Tuesday, June 2, 2015


I will begin this account with a disclaimer.  I would now find this way of making a living to be unethical, but at the time I was 19 and my ethics were considerably more flexible than they are now.

At 19 I was, unbeknownst to myself and to the medical world in general, experiencing fairly severe PTSD.   The most troubling symptom was agoraphobia - the fear of open spaces.  I could not walk across a street or a parking lot.  I lived in a one room apartment in a little two-story hovel in downtown Norman, Oklahoma.  I could walk downstairs, turn the corner, and get to Grady's Grocery, universally known as Grungie's Grocery.  It was not a fancy establishment but they had food.  If I wanted to go across the street to the laundromat, I had to be drunk.  Only alcohol enabled me to cross an open space (of the medications available to me at the time).  I was too embarassed to seek medical help anyhow.  I'd never heard of agoraphobia and couldn't see myself going to some doctor and saying, "I'm afraid of crossing streets."

How was I supporting myself?  I could get to the laundromat and any other necessary places by being quietly drunk, but that just isn't an effective strategy for holding down, a job, or even getting past the interview.  So I knocked back half a bottle of Boone's Farm (icky-sweet wine, very cheap) and went to the campus newspaper and took out an ad in the paper saying that I could give people major assistance in writing, editing and typing term papers.  As I had hoped, this lead to a steady procession of rich frat boys who wanted me to write term papers for them and were willing to pay top dollar.  They would bring me the books needed to write the paper and I took it from there.

It was an interesting challenge, because my customers also gave me a grade-range to aim for.  Someone who'd never gotten better than a C- could not suddenly show up with A+ paper about Beowulf.  There's  a real trick to honing in on a C, but, as I've always said, "Necessity is the mother of desperation" and I learned to do it.

I still remember, fondly, one particular paper I wrote, for a guy who was dumber than a doorknob.   He needed, the next day, a two-page paper on the symbolic and metaphorical meanings of the black stallion in a particular novel, I forget which one, but it might have been something by D. H. Lawrence.  This genius forgot to bring me the book!  He didn't even know how to go about getting this book and looked blank when I mentioned the concepts of bookstores and libraries.   I asked him if he could remember anything the professor said about this book in class and he scratched up a few factoids.  So I told him I would do the paper but if it turned out to have nothing to do with the book and to pull in an F, it was on him, not me.

After some contemplation, I wrote a paper about the black stallion as a symbol of raging sexuality in a society centered around the concepts of decorum and self-control and was a metaphor for the struggle of young lovers in such a world.   I talked about black as a color associated with darkness (duh), sin and evil.   I made mention of the stallion, as sexual metaphor, being part of a tradition that went back to the ancient Greeks, who expressed man's animal nature in beings like Pan who were half-man and half-goat. I came up with two pages of this bullshit and charged the guy $20 (a lot of money for me back then).  

A few days later he called me and said the paper got a B-. 

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