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Pomp and Circumstance

15 Apr


                      Last year  I attended a double graduation and sat through  four hours of national anthems, platitudinous advice, and the mispronunciation of names. The four hours were only interrupted by a brief foray into the blazing hot sun to take pictures of sweating graduates. I would rather have attended a double murder. This large public university held four separate graduation ceremonies in one day to process all the graduates. I attended the first two. Although I suppose such rituals are necessary  to help people mark major life transitions, this is one passage I  would have  just as soon avoided.

            Graduations are intensely emotional  events. It’s like attending one of  those old Moonie  weddings with a thousand  brides and grooms. Feelings of joy, relief, and anxiety intermingle  while vague despondency charges the air. The faculty and staff share these feelings but mostly seem fatigued and can hardly wait for the ordeal to end.

             As each graduate’s name is  read for their ten seconds of immortality,  their personal  mini-fan club  erupts in applause, yelling, or even stomping. I  wonder about the students who get a real loud response. Do they have exceptionally large families? Are they very popular? Promiscuous? And I always feel sorry for those who don’t get any fuss made at all. What’s with them?  Do they feel rejected or upset?  At college graduations the people are so loosely connected, that even surrounded by thousands of revelers, each celebration  is still private.

            The first of the two graduations I attended was the liberal arts and sciences crowd. As a group they were serious and pretentious. Their featured commencement speaker was a fading local politico who tried some standup comedy and  superficial sensitivity — like Jay Leno meets Rod McKuen. I felt embarrassed for him, since he obviously didn’t have the sense to feel embarrassed for himself.

            Hundreds of nurses and social workers graduated in the next group. They were a  much rowdier bunch. It was as if they actually knew and even liked each other.  The crowd booed vigorously  when a stick-in-the-mud  security person  removed the giant beach ball that had suddenly appeared and was  batted around during the speeches. At one point of high emotion the nursing student section erupted into a massive free-for-all of silly string and confetti.

            The guest speaker this time was a feckless social services bureaucrat who was also a big shot fund-raiser for the university. In his precise introduction the university president diplomatically neglected to mention that this man was also a notorious slumlord. This bozo didn’t bother to make any sense at all. I wasn’t even embarrassed for him, just annoyed.

            Despite the inane speech I liked this ceremony better. The students showed more spirit  and the faculty  sported more dramatic threads. Some faculty wore silk gowns of  bright gold and red and most of them wore those classy soft caps, instead of the usual mortarboards.

            Several years ago at my graduate school commencement, my elderly advisor appraised the rakish university president, decked out in a color coordinated brown velvet cap, and said, “Damn, I got to get me one of those hats.”  I hope he did.  The chic president was fired about a month later for putting massage parlor bills on his state credit card. I can only imagine what he would have done if he didn’t have a Ph.D. The story was so popular  in  all the local newspapers that  when I told a colleague that I  had just shook the  president’s hand at graduation,  he said I should have worn a rubber glove.

             No medieval rite of passage would be complete without some old fashion humiliation.  Throughout my life I’ve been  repeatedly embarrassed about my gender bending name– “Terry Lynn.” Like Johnny Cash’s  mother, mine  had an odd sense of the appropriate. My nominal distress culminated at graduation. I thought it was pretty impressive as the hung a hood on me, until  the  announcer said, “And now will Terry Lynn Stawar and her advisor come forward.”  Even the largely indifferent crowd found this mistake highly amusing and it’s something I will remember always—Graduation Day.


Terry Stawar Semi-Finalist in 2010 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition

11 Feb

February 9th the Robert Benchley Society  announced the  it’s Top Ten Semi-Finalists   in it’s 2010 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition. Among this illustrious group is Terry L. Stawar of Georgetown, Indiana, for his piece entitled The Strange Case of the Wayward Beef Roast. At last some of the fame and recognition he hungers for.

Now Introducing the Welcome to Planet Terry Podcast!

22 Aug

Welcome to Planet Terry Podcast

With a new space upgrade, I am now adding episodes from the Welcome to Planet Terry Podcast. Click the link below for episode 1: the War of the Wasps.

WTPT 001 War of Wasps

The Strange Case of the Wayward Beef Roast

26 May

I’m walking down the street taking my usual morning constitutional and there it is, laying on the sidewalk in front of me. Weighing in at approximately 5 pounds, it is a fully cooked beef roast– the kind with thick white string holding it together. Now I’ve seen odd things while walking– plenty of wrappers, papers cups, even shoes, socks, clothing, and magazines. Only last week I stepped on a jagged piece of beer bottle and just avoided lacerating my foot. I’ve seen plenty of fried chicken bones and partially eaten burgers obviously thrown from speeding cars, but never a complete beef roast?
I look around for clues. No roasting pan or Dutch oven. How could it get there? No carrots, onions, or potatoes? No traces of gravy. Emboldened I lean over the roast sniff it and touch it. It’s in good condition, but cold to the touch. If I had I a meat thermometer I could take it’s internal temperature. It must have been here for some time. Perhaps it been laying there since dinner time, yesterday.
Suddenly something odd strikes me. There are no ants swarming on the roast and no evidence of being disturbed by dogs or other animals. I wonder if the roast is toxic? Perhaps it hasn’t been here all night after all, maybe someone just recently deposited it here. The perpetrator could still be around. I quickly spin around– no one suspicious, only a jogger. I look him over and I can’t detect a hot pad, saran wrap, or any other telltale signs Then it occurs to me– the roast must been moved after its was already cold. What sort of fiend would do such a thing.
I debated whether I should provide the roast with a proper Christian disposal or just leave as carrion for the animals. With my finger I make a greasy outline around the beef roast and then kick it into a nearby sewer.
All the way home the curious problem of the beef roast weighs on my mind. How did it get there? Who left it? Is someone looking for it? Will someone be horribly shocked when they open their refrigerator door today?
I discuss the matter with Diane, my wife and we devise the following possible scenarios to explain the beef roast’s peculiar presence.
1. Domestic Dispute: This is mainly Diane’s idea. The roast came to be there due to some sort of domestic conflict involving the flinging of a beef roast, most likely at an incorrigible husband. This begs the question of how it made out to street, unless the dispute occurred in a vehicle and the roast beef projectile missed its intended victim and went out the window, bouncing onto the sidewalk.
Of course, you must also explain why the fully cooked beef roast was in the car in the first place, so as to be a weapon of opportunity. This objection is easily dismissed if the couple were taking the roast to a sick relative’s house or covered dish dinner. The only other problem with this story is the fact that the roast was in excellent condition. Unless they were going to a dinner in the early morning hours or the roast was frozen solid, it appears to have survived the whole night remarkably well. Even with this inconsistency, I must admit I lean towards this explanation since it was well known in my family that my father once, in a drunken rage, threw our family’s New Year’s roast turkey out the back door into the street, where it was consumed by hungry neighborhood cats.
2. Animal Invasion: An alternative scenario is that somehow an animal, like a large dog, managed to snag the beef roast and run out of the house, perhaps taking it directly from the refrigerator. This is sort of like that scene in Jean Shepherd’s movie, The Christmas Story, when the hillbilly neighbor’s hound dogs make off with the long suffering father’s Christmas Turkey. Although this scenario makes sense, you must also explain why the beef roast was not consumed by the dog. We can speculate that the vexed owner of the beef roast angrily pursued the dog, who eventually dropped the roast, running for its life. Still I would think the owner of the beef roast would have returned and retrieved it, if only so that the dog could not come back later and enjoy it’s guilty pleasure.
3. The Famished Burglar: A third alternative possibility is that the beef roast was taken by a burglar, who in course of robbing a nearby house, also looked in the refrigerator and decided to take the roast along with other valuables. The bizarre appropriation of the victim’s food y is not unknown in criminal psychology. I can imagine the beef roast fell out of the burglar’s booty bag as he ran down the street, or perhaps it was thrown out the getaway car by the burglar’s more practical partner. This would explain the early morning presence of the beef roast on the sidewalk.
I’m sure there are many other possibilities, which I will leave to your imagination since I’ve obviously thought entirely too much about this whole thing. But I do wonder what’s the chances I’ll see a leg of lamb tomorrow.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (