ON THE WAY TO CLASS
“Oh man, you listen to this radio station?”
105.5 stood out in white letters on the blue monitor. HOT 105.5: nonstop hip-hop and R&B everywhere.
“This is like, all I listen to,” I said.
My professor laughed. I felt the atmosphere ease up. She taught the online course on games and emotions and me, being the genius I am and having totaled my car, was lucky enough to hitch a ride from the professor. “The other day I had to take this car into the shop, to get that right tire fixed. I pulled up and turned down the volume…” She mimed the action of turning the dial. I felt like I had got the nod of approval from a lioness. I told her about the time a guy rolled up in his car all cool and smooth, blasting tango music.
“I’m cutting carbs from my diet. Gained too much recently,” she said while shaking her head.
The way she accelerated her Mercedes Benz was slightly life-threatening.
“That must be rough.”
“Not really! Bread? That was easy for me to cut out, I didn’t eat it much before anyway…”
My hand grazed over my seat belt that gave a minimal sense of security.
“And noodles? I don’t really eat that either.”
That’s a shame, I thought.
“But you know what I do like… popcorn!”
“Yes, yes,” she repeated excitedly.
She liked them drenched in butter and popped fresh, which she often did at home. Good popcorn has– “Substance?” I chimed in.
“Yes, substance. And–” microwave ones usually just taste like air.
“I also like Garrett’s and the Chicago mix,” she said.
Her eyes peered over at me a few times more than I would’ve liked her to have– I’d rather her keep her eye on the road. And as if I was translucent, she continued, “Do you know what that is?”
Maybe it’s like puppy chow. Trail mix. Pretzels and M&M’s.
“I have no idea.”
“What! You don’t know Garrett’s! Where have you been all this time! Oh right, living in this town…” she trailed off jokingly. Garrett’s a huge popcorn brand in Chicago that has a signature mix of caramel and cheese topping.
“Wait… caramel and cheese? like together?”
“Like… hot Cheetos kinda?”
“Well, kind of.”
“But they’re kind of artificial.”
We overlapped each over on artificial. During class, she gave a mini-lecture on empathy. She explained how a student and professor should communicate and try to understand each others’ situation rather than blame the teacher for everything. Of course, the teacher would do the same. We all felt that she was directing the sermon at one student who vanished in the middle of the course, and just now appeared again to do a make-up presentation. My professor had sharpened her knives and weren’t afraid to use them.
“Like some students have an attitude,” she said while looking directly at that one student.
“I do not!”
The student protested, a mother of at least one son. I didn’t know anything else about her.
“You said some people have an attitude and then turned directly to look at me–” the student said.
“I wasn’t directing it only at you, but the whole class–” she said.
“I mean really, it’s a matter of perspective–”
“I’m just saying some people have an attitude–”
My professor made eye contact with me and gave me the Can You Believe This Girl? eyes. Wow, was this happening? I thought. These two women were so much older than me, it felt like they were galaxies away. I wouldn’t ever dare call out a student so directly– so upfront and fearless.
SENDING ME HOME
“If you don’t mind me asking, did something happen with KESHA?”
“Ooh, KESHA. That girl.”
The professor rolled her eyes.
“She’s been gone half a semester. Half! She missed all that work!”
“Oh, she didn’t tell you or let you know ahead of time?” I said.
“No! Not at all.”
“I see, I see. So did she just suddenly show up or…”
“She’s been gone for half the semester and then e-mails me one day saying her dad was sick. I asked for a doctor’s note but she said she didn’t have it. If her father was truly sick, she could’ve seen the Dean and got a formal excuse for the semester. I just don’t want her to think that she can just get away with it for the course.”
I could see the thoughts scrambling to form in her head. “Not really get away– but she can’t just take this course and think–” She can’t take the course for granted. She can’t take you, professor, for granted.
“I think the procedures are the same for all courses,” I said.
“Right! And she thinks she can just e-mail me with that and get by? That girl…”
We reached a stop light.
“I’m telling you Sherry, I’ve heard it all. Ohhh, you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve heard. You’ll understand it when– the one day you become an instructor.” S
he thinks I’ll be an instructor? Me, teach an entire class? My inner flower nymph blushed and receded into pink petals.
“Some people are ridiculous,” I said.
“Yes! I’ve had a student call me by my first name, but then turn right around to a white male professor– he went right on ahead and called him ‘professor’!”
Both of our eyes widened, the car modestly making its way past bumps on the brick road.
“I wasn’t gonna take that. I let him know how I felt about it. And he told me that he wasn’t even aware he was doing so! Hmm, yeahh… As a woman of color, it’s…”
OUTSIDE MY APARTMENT
“You should take my course next semester!”
“I’ll be on the look out for sure.”
I must’ve looked or sounded insincere, or maybe I just wasn’t good at reading her expression, but she seemed uncertain about my reply. We said our goodbyes and I ran up my apartment’s concrete stairs. I’ve never learned this much about popcorn. Garrett’s are wrapped in a blue and white striped bag. The Chicago mix. I’ll have to try it.