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Yesterday I picked an old novel off the shelf that I hadn't looked at for a long time: A New Life by Bernard Malamud. I read it first when it came out in 1961, but took the trouble to buy it again in 1992. I liked it partly because it was about academia (at last, a novel with real people in it --- graduate students), but mainly because it seemed to have a moral that applied to me: If you made a fool of yourself in the east, you'll make a fool of yourself in the west too, but that's life.

It begins with the hero, "S. Levin, formerly a drunkard", getting off a train to go to his new job at a college in the Pacific Northwest, and being met by a dean & his wife. The dean is rather shocked by Levin's beard; his wife takes it more in stride. The story is set in 1950, when it was mildly shocking for even a college professor to have a beard.

A few years after that, while I was at a progressive boarding school in Vermont, another boy, who had just presumed to grow a mustache, showed me a note he had received, in his mailbox, from the faculty member who was responsible for discipline among boys. It said the mustache was terrible, or some such word, and ordered him to shave it off. He merely shrugged & obeyed. That was the sort of thing one put up with in those days. Since then, I have often fantasized more vigorous responses to such impertinence. (I am addicted to fantasies of giving offense.) I am not sure I was advanced enough in puberty at the time to grow a mustache myself, and I am sure I was not advanced enough in courage to write "M.Y.O.B." on such a note & return it; but that is the kind of thing.
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"A few years after that" should be "About ten years before that".

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