I've been dreading this day, the first day back, the clean demarcation of everything I failed to do during the summer. My alarm is set for 9. I'll be teaching in the afternoon and evening so I can sleep late, but I wake at 8 unable to continue sleeping even though I'm still tired. The first day back is always a catastrophe. Everything goes wrong and usually in some completely unforeseen way. In the beginning, I used to be spend five or six hours meticulous preparing for this day only to be devastated when everything fell apart. Now I barely cobble together a plan-that way when it happens, I won't be upset. I'll know I was going to wing it no matter what.
As I get dressed the top button on my brown skirt flies off, the first casualty. Because I have gotten up early, I have time to sew the button back on albeit with white thread. I pack up my stuff, but I keep fussing with things in my bag, rechecking my email because the truth is I don't want to go. I've been agonizing over going back, imagining the long trek up those stairs to class, dreading the person I become when I teach, angry, disappointed, depressed, enraged as much by my students incompetence as my own failure, my fear that all these hours waste on comments and assignments are exactly that, waste.
Still when I walk out onto the street, I smile. It's a cool day in late summer, the way I like: sunny, but not hot or humid. Makes going to work comfortable. I call my look: New England English Professor. Not suits, like some professors, or jeans and button downs, like others, but long skirts, v-neck sweaters, corduroy pants with short tailored jackets, a few well made dresses kissed with green or blue-a touch of the romantic Parisian fashions with some of my dark and more severe ensembles that let my students know that while young and female, I am a Serious Academic and they do well to treat me that way. Originally I was going to sport a green and white dress-tailored, but unfortunately it shows off my body is a way that makes me a bit uncomfortable for the first day. My would be boyfriend suggests that I should wear something black "It's more professional" he says. The weather report says it will be 80 degrees so I decided on a long black scoop necked top with a long rust brown button down skirt accented with a large amber pendant on a silver chain. I'm not sure if I should be so Gothic
on the first day, but I figure it should communicate the appropriate level of "Look on me, ye mighty and despair" to my students encouraging them to drop, spurring them to someone else's
section so that I have less papers to grade, fewer complaints to field but once on the street, I smile.
The long bus/subway commute is relatively painless. A little black boy filled with energy is next to me while his older brother tries, valiantly, to keep the boy sitting. If I was grading I would be annoyed but pretend to be amused, but since I'm just reading "A Knowledge of Hell" by Antonio Antunes
I actually am genuinely pleased to sit next to the child, to admire his spirit, to wish I had that kind of energy and determination. They got off before my stop, almost everyone does. In the end, there are only two other people in the car-a heavy set man about my age and a high school student. When I stand at my stop, I hear a full on wolf whistle. I look at the men trying to gauge
which one did it, but both look innocent. After I step on the platform, I hear it again-and the whistling follows me all the way down the platform. I'm not sure if my boyfriend advised me correctly on my ensemble-after all sexy was what I was trying to avoid.
But at the foot of the subway, I walk by a former student. While she walks by me, she goes out of her way not to look at me. I forgot about that. If I avoid the gaze of a student or even obliviously walk by them with an armful of books, I'm sure to get a "Do you hate me Prof. Spiegelman
?" email and I have many "I walked by you and you didn't say hi. Do you hate me?" And I respond "Did you say hi?" "No." "Was I carrying an armful of papers and looking distracted?" "Yes." "Well I was on my way to class and probably didn't even see you." "Oh." But if they walk by me and don't say hello, I'm not supposed to take it personally, not supposed to care. Most of the time I don't, most of the time.
I struggle up the stairs and as I do a student passes me with a bag that has the word "Paris" painted all over it.
The Quad is filled with students. I forgot about this-the flurry, the girls in jean shorts and gladiator sandals in gold and silver, the boys with fresh hair cuts and low rider jeans. The quad is packed with them, hugging, laughing, comparing class schedules, already planning for their first pub crawl, bong hit, ill advised late night hook up, beer pong tournament. A few of them, those precious few, sit on the grass already doing homework-already laden with books and syllabii
and assignments, but most flit around like bees in the autumn-still buzzing, but a bit slower, a bit more sluggish already. It's hard to believe that by the end of the semester, they will be clinging to the last of their energy the way I cling to the railing when I walk up the stairs, desperate and dependant urging myself on that the end is in sight, sometimes resorting to insults "C'mon
you stupid bitch, get up the stairs" and other times bribery "I'll let you have a bite of that Mo's bacon bar in the pantry if you make it up these stairs" but in the end knowing I'll make it because I have to and because I always have before. It's difficult, looking at them now in shorts and skirts, to believe that before this is over, they will be walking into class so swaddled and enrapt
in winter clothes, I'll barely be able to see their eyes. Taking a seat now is about putting down your stuff-in three months it will be a ritual of unwrapping-scarves, mittens, hats, coats, and vests. For now things are free and simple-they are unencumbered by winter clothes and final projects.
I make it to my office to find that the university, which expects all professors to hand in their syllabii
by the end of the first week, has decided to change its syllabii
guidelines effective as of yesterday. I look at the guidelines, relieved that my syllabus fits the new criteria exactly-no changes necessary. Then I move onto to the next task, printing the syllabus as well as my class list to find that only one computer works and the printer doesn't at all, just as I expected. I Luckily I'm two hours early, as I expect things, as Chinua
Achebe says, to fall apart. I go ask one of the student employees if she can print my class list and my syllabus for me, as they give the student employees better computers than the adjunct staff. She is more than willing, and soon I'm on my way to the copier, with my syllabus and an article from the Harvard Business Review about Maximizing Potential that will hopefully inspire them. Hopefully, hopefully, ever hopefully.
When I return to my office, a professor across the hall is screaming about her printer not working. "I can't take this anymore with my blood pressure!" She is threatening to quit as she rants on about not being able to photocopy her syllabus. "I came in here today so my students can have their syllabus tomorrow." Tommorrow? Doesn't she have a whole day? Can't she go to kinko's? Borrow a friend's computer? "I had tickets to the US Open today and I gave them up I GAVE THEM UP TO DO THIS AND IT STILL WON'T GET DONE." On she goes, making me embarrassed for her, until one of the student workers, hearing the commotion, comes in and offers to print and copy her syllabus. Suddenly the hallway is silent, but I fear she is the ghost of Bunni's future. The professor in question is a short woman, like myself, but far older. Pushing 60, and I can see myself at her age-still unmarried, lonely, depressed, having only the job as my source of human connection, for satisfaction on every level, the students getting younger and harder to reach, my confidence, such as it is, evaporating like the shadow of smoke until I final lose it over a broken printer. My hope, my belief, is that I will not live that long. I certainly won't work here that long. I can barely make it up the stairs to class now. In ten years, it will be impossible.
The first class is quiet, but one student comes in and looks me in the eye. He says hi directly to me. I know I will be OK
. There are a few others who look at me, they smile and laugh at some of the things I say. My strange sense of humor-my references to rabbits and Hannibal Lecter
. I throw some specific business issues at them-Pfizer closing their factories and shutting down their research departments, Coke's branding schemes, Virginia Slims using feminism to sell cigarettes. Try to give them a taste of what this semester will be like-frighten the less ambitious ones away and engage the ones who understand the method to my madness.
After I send my students away-already with homework and reading and most likely stories to swap about their crazy writing professor-sit in the Quad and text my boyfriend. Despite my outfit, I think how much closer to these students I am than to the other professors. There isn't one other prof. I've ever seen text and certainly not here out in the open, out in the sun. I decide to walk down the hill to get lunch. It will be good for me-a bit of a walk down, a hell of a hike up, but before I do I decide to set some of my stuff down in the adjunct's lounge. A young professor is there, looking lost at one of the computers, the only one that works. I ask her if she wants some help. She's the new US government adjunct, so I help log her into the computer. She asks if there is a place to get a soda and I explain that I'm heading down the hill, I can easily show her where the vending machines are as well as the cafeteria. She walks with me, asking more questions so I show her the Quad, pointing out the two buildings with vending machines in the basements, I guide her towards the cafeteria answering her questions about student athletes and the library. Her class is three hours long; "I've never taught for three hours before." I have, once, it was hellish and I shudder at the very thought of it. "What should I do?" she asks me. As if I know about US government. "Well, short in class reading and writing assignments would help as well as a 15 minute break, tell them its ten. Also break them into groups." "What do you mean?" "Give them a problem or some sort of prompt-maybe a reading or maybe just an issue-and some questions or a goal that they have to collaborate on-when the conversation dies down, then open up a full class discussion." She seems genuinely pleased with my help and thanks me with a smile as she heads off for her soda. I think perhaps I have a new friend before walking down the hill.
The second class is full of piss and vinegar. They come in immediately talking to me, asking what class I teach, if they are in the right place. I'm surprised. It's an early evening class and I'm expecting that would make them sluggish or disinterested, but instead they laugh, they ask questions, they stop afterwards to ask me questions and chat. I wonder if I have such good luck to have two engaged interesting classes. I send them off as well with their marching orders and they slink off, hopefully to do their work, but probably not.
I go back up to the adjunct's suite. I'm not sure why, but I do. I drop some papers in my mailbox, trying to lighten the load by whatever means necessary. As I collect my papers, an older Asian woman, another professor, walks in. She is wearing a lovely light aqua blue top with gold thread designs. She can afford be more light hearted as she looks more like a professor than I do, but still I think maybe I should have worn my green and white dress, hooterliciousness
be damned. She compliments me on my amber necklace and we end up chatting-she says all teachers must have a touch of the actor in them. It's certainly true, but then so many professions demand smoke and mirrors these days are we so different? She also seems to be looking for a friend, someone to occasionally
talk to about chronic lateness and disinterest.
I keep thinking as I pack my things that I'm hallucinating-that I'm hearing crickets because my new text alert tone sounds like crickets and I want to believe that I'm more important, more popular than I really am, but once I am out in the night I realize that the windows to the lounge were open. The sound of the night is deafening here. Not like it is in the city-drunks hollering, car alarms blaring, garbage trucks trundling, even the white noise from air conditioners-but the crickets and the frogs. It reminds me of home, my real home Connecticut, of the nights I spent lying awake as a child listening to those sounds outside of my window. As I walk through the night I realize that I never meant to stay in NYC that long. I came here thinking it would be until I found a husband, and all my friends have paired off and left, and here I am walking through the darkening evening listening to crickets alone. I worry that I stay here out of inertia, out of fear instead of because this is where I belong. I think of my apartment and realize that essentially I am homeless. I don't think of my apartment as home any more than I think of my mother's house now decorated with the detritus of her execrable boyfriend as home. It's more his than mine now. My childhood home sold. A woman without a country, without a home, a real wandering Jew, I think.
On the subway, I sit with my book open on my lap. I'm already thinking about writing this post, and asking myself if I should. It's clearly inspired by the book and I wonder if that's a good thing. Antunes
writes as I can never hope to with a beauty to his descriptions that make me want to cut out my tongue and swallow ashes. As I sit, I begin to think about my lover-his hands pushing back my skirt, those hands of his that by now must have the architecture of my body memorized. I'm thinking of those sweet slow kisses of his-one hand on the back of my neck, the other at my waist. He's a father of two young children. It comes out sometimes-the way he speaks to me, the silliness. I find it both charming and disturbing-that he relates to me the same way I imagine he relates to them and that I find it attractive. Since Kiss Kiss left, all of my lovers have been fathers. All of them-I make it sound like a parade of thousands, when in fact it's only been the three. As if I'm trying to get the approval of my father after all these years, as if I'm trying to have a family by association. I always had strange ways of trying to get the things Nature has deprived me of. Because I can't run and have difficulty walking, my early loves were all long distance runners as if in loving them I could run, but they always ended up running away. Now I find myself with fathers, hopefully they will fare better than my father did, although this one has the same self destructive streak my father did and less reason for it. Strangely, it's this imp of the perverse, as Poe would say, that draws us together. I realize that instead of reading I'm now looking at an ad that says "Protect Children from Accidentally
Poisoning." Must we advertise this now? Have parents become so ridiculous that they need to be told this in the same way they must be instructed to "Drink Coke" or "Get a little Captain in you"?
On the sidewalk in front of my house I find a clear glass marble, like the kind I collected as a child. I forgot about that until I saw that marble. When I was ten or eleven or so, I collected marbles. Not the crappy machine made cat's eye ones available at every toy store, but the clear glass ones-usually to be found in antique
shops. I loved their bubbly imperfections, their colors-blue, green, orange, particularly the nebulous cloudy frosted ones-yet still somewhat clear. I like the heft of them in my pockets, but I never played. I collected them in tins and baskets and boxes, until I had so many I couldn't justify buying more. I got rid of them at one point. I didn't even save one. Until I found this one on the street and remembered my love of glass marbles and felt that old love as I put the marble in my pocket.
It's nine by the time I get home. My boyfriend texts me to asks if I have arrived at home alright and promising to come by later. In the mail I discover his present has arrived-a t shirt that proudly proclaims in purple gothic
lettering "Imperial Consort of the Eco Friendly Insatiable Sex Monster" on the front, the Eco Friendly Insatiable Sex Monster being a joke that become a pet name for me, along with the less sexy Tin Man, and the back says "Her Pleasure is My Business." For two weeks I've been depressed thinking I was going to get rid of him, but somehow I find him difficult to leave. I try, but fights me-the one man in almost a decade to fight to keep me in his life. And for this one reason I know he must be crazier than I am, because I spend all this time with myself because I never figured out away to get someone else to do it for me. He does it voluntarily. At his own expense, even, depriving himself of what little sleep he can get to tickle me on the couch or meet at the back garden of my local for drinks. He knows more about me than any person in the last seven years, except for you my gentle readers, who know me best of all. He's still confused by how I can easily spill sex fantasies across paper, as easily as drunks spill drinks with miscalculated dramatic arm gestures, but if he looks its my eyes and asks me what I want, pulling me closer to him, but avoiding my rush to kiss him, and I blush like I did in high school. His plan, or so he says, is to break me of it.
Break me. Many have tried. All have failed.
Still, I wonder if he will be the one to do it as I wash the marble in the sink. I should sit and prep for Thursday or study for the GRE
, but instead I sit and write. I who was afraid only yesterday that I had nothing to say.
Labels: classes, college, high school reunion, memory, stream of consciousness
Bad Bunni posted at 8/26/2008 10:47:00 PM