Cruising the Acropolis

This excerpt from Doctor Gary Norm a story in my almost ready book of short stories titled Cruising the Acropolis:

Dr. Norm knew how to teach. He was a wonder, leading great discussions. Students left his class and out into the hall carrying on about their feelings, waving their arms in the air.

          The first day of class Dr. Norm handed out ten essay questions—the three tests and the final test would be taken from those questions. He encouraged his students to work together, discuss the questions, but to bring nothing to class on test day. One surprise question, for extra credit, on the final was “Write a comprehensive essay question for this course and answer it.”

          Doctor Norm didn’t assign stuff that bored his students, no ordeals to plod through. It was crawl before you walk. William Faulkner and James Joyce could wait until he hooked his students on reading for the fun of it. Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat was the first assignment. Junior had the copy Peaches gave him when he left San Francisco. If he had known that book would make him laugh out loud, he would have read it a long time ago. It was the first book Junior ever read.

          Junior’s experience with literature was the forced feeding in high school of such as Beowolf and Shakespeare. Most were tough sledding and damn little humor except for Shakespeare and the teacher had to point that out. But Steinbeck was fun to read. Junior devoured everything the man wrote. “Steinbeck and the Common Man” was the title of his first term paper.

          Professor Norm followed Steinbeck with Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Carson McCullers, Tom Sharp, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Eric Maria Remarque, Peter Mathiesson and Denise Giardina.

          Doctor Norm told of how Eric Marie Kramer fled to Paris from Germany in the thirties when Hitler’s monsters were going after socialists and communists. The French were deporting escaping Germans back to the fatherland and a tortured death. To escape that, Eric Marie Kramer disguised his name. He turned it around and went from the German Kramer to the French Remarque.

          With Junior, the ‘old man’ in the class, they often talked about controversial subjects like Vietnam and strip-mining. Dr. Norm loved the diversions as much as the students but made it clear on the first day that all assignments were due when the syllabus indicated, no matter where the discussions led nor how much class time they took up. Connections between the diversions and the reading assignments would appear as one of several additional essay questions to choose from on each of the three one hour tests. Five days near the end of the semester were spent writing a term paper, notes were brought to class in the student’s own handwriting and turned in with the term paper.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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