Tragic Fates

by Phil Temples

Professor Gertrude Montgomery of Wentworth State’s Communications Department struggles to grade yet another uninspiring paper from one of her students. She’s only a third of the way through the stack sitting atop her desk. The title of the current paper is “An Analysis of Racially Biased Television and Media Coverage During the American Civil Rights Movement.” She notes that the word “Rights” in the title is spelled “R-I-T-E-S” and shakes her head in disgust as she circles the word with a red marker. As she gets into the body of the paper, she can’t help but think it resembles something a junior high school student might write.

The last half-dozen papers she’s graded have been equally insipid. Gertrude wonders if today’s generation of students have been “dumbed down” by constantly texting and watching YouTube videos. When she was in school––granted, a long time ago––she at least knew how to spell. Gertrude would have been embarrassed to turn in such poor-quality work to her professors. She recalls the lengths to which she and her classmates would invent excuses, some clever, and some downright corny, in order to avoid turning in a poor or uncompleted assignment. Her college roommate, Mary, once even employed the time-tested, “the dog ate my homework” excuse in order to secure an extension. It actually worked; she showed her mangled paper––complete with teeth marks––to Old Man Edgerton in English Lit. Of course, her tears and theatrics helped to sell it.

Even our excuses had more pizzazz!

As she finishes grading the paper and assigning a mediocre grade, it suddenly dawns on her like a lightning bolt: she’s putting forth considerably more time and effort in critiquing these papers than the authors have in researching and writing them. This thought makes Gertrude flush with anger.

At that moment, her dog, a handsome young Rottweiler named Mister Peabody, wanders into the room to see what his mistress is up to and to secure a good back scratch and a tasty treat.

Gertrude sees the pup but instead of treating him to a dog biscuit, she picks up the marked-up paper and waves it in front of Mister Peabody’s mouth. The young pooch certainly isn’t going to turn down an opportunity to play! He chomps down on the ten-page document and begins to jerk his head furiously to and fro in an effort to dislodge it from her grip. Before too long, the paper is ripped to shreds. Smiling, she grabs up another paper. And another. And another.  For a solid hour she and Mister Peabody play tug-of-war with the assignments until both are exhausted.

Professor Gertrude Montgomery sleeps soundly that night. Tomorrow, she’ll come up with some clever excuse to tell the students about their papers’ tragic fates.