When I left Texas in winter 2000, a certain collection of short stories appeared in The New Yorker and one caught my interest. The piece is entitled “The Smoker” by David Schnickler. The story tells the tale of a working-class teacher from Allentown, PA who finds himself teaching the exceedingly well-to-do girls of St. Agnes’ school in their senior year as they prepare to head to Harvard, Princeton, and universities of prestige that litter New England. The teacher’s days, filled with bright young ladies, is complemented by interminable nights alone that are filled by athletics and attending movies alone.
A strange energy is established early on between Douglas and his student Nicole. After writing a recommendation to Princeton for the young lady, she is accepted and she and her parents invite Douglas to dinner for gnocchi and the opportunity to meet Nicole’s cat: John Stapeleton. Who, in addition to possessing a rather strange nom du chat, is toilet trained.
Their discussion is lively and surreal. It’s a bit like a Gilmore Girls dialog with something very real and explosive underneath.
I’ve never forgotten this story. I don’t know why it, like Stephen King’s “Survivor Type” simply will not leave my memory. Unlike “Surivvor Type” this tale is far less grisly. It has the writing style of young Fitzgerald (“Diamond as Big as the Ritz”) and the whimsy of Wonder Boys _ or _Gilmore Girls.
In any case, this story was important to me the year I left Texas. Now, as I was packing the name “John Stapelton” came back to me. I found that the text of this story has since been published to the internet. The tale of Douglas, Nicole, and John Stapleton can be found here.