Saturday, December 03, 2005

CHAPTER 5 (part 3)

One of the few perks working at Yale is auditing classes. I took two years of German when we got here— P.'s major in college, I know that sounds sorta dependent on him, but he's been my teacher and guide, so it seemed "right." I still sometimes think about changing the world with ideas— it's what I always thought my life would be about. I wanted to be a doctor growing up. All THAT changed when I got a C in algebra. I read a lot (still do), including all the Tom Swift books, so I used to think I'd save the planet or discover a cure for cancer, something with real meaning. Whether protesting the war, working in a soup kitchen at my church, even marrying a smart guy like P., I planned on being more than just the smart guy's wife putting him through college.

I talked S. into taking Lit Y with me, and naturally, when he found out P. was in Comp Lit, he started timing his visits to our apartment so as to run into him instead of avoiding him. That sounds kinda conspiratorial, as if we had something to hide, I don't mean it in that way. S. and I didn't do a thing when P. wasn't home I'd have to justify to my mom. S. was intimidated by my husband, as many people are: he's six feet three inches tall, physically imposing, too, not just tall. His hazel eyes have a piercing intensity which still makes me feel when we get into heated discussions like I'm a little girl trying to argue with her father. It's funny, but after five years of our being married, I still want his approval, and cannot abide his disappointment in anything I wear or do. His face is long and angular, with prominent eyebrows that a girlfriend in Philly described to me (with an approving nod) as "cave man" features. She also said his gaze made her uncomfortable, "it's as if he can see right through my clothes." He is sexy in a rough-hewn sort of way, yet very sensitive and caring— reminds me of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe in "Wuthering Heights." No wimp in the sack I'm glad to say. And thank God, too, I'm a girl with a lot of sexual energy. Naturally, those are things about him most people don't know— they only see the tall guy with bushy hair and eyebrows who looks like he could hurt them if he wanted to (and probably would, if they did something to bring out his wrath).

Anyway, that's how our three-way friendship began: talking books and literary theory. When I confessed one night both S. and I were floundering in all the lit crit terminology and mumbo-jumbo, P. sat down at the kitchen table with the two of us and started explaining things, professor to students.

"You'll get more out of de Man in small groups or even individually. Make sure you attend his office hours as often as possible. In class he's usually all business, but in small groups or when we talk in private, he's funny and shockingly blunt. Even to the point of putting down other critics and professors here at Yale. But then he understands how most profs are just performance artists with tenure. It's one reason he makes the establishment nervous."

One thing about P. I've always admired is he's unafraid of anyone, and speaks his mind whenever he feels like it, so it looked like a good fit having de Man for his mentor. He'll ask impertinent, probing questions at lectures, or poke holes in the arguments of even top critics. He has a superior air which puts off most of his fellow grad students, but he needs it: arrogance is a necessary armor in the world of lit crit. For one thing, the competition for jobs is ruthless outside the ivory tower of Bingham Hall where the Comp Lit department lives— it's literally in a tower, the top floor of a creaky, spooky old Victorian cupola perched on one of the freshman dorms that surround Old Campus. A really cool place with its own tiny library that smells like ancient leather chairs and musty stored-up energy, it's the place I head to when the weather's too cold to sit outside in my courtyard, reading or looking through the old books, some dating back to the 1800s.

It's the only thing I like about the Comp Lit department. The people are, well, less than nice to me. Almost everyone, student or professor, is a snob or a bore or both. I suppose you can say that about most of the people at Yale. I sorta have this love-hate relationship with the place, wanting to be accepted, yet never fitting in. I remember riding up in the tiny two-person elevator that connects the Comp Lit department to the ground with Professor Hartman. He's another one of the bigwigs. Didn't say a thing for most of the ride— probably figured I was an undergrad living on the lower floors, which are all dorm rooms for freshmen. When I didn't get off at one of those other floors, he realized we were both going to the Ivory Tower. I guess he figured he'd better say something.

"How's life?" What kind of question is that? I wanted to laugh, but I just smiled at him.

"Fine," I lied.

The elevator stopped, he pushed open the door and disappeared into his office like the white rabbit down its hole.

to be continued