Farley, freelance bard and quondam minstrel, resists being the object of decluttering

Do you have a friend from earlier days, whose life has taken a different path from that which either of you would have even wanted to have imagined? We haven't had a visit from Farley (calling him Fenno would be sooo wrong for sooo many reasons) in 2 or 3 years, and as Twelfth Night dawns, we sense the approach of  Farley. A short visit from Farley might be delightful, but the short part doesn't happen. When in town, Farley stocks up on supplies: he replaces his lutestrings, buys honey from rooftop beekeepers (he brews his own mead), orders items of clothing suitable for wear by regularly unemployed medievalists, renews his prescriptions. This country suffers from a surfeit of medievalists, so very few medievalists are in fact regularly employed. I'm not blaming Farley - it's the educational system.  Shouldn't department heads who convince students to sign up for Old Norse: A Proto-Germanic Tongue be forced to contribute, in perpetuity, to the future financial support of such students?)

Perhaps you've figured out that Farley was an English major who got stuck at Chaucer. At about that time, while self-medicating for an unspecific ailment related to boredom, Farley read Time and Again and became committed to the belief that time travel, at least backwards, could be achieved. Over the years, Farley's been a Ricardian, a Lancastrian, a Burgundian... Farley learned Middle French in grad school for the express purpose of chatting up Joan of Arc. Farley's written parodies of Chaucer at which old Geoff would roar with laughter. Farley believes that a real translation of the works of Fran├žois Villon into modern French won't be achieved until someone (guess who?) stands with Fran├žois in the mud of an unpaved Paris street and reviews the development of thieves' argot. One bleak day Farley was assigned some stanzas from the Edda.

When Farley last left town, it was to seek, perhaps to find, a better way than barding to monetize his talents, in order to wed his Lady. Whether the Lady was any more real than Farley's voyages in time, was a matter of conjecture. Farley's patient school friends having morphed, one by one, into Farley's creditors, the word "monetize" - modern! practical! optimistic! - drew applause. And hope.

Last winter, we learned that Farley had lost his job, or rather the job had lost Farley. The job was labeling things, meaning Farley used his Ivy League M.A. to type captions for catalogs. To challenge his over-educated mind, he allowed himself only the briefest of glances at the plumbing appliance, gadget, or garment in question before describing his mental or emotional state at the moment, adding a word or two related to the respective trade, and typing maniacally. His off-key and ironic turns of phrase were much in demand. “You don't know why you want this, you can't stop thinking about the rich color, the gentle stitching, the whimsical hems, the insouciant neck, oh, yes, you want it... commune with one of our personal shoppers before it's gone... no regrets.” Sadly, from time to time, many articles of clothing and even some U-bends and kitchen choppers carried all or parts of that same description, and management decided to have the catalogs written by students of English in developing countries. Farley thought this meant he'd be outsourced; he also thought outsourced was this century's word for being transferred abroad for an indefinite period, as in: ex-pat. When he learned that the job was going overseas without him, he beerily called his old friends and headed east. We met him for coffee. Farley pointed out that in medieval times, his ex-job would not have existed, and the land to which said job had been outsourced would not have been known to any country that had been marched over by Roman troops. Yes, he talks like that. It's gotten him thrown out of Starbucks, public libraries, dive bars and Quaker meetings.

All of us encouraged Farley to regroup, retrain (“As what? A classicist?”). Reculer pour mieux sauter and all that - Well. Farley in fact Had a Plan. While looking hopefully into the medicine chest at someone's house, he realized that he's been a resident of the same state long enough to qualify for in-state tuition rates and resident loan programs at that state's very fine university, and since he's actually taught a few English courses in its very fine School of Continuing Education (English for the Technically Woebegone; Make Your English More Understandable With Verbs; Politically Correcting Your English), he was able to find his way to the Graduate School of Business Management. When Farley stumbled in, the Dean of the B-School was still in his office, quietly toasting the holiday quiet. Seizing the day, Farley explained to the Dean of the B-School that one thing his Medieval Studies had given him was an understanding of hierarchical structures, arcane linguistics and dress codes, and if that didn't describe corporations, well, he didn't know what did. The Dean, who must have had a great sense of humor, waived the GRE. Wassail! Trinkhail!

Next the snuffling MBA candidate arrived to consult his remaining friends from Middle School over a printout of the list of his first semester's courses. Some are required of all students – fair enough; I think it would improve the world immeasurably if more people could do simple arithmetic, understand its conclusions, and apply same to real life. For instance, if you spend all you've got, you HAVEN'T GOT ANY MORE: a 3-credit course in Economics?

 Other courses bore descriptions that none of us could construe, although taken separately the words resembled English. Since we know that professors write their own course descriptions, I suggested that we X out the ones we can't make sense of, and that Farley sign up for any remaining courses before the sections are full.  Farley was running out of the brief spurt of energy engendered by the Dean's enthusiasm for medieval values, so we jumped on the computer and got him signed up for the maximum course load. I placed a quick call to the Very Identical Twins (friends from 4th grade) to organize getting Farley back to campus before it's all too much for him.

I take the phone. “Farley needs a little help,” I began, and the answer was a roaring noise followed by crash and clatter. Some shouts and an argument later, one twin explains that their relationship with Farley is a drinking game, and so every time I say “Farley needs...” they have to open another... . But they're good guys, and so we got Farley out of the coffee shop and strapped into the twins' classic TR-3, and off they went.

Farley must have enjoyed his courses because noone heard from him until the following Thanksgiving, Diwalley, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's, when we all got cheerful cards. For each holiday. In the mail, signed by Farley in an aggressive and illegible scrawl. Consensus: he is trying to act like an executive. My own boss hasn't said anything to me in the past month unrelated to hours. I think of Farley, the V.I.Twins, the drinking game. I do not need nor can I afford another degree.

Farley showed up again at the end of summer, thinner, tired. He spent the spring and summer doing an internship, for which he gets course credit, and he'll get more credit if he completes a business plan for an original business idea before the first day of fall classes. And that's why he's here: “What's a business plan?” And surprise, surprise, none of us, the lawyers, the investment managers, the traders, the medical residents, the lecturers, can define it. We gaze at the only businessmen among us, the V.I. Twins, who have inherited their grandfather's business. Finally, a twin speaks: “You get an idea for a business, you write down what you think it will cost to get it going, how much you will lose in the first couple years and how much you'll make after that. Put in some charts.” Other twin: “Make no promises.” Farley sees a light bulb over his head: “Like the catalogs! Like the catalogs! We never told the girls the schmattas would fit, or last, or not turn their skin blue, or, or, I get it!”

“The point, Farley, is to convince the reader to invest in the enterprise.”

“Like the catalog,” Farley smiles. “Management kept raising the prices and lowering the quality. We thought their endgame was we'd just show the girls the catalog, and they'd send the money, but we wouldn't have to send them anything back. Of course, that part probably wouldn't be good for a B-School project.”

"Uh, Farley, just where did you do that internship?"

"J.Crew International: World Domination, Effortlessly." The sight of Farley smiling silences the rest of us.


  1. I almost fell off my chair laughing at the end there, wff, and the endgame well it must be in sight now!

  2. Hi, Dani, yes, you may have noticed that my recent posts have avoided the topics of clothes and shopping. Well, I'm really avoiding the endgame!

  3. Really? JCI? He has not been hanging with the copy writer from space, has he? This is v.funny. Love the V. identical twins.

  4. Hi, Lane, hmm, yes, the Copywriter from Space has accumulated enough seniority that she is entitled to interns.

  5. OK WFF, you have jolted me out of lurkdom. As an English major and former wannabe Medievalist who can quote portions of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English, and whose favorite spot on earth is the Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park, and who has recently enrolled in the Exec MBA program I have a lot in common with "Farley"! Fortunately I have a lot NOT in common as well! Funny piece, keep 'em coming!

  6. Lol of course world domination is effortless!

    And hi wbrigitte!! Missed you - hope all is well!

  7. Wbrigitte, can this be? Well, as Farley would tell us, there's nothing more feudal than a corporate structure, serfs and all.

  8. Hi, mommy dearest, glad you're enjoying!

  9. Terrific.
    You should really publish a collection of stories. It's a huge pleasure to read you, not to mention the fun!

  10. Came up from year end close to get some air and found this post. Love it! Haven't read anything this funny in a long time. Thanks for the post.

  11. Hi,kits mommy, thank you and welcome back, glad you enjoyed!

  12. This is too funny! Thanks for the laugh, WFF!

  13. You're incredibly witty- this was a great read !

  14. Hi, Sulky Kitten, glad you're having fun here!

  15. WFF, brillant. But that would be the GMAT, not the GRE. Otherwise you would have had me fooled until the end ;)

  16. Hi, anon, no wonder the poor bard has had to go back to hustling Ren Fayres!


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