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Feature Story / March 4, 2009
By John Dolan

He got furious; he had a vicious temper, which probably had something to do with that epic divorce from the department; he screamed at me, “That’s just self-serving passive-aggressive crap and you know it! You know damn well you’re not….” He was right; my little stylized protest was a classic bit of coy grandstanding, and he was right to call me on it. Not that I learned anything. Nobody ever learned anything from these psychological sessions. It was just a kick in the face accompanied by a compliment, and the compliment was as coy and oblique as my protest—his implication that I was an exception, that the stats didn’t apply to me.

God knows I was desperate to stand out somehow. I lived at home, took the train to Berkeley, went days and days without speaking to a soul. Even getting yelled at was something like contact.

What drove Beloof to drive me to est was a disaster of the sort in which I specialized. I came into his office in the next-to-last week of the semester, coyly miming embarrassment, to tell him that I’d just found out my whole semester was wiped out because my tuition check had bounced. Apparently the university had sent a letter to my parents’ house way back in Week 2 of the semester, announcing the check was no good, and either I hadn’t seen it or I’d been too scared to open it or some damn thing. Even now I don’t know how it could have bounced anyway, because I was on a scholarship. Not the pat-on-the-head kind, by the way, just a California State Scholarship, the kind you get for being poor.

So now, in the next-to-last week of the semester, they sent a followup informing me in bland lawyerly diction, “Hey stupid! Hope you don’t think you’re getting any credit for this semester because we kicked you out three months ago!”

Since two of my classes were with Beloof, it was my duty to come and tell him I wouldn’t be taking the final exams. And besides, it was a pleasure, or as close to pleasure as I had in those days, getting to talk about myself and have a psychology. It was my moment of glory, almost as good as limping around in the wounded Union soldier’s uniform back when I was young enough to trick or treat. Teling him in a carefully modulated, understated way that 14 weeks were officially down the drain.

He grimaced at me, instinctively furious but wary of falling into another of my passive-aggressive traps. His moustache was writhing. Finally he told me, “We need to do something about you.”

I was all for that. I’d even dragged myself up the hill to the Student Health Center, but had drawn a Freudian “silent mirror” analyst, Dr. Spinka. He asked me questions about my childhood, and stared back at me like a good silent mirror when I said, “It just seems like it’d be better if I died.” Which, of course, I took as his learned equivalent of “Well duh!”

Beloof told me there was a seminar he wanted me to attend. He’d take me there. And he did, a week later, picking me up at BART in his fussy little French car to head into SF.

est (my Word program keeps wanting to capitalize it; Word clearly doesn’t remember the 1970s) was pure SF. Herb Caen, the pyramid, opera, all that Chron stuff I read about and never expected to meet. Maybe dormies at Berkeley got over to SF every weekend, but I hadn’t been there in years. I spent the ride over worrying if I was sitting correctly in the passenger seat and feeling how full my bladder was. That was the one thing I knew about est: they wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom for the whole seminar. And the seminar lasted a whole weekend. My bladder was terrified.

We joined the stream of youngish real-estate stoners filing into a huge room with folding chairs. A warmup preacher was ranting on the podium, a high-voiced manic little kibbles & bits terrier of a man. He told us he only needed three hours of sleep a night these days. Sometimes he could get by with two. Massive applause. Calls from the crowd, “Me too!” “Yeah!” Kind of white yuppie revival style. But then, for all their coastal smooth, most of these people were probably only a generation away from Missouri. Add a little Tibetan incense and voila, you’re a deity, like Werner was.

Beloof sat beside me, which was awkward enough, but worse yet he was a mere spectator, clapping away like everybody else. It was painful, because even then I knew enough to know how fragile his claims to fame were, and it seemed very unwise for him to let one of his protégés see him in mere spectator mode.

That’s the thing with Beloof, with all those damned mentors; you can’t settle on a tone with them. He was infuriating, a buffoon, a spoiled old brat.

When I went home to see my poor father teaching himself Lithuanian with a paperback dictionary, doing his unpaid and in fact bitterly-mocked research into Indo-European linguistics—my father who remembered every word of every book he ever read, and flinched every time the doorbell rang for fear it was a bill collector—it’s very hard to feel too much pity for Beloof, who lived in a mansion in the hills and was paid an obscene salary to prattle about his absurd vanities.

But he was about the only person outside my family who paid any attention to me in those years, and I guess I should damn well be grateful. And besides, his enemy Brandt, who had transformed the old Speech Department, was no better, to put it mildly. Not even much more sophisticated; just better-networked, with updated patter, which was already dating very quickly and would be overthrown by the theory-geeks in a few years. I’m sure as Hell not on their side, or any side here, even my own– little manipulative coward.

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Add your own

  • 1. homer  |  March 4th, 2009 at 12:45 pm


  • 2. fireclown  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    That might be the most depressing thing I have read in years.

  • 3. doctor k  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    funny as all hell never stop dolan never ever stop

  • 4. Campbell Roark (yet again)  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:52 pm


    Finally, another piece by Dolan. Why does this Promethean figure continue to languish in obscurity while pallid tone-deaf impressarios (literati castrati) get all the love?

    …as for taking some time to google your mentor’s demise… Dear sir, it took me a year or so to actually get around to scoping your amazon reviews back in double-ought four (love that Kon-tiki!); a year that would seem like a carapace kicked into some fetid corner of my life (and I was 26- all downhill after ’04, right?), had I not spent vast portions of it scouring the web for various crumbs and crusts of your writing…

    Dr. Dolan… Why this is this brilliant brutal bastard not read by everyone? (I want to scream it like Gary Oldman- twitching visage and all- in The Professional: “EVERYONE!!!!!”)

  • 5. John  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    What the hell is depressing about an overpaid parasite dying before he could become so senile that he would no longer understand who was screwing him and why?

  • 6. Pete  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Please write more.

  • 7. Chris Connolly  |  March 4th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Dr Dolan, sometimes your writing is so good it should be illegal. This is great stuff!

  • 8. mechagodzilla  |  March 4th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    This sounds like it belongs on kuro5hin.

  • 9. totalesturns  |  March 4th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Yes. We, the wretches of the Internet, demand more Dolan, and some of us especially crave more stories of life at Berkeley during the rise of the theory pods.

  • 10. rustbeltjacobin  |  March 4th, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Just discovered Dolan’s stuff recently. These really are some of the best essays being written nowadays. Was worried about his extended absence from the sight though; after that piece about hitting rock bottom in terms of poverty, I actually felt worried about the guy. Hope there’s lots more headed our way from where this came from.

  • 11. jorge  |  March 4th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Keep writing Dolan, we could use another book.

  • 12. Rick  |  March 4th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I looked up the one instructor-guy who’d really liked my writing back in college. The story in this little newspaper was that he’d shot himself and set his ex-wife’s trailer on fire, in Oregon! It could just be a name-coincidence. But funny stuff!

  • 13. Allen  |  March 4th, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Spot on take on the weird ins and outs of
    the humanities career … right down to the little wall posters, which still do cling to a regardless existence in the yellowed halls of academia world wide even now.

    University professors don’t make mansion money anymore, though. Well most of them don’t, but some bastards still do. Many make about the same as a middle seniority high school teacher, working about twice as much; and that’s when they can get work at all.

    I had an old Shakespeare prof (who was also a published Milton scholar), actually a really weird and funny guy whose other love was football, which I always thought was pleasingly zany. He didn’t get hit by a van, but he did leave academia after twenty years … apparently to attend business school and get a steady job.

  • 14. burbl  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Yeah! Great Dolan, bitter like any other Exile(d) writer but with a difference (doesn’t taste like shit)

  • 15. captain america  |  March 5th, 2009 at 6:05 am

    “Academics are more restrained these days, trying to be “professional” as the profession dies a genteel death”

    academia is dying? now THAT’S good news.

  • 16. Bardamu  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you Dr. Dolan. You are peerless. Please carry on and keep writing.

    I wish I had been taught by you.

  • 17. homer  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    @ Bardamu #16

    If you read even the first pages of PLESANT HELL or his article on ORWELL, you’d have known this already.

  • 18. pnom  |  March 5th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I googled my childhood suburb and learnt that the mean old bitch down the street — who used to steal my soccer ball when it fell in her yard — just had her house confiscated by the council and sold. Glorious.

  • 19. captain america  |  March 5th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    hey homer, got a link for the orwell article?

  • 20. E  |  March 6th, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Dolan is the man. Look here John, have you got a “Stupid” manuscript lying around? Publish that shit. I understand the whole “episodic” Dickens thing, but waiting for the Beast to publish is like watching ice freeze.

  • 21. Bardamu  |  March 6th, 2009 at 3:36 am

    @ Homer #17

    I have read everything I have been able to find, and still sometimes hear his sibilant voice reading his own poetry as I read his articles. I am sincere in the wish that he had been my tutor.

    I hope soon to have the means to send Dr. Dolan a decent cheque.

  • 22. Marc  |  March 6th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I was taught by Dolan, back in New Zealand.
    I took two courses from him, and he enriched my life, if I can say that about another man. He taught us poor provincials about Phillip K. Dick, and dis-enamored me of certain rubbish I had been taught in other English classes.

    He may not realize it (and from reading “Pleasant Hell” I’m guessing he doesn’t) but he was pretty fucking legendary among English Lit and Film and Media Studies undergraduates at the time.

  • 23. MIchael  |  March 6th, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

  • 24. aleke  |  March 6th, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Orwell article:

  • 25. Amos  |  March 8th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Speaking as an anti-academic bigot, I must say how nice it is to have my prejudices indulged.

    I read this article with as much pleasure as a Ku Klux Klaner scanning the local crime blotter for stories about niggers shooting up their housing estates. Kudos!

  • 26. Allwell  |  March 10th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I think Orwell rocks even as a closet imperialist.

  • 27. Matt Beloof  |  July 20th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    You need to show some respect for the dead, you stupid bitch-made faggot. I’d pistol-whip you in a perfect world. Eat shit, you unfunny loser.

    Matt BELOOF
    325 Lemmon Way
    Hanford, CA 93230

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