The good professor eyed my dessert. He’d been quiet up to then, waiting for his order. He and his lady friend were delighted when their cold tomato soup arrived. Then he pointed to my wife’s plum and apple crumple and expressed interest. I noticed how he eyed my wife’s tits, too.
As we ate, I couldn’t help overhearing his desperation. He was a bearded little man in a blue blazer. Unlike me and my wife, he and his companion came dressed for dinner. She had on a gold Rolex. She also wore the sulk of a woman who’s seen it all or at least has it all. His beard was worn as a statement. Just what that statement was I do not know, but it wasn’t just hair.
They ate quietly but the gentleman was in a fury. No, he is not happy with NYU. You’d think so, but he is not. It’s not what it once was. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel, he was saying. “We are not at all able to get the best.” Why even bother? He’d just as well not teach. He’s been working on something big, so he can walk away. He’s planning to set up something like TED Talks to sell seminars and workshops in pleasant settings. New York isn’t what it once was either, he sniffed. There’s money in them thar hills, yessirreebob.
He spoke in his pronounced American accent to his companion who was English. In his youth, I surmised, he’d schemed to get tenure, and had won. Now he was full-professor at NYU, but was miserable. He was bored. He felt poor. After all, his salary was under two-hundred thou a year and he was living in Manhattan. The kids down on Wall Street make that at 22. He’d taken the university for everything it was worth. He had every grant, even mortgage assistance. But, he is no longer a young man. Teaching is not what it used to be, so isn’t it natural to talk big bucks?
He’d just as well not teach. The students lack a sense of purpose. They’re lost. They have no business being in grad school. They say they love Jane Austin. Well, who cares? That’s not good enough. He’s sick of these hobbyists thinking they’re graduate school material. PhDs are not for fans, not for romantics, not for rich kids looking for something to do with their worthless lives. He was ranting now, but kept on eating. He was shouting in a whisper. He had control. It was for effect. He was having fun. She’d heard it all before. What a bore.
But on top of all that, the students are conservative! This he said with disgust. Yes! Say no more. He had some soup. The waitress returned with his steak. It was a fine, game-reserve-certified, organic, $50 steak. Its plate had been warmed. She carried it with her hand wrapped and set it down like a matador. Olé. He took a good look and licked his chops. Yes, this was one of the rewards of hard work. He deserved every bite, too, he thought to himself. But if he were able to get out of this shitty university and make some real money, he would order the wild boar and oyster pie. He’d splurge. With a bottle of champagne. Oh, well. Some day.
What he likes in addition to fine dining is radical company. He especially likes someone with a communist pedigree, like his old pal Eric Hobsbawm. There you have it. Antonio Gramsci and a two-inch rib-eye served medium rare and a very good Chilean Cabernet. He’ll send it all back if it is not to his liking. He prefers his cocktail glass chilled. His Bloody Mary, by the way, is just right; no wonder it cost $13. The wine will set him back close to a hundred. Shit.
All this on his pathetic salary. 20th century Marxism gives him an appetite for fine wines and succulent dishes. He keeps a second home in the Catskills. It’s a hardship but since his divorce, he has had a housekeeper come in. He’s plotting the revolution and has no time for doing dishes.
He only makes $159,000 and resents it. He had a chance to buy Apple back in the 90s but let it slip. He’d secretly like a better wine. He eyed one in the menu that costs nearly three hundred pounds! He’s a broken man. Our professor wants to keep out the conservatives, he tells his companion. She lifts an eyebrow and sighs. What a nuisance conservative are. How are their table manners, one wonders? Being a conservative today is something like being a Viennese Jew in 1936. If they could get rid of them all, they would. The refinement and delicacy of the enlightened classes is no match for the crudeness of those with an expressed love of money. At least PLU (People Like Us) know not to talk about it explicitly. “NYU gets these kids,” the bore goes on, “with a fondness for Jane Austin or, for God’s sake, Evelyn Waugh, but no interest whatsoever in the mill workers of Lowell, Massachusetts. They haven’t even read the Communist Manifesto!” With that he glanced at the menu and wondered what else he might order. “Dessert?”
And they dare to come to NYU. “I don’t like being a party to…” His voice trailed off. He doesn’t wish to be part of the charade. There is no career in literature. No jobs, not now and not for the foreseeable future. It’s over. “My heart’s not in it.” Certainly not with the mediocrities they’re getting. Admissions are way down. Not even half the number of applicants of a few years ago. And none of them has a chance. What he wants is to sell lectures, a freelance MOOC, he explains. Unaffiliated with NYU. “They’d steal my royalties.” Offer it out of Aspen or Malibu, look for 10,000 students worldwide, sell merchandise, literary T-shirts, books, get the Chinese trade, the Arab bourgeoisie (some of that UAE money), combine the program with luxury travel arrangements…he could make enough to retire in California, or even to Italy. “I always wanted to retire to Venice.” He only needs a few million.
And he goes on. I noticed as my wife and I were getting up that he’d ordered the plum and apple crumble. Another bottle of wine was being delivered to their table. The evening was young.
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