About Me

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I'm an author, historian (Ph.D., WVU), musician, professor, and mountaineer. I have published two books, To Live Again, a classical myth set in contemporary Appalachia, and Defending the Homeland, a collection of essays on radicalism and national security. Welcome to my blog.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Urgent Blair Mountain Update

The following was emailed to me by the Friends of Blair Mountain. Please take the time to read and act by June 17!

The bottom line is very simple - the coal operators, in conjunction with the State Department of Highways, plan to cut off the only public road to the Blair Mountain battlefield, effectively preventing scholars and the general public from studying and visiting the area.

Here are the details as sent to me...

Recently, coal operators moved a much closer towards eradicating one of the most important labor heritage sites in America. On May 17th, the West Virginia Department of Highways held a hearing on the proposed abandonment of County Route 119/7, which will essentially allow the destruction of key elements on Blair Mountain.


Don't be surprised if you weren't aware of that hearing, because the Department of Highways District Manager where the abandonment is proposed never knew about it either! But thanks to the Friends of Blair Mountain, it has come to my attention that we do still have until June 17th to submit our written comments to persuade the agency to make the right decision.

The coal operators and their land company obviously hope this'll pass without opposition, but with your input we can keep this part of people’s history accessible. And it won't cost you a thing, other than a few moments of your time.

According to archeologist Brandon Nida:

"This area is extremely important, as it is one of the only places where both the defensive positions and the miners' approaches are still relatively undisturbed. While some archaeological research has been done in this portion, much work is still needed to comprehend the dynamics of the battle at this location.


If this (abandonment of right of way) happens, the coal operators will control the only route into the southern end of the battlefield, and access would be completely cut off to the general public.


This would then enable lumbering and coal extraction operations to be undertaken in the heart of the battlefield. In addition, without this access, our ability to monitor the site will be severely impeded."

- As of now, the state of WV does not spend any money whatsoever on maintaining the road. It does not cost the state anything, but has the potential to generate funds in the future.

- Alternative proposals for County Route 119/7 that could benefit the public over the long term should be considered. The road could serve as an interpretive hiking trail that showcases the history of miners' struggles and the battle itself. There are many more possible usages and development ideas for the battlefield in which the road would play a central part, and these alternatives could generate long-term employment and public money.

If passed, the abandonment of right-of-way will grant the coal operators the ability to bulldoze one of the most important sections of the Blair Mountain battle sites. The attorney representing Natural Resource Partners, L.P., has stated candidly that it is the intention of his clients to surface mine the area.



If you're opposed to it, please direct your comments to:



Paul A. Mattox, Jr., P.E.



Phone (304)558-3505



Fax (304)558-1004



E-mail dot.commissioner@wv.gov

And be sure that you get your comments there before June 17!

Monday, May 31, 2010

West Virginians at War: A Memorial Day Blog

It is Memorial Day and, as such, I thought it appropriate to share some recollections of West Virginia soldiers. My doctoral dissertation, “Soldiers and Stereotypes” dealt with the experiences of West Virginians who served during World War II. What follows are a few direct quotes from interviews and letters written by actual West Virginians concerning World War II. I’ve not provided any analysis of these passages (for that you can read my dissertation or simply wait until the book is finished). Today, however, I thought I would let the words of these West Virginians speak for themselves. I encourage everyone to read them, take a moment, and reflect.



James Weekley (Bridgeport, WV) on Pearl Harbor:

My next door neighbor and friend Martin Foley came out, and he
was the same fella that told me about when Hitler invaded
Poland. He came out and he says, “Pearl Harbor’s been attacked
by the Japanese! I just heard it on the radio!” And my first thought
was where and what is Pearl Harbor? And so, I told my Dad
when he came out and we went downtown and it hadn’t come
out in the news yet. I mean the newspaper. But, as we came back
we turned on the radio, and that entire evening, and the next day
and the next and hearing how many people were killed, estimates
and everything. Looking back to it, it’s hard to compare it to things
that have happened since. I believe it was one of the most exciting
nights of my life. I didn’t think about the blood or the gore. All I
thought of was the other stuff like, “were gonna get ‘em, and it’s
glorious.



Patrick Ward Gainer (Parkersburg, WV) in a letter to his wife:

Each time I write I think about our coming anniversary and
wonder whether you will receive this letter on that day. I am
sorry I could not send you something, but all I can send you
now is my love. I’ll make up for everything some day. If
we can just pull through this period of separation and then
be together again always. I hope we never quarrel again.
Goodnight by beloved wife. I love you with all of me.


Rudy Barie on combat:

People ask, what is it like to be in combat? This is a difficult
question to answer. With combat comes many strange feelings.
You know that at any moment you might fall dead or be seriously
wounded, but you haven’t the time to worry about the death that is
whistling around you. The time of serious thoughts of life and death,
home and the future come before and after an attack. The moment
before actual fighting you’re scared, scared stiff. Your thoughts are
a mile a minute – home, the objective, what to do, when to do it,
did you get the plan across to the men, will the attack be successful,
your tongue is dry, what time is it, glad you wrote that letter last night, wish this was over, time to go…

Rudy Barie describing a Japanese attack in the Pacific Theatre:

Amid the bomb bursts I saw one of my friends crawling towards
my pit without the use of his right arm. Blood was pouring from
his side as if someone had hit him with an axe. There were
screams of pain all around me as I jumped up to help my buddy
into the pit. Then I saw another fellow running across the field
toward another shelter. Just then another blast came rolling in
over us. After the dust cleared, where that kid was I saw a
shoe lying on the ground where he was running and hoped God
would have mercy on his soul. Then it was quiet and I knew
the raid was over. I yelled for a medic who helped me carry
the fellow with the missing arm to the first aid tent. I never
saw him again. I can’t explain why, but I went away so no
one could see me and tried to hide the tears that were rolling
down my face. Once again my Mother and Dad had been
spared their son. I guess I’m not so tough after all.

Daniel Kessler, after finding a Nazi Concentration Camp:

We arrived the day the camp was taken by American troops. The
Germans had tried to do away with the camp and prisoners. Dead
men tell no lies and they did try to kill them all but we surprised
them and took over the camp before SS troops could do too much
of their devilish work. Dead bodies were stacked on wagons in
long rooms with running water over them. There was at least
3,000 dead bodies around the place. The dead had been shot,
gassed, beaten to death, put to death with shots in the head, and
any other way that would cause death. This I will never forget
as long as I live.

Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Hershel Williams (South Charleston, WV), on Iwo Jima:

When we went overseas a fellow of the name of Vernon
Waters, who was a huge Swede who lived in Montana,
northern Montana. He and I became really close friends.
He was six foot six. I’m five foot six. You know, I had to
look up to him whether I wanted to or not. But we became
very close friends and, when we got over to Guadalcanal
they put Vernon and myself into a special unit, which kept
us together. At that time until we got to Iwo Jima, we
were closer than any brother than I have had, and I had
several brothers. . . .

Each of us wore a ring and mine was a ruby that
probably came from a dime store because it turned my
finger green. But Ruby is my wife’s name and at that time
we were engaged. So I wore what she gave to me to
remind me that there was a Ruby waiting for me. Well,
he had a ring on his right hand that his father had given
him in the Marine Corps. It is absolutely a Court Martial
offense to remove anything from a deceased marine’s
body . . . but Vernon and I, we didn’t know there was
such a law when we made the pact that if anything
happened to us I will give his ring back to his folks and
he will give my ring back to Ruby. And then, on Iwo,
on March 7, he got hit with a mortar and he got killed.
I ran to him and soon as I got to him, I knew he was dead.
But, I saw that ring on his finger and that pact struck me.
This is what I promised to do. So, I jerked the ring off his
finger before anybody else got there. But, having been in
the sun, and for the South Pacific we had lots and lots of
sun, and under that ring it was as white as snow. And,
they would know that somebody would have that ring.

So, in order to camouflage that, I grabbed some old black
sand which we had lots of around – old, volcanic black
sand. I spit in my hand and rubbed that sand and made a
little bit of mud out of it and I rubbed that on [his finger]
and you could sort of see all the whiteness was still
there but, it wasn’t what it was before.

So I stuck the ring in my pocket, kept it, and never
said anything to one person about it. As I got home in
January 1946 my wife to be and I drove to northern
Montana about as far as you can go to the Canadian
border, and I delivered that ring to Vernon’s father. That’s
the most memorable thing I can remember.

Joseph J. Mueller (Wheeling, WV) in a letter to his sister:

I could tell you tales which would wring your heart. But
what’s the use? [The soldiers] and we will just have to
sweat out the mess, and hope for better things to come.
You should thank God that none of your boys are old enough
for this war. For it is not pretty, this war, any aspect of it.
Some of the things I have seen would have made me sick
two years ago. Now, no. But I can never be hardened to
the thought that the poor lad in question had all the hopes
and dreams of the rest of us, and perhaps a mother or a wife
or a sweetheart watching the mail box every day. What a
rude shock must be the news that finally comes of him!
What everyone thinks he knows from reading and hearing
takes on a new reality when you see. But, whatever started
me on this? This is a heck of a birthday letter! Please
excuse it. I am really not depressed. I know that these things
must be. I only hope that those who make the peace
remember what price was paid for it, and they make it
stick.

Lloyd Kennedy on the impact of the war on his life:

I entered the army with high hopes and still greater aspirations.
I was a member of that generation of frustrated, heroic, pig-
headed youth which laid in the gutters, wallered and slept in
mud, snow, and rain actually thinking we were accomplishing
something for our home and nation – for democracy. I dreamed
of returning a conquering hero. I wanted to help preserve those
freedoms so many were dying for. As I see it now – all was in
vain. While helping to protect those many aspects of our
security, our freedom, and of our peace. I lost something more
vital than any hypocritical peace could ever mean to a bunch
of money hungry gluttons, flag-waving, patriotic boosters at
home. I lost my peace of mind, my own confidence in our
government, and worst of all, I learned to doubt God. My
doubt in the existence of a God and a Faith, which had been
driven into me since I was old enough to distinguish
between right and wrong, good and bad, drove me to
committing acts that only now do I realize and feel I am
suffering for. The sword and the metallic thunder of the
cannon made me conclude that there were more powerful
things here on earth, than even my own blind faith. Now
I wish I had remained blind, absurd, yet quite believable.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Battle For Blair Mountain

If you call West Virginia home, if you have ever called West Virginia home, and if you care at all about its history and culture, please carefully read the following passage:


Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer, once said, “There can be no peace in West Virginia because there is no justice in West Virginia.” When Mother Jones made this statement, the Mountain State was engulfed in what is now known as the West Virginia Mine Wars. Hundreds died and thousands more suffered through evictions, near starvation, the removal of their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly, and the brutality of private armies in the pay of the coal barons. On top of these injustices, the national media branded the coal miners as “rednecks” because of the red bandanas that the miners wore to show worker solidarity. The national media, ignoring the true causes of the violence, blamed the conflict on the supposed backwardness, ignorance, and savage nature of the Appalachian people. The Mine Wars climaxed in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where the army of the coal barons and the Redneck Army of miners riddled the hills with bullets and explosives for several days. Aside from the Civil War, it was the largest uprising in United States history.

Today, few people across this country even know that it happened.

In an effort to preserve this history, activists and scholars succeeded in having Blair Mountain placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The placement of Blair Mountain on the National Register was meant to not only preserve our history and the story of our people, but also to protect the mountain itself.

Enemies of our history, unfortunately, found a loophole.

According to the rules of the National Register, if more than half of the property owners in the battlefield area petition against the preservation of Blair Mountain, then it must be removed from the Register. In January of this year, coal companies submitted a petition of “landowners” in the area and Blair Mountain was removed from the National Register. The motive for this is clear – the coal companies wish to destroy the battlefield via mountaintop removal, and with it an important part of American history. However, after some prudent research by local attorney John Bailey and Dr. Harvard Ayers from Appalachian State University, it has been discovered that parts of the petition have been forged. Two of the supposed landowners of the battlefield are dead – one of them since 1983. Three others are not even landowners in the area. Official documentation has been found proving this forgery and the evidence was submitted to Randall Reid-Smith, Commissioner of the State Department of Culture and History. Reid-Smith, appointed by Governor Joe Manchin, has the power to overturn this forgery and put Blair Mountain back on the National Register where it belongs.

Unbelievably, both Reid-Smith and Governor Manchin have refused to even review the evidence.

Blair Mountain remains off the National Register, and if the Massey Coal Corporation has its way, it will be destroyed entirely.


There is, however, still a glimmer of hope. Carol Shull, the Keeper of the National Register in Washington DC, can overrule Reid-Smith and our Governor. I am calling on everyone who cares about preserving the history of miners and of our state to write her a letter and tell her about this continued injustice. You can write her at the following address:



Ms. Carol Shull, Keeper
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places
1201 Eye Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005



Mother Jones’ statement about the lack of justice in West Virginia still rings true today. But this is no longer about the Battle of Blair Mountain. It has become the Battle for Blair Mountain. Of course, I have both personal and professional reasons for this new call to arms. I am a native West Virginian. Frank Keeney, the leader of the miners’ revolt was my great-grandfather. Today, I am a professor of history and have published numerous articles on the struggles of working men and women in this state. But for me this is more than a personal crusade or a professional obligation. It is not a liberal cause. Nor is it a conservative cause. It is a just cause. If you care about justice in West Virginia, then do something about it. Write Carol Shull. Tell her who you are and why West Virginia’s culture and history is important to you. Tell her how the coal companies have lied in order to destroy this history, and tell her that the power is in her hands to stop it. We must send her enough letters so that she cannot ignore us. West Virginia is nearly always ignored by the rest of the nation except when it comes to bad press. Let us now give the nation a reason to see West Virginians as people who stand for their history and proudly proclaim their culture.



Do the right thing and write!

Montani Semper Liberi!


The Leaders of the Miners
Bill Blizzard, Fred Mooney, Bill Petry, and Frank Keeney

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conservative or Liberal West Virginia?

I recently asked two of my Political Science classes to write up a short essay on the following question:

Are West Virginians generally more liberal or conservative? Do you think that the current political attitudes in this area are a positive or a negative thing?

What follows are some of the responses. Again, these are exact quotes, they are anonymous, and they do not necessarily reflect my opinions. I've posted them here in order to give a snapshot of the attitudes of college age students in the heart of Appalachia. For those who do not know, West Virginia has traditionally been a Democratic state. Although the number of registered Democrats far outweigh the number of registered Republicans, West Virginia has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in each of the last three elections. Therefore, I decided to ask my students to write about what they thought. The results are quite interesting .... to say the least.


“When Reagan was president we had Bob Hope and Johnny Cash; now that Obama is president we have no hope and no cash.”

“The Madison area is conservative because of the coal mines.”

“Without a doubt, the people of southern West Virginia are much more conservative than liberal.”

“Conservative is the side that the Savior is on.”

“West Virginians are very conservative when it comes to change, and you rarely see change. Most of my family and friends and neighbors are old-fashioned people.”

“People here like to raise their families with strong morals and a strong sense of what they feel is right and wrong. For example, to people in California and other liberal areas, homosexuality is not such a big deal, whereas, in our area, it is heavily frowned upon because it isn’t “right.” By right, they mean what they interpret from The Bible as to how to live their lives.”

“As for the legalizing of marijuana, that is also a problem in my area. There are a lot of people that live in my area who use marijuana and I’m sure they would love it if it were legalized so they wouldn’t have to sneak around.”

“Even though the people are mainly Democrats, the times are changing so rapidly that they’re starting to lean to the right and are becoming more conservative.”

“Democrats are also trying to silence churches by not letting them preach about certain topics such as gay rights and other issues. They have taken prayer out of schools completely.”

“In West Virginia there is a surplus of lower class people who depend on a redistribution of wealth.”

“In West Virginia everyone wants a free handout.”

“The people in my area are mostly liberal because all they want to do is sit on their ass and get a welfare check when they are completely able to work.”

“One hypocritical issue is that no one in my community wants the government’s involvement until they need help. Most of the people in my community say that they do not want the government to interfere with their everyday lives, yet they abuse the welfare and social security system so that they don’t have to work.”


Quite a collection of quotes, isn't it? I would love to read what some of you think. So if you have comments, please share. Until next time..

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Students Speak Out on Mountaintop Removal

Blankenship verses Kennedy


Last Thursday, the CEO of Massey Coal, Don Blankenship, and activist/lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. debated mountaintop removal on the campus of the University of Charleston. It was a requirement in my classes for students to watch the debate as well as a humorous segment from the Colbert Report on mountaintop removal. You can watch Colbert’s six minute segment by clicking on the link below:



http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/261997/january-18-2010/coal-comfort---margaret-palmer



Each week, my students are required to write a small essay on current issues. Because I teach at a small college in southern West Virginia, I thought it would be perfect to have them write up a response essay to the Blankenship-Kennedy Debate. Let me be very clear – these students live in the heart of coal country. No one is more affected by mountaintop removal than the people who live in these coal communities. My students are sons and daughters of coal miners. Some of them have even worked in the mines. Suffice it to say, the essays I read were filled with many strong and sincere opinions. I have selected a number of direct quotes from the student essays for this blog. Journalists, scholars, politicians, activists, and capitalists have all spouted their opinions on this controversial topic. Unfortunately, no one ever bothers to ask the people who spend their whole lives around these mines what they think. What follows are their voices, unfiltered and unedited. I hope someone takes the time to listen.



“Before watching the debate I was all for mountaintop removal because I did not realize the impact it had on the environment. I am still not completely against mountaintop removal, but I think the coal operators should be more careful.”

“I can’t even hunt anymore in all the places around where I grew up because of the devastation of forests in the areas around these mines.”

“Having grown up in Boone County, WV, the more I research mountaintop removal the angrier I become. Our culture, which derives from mining coal, is rapidly slipping away. I strongly believe this type of coal mining needs to stop before it completely destroys southern West Virginia’s culture. My grandfather was among the ten thousand men who marched for union rights at the Battle of Blair Mountain. Our society is founded on the beliefs of such men who fought together for union rights. Since Massey has moved into southern West Virginia, the union has weakened. Men work six days a week and twelve hours a day. They make good money, but their family life ultimately suffers. Many are faced with divorce and the mass majority suffer from major health problems. Prescription drug use is at an all time high. Logan and Boone Counties lead the state and West Virginia ranks first in the country for prescription drug use.”

“Our culture’s environment is also a major cause for concern. The machinery used to mine coal is destroying our habitat. Drag lines and triple seven rock trucks are moving earth at a phenomenal rate. In one scoop, the drag line can pick up a football field. This machine runs twenty four hours a day seven days a week. The devastation done to our country because of mountaintop removal can be seen firsthand at NASA.com.”

“Looking from past to present, I see a community that has been blinded by employment. We have made the number one concern jobs while overlooking our culture and environment.”

“The world views West Virginia as a bunch of hillbillies who are having fun blowing up our mountains. They see us a being very destructive and uncaring towards the environment.”

“My Dad is the youngest of 7 children and began working in the mines at a fairly young age. Though there have been some drawbacks in his career – injuries and layoffs – his job in the mines helped him to financially raise me and my four sisters. With the environmentalists standing in the way of the coal industry, his job becomes more at risk every day. While the Colbert Report pokes fun at the situation, others realize its seriousness. If faced with the closing down of mines, every aspect of my life would change. Being in his 50s and lacking a college degree, my father’s financial input would be lacking . . . my family may have to move, which would change our dialect, our quality of life.”

“These blasting sites can damage the property of homes nearby. In fact, it has killed people before. There have been incidents where the boulders would go through the house, hit someone, and kill them.”

“As a grandson of two coal miners and a father that worked in the mining industry for 10 years, I realize that West Virginia’s livelihood depends on coal. The loss of coal operations in West Virginia would be devastating to our economy. Many of the environmentalists are from other states and they do not understand how the coal companies reclaim the land. If you have ever driven back on one of the worksites that they have reclaimed, you can see plant life growing and flourishing.”

“Coal miners understand the risks that come with their jobs. As long as there are willing workers and the benefits outweigh the consequences, coal mining will continue to be West Virginia’s largest industry.”

“Mountaintop removal is ruining our beautiful state.”

“I think that [mountaintop removal in WV] is as popular as it is because it is safer for the miners themselves and the people of southern WV have seen a lot of death in underground mining.”

“To me both sides use methods to misinform and evade truths. Kennedy quoted a lot of people, used colorful language, and emotionalized his answers whereas Blankenship made references to other countries like India and China to avoid talking about issues of this region.”

“I felt that Robert Kennedy came much more prepared for the debate, with real facts and statistics. It was obvious that he feels passionately about stopping surface mining and Blankenship feels passionately abut preserving it. I also felt that Blankenship was a bit disrespectful during the debate. Instead of using more statistics to prove his points as Kennedy did, he tried to act as if everything Kennedy said was dumb and make the audience laugh”

“Even the most extreme environmentalist would be a coal supporter if they went home to a cold, dark house at night.”

“Coal has been a large part of my family and many other families in this area for years and years. I can honestly say I am a friend of coal, but to see the mining industry destroy our mountains like they are is unacceptable. Obviously there are other ways to mine coal, so why don’t we just stick to the basics?”

That's all for now. Cheers.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Favorite Student Excuses

Excuses, Excuses...


It seems like a long year already. I’ve been spending nights at the hospital with my grandmother and one of my sister’s best friends (and someone I’ve known my whole life) is about to succumb to an eight year battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed the same month my first novel was published. When I learned of her condition, I gave her a signed copy of the very first book the publisher sent me. A couple of weeks later she called me and told me that reading the book was a great encouragement to her. To me, the compliment was better than making the bestseller list. Soon she will be gone. We will all miss her terribly.

Long story short, the year is starting out tough. In order to lighten the mood a little, I’m going to write something funny rather than serious this week. Thus, I have decided to share some of my favorite excuses students have given me over the years. These are just a few examples, but everything of what you are about to read is true. Conversations are recited to the best of my memory. Enjoy.





Part I – Dude, Where’s My Paper?



Yes, it is true. I’ve heard the “dog ate my homework” excuse. It happened in the Spring of 2006.

A student came in the office to tell me why his paper was late. He was a white guy with dreadlocks who consistently referred to me as “dude.” He wore a Marley T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. After telling me how he thought my class was “right on,” he announced:

“I know this sounds crazy, dude, but it’s true. Are you ready for this? My dog ate my homework. Now, I know what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna say that this dude is full of it but, dude, I’m not. It’s all true. I have this dog that eats everything, dude EVERYTHING.”

The student then provided me with several stories surrounding the viciousness of his Boston Terrier and all of the items its jaws had so mercilessly destroyed. Finally, I hear the tale of how the dog ripped apart his paper about John and Abigail Adams in gory detail. The student was very animated while telling the stories and nearly breathless by the time he finished. I waited until the end and said:

“You’re telling me that you could not possibly turn in the paper on time because your dog ate it.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, dude. Couldn’t believe it myself. He ate it and I was like…. Dude, WTF?”

“So, why didn’t you just print another copy?”

This question was followed by an awkward silence.

After several seconds of intense contemplation he said. “Um, I was out of paper, maybe.”

Of course he was.





Another student came into my office with crutches and a cast on his right leg. I asked him what happened and he told me that a car wreck had severely injured him and prevented him from getting his paper to me. Naturally, I told him not to worry about it. Get it to me when you can, I said. Later that same evening he walked passed me at the mall. No cast. No crutches.



One kid burst through the office door and announced, “Last night lightning struck a tree in my driveway and a limb fell on top of the car. So I couldn’t turn in my paper this morning.” There had been no storm the night before. Apparently, the Almighty didn’t want him to turn in his paper.





Part II – Don’t Fear the Weeper



Professors hear nearly every type of excuse imaginable. One of my pet peeves is when a student begins by saying, “I know this isn’t an excuse, but….” Some students don’t even bother to come into the office, opting to email me an excuse instead. My first year teaching at WVU, seventeen (yes, I counted) students sent me an email on exam days telling me that a grandparent had died. Seventeen! Evidently my exams are detrimental to the health of grandparents everywhere.



But the worst is when students cry. I recall a time when my niece, Shellie, was only an infant. She was on the couch crying and wailing for something. My father instantly ran to her, picked her up, held her tight, and consoled her with tons of sweet, baby talk. Shellie stopped crying immediately and smiled. It dawned on me then that one of the first things a female learns in this world is how she can manipulate a man with tears. It is no surprise then that every semester ladies come into my office and start crying away. Nowadays I even keep a box of tissues in my desk. When I first began teaching, however, I was completely unprepared.

The first time it happened was at the end of my first semester as a teacher. Girl comes into the office at around ten in the morning. She was attractive and completely dolled up. I looked at her grades and told her she needed to make an 80 on the final in order to pass the class. She could not get any higher than a “D.”

Then the tears began to flow. Not a couple of tears, mind you. I’m talking about Niagara Falls. The girl sobbed like her parents had just been murdered. Certainly, this was not the first time I had made a woman cry, but never before in a professional setting. I had no idea what to do. She told me that she was a straight A student and had never made a B before this semester. She then told me how her mother had been in the hospital and her boyfriend had cheated on her. After several unsuccessful attempts to consol her, I excused myself, walked into the hallway, and called my sister.

I am lucky enough to have a close relationship with my two older sisters. Whenever a woman says or does something that I do not understand, I call one, or both of my sisters, and they interpret the meaning for me (this has happened more times in my past than I care to admit). About 95% of the time, they are accurate.

I related the story over the phone and my sis became very adamant. “Don’t you dare listen to that girl!” She screamed, “She’s just trying to take advantage of you! Don’t you dare let her get away with it!”

“Are you sure? She seemed pretty broken up.”

“Don’t be stupid!”

As my sister continued to rant I peeked into my office. The girl was no longer crying. Instead she was gazing at herself with a handheld mirror and fluffing her hair. I decided to heed my sis’s advice.

I went in and checked her transcripts online. Sure enough, she was not exactly a straight A student. More like a 1.8 GPA. After I pointed this out to her, this sweet, attractive, innocent girl turned into a demon from hell. She cussed me out and stormed off. I sat silent in my chair with my mouth hanging open. My buddy and colleague Eugene Vansickle stuck his head around the corner and smiled (at the time I shared an office with several other Grad Instructors). “Don’t sweat it, Charles,” He laughed, “you’ll get used to it.”



Indeed I have. One girl came in crying over her grade and wanted some sympathy points. Once again, the girl was very attractive and almost unbearably self-absorbed. She struck me as the kind of girl who, when dancing with a guy at a club, spends the whole time watching herself in the mirror on the dance room wall while the guy is grinding on her and staring at her chest. I also imagine that her Facebook profile was filled with dozens of pics of her trying to pose like a fashion model (you know, with the serious look and the sideways peace sign). Sorry, sweetheart. Heidi Klum you are not. When I asked her why she had failed to come to class for the last month, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Drama.”

“Really? Drama?”

“Yes, Drama.” She wiped a tear from her cheek and rolled her eyes. “You don’t EVEN know.”

At this point I could no longer contain the sarcasm within me.

“Too bad you missed my lecture last Wednesday,” I said, “I talked about how Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated his entire final year as president after being diagnosed with a severe case of clinical drama.”

The girl didn’t even flinch.

“That sounds just like the last month of my life.” She said with a quivering voice and watery eyes.

I could only smile and shake my head.

“Yes, I’m sure your problems were every bit as complicated as the First World War.”





I have many more examples I can give; and I probably will at a later date. But right now, I’m pretty tired. I know that isn’t an excuse, but….