Professor is an odd thing.
Students call out "Professor!" in the hall, and sometimes they mean me. Professor Soltan. Yet I never believe Professor means me.
Too swell an honorific. Students have to say it twice before I look around. "Professor! ... Professor Soltan!"
The latest summoning of UD via the word professor happened last Friday, at the elevators on the sixth floor of Rome Hall, near my George Washington University office.
"Professor! ... Professor Soltan! I was at your Philosophy Club talk the other night."
He was skinny and tall with thick hair. His glasses looked strange.
"Sorry. I didn't recognize you ... because ... your glasses are different?"
"Yeah. These are my scotch tape pair. See? Completely held together with tape. They broke on Saint Patrick's Day..."
"There's more to the story, but you've caught the essence."
We walked out together. He was surprised I didn't recognize the name of the campus building he was headed for. I made a professor joke about it. "I've only worked here twenty years or so..."
And it's true, I thought, as he laughed at me and said goodbye, that if anything about me is echt-professor, it's this out of it thing, this not being there, this mental removal ... It's the tendency to live in my head, to be lost in stories and thoughts -- very basic thoughts... crazy basic thoughts. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do the people around me on the metro agree to exist? I look at their faces and think about the madness of human life, etc., etc...
Once, switching from the blue line to the red line, I was so engrossed in the possibility of an afterlife that I left my pocketbook on the seat, and as the doors closed behind me a guy in a sweaty shirt and a hardhat shouted Lady your purse and threw the thing through the doors at me just in time... I shouted my thanks and spent the next half hour thinking about the possible intrinsic goodness of human beings ... Was that guy religious? Or did he throw my bag at me on the basis of some secular moral ground? Was it pure instinct, basically empty visceral fellow human feeling, without any ethical... Well, but fundamental human sympathy... that's a form of morality ... Psychopaths don't have it...
UD's husband, also a professor, spends his life inside this same dithering infinite. Together they can really bore each other, since the whole, whatever, ethos between them is I listen to your shit and you listen to mine. I listen while you argue that the right to vote should extend to five-year-olds, or whenever you're old enough to read; you listen while I argue that the toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge should be ten thousand dollars, which through the use of high-powered computers the State of Maryland would immediately invest so that when you got to the other side of the bridge you'd get money back...
You end up in places like this when your brain's always squirreling about, when no one's stopping you, when someone's actually paying you, to gas on inside your head.
One of the things professors like us think about is the quality of thinking as such... What, for instance, is stupidity, or the quality of having false, inferior, or bad thoughts? When we're stupid, why do we -- M. and Mme. UD, that is -- find it so funny that we laugh til we cry? Party Night for Les UD's is when we stretch out and get stupid, when UD, who knows nothing of math beyond addition, defines algorithm; when tone deaf Mr. UD explains the difference between chest voice and head voice...
Professor is an odd thing. To be a professor -- at least our type -- is to think about thought. It is to know precisely how dumb you are, despite the fact that when you walk around in public places people call out Professor! .... Professor Soltan...