My Office Door at Clemson U

Skip the B.S.

by Skip Eisiminger

“Solomon, Solomon, have you no sons?”—Anonymous

“Don’t nobody don’t like Dr. E.”Anonymous Student

CLEMSON SC—(Weekly  Hubris)—3/14/11—Note: Over the 40 years I taught English and Humanities at Clemson University, students arriving at my door in Strode Tower were greeted by a bewildering array of passive-aggressive cartoons, photographs, and quotations. These were taped, glued, and thumb-tacked to my door, door frame, and bulletin board. I’m not sure where the impulse arose, but it might have been Emerson’s advice to write “whim” on the lintels of the door posts as a reminder “to follow your bliss.” I had no such romantic pretensions; I only wanted to introduce myself to those waiting for an audience in my chambers. Many times, I arrived and, finding students reading my door, I was reluctant to interrupt them. Often they were not my own, but I was always pleased that someone was paying attention to this vast, conceptual “work in progress.” When I retired from full-time teaching, I used a razor blade to peel off each of 754 items, which I then compulsively glued to 39 3X5 cards.

These cards are now in my file where, one day, someone will have a ready supply of material for a biography or elegy. But as I filed the cards under “Skip,” I thought, “Why should someone else have all the fun?” So I decided to write an essay based on the quotes, some original but most not, that I once chose for their humor, truth or both. To acquire a little distance from myself, I’ve chosen to write in the third person.

Skip’s office in Room 808, Strode Tower was alternately known as “Chateau Bubba,” the “Info Barn,” “Logotopia,” and the “Free-Speech Zone.” Apparently, this professor (whom some knew as “Thesaurus Rex” and “Dr. Verbivore”) loved words at all levels of the language hierarchy as much as he loved prattling about them.

The “Cyber Ghetto,” another nickname for Room 808, suggests that Skip was not at the leading edge of computer technology. By his own admission, he was “Techno Amish,” “User Surly,” and a “Pothole on the Information Highway.” As the millennium neared, he posted one irreverent clipping that read: “Y2K=666.” He also claimed to be “Teledildonic,” but he will leave that to the reader to interpret.

Perhaps he had powers no one appreciated or was simply handy with a remote.

Just as his office had nicknames, so did he. These included “Conan the Librarian,” “Hugh Manatees,” the “Tenured Seasquirt,” the “Idiom Savant,” “Dr. Lanky Shanks,” the “Snackolator,” the “Lallaperuser,” and “Mensch.”

John Idol, one of Skip’s colleagues and an early mentor, remembers him as the “Ad Hoc Director of Morale” and, certainly, many of his nicknames suggest that he was an optimist at heart, a rare quality in a satirist. Other nicknames, like “Smut Warrior,” “Prof. Tad Nitpicky,” and the “Tenured Iconoclast,” suggest that he had his issues with the world. To be sure, the department had its issues with him, as will become clear.

Students and colleagues entering 808 were given fair warning that the “old-time religion” was off limits. Visitors were informed that Dr. E. was a “Foxhole Christian touched by an anvil,” a “Non-Dogmatic Spiritualist,” a “Barn-Again Theo-Nazi,” a “Pulpit Bully,” and a “Spiritual Green Beret.” Ironically, Skip claimed that he just showed up to let the Lord work through him, and in the event of the Rapture, his office would be empty. When his department head asked him how religiously conservative students might respond to Skip’s claim to be Beelze-Bubba, Skip answered with a versified posting, “Whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew,/the god in me greets the God in you.”

A hint of Skip’s “non-dogmatic spirituality” is found in the quotation, “Thank God it’s Monday,” because he loved what he did in 808 and in the classrooms of Daniel Hall. His affections and concerns were often expressed in the advice he dispensed: “Give more and expect less,” “Professors are not a luxury,” “Eat less and excrete more,” “Beware the high cost of low living,” “Don’t wait for people to love you,” and, “You have a friend in exegesis.”

A man of few words, Skip’s longest statement of advice observed two laws: “The Law of Science: what goes up must come down,” and “The Law of Faith: what goes down must come up.”

At the core of Skip’s pedagogical beliefs were his “Classroom Commandments”:

I. Give a cluck.

II. No dumbing down.

III. Stop sniveling; you’re fine.

IV. Beware the untrustworthy narrator.

V. There’s no safe haven.

VI. No Frisbees, skateboards, Twitters, or cell phones.

VII. Forward into the past.

VIII. Caution: Irony.

IX. When you mess up, ‘fess up.

X. Love your dictionary.

For all the chutzpa it must have taken to post his commandments, Skip had a self-deprecating streak as well. Who else would refer to himself on the same bulletin board as a “Global Village Idiot,” “Professor Chuckle Trousers,” “Internationally Ignored,” a “Common Crossword Mistake,” and “Dr. Awkward, Professor of Palindromic Studies”? Usually hip to the latest popular culture, Skip was “the weakest link” and, a few years later, “most likely to be voted off the island.”

A life-long liberal independent, Skip usually voted Democratic, though there were times he could not bear to vote for any candidate. When Vice President Dan Quayle told a seventh grader he’d misspelled “potato,” Skip posted a note saying he was “orthographically sensitive to basic tubers.” When President George W. Bush defined “the axis of evil,” Skip proclaimed that he belonged to “the axis of the medieval.” And when the National Rifle Association scored another victory for the gun-impoverished, Skip said he supported “the right to arm bears.”

Because he taught the structure of poetry and the poetry workshop courses, many snippets referred to Skip’s alter ego, “Busta Rhyme.” He was alternately a “No-Holds Bard,” the “Bubba Laureate,” and the “Poet Lariat.” He claimed that “Panic is my muse,” “The early bard gets the word,” and “Poetry slams are off limits.” Assuming his fledgling versifiers would understand, he wrote, “Ye nymphs of Bath, prepare the lay.”

Again, the department head appeared at the controversial portal with news that a woman in Busta’s class was unhappy.

Skip walked to his door and pointed to the following: “In goddess we trust,” “Anonymous was a woman,” “Chicks rule,” and “Men are pigs, but you can’t kill them.” After making a note of the last item for his wife, the boss advised Skip to take down the nymph reference. Reluctantly, he did and also took down, “Welcome Kickboxing Geishas,” not because it was sexist; it just wasn’t drawing any business.

As long-time colleague Harold Woodell said, “Skip was an aardvark, always poking around for one more pismire.” He didn’t always succeed but, as Albert Holt, another colleague said, “Skip tried to make poems out of every damn thing.” He may have tried harder than most to “put the loco in parentis,” said Holt, because “Skip was born with a geranium in his cranium.”

When Skip retired from full-time teaching in 2007, he moved three floors down to the “Emeritus Office.” After three years of part-time work, reports say his half of the shared bulletin board is full.

Editor’s Note: Sterling “Skip” Eisiminger was one my treasured handful (a Dickey-esque handful—missing quite a number of digits) of mentor-colleagues back when I taught Journalism at Clemson University in the 1990s. In a department not noted for welcoming rares aves (rare birds) with open arms, Skip, ensconced in his collage of a college office, was the exception. I recall that, when I was denied tenure (along with the much more deserving Claire Bateman and Ron Rash), Skip, in my defense, described me as “a tide that lifted all ships.” In fact, Skip was, and is, the tide that lifted all ships entering his safe harbor at Clemson. The generation of students who passed through his whimsical portals can attest to his erudition, wit, and encompassing love of students, learning, and language. I miss being down the hall from him in Room 808, but can assure him that his collage-of-treasures lives on, in memory, as long as do all those he taught and mentored—and we remember him often, and fondly.

Dr. Sterling (“Skip”) Eisiminger was born in Washington DC in 1941. The son of an Army officer, he traveled widely but often reluctantly with his family in the United States and Europe. After finishing a master’s degree at Auburn and taking a job at Clemson University in 1968, he promised himself that he would put down some deep roots. These roots now reach back through fifty years of Carolina clay. In 1974, Eisiminger received a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, where poet James Dickey “guided” his creative dissertation. His publications include Non-Prescription Medicine (poems), The Pleasures of Language: From Acropox to Word Clay (essays), Omi and the Christmas Candles (a children’s book), and Wordspinner (word games). He is married to the former Ingrid (“Omi”) Barmwater, a native of Germany, and is the proud father of a son, Shane, a daughter, Anja, and grandfather to four grandchildren, Edgar, Sterling, Spencer, and Lena. (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)


  • eboleman-herring

    Dr. Hugh Manatees, you are the gift that keeeeeps on giving! The REAL reason I founded this magazine was so that you and Wayne et al would be compelled to write me a weekly essay: sooooo much better than a weekly box of Godiva truffles, a weekly six-pack of Sam Adams, a weekly trip to the zoo (where no manatee’s ever named Hugh). Love you writers all! e

  • Wayne Mergler

    I LOVE Hugh Manatees! — both the name and the person. You may not know this, Miss e, but Dr Hugh Manatees and I were undergraduates together, were in the same program and took almost every class together (that wasn’t planned, it just happened), carpooled together, skinny-dipped together in an idyllic Alabama pond by the roadside on many occasions. He was a groomsman at my wedding and was in the waiting room when my first daughter was born. I could have told you all that mushy stuff about Dr Hugh Manatees long before anyone else knew it.

  • eboleman-herring

    So there’s a PAIR of manatees, eh? I should’ve known! God, why don’t those of us who only meet and hang out in middle or old age meet in childhood? Think what havoc all the columnists of WH might have wrought had we been a . . . gang! :-) Love to all manatees, and womanatees! eb-h

  • Wayne Mergler

    We can still be a gang! Kind of like the Silver Foxes or the Gray Panthers. We can have a great time, until we all forget who each of us is.

  • Hugh Manatees

    Like most manatees, I have scars from the Inboard-Outboard Wars of Academe.
    Thanks to good friends like Elizabeth and Wayne, the regrets are minimal.

  • Michael House

    In 2002, Diane and I were in Florida, visiting Sea World. We saw a manatee swimming in a huge glass tank. I said to her, I bet he’s called Hugh. It took her a while to work it out. A Golden Oldie of a joke. And a lovely piece!

  • Rebecca J. Cochrane

    Dr. Eisiminger was one of my favorite profs at Clemson two decades ago. The way I view the beauty and Creator-Image in human culture was developed in his classroom. On this glorious fall morning, I couldn’t help but think of the impact his teaching had on me, shaping what I consider lovely and worth thinking on to this day.