I just read a William F Buckley article decrying the high cost of college. Funny how sometimes reading the opinion pages can “lead to the need” to write my own.
A couple days ago I was in my local gym struggling away on the orbital machine trying to get in a little aerobics. I heard an American voice coming from the guy behind me who had just walked in and was now talking to the counter girl. He was finagling a cheaper student rate out of her while showing some kind of membership card.
“See, now do you believe me? Remember, I was here last January and I told you then that I was a student. …I go to the University of California.”
He got his reduced rate, and me being the nosy bastard that I am, I glanced behind me to catch a look at him. He was Asian, definitely not Filipino, and he was certainly too old to be a student, at least not one deserving of a reduced rate. My interest was piqued.
“Which University of California do you go to?” I tossed over my shoulder to him. He told me. (I won’t say which one here to protect “the guilty,” but lets just say it is north of Monterey.)
He asked what I was doing in these parts and I explained my status as a 27-year military retiree.
“Wow, you can do well living out here, right?” he quizzed me.
“Sure, pretty much anyone drawing a pension over a grand can do at least okay,” I answered without giving him too much info.
We had spoke long enough for me to take a measure of him and I “smelled” “teacher” on his breath. I smirked, vowing to do some more poking around this guy.
Later, finishing a series of stretches and crunches in the aerobics room, I spotted the “student” sitting in the gym café having a power shake. I filled a plastic cup with water from the dispenser and moved in for the kill. I took a seat near him.
“Hey buddy how’s that shake? I asked, trying to break some more ice.
We shook hands and formally introduced each other. I got down to brass tacks. In an offhand manner I said, “You know, I’ve been taking college classes since I joined the service in ’75 and I know almost for certain that you aren’t a student." Bluntly, I pressed him, "You’re a teacher aren’t you?”
He looked down at his hands and shook his head yes. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that and now I’m feeling bad about doing that.”
‘Aha! I KNEW it! Time to move in for the “kill!”’
“Hey man, I’m not going to bust you. After all, you KNOW how this place is—it’s the land of fraud—and YOU’RE just fitting in!” I laughed cruelly at his obvious unease. He was chuckling along with me, but it was forced. I could tell he would love it if I would just go away. But not yet!
“So, what do you teach? What’s your specialty?” I asked, searching for more “ammunition.” Sure enough, he quickly provided it.
“Criminal law and I specialize on how law effects (certain minorities).” (I won’t say what kind of minorities, as it would almost certainly identify him).
He couldn’t look me in the face as he told me that. He was sharp enough to realize that he probably should have lied to me, but too late. Here we have a lawyer, a “shaper of young minds” at that, purposely misleading a business establishment just to save a few pennies. Evidently, lying sometimes to suit one's convenience of the moment is not outside the bounds of propriety for “some” lawyers, at least not this one. Hmmm. Now my bubble has completely burst! Timmmm-ber! ...And there goes the already wobbling lawyer pedestal! (sarcastic grin).
I gave him “a break” and asked him what he thought of the “Scott Peterson Case,” since it took place not far from his neck of the woods. Obviously loving the chance to change the subject, he lambasted Mark Geragos for several minutes and I ended that conversational topic voicing my objections to the death penalty on personal moral grounds. Oops. I mentioned morals and again made him look a little uneasy! Heh heh.
I saw him again yesterday at the gym. I passed him on my out as he was coming in, I’m sure still using his “student card.” We spoke for a few minutes about his profession, the teaching part. I asked him when he was going to be due back in the classroom as Spring Break must surely be coming to an end, and he hesitated once more, much as he did the day before while admitting to his little “slip” of principle.
“...Well, you have to understand how the system works. I only teach one class this semester, so I’m not actually in the classroom all that much...”
I nodded understanding, “No, I KNOW exactly what you mean…”
I told him of an old friend who teaches Psychology at a state school in New Jersey, while his wife teaches at a university in Philadelphia. At the time, I was amazed to learn that neither had to make their long drives to teach any more than twice, and never more than three times a week, all while making ungodly sums of money for doing it.”
“…soooo, I know with complete certainty that you guys are under worked and most certainly WAAYYYY overpaid!” I smiled smugly cocking my head waiting for some kind of comeback or protest-laden retort. Instead, he shrugged and readily agreed with my accusatory shot across his bow.
“Oh, I won’t deny it. I always tell my students that if at all possible get a position in the academic world. ...It’s a hugely profitable scam.” He laughed proudly. I just let him have his moment of self-satisfaction. He may or may not have realized that the smile on my face was not one of admiration. No, I was feeling the just the opposite.
After all, if there’s anyone who knows a "profitable scam” when he sees it, it’s a lawyer, ESPECIALLY a lawyer with classroom tenure—a kind of a “double dipper of scam” if ever there was one.
Any wonder I prefer the company of veterans?