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Autumn tends to remind me of school, which can be good or bad depending on the specific memory invoked. Today, in particular, I'm remembering Dr. Armour.

Dr. Armour was one of my English profs at VCU; he was a tall, balding man prone to brown suits and snarky comments. He was also theoretically my guidance counselor once I officially took up English as my major, although in that capacity he did very little besides telling me to stop getting D's in my math classes. (I always looked at Dr. Hall, the honors program chair, as more of a mentor in that regard. But I digress.)

I took two actual courses from Dr. Armour, one on Literature-to-Film (in which I wrote quite a good paper on "Truth in The Maltese Falcon"), and one on Satire (in which I wrote a biographical paper on John Cleese, shortly after Clockwise came out). But my main memory of Dr. Armour is The Leaf-Raking Job.

One bright autumn day, I and two other of Dr. Armour's students, lured out by promises of $20 apiece and free soda, went to his house on River Road to rake leaves. River Road, for those not in the know about Richmond, is where the Old Money lives, in their enormous Victorian/Edwardian-style houses overlooking the river (hence the name). I had a hard time then (and still have a hard time now) believing that Dr. Armour could afford that house on a state university professor's salary, so I always assumed that he either had a large inheritance, a rich wife, or both.

Anyway, it was a gorgeous day in November (when Richmond is generally at its best), crisp and cool and full of red and gold. Dr. Armour picked up the three of us at the English hall and drove us out to his house, showed us to rakes, brooms, and tarps, and said, "Go to it and good luck."

The house and grounds were like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad; at least two acres of rich woodsy goodness, back away from the road and with a spectacular view of the James River valley. I didn't see any stables, but I wouldn't at all have been surprised if there were some. Certainly there was enough old brick and wrought iron to choke a horse.

Fortunately, we were only expected to rake the part right around the house, but as even that was a good acre or more, we had quite a task in front of us. Although I was only passingly acquainted with the other two, the three of us had a big ol' time, raking leaves and cracking Pythonesque jokes about The Larch. It was hard work, but at the same time, it was incredibly fun, and at one point I remember stopping to rest, staring out at the river, and thinking, "Good God, this is the life."

Alas, I don't have the academic chops to be a professor; nor do I have the kind of money necessary to have two acres out on River Road -- and it's not likely I'll achieve either in the foreseeable future. But it is still something I fantasize about periodically, not unlike Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels gesturing wildly at the Riviera and shouting, "THIS! THIS! I want THIS!!!"

Who knows, maybe if my writing takes off someday, I'll achieve it. But I'm not holding my breath. ;)

-The Gneech


Nov. 14th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
Sounds like something nice to dream f. Few people ever see what they dream, so at least yours has foundation.

What was your Maltese Falscon paper about? I aquired the movie, and am looking forward to seeing it again. Charles has never seen it. Any insights?
Nov. 14th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)
The basic premise of the paper is that everybody in the story is looking for "truth" in some form or another, which is what the black bird signifies; heck, Sam's job, as a detective, is that of a kind of professional truth-finder. But they're so eager to get it that they become stingy with it -- everybody lies in hopes of holding on to their little piece of truth.

Of course, the black bird of ultimate truth is the biggest lie of them all. It's a fake! In this setting, the real truth destroys everybody. (It is noir, after all.)

The paper was a much more coherent explanation of the idea, but I wrote it 17 years ago and have forgotten most of it. ;) Still, when you watch, keep looking for the motif of reality vs. appearance, how people dole out just enough bits of the truth to get what they want and no more, and how expertly Sam plays in order to beat the crooks at their own game -- he even explicitly says that he puts on a corrupt front in order to make it easier "to deal with the enemy".

-The Gneech

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