THE bell jingle-jangles. The professor limps in wearing a three piece suit, some egg stains, and a hassled expression. He slumps his bulk into the slouch chair and kicks his brogues off.
“Feet,” he grunts.
I sit and put his foot in my lap. I grease my hands and get started.
“I don’t understand the young folk today,” he says.
I kinda like youngsters, myself, but admittedly I don’t have to deal with them day in, day out, to use one of his favourite expressions.
“Day in, day out,” he sighs. “I get up there on the podium; I speak, I lecture, I sometimes yell. I try to excite them, and get excited by my own subject, but they sit there like crash-test dummies, the ones who even bother to come. Do I see an expression? Nope. Do I see enthusiasm? Nope. I ask for questions, but do I get questions? Nope.”
He glares at me. “Why do I bother?”
“Because you care?”
“To feel concern or interest arising from a sense of responsibility, blah de blah. Who does care, these days?”
“So you don’t care?”
He casts me an irritated glance. “I didn’t say that. It’s just that some reciprocal care would be nice — for my feelings. To let me know my time isn’t being wasted.”
“Most people don’t get that from their own kids.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
“No. But it doesn’t mean the kids don’t care, either.”
“Up at UCC, they’re like the tide,” he says. “They wash in and wash out, year in, year out. Some fly, some swim, some slosh around hopefully in the shallows, while others sink and disappear. Do you know how many kids go through UCC each year?”
“Haven’t a clue.
“20,000. Enough to fill a regiment.”
I take a deep breath. Gradually the white noise abates, along with the mental collage of dismembered young bodies.
‘And when we tell them they need a degree to get a good job, it’s not entirely true. They need a good degree to get a good job and any degree to get a job stacking shelves. It’s a numbers game. When there are 300 applications for a job, they first chuck out the ones without degrees. It used to be they’d chuck out the ones written in green biro or with spelling mistakes, but these days the recruiting staff don’t know their bare skin from their bear skin, never mind the students.”
“That could be unfortunate in the Canadian midwinter. Wanta swap feet?”
He shifts, sticks his other foot into my lap, leans back and closes his eyes.
“But, you know? They surprise me sometimes.”
“Come the exams, you see some of the stuff you’ve hurled at them regurgitated, and you think, by god, they were listening after all.”
“Or just soaking it up. They say kids’ brains are like sponges. And they do have to enjoy life while they can, don’t you think?”
He sighed. “That’s why I come to you, Madge. Not just for the lap dance, but because you’ve got things in perspective.”
“You’re better than a shrink.”
I’ve been called an Agony Aunt, and the guy wasn’t joking, but never a lap-dancing shrink.
“Right, all done.”
He laces up his shoes, and says: “When I come here I feel a hundred years old and I exit like a teenager; well, nearly. Au revoir, mon ami!”
He blows me a kiss and executes a passable pirouette on the way out. Good job the seams on his pants hold fast.
My next client is standing there with her mouth open. I wonder if she’s one of his students.