Portrait of a professor at a tavern with the woman he's been dating. Part of the Bar-room Portraits collection.
Her date swung himself into the booth, facing her. There was an empty beer glass in front of her and a full beer was waiting for him. He apologized: "Sorry I'm late. I've been so busy.
"Today was the hardest day at work for me. My publishing house didn't sign off on my latest manuscript, so I had to send it back to my editor. They always seem to be a bit slow. This must have been the third time I faxed him about it.
"How are you doing?," he asked. He used the pause to breathe.
"I'm fine," she responded. So he continued.
"I started researching my article for the American Quarterly, on
Melville." She nodded. "You know, his short stories are really interesting. There isn't much written about them. I
was thinking I might write something my students could use in class as
a starting-point for their term papers."
He raised his long, wiry right hand to his forehead and pushed down on his skin. His hand moved backwards over his bald head towards the nape of his neck. "My students are exasperating! They don't do their homework.
They stare at me every day for fifty minutes while I teach them what they were supposed to have read. I ask them for their comments but they never relate what they say on the lesson topic. I don't know what to do with them." His hand went from his neck to the black wooden table in front of him.
His date touched the top of his hand gently. She raised her head and
smiled at him as he made eye contact, but he quickly broke away and
stared up towards the ceiling. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong.
It's like they don't even want to learn. When they do talk it's to
tell a story or something, not to comment on the reading. I'm trying
to use them to develop the lesson but they don't seem to
understand. Their comments come out of left field, like they're trying to ignore what I'm covering in class.
"The department's been pushing me, too. They want me to spend more time supporting their distance-learning project. I missed lunch, actually, working on the forms I have to send the other colleges so I'll get funding for the project.
"Oh well. I guess everything's OK now." He smiled wanly and made sustained eye contact with her for the first time. She looked back at him, transfixed, the way his students looked in class.
She said, "It seems like you're always consumed in your work, George. It's always your number one priority. Have you ever thought about working a little less? You should consider how you spend your time."
He nods quickly. "I have considered it, but what I'm doing is important. If I stopped teaching so many courses, then students wouldn't have anyone who could teach them rhetoric or Romantic literature. Nobody else in the department knows the material that well. And I have to keep publishing if I want to be tenured."
"Well, George, I have been thinking a little bit about my time. I don't think that I want to keep doing... this. I can't wait thirty minutes for you when you've forgotten about me for your research. I don't want to spend my time hoping that things will be different."
"Honey, I do care about you. When I think about romance, when I describe Poe in my class, when I talk about beauty, you are in my mind."
"You've just put me on a pedestal. I've already decided, George. I've paid my tab for tonight and I'm going to go. I've had a lot of fun." She wiggled out from the table and stood up, looking down at him. "You've taught me a lot," she concluded, and she left.
A little too late, he called after her. "Lucy, don't go! I love you!" But she'd already gone down the steps and vanished.
He stared into his beer. He contemplated their relationship while he sipped his beer. After a few minutes he'd finished. Then he took out a notebook and scribbled down notes on Melville.