His employees ran a series of pictures they'd snapped of him at his desk at different times late that last year. There he sat, unceremoniously fast asleep, head flung back as if he was waiting to be shaved, mouth gaping hideously. It wasn't pretty. But it was terribly funny.
Well, shoot, it was like this, except he was at work. Right here, I'm in my easy chair after all, and it's a Sunday afternoon, the very moment of the week God himself ordained as nap time. Says it somewhere in the Bible, in fact. My granddaughter snapped the picture, but she's my granddaughter and of course she's been forgiven.
It's never happened at work, I swear, which is not to say it won't. At about two in the afternoon, a now-retired colleague of mine used to toss off quite regularly at his office desk, although his posture of choice was vastly more penitent than Howie's. If you'd catch him through the window in his door, he'd look immensely devout and prayerful, chin on chest. We used to laugh.
That's it, really--we used to laugh. A lot. That's what I want to avoid. I don't want to be laughed at. That I've rarely been a napper doesn't mean that I won't fall victim to what this now too sagging flesh is heir to. Someday one of my colleagues is going to stumble into my office without knocking, and I'll come out of the weeds of my sleep like a mad flushed pheasant. Who knows?--maybe it'll happen.
There are these signs, after all. That's as good a reason to quit as any--there are these signs.
Yesterday, a student excused himself from class via e-mail. The soccer team had an away game, first game of the tournament, he said, halfway across the state of Nebraska. They had to leave early, and he'd miss class, just wanted me to know. Thoughtful of him to let me know, but then I'm sure his coach put him up to it.
And then he wrote this. "Thanks for being a bomb of a teacher."
A bomb of a teacher. That one has kept me awake.
When I was a student, if we bombed a test, we said it with doleful resignation. If some first date didn't go well, we might say "it bombed"--meaning it was a wreck. A "bomb" was bad car, although it might be camp-ish enough to be cool. Maybe that was it. In a way, if you told somebody you crawled in your bomb and took off for the city, it was a kind of term of endearment. But a bomb wasn't classy or sleek. Nobody'd call a Corvette "a bomb," and it certainly was no chick wagon.
Maybe he meant I was as cool as old wreck.
I'm still not sure--"thanks for being a bomb of a teacher." It feels like something like a compliment, doesn't it? I think--but I'm not sure--he likes me. But, dang it, I don't know the language.
And that's another sign too that it's time to go. It's not as embarrassing as leaving drool on your collar or checking out at your desk, but it's just as grim a sign that it's time to leave--you don't know the language any more.
So my class is doing film reports, and one group talked about The Namesake, a film which few of them liked because there's no great graphics and it's not a thriller or a brain tease like Inception. Shoot, Batman isn't even in it.
The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, who just happens to be one of my favorite contemporary writers. I love the movie. Anyway, the lead character is played by a guy named Kal Penn. So the students up front introduce him and the whole blessed class giggles because it seems they've all seen him before in a movie their prof never heard of. They all think it's funny, and I'm totally clueless. That's another sign.
I haven't checked out at my desk on some warm winter afternoon yet, but it's not winter either, not yet anyway. But I don't know the language anymore, and daily almost all of their shared cultural referencing is to stuff their old bomb of a teacher never heard of. We don't exist anymore on the same planet. It's time to go.
They're all signs of the times, and they're literally all over the highways of my life, annoying reminders of Wall Drug.
It's time to move on. I don't want to bomb.