The Parable of the Clueless Professor

Tacoma, Washington, Thursday morn, Administration Room 213. A few minutes before the first year writing seminar begins.

McKall, who started the semester with a ton of extra credit because she has a great name and personality; and she’s from Boise, Idaho, my birthplace; asks whether I like my new phone.

That’s right, last week an iPhone 6+ bounced from China; to Louisville, Kentucky; to my front door. And sure enough, the box had my name on it. That means I have to find some other way to distinguish myself from the masses.

Students smiled when I told them my daughter made fun of me for texting with one finger. “You can use both thumbs,” she said. I tell my students I like it. Too big? Be serious. I can palm a basketball and my frame of reference is my iPad. I love how compact my new pocket computer is. They also got a kick out of my temporary case, a wool sock.

Alex is to the left of me. “And you have a Garmin watch too.”

Alex started the semester with even more extra credit than McKall because she’s from California, she’s on the cross country team, and she’s a first generation college student who came to office hours last week. Her parents are from Mexico and have sacrificed mightily to provide her a better life. She hit her head on something while lifting weights right before classes began. She refuses to use her serious concussion “as an excuse” and may be too tough for her own good since she’s pushing harder than her doctors probably realize.

“Yeah, but it’s the cheapest Garmin they make, they go from $150-$450,” said the clueless professor. Alex’s audible exhale conveyed disgust. Understandably. To her that might be textbooks for a year. Statistics tell us most first generation college students drop out at some point because they can’t afford to continue. Out of touch professors can’t help.

Inadvertently losing touch with low income people is one inevitable consequence of wealth that’s rarely talked about. When I was Alex’s age, one of my college roommates and I became friends. That is until he learned my parents were paying my tuition. He was busting his hump to pay his way and he resented my privilege. Our friendship was never the same.

Should I have declined my parents’ generosity for the sake of my roommate’s friendship? Should I not wear my Garmin watch to class? Of course not, but I should be sensitive to other people’s circumstances. Thursday, a few minutes before class began, I wasn’t.

Class Differences in Tampa

The scene. Having coffee and toast at a Cuban diner in the Ybor City section of Tampa Florida Saturday with my mom and three of her friends. Wonderful Saturday ritual. The topic, class differences in Tampa. One friend, a former nun for 11 years, and now a kindergarten teacher smiles and says to me, “Since you’re staying in South Tampa, you may have noticed your shit doesn’t stink.”

At least on the surface, there’s lots of well-to-do people in South Tampa, Derek Jeter among them. I work out at a swanky athletic club with unlimited shaving cream, razors, shampoo, towels, mouthwash, and q-tips. The car of choice appears to be a Lexus, Porsche, or BMW.

Walking into the club Monday morning I overheard (remember I’m eavesdropping on you) a woman in tennis whites tell her friends, “I don’t get down here (Tampa) very often, but for tax purposes it’s where they think I live. It’s the only address I have.”

No one chats me up (maybe because I look like death warmed over having just run in the Dante’s Inferno that is Tampa’s August weather). Are wealthy people less friendly?

In the four lane pool, one is marked “open swim” and three “lap swimming”. I’m the only one lap swimming, but that doesn’t keep a few of the four kids playing in the pool from jumping into my lane two and a half times while their parents silently watch. What the hell? They leave with their noodles all over the place, but why should that be a surprise when adults walk away from their ellipticals without wiping them down and the showers are strewn with wet towels. Guess that’s what the workers are for.

I confess, I’m a bit conflicted. I like the plushness, the outdoor 25m pool, the carpeted locker room, the showers that stay on all by themselves (at my “Y” you have to punch a knob every minute), and of course the q-tips, but really dislike the general unfriendly/entitled/disconnected vibe.

Yet, I have to guard against painting with too broad a brush. My mom is a member and she is extremely friendly, appreciative of everything she has, and socially aware. I’m sure there’s at least one other member like her.