The Tangent-Minded Professor

Last week my professor sauntered into our classroom ten minutes late, sat down, kicked off his shoes, and proceeded to lecture for the next two hours with his fly open.  The only thing surprising about this scenario is that it no longer surprises me at all, because after just three weeks of school I can state without hyperbole that this man is the oddest professor I have ever seen.

Professor has white hair that stands on end, spectacles that rest on top of a bulbous nose, and an accent that places his country of birth somewhere in the United Kingdom.  When one first sees him, his stern frown and grizzled overall appearance give the impression of the stereotypical curmudgeonly old professor.  However, as soon as he begins to lecture, his eyes light up and it becomes apparent that he is incapable of speaking unless he is smiling.  In fact, he smiles perpetually, to the point of becoming unnerving.  His words have a deliberately slow and measured cadence, and once he has begun lecturing he doesn’t really stop.  The steady flow of speech continues as he fidgets in his chair, stretches his arms above his head and holds them there, and removes his outer layers of clothing.  (This final habit often results in a sweater being stuck on his head for several uncomfortable seconds, during which he continues to speak but all the class hears is muffled sounds emanating from within the fabric.)

Some days we don’t spend more than 30 minutes of the two hour lecture period discussing the book we’ve been reading, because Professor often embarks on legendary tangents that leave him paralyzed with teary-eyed laughter and draw nervous giggles from the sympathetic portion of the class.  Once, while giving us the details of an upcoming paper assignment, Professor decided to take a moment to describe what would happen if someone strayed too far from the given prompt or (God forbid) plagiarized:

“Then of course, the trap door would open beneath said student, and they would fall down, down, down, into the deep, dark abyss where the sea monsters reside, which is, after all, at the end of the world – the edge of the map, so to speak – because we all know that at the edge of the map ‘there be monsters,’ because of course, the world is flat, although those scientists – the fools! – would have us believe otherwise, but we all know the truth!…”

At this point I returned to creating photo collages on my phone.  But try as I might to stay distracted in his class, Professor’s bizarre tangents and perplexing behaviors keep my attention from ever wandering too far.

One day he decided to interact with a character in one of the plays we were discussing.  While reading the character’s thoughts regarding the supernatural presence of his dead fiancé, Professor stopped after the line “She’s still around here somewhere…” to respond, “Of course she is – on the rainbow bridge, with your first pet chinchilla, to be sure!”  Why “chinchilla” is the first pet that popped into his head remains to be explained.

Other statements include Biblical references, such as when he forgot to emphasize a point and berated himself with “Aaahh, I’ve passed over this like a Levite on the other side…”  If he feels that verbal chastisement is not enough to match the gravity of his error, he will beat himself on the head with a paperback book, like a monk who whips himself to atone for his wrongdoings.  (Misspeaks deserving of such punishment apparently include unintentionally referring to actor Richard Briers as an actress.)

Sometimes Professor attempts to incorporate comic relief into his lectures; these are often borderline-politically-incorrect.  When reading portions of plays aloud in class, he performs the dialogue of female characters in a high-pitched voice with trilling r’s and a dreadfully whiny tone.  And while trying to convince us to sympathize with the challenges of his academic post, he sarcastically complained, “I have to think of witty things to say, write assessments, remember to be respectful of diversity, and so on and so forth…”

It’s becoming apparent that I will be learning a lot more than I bargained for when I initially signed up for this class; the course description made no mention of South American rodents or sea monsters.  Well, I guess taking notes on Professor’s strikingly odd deviations from the syllabus will keep me from dozing off for the rest of the quarter.



16 thoughts on “The Tangent-Minded Professor

  1. Great title! I took a college class once in which the professor had such a distinctive vocal tic, I started keeping track of the number of times she uttered it during each lecture. She averaged a dozen times a day, but when she was really on a roll, might top 20. It’s amazing the things students will do in an effort to keep themselves from learning.

  2. I hate it when somebody’s that spot-on clued in to my weirdnesses, and particularly when they can wordify it like a Hebrew during the Babylonian Captivity. Makes me want to stay out of the agora. Good stuff.

  3. I couldn’t help but read even though I cannot relate to the subject for I don’t go to school, the eloquence of your writing style held the attention of a belligerent autodidact such as myself. Thanks so much.

  4. I loved reading this witty tale. It was fun and funny and just the thing I enjoy reading. Hope to see you again in person.

  5. Loved it! You have inspired me to consider documenting my quirkiest professor from my collegiate experience- a mythology professor who kept a Nerf bow and arrow in a piñata in the classroom and would pull it out and strike unsuspecting students if they dared fall asleep in his class. Great writing- I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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