Disunited States of America

I retreated into the bottom of my glass, hiding my reddening face behind a layer of cubed ice and Pepsi. As I take solace in these brief, cold relapses, I realise sooner or later I’m going to have to show my face, and continue the conversation. I rest my glass upon the serviette-cum-coaster, and look around the pizza restaurant. The only other occupied table sits in the opposite corner, a truck-driver catching an early dinner with the early-bird special. The television above shows highlights of the week’s American Football games. I readjust my Pepsi-glass so the logo is facing me as I continue to avoid looking at the man with a grey beard sitting on the opposite side of the table. He smiles and asks whether I still feel like I have crossed a certain student-professor boundary. “Not at all”, I lie. I retreat back into my Pepsi. It is my third glass and the main course has still not arrived. I don’t even like Pepsi.

I think back to the week prior to this meal, where I found myself beckoned aside by the professor after his class. When the remaining students cleared the room, he started a friendly conversation, smiling throughout, and eventually asked, “Do you want to go for Pizza?” “Come again?” I said, in an attempt to convey my surprise at the request. ?”Do…you…want…to…go…for… Pee…tzza?” he said deliberately, misunderstanding my hint for an ineptitude in my mother tongue. I resolved to make a more obvious attempt to show that this is not the kind of request I am used to receiving, particularly from someone who has seen the hair ratio shift from the top their head to their chin a long time ago. “Don’t you think that will be crossing some kind of…boundary?” The smile dropped from his face as he adopted a stern look that I had not seen reside there before. He said quite defiantly, “I don’t think so”. Maybe, I thought, in America this kind of extra-curricular activity isn’t unusual, it might even be normal. Worst-case scenario, my grades will improve.

During the meal, he told me of the castle he lives in, the raccoons he raises, and the town which he owns. Without wanting to exaggerate, it may have been the most bizarre and interesting conversation I have shared over a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. His castle is officially one of Illinois’ most haunted locations, apparently. The Pizza was big. The leftovers were bagged by our waitress, Jessica, and we watched in silence as she labelled the brown bags. She dotted her ‘i’s with hearts and added three lines to her ‘o’s to make them peace symbols, which I would have thought was a bit excessive were she not so attractive. I wondered whether she thought I was sharing the early-bird special with my dad, my professor, or worse. He insisted upon paying, I only protested out of politeness. He dropped the tip and followed it under the table so quickly I was convinced it was the same motion. The quiet mumble of sports commentary on the television suddenly erupted into a painfully loud static, which filled the room. In the following week, during the ridicule I received from some friends, I decided, yes, this extra-curricular activity may be frowned upon in social and academic circles in both England and America; perhaps even infringe some kind of law. Nevertheless, I found myself defending this meeting and my professor, albeit in a wife-that-defends-the-husband-which-abuses-her kind of way. I was surprised by this sudden loyalty to him; I argued, in hindsight it may have been odd circumstances but after the initial awkwardness and hesitation, it was like any other exchange of interesting experiences. I thought, perhaps there are more interesting things to learn from teachers than solely what they teach. I’m not suggesting every student dine with their teachers every Tuesday, but I suppose it took me this to realise that, like Transformers, sometimes there is more to teachers than meets the eye.

He has invited the class to visit his castle this weekend. I have politely declined the invitation.

Mark Lautman


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