So there I was, sitting at my terminal at the Atlanta airport, minding my own business. At that particular moment, the business I was minding was twofold: I was waiting to board a plane to Little Rock, and I was writing comments on a 32-page essay about Shakespeare. Grading papers like that in public is the kind of thing that English teachers love to do. Like podiatrists who wear their stethoscopes out of the office, we secretly hope that someone will walk by, glance at the erudite activity and be impressed.
No such person walked by. Even as I conspicuously turned pages and audibly murmured approval of each learned footnote. Or as I exaggerated my usual furrowed brow to indicate rigorous concentration. Or as I noisily capped and uncapped my Pilot Precise V7 Fine Blue pen to inscribe comments in the margins. But not a single passerby stopped to admire the work of higher education. I started to realize how the first cell phone users must have felt when people ignored their loud conversations in public.
And then I saw her. She barely registered in my peripheral vision at first, but as she came closer, I risked a glance in her general direction. Unbelievably, she was walking straight toward me. I was not sitting in front of a boarding platform or a concession stand or even a trash can, so there was no mistaking it. She was coming over. To me. On purpose. After all those pathetic years of professional showing off at the airport, I and my scholarly work were finally attracting the type of attention we deserved.
That’s when she brandished a green crayon and started to color all over page 11 of my student’s essay.
As it turns out, the toddler with a pink bow in her hair was interested in neither Shakespeare nor “The Tempest.” She had not waddled over to genuflect in the presence of academia. Instead, she was a one-person flash mob — scribbling performance art in front of a surprised member of the public. Perhaps the little girl was merely responding to a stimulus that she recognized, thinking, “Here is paper — what doth hinder me to color?” Mercifully she used a green crayon, as I have told you before that red is traumatizing to college kids.
Before the little scribe could finish illuminating my student’s manuscript, a horrified mother scooped her up, green crayon and all. “I am so sorry,” she said. I thought the mother might glance down at the 32-page essay and be hit with a further wave of guilt mixed with admiration to see that her infant had interrupted an Associate Professor in the midst of the Great Exchange of Knowledge. But no such luck.
I kept fishing for recognition and said, “Oh, that’s OK. She was just helping me grade an essay.” I thought the remark was witty and gracious, the kind of indulgent banter from strangers that parents live for. And, incidentally, it was subtly designed to solicit the proper response, which was, “Oh, are you a teacher?” Followed by some faint indication of awe.
Instead, nothing. As she walked away, the kid dangling precariously off one hip, I glanced down at the paper, trying to identify the specific artistic style of the green Crayola markings my new friend had left behind. Certainly late Modernism, I assumed, but I couldn’t decide between Spanish Expressionist Cubism and Abstract French Dadaism. But then again, sometimes a squiggle is just a squiggle. Pardon me, I mean “an interweaving curvilinear form.”
Nothing else happened of interest during the wait for my flight, except when the Delta agent seemed to call over forty different classes of people who had boarding priority ahead of those of us in Zone Three. The Diamond Medallion members, the Sky Priority members, the Premium Gold Card members, those needing special help with seating, those in First Class, members of European royalty, Saudi princes, people who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and so on. All of them seemed to merit boarding ahead of me.
So my delusions of grandeur about being an esteemed academic ended at Gate A15, where I watched as my new grading assistant hobbled onto the boarding ramp — crayon in hand — along with all the other scions of high society in Zone One. I couldn’t help but think it was a good thing that all the safety brochures on the plane were laminated.