Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

The Round Table report goes round, and round…



One of the times in my life when I was a graduate student, the school I attended in Montreal used to have visiting lecturers every other Friday. They came on Fridays because there were no regular classes that day, it being a tenet of the school that long weekends encouraged good study habits, not to mention providing faculty with three days off to think weighty thoughts. Sometimes I’d attend these lectures because there was an interesting topic being kicked around, sometimes I’d go out of bored curiosity; but usually I’d go because there was a free lunch and the word “free”, especially coupled with the word for any meal, was as Pavlovian to a debt-ridden graduate student as powder is to a skier.

On one Friday there was a learned professor of organizational behaviour from Romania whose talk was titled “Management by Dracula.” Imagine, if you will, the combined pull of that title, a dreary February Friday in Montreal, free sandwiches and a warm place to kill a few hours waiting for the grad student union to open its doors and start pouring 90 cent beers. Of course I went.

The man himself was quite ghoulish looking. Short, with bad teeth, mottled complexion and dandruff that made him look as if he’d just walked in from a snowstorm — which he had — he could have been the offspring of a bizarre coupling between Roman Polanski and Bela Lugosi. He dressed fashionably in pre-Goth black and spoke in a thickly accented, comic-book Nazi voice.

The kickoff to his lecture was a story about a 17th century landowner who was having no end of problems with his peasant farmers. They cheated him out of his rents, stole the best crops for themselves, poached game from his lands and generally dissed him like he was one of them and not the lord of the manor. His threats and reprisals went unheeded as he tried first one then another scheme to bring them into line.

Finally, despairing of ever prevailing through the use of threats or bribes, he held a party for all his peasants. On a promising spring day, a banquet was prepared. Barrels of wine were toted up from his cellar; lambs were slaughtered, delicacies brought in for the occasion. The food was piled high on groaning boards inside a large barn to protect it in case the weather turned inclement.

When the peasantry was well on its way to feeling no pain, the dinner bell was rung and all rushed expectantly into the barn to gorge themselves on their master’s largesse. Once they were all inside, the doors to the barn were bolted and the barn torched and burnt to the ground with everyone inside. Except, of course, the master, who had already arranged to import new peasants from nearby lands to replace those just lost.

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