Peter Federson visits 78-year-old Herb Crowley-the oldest student on the SIU campus-for algebra tutoring. But Peter is preoccupied with Tammy, who was trying to "help" him and his roommate Harry during their under-aged drinking trial an hour before.
I walked around University Park for 45 minutes and then trudged up the stairs to the 7th floor of Schneider Tower.
“So, how did the trial of the century go?” said Herb as he let me into 708.
I gave Herb the details, and finished with, “…and Hal looked, smelled, and acted like he had just finished smoking a joint!” By then, Herb was laughing so hard that he couldn’t get his breath.
“And as for Tammy,” I groaned, “if she had given us any more help, Harry and I would probably have been hanged!”
“Well…hah…I think being with Tammy…hah hah… is like one adventure after another.”
Herb had put his finger on the problem. I said, “Trouble surrounds Tammy like smoke surrounds an airplane crash, and I’m getting too old for all of this bullshit!”
Herb laughed even harder as he took a pill. “You’re growing up, Pete.”
Again Herb had put his finger on the issue.
And it’s about time!
“I don’t think any of this is very funny,” I said, sitting in a depressed funk.
“Not now it isn’t… but it will be!” Herb had stopped laughing, but he was still enjoying himself. “And, as for your…should I say…argumentative manner with the judge, I remember when I was a doughboy during the big one. Are you ready for another World War I drinking story?
One of the guys was a know-it-all. He knew everything. All you had to do was ask him. We were occupying a small French town—we occupied a lot of them during the war—and some of the boys found this wine cellar in the ruins with most of the bottles intact. We hadn’t had anything stronger to drink than dirty trench water for months. The upshot was that the gendarmes apprehended us after we unloaded our rifles into the side of a water tank. The French judge fined us five francs, but the know-it-all argued that a French court had no jurisdiction over American servicemen. With that, the judge then raised the fine to fifteen Francs, and then to thirty after the know-it-all called him a frog.”
Herb looked up at me. “And I was the know-it-all.”
I chuckled a little. And now that we were both in a chipper mood—Herb more, me less—we went to work and covered Chapter 20—trinomials—in two hours, and I took a quick quiz.
“It looks like, had this been an actual quiz, your grade for the quarter so far would be either a C+ or a C…not bad for someone who was failing the class a few weeks ago. Not bad at all. And with only two weeks until finals, I think you’re going to make it.” Herb glanced at me. “But you don’t look happy.”
“No, I’m happy that I’m doing better…much better in algebra, but I’ve got to do something about Tammy, or she’s going to screw it up between Catherine and me…I know she will. I think she’s obsessed with me.”
“I suppose it’s because we’ve known each other since high school, and because I was so excited by the soap opera that her life turned into…I mean, will probably turn into. And on top of it, I sometimes act like a jerk around Catherine. I’m as much to blame as Tammy, maybe more so.”
Herb looked as if this was a problem that had no easy solution. “Okay, I don’t know much about these things because I got married to my childhood sweetheart, and we stayed happily married until her…” Herb’s voice caught. “…until she passed on two years ago. We were married for 55 years. You need to tell Tammy that it’s best that you two part, and I mean part as in not see each other anymore. Both of you will be happier in the long run. But you need to tell this to her very clearly. You owe it to her. You would owe it to anyone. And you need to treat Catherine like…” His voice caught.