The school’s unwritten policy dictated we wait a minimum of fifteen minutes for a tardy instructor—fortunately he was not a professor, which would have required we wait longer. Many of the students in that class resented his frequent tardiness and absenteeism since the class was scheduled for 8:00 am on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The Saturdays were worst, since we had to drag ourselves out of bed and dress properly after a typical student’s profligate hours of the previous Friday night for a class this teacher would quite likely fail to attend.
“Mr. Fletcher,” one of the bolder young women once candidly inquired, “have you graded our papers yet?”
“Funny you should ask,” he responded, “I was running late this morning, and as you are aware, we’re experiencing quite a cold snap, so I had to choose between grabbing my heavy coat or your graded papers, which now sit at home on my radiator. I couldn't reach for both and make it to class on time, so of course I picked the coat.”
Much eye-rolling among the students ensued.
That semester he assigned us sonnets by Donne and Shakespeare and long narrative poems by Milton and Blake, as well as Catch 22, a novel by Joseph Heller. One day, when he graced us with presence, he began a class discussion of Heller’s novel.
From the podium he first stared out at the class and then gazed dreamily over our heads. “What does Catch 22 mean?”
After a moment of silence, a young woman raised her hand and when called upon held forth on her interpretation of the rule known as Catch 22. The instructor shook his head.
“Nope, that’s not it. Anyone else?”
An articulate young man, who often dominated discussions in the class, then held forth for several minutes. His analysis differed slightly from the young woman’s, but either of their versions seemed to me to be reasonable jumping off points for further debate.
“Nope, that’s not it either,” said the teacher.
Eventually, almost everyone in the class had taken a crack at it. The class members expressed three basic approaches, in different words of course, to explaining Catch 22, none of which satisfied the teacher. Finally, the students stopped raising their hands and the discussion terminated, collapsing under the teacher’s heavy hand. We never learned what the instructor thought Catch 22 meant, which frustrated us, and after that day we never saw him again. The class included three more scheduled lectures that semester, but the instructor failed to appear at any of them.