My Female Students Don’t Seem As Impressed With Me As They Used To -The Toast

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This classic Toast post originally ran on October 15, 2013.

INT. DAY. A bucolic college campus; a book-strewn corner office. Two MALE PROFESSORS, HANK and SMITTY, have their feet up on their respective desks at the end of a long day. Their faces are haggard and drawn. Even their elbow patches look tired. HANK sighs.

SMITTY: “You look tired, Hank.”

HANK: “I feel tired, Smitty.”

SMITTY: “Drink?”

HANK: “Don’t mind if I do.”

SMITTY passes HANK a small brown bottle. HANK takes a contemplative sip.

HANK: “It’s getting harder and harder to awe these inexperienced female teenagers these days, Smitty.”

SMITTY: “Tell me about it, Hank.”

HANK: “Just yesterday, in one of my intro classes, I used the word ‘problematic’ in a sentence — real casual, just to let them know I’m one of the good guys — and not one of them stayed after the lecture to ask me just what I meant by that or to see if they could borrow the conspicuously dog-eared copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed I like to leave on my desk in case any female students want to borrow it.”

SMITTY passes the bottle back to HANK.

SMITTY: “Things are bad all over.”

HANK: “You know, it’s very important to me that I be thought of as down.”

SMITTY: “Amen.”

HANK: “That copy has my phone number in it. You know, the old ‘write your phone number on the front page of a copy you lend to female students only under the “IF LOST PLEASE RETURN TO” bubble’ gag?”

SMITTY: “It’s a great gag.”

HANK passes the bottle back to SMITTY.

HANK: “It’s a damn great gag. My father used it, and his father used it — not in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, obviously. Whatever was working at the time. Leonard Abbott or someone, I guess.”

SMITTY: “Right.”

HANK: “They always come for the book. They’ve never known anyone who wears pants with a belt and reads books about oppressed pedagogues. They always come for the book and then I tell them about another book they just have to read after they finish it, and then I forgot the book in my office, and then I can start emailing them drunk on Christmas afternoon telling them about my bad back and how my wife has never read…never read…”

SMITTY: “Borges?”

HANK: “Yeah. Borges.”

SMITTY: “That’s real rough, Hank.”

HANK: “Or I wait to corner her at a faculty party and say something uncomfortable and real quiet about what she’s wearing, so nobody hears me but her, and she starts to wonder if even she heard me right.”

SMITTY: “They love that. They love that almost as much as they love their Molly drugs and their Pokemons, those female students.”

HANK: “Or I take her aside the second or third week and tell her I think she’s got real potential, real potential for greatness, then after she disagrees with me about something real minor…[laughs]…minor…I tell her I’m disappointed in her lack of open-mindedness and give her a C.”

SMITTY: “I tell mine their boyfriends don’t appreciate them.”

HANK: “I get pills for that bad back, you know.”

HANK rummages around in his drawer. SMITTY pulls an orange pill case out of his jacket pocket.

SMITTY: [shaking the case suggestively] “These pills?”

HANK: “You elaborate polefucked son of a bitch.”

SMITTY: [grinning] “You’re not the only one whose wife doesn’t read Borges.”

HANK: “Just works a full-time job with health insurance and raises my children.”

SMITTY: “Back pill, Hank?”

HANK: “Don’t mind if I do, Smitty.”

The two of them enjoy a quiet pill.

SMITTY: “The classics aren’t working like they used to, Hank.”

HANK: “You’re telling me.”

SMITTY: “I ask myself sometimes — what did I get this degree in comparative literature for, if not to intimidate and impress a bunch of young women who until very recently were still in high school?”

HANK: “S’a good question. Damn good question.”

HANK passes the bottle back to SMITTY.

SMITTY: “Because I sure as hell didn’t get it to compare a bunch of literature.”

They laugh.

SMITTY: [softly, almost to himself] “Compare a bunch of literatures at each other.”

HANK: “That’s not why I got into the business. No, sir. I got it so I could stand up in front of a group of mostly impressionable and anxious girls less than half my age and make them listen to me talk about how I proposed to my first fiancé and to deliver long, impassioned monologues about The Red Knight I memorized fourteen years ago.”

SMITTY: “I didn’t mind the work, though, Hank. As long as I could go to bed at night knowing that at least one girl who feeds herself with a school-sponsored meal plan was impressed with me. That’s all the thanks I needed. The admiration of that girl who has very little to compare me to, and also tenure.”

HANK: [solemnly] “And also tenure.”

SMITTY: “But mostly the admiration. Let’s say 70/30 admiration/tenure. As long as female adolescents with drinking problems were incredibly impressed by the sight of a grown man doing his job, that was enough for me. As long as all I had to do was remember a few passable lines of Virgil to quote offhand and watch their eyes go soft with longing, that was all I needed to keep coming back.”

HANK: “You know what the worst part about college girls is? The part of it that’s the worst part about college girls?”

SMITTY: [shaking his head] “Nope. Tell me, Hanky.”

HANK: [pointing to himself] “Me, I get older, but they stay the same a…same amount of uncomfortable with my forward and personal behavior.”

SMITTY: “Didn’t used to be that way. Nope. Used to be as long as you had a few streaks of grey at the temple and a complete set of Baudelaire and you could write your own ticket. Not nowadays. Nowadays they want to do well on your tests and receive thoughtful, qualitative feedback about their work, and that’s it. Cold, hard transactions — in and out of the classroom, without a second thought for our starving souls. Is that what we’re here for? Just to teach and then go home?”

HANK: “Not even a first thought for them, even. It’s not enough that we’ve done things like gone through an artistic phase or bought a house or remembered the decade they were born in. What do they want?”

SMITTY begins to laugh uncontrollably.

HANK: “What? What is it?”

SMITTY manages to calm himself down with an effort.

HANK: “You all right?”

SMITTY: “It’s three o’clock, isn’t it?”

HANK: “Yeah. Why?”

SMITTY: “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching a seminar right now?”

HANK begins to laugh as he realizes the same thing.

HANK: “Fuck. Yeah.”

HANK begins laughing harder and harder until even SMITTY grows curious.

SMITTY: “What?”

HANK: “You’re supposed to be in seminar, too.”

They laugh together.

SMITTY: “Maybe being late will impress them.”

HANK: “Something has to, Smitty.”

SMITTY: “Something will, Hank. Sooner or later, we’ll find something that will.”

SMITTY passes the bottle back to HANK.


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