Fenno Unplugged


FENNO FIDDLED with the lever on his seat and floated down to the lowest level possible, just below the hairline of the student in front of him. Driven from his apartment by that damned construction noise (when, he wondered, would Dean Kagan start those compensatory snack carts again?), he had made the unusual decision to head to class early. It would be a good ten minutes before the professor came bounding down to the center of the room with the seating chart that Fenno had conveniently “forgotten” to add his name to. Deciding to kill the time productively, he booted up his laptop and logged into Facebook.

Drowsily scanning a friend’s wall – damn, he thought, this site had gotten boring since Scrabulous had been removed – Fenno had hardly noticed when the prof’s droning began. It was probably for the best, because Fenno managed to stalk at least seven more profiles before he received a quick jab to the gut. “What gives!?” he reproached his seatmate. “Didn’t you hear, man?” the student replied, concern written all over his face. “The prof just banned laptops. You gotta put it away.”

Fenno glanced around in abject horror. It was true: the room was as devoid of LCD screens as 1972. The situation was unthinkable. How would he pass the time without his painstakingly bookmarked gossip blogs? How would he be able to answer any question at all without someone to IM him a clue? Indeed, how could he even survive without being able to scour News@Law for events with free food?

Fenno could see that he wasn’t alone in his disenchantment. Even the class gunners were stunned to silence by the ban, reflecting on the loss of their Brooks Brothers and Ann Taylor catalogs – indispensable, Fenno was sure, when you already knew so much that note taking was superfluous. But Fenno could hardly afford to appear so disengaged now – grudgingly, he retrieved an old notebook, and commenced doodling.

* * *

ABOUT HALFWAY through class, though, Fenno could tell he still wasn’t safe. This professor was in take-no-prisoners mode, and Fenno wasn’t going to get away with hiding, as he had in his last laptop-less class, Civil Procedure. Then, he’d managed three pages of sketches during some lame discussion on forum-shopping alone. Now he’d have to be more careful. The only defense was a preemptive one. Perking his ears to the conversation for the first time, Fenno tried to dream up a question that would deflect the professor’s Socratic death-stare for several classes to come.

But as he tuned in, Fenno realized – with horror – that he wasn’t even sure which class he was sitting in at all. Sure, Fenno knew he was in Langdell South – or, wait, was it Langdell North? And where the hell is the Vorenberg Classroom anyway? – but all three of his other classes were also held there. They all ran together into something, Fenno recalled, like “Taxcorpsy” – a blur of information that his fellow students had assured him was absolutely critical if he ever planned on getting a job. Unfortunately, none of it would help him now.

Fenno’s eyes were starting to drift desperately toward a hyper-organized neighbor’s multicolor-highlighted casebook when he was, inevitably, called out. Snapping to attention, he asked the professor to repeat the question. “Mr. Fenno,” he asked again, as Fenno realized that while he was safely off the seating chart, he’d been betrayed by the class list, “I’ll say it one more time. Tell us the holding of the case and tell me how you think it reflects this court’s interpretation of the First Amendment.”

Now Fenno remembered everything: how his old section-mates had insisted that, even though it would so not get him a job, con law was essential – not taking it, they implied, would practically make one a foreigner. And, if he could, to take it with one of the best: Jonah Tweedman, J.D., D.Phil. (Camb.), Q.C., S.C., N.Y.T., who was staring him down from inside his impeccably-tailored Savile Row suit at that very moment.

“I-I-I…” Fenno stammered, desperately trying to think of something to say that would spare him the embarrassment of failing this titanic figure. His eyes fell all over his neighbor’s casebook and her coded highlights, but her system proved impenetrably complicated. Resigned, Fenno prepared to do the unthinkable – to ask for a pass.

But the void created by the lack of real time sports and YouTube had hit the gunners hard. They rushed to fill the silence, and Tweedman appeared to have sprung for the bait of their twitching, overeager hands. Fenno listened to what the case had been all about: a town had tried to ban the use of laptops in its public parks, and was struck down. In that spirit, Tweedman said, he was prepared to lift his own prohibition. Relieved, Fenno started to unzip his laptop sheath, when he heard the catch. “Except, of course,” Tweedman said, “for Mr. Fenno, who ought to learn once and for all that freedom is not free.”

All eyes were now on Fenno. Turning beet red, he pulled desperately at the control on his chair, but it would not sink any lower. Before him, a thousand laptop screens were beginning to bloom, with both videos and blogs. It would be a long 45 minutes before his burdensome duties as an American ended, and he could retreat to the languorous, offshore haven of Taxcorpsy.

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