Feckless. That’s one of a number of words describing my character in my final year as an undergraduate at a fine institution chock full of feck. I assume I was admitted as the college’s ability to meet payroll had become problematic and retained for the same reason. There hadn’t been much feck around during my primary and secondary years, but the feck factor slid to zero somewhere in the fall of 1964. Nevertheless, against all reasonable laws of man and God, I stumbled toward graduation some number of years later without the slightest hint of preparation for a life outside a cosseting institution.
Allowance. Another word that characterized the length of rope from which I hung until I bid my college years a dazed farewell. I had been allowed to wallow in a life of ease provided by others and had been able to pay for the sundries I felt necessary (Dunhill cigarettes and Marvel comics) because I was sent a monthly allowance which lasted a week.
The which is to say, the specter of employment haunted the final days of my youthful cavorting. The title of this piece refers to my best stab at writing advertising copy for an eminent midwestern ad agency. I liked the idea of wearing a gray flannel suit tailored at Brooks Brothers so I completed an application which included the task of coming up with names for a number of products and enterprises, including an upscale restaurant in Chicago.
I was not familiar with Chicago, but I had heard that the city boasted a number of ethnicities and highly regarded ethnic restaurants. My first stabs at summoning Italian and Greek cuisine were unfortunate; I spent the day searching for an evocative title for a classy Chinese restaurant in the heart of the city.
And here’s where the problem resides …
The name, “The Rancid Panda”, arrived with full force at noon, driving out every other possibility and convincing me that my brain was allergic to sensibility. Today I like to characterize myself as whimsical; the truth is that I’m moderately insensible for much of the day and increasingly goofy when asked to generate original material. Others refer to “writer’s block”, the condition in which words simply fail to appear. I suffer from “writer’s monsoon”; the words arrive with the urgency of a hurricane and flood the levees of reason and graceful discourse. Remember the apocryphal Dutch boy with his finger stuck in the dike? My writing hours are spent in plugging and replugging gaps in congruity. I’ve written elsewhere of the wrath with which a football player received the Biology essay assigned him and passed on to me for typing well after midnight. I consider “The Mating Habits of the Bering Seal” among my best work; apparently, however, Professor Burns was not amused by my description of the languid twitch of flipper by which a randy seal invites reproductive congress.
Whimsical? The hulking football lineman thought not.
I did not finish the ad agency’s application; I never bought the gray flannel suit. In my feckless fashion, I applied for a job as a teacher of Psychology in a boarding school. I hadn’t majored in Psychology. I took one course, “Complex Learned Behavior in Insects”, in which I presented an essay on “The Waggle Dance of Honeybees”, a topic begging for whimsical pseudo-behavioral blather. Once again, I suspect I was hired because there were no other applicants, the job included living in a dormitory with teenage young men with dubious impulse control, and coaching soccer, a sport I had played with the same level of seriousness I gave to any enterprise.
I became a teacher by default.
Hapless is not a word that describes that career.
The world was filled with hap when I found myself in a classroom. Was I goofy on occasion? Yup, and we all survived. I retired after almost 50 years of teaching with my head held high, and when asked where I wanted to have my celebratory retirement dinner, what did I suggest?
You got it. The Rancid Panda.