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It was a dark and stormy night - the opening line of much potboiler fiction - but dark and stormy nights do happen, and this was one. The Parsley Eater parked his pickup truck in the service drive at the rear of Yort College's Old Main building. He turned on his flashlight, stepped out of his truck, and dashed quickly through the rain to the basement door. As he opened the door, the operations person on duty - L.P.Knorr -shone his flashlight on the Parsley Eater from where Knorr stood at the bottom of the short flight of stairs. He directed the beam of light onto the stairs as the Parsley Eater descended. They both entered the small Operations office located just to the left of the bottom of the stairwell, on the south side of the basement hallway. Knorr told the Parsley Eater that he had been attempting to contact him on the telephone for the past hour to report a storm-caused power outage, and that he was relieved when he saw the headlights of the pickup truck in the service drive.
Normally, a brief power outage would not have been a serious problem. Unfortunately Roach, Professor of Alchemy, had set up several chemical reactions in his laboratory and left them running. When the power went out, the heating mantles on which the reaction flasks rested shut off. The reactants cooled and refluxing ceased. Knorr feared that when power was restored, heating would resume and the reaction mixtures would bump violently, possibly spilling out over the condenser tops and causing a fire. No one was scheduled to be on duty after midnight and it was not known when power would be restored. He was unable to contact Roach. Knorr did not want to take sole responsibility for unplugging the heating mantles and in all likelihood incur Roach's wrath.
The two men walked along the dark hallway to the entrance of Roach's laboratory. When they opened the door, they noticed an irritating, fishy odor. The fume hood had ceased working due to the power failure, so vapors from the still warm reaction flasks were not vented from the room. Knorr shone his flashlight beam on the reaction setups mounted on the laboratory bench top. The Parsley Eater commented that the reactions should have been set up in the fume hood. No safety shields protected the equipment, another violation of safety protocols. Roach had not installed fail-safe switches on any of the setups. These switches would have prevented resumption of heating after power was restored. The Parsley Eater unplugged the variacs controlling the heating mantles and closed the water faucets to which the condenser hoses were attached, two simple actions that were all Knorr would have had to do in order to prevent any possible accidents. Knorr was not paid to exhibit initiative.
They left the laboratory and walked back to the Operations office. A lightning flash illuminated the room for an instant, followed by a loud clap of thunder. The Parsley Eater sardonically commented that the thunder was nothing compared with the probable fury of Roach when he discovered that his reactions had been shut down. Roach had a volatile temper. He would most likely assume that Knorr or the Parsley Eater or both were responsible for the shutdown. Predictably, he would run to Mair, the college President, denounce both of them as incompetents, complete incompetents, or super incompetents, and would demand that both be fired immediately. Knorr grinned and nodded his head in agreement. He repeated that he was relieved that the Parsley Eater came by when he did.
Earlier that night, Fred Dobritzhofer, a.k.a. the Parsley Eater, had been at the home of one of his long-time friends, Spizz Spitzmiller. Together they repaired a piece of equipment that Spizz used in his cleaning business. When they finished, Spizz grabbed two bottles of beer from his refrigerator to celebrate their success. While they were drinking, the storm broke, so they decided to shoot pool in Spizz's basement until the rain let up. The power went out soon after Spizz broke the rack in their second game. After sitting around in the dark for a while, Fred decided to call it a night. The rain obviously was not going to end soon. He said goodbye to Spizz, ran to his pickup truck, and drove in the direction of his parents' farm, where he lived. On the way, it occurred to him to drop in on Knorr and check up on how things were going at Yort College. Knorr rode to work several miles on a bicycle from the commune where he lived. He was scheduled to go off duty at midnight, but would have to stay at the college until the weather cleared. The Parsley Eater decided to offer Knorr a ride to the commune when the shift ended.
The Parsley Eater and Knorr discussed various maintenance problems in the campus buildings for a while. They worked out a repair schedule for the following week. Then Knorr changed the subject to Roach's research. He claimed that it was rumored that Roach was involved in methamphetamine production as well as the designer drug development that Roach openly boasted of. The scuttlebutt was that Roach was selling the products of his activities to the Hellyun Stealyuns, a local motorcycle gang, among others. Knorr expressed concern that there might be a bust from the Narcs, although there was little to worry about from the notoriously permissive local gendarmerie. The Parsley Eater responded that he saw nothing, heard nothing, and knew nothing. He offered Knorr transportation back to the commune when the shift was over. Knorr accepted enthusiastically.
The Parsley Eater glanced at his watch and calculated that there was enough time to inspect the upper floors of Old Main before midnight. He climbed the stairs to the main floor and walked down the hallway to the office of the President. He shone his flashlight on the nameplate by the door to the office, which prominently displayed: MAIR, P. PRESIDENT. He opened the door and entered the large room. He checked to see whether Knorr had emptied the waste basket by Mair's desk, which Knorr sometimes neglected to do. But not this time. As the Parsley Eater left the office, it was illuminated by another flash of lightning, followed a few seconds later by a rumble of thunder. The storm was moving out.
Adjacent to the President's office was the office of Abu Che, head and sole member of the Media Department. Abu Che was enamored of various third world revolutionaries, particularly Che Guevara and Abu Nidal. Large posters of their scowling visages hung on the walls of his office, along with portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Chairman Mao. Abu Che's real name was Wyndham Whitehead. His father claimed descent from Jonathan Edwards and was a partner in a prominent Eastern law firm. His mother claimed descent from one of the passengers on the Mayflower. Young Wyndham fell under the spell of the hard left in college, repudiated his heritage, and changed his name to Abu Che.
The next office was occupied by DICKEY, M. BUSINESS MANAGER. She was also Professor of Astrology. She and her husband had been employed by the junior college that was the predecessor of Yort College. Her husband, Wallingford Percival Dickey, taught Economics. It was he who was responsible for the nickname Parsley Eater that clung to Fred Dobritzhofer.
After high school graduation several years previously, Fred enrolled in the local junior college, mainly because it was located only a few miles from his parents' farm. He planned to study two years at the junior college and then transfer to the state land grant university. At the time when Fred matriculated the junior college enjoyed a good reputation in the local community, from which much of its student body was drawn. Fred enrolled in Dr. Dickey's Introduction to Economics course. Dr. Dickey's reputation was that of the faculty radical and most absent minded professor. He habitually dressed in the same ill-fitting suit with food-stained tie. His hair appeared to have been styled by a political cartoonist. His ambition was to reconcile the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud in one grand theory. During one class session, discussion centered on whether paper currencies should be linked to gold. Dr. Dickey considered gold backed currencies to be barbaric relics. He facetiously proposed that it would be just as logical to back currencies with the parsley used to garnish dinner plates in restaurants. Parsley was slow to decompose and was hardly ever eaten. Thus, a known quantity would be available, or so he jokingly claimed. Parsley could not be counterfeited. The government could monopolize production and prevent contraband parsley from coming to market, as prohibition against marijuana use proved - - hahaha!
Dr. Dickey emphasized again that hardly anyone ever ate parsley garnish in restaurants. Then he smiled broadly and pointed at poor Fred. The previous evening Fred and the Dickeys happened to be dining at the same restaurant, which was featuring a 1950's theme. Parsley prominently garnished the blue plate specials, the prices of which were definitely not 1950ish. Not knowing what he was doing, Fred ate the parsley on his plate, which act was observed by Dr. Dickey and his wife Miranda. This was the incident alluded to in the Economics class the next morning during the currency discussion. Dr. Dickey declared with mock seriousness that parsley could be used to back a currency because Fred Dobritzhofer was the only person known to have eaten it! The nickname Parsley Eater stuck with Fred, clinging fast to his figurative neck as tenaciously as the old man in the Arabian Nights story.
The Parsley Eater completed his tour of Old Main. Shortly before midnight, he and Knorr locked the doors of the building. They lifted Knorr's bicycle into the bed of the pickup truck and drove through the steady rain to the commune where Knorr lived. Fred dropped off his passenger and then proceeded to his parents' home.CHAPTER 2
Next morning the Parsley Eater returned to Yort College half an hour later than scheduled, having caught up on a small amount of the sleep that he lost the night before. Power had been restored some time in the early morning. He accelerated the pace of his routine morning inspections, during which he was relieved to find that Roach was not in his office. The alchemist rarely showed up until late in the morning. Eventually Roach would arrive and discover that the reactions in his laboratory had been shut down, after which time the Parsley Eater was fairly certain that he would be summoned to Mair's office to explain why he had turned them off. So he chose to spend the first part of the morning doing routine repairs and afterward catching up on a considerable backlog of paperwork, which involved his own office and some routine reports and documentation that President Mair and Mrs. Dickey did not have time to bother with. Before going back to his office, he stopped at Mrs. Dickey's office to pick up the paychecks for his group. It was payday. Miranda Cassandra Dickey, a very tall woman with a protruding lower jaw and bleached blond hair, was not in a pleasant mood. She handed him an envelope labeled OPERATIONS DEPARTMENT and frowned at him dismissively. The Parsley Eater got the message, mumbled thanks, and immediately left her office.
He walked downstairs to the Operations office and put the envelope in the desk drawer. Then he completed the necessary repairs in various places on campus, after which he returned to the office and picked up an intimidatingly large batch of papers. He climbed the stairs to the second floor, where he had converted an old storage closet into a private space where he could work undisturbed. The closet was strategically situated. One could hear much of what went on in the President's office if one knew just where to place one's ear. When Roach would burst into Mair's office foaming at the mouth, the Parsley Eater would be able to hear what was said. As far as he knew, no one else was aware of this feature of his private cubby hole.
The Parsley Eater took his coffee break in the Operations office in the basement. When he returned to his second floor hideaway he got through much of the paper burden just before lunch time. Then he descended again to the basement, but there was no indication that Roach had been around, even though it was payday. At 1:00 PM Roach was scheduled to lecture in his Introduction to Alchemy class. This course replaced the Chemistry courses that had been taught at the junior college.
At noon, the Parsley Eater left Old Main and walked one block east of campus to Southwind Lanes, a bowling alley with a small restaurant. Yort College had no dining facility. An attempt to provide vegetarian dishes during the noon hour failed, even with a faculty and student body that professed the most enlightened environmental principles. Purists objected that vegetables had to be eaten within fifteen minutes of picking, or else they lost their spiritual and nutritional values. Other objectives and lack of enthusiasm caused the project to be dropped.
Fred was preceded into the small dining room by Professor Boussiere and three of his disciples. Fred waited for them to select a table so that he could seat himself as far away from them as possible. Unfortunately, they chose a table in the middle of the dining room. Fred seated himself at the counter, at the end furthest from the game room, with its noisy pinball machines and other games. Before the waitress came to the table to take orders, Professor Boussiere began to hold forth on his current obsession, the toxic metals in celery. His rich baritone voice resounded with certainty and conviction, easily heard over the racket in the game room. He talked in crisp, measured sentences, all the while leaning on the table with both elbows. The acolytes seated at the table listened attentively. One of them, a scrawny girl named Thisbe, stared at Professor Boussiere with her mouth open and her facial expression that of a groupie in the presence of a rock star. He did not stop talking when the waitress approached the table. Each of the students ordered quickly, not bothering to look at the menu. The Professor interrupted his harangue for the few seconds it took to order his meal, and then continued with the thrust of his argument. His voice rose and his sentences became more convoluted as he denounced the cancerous, genocidal, corporate greed of the capitalistic interests responsible for the outrage. As he wound up his diatribe, he leaned back in his chair and clasped his arms behind his head, revealing the elbow patches in his tweed jacket. However deeply into the counterculture he was steeped, he would not abandon this trademark of academia any more than his predecessors would have repudiated caps and gowns.
At the end of his speech he cited allegedly scientific studies that indicated that pregnant women who ate large quantities of celery gave birth to infants who developed autism, color blindness, speech impediments, and other maladies. Men who consumed too much celery suffered from low self- esteem, depression, halitosis, and possibly much more serious conditions.
This be interrupted in her surprisingly loud, shrill voice: "And everyone's balls will fall off". Professor Boussiere's face assumed its most grave expression. He nodded in assent. Thisbe chirped in again: "Capitalism sucks". The Professor's countenance exhibited minor irritation at this second interruption. He drew a deep breath and resumed his ranting, this time on a different subject.
Dorree, the waitress, finally got around to taking Fred's order. While he waited for his food, Fred tried without success to ignore Boussiere, whose new subject was a disagreement with Dr. Dickey, whom he referred to as Wally the worm. When the food finally arrived, Fred ate rapidly, left a tip on the counter, and paid the check. The Professor was still holding forth when Fred exited Southwind Lanes.
Fred walked back to Old Main. Just as he neared the side door to the building, Roach's sports car screeched to a halt in front. The driver was Tse-tse Tabor, a dancer at a local strip club. Roach got out of the passenger side of the vehicle and walked somewhat unsteadily toward the front entrance. Tse-tse put pedal to the metal and roared off down the avenue.
Roach reminded the Parsley Eater of the actor David Niven. Roach was smaller than Niven, but had a large head with black hair and the trademark Niven mustache. Dark circles set off bleary eyes, under which were prominent bags. Roach barely made his 1:00 PM class. The Parsley Eater calculated that he could finish a few minor chores and leave for home at two o'clock (he had put in extra time earlier in the week), about the time Roach would discover that his reactions had been shut off. Roach then would burst into Mair's office and throw a tantrum. Mair would promise a full investigation. By Monday things would have cooled down.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Parsley Eater"
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