The professor walked into the café, ordered a drink, and sat down at the window bar with a huff, oblivious to the lone man next to him who was lazily enjoying his drink and watching the passersby on the street in silence.
The lone man looked curiously as the professor (at least, his balding head, glasses, leather briefcase, and elbow padded jacket made him look like a professor) rummaged around inside in his pockets, finally pulling out a red pen in satisfaction. Reaching into his briefcase, he retrieved a small stack of papers.
The other man went back to his drink, contentedly watching the busy city street outside through the window. He saw a mother, in a heated argument with her child, just short of dragging him by the collar on an errand clearly against his will. Up the street from them was a man selling—
“Hmph!…No….Terrible….That will not do…”
The professor interrupted the lone man’s observations, whispering angrily to himself as he furiously scribbled away at the papers, slashing away until they bled, like a knight slaying hordes of his enemies…or, perhaps, more like a serial killer lavishing his victim…
“Terrible….just terrible…” the professor shook his head in disgust.
The people-watching man sighed, his reverie interrupted, and turned to the professor, “Grading papers?”
The professor gave a jump, startled at the man’s voice, “Oh, ah, yes. I’m a professor at the University and my students’ work is just….horrendous…it’s like they haven’t grasped anything at all this semester.” He nodded at the papers he was holding and dropped them on the stack, “Kids…they don’t know how to think for themselves, they never pay attention to my lectures. It’s like they don’t even want to learn. Just…disappointing, really.”
“Like that lady outside, dragging her kid somewhere he don’t wanna go…” the man mumbled.
“Pardon? What lady?”
“Nevermind,” the man waved his hand dismissively, “So, what are you a professor of?” If the man couldn’t watch the characters outside, he might as well talk to the one in here.
“Literature. I teach modern literature, to be exact,” the professor beamed, tugging on his jacket in pride.
The man’s eyebrows perked up, “Really? What a coincidence. I’m a bit of a teacher myself, though I’m no professor.”
“Oh, yes?” The professor’s voice said, how neat, but his face said, sure, buddy, talk to me when you become the real deal. “What do you teach?”
“Well…” the man took a drink, “Mostly writing, I suppose. Though I mainly teach ethics, social studies, psychology, sociology, and culture.”
“Wow…” the professor’s face still carried an air of disbelief, “that’s quite a lot of subjects. You must teach at a small school, then, to have to spread yourself across so many fields of study. Or is it one of those new progressive curriculums where the subjects are all mashed together until the students forget what it is they’re supposed to learn?” the professor chuckled.
“No, it’s not quite like that,” the man looked back out the window, “I actually write my own curriculum, style my lessons in whatever way I think connects best with my students. I teach them whatever subjects and topics are important in the world. and they choose to learn as much or as little as they want out of the material–unilke that kid outside, it’s on their own terms. ”
The professor was confused, “That’s quite an unusual school where the teachers have that much freedom. What’s the name of this place— “
“Let me ask you something, prof,” the professor was not used to being interrupted and was about to say as much, but he let it slide this time, “You’re a professor of modern literature, right? So, have you ever written anything?”
“Well, of course I have,” the professor took a deep breath and furrowed his brows, “I’ve written countless papers and analyses on literature from the 1920s to the 60s. My understanding of literary theory runs deeper than any— “
“That’s not what I meant,” this man dared to interrupt the professor twice now in as many minutes, “Have you ever written a novel? A short story? A fairy tale or parable?”
“Oh, heaven’s no,” the professor shook his head, “I’m a professor, not a starving artist.”
“Starving artist,” the man chuckled, “Isn’t it funny how a career in studying literature is more stable and successful than a career in actually writing it? Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect in the world for underpaid school teachers Without them, society would crumble. In university, though…you know better than me that authors die penniless all the time, while literature professors earn tenure.”
The professor paused, “Well, sure, but…”
“You, sir,” the man continued, “likely make more money in one year than many of the authors you dedicate your life to studying ever made from the things they wrote.” The man finished his drink, still chuckling at the thought. Getting up from his stool to leave, he nodded goodbye to the professor, and sighed, “Man, I got into the wrong profession. I should’ve been an academic.”
“But, I thought you were a teacher?” The professor asked as the man turned to leave.
“Oh, I guess I am, but not in the sense you’re thinking of,” as he was leaving, the man stopped at the drink counter, scribbled something down, and passed it to the barista before addressing the professor again, “My students don’t sit in lecture halls and study for exams, they sit in libraries, airports, and cafés, reading books. The world is their lecture hall, really, and life is their exam,” the man paused at the door, “You see, I’m a fiction writer,” and with a smile, he left.
Unsure of this whole encounter, the professor suddenly felt uncomfortable there in the café. He went to the counter to pay. The barista behind the register said, “Ok, sir, two drinks, was it?”
“What? No, I thought only had the one.”
“You did, sir, but the man who just left said he was your colleague and that his drink was on your tab. He also wanted me to give you this note,” She pulled out a scrap of paper and handed it to the professor. It read,
“From one teacher to another, thanks for the drink.”
(Drink Pairing: Irish coffee)