by Larry Brody
Usually, the drive from Paradise to Little Rock National Airport and back is a big pain. Two hours of winding, mostly two-lane roads followed by forty-five minutes of crowded, speeding Interstate. Then the whole thing in reverse, just to pick up or drop off a visitor.
But yesterday, when Gwen the Beautiful and I made the trip, it was worth it. We were picking up Darlene the Philosophy Teacher, a good friend of Gwen’s who’s hanging here on The Mountain for a few days on her way home to San Diego from New York City.
Darlene’s warm, funny, and just insecure enough to make her genius intellect forgivable. She teaches courses like “Aristotelian Logic,” “18th Century Rationalists,” and “Secrets Behind Hegel’s Dialectic” at a major West Coast university but has been looking for a change.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen the different seasons or even been aware of the weather,” Darlene said as we headed out of the airport. “I forgot how much I was missing. But now that I’m divorced, I’m seeing a lot of things that slipped away. Especially things that might take me out into a new way of life.”
“So you’re looking to completely escape the old and teach on the East Coast?” Gwen said.
“‘Looking’ is the right word,” said Darlene. “Things aren’t going to pan out in New York.”
“I thought they were begging you to join the faculty,” Gwen said.
“Well,” Darlene said, “there’s begging and there’s begging. The Department Head called and asked me to tour the school, meet the Dean and the faculty, and keep an open mind about working in Manhattan.
“But when I got there he greeted me a little more warmly than I was comfortable with. It wasn’t just the hug, it was the whole feeling that emanated from him. A kind of ‘Oh, you’re just what I want. I need you so much!'”
“He said that?” said Gwen.
“No, he—I don’t know—he demonstrated it. And it’s not like I’m a hot young thing.”
Hearing this made me feel a little uncomfortable myself. “What about the rest of the faculty?” I said.
“Nice people. Smart people. Highly regarded scholars. I’ve read a number of their articles. They’ve read mine. We had a good time. One of them, though, a woman who’s the Expert On German Existentialism in the 1930s, asked a lot of questions but interrupted every answer I gave.
“I’d reply as honestly as I could about how I feel about, say, the place of traditional philosophical inquiry in our modern world, and she’d gasp and say, ‘Remember, this is an interview. We’re judging everything you say.’ As though I was saying too much.”
“You’re a woman who speaks her mind,” Gwen pointed out.
Darlene shrugged. “The second day there, they asked me to make a presentation to show how I teach a class. If there’s one thing I’m always ready for, it’s holding forth to a class, so I did it like I always do. With all the energy and love I feel for those great old-time thinkers.
“After the class, the Dean told me he was impressed by the way I spoke. That he and the students found me inspiring. Then he told me how unimportant it was to be inspiring because today’s world didn’t really need more philosophy instructors, and certainly couldn’t support more philosophers.
“Everyone looked at me expectantly. As though everything hinged on my response to what he’d just said. All I could do was speak my mind.
“‘This is an interview,’ I said. ‘Just as you’re judging everything I say, so am I judging you. And I’m sorry, but you’ve failed the test.”
“So that’s why you’re here a day early!” I said.
“I’ve been sick about those words since they left my mouth,” Darlene said. “So much for getting the chance for a change.”
Gwen twisted in her seat to hug Darlene. “I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but you passed my test many years ago.”
Darlene burst into tears. Hugged Gwen back.
Me, I kept driving. Teaching college had always seemed an interesting life, and I’d been toying with the idea of looking for a gig like that.
Unlike Darlene and Gwen, I never judge—but still, as I looked into the rear view mirror, I saw my thoughts of teaching college fly off into the past.
They were gone without a trace before we reached the Interstate and sped back home to Paradise.
At least, for now.