Monday, February 27, 2012

The King of Clubs

Back in college, which seems like forever ago and a day, I took a creative writing course. Although I loved to read, it seemed to me that turning into a mermaid was easier than writing a story. But I needed a humanities course and it was the only one offered that semester.

I walked into the class and the first thing that struck me was the professor, who looked like a mix between an evil villain and a leprechaun. He was about five feet and some odd inches with hair the color of red clay and a pointy beard to match. His trousers were hitched almost near the center of his chest and he wore wingtip shoes. A pointer was always in his hand, which he rarely used to emphasize any fact, so I figured it was some kind of threat to keep us in line. Right off the bat he scared me, and his opening remark didn’t assuage my fears. It was similar to today’s reality shows. He said, “Only one of you will end up passing this course.” Game on.

I put more effort into the writing homework than I did on statistics, which is really saying something since I spent about 14 hours a week trying to get through that maze of numbers. Nevertheless, I ended up with a final short story entitled, “The King of Clubs.” It was the tale of a young girl in college who squandered her time in a bar down the street from the campus. That described half of the girls in my dorm, so the plot was easy to come up with. Back then I had to write the drafts on a legal pad because there were no word processors. The finished product had to be typed on a manual typewriter and there was no such thing as correction tape. Egads!!!!!!

The day the final paper was due, I practically crept up to his desk to add my creation to the ever-growing stack of fiction, only one of which would pass his final inspection. Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could have come in handy because I didn’t want him to actually see me and associate my face with failure. Nevertheless, "The King of Clubs” made it to the grading pile. I walked back to the dorm that day as if I were walking down a gangplank.

That class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesday night of finals week, my stomach was like a rock tumbler. I didn’t want to be one of the 39 out of 40 that would fail the course. But I wasn’t going to feel any better until I knew my fate and at ten o’clock the following morning I started out to the final session of that creative writing course.

He was one of those instructors that folded papers in half long-wise, so you had to open each one like a greeting card to find out your grade, with all the associated comments and strike outs in stunning red. But most of the greeting cards today were going to offer sympathy. I prayed I would get the one that read, “Congratulations.”

He always arranged our papers in alphabetical order by last name. Mine began with “C,” and the moment he began the walk to my desk was predictable. As the paper finished its return journey back to me, my rock tumbler stomach was going a mile a minute. I paused before I slowly opened my card and nearly lost my breakfast over what I read.

Nice work, Holly. Not only do you pass, but you get an A. I’ve never given an A. Never.

I slapped the paper shut, not wanting anyone else to see my grade, or the bold red comments, just in case the other students would want to take the winner into a back alley.

All these years later, I still remember that instructor and that moment. He pushed me harder than I have ever been pushed, yet because of the grade on that paper, I continued writing.

As far as “The King of Clubs,” well, I lost that paper somewhere along the paths of my life. And that’s okay except that I sure do wish I could remember its ending.

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