Sunday, July 22, 2012

City on a Hill (Class)

        Earlier that day I had seen him walking grey haired and intense across the quad pushing a wheelbarrow in which a beaten drab green duffel bag lay heavy. Based on ubiquitous reports I had imagined he would be a striking figure, but in all honesty I found him a bit shabby. He wore old hiking boots, a dirty pine green polarfleece vest and his hair was uncombed and sparse. I had heard his classes were bizarre, difficult, rumors that once, years ago, he had brought a gun to a seminar and that he was only saved by the institution of tenure which is held especially sacred here.
        The class's first meeting was that afternoon and all morning, through my poli-sci and history lectures my mind drifted back again and again to what would be in store. This man and his imminent presence had built up a fearful mythic status in my anticipation that elicited a numbing in my guts each time he came to mind. When the time finally came, due to a few mundane circumstances, I managed to slip my heart pounding and sweat pooling in my armpitsinto the dusty room of the admin building only a few seconds before two o'clock . The room held maybe fifteen people and the collective nervousness  as a fidgety slime. Others were letting it out the only way they knew how: making halfhearted jokes and laughing in overly loud whispers in the way I imagine death row inmates lighten their burden.
       He had been famous once and now was famous for having been famous once. His created peak was lived in a fertile city durign a fertile time. He practiaclly destroyed himself writing his one great novel then in the face of unwanted attention disappeared to Central asia or some other faceless place. The novel was one of those works raised and relegated to the status of a cult classic. The few that read it understood and kept quiet and cherished its subtle truths while those that didn't screamed about its hideous blasphemies. Regardless, upon his return he was able to enjoy the fruits of a small and avid group of fans which saw after him, some in high places even which ensured that his rare and startling essays and cricism made it into the appropriate avenues for publication. He took up teaching more as a form of grounding and as a way to pass the time than out of necessity. His stipulations with the administration were harsh: No more than two classes a semester, No classes with more than twenty students, No underclassmen, and NO COMMITTEE  WORK. He was grudgingly hired as a shocking name to put in the schools heavy matte promotional brochures.
     As the single bell rang the heavy beaten chair at the front of the class remained empty though the wheelbarrow and duffel were present in the corner staring blankly like a tired horse . Minutes passed and the uncomfortable silence which had struck with the clock was broken at increasingly frequent intervals. One mousy girl hurriedly shouldered her bag and shuffled out of the room, head bent and mouth taut. I occupied myself writing the same word ("Infiltrated") over and over on a page in my notebook.
     It was impossible to tell how much time had passed since the class had lapsed again into silence, I only noticed it when I finished the first page of repeated words. I looked up and saw sitting bolt upright in his chair the professor staring directly at me.
         -Jeffery? He asked, yelled really, a dollop of spit arcing from his mouth.-You are Jeffery Seward? leaning forward slightly. A slight bending of his vowels suggested a Southern accent tempered by years of living and working among northerners.
         -Ye...Phlegm caught in my throat, making a small noise like a outboard motor flooded with sea water.>
         -Open.The.Sea.Bag.Please., he paused after every word as if I were deaf or a child.
-And.Distribute.Its.Contents.To.The.Class.Wrap-ped. I rose slowly to the bag and opened it the zipper running smooth over the green canvas. The contents of the bag held it firm in the wheelbarrow. Inside was a pile of cornered objects wrapped in thick white linen fabric. -One to each person. He said his head down, staring at a thick book on his desk. I distributed them, in my nervousness I returned each time to the bag, once dropping one of the covered objects hard onto a desk. The others were as stunned as I was and no one spoke during this strange exercise. I placed the last object on my desk and sat down. There was exactly one per student, not noticing until months later that he had somehow foreseen the nervous girl's absence.
-Unwrap and write. You can leave at any time you like.We pulled the linen away, some quickly, others with a drawn out and pretentious solemnity. Within was an old brick, dirty and with some mortar attached to the edges.-Whatever you write must be about the brick and I don't want to see any poetry. He then muttered something which I, at the time, and still am convinced was "And may God have mercy on your poor souls".

No comments:

Post a Comment