The main character of my new SF novella Adam’s Stepsons, Dr. Johann Heimann, was modeled after a professor at my undergraduate college named…ah…let’s name him Professor R. He had the biggest office on campus, and he kept Sam Adams in a small fridge tucked under his desk. And he shared them liberally with students who stopped by. And he told great stories about Chevy Chase. A perfect model for a fictional scientist.
Prof. R. was a teacher of social economics. Which is why he spent all his free time keeping careful track of tiny pieces of paper from the 17th to the 19th century detailing who was responsible for maintaining what part of what county and state roads in nearby towns.
By “careful,” I mean of course hundreds of cardboard boxes haphazardly stacked around his office and often mislabeled or labeled with handwriting so cramped that medical doctors would be proud. Couldn’t help wondering if Sam Adams were to blame.
I had heard through a friend just before the end of my final year in college that Prof. R. was looking for somebody to help him sort his papers. It was a part-time minimum-wage job lasting only the summer ($4.25 an hour back then). Since I was planning to stick around campus and live in one of the dorms until mid-August (rooms were 50 bucks a week; can’t beat that rent price!), I thought the job sounded appealing.
It was. I grew fascinated by the history represented by all those little scraps of paper. What’s more, the good professor usually stayed in the office while I sorted things out and had a lot of interesting stories to relate. He also shared his beers with me. Dream job.
His office was on the second floor of a dormitory, just above the common room area we used a lot for parties (by parties, I mean…ah…nevermind, this is a Rated PG-13 blog). One of his stories was that Chevy Chase (who supposedly quit my college because he was picked randomly out of a line for extras casting during an “internship January” between semesters but actually graduated with a “pre-med” degree…scary stuff…) had once shoved a teacher’s car sideways between two telephone poles so he couldn’t go home. Another was that Chevy walked a cow up the stairs to the roof of the dorm and that the police had to get a helicopter to get the cow down.
(Chevy apparently told The Today Show that he was expelled from Haverford for keeping a cow in his room.)
Like all such stories, it’s not the facts that are important but the way of telling…and who the teller is. In this case, Prof. R.’s mannerisms, personality, and great storytelling left a strong impression on the 22-year-old me — despite my having only worked in his office, sorting pieces of paper and drinking his Sam Adams with him, for less than three months. And, of course, he had a great big comfy green cloth chair, just like in my story. No clones, though (none that I knew of, anyway).
Oh. He also smoked pipes. At least I think so. My grandfather smoked pipes, and even now I love the smell of pipe tobacco. It seemed only logical to have the “father” figure of Dr. Heimann in Adam’s Stepsons smoke pipes and drink beer in his office. Seth and the General came later…