Featured in Colorado Review
Published Spring 2017
The parents always love me. I walk backward and wind clumps of parents and their sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offspring through our tree-lined campus and explain why they should spend sixty thousand dollars a year sending their precious progeny to Willton College. I know what they want to hear—our rising ranking in U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review declaring that our dorms look like palaces, the job and graduate school placement rate, the scholarly successes of our esteemed faculty. Inevitably, some dad, some wannabe comedian in pleated khakis and a tucked-in polo says, “So, what are you going to do with that philosophy degree, Jessica? Will you sit around all day and think?” They chuckle, and their children are mortified. I tell them Willton has provided me with a solid liberal arts education and I have learned to think critically, articulate myself clearly, and write well, and what business or graduate program wouldn’t want someone with these skills?
Today as I lead a dozen parents and children toward the Palmer Observatory, gift of Horace Palmer, class of 1947, and his daughter, Imogen Palmer, class of 1975, I see a pack of boys rolling down the tall, green hill, hooting and hollering the entire way down. Their flip-flops fly off their feet as they roll, their backpacks are scattered on the grass (some halfway open, vomiting out sheets of loose leaf), and their hair is wild, dotted with leaves and twigs. I am, of course, furious; this sort of disruption isn’t supposed to transpire on my tours. We are no longer children, and we should comport ourselves as if we are civilized human beings, not baboons that have escaped from the zoo.
Because the lawn is vast and centrally located, and because we are required to bring all tours to the Palmer Observatory, I cannot steer the families away from the imbecilic boys, so all I can do is walk briskly and apologize for their behavior.
“Why are you sorry?” says a puffy-faced father, who is wearing aviator Ray-Bans and a leather jacket, even though it’s a warm September day, nearly eighty degrees. He steps forward from the tour group and tilts his head as he surveys the scene before him. “They look like they’re having fun.”
“Dad,” says his daughter.
Although this father is quite homely, reminiscent of a bloated toad, the daughter is beautiful, with shiny sand-colored hair, huge amber eyes, long, thin legs in tiny denim shorts (shorts so tiny, in fact, that the white fabric of the pockets hangs below the hem of the shorts). I am quite sure she’s a model; very rarely do you see people who look like this walking around outside the pages of a magazine or off a movie screen. I wonder what it might be like to be that beautiful, to move through the world with this girl’s physical gifts. I have a theory that very rich and smart and ugly men marry beautiful, money-grubbing women, and then their offspring, if they are lucky, are intelligent and beautiful, inheriting the best traits of both their mothers and their fathers. I don’t think this is exactly fair: one should be either beautiful or intelligent.
“It’s usually much quieter out here,” I say. “More bucolic.” A pimply boy in the back of the group snorts when I say “bucolic,” and I assume it’s because he has no idea what the word means. “Please follow me, everyone,” I say, and I wave my arms, trying to usher the group rapidly away from the grassy hill.
Karin Lin-Greenberg's stories have recently appeared in Bellingham Review, Crazyhorse, and Hayden's Ferry Review. Her story collection, Faulty Predictions, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. She teaches creative writing at Siena College in upstate New York.