Photo by Kevin Cabral


The story’s been going around forever, but it always peaks after prelims, and there are whispers in the bookstores and signs on the quad, and the grad students discourse in the bars along Dubuque Street, and the main character is always a woman. Her name is Lacy. Lucy. Lynelle. She’s ABD and three days from defending (having spent the last two years floating from river to river in search of a kind of flood myth, a story she thinks they tell all over Iowa (with small variations), and it’s about a bowler who honed his (or (in one case that she’s been able to document) her) craft in local alleys and read wax patterns and spin trajectories and drank and talked shit and lost bets and then nearly (or actually) made it big (won tournaments and hustled old pros and generally lived the life of Riley)) and getting blowback from advisors and friends and even the outside committee member, and they’re threatening major revision (or outright rejection) and the cutting of funds, and what it boils down to is a lack of documentation, an inability to find any formalized, written evidence for what she’s labeled (in a fit of punch-drunk exhaustion and after eating a batch of chocolate laced with THC) the Bowl-Ur Myth, and all she’s got are oral interviews, and most of the subjects (including a man from Cedar Rapids who said he was born in Grinnell but for whom no official records exist) are refusing to respond to university correspondence. The name Stephen Glass is getting thrown around. Jayson Blair. And this Lacy swears to Christ she’s got every word on tape, only there’s video all over her social media, and it’s got her doing impressions. Good ones. All kinds of celebrities (including John Mellencamp and John Cusack and John Prine) and also invented characters. Sketches of people who sound like Midwesterners, like residents of Lake Wobegon, and her advisor (they say on the strength of an anonymous tip from another grad student (a former lover, says one version (while still another calls him a stalker (or, variously, a frat boy, a football player, a flunked former student)))) feeds transcripts of these impressions and her submitted recordings into an algorithm borrowed from the folks over in Linguistics, and what comes out is an argot the program labels 97 percent similar, and so there’s talk of probation. Suspension. Even the mention of a little-used (to the point that long-time tenured faculty swore it was a myth) blacklist that essentially disqualifies members from any tenure-line job anywhere in the respectable world (leaving open only the potential for adjunct gigs at for-profits and summers teaching English in, say, Namibia (or maybe fallout-drenched New Mexico)), and that’s where the momentum is, they say. That’s where Lucy’s going to end up. Which she, of course, gets wind of (and usually it’s through some famous writer teaching at the Workshop (through Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood or John Updike (coming through on the lecture circuit, and he finds her in the corner at some post-reading party and tips a beer and looks her dead in the eye and says (maybe with a hand on her elbow), “Run, Rabbit”), and once it was Thomas Pynchon (or, at least, a guy who said he was Pynchon (or someone who “communed” with Pynchon)), or else via anonymous note (though frequently one submitted by a friend of a friend of a friend of whoever happens to be narrating this particular version of the story)), and it takes her two days to pack, and the morning of the official defense (or sometimes of an emergency meeting scheduled in lieu of the formal defense)) she’s just gone. Left town. Empty office (or maybe she leaves behind a cryptic note (a “fuck you” carved into a metal desk they end up having to move into basement storage (and you can find it, they say, if you talk to the right custodian, if you grease a few palms or maybe just know where to look))) and empty apartment and hopped a train to Fort Dodge, as they say, and the whole committee and (perhaps) a third of her cohort and maybe ten random passersby (including (sometimes) an elderly man who hasn’t missed either a Hawkeye home game or a sports-related dissertation defense since 1972) are left chewing on rubber bagels and tapping their feet while the committee whispers about sanctions and whether or not it’s worth filing the paperwork (and here there’s usually a joke about how the audience clearly knows what’s coming next), and, turns out (surprise, surprise), it’s not, and so they never do. And Lynelle’s still ABD. In good standing. And nobody knows where she is, but she’s out there somewhere (or maybe she jumped into the Iowa River (or is (right this very instant) drinking Coors Light and working on a Dutch 200 at La Bamba Bowl in Clear Lake (or grinding away on the PWBA tour (or even training for the U.S. Bowling Open in Reno (or Syracuse (or Baton Rouge (or Tulsa))))))), and (the narrator says to whichever strung-out dissertator is within weeks of presenting) in that you should take comfort. And say a prayer to Saint Lacy, and maybe she’ll get you through, and some folks do, and others don’t, and still others think the whole story is a scam, a camp thing, a rite of initiation, a kind of exquisite corpse pyramid scheme invented to make the next year’s cohort feel even more obsessive or maybe inferior (and they say somebody once (ironically?) submitted a doctoral prospectus proposing a Foucauldian analysis of the Lucy story itself), and as we speak there are students doing graffiti on the bridge back behind the Old Capitol. “Lynelle doesn’t exist,” it says. And, “Lacy wasn’t here.” And below that someone’s written (in smaller print), “Neither were you.” And below that it says (even smaller (as in, you can barely see)), “Neither was I.” And soon the college cops will find it, and they’ll call in Maintenance, and Maintenance will hire some painters, and maybe they’ll be professional, or they could be teenagers on community service, and, either way, they’ll do a good job, and it’ll look (nearly) brand new, but if you’ve got good eyes (and you know where to direct them), what you’ll see is one last line. And who knows who wrote it (and I swear it’s not me), but the thing that it says is neither was anything, really. Or, to put it more exactly, what it actually says is: In point of fact, “Neither was any of this.”


Photo by Kevin Cabral

Brett Biebel

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauquathe minnesota reviewThe Masters ReviewEmrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press.

Follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.