Fenno: Nagging Questions


Halfway through her last full week of classes at the Harvard Law School, Fenno had begun to reflect on her three years here. A few questions kept nagging at her, such as “What does it all mean?”; “Is there a natural law?”; and “Assuming it succeeds, what will be the long-term, practical consequences of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s master plan to redefine federalism?” Actually, the last two questions were nagging only Josh Solomon and Louis Tompros, who had been engaged in a Shockingly Dorky Conversation in the Hark at a nearby lunch table. Fenno was more concerned with questions like, “Who were all those people in my financial aid exit interview session?”

What is life like out there? Fenno asked herself a few hours later as she assumed a posture of infinite pathos on the sidewalk southwest of Gannett House. She stared down at Harvard Square. Fenno resolved to go on a journey of exploration, to cross Mass. Ave. and see real ordinary, people. Yes, thought Fenno, real, ordinary people doing real, ordinary things! What better place to find them than Harvard Square? Ah, America. If nothing terrible happened, maybe she could make it all the way to Brattle Street by nightfall.

But when she reached Cambridge Common on the other side of Mass. Ave., a wave of fear washed over Fenno. Turning around, she waited for the light and ran back to the safety and sanity of the Law School campus. Dusk had fallen, and students were trickling out of Langdell, Pound and the Hark, headed who-knows-where. Fenno saw a dim figure of a man in a suit walking slowly in her direction along the path between Hastings and Griswold. As he reached the spot where she was standing, Fenno thought he looked vaguely familiar.

“Hello, Fenno,” the man said. He spoke very calmly and softly.

“How do you know who I am?” Fenno asked.

“I know a lot of things people don’t think that I know,” he replied. “For instance, it is growing dark. It is Wednesday. Most people would be pretty surprised to hear me acknowledge such things.”

“Umm…” Fenno asserted.

The man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Let’s get ice cream,” he suggested.

“Where?” Fenno asked apprehensively.

“In the Square.” Fenno shuddered. “Do not be afraid, child,” the man said, sensing Fenno’s fear of the Exterior. “I am Dean Clark. No one will harm us.” He looked at her very seriously and said, “I hope they have cookie dough ice cream. Shall we?”

Fenno didn’t know why, but she was suddenly no longer scared of going Outside. But just in case: “Okay. But can we go through the Yard?” she requested.

“There’s a yard?” Dean Clark answered.

Fenno and Dean Clark walked south through Harvard Yard. Fenno pointed out the freshmen dorms. Dean Clark proceeded in amazement. They spoke of many things:

“Have you entertained any kings since you’ve been Dean?” Fenno asked.

“Yes, several,” Dean Clark replied. “But let us talk of cabbages.”

They walked on, Fenno listening as Dean Clark discoursed at length about cabbages. Eventually, and inevitably, the conversation turned to the temperature of the sea. And then, of course:

“Do pigs have wings?” Dean Clark demanded of Fenno. Fenno, her mind heretofore swimming from all the high-minded discussion, experienced a moment of extreme clarity.

“Yes: March 20, 2003, installment #16.”

Dean Clark stopped in his tracks, dumbstruck. “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “I knew it! Ha, ha, ha! The Faculty would never believe me, but I knew it!” Resuming their stroll, he giggled to himself for a hundred yards or so. Then, apparently remembering he wasn’t alone, he asked, “So, Fenno, do you mind if I ask you a different sort of question?”

“Sure, Bob. Anything you like.” Fenno was feeling full of life and confidence as they approached the end of the Yard. She was not the slightest bit concerned about exiting onto the civilian quarter.

“How has Harvard Law School been for you?” Dean Clark asked.

Five minutes ago, Fenno would have been certain this was a trick question. But having come so far so pleasantly, she wasn’t afraid to look at herself in the glass.

“Well, to be honest,” Fenno began, “it’s about as I expected. First year they scared me to death-“


“Yes. How did you know?” Fenno asked, once again in awe.

“See paragraph six,” he replied.

“Is that counting the dialogue-only paragraphs?”

“Is there any other way?” he answered.

“Right. Then second year they worked me to death-“


“No. Sullivan & Cromwell. And this year, I forget what they’re supposed to be doing to me, but-“

“Boring you to death. And is it working?” the dean asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I’m not dead.”

“I suppose you are the best judge of that.”

“But lately I’ve been wondering what it all means,” Fenno confessed.

“That’s an excellent question to be asking yourself,” Dean Clark replied. “And that’s why I’ve taken you on this trip through time.”

“Through time?” Fenno asked.

“Yes, through time,” the dean repeated.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Fenno returned. “How are you taking me on a trip through time?”

“Do you remember what time it was when we encountered one another at the Law School?” Dean Clark asked.

“It was about five ’til eight,” Fenno answered.

“And what time is it now?”

Fenno looked at her watch. “It’s almost five past,” she said.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Dean Clark sighed. He shook his head slowly and looked up at the fading sky. “Well,” he said after a moment’s pause, “here we are.”

Fenno looked across the street. “There it is,” Dean Clark said. “This is what it all means.”

All Fenno could see was the storefront of Toscanini’s ice cream. “Ice cream?” she asked.

“No,” said Dean Clark. “Vacationing in Italy. That’s your answer.”

“Umm,” Fenno declared. “What else can you tell me about cabbages?”

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