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Rant #204
(published December 9, 2004)
Professor Dingell's Night Out (A Photo-Essay)
by Terrence McWee
[These four images were found mixed in among an unsorted lot bought at auction. The lot consisted of more than 1,000 black and white photographs, of a variety of methods and styles, dating from the late 1800s through the early 1980s. All photographs apparently originated in the United States or Europe; none had a clear provenance.

The "Professor Dingell's Night Out" series is thought to be from the 1950s, and to have been taken in the United States.

An average of ten cents was paid for each image.]



There are several persons appearing in these four images in various combinations that allow us to confirm that these photographs form a series, and depict the same place, event and parties. These three characters have been dubbed "The Disconcerted Girl in the Pillbox Hat," "The Man in the Fez," and "Ms. Sparkle."


Appearing in the first and fourth images, always alone, never apparently engaged in conversation. Waiting? Perhaps. . . but, no. Not active in any way. A wallflower, as present to that party on that night as she is in your room with you, now. Watching the dancers, eyes downcast, an anchor which tells two of these images are connected, but serves no other purpose in the raucous swell and swirl of the Ocean of Human Intercourse. Right now, she is telling us more than she told any human being that evening. It is a certainty that those surviving few who were at that party that night do not recall her presence there, although we do. She is on the very cusp of being lost to living memory.



Another non-player in the evening, unaware he is being photographed and recorded by photons and silver halide and paper, being reproduced, in web browser after web browser, in the optics of each of our eyes, serving only to anchor two more photos in the series. If ever you feared your life lacked permanence or significance, you can at least be thankful that you are not so insignificant as the Man in the Fez. Of course, who is to say which is more significant: a drunken, half-heard conversation on a mid-winter night, or the immortality of having turned away from one photo and walked into another? 


The tie that binds the Pillbox Girl (fourth image) and the Fez Man (images two and three.) She even dances with the eponymous professor (image three)! Two thirds dour (images three and four) and one third joy (image two), she draws our images together, why couldn't she bring the Fez and Pillbox into handfasted bliss? Alas, all that glitters is not gold . . . 

Of course, our true, central interest in this series are not these secondary characters who, all being equal, are only of note in that they confirm the unity of the photographs. The two characters of primary concern are, of course, "Professor Dingell" and "The Faceless Girl."


See him dance, so gayly. In a single glance, it is clear that this man is not a dancer by nature, but this evening he has cut loose, to strut and preen and be the peacock that all men are, to thrash and shake, to rock and roll.

Some have disputed the identity of the man in the third image, dancing with Ms. Sparkle. We similarly note that some have disputed the validity of the theory of evolution, or that the earth revolves around the sun. We give all such alternate interpretations due consideration, treat them to the rigors of our minds, and then dismiss them as we deem fit. This man is as surely Prof. Dingell as it is surely the case that the earth orbits the sun.


First cause, or final solution? 



Look again:

Why does Prof. Dingell strut and stroll and galivant so? Who embraces Ms. Sparkle to her delight? Where is the Fez Man always going, and why is it never to the lonely Lady in the Pillbox Hat? Why does the Faceless Girl keep her back to the camera?

It truly is the first picture which is primary, and when we look at it, we can almost hear the muttered rumors,

Isn't Professor Dingell a little too . . . intimate with his students?

the rebuttals,

Professor Dingell, Edna? He's far too prim and proper for an affair!

the replies,

Yeah; maybe a little too prim and proper. All those pretty girls studying his Shakespeare— fella is maybe a little funny if he doesn't even take a peek at 'em . . .

the smiling accusations,

Like them young co-eds, don't you Gene?

the passed up promotion, the forgotten invitations, the unpublished papers, the unrecognized merit. Quiet, inoffensive Prof. Eugene Dingell, with his soft hands and soft voice and round glasses and secret love for the verse of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Rumors with the persistence of memory, reproducing themselves in mouth after mouth, like bacteria multiplying in a warm petri dish, or a catchy tune jumping from one absent hummer to the next and slowly easing itself around the earth, until Prof. Eugene Dingell was caught in a noose gossamer, universal and deadly.

But the question remains: Is this his first meeting with the Faceless Girl, the begining of his end, or the final moment, when there is no longer anything left to lose? What happens next, as they revolve again, and come face to face? Where do his hands go when they aren't guiding the phonograph's tune through the air? When the liquor has brought a fever to his brow, it's savage mirth to his lips? And when have the Faceless Girl and Prof. Dingell gone, as the jukebox plays platter after platter, and Ms. Sparkle dances and dances and dances?

Where have you gone? Where have all of you gone?

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