This dreary, bleak, depressing façade took me back fifty years to an English class at The Rayen School.
The teacher, Mr. Wilson, had crystalline blue eyes, a shock of white hair standing straight up from his scalp, and a beer belly that strained the buttons of his drum-tight Oxford shirt.
The assignment was Poe’s Ulalume.
Despite Wilson’s bored monotone in reciting the lines, and his obvious hatred of us and the school that had kept him in chains for 30 miserable years, I felt a great surge of emotion at these lines:
Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere-
Our memories were treacherous and sere-
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year-
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
I raised my hand, and waved until I caught Wilson’s attention. Excited, I intended to say that this Poe fellow has to be a genius because while I don’t happen to know what palsied and sere mean, the overall gloom and dread of the poem makes them understandable, and, and, and…..
“What’s your problem?” Wilson sneered.
He couldn’t imagine that a student would actually have something positive to say about the subject material, which invariably bored everyone. Like Marty Rodginski over there in the back row, his head down on his desktop, brazenly sleeping. Or Suzie Mellon staring out the window.
“Forget it,” I said.
He gave me a hard stare, then resumed his monotone recitation.
Five years later I was home on leave from the Air Force and I went into the Avalon bar, and I saw Wilson sitting on a stool, knocking back a double shot of Jim Beam. I sat next to him. He called to the bartender for a refill. I asked for a bottle of Schlitz.
We sat silently for what seemed a long time. Finally I said, “Do you remember me? I was in one of your English classes in 1957.”
He turned, studied my face. “No, can’t say that I do.”
And that was it, the extent of our conversation. The old guy wasn’t at all interested in any trips down memory lane. He wasn’t interested in anything.
I finished my beer, and left. Didn’t bother to say goodbye.