“What the fuck is a ‘conduct violation’?”
“A fucking conduct violation. It says right here, ‘Mr. Arthur Davidson, because of your failure to respond to inquiries on your conduct violation, your account has been put on disciplinary hold and you will be unable to register for classes until this issue is resolved. Thank you.’”
“’Thank you’, they said fucking ‘Thank you’. Man this is bullshit and I know it. I haven’t done anything!”
“Are you sure?”
“Alex, you know me. I’m not willing to spend an extra minute on that god-forsaken campus to get a drink of water, let alone commit some ‘conduct violation’.”
Art closed his laptop and threw it aside on the couch, picking up the remote control instead. He turned on the TV he bought with his roommate, Alex, and started surfing through channels. The two had moved into a small house off campus together halfway through their second semester at the University. The two met in their freshman philosophy class. The class was discussing Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. Alex was the only other student who chose neither to accept the circumstances in Omelas nor to walk away from the fabled city, instead choosing to forego law and order, and the constraints of the tale, and try to beat the ever living shit out of every person that allowed that child to suffer. They became friends pretty quickly after smoking a joint behind the Student Center during their lunch break. Alex shifted in his seat.
“Hey did you check through your emails?”
“Your old emails. It said on the disciplinary hold that you failed to respond to something, right?”
“Would they send that in an email?”
“I don’t know. Knowing this school though, they would be too lazy to send you anything other than an email.”
Art picked his laptop back up and opened it, navigating to his school email address and searching through months old emails. Most were unopened, since Art rarely checked his inbox and often skipped over emails from his school. He stopped on one page and with his finger carefully traced down the screen, highlighting each subject line for his eyes to scan for something unusual. Nearing the bottom of the page, he saw two small red exclamation points next to subject lines reading, “A message from the Dean of Students”. Art clicked one open and read.
“’You are requested to meet with the Dean of Students regarding a charge of conduct violation.’”
“When is it dated?”
“Shit. Three months. That’s not good. Does it say what it’s about?”
“It says something about making ‘threatening speech’. What does that mean?”
“Art, did you threaten to stab someone in the face again because they wouldn’t get out of the way of your car?”
“No. Well…no! I know I haven’t threatened anyone. This is bullshit. I don’t even get to know who is accusing me.”
“Maybe you should call the Dean’s office, it’s only three. They should be open. But then again they do work such a hard job sitting in a temperature controlled office watching cat videos on YouTube that they may have left early.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m gonna call them.”
Art pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed the number in the email for the Dean’s office. He sat on hold for a full fifteen minutes before a very bored receptionist answered. Art tried to speak a few times but was cut off by the voice on the other end. Finally he was able to speak,
“So I got this email from you guys saying—“, he waited and listened. “Mhm I—“, again he was cut off. “Yeah, so this email. It said I have a conduct violation on my record—. Mhm. Okay so there’s no information you can give me? Ugh! Ok whatever thanks.” And he hung up the phone.
“No. they won’t tell me anything over the phone. I have to go in there tomorrow morning. Until then, I’m gonna smoke weed until I forget I have a face.”
“I second that.” Alex said laughing as he picked up his bag of weed and started breaking it up on the table.
“Are you serious? Nothing? Not even what I allegedly said?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Davidson, but only the Dean of Students is allowed to access that information. I’m just the receptionist. All I see here is exactly what you have seen, a conduct violation over ‘threatening speech’. But I can set up an appointment with the Dean so you two can settle this issue and get you registered for classes.”
“Eh, alright. Look I firmly deny this charge and I really want to make sure it’s not going to show up on any kind of permanent record. So do I need to bring my lawyer with me?” Art’s lawyer was his mother. She did have a law degree but wasn’t practicing.
“I assure you, you won’t need a lawyer. But once you talk with the Dean you will be more aware of your options. How does one o’clock sound?”
“Is he available now? I really need to get this cleared up so I can get my classes before they fill up.”
“I’m sorry but one is really the earliest he can meet.”
“Ok that’s fine. Here?”
“That’s right. Here at one o’clock.”
Art left and headed to his first class, shouldering past the frat jocks boasting about the weekend’s conquests, sorority bimbos with their completely matching attire all plastered with Greek letters in cute script and flowery patterns and the overburdened Honors Program students who were always in a rush and the folks more like Art who probably needed to be in a rush a little more often and the various causes and teams and groups and clubs that advertised themselves around the main quad like a Moroccan bazaar on the day everyone goes to market and the ivy lined buildings with the signs and banners screaming “go team” and “study hard” and “drink” and a squirrel, darting across the walk skidding under legs to reach a small bite of pizza fallen from an overflowing trash bin.
Art’s ten o’clock class was poetry. His professor was a typical university scholar poet who thought he was fucking cool wearing his dark shades and leather jacket with a forty pound beer gut and a receding crown of grey. But he did write great poetry and always made the class interesting when he yelled at someone or went off on a rant. Art sat in the back with the slackers and sleepers but usually participated in class. He liked reading poetry. He also liked to think of ways to improve on it. The professor always said specificity was key, that no one cares if you write a poem about a beautiful flower. But if you write a poem about a flower in the backyard of a girl named Katie’s house where you had your first sexual experiences, your first love and your first real loss, on a street named Oak and next to a blue and grey pickup truck, then you’ve got something. So Art often drew on that in his own work, trying to make the vague more precise; the general more specific. And usually it worked to make decent poetry.
“Ok everyone, that’s it for today. Oh but there will be a poetry reading in the library today at one o’clock. Kaitlin Deen. She’s a wonderful poet and a good friend so I’ll be there if any of you want to come. Write about it and you may get extra credit. May.”
Art dropped his books into his backpack and walked to the front of the class as everyone else filed out.
“Hey Art, I liked what you had to say earlier about Aaron’s poem.”
“Oh, thanks. Ya know, I’d like to go to that poetry reading today but I have to deal with some shit with the Dean at one.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yeah, something about ‘threatening speech’ or some bureaucratic noise. Hopefully its nothing.”
“Well I hope so too, Art. Good luck.”
“Thanks. I might need it.”
Art met up with Alex after class in the cafeteria, in line for a cheap fast food burger. The line was long and moving slowly and no one seemed to notice when Art walked halfway up the line to talk to Alex. Everyone was on their phones.
“How’d the meeting go?” Alex asked looking up from his phone.
“I haven’t met with them yet.”
“I thought you were doing that this morning.”
“I tried but of course he was too busy to see me then,”
“Sitting on his fat ass behind that big university provided desk—“
“So I have to go seem him at one. I have been wracking my brain all day and I can’t think of a single thing I may have possibly done. And of course I’m not given a name of an accuser or the exact nature of my alleged crime so I can’t properly defend myself. I’m going in blind.”
“Fuck that man I thought this was America where you’re innocent until proven guilty and you have the right to face your accusers. Just deny everything. Plead the Fifth.”
“Oh but remember Alex, this isn’t the United States of America. This is sovereign University soil, territory completely under the auspices and jurisdiction of the University and its powers that be.”
“Is your Mom gonna be there?”
“No. They said I wouldn’t need a lawyer.”
One o’clock struck and Art was already waiting outside the Dean’s office. He sat preparing best as he could a defense against specters. Finally a door opened and a young man came down the hall and beckoned him into his small office. It was bare with white walls and two plains seats on either side of the stark white desk. The desk had almost nothing on it save a blank piece of paper and a Mac desktop computer. The young man beckoned at the chair and Art sat down and watched as the man crossed behind him and sat down on the other side of the desk. He sat for a moment silently staring at Art.
“So…am I supposed to find out what I allegedly did from you before I see the Dean?”
“No, you’ll be discussing this issue with me.”
“Oh great, not even important enough to see the actual Dean.”
“Well that’s not true but I’m sure you’re anxious to know what this is all about so here it is. We were concerned when we didn’t hear a response from you about having a chat about this.”
He turned the sheet of paper over and pushed it forward. On it was about twenty-five to thirty lines of text with a bold title over top reading, “Glock Nine Millimeter”. Underneath, Art’s name. Art looked from the paper to the man in front of him then back to the paper again before he started laughing uncontrollably. The man sat back and watched him with a slight look of concern on his face.
“Art, I don’t know if this is funny. Did you write this?”
“Oh my god, yeah I wrote that. It’s a poem.”
“Well we wanted to chat with you about its content. We wanted to get an idea of what it’s about and what you meant when you wrote it.”
Art looked at the poem again, “Wait, you don’t seriously think I feel like this do you?”
“Well let me read you a few lines, ‘When my wife leaves me, I have my Glock Nine Millimeter. When I lose my job, I have my Glock Nine Millimeter.’ I was particularly worried about the line, ‘When that black guy cuts me off on the highway, I have my Glock Nine Millimeter.’ You tell me Art, what does that all mean?”
Art laughed a little and picked up the poem, looking it over. He had written it a while back and couldn’t remember all the lines, but he remembered clearly what it meant to him. How he felt when he wrote it.
“Do you remember about six months ago, that guy that walked into a movie theatre and shot twelve people? During a movie?”
“Of course. That was one of the reasons we couldn’t just ignore this.”
“Well I couldn’t ignore that. To think that a couple dozen people were just going to enjoy a movie but instead got shot at and became witnesses to a horrible crime. I couldn’t help thinking what the hell was going through that guy’s brain. Was there anything? Was he crazy or just fucking angry? Did he have some vendetta against someone or did he just want to murder? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I almost wanted to meet the guy just to find out why. What went through his head. But I knew I couldn’t, so as a poet, I wrote about it. Do you know a lot about poetry?”
“Not really. Why don’t you tell me.”
“Well I don’t know a lot either but I do know what I’ve been taught recently about it. For one I’ve learned that the characters of a work are not nor do they represent the author. Even Dante knew he was pissing people off when he wrote The Divine Comedy but he didn’t care because he knew that the Dante in his work was not the same Dante who lived in Florence and loved Beatrice. But all the same he knew he had to piss off people to get himself and his ideas noticed. To stand out. Yeah this poem is violent, but the ‘I’ in it is not me. I was trying to get an idea of how someone could walk into a theatre or school or church and murder innocent people. I was trying to personify anger to better understand it. And the Glock nine millimeter used in repetition is nothing more than a device to represent violence. Violence against others. And when violence is so clear, common and widespread, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a natural human condition. So I’m writing about humanity.”
“And furthermore I’ve learned recently that poetry needs specifics. If you want to make someone give a shit about something you have to be specific and precise. So I decided rather than writing a poem about violence being bad, I decided to write a poem about a person who uses violence to try and satisfy his anger but only perpetuates a viscous cycle of death and destruction that satisfies nothing. He is destroyed by his own violence by the end of the story. And of course racism goes hand in hand with violence and bringing it to the light helps to destroy it. Besides, my girlfriend is black.
“Yup, and she gets it. Look man it’s poetry. It’s fiction. I really didn’t think I was supposed to feel censored here.”
“Oh no! You’re not being censored here—“
“Of course I am. You read my work and think I’m violent because of it. You feel you need to ‘have a chat’ and punish me by putting a hold on my account just for the work I submit in class.”
“Well we weren’t sure whether this indicated a need for maybe therapy,” Art laughed, “and when we didn’t hear from you we became a little concerned that you might act on some of these feelings.”
“And so you sent me an email and put a hold on my account? You didn’t call, send a letter, call my parents or maybe send a person to one of the classrooms I’m in almost every day? I mean how worried can you really be if you’re just going to send an email?”
“Well any email that comes from the Dean of Students is important and should be taken seriously.”
“Like all the important messages about sports games or pep rallies? Look alright, from here on out I’ll make sure to read every email I get and put a disclaimer on every piece I write firmly declaring the work is fiction and does not represent me or my opinions.”
“Well Art I’m really sorry you feel you have to do that but you have to understand that your professor and the school have done the right thing here. We just wanted to make sure you and the rest of our school body is safe from any harm.”
“My professor turned it in?”
“You understand it’s his job.”
“Yeah I get it. So can I go?”
“Sure. And we’ll keep this just for the record.”
“Ok sure. But this charge isn’t going to stay on any kind of permanent record is it? I want to make sure it’s clear.”
“Don’t worry Art. It won’t stay. It will be gone by this afternoon and you’ll be able to register for classes.”
“Great. Well if you ever want to chat about poetry again just put another hold on my account and we’ll have a chat.”
The man laughed, “Ok Art, I’ll do that.”
“Don’t though. Seriously.”
“A Poem?” Alex said walking alongside Art across campus.
“Yup. I laughed in the guy’s face. I couldn’t believe they were threatened by a poem.”
“Was it pretty violent?”
“Well yeah. But it was deeper than that.”
“Oh so it was deeper than that wasn’t it Mr. Shakespeare?”
“Oh fuck off. I just can’t believe my professor turned me in, I thought he knew me better than that.”
“He knew you better than that but the school didn’t. You’re just a number to them.”
“I wouldn’t have had to deal with this crap in high school. They knew I wasn’t dangerous, no matter what I wrote. I think I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Careful, he may think you’re there to shoot him up for ratting you out.”
“Oh fuck you.”
Art split off from Alex and headed up the stairs to his professor’s office. He got to the door and raised his hand to knock just as his professor opened the door and stood staring at Art’s fist hanging unsatisfied in the air.
“Art. I was expecting to see you at some point.”
“Yeah, c’mon in. Have a seat.” He stepped back and sat behind his desk, “Yup I was expecting you and I get why you’re here Art. I understand you’re upset and why.”
“It’s just that, I thought you knew me a little better than that. I thought you knew I wasn’t some dangerous killer.”
“I knew, Arthur. I know now just as I’ve always known. Of course you’re not some deranged killer but it’s my job. If I hadn’t given that poem to my higher ups and, god forbid something happened, I would be responsible. I couldn’t accept that. I never intended to get you into any trouble and I figured it would be a routine meeting where you would just explain what you meant and it would all be over.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of what just happened.”
“You got it settled then?”
“Yeah. I think I got it all handled.”
“Well that’s good Art. You’re a clever kid and I expect you’ll do a lot of good in life. Just don’t waste it fighting something you know you can’t beat. I know it sucks having to be censored but that’s academia. And yes sometimes it’s interesting to fight but most of the time you’re fighting an uphill battle on a ninety degree slope. I’ve found the best way to get around it is to work within the system to go against it. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense but welcome to life, Art.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s no use to fight.”
“This time. There’s little use in fighting this time but don’t let that discourage you from fighting in the future. Fighting gets you through in life. Fighting keeps you alive and gains you respect. Fighting changes the world.”
“Yeah. You’re right. Thanks Professor.”
“No problem, Art. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”
Art sat in the living room typing on his laptop. Alex had fallen asleep on the opposite couch and the glow from the TV was the only light behind the laptop screen. Art clicked away on a new work for his poetry class. His workshop day was in eight hours. He had carefully worked on this poem for the past few weeks, bearing into each line like a crazed artist putting too much weight behind his pencil and riveting the sketch pad. He wanted it as perfect as he could make it before it was torn apart by his classmates. But he welcomed the tear. He often employed the critiques of his classmates trying to make his poems just a little bit better. But sometimes he had to ignore them. Either way he carefully listened to each comment. He made a final click, saved the file and looked over the work.
“Finally. Done.” He whispered to himself as he read the poem in his head. It was the most violent work he could conjure from his imagination, as bloody and vengeful as a Shakespearean opera and almost as meaningless as real violence. This time though it meant nothing more than the violence it contained and was in fact little else than a vehicle for the page before it, which read:
This is a Disclaimer:
This is a poem
This is not real
This is not how I feel
I am not a killer
I am a human being
So go ahead and send me to the Dean’s office again
I’ll gladly discuss the finer points of poetry with him again
Because this is not real
This is a poem
And this is a Disclaimer
Disclaimer: Disclaimer is a work of fiction inspired by a true story. While the central events of the story took place, though not necessarily as presented, certain details such as names, places, and incidents have been added, changed or omitted for the sake of artistic and narrative integrity. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the author.