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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

"Beware when the so-called sagely come limping into sight."

This is Zooey's retort to his sister Franny, after she says, "You never even hear any hints dropped on campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge."

Two weeks ago, I wrote about J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, read in Fall 1962 as a USC sophomore. I was stuck then; I'm stuck now, trying to finish something I've been writing for too long. When stuck I try to impose order on chaos. So, as diversion, I attacked my office/study. And while moving books around, I located Salinger's Nine Stories and a critical work on J.D. The two small books gave me further reason to ignore the one I'm close to completing.


I returned in memory to 1962, when after reading Franny, I started smoking cigarettes. Franny was never without one (or Mrs. Glass), and Zooey always held a cigar. Strange to remember when it was abnormal not to smoke! At the time I was still hungover from Holden Caulfield (what wasn't phony?), and then added real hangovers. No wonder Franny's 'existential crisis' spoke to me. I had no idea 'why I was, where I was, and why I was traveling at all.' This three-pronged question kept me awake; and I turned into an insomniac on the Delta Gamma porch (attic) with seven other sophomore "girls." The joke heard at USC? Why are 'girls' in school? For the MRS degree. Those on the porch with me were in elementary education, dental hygiene, and future wives and mothers. This was sixty years ago!


That semester I went to the library and read books, but not for my "required" classes, such as Geology: F on the mid-term, F on the lab exam. The class, held in a lecture hall, meant I sat in the back, smoked, and daydreamed. Rocks, plates, geological past? A ton of facts to memorize. I didn't care about Geology but appreciated the humorous professor, Dr. Stone, whose name matched his subject. I'd never spoken to him. One day late in the semester, he called my name and asked to see me in his office after class. I limped in, and he asked why I was failing. I told him I didn't know why I was in college, repeated my three-pronged question, and said I wanted to leave USC. He laughed loudly, as he often did in class at his own jokes. "You're a sophomore. What the hell do you expect?" Then he smiled and offered me a "deal."


Purging paper this past week, I found a letter I'd written to the USC Alumni Magazine in 2000 about Dr. Stone. I dug out my USC transcript, too. A professor could mark a + or a minus, and indicate these on a grade card, even though only the letter grade, A to F, was computed in the GPA then. I mention this because of the letter I found (see below). In my life, the wise helpers have been numerous, so many of them teachers, along with writers whose literature I have loved.



Next week: The All-seeing Eyes of Dr. J.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby.

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