Today I was invited to Auburn University Montgomery. Professor Juanita Barrett asked me to speak to her English composition classes.
When the morning bell rang, I was ready. I even dressed like a legitimate adjunct college professor. By which I mean that I wore a T-shirt, jeans, I removed all money from my wallet, and applied for food stamps.
Before I got to class, something happened. A kid saw me standing outside the English building and said, “HEY! I RECOGNIZE YOU! YOU’RE FAMOUS! CAN I GET MY PICTURE WITH YOU?!”
So we posed for a selfie. Then three more kids wanted pictures, too. It was great. And I started to feel warm all over. It’s not every day teenagers give you this kind of compliment.
Then the kids shouted to their buddies, “COME QUICK! IT’S THE GUY FROM THE MOVIE ‘THE HANGOVER!’”
Well, I get this sometimes. People occasionally mistake me for a famous actor from “The Hangover.” A movie star who has the misfortune of looking like me. His last name is hard to pronounce. I just looked it up on Wikipedia. His name is Zack Galifasgoswsssswer333oiaks.
So giving lectures was fun. The first thing I discovered about college kids is that they do not move their faces. Not even a little.
I don’t like to make generalizations, but this one is true of every teenager ever born in America since the dawn of civilization. They suffer from a condition called Chronic Facial Paralysis.
This is your college kid’s typical demeanor. They practice this stiff-faced glare in the mirror before each class by not moving a single cheek muscle for hours on end. It’s an expression which lies somewhere between moderately annoyed, and severely constipated.
After I gave a short speech, I took questions. I was met with more unmoving faces. The kids had a difficult time coming up with actual questions. So what ended up happening was, one kind hearted student took a bullet for the team and invented a string of basic questions designed to Eat Up Class Time.
To this student’s credit, his questions were insightful, provocative, and demonstrated a real interest in my work. He asked things like, “Do you know if the vending machine accepts quarters?” And, “Hey, I need to go to the bathroom.” Which is not technically an interrogative sentence, but is in fact what many English professors often refer to as: “What the hell am I? Your mother?”
So it wasn’t bad. It was actually stimulating to be in an academic environment. I stood before the whiteboard and delivered my first bona fide lecture. I think I did pretty good. Only six people fell asleep. One kid asked if he could hook up his CPAP machine.
Afterward, I had lunch with the faculty in the teacher’s lounge. Many of these teachers are members of a secret fraternal order of English majors who call themselves the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society (known as the STDs).
These are English nerds to the nth degree. People who really, REALLY like to write. People who write 50,000 words on weekends just for fun. People who, when they were in third grade, were writing mini-novels with crayons.
You might have written mini-novels at that age, too, but these people were writing about the decline of the Russian Republic’s Provisional Government.
The STDs were mostly hardworking teachers who wore tired looks on their faces. Several had bags beneath their eyes.
“How’d your classes go?” one teacher asked another.
“The kids didn’t move,” the other said.
“Welcome to hell.”
“No. It’s worse. At least in hell they have a football team.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Bad? If another kid’s phone rings in class, I want you to do me a favor, Matt. I want you to kill me.”
“How do you want it done?”
“Strangle me with your bare hands.”
We ate together and laughed about life. And I really felt like one of the guys. We talked about stuff all teachers talk about such as egg salad, how tired we were, how tired other people were, how tired we were going to be, how tired we were yesterday, gastrointestinal polyps, Iceland, etc.
Next, Professor Barrett and I walked down the school hallway where I met the school mascot, Curtiss the Giant Caffeinated Warhawk. He is orange and black with a huge head and a little beak. He high-fives and dances. He high-fived me and bumped me with his hip. We got our picture together.
“He does that a lot,” one teacher said.
“Yeah,” said another. “It never gets old.”
That evening, I gave a presentation in the auditorium. I played guitar and told a few jokes. They were a very gracious audience. I counted only two CPAP machines.
But to tell you the truth, here’s what made the whole day worth it for me:
I enjoyed meeting the select few students who wanted to be English majors. These are sincere kids, a lot like I was. And they made me smile.
Like the young woman who told me she wanted to write novels. She went on to explain that she loved me, and that she had loved me for a long time. She said it over and over. I was humbled. I almost started to cry.
The girl got her picture made with me. Then, she hugged me hard and said, “Thanks for what you do. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, I really enjoyed you in that movie ‘The Hangover.’”
Thanks for having me, Auburn University Montgomery.