NEW ORLEANS -- One of the cruelest assignments I ever gave my students was to read the entire Unabomber Manifesto from the Washington Post. In addition, they were to write an essay on it.
It is a testimony to their toughness that they got through the whole text without dropping the class.
To tell you the truth, and this confession will get me in big trouble, I couldn't get past the middle of it. My eyes glazed over, the pencil fell from my hand and I fell into an agitated sleep wherein I stood before my class, which had somehow grown to millions of people, and they were all shouting at me: ''You Are Trying to Bore Us To Death!''
Be that as it may, their observations were right on target: One person could actually hear a Midwestern accent in the perfectly bland sentences. Another wrote a little play in which she had him living in a remote cabin in the mountains.
Between us we sleuthed him up pretty good. but then the class decided that one of us, a kid who didn't speak much, was really the Unabomber. And, by God, when he pulled the hood of his jersey over his head, he was it.
One student, a young writer who works at one of New Orleans' finest restaurants, told us that she had asked a shy Cuban dishwasher who had a crush on her to download the Manifesto from the Internet. It was as if she'd consented to marry him.
The shy dishwasher turned out to be a computer freak who lived in a basement full of electronics and had an active fantasy life that my student hoped she wasn't too big a part of.
The fiend unmasked!
In any case, he brought her the Manifesto plus a foot-high stack of related documents: comments on the Manifesto, bomb recipes, poetry. She staggered under the load but one look at his beaming face and she knew it: Xavier, the shy Cuban dishwasher, was the Unabomber!
Now that the actual item seems to be in custody, we seekers after knowledge are bereft. On the one hand, we are relieved to never have to wade through such tedious prose, on the other we miss the excitement of suspecting each other of being terrorists. Ah, well.
Andrei Codrescu edits ''Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Letters & Life.''
Pub Date: 4/30/96