Spirit of altruism in Hoover

Sanjay Paul March 27, 2013 0

Homer was getting ready for his mathematical economics class. Partial derivatives would have to be found, equations solved, graphs drawn. Firms would be neck deep in profit maximization, while consumers gamely strove to maximize utility. The language of calculus would be put to good use.
There was no time to waste, thought Homer, as he hurried through the crowded halls of Hoover, a cup of coffee clutched in one hand, a medley of notes in the other. But as he approached the classroom, he sensed a presence beside him, and quicker than he could say “Oh woe is me!”, there was Brian Brownberg standing in his way.
Now, Brownberg is an affable sort of chap. You do not normally try to avoid him, even though he has a propensity to call you a shmegegge if you disagree with him. But this tendency, offensive when practiced by others, is an art in Brownberg’s hands — he uses these epithets with beguiling charm, cutting off your apoplectic spluttering even before it begins. Besides, you are not quite sure what shmegegge means, or even whether it applies to a person, and it seems like a waste of time remonstrating over an insult that may not even be one. Also, Brownberg chairs the personnel council, a body that is in negotiations with the administration over salary increases — and one could ill afford to get on the wrong side of the principal negotiator lest you find yourself with a zero percent increase in your salary while others, more willing to endure Brownberg’s ambiguous billingsgate, get 2.5 percent.
So as Homer stood accosted, mere feet from his classroom — his refuge! He noted a glint in his accoster’s eye. This meant something serious was afoot — it wouldn’t be a prosaic discussion of the appropriate consumer price index to be applied for cost-of-living adjustments for faculty salaries. Nor would this be a chat about the appropriate ratio of administrators to faculty at a small liberal-arts college, or the proper way to measure the productivity of administrators and faculty. No, this was far more serious, realized Homer.
He sighed and asked, “Whatever it is, Brian, can it wait till class is over?” When Brownberg was on a mission, nothing would deter him, and that proved to be the case here.
“It will not take a minute,” Brownberg said genially. “How many orders of cookies should I put you down for — three, four, eight?”
“What?” Homer head began to swim with visions of hundreds of cookies being delivered to his office, all for some unknown reason, and, more importantly, for some unknown cost. Would his salary increase be sufficient to pay for this, he wondered?
But Brownberg was quick. And soothing. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The orders are only for $2 each, and they are for a good cause. Habitat for …”
“… for Brownberg?”
He ignored Homer’s jibe. “… Humanity. Habitat for Humanity will get all the proceeds. So how many orders should I put you down for?” He brandished a notebook with neatly drawn columns and figures and names of donors. Homer wondered how many of those philanthropic souls had been unwillingly drafted into this humanitarian endeavor.
But how could he resist? Habitat for Humanity is a fine organization — his own son works on their projects in Harrisburg on weekends. So how could he say no? Moreover, this was no time to get into a long discussion about how he chose the recipients for his charitable contributions. Students awaited his derivatives lesson expectantly behind the door to Hoover 213. “Sign me up,” he said, before slipping the bonds of Brownbergian altruism to escape into his classroom.

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