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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 • Posted November 24, 2010

Uncle Mort and Ivory Towers…

In a land of make-believe, I’d refer to Mort as a "foster uncle," with hope that he might soon be adopted, taking his opinions, suggestions and cockamamie schemes along to "bless" some other family.

I was down to my last nerve a few days back, and my 98-year-old uncle down in the thicket stepped on it.

"I never thought it could happen, nephew, but you are partially responsible for the demise of elephants as they lumber ever closer to extinction," he blathered. I was tempted to throw the phone, but didn’t because curiosity trumped my disbelief that my uncle, often affirming, had accused me of contributing to "pachydermicide."…

* * * * *

I protested vehemently that I’d never even shot a rabbit and didn’t figure Kodak shots of elephants could be held against me. He "deaf-eared" me and rambled on.

"You were a part of the gang responsible for keeping the ‘tusk market’ pumped up," Mort analyzed. "I’ve heard all my life that college presidents live in ivory towers, and now we learn that for some of ‘em, this isn’t a figurative statement."

Armed with private college presidential salaries from a Chronicle of Higher Education study, Mort figured that it would take a freight car load of elephant tusks "just to make one boilerplate, run-of-the-mill, garden variety ivory tower."…

* * * * *

I’d read the report. It dawned on me that Mort was on a "goat-getting gig," lumping my long ago presidential salary into the new figures.

Assuming a "me no Alamo, me no Goliad" stance, I laughed at him, pointing out that my 18 presidential years were way back in the 20

"When I served, presidential salaries at most institutions were ‘in context.’ If I’d built an ivory tower, it would have been made of soap and guaranteed to float."…

* * * * *

He kept the pressure on, citing three salaries that averaged more than $2.3 million last year. "That’s tall cotton," nephew," he laughed. "How was your cotton crop?"

Picking up on his analogy, I admitted to have served in fields often ravaged by boll weevils and long-term drought. My total compensation in a 40-year career amounted to about one-half of the $2.3 million annual figure he threw at me.

"Your boards probably got what they paid for," Mort joked before asking me to re-tell a story I’d shared with him years ago….

* * * * *

I knew exactly which story had crossed his "elephant-like" mind.

At a board meeting in my early presidential years, a trustee posed a serious question. I expected to buy some response time by asking if he wanted an "educated guess or a gut reaction?"

"What makes you think that you are intellectually or anatomically qualified to render either?" the trustee questioned….

* * * * *

It dawned on me that if I wanted to shift topics, I’d better wedge in a timely interruption.

"How ‘bout them Cowboys?" I asked.

That did the trick; I braced for his cockeyed football ramblings….

* * * * *

"Coaching is tough," he admitted. "It’s the only profession I know where autopsies are performed before they die."

A fan of Jason Garrett, Mort suggested that the interim coach wear trifocals during games. "That way, even if the Cowboys’ play turns to a ‘mess of pottage’ on the field, he can watch ‘em with his head held high," he guffawed.

Mort, weary of the oft-heard speculation about what candidates "bring to the table," concluded: "It ain’t about Thanksgiving, and has nothing to do with chess, checkers, dominos or poker. What’s important is what they bring to the football field."…

* * * * *

My uncle then told of a coach who sprang to the podium when his hiring was announced. As bulbs flashed and microphones lined the lectern, the new coach claimed to be "fired with enthusiasm."

He was a miserable failure, posting a 0-30 record for three seasons. When sent ‘packing, he mounted the same podium, with the same media folks chronicling the moment. "I appear before you just as I did three years ago," he said. "Fired with enthusiasm."

I dozed off with wobbly dreams of bloated presidential salaries, as well price tags on ivory towers, as well as the widening and deepening of moats….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com

th century.

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