His second semester of teaching Intro to Creative Writing, he met Mark Peltz. Peltz was an undergraduate, although old for it, in his late twenties. He had recently gotten out of the army and reenrolled to finish his degree. Paul’s students were usually blank-faced babies, mildly interested, at best, in writing their stories about dorm-room romance and smoking weed. Peltz, on the other hand, was an adult, with graying stubble on his chin, short hair grown out a half inch from a high and tight, and an unnervingly intense demeanor. He sat in the middle of the class in the front row, and paid relentless attention to Paul. His opinions about writers and writing were mature and often intimidating.
One day, a month into the semester, the class was discussing Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” one of Paul’s favorite stories. Without raising his hand—he never raised his hand—Peltz said, “Okay, but isn’t ‘Cathedral’ kind of bullshit?”
“How so, Mark?” said Paul.
“I mean, it’s the story of a blind man who teaches a guy to see. And the guy who can see is really the blind one.”
“Well. Yeah, I guess that’s true. It’s still a great story though.”
“It is? If one of us turned in a story about a guy taught to really see by a blind man, what would you think?”
“If you turned the story in, or if Raymond Carver turned it in?” The class tittered, suddenly attentive.
Peltz leaned forward in his desk and said, “You haven’t read my stuff yet. Let’s just say a generic story about the blind man who teaches a guy to see. You’d think it was crap, wouldn’t you?”
“But that’s the thing,” Paul said. “The quality of writing matters. The brilliance of Carver is that he can write that story and get away with it. Because he’s a great writer.”
Peltz rolled his eyes and made a puffing noise. Paul said, “I take it you disagree.”
In a loud monotone, Peltz said, “He opened the door. He went to the cupboard. There was a bottle of gin in it. He grabbed the bottle. He poured himself a glass. He pulled a chair out from the table. He sat in the chair. He drank the gin. It was warm.”
The class laughed, louder this time.