Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Rags of Time – Barry Targan

Barry Targan – Nov. 30, 1932

How to approach discussing this story?

Well, we have all fallen under the spell of something or someone – sometime in our lives. The temptation and our choice to act on it is where things get interesting.

Drugs, alcohol, lies and sex...they are all out there waiting to make our lives more interesting. There are other forces out there but those are just a couple that happened to pop into my head See, I didn’t say “destroy”, rather I said “interesting” our lives because I feel that each one of those can be used in a way that can not cause damage to those who utilize them responsibly.

Even lies.

Now discussing this story, out of the list mentioned above, guess which one I will focus on?

Yup –SEX.

Time for more “real life” stories by yours truly.

I’ll only tell this particular story because it has some of the same ingredients as “The Rags of Time”. There is one major difference between what I did and what the main character of the story does.

Here we go -

So, as my little profile indicates up there on the right of your screen, I was a Peace Corps volunteer.

I entered the PC when I was 26 years old. I was sent to a small town of about 9,500 to teach high school English.

I lived in a dorm with the students of that school.

There were both male and female students in that dorm.

My English classes were made up of about 97% girls. GIRLS – 18 and under. Not women –GIRLS.

I was 26 years old. In a foreign country teaching mostly girls.

I will be honest and say that there was more than one opportunity for me to violate the trust between a teacher and a student.

It was also known, that there were teachers at that school who did violate that trust.

Here is a conversation I had with a female student one day after class in the hallway of our dorm.

-A mere 25 feet from the door to my room.

Like a good student, all of this was done in English which I think caused even more of a shock to me because I was flabbergasted that she was able to construct a conversation like we had, in for what was her, a foreign language.

She: Mr. _ , do you have a girlfriend?

Me: No _, I do not.

She: I don’t have a boyfriend...but I want one.

Me: uh-huh.

She: Would you want to be my boyfriend?

Me: -

She: I need a boyfriend.


She: You could be my boyfriend now, just for a little while.

Me: -

She: Can we go to your room and talk about it?

She: I need a boyfriend.

Me: Look _, I can’t be your boyfriend, I’m your professor.

She: You could also be my boyfriend.

Me: - I need to go now, I’ll see you tomorrow.

And with that, I ducked around her and walked quickly to my room...

She was 18. I could have been “her boyfriend”.

I thought about that conversation many times after that encounter. I wondered what would have happened if we went back to my room to “talk” about it.

This particular student had attendance problems. She was older and I feel that she didn’t really feel the need to be at the school. She finished the year, and graduated. I passed her – barely.

I knew exactly what she was doing. The main character of the short that I just read faced the same situation but he “went back to the room” with his student.

There were times in the class when she happened to be there that I caught her and some other girls whispering and laughing as they looked in my general direction. I naturally assumed – as most guys would – that they were discussing my lack of a girlfriend and possibly my actions in that hallway – which in their eyes may have made me less of a “man”.

So, as I said, I thought about that conversation and encounter many times. I thought about where it would have taken me. If I crossed that line, would there be others?

It’s hard to say.

Stories like “The Rags of Time” provide the reader with an illustration of what could happen when we compromise ourselves.

The story isn’t that uncommon. It’s a story that becomes reality quite often in our world.

I chose what I thought to be the right path. All I am haunted by today is that conversation. I’m not haunted by what could have happened if we went further into that “conversation”.

My mind is clear and my integrity was tested – and I passed.

Overall, I really enjoyed this short. Here is a bit about the author.

“ of these anthologies, included Targan's work along with fiction by such writers as John Updike, Saul Bellow, Tillie Olsen, and John Barth. In a 24 January 1992 letter, Targan wrote of finding himself in this distinguished company: "Naturally, I was elated.... But as I read through the collection, I came to a deeper awe not of them and not in self-appreciation, but of the act of such writing -- of writing with such honorableness, such authenticity.... I thought right then that to write -- to write with such integrity -- was one of the finest things a human being could do with a life. And so I decided just then that it would be one of the things I would do with mine. But only one of the things."”

“He is or has been a serious boat builder, sailor, gardener, potter, weaver, violinist, bookbinder, printer, papermaker, photographer, artist, skier, naturalist, bird-watcher, fisherman, editor, and teacher. Because he knows and has done so much, his writing covers these and other activities in informed, specific, realistic, and convincing ways, and his style is textured, detailed, and poetic.”

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