Professor of Civility by Donald Thane.

… so where spacetime is actually orthogonal due to protrusions upon it, those would be singularities. If unprovoked spacetime were Cartesian in nature, then time wouldn't flow at all. It's only when the density of spacetime grows so great that perpendicularity--

What the fuck did that guy just say?

Here we go again.

It's always the same damned thing. I'm just sitting here in the back of the truck doing some thinking and enjoy the ride to the job, and one of these ignorant assholes has to go and say something to piss me off. It's always the new guy too.

 "What the fuck did you just say?"

As if he's making some sort of stand, he puffs his chest out a bit and says, "I said them fucking Jews probably ain't gonna pay us anyway."

I'm not about to waste any time arguing with him, but I will explain my actions beforehand, and in full detail.

 "Didn't I tell you yesterday I'm half Jewish?"

"Yeah?" he says, "so you're a fucking Jew too."

He giggles and throws glances at the other two laborers sharing the bed of the pick-up with us. They've both worked with me before, so they make sure that when I follow his glances to check on their reactions, there aren't any.

"And what did I say I would do if you made the same mistake again? Eh, what did I say I would do?"

He's beginning to get the idea, just a bit. He hesitates before speaking, and when he does open his mouth it's with false courage I could smell a mile away. As he speaks I get up onto one knee.

Boldly, he starts to say, "What...," but as soon as I move, the volume of his voice drops by half.

 "… you're gonna kick my ass now? Is that it?"

Other than the four of us and our tools, which are just some shovels and rakes, there's nothing in the bed of the pick-up but the spare tire, which actually makes for a decent seat if you drag it into a corner. I always take the tire, even if someone is already on it, so I can stretch my legs a bit and sit atop a slight rubber perch instead of down on that corrugated steal surface.

So as I prop to a knee, I do it from on top of the tire. I'm looming directly over him.

"No. What did I say I would do?"

"I… I don't … man, what's the problem?"

"What the FUCK did I say I would do, motherfucker?"

He isn't even looking at me anymore, just at the space between his legs. I reach out to pull his chin up so he'll look at me, and he flinches as if I had just swung a running chainsaw his way.

I gently force his gaze into mine and calmly ask him, "I said if you didn't shut your mouth, I'd shut it for you, didn't I?"

The second to last thing he wants to do is answer me in front of the other two guys, and the last thing he wants to do at this point is not answer me and run the risk that I might so much as raise my voice again. He's petrified and paralyzed, his shoulders slump pathetically. I've drained him of every bit of manly pride he ever had without having to do anything more than reposition my body.

"So now," I ask him, "what am I supposed to do?"

I'm being so deliberate, I'm so comfortable, he seems so out of place. This is my wheelhouse, and he wishes to God he wasn't in it. But I've learned my lessons in life, and I refuse to feel sorry for him now.

He can't take the tension anymore, and suddenly it makes little difference to him if the other guys see him back down.

"Look, man, I'm sorry. If I offended you, then I'm really --


I drive the fist of my right hand across his mealy mouth and it knocks about half the consciousness out of him.

Then I reach back with my right hand and grab the tire, to brace myself, and I aim a sharp left hook into his eye to make sure he won't just remember this for the rest of the day, but at least the rest of the week.

I grab him by the face. His mouth is bleeding and his eye is opened up in the lid area, a bad place to be cut but not that bad of a cut.

I shake his head and slap him a few times to bring him back, and I make him stare into my eyes as I tell him, "The next time we have to do this, and I really hope you're listening now, I'm going to give you the worst beating of your life. You're fine to work today and I'm pretty sure you'll do it with your big mouth shut, but next time you won't be able to work. Not for weeks. You won't be able to WALK! Remember this."

And I sit back on my tire and lean against the inner wall of the pick-up bed. I try to remember what I was thinking about.

What upsets me most about people ruining the rides to and from the job is the fact that it's motion that lets me do my best thinking. I value this time. When you think about the things I like to think about, motion gives you a good frame of reference, it lets you think from a better vantage. But not when I'm forced into being a professor of civility.

So what was I thinking? Oh yeah! I was thinking how in the absence of matter, spacetime must be anti-orthogonal, despite how many dimensions you consider, four or five. Even six. It's matter that bends spacetime toward the Cartesian approximation, and when bent enough, time will cease to flow, because…

Donny Thane, known to his friends and the army of slave souls who follow him everywhere as 'The Don,' is a real dude, the kind of dude who, just in this lifetime alone, has engaged in barehanded combat against a grizzly, a silverback, a pack of badgers, a rabid, Tasmanian platypus with a razor sharp beak and countless Adirondack bigfeet. The Don ate them all, and he'll eat you if you ever meet him, because that's the kind of dude he is.   He also has a story being published in Metazen in August and another in October at Toucan Magazine.


David Barber said...

This is great! Starts off quite sedentary and then explodes with brutality before descending back into thought. Great writing that never lets up.

Well done, Donald!

Mike Miner said...

Such a thoughtful tough guy. Great character. Really enjoyed it.

Ron Scheer said...

I like stories about blue collar workers. This one is a cool mix of the cerebral and physical. Perfect title, too.

Donny Thane said...

Thank you very much, guys. I do appreciate the comments immensely, and I'm really glad you maintain this site, David. Please keep up the good work.

Tag said...

Great story Donny. Start out one way then Bam here coms the twist.

David Cranmer said...

That has to be one of the most unique openings in recent memory.

G said...

Fascinating paradox: a menancing yet highly intelligent individual.

Thomas Pluck said...

You don't fuck with the Professor! I liked this a lot. So much tension. I was expecting him to staple his mouth shut with a nailgun, but you didn't need cartoonish violence to make this one work like a charm. Great job.

Paul D. Brazill said...


Trey R. Barker said...

Well done. Good tension in the quietness. Doesn't always go that way and I love to see it when it does.

Bill Baber said...

damn good! there aren't enough professors around...

Chris Gordon said...

The tension gets jacked up so quickly and so convincingly... I really enjoyed it.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great job! Well written and excellent descriptions all the way through. Violence done right.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Ha! Hell of an opening followed by a superbly paced story.

Emperor "Empy" Seastar said...

Googled The Don after following Fb re-post re this gem:

Brilliant story. Knew it would be.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this. Where is everything else from this guy? Has the FFO asked him for more? This is so well written that I simply want more. More, I say!