The Roast Issue
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Vincent B. Leitch

A Most True Portrait of Jeffrey Williams:
A Dozen Little-Known Things about the

1) Jeff Williams’ secret desire is to write for the New Yorker. His frequent scribbling for the Chronicle of Higher Education is merely a stop on the grand road to future authentic “academostardom.” By the way, the letter coinage is Jeff’s, and he is more than eager to tell anyone and everyone so.

2) What most offends Jeff’s sensibilities as a long-time journal editor is a pile of compound complex sentences. Simple and snappy is his mantra. Snappy. Mind you, this comes from a self-proclaimed champion of thoroughly obscure theories.

3) The man is severely brand conscious, especially about clothes and comestibles. He believes, parroting Bloch and Jameson, this is evidence of utopian desire in his life. No sense resisting it. Might as well give in. And so he repeatedly does with gusto.

4) Jeff likes fly-fishing for trout, but only with high-quality, preferably antique, poles. He believes it’s all in the “feel.” He insists his fishing preferences have nothing to do with cultural capital. Uh huh, sure.

5) The right look. Don’t go into an eyeglass frame shop with Jeff, unless you have plenty of time to spare. Lots. You’ve heard of le mot juste, well, Jeff is on a lifelong compulsive quest for the right eyeglass frame, la monture juste as the friendly Francophile Jeff might say.

6) To tell the truth, Jeff is a big Francophile. Since his early college days he has very discreetly been practicing the correct pronunciation of a certain French phrase: le train train de la vie quotidienne. It’s mainly the trilled “r” that’s in question as well as the pesky final “n” sound. And, guess what, he’s inching closer every day to getting the damn thing right. Oui, le train train de la vie quotidienne.

7) It’s true Jeff religiously works out and jogs. For him it’s really all about the “look.” Of course, we know that Jesus, Western Culture’s Most Gentle Lord and Our Most Beloved Tortured Savior, labeled this vanity.

8) Here’s a rigorous spiritual exercise customized for Jeff Williams: “Listen to someone else talk for an hour without any interruption on your part. None.” This will strike him as cruel and inhuman punishment. (Friends, you’ve been warned.)

9) Jeff is a former prison guard (yes, really) who worked in the big yard at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He could drop you on your ass in a flash. Those in the trade call it a “sweep.” So don’t let his sweet smile and boyish charm beguile you, the man’s a powder keg ready to blow in a very thin second.

10) Over the past two decades Jeff has interviewed fifty literary and cultural critics and written detailed headnotes for each one. He’s also penned forty additional headnotes as editor for the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (1st and 2nd editions). He’s closing in on a hundred in all. And, yes, he’s counting. Not surprisingly, he considers himself a master of this intricate, if minor, genre and justifiably so. But there’s more: he secretly pictures himself nowadays in retrospect as comparable to a Michelin three-star chef consecrated for his exquisite confections. While Jeff’s headnote syndrome appears a clear case of a nasty fixation, it’s actually a displaced sexual fetish with narcissistic amour proper behind it all.

11) Jeff Williams likes graduate students. Genuinely, truly. It’s damn odd behavior for a university professor of his longevity and stature. Professors usually start out liking ’em, but soon see the light. Not him. Something is obviously wrong. Our suspicion: deep down Jeff unconsciously suffers a Peter Pan complex.

12) Jeff regards himself as a wine enthusiast. But he’s so working-class that he can’t sip fine spirits, only guzzle them while mumbling something about fruit. (He mumbles a lot, truth be told.) Anyway, on this guy don’t waste fine wine, the kind with three or more delicate aromas and flavors. You see, Jeff’s in a hardhat’s hurry to chug ’er down. But what we actually have with Jeff is an upgrading old-time frat house beer drinker in the guise of an aspiring très raffiné wine aficionado. The whole thing is pathetic.