When I’m out on the street—not so often these days—I’m sometimes accosted with strange questions. This has happened to me quite a few times over the years. Recently, when I was taking the recycling out for my daughter on a weekend visit, I saw a couple guys in a car right by the receptacle. I was wearing a mask, due to, you know, Covid, so I wanted to keep social distance. The one in the driver’s seat asked if I was going to dump the recycling and when I said I was his partner said “I’ll take care of that for you.” They had a plastic bag full of cans and were loading glass bottles in their trunk. I thanked them for their help and turned to go. As I was walking away one of them called out.
“Hey! Are you a teacher?” I get asked that a lot. Only the academy refuses to recognize it. I acknowledged that I used to be. “What level?” they asked. I allowed as I used to be a college professor. “Where?” I told them most recently at Rutgers. “What’d you teach?” This is where it always gets interesting and I start to sweat a little. I told them religious studies. I also said that’s why I couldn’t find a teaching job. “The best information we ever had on religion came from a six-year old. You know what the F in faith stands for?” I shook my head. “Forgiveness. Without that the rest of religion means nothing.” I told them I could accept that.
Then as I was turning to go they called out, “You know the acronym for Love? Living our values every day.” I told them they were now the teachers and I was the student. They responded by telling me that they’d just sold a song they co-wrote for a million and a half dollars. I expressed surprise at that. They told me the title and said it was recording in Nashville this week. I congratulated them and finally was able to be on my way. This made me reflect on the several such strange conversations I’ve had on the street. They often begin with “Are you” and not infrequently end with “a professor.” This is usually followed up with some kind of intelligent question. People, it seems to me, are eager to learn. Maybe not in the classroom, but in what is referred to as the “university of life.” Perhaps that’s all the schooling we ever really need.