COMMENTARY: Who are you, exactly?

Hank Slotnick web art.jpg
Hank Slotnick

A few summers back, a neighbor stopped by our cabin to ask if Mary Lou and I could put up a couple of visiting friends for a few nights. She said the friends were very nice (they were) and our putting them up would resolve a big problem for her. And so we agreed.

When the couple showed up, we found them exactly as advertised. Sally was delightful, and Tom was most interesting: he was an architect by training and a water colorist by avocation. He also graduated from the Lab School at the University of Illinois.

Lab Schools are elementary and high schools associated with colleges and universities. The schools’ purposes are to provide students with the most up-to-date education, to provide opportunities for undergraduate education majors to practice teaching with real students, and for faculty to try out their theories of how students are best taught. Student admission is by competitive examination, and so only the best and brightest kids get in.

It seems the University of Illinois lab school was running out of money, and so the school’s alumni association held an event where all graduates could help raise money for the school’s endowment. All graduates and their spouses were invited to attend, especially if they brought their checkbooks. What is most important for this story is that all alumni were also invited to teach a class to current students and whichever alumni were interested in the speakers’ topics. And so in anticipation of lecturing on architectural history, Tom showed up with many 35mm slides of famous buildings (this was back before electronics took over photography).

Parked at a table in the cafeteria, Tom spread his slides out in front of him so he could better select those to use in the slide show. As he sorted the slides and began putting them in order, he had the sense that there was a woman sitting across the table from him though, because he was in a rush to finish sorting the slides, he paid little attention to her. And she just sat there.


The longer she sat there, the more uncomfortable Tom became. Why? Because he felt it was rude not to acknowledge someone sitting so close by. More specifically, he felt a tension between the need to finish his sorting task and being polite. And finally, his guilt getting the best of him, and without looking up, he said, “Hi. My name is Tom.”

“I know,” the woman replied. “I used to be married to you.”

Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.

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