Monday, March 07, 2005

The Empty Hallway

The hall is empty now. Two doors down used to be the office of my friend, the one-armed Marxist. She was awesome. She used to sit in there and do union stuff. Her walls were covered with red and black soviet-type posters. Her book shelves were full of continental theorists I'd always meant to read. She tried to organize a faculty union here. She was always writing emails to other Marxists. She'd knock on my door and sort of hum my name in a musical question. Or I'd go knock on her door and say, I know you're in there! And she'd open it and let me in. At first her door was always open. Later, she just closed it all the time, and only let her friends in.

When she left she gave me a bunch of her books. They're still taking up one whole chair in my office. I haven't figured out exactly what to do with them.

These days I usually forget what it felt like when she lived on my hallway. Most people close their doors now. A few bedraggled undergraduates sit outside some offices, their faces yellow and lost-looking in the flourescent light. Famous Dean used to walk up and down the corridor in a black t-shirt last semester, looking dazed. He moved his office to the end of the hall when he retired as the Dean. He had it carpeted. Twice. He didn't it like the first time. He has upholstered chairs in there too. I wonder what it must be like to have money to burn like that. I have a rug from Ikea that cost 19 dollars. It is black with white circles. I wish he would pay to have paper towels in the bathrooms. For getting off the chalk dust. That would feel luxurious.

I haven't seen much of him this term. Last semester, though he really did seem, well, out of water. His element. Almost vulnerable. He walked up and down those empty hallways like he had lost something. His face was yellow under the lights. I've served on orals committees with him and we've never spoken to each other. He turned me down for tenure. I must have walked by him many times. He has a steady small gait, and a fixed gaze.

One day he said hello to me. Startled, I said hello back, and stumbled to the safety of my office.

It was very odd.

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