One is tempted to do a Lot thing: "How about if there's 25 of your people left in town, Lord, you going to burn it down? How about 20? What you think of 15?"
Life at midwestern small colleges, especially when the college's vision isn't a red hot sale, is precarious. Year to year, a place like this needs sufficient warm bodies to pay the bills, so one does what one can to lug those warm bodies here. The hottest savior these days is scholarshipped extracurriculars, which means tossing money at students who like journalism or lacrosse or musical theater, increasing scholarship levels to attract kids who otherwise wouldn't give Sweet Valley College a look. This is Iowa, and there are cornfields; but the mantra goes like this: if we pay them enough, they will come. That sort of thing.
'Twasn't a pleasant meeting. If we don't get 400 freshmen, heads will roll because without warm bodies we have to reduce spending by whacking a few positions and hiring adjuncts. It's a matter of dollars and sense, not rocket science.
Four years ago or so, life at the small college was the pits. We suffered draconian faculty cuts. Since then, we've had a reprieve, occasioned, I suppose, by football--dozens of kids who metriculated here to hug a pigskin. Without football, there would be more blood.
I come away from the meeting depressed, slump in a chair, pained by flashbacks of the last round of bloody slashing. And then there's this: I'm a member of the English Department, which can't create any sexy new majors; and a Humanities Division, where the numbers of grads, year-to-year, has thinned notably for a couple of decades already.
How about 390 freshman? Can we sidestep the slashing with, say, 385?
Today's another day. After school, my wife and I are going to Pumpkinland, on orders from my grandson, who laments loudly and enviously that he still hasn't been there yet, even though his big sister has. My soul is not thusly attracted, but for him at least there's something about a thousand pumpkins, a corn maze, and a petting zoo, some cocktail of joy he treasures. Not long ago, in one of his Jeremiads, he made it clear that he really had to go. "Pumpkin land is my favorite place in the whole world," he said.
So today we'll take him, because today for the first day this week, the sun is supposed to shine. Today, his grandmother and I will haul him out there to the cats and the rabbits and puppies and sheep and what not, the land of a thousand pumpkins. Orange is his favorite color. He even begs his grandma for extra carrots to take home after Sunday dinner.
Is there any wonder why Mr. Holden Caufield, a foul-mouthed, 16-year-old ne'er-do-well, has both shocked and comforted millions of readers since Catcher in the Rye was written, back in 1951? Salinger was on to something. Facing the world of growing up, a world like last night's dark meeting, all Holden Caufield really wanted--out of life itself--was to go back to a sweet field of rye and, like the child he once was and nevermore would be, and to play, just play, once again with his beloved little sister. He just wished he could still be a kid. But he couldn't--instead, he faced, well, budget meetings and empty chairs.
Me?--sometimes I too wish my own most favorite place in the world was a land of a thousand pumpkins.