Monday, September 3, 2007

"University Days," by James Thurber

University Days
by James Thurber

Another course that I didn’t like, but somehow managed to pass, was economics. I went to that class straight from the botany class, which didn’t help me any in understanding either subject. I used to get them mixed up. But not as mixed up as another student in my economics class who came there directly from a physics laboratory.
He was a tackle on the football team, named Bolenciewcz. At that time Ohio State University had one of the best football teams in the country, and Bolenciecwcz was one of its outstanding stars. In order to be eligible to play it was necessary for him to keep up in his studies, a very difficult matter, for while he was not dumber than an ox he was not any smarter. Most of his professors were lenient and helped him along. None gave him more hints in answering questions or asked him simpler ones than the economics professor, a thin, timid man named Bassum. One day when we were on the subject of transportation and distribution, it came to Bolenciecwcz’s turn to answer a question.
“Name one means of transportation,” the professor said to him.
No light came into the big tackle’s eyes.
“Just any means of transportation,” said the professor.
Bolenciecwcz sat staring at him.
“That is,” pursued the professor, “any medium, agency, or method of going from one place to another.”
Bolenciecwcz had the look of a man who was being led into a trap.
“You may choose among steam, horsedrawn, or electrically propelled vehicles,” said the instructor. “I might suggest the one which we commonly take in making long journeys across land.”
There was a profound silence in which everybody stirred uneasily, including Bolenciecwcz and Mr. Bassum.
Mr. Bassum abruptly broke this silence in an amazing manner. “Choo-choo-choo,” he said, in a low voice, and turned instantly scarlet. He glanced appealingly around the room.
All of us, of course, shared Mr. Bassum’s desire that Bolenciecwcz should stay abreast of the class in economics, for the Illinois game, one of the hardest and most important of the season, was only a week off. “Toot, toot, too-tooooooot!” some student with a deep voice moaned, and we all looked encouragingly at Bolenciecwcz. Somebody else gave a fine imitation of a locomotive letting off steam. Mr. Bassum himself rounded off the little show. “Ding, dong, ding, dong,” he said, hopefully.
Bolenciecwcz was staring at the floor now, trying to think, his great brow furrowed, his huge hands rubbing together, his face red.
“How did you come to college this year, Mr. Bolenciecwcz?” asked the professor. “Chuffa chuffa, chuffa chuffa.”
“M’father sent me,” said the football player.
“What on?” asked Bassum.
“I git an 'lowance,” said the tackle, in a low, husky voice, obviously embarrassed.
“No, no,” said Bassum. “Name a means of transportation. What did you ride here on?”
“Train,” said Bolenciecwcz.
“Quite right,” said the professor, “Now Mr. Nugent, Will you tell us---”

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