Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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 Chapter 17

Career Opportunities

If the paper she had written was any indication, Sharon hadn't reacted badly to their dinner date. When he called, she came to the phone and asked how he had liked it, Tom replied,

"I think it's a great start, but I've got some additional thoughts."

"One of the secretaries here lets me use her electric typewriter at night. If you can come out, we can work on it."

Tom checked quickly to see if anyone else needed the car, and told Sharon that he was on his way.

Ann wasn't there that evening, but the residents were their usual elegant selves. Sharon remarked,

"It's a good thing this isn't England, or we'd all be in evening gowns with bare shoulders."

One woman actually was in an evening gown, and Tom thought that she looked quite nice. Then, he got a look at her face. There was nothing wrong with her features, but there was something deeply upsetting about her aspect, something beyond vacancy. As soon as they were a little distant, Sharon said quietly,

"That's Elizabeth. She's truly crazy."

"I could tell that. But I don't know how I knew."

"It shows how important facial expressions and mannerisms are. She doesn't very often do anything weird, it's more the lack of normal affect."

The Allwyn Institute didn't extend the tone of its public rooms to the secretaries' offices. There were old wooden desks and straight hard chairs, but on one of the desks was a shiny brand new electric typewriter. Sharon demonstrated its fanciest feature. If one made a mistake, one backed up and pressed a special key. Then, out of nowhere, came a white ribbon. If one "made the same mistake again," it whited out the letters. Again backspacing, one typed in the correct letters. Sharon concluded,

"With this typewriter, we can write a super terrific paper."

"Do you think we can do it tonight?"


Sharon seemed to be serious, and Tom was inwardly amused. Rod MacDuff sometimes took months to write a paper. He then had others look at it, and might himself read it several times at other universities. Only after a dozen or more revisions would he submit it for publication. On this occasion, Sharon sat ready, her fingers on the keyboard, as Tom started to tell her what he thought needed to be changed. He himself wrote easily and quickly, but he could see that he was in for a new experience.

The paper that emerged two hours later, a defence of a version of semantic nominalism, was certainly a joint effort. They had argued some, agreed more often, and compromised a remaining difference or two. The electric typewriter made it easy to make carbon copies, and, as Sharon separated them from the black carbons, she asked,

"Do you think Professor MacDuff would have time to read it?"

"He doesn't have much free time, but he always manages to read my papers. It's a good thing this one's only six pages."

"I'd like to meet him sometime."

"I'm to meet him the day after tomorrow. I bet they'd let you come in."

"They might even let me take one of the Allwyn cars. If not, I'll take a taxi."

The idea of Sharon driving a car had initially struck Tom as potentially dangerous. While he himself had gotten past the playing chicken and going seventy over country roads phase, he rather imagined that Sharon, without meaning to be wild, would routinely cut over curbs and leave the occasional fire hydrant geysering in her wake.

In the event, he was standing, as arranged, in front of the Church Street Garage when a black Cadillac swung ponderousely past him, Sharon waving from the window. After the attendant helped her from the car, she came quickly up to Tom, not hugging him, but placing herself in position to be the recipient of a one-armed hug. Tom remarked,

"They must trust you a lot to let you go off in that car."

"It was a special dispensation from the director. If he marries your mother, you can expect to go around with tail fins."

"Do you have trouble driving in high heels?"

"These are middle heels. I know I'm dressed inappropriately to be a student, but, if I had flat heels, the director wouldn't have loaned me an Allwyn Cadillac."

"He doesn't really operate on that level, does he?"

"He'd deny it, of course, but his behavior betrays him. He has a weakness for elegant women. That's also the reason, if I may say so, that your mother can manipulate him so easily."

"Mary Ellen's never mentioned him at all."

"I have it from the secretary who lets us use her beautiful typewriter that the director asks when your mother's scheduled to come over. He then invents reasons to be where she is."

"She must be making up her mind. If she decides to reject him, he won't have an inkling of it until the final carefully staged and maximally tactful interview."

"And you won't hear anything about it at all?"

"In six months time she might remark vaguely that there was a man who seemed interested, but who I might not have liked as a stepfather."

Tom had warned MacDuff of Sharon's impending visit, and of their joint paper. He lit up visibly when she approached, and Tom guessed that, for anyone used to Radcliffe students, Sharon's larger-than-life presence would be a bit of a surprise. After some chatter and the presentation of the paper, MacDuff said,

"I'll read the paper now while you go down to the basement vending machines and get me a Coke."

When they left, Sharon said,

"He's handsome, isn't he?"

"I guess I never thought about it. He was certainly pleased to see you."

"I hope he likes our paper."

When they got back, bearing three cokes, MacDuff said,

"Yes. It's a useful little paper. It won't convince people strongly inclined the other way, but, then, nothing ever does."

After some discussion, there were some suggested revisions. Sharon wrote everything down on her steno pad, and then asked,

"Would it be too presumptuous to send it to a journal?"

"No. There's one I was going to suggest. It's a Dutch journal in English which isn't terribly widely read, but it's a good solid thing. I had a paper in it once, and the editor keeps asking me to send him something else, "by my hand," as he puts it. He makes it sound as if my hand writes papers with, or without, my permission. Anyhow, if you want to submit this paper, I'll drop him a note in support of it."

The offer was quickly accepted, and MacDuff said,

"You're both awfully young to start the publication game, but there's no minimum age."

Tom asked,

"Isn't that how people get jobs and tenure?"

"Oh yes. You have to hustle at first. It can be addictive. There are professional philosophers with the mentality of the lowest class of travelling salesmen. They'll publish anything anytime anywhere."

"Is that held against them?"

"Not as much as you'd think. There are lots of deans at lots of colleges who just count pages."

Sharon pointed out,

"We won't be corrupted if this isn't accepted."

"The professional response is just to put it in another envelope addressed to another journal."

MacDuff smiled, as if to indicate that he had never done such a thing. Just then, there was a knock on the door. Realizing that it would be the next tutee, Tom was up immediately, and Sharon followed. MacDuff looked saddened to see her go.

As they went down the corridor, Sharon said,

"He acts as if he doesn't think I'm the least bit crazy."

"Well, you aren't, just unusual."

"Am I neurotic?"

"I hardly know what that means."

"But there is something a little wrong, whatever you call it. I'm sure Ann thinks so."

"Come to see Dr. Sun. He seems to be caring for the rest of us."

"Did you know that Ann's been to him?"


"She was impressed, and that's why she recommended him to Eric. But I don't think she wants that known at the institute."

"That she went to Dr. Sun, or that she sends people to him?"

"Both. She can't recommend me to him without the director's consent, and she wouldn't want to ask for that."

"But she wouldn't stop you if you wanted to go?"

"I don't think so. I wouldn't go if she didn't want it, but she might be pleased, at least secretly."

"You might think about it. In the meantime, we can take care of those revisions. We could go to Cronin's and get something to eat while we're at it."

Cronin's, on Dunster Street, was a presence of Irish Cambridge in the middle of Harvard. The beer flowed freely to those of age, and the waitresses insulted customers when necessary. The food was of medium quality, about like Frank's, but Tom wasn't sure that Sharon was ready for Frank, or vice versa.

The revisions that MacDuff had suggested were realized and written on the backs of pages in a matter of minutes. Sharon then said,

"I'll type it up and send it off. Your philosophical career will then be launched."

"Yours too. Anyhow, my baseball career is showing some signs of life."

"Isn't baseball season over?"

"We still go out on the riverbank and throw. I've let go a number of fastballs with no ill effects."

"And you've had two sessions with Dr. Sun?"

"It's probably helped that I finally gave my arm a good rest. And the weight lifting may even have helped."

"I thought you'd pretty much given up on baseball."

"I had. This is a bit of a surprise."

"How do you go about capitalizing on it?"

"The freshman baseball coach thought I had potential, and he has a friend who's a Red Sox scout. So he's arranging a tryout. It's easy for a pitcher. All you need is a catcher."

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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