The last of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seventeen Pat Hobby stories, "Pat Hobby's College Days" was first published in the May 1941 issue of Esquire. As in the previous stories in the series, Hobby's life remains a grim daily endeavor as he figures the angles and plays the odds (usually at the Santa Anita racetrack) to survive one more day on the fringe of the Hollywood film industry. Once a well paid screenwriter, a “structure man,” in the days of silent films, Pat Hobby now finds little work at the movie studio he still thinks of as his home; his time is generally spent drinking, staying one step ahead of his finance company, and hanging around the movie lot. When he is not thinking about his far more pleasant past, Hobby tries to think of a script idea—any idea—he might pitch to a producer or director, thus wrangling for himself another few weeks of employment.
The search for a story serves as the literary premise for “Pat Hobby’s College Days.” The story includes numerous characters, in addition to Fitzgerald’s protagonist. Major characters are Evylyn Lascalles, Pat’s young (and temporary) secretary; Kit Doolan, a former football star who is now the Athletic Supervisor of the fictitious University of the Western Coast (UWC); and Samuel K. Wiskith, Dean of the Student Body at UWC. Minor parts are played by Louie, Pat's studio bookie; Jim Kresge, a bookie friend of Louie’s; and Mrs. Doolan, Kit Doolan’s wife. Three unnamed characters appear in the story also: an assistant to Dean Wiskith, a university proctor, and a UWC student.
An unusual scenario introduces the story. Pat Hobby’s pretty secretary, Evylyn Lascalles, drives alone through Topanga Canyon, a frightened young woman on a mission with a mysterious “clanking” cargo stashed in the backseat of her car. She must dispose of the goods for her boss, a job that demands complete secrecy. Leaving Topanga, she drives through Beverly Hills, her panic mounting as she feels strangers watching her. As night falls, Evylyn heads back into the canyon to complete her task, vowing never again to find herself in this position. She wishes she were back in Brooklyn....
While Evylyn drives around trying to finish the job assigned to her, Pat Hobby is at the movie studio, engaged in conversation with Louie. Pat’s current short-term writing assignment ends the next day, and he is beginning to feel the usual anxiety, “that harassed and aghast feeling of those who live always on the edge of solvency.” Ever a pal, Louie gives Hobby an inside tip, but not about the horse races.
Producer Jack Berners, he tells Pat, wants to feature UWC in a movie because his son plays basketball for the university, and Berners needs a story. Louie urges Pat to see the Athletic Superintendent at UWC, Kit Doolan, who perhaps could suggest a story for “a college picture,” one that Hobby could then sell to the producer. The bookie strongly suggests that Doolan will see Louie's friend Pat, since Doolan owes Louie $3,000 lost on the races. Louie tells Pat to look up Jim Kresge who “hangs out” at UWC’s Campus Sport Shop, and Kresge will introduce him to Doolan. Pat is not optimistic about Louie’s plan, but it is better than no plan, and he decides to try it. Returning to the Writer’s Building to pick up his coat, he gets a phone call from the distraught Evylyn. She cannot “get rid of it” this afternoon, she says, because every time she tries, “some car comes along.” Pat tells Evylyn he cannot talk because he is on his way to UWC; irritated and distracted, he hangs up on her.
On the campus of UWC, Pat finds Kresge, who takes him to see the Athletic Superintendent in his office. Kit Doolan is in “excellent humor,” receptive to the idea of a movie about UWC, and more than glad to help the studio, Jack Berners, and, of course, Louie, his bookie. He asks Pat to join him presently in a meeting with the Faculty Committee and present his “notion” to the group.
Pat hesitates, since he has no “notion” and had hoped to get one from Doolan. He suggests they instead “go somewhere and hoist one” and have a talk. Since Doolan cannot drink on the job, he declines Pat’s invitation, encouraging him again to join him in the meeting, one that has been called because someone, most likely a student, has been stealing watches and jewelry on campus. Kresge prepares to leave, his role fulfilled, but he pauses to ask Doolan and Hobby if they want to place a bet on a horse race the next day. Not surprisingly, neither does.
Hobby and Superintendent Doolan walk to Dean Wisketh’s office. Doolan leaves Pat to wait outside the Dean’s door, promising to bring Pat into the meeting as soon as he can and introduce him. Since he sits alone in Dean Wisketh’s outer office, Pat takes the opportunity to sneak a drink from the bottle he always carries in his pocket. Feeling “a responsive glow” from the liquor, Hobby settles in to wait, anticipating what could turn out to be “a formidable encounter” with the academics inside.
Pat decides “a bunch of highbrows” will not intimidate him. He, after all, had once enjoyed an “inside view of higher education,” as an errand boy in a fraternity house at the University of Pennsylvania. Suddenly the Dean’s door opens, and “a flustered young man with beads of sweat on his forehead” comes flying through the doorway and keeps on going. An unruffled Kit Doolan appears at the door and invites Pat inside. Walking into the Dean’s office, Pat remembers his own college days, feels a renewed sense of confidence, and “instantaneously...he had his idea.”
Sitting before Dean Wisketh, Kit Doolan, and the other members of the Faculty Committee, Pat explains his idea. They will admit the “young squirt” who just tore out of the Dean’s office was stealing watches and report him to the newspapers. The studio will make a picture about the theft (“a topical,” Pat explains), but in the movie, the boy will have stolen to provide financial support for his younger brother, who happens to be “the mainstay of the football team!” Hobby continues, trying to sweeten his presentation. The studio (“we,” in Pat’s words) will try to cast Tyrone Power in the role of the football star, but a UWC player can act as the star’s double in the film. Covering all his bases, Pat adds finally, “of course, we've got to release it in the southern states, so it's got to be one of your players that's white.”
After establishing that a black football player could not double for Tyrone Power, Hobby stops, and an “unquiet pause” ensues. Doolan comes to his aid. “Not a bad idea,” he says. Dean Wiskith disagrees: “It’s an appalling idea.” The Athletic Superintendent takes exception to the Dean’s taking exception, and issues an order to Wiskith: “You listen to him!” (Surely Louie the bookie will appreciate Doolan’s support of his friend Pat.)
At that moment, proceedings are interrupted by Dean Wiskith’s assistant who enters the meeting and whispers a message into his ear. The Dean informs the committee that the university proctor is waiting outside with “a disciplinary case” to be settled before returning to the discussion of “this preposterous idea.” When the assistant opens the door, the proctor explains that he has no idea what oddity he has encountered, and then he escorts Evylyn Lascalles into the room and places “a big clinking pillow cover” next to her. Seeing his secretary and the mysterious clinking pillow case, Pat Hobby thinks again of the University of Pennsylvania and “wished passionately that he were there.”
As Pat tries to hide behind Doolan’s broad shoulders, Evylyn spots him and cries out in relief: “Thank God! I couldn't get rid of them—and I couldn't take them home—my mother would kill me. So I came here to find you....” Dean Wiskith is alarmed, suspecting the sack might contain bombs, but Hobby knows better. Evylyn has been trying to dispose of Pat’s “dead soldiers,” empty liquor bottles accumulated during his recent work at the studio. With his contract ending, Pat had cleaned out his office drawers, since “he had thought it best not to leave such witnesses behind.” Pat remembers once again “those careless days” of college, then rises to his feet and takes possession of the pillow case. With the sack of empties slung over his shoulder, he faces the committee and leaves them with a few final words: “Think it over.”
Just as the story begins with an unusual scenario, it ends with one. That night Doolan tells his wife what had happened. “We did [think it over],” he says, “But we never made head nor tail of it.” Mrs. Doolan finds the entire affair “kind of spooky” and hopes she does not have bad dreams. She imagines “the poor man with that sack” being consigned to purgatory, having to carve ships in all his bottles before gaining entrance into heaven. Doolan stops her. “You’ll have me dreaming,” he says. “There were plenty of bottles.”
Each of the previous Pat Hobby stories develops irony and ends in irony, sometimes humorous and sometimes quite bitter; in each of them, Fitzgerald finds much to satirize—in Pat Hobby’s life, in the movie industry, and in Hollywood generally. “Pat Hobby’s College Days” proves to be no exception, but the focus of the story sets it apart from others in the series. The majority of the narrative takes place away from the studio and focuses on an institution of higher education, not the picture business. Major players are an ex-athlete and an academic, not producers and directors.
Kit Doolan and the university itself become the objects of satire. The University of the Western Coast employs a Superintendent of Athletics who owes his bookie $3,000. Jim Kresge, another bookie, feels right at home at UWC, frequenting the Campus Sport Shop and maintaining close ties with the administrator of the school's athletics program. Doolan endorses Pat's "appalling idea" to ingratiate himself with Louie, but it is also possible he fails to grasp the finer points of public relations at UWC.
The university's football team, the "Roller Coasters," is satirized also. When Pat Hobby first meets Doolan, the Superintendent of Athletics is a very happy man; his team's prospects are looking up. He has five "giants" in his starting lineup, "none of them quite old enough for pensions, but all men of experience." Finally, the college atmosphere at UWC is satirized through its contrast with Hobby's fond memories of the traditional "elm-covered campus" at the University of Pennsylvania; the UWC campus, it seems, is "half De Mille, half Aztec" in appearance.
Irony is present in "Pat Hobby's College Days," but it seems mild when compared with the dark—and sometimes very poignant—irony developed in many of the other Hobby stories. A twist of fate brings Pat's collection of "dead soldiers" into the Faculty Committee meeting, and his parting words ("Think it over") are interpreted in a way he does not intend; however, neither of these ironic events in the story provoke the kind of lingering emotional response in the reader that Fitzgerald often creates in his Pat Hobby tales. (Fitzgerald's devastating portrait of Pat Hobby at the conclusion of "Fun in an Artist's Studio" comes to mind in this regard.) In “Pat Hobby‘s College Days,” the irony feels functional and formulaic.
Some of Fitzgerald's best, and funniest, writing in "Pat Hobby's College Days" is found in the story's opening episode as poor Evylyn, in "a mood of nervous anxiety," drives through Topanga Canyon and "along the inhospitable shores of Beverly Hills" in her attempt to throw away Pat's empty liquor bottles. The diction in the passage borders on hyperbole as Fitzgerald creates suspense by satirizing every bad mystery novel ever written. Evylyn drives through a “dark” afternoon. Night is "fast descending." She "had never seen it come down so fast." Eyed by a stranger, Evylyn's "heart almost stopped." Her "mission was arduous," but she must forge ahead. Mr. Hobby "believed in her, trusted her," but "[h]e had no right to ask me this, she said to herself. Never again...Never again."
Evylyn's "mission" is not understood until much later in the story, of course, but the suspense lingers as she drives back into "the wild, free life" of Topanga Canyon to complete it. Like many of the secondary characters in Fitzgerald’s Hobby stories, Evylyn's life becomes more complicated when it intersects with Pat's. She will not forget him. Once a character, or a reader, makes his acquaintance, Pat Hobby is unforgettable.