

 

“Well, sure, of course, Stacy. We have time. What’s your take on all this?” he said, without looking at the time.

 

Stacy prepared herself before she spoke — a ritual she’d always perform in the moments before long-winded answers. She tucked her rogue black lock behind left ear, flattened the scrunches that’d formed in her blouse, leveled her foot back in into her left heel — and then, with a swift, deep held breath, she slowly exhaled and began to speak, “I do not believe the man is a bullshitter, nor do I believe the man is three parts each. If one accounts for Briscoe’s–”

 

Franklin Brady halted her. He knew this much was needed. “Before you continue, Stacy–In the interest of time, of which we do have little, I want to ensure that your contribution will not be squandered. Time is of the essence, you do understand,” he said, as if asking.

 

“Oh, of course, Professor Brady,” she insisted. She nodded rapidly. She really did understand. “I believe the man is a shitshitter,” she said quickly.

 

“Why is the man a shitshitter? And, is he as well a bullshitter?” Franklin Brady said. He was still pacing.

 

“No, he is not a bullshitter,” she said, “Although–Morgan was not so far off base for having believed so,” she added, self-assuredly. She continued, “The man is a shitshitter and he is a shitshitter, period. As you said yourself, Professor Brady, realshitters dislike bullshitters, and shitshitters hate bullshitters. The man might hate himself, but he cannot possibly be a bullshitter because he’s done absolutely nothing in the way of invoking the likeness of anyone else’s own shit. He has been only himself, he lacks prestige, he shits his own shit, and nobody bulls it. So, in the interest of logic, on the basis of your own lecture, the man is a shitshitter,” Stacy said. She smirked coyly, and relaxed back into her chair. Her eyes were kept set on Franklin Brady, seemingly awaiting his praise.

 

Franklin Brady stopped pacing. He then looked at his watch. “You know, Stacy, my lecture on shitshitters, bullshitters, and realshitters–it was merely a framing effort. It was not at all set on any basis of any fact. It was basically just bullshit. I’d offered it only to provoke thought, which clearly it’s accomplished.”

Stacy stepped outside for a cigarette. The mentholated filter stung her lips.

 

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