[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 016
Chapter 6 (3 of 4): The Educators
To me in my former naïveté about what a scholar should be and how a professor should comport himself, he struck me as a prime example of the potentially corrupting influences of too much federal money on higher education. This roboprof was in effect untouchable, and nobody seemed to care that his classes were predictable disasters and students avoided them in droves. Teaching assistants and research helpers developed ulcers, drove the other students crazy with their constant dissecting of the man, and pleaded each spring with the director of graduate studies not to be assigned to this professor – but there were always some unlucky few, usually the new students. This in itself was a terrible thing, since first year of graduate school is no walk in the park and disorienting enough all by itself, and the added complications of having to handle this … this creature certainly didn’t help.
When he walked into a graduate seminar you could almost hear the puckering students sucking vinyl as they came to attention in their chairs, ready to endure a few hours of psychological torture and withering humiliation. He had his favorite scapegoats and would ride them mercilessly. If a student said something he disagreed with or was factually wrong he would land hard, snorting in contempt or curling his bloodless lips in fastidious disgust. And he was inconsistent, so it was hit and miss how he would take your comments. The hardier students started keeping a record of his backtracking and were not above pointing out such lapses to him, to which his usual response was a version of, “I couldn’t possibly have said that.” But he had, and everybody knew it. Their view of him as the term wore on changed from fear and loathing to contempt and loathing. In the end, though actually quite a brilliant man in his narrowly scoped out area of ‘expertise’, he turned all the students off and taught them nothing, obsessed as they became with his “how” rather than his “what.” Even the most charitable ones had faded by mid-term – and there weren’t many of those around after a couple of months of graduate school, an eat-or-be-eaten microcosm of raw Darwinism where you buried what you killed to keep it away from the other hyenas.
I took one class with this schmuck – a complete waste of time intellectually but instructive as a monitory example of behavioral repertoires to avoid within the predatory ecology of the classroom. The smallest thing would trigger in him an almost compulsive need to deviate from the afternoon’s program and run off onto the boring byways of his many personal problems. He was quite fond of complaining of all the injustices he endured at the heartless hands of an uncaring world – which included his wife who didn’t respect him (I wondered why!), his stockbroker who was stealing him blind, the mechanic who didn’t fix his car, the worthless Washington bureaucrats threatening his funding, the waitress who slopped his coffee, jealous colleagues, incompetent university administrators, idiot editors, stupid students, the rain, the sun … well, you get the picture. (Unfortunately he was not the only professor I ever had who transformed his rôle as respected pedagogue into that of neurotic grudge collector, publicly vomiting forth his paranoid theories of conspiracies a third-grader would find laughable.)
The students put on convincing displays of phony sympathy and gave seemingly rapt attention to his meaningless meanderings. These were, I suppose, meant to be some kind of real-world confirmation, as it were, of his human authenticity, of his regular-guy-ness behind all that supposedly formidable intellectualism. In fact, however, they merely turned him into a masturbatory exhibitionist waving his thick johnson of egregious character defects in front of audiences with eyes glazing over and do-not-disturb signs hung out on the doorknobs of their weary minds. Like so many people of his ilk, he mistakenly imagined everyone shared deeply his own boundless fascination with himself and his problems. For such a smart guy he was really pretty dumb.
So far I have never regretted not continuing my studies. I have the wherewithal to do it by myself, and I feel quite strongly the world can get along very well without another dissertation on metaphor in Aeschylus.
I finished my coffee and walked out into the early evening bustle. The sidewalks were more heavily populated now, and I began slowly to wend my way up to my next engagement. As I did so I continued to pursue my private recollections of how I had gotten from an M.A. in classics to a client waiting for me in Room 3453 of The Parisian.
There I was, in May of 1994, after six years of very intense and very expensive education, and about to discover how uncaring and anti-intellectual the world can really be.
Not that I had trouble landing a job. My degree in computer science saw to that. But what had been interesting problems in classes now turned into the soul-crushing tedium of COBOL programming for a financial company run by guys each with big mouths that needed lots of soap and water, and – worse — three roaming hands each. I know I am physically attractive – why push false modesty? But that was no excuse. Still, unlike too many women I’ve run into, I won’t victorianize myself and play that ridiculous oxymoron, the independent feminist who is simultaneously a helpless victim – and wants … money … lots of money for mental anguish, loss of self-esteem, and blah blah blah and blah. So I waited until the shop got extremely busy one week with a ton of looming deadlines, and then walked into the manager’s office about ten in the morning. With as sweet a smile on my face as anyone could ever wish, I just told him I thought the work atmosphere was too much like a junior high locker room for me and quit on the spot. “Here’s my forwarding address for the last pay check,” I said, and handed him a note with my PO Box on it.
I only wish I’d been able to snap a picture of that schmoo’s astonished, incredulous face!
TO BE CONTINUED