Just as some women have unplanned pregnancies, my second master’s degree was unexpected. I had returned to school for a handful of credits only to obtain certification in a field other than that in which I had been trained. Three courses and twelve credits later, I found I was only another eighteen credits from a second advanced degree and decided it was time to shore up my curriculum vitae with an additional credential.
My first graduate program was an elite and rigorous program that demanded a huge emotional investment as well as time commitment. For this degree I would only have to spend a few nights per week, for a few semesters, over a few months, back in school. In addition to this, my supervisee and good friend Carolyn, would be along for the trip. Carolyn had an amazing ability to make me laugh at just about anything and I enjoyed her company a lot. She had a penchant for practical jokes at which she was quite adept and over the years she worked for me, had several times scared me out of my wits. Perhaps she was bored or perhaps just too creative for her work responsibilities but Carolyn always had some scheme going that was designed to shock and slay me. I was never able to get angry with her because frankly, she was just so good at what she did. I never tried to get back at her as I knew I was in the presence of a true master of the moment. She was just that good at punking and pranking.
Her presence made it that much easier to pile out of work on a dark winter afternoon and drive to the Bedford Boulevard campus for a few more hours of focus and concentration. The faculty was outstanding, and the campus small and easy to navigate. Buoyed by endless cups of coffee I embarked on my second foray into advanced academia.
For the first two semesters we enjoyed our classes a lot. Our professors were not only well versed but engaging and amusing as well. I was learning a lot and enjoying the experience a great deal.
Over time, Carolyn ran into an old college buddy, Karen, and we formed the “Bronx Chicks” of our class. We piled into the back row together, spent our cigarette breaks together and engaged in a running commentary about the events of our class each day. We soon hooked up with the “Nassau County” girls who traveled in from the Island as a car pooling group. The far better salaried, better dressed and groomed ladies became fast friends and our tiny clique of seven or eight became the barometer of all the classes we took. We laughed and discussed and studied with one another for several semesters.
It came time for us to take an actual clinical class and we all arrived on the first day to meet our professor, Dr. Ann Devitt. Dr. Devitt was not only one of the most knowledgeable professors we would run across, she was also a compassionate and delightful human being. She was gentle, caring and kind, but a bit of the “absent minded professor” as well. Dr. Devitt would become so absorbed in the material she was presenting that she would sprint forward to a place with which the Bronx Chicks, Nassau Girls and the rest of the class could only struggle to keep pace.
Of course, Dr. Devitt also had other qualities. She was a busy academic and clinician who worked full time by day as a Clinical Administrator in a large New York City medical center and then commuted out to the Bronx most evenings to teach our class. She was often disheveled and it was abundantly clear that she was not a fashion plate. Her clothes were professional and professorial enough, and of quite good quality, but they were somewhat matronly on a woman her age. Naturally Dr. Devitt’s wardrobe became fodder for the running commentary between the Bronx Chicks and the Nassau Girls. Generally speaking she delighted us and she seemed to tolerate her “pack of therapists” in the back of the room rather well.
All of this changed on one night following an especially blustery fall day. Dr. Devitt arrived for class with her hair out of place. It was revealed that she had a large “widow’s peak” behind that auburn mane and we were stunned by her new appearance. As if this were not enough she had the bad fortune that day to wear an especially unflattering skirt that had two large pockets in the back outlined in a contrasting color.
Busily focused on her new hairline that she had previously kept hidden it took some time for us to note other issues. We swapped glances and mouthed exclamations of shock and awe to each other but the matter was not fully addressed until break time.
The giddy group was assembled out behind a back staircase of the Athletic Building where our class was held and we sputtered and gasped our glee over Dr. Devitts newly revealed visage. “Omigod”, one of the Nassau girls shrieked, “She is a vision of Eddie Munster”. We tried hard not to laugh too hard but our friend’s observation had been too accurate. As much as we loved our Dr. Devitt we were silly and over tired women who equally enjoyed a good guffaw at her expense. We held our sides and crossed our legs tightly while tears ran down our faces. It took some time to compose the group and we admonished one another to “grow up” and “behave”. After we had settled down we marched back into the classroom for the second part of that evenings instruction.
A few moments after class had resumed, Karen, who was sitting immediately to my right, began convulsing in her chair. Her hand covered her eyes and she lowered her chin to her chest as she became engulfed in her own waves of silent but vigorous laughter. I moved my shoulders forward and leaned on her desk as she took cover behind my back. The rest of our group shot me a look and I shrugged. I had no idea why Karen was so giddy, but thought she might just be responding to our conversations at break earlier. Soon, Karen was drooling down my back and it was hard to shield her from the rest of the class. I nudged her with my elbow and she shot up, grabbed up her purse and began her sideways shuffle to the classroom door. Just before she left she leaned down and thrust her purple flushed and tear stained face a few inches from mine whispering, “Cath, Dr. Devitt has her skirt on backwards”.
I had nowhere to look. I looked up and down and finally found a small spot in my notebook where I tried to stare a hole with my eyes. I used every trick I could think of not to laugh. My fingernails bore cuts into my hands. I tried my best to conjure up images of dark and dreadful things I had witnessed in my life. I was beginning to feel light headed from not breathing. Finally a sharp pain in my left side caused me to exhale. Carolyn, impatiently wishing to be in on the joke was stabbing me with her pen. I sat up straight and scribbled a tiny note in the margin of my notebook for Carolyn to read. It said “Dr. Munster’s skirt is on backwards”.
If I had worked hard to maintain composure, Carolyn wasted no time on pretense. She made a small “pop” noise with her mouth before spraying the three front rows with a mouthful of saliva. Laughing uncontrollably she slid down far in her chair, grabbed her purse and like Karen before her, scuttled out sideways to the door. She was back facing to the front of the class, laughing, crying, gasping and shaking her head.
By now the Nassau Girls were anxious to know why the Bronx Chicks were dropping like flies before them. I tore off the note, balled it up and tossed it their way. Soon I heard their chairs rattling and their muffled sobs behind me. One by one, they each exited the room as well, leaving me alone to face Dr. Devitt. “Catherine”, I heard, “Is everything okay back there?”. I glanced from side to side at the empty chairs around me and squeaked back “Yes, Dr Devitt, I think everything is fine”.
From that day forward she would never again be Dr. Devitt in our midst. As we called each other on the phone to inquire about notes for Dr. Munster’s exams or lamented over her stiff APA publications requirements for papers, she was always Dr. Munster to us. In time in fact, she had been rechristened, Dr. Judy Munster. That said, we were also on our very best behavior, careful not to incur her wrath there were no more giddy outbursts from our corner of the room. Mid terms were on us and we were handed back short papers we had been requested to compose. Dr. Munster spoke as she passed each composition back to us and as she worked her way around the room we glanced down at our grades and comments. Again, it was my bad fortune to have selected the seat next to Karen who shoved her graded paper onto my desk for me to read.
On the title page I saw that Karen had earned a respectable B, but in the comments section a long red arrow traveled down the page to the Professor’s name. Circled in red, Professor had written. “This is fine Karen, but my name is Ann”. In the center of the red circle was the carefully typed title, Dr. Judy Devitt.
Again the Bronx Chicks and Nassau Girls had a mirthful class break. While we giggled at Karen’s gaffe we also all realized the need to be much more careful with the Judy Munster moniker. We tried hard in the weeks ahead but had so conditioned ourselves otherwise the cause was lost.
For our final assignment and some forty percent of our grade, each of us were to prepare a 15 minute presentation. Our task was to design and present a unique proposal for a therapy group. We were permitted to bring in any props or use any media equipment we desired but that each presentation must be unique and individual.
For two weeks we warded off boredom as audience members to the lesser experienced “soon to be therapists”. We sipped cups of coffee and applauded loudly after each presentation. The Nassau Girls and Bronx Chicks were last to present. To this day I cannot recall what my presentation was about. I know that it went well and I was grateful to get it all over with and sit down to watch my buddies presentations. I no longer sat next to Karen who proved herself to be classroom poison for me. I sat safely by Carolyn who caused me relatively fewer problems that year. After each member of our clique finished we cheered loudly and when it was time for break, Carolyn was nervously pacing the halls. She was first on deck after the break and terrified she would be caught mute and tongue tied in a room full of 50.
Her presentation went exceedingly well and although her fair face was a bright Scarlet by the time she took her seat next to me, she had acquitted herself quite nicely indeed. Cheered and applauded, she gathered her presentation materials together and sat down. As the next presentation was being set up, she turned to me and asked my opinion. “It was really good Carolyn,” I told her.”I think you did great work up there”. As she began to fan herself with her notebook she sighed “I was just so nervous up there I thought it would be terrible”. “I know” I responded.
Carolyn took a gulp of her cold coffee and turned back to me. “You know?” she asked. “Did it show how nervous I was?” She was clearly rattled and not going to let up. “What do you mean Carolyn?” “Don’t you remember?” “It went fine”. Carolyn admitted she could not remember a thing. “My mind was completely blank the entire time up there”. Again she turned to me and begged, “Are you sure it went okay?”. Pausing before I spoke, again, I replied loudly, “Carolyn it went great. I think the only thing I would have changed is that I would not have called Professor, Dr. Judy Munster to her face”.
As Karen and the Nassau Girls howled in laughter around us Carolyn flushed hot again and if I had not thought she would drop dead right there on the spot I would have left it at that. Instead I just smiled broadly and reassured her “No, you didn’t do that Carolyn. You didn’t call her Judy Munster”. To this day she is not sure she believes me.