Down Sized

Life could be worse, much worse. He could still say “Professor Jacob Bernstein, Former Chair of Literature, Cornell University”, and there were his publishing credits (not that there was any actual income from either source). But more importantly, he was working. Working, still able to live in Manhattan and continue teaching. So many colleagues and acquaintances of his age and tenure had been herded quickly towards “early-retirement”, offered “buy-out-packages.” Exiled and sentenced to a living death. Shepherded to aquiet demise. Extinction would a more accurate description. Teaching jobs, good or bad, were quite a rare commodity in this economy, and being an elitist English Literature Professor no longer an option. Things were different now. Times, sadly, had quite changed.

Jacob was a very good teacher, by anyone’s standard, always tailoring lesson plans and curriculum to best fit the class. He truly cared what his students would take with them from his classes. This was a major challenge indeed, his incoming classes would be very different. The So-Ho Institute of Fashion Evening Program offered a far more exotic group of students than any Ivy Grad-School could ever hope for. When hired he was told repeatedly that twice “Project Runway” has filmed at the school and with a bit of luck he might have a cameo appearance in an upcoming spring segment.

“Fashion Institute Professor of Literature” had a quirky ring to it. He liked it, even if it was a rather hollow ring. Maybe a 60’s ring. “Think “Blow-Up”, think “Zabriske Point,”  he said aloud,“ and all the other art-house movies of that delightful decade long past. There is your key.” Why should the classics of literature, particularly American literature be so ham-strung by tradition? Making these great works relevant to new generations was so much more vital than upholding established traditional interpretations of these novels. Yes, he would make things different, as different as need be to make it work for his new classes. A new generation, always he had felt, should see with new eyes. “I’ll start with the driest material”, he mused, “and see just how we fare.”

“So, my dear young friends, Hester Prin refused to wear her Scarlet Letter. It was shaped entirely wrong for her face, the color clashed with everything she owned, and it limited so severely what she could do with her hair. It was a difficult fashion problem, but problem for The Courts as well, since she was obliged to wear this inappropriate tacky bit of flair. A more reasonable settlement was eventually reached. A solution of which some of you may be aware.” Smiling to himself, Jacob continued  “Since the only charge she was finally convicted of was Contempt of Court she would wear two “Cs”. She would not actually wear them on her outfits (since there could be no guarantee it would work any better than the initial Scarlet A) but rather on a large shoulder bag, or any other accessory item, she might carry or wear. And that, class, is how the ‘Coach’ brand was born oh so many years ago. We still see Hester’s influence today. In many fine stores, as well as popular knock offs, sold buy enterprising street vendors through our fair city,” he concluded, his confidence now renewed.

by-Doug Mathewson