Opening Activity

Write for a few minutes about a time in your life when you felt “ignorant of the accepted etiquette” for a particular situation. Why did you feel like you were blundering or apt to blunder?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the narrator at this school?
  2. If Nowlan's narrator is there to write a story, he quickly learns that he's there for something else—to try and provide help, maybe, and definitely not to do harm (in the form of lying and fondling). What changes him?
  3. The boy requesting the autograph is described as “more hopeless than defiant.” What kinds of experiences might have caused him to react this way? Who, in your experience, does this remind you of? Has this ever been you?
  4. What motivated the narrator to send an autograph “signed by somebody/ on the same payroll as the star”? Does this make any difference? Who does this act benefit more: the writer or the boy?
  5. What does the young woman want when she rests her head on the narrator’s shoulder? Does she “know better?” Do we know that she doesn’t know better?
  6. What does narrator mean when he says that he is “ignorant/ of the accepted etiquette”? What is the purpose of etiquette? Why couldn’t the narrator rely on his instincts in this situation?
  7. Why does the narrator look for a teacher to whom he can “smile out [his] distress”? Why can’t he smile distress to one of the students? Do you have someone who serves this purpose for you, at work or elsewhere?
  8. Which had a greater benefit: the narrator hugging the woman or Nowlan writing this poem?
  9. Why does this poem end two hundred thousand years in the past?

Closing Activity

If you could see any two groups of people sitting on the floor together, which would they be?

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