The Atomic Professor is the polemical short story of a history teacher at the posh, fictional Oceanside University, located a few miles north of Los Angeles. Author Ronald Raydon’s protagonist is the exasperated Richard Maslin, “middle-aged, slightly built, with thinning gray hair and glasses,” who appears to be the sole figure on campus that refuses to sign a petition put together by the Ban-the-Bomb Coalition, a group set on acquiring as many signatures as they can for an official (by whose standards is left unclear) proclamation condemning the United States’ actions during WWII as “crimes against humanity, and calling for a nuclear-free world.” The proclamation is intended as a gift to the Prime Minister of Japan, whose scheduled visit to Oceanside roughly coincides with the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If you think you know the ending already, you’re probably right. Raydon wears his politics on his sleeve even more brazenly than the Ban-the-Bomb Coalition members (whose own sleeves are suspiciously clad in “green-and-white armbands - the symbol for the movement”). The hazing of Mr. Maslin, which Raydon obliquely posits as somehow masterminded by the coalition, begins with gentle gibes from colleagues, “Why won’t you sign, Richard?” the pretty art teacher asks, “It’s such a little thing.”
“So was the loyalty oath during the McCarthy Era” is our hero’s reply. And thus, the gauntlet thrown. Sadly, the escalation of the plot is commensurate with the devolution of the narrative, resulting in a mob of students vandalizing Maslin’s office, topped off with an ultimatum from the Dean to “sign or resign,” and ending with the fever-pitch revelation that Richard Maslin refuses to sign the proclamation because his brother died at Pearl Harbor. He is, presumably, doomed, but his moral fortitude is left intact. I forgot to mention the subtitle of the story is Sometimes...a Man Has to Stand Alone!
The Atomic Professor is not without its logistical problems as well. Sometimes the petition becomes a “patition,” and I was confused as to the Dean of Oceanside’s affiliation with “an Ivy-League collage,” but for being a self-published, self-printed, hand-bound book, ostensibly made from whatever materials Raydon could gather from the local library, I am honored to own what I presume is the sole edition. I met the author at a gas station in Echo Park, and he gave me the book in exchange for a burger and the few dollars I had in my wallet. He had other books as well. My heart raced. I wanted every one, but I could only afford The Atomic Professor. I went back to the gas station a few more times that week with bills at the ready, but I never saw Raydon again. I hope he sold the rest of his books. There is an obvious impulse to regard the book as an artifact, the story as just the ramblings of a homeless guy shilling re-used fliers for his meat, but Raydon’s words did manage to take me out of myself, even if only momentarily.
The Dean’s secretary has just informed the professor that the Dean wishes to see him. Maslin knows what’s coming, and Raydon paints a disarmingly simple picture of our doomed hero so that just for a second, I saw him:
“Maslin spent a few more minutes puffing on his pipe. Then he sighed—knocked out the duffel—and left his office.”
That line alone constitutes art, the only art I’ve ever actually purchased.
—Christina Catherine Martinez