10 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Almost everything in the Headmaster’s Office at E.T.A. is blue. Charles’s receptionist is nicknamed “Lateral Alice Moore” by students because she is a former helicopter pilot and airborne traffic reporter who was involved in a crash that left her only able to move from side to side. There is no door on Avril’s office because she has a disregard for physical boundaries. Avril is Dean of Academic Affairs and Dean of Females, though she is not paid for either role. Every female E.T.A. student below the age of 13 (except Ann Kittenplan) is currently in Avril’s office.
This passage makes fun of Avril’s aversion to physical boundaries, which the book has made clear is a source of psychic distress and neurosis for her sons. However, in the context of her administrative roles at E.T.A., the fact that her office does not have a door could in fact be taken as a sign of friendliness, honesty, and transparency.
Every month, E.T.A. runs a check to make sure none of the students are being sexually abused, referred to as a “diddle-check” in the text. Dr. Rusk usually runs this check, but this month Avril is doing it. This leads Hal to suspect that Rusk might be involved in the post-Eschaton disciplinary procedure. Although Ingersoll is in a sense unofficially Hal’s Little Buddy, none of Hal’s actual Buddies were involved in the Eschaton fiasco. Hal listens as Avril asks the female students if they have been touched by “a tall person” in a way that makes them uncomfortable. The girls start to complain about grandmothers who pinch their cheeks and adults who patronizingly pat their heads.
Depending on one’s perspective, this passage is either an example of daringly controversial humor or a bizarrely unfunny attempt to make a joke about sexual abuse. While Infinite Jest certainly never shies away from charged topics, one has to wonder what the actual source of humor is here. Are child victims of sexual abuse a very funny phenomenon?
At tennis academies, punishments are often hardly different from normal athletic conditioning, only more harrowing and extreme. Considering that Hal lives in an institution founded and run by his family, he doesn’t spend much time thinking about them on an individual level. Like James, Charles has a career split between sports and science, two fields he has managed to combine in some of his professional pursuits. Hal thinks of Charles as a very shy person; in childhood he had a habit of lurking on the outside of groups and then announcing his own awkwardness and lurking.
This is the first information provided about Charles’s personality, but in a way, the details given here only make Charles seem more mysterious. There is something oxymoronic about a shy outsider being charged with running an institution like E.T.A.; Charles must somehow command authority while dealing with his own impulse to stay out of the spotlight.
Charles is small in size, a trait common in “gifted bureaucrats.” He has a small, wonky mustache, and eyes that sit at different angles. Avril has a way of placing herself in the middle of every room such that she is always directly in the line of sight. Now she comes into Charles’s office and smokes a cigarette. It emerges that Hal has been waiting outside Charles’s office for an hour and hasn’t yet eaten dinner, and Avril gives him an apple. The conversation in Avril’s office has descended into all the girls comparing their family members to particular animals.
In this passage Avril and Charles, the siblings in charge of running E.T.A., are portrayed as opposites. Whereas Charles shrinks into the background, Avril always manages to be at the center of attention. If being small and unassuming is a characteristic of gifted bureaucrats, then Avril’s ability to draw attention to herself is perhaps a sign that she is the opposite of a bureaucrat.
Finally, Hal is ushered into Charles’s office, where Dr. Rusk is already waiting. Otis P. Lord is in there too, along with an E.T.A. nurse and a urologist wearing an O.N.A.N.T.A blazer. Hal, Pemulis, and Axford all come in together, and Charles asks the urologist to please close the doors.
In contrast to Avril’s no-door policy of openness and transparency, the mood in Charles’s office is secretive, suggesting that Hal and the other boys might be in major trouble.