Winter had never been so cold.
Three mornings a week, I heaved The Pelican Complete Shakespeare into a knapsack, along with spiral notebooks, Bic pens, and a highlighter. I trudged through the snow, wearing layers of turtlenecks, long underwear, lined jeans, and a parka that should have kept me warm but didn’t. Huddled in our coats, we sat in overheated classrooms, coughing and spreading germs. And we could have stayed home: after half a semester the prof was still lecturing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Silent on principle, I sat in the back and read A Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and Henry IV, Part I – all on the syllabus, but who knew whether we would get to them? The cigarette smoke-wreathed academic god’s declamation on his favorite comedy had gone on for two months. I had read the play once at home, three times in class, and had seen a brilliant theater department production, where the fairies dressed as gypsies and perched on swings.
The professor, whom I called Mr. R. because I did not understand that he should be called Dr. R., was gruff, a little scary, and a chain-smoker. The grad student smokers conspired to sit in front and laugh at his jokes. There was a cloud of smoke down there.
Mr./Dr. R. was impressed by a blonde in the front row. “Another one of those awful papers,” he’d joke as he handed back her latest masterpiece. The rest of us could but hope he had not paid close attention to our ramblings in “Titania As Feminist Icon.”
Personally, I would have been mortified to exchange repartee with him. We frosh left the talking to the graduate students. And then one day I was late, and as I was unloading my gear, an orange bounced out of my knapsack and rolled down the aisle.
Dr. R put his cigarette down on the chalk ledge. He approached the orange. He looked as though he had never seen one. “What is this?”
I hated to be the girl who had rolled an orange down the aisle, and almost said, “Please, sir.” But I said, “It’s like an apple – only it’s an orange.”
I was referring, with frosh cryptic wit, to the days when people brought apples for the teacher. Perhaps he heard me. Perhaps he did not. He put the orange on his desk.
He continued to lecture on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.