The Crucible


Insert Title Here by John Sosnowski

Associate Professor David Sherman was pulling yet

another late night in the office, but it wasn’t out of dedication

to his career. He slouched in his office chair, dress

shirt untucked, stroking his goatee. The first paragraph of

an essay on Nietzsche in the Digital Age lingered on his

computer, and he nursed a glass of cheap Scotch, straight

with no ice. Everyone else had surely checked out by this

hour, so he felt secure in pulling the bottle of rotgut out of

its sanctuary in his file cabinet’s bottom drawer. Secretively

drinking at work wasn’t ideal, he acknowledged, but anything

was better than being home.

Professor Sherman hated himself for having married

Sheila, the French-major-turned-housewife with whom he

was smitten throughout his undergrad years, ever since they

met at a keg party as freshmen. She had no appreciation for

philosophy, the arts, or really anything of intellectual depth.

Hell, she was a straight C student who could barely speak

French even by the time she graduated. But there was something

about that perky, fun-loving brunette he just couldn’t

resist. He fell in love with her because she was a foil to him; whereas

he was the brooding intellectual, she had a light of spirit that seemed

to never go out. She, meanwhile, never got tired of his rudimentary

three-chord acoustic guitar pickings, and figured he’d be pretty accomplished.

She had always wanted to be with somebody who was

going to be great. It was some kind of a Marilyn Monroe complex. So

he married her shortly after they graduated from Arizona State. He

knew this would complicate his dreams of a life of teaching in New

York City, but it seemed like a fair deal at the time.

Now, as he stared at the screen of a PC issued by small,

public North Tacoma University, in a cramped office he shared

with a professor who always checked out before 3 PM, he lamented

nearly every aspect of his life. They say “publish or perish,” but

perishing didn’t seem so bad after all. He was beyond caring about

even the thought of full professorship, and questioned whether

there was anything new to say about 19th Century Weimar classicist

philosophy, anyway. He’d come to see academic writing, especially

in the humanities, as little more than a mill of intellectual regurgitation

to no constructive end. Still, he stared at this infant paper,

as it stood christened “Insert Title Here” as a placeholder, in vain

hope of rediscovering the love he once felt for his chosen field.

The passion died somewhere in between watching students

sleep in his classes, reading term papers which used excessive block

quotes to reach the page limit, listening to the 1000th farfetched

excuse for frequent absenteeism or late work, tuning out Sheila

at the dinner table over her crappy meatloaf, and commuting in

his used Hyundai sedan listening to classic rock radio for lack of a

better idea. But he sat at his desk and attempted to work. Staring

at a blank page here was better than doing it at home, with his wife

rambling about celebrity gossip and the girls at the hair salon, and

that infernal Chihuahua Trixie yapping at him.

The cursor hovered over the Firefox icon on his taskbar,

bridging the paper in progress with the half-dozen or so windows

of pornography he’d left open. Porn used to do something for him,

but now it was just a habit to stare at video clips while sipping his

Scotch. In this way, porn and philosophy had become one and the

same for him. He’d scarcely played his guitar since the time he’d

begun grad school years earlier, but the old thing was in his car

trunk from an open mic night he’d almost attended the previous

evening. An impromptu practice earlier that day proved he still had

it, at least as much as he ever did, but something inside couldn’t let

him take the stage. He missed singing and playing, but he couldn’t

stand the thought of being a star for just a brief set, then rejoining

the reality of his empty career and home life.

The alcohol helped him along, but an inevitable tipping

point had been reached. Sherman made a drastic, impulsive

decision as he finished his drink with a quick swig. He was going

to New York, that night, to live, without so much as a goodbye to

Sheila. He didn’t care that it was the middle of the fall semester

and someone would have to cover his Philosophy 101 sections,

he didn’t care that he’d probably max out a credit card on gas

as he crossed the country in his clunky Hyundai, and he didn’t

care about the acute threat of homelessness. He certainly didn’t

care about his mortgage or how his wife would make do now

that she probably couldn’t coast by on looks anymore at 34. He

was going to start making music again, and hopefully land on

his feet playing gigs. He’d probably wait tables, too, to make

ends meet. Even if shit hit the fan, he’d find a way. The threat of

failure in an unforgiving city was still better than the spiritual

death he was living through every single day. Nothing scared

him anymore--he’d already been to his personal hell. He left the

building wondering what Nietzsche would have to say about all

of it, before acknowledging that he didn’t really give a shit.

On the way out of town, past the exit where hd normally

get off to return to his suburban condo, he stopped for gas and

impulsively bought a pack of Camels and a CD from a bargain

music bin by the counter. It was an old favorite of his, Katy Lied

by Steely Dan. He popped it into the CD player as he made his

way to the interstate and skipped to the ninth track, “Any World

(That I’m Welcome To”), because, he thought, any world he was

welcome to was indeed better than the one he was coming from.

“Insert Title Here” remained open on the office computer,

for how long before they realized he wasn’t coming back, he’d

never know. It was ironically fitting, in that he’d shed the titles of

husband and professor for singer-songwriter, bum, or whatever

else was to come. Life corrupted… would you like to initiate

Auto-Recovery? Life successfully recovered… Insert Title Here.