December 5th, 2009
Anxiety Dream of an American University Professor at the End of the Semester

December 2009
Garrett Park, Maryland

I begin my final lecture for the semester — a review of the course, with an eye toward the final exam, an in-class essay scheduled for next week.

I note that instead of Rome Hall 109, I am in Westminster Abbey. In place of a class of thirty young Americans, there’s pew after pew of international tour groups.

I cannot remember the subject of the course.

“Somebody in the front row who brought your syllabus,” I begin, raking the faces of a line of people who look Greek. “Can I take a peek?”

Silence. Some seem angry, glaring at the gorgeous carpet at their feet.

How can I lecture at this enormous podium? I’m lost behind it! Was this English or American lit?

I bounce down the long steps from the podium for a little audience shmoozing… Do some comic patter… “Hey (smile) where are you from?… Nice cathedral they’ve got here…”


“Oh right. I’m so short nobody can see me down here. Wait, I’ll hop back up to the podium. But hey it’s not much better here! I’m so short…”

What the hell was the course about? Assume American…

“What does it mean to be an American? Or – let me back up. What does the word American mean?… When I say the phrase dialectic of enlightenment, what does it make you think of? … If you were writing a final exam for this course, what sort of questions would you choose?…”

The Queen of England enters the room in State Opening of Parliament dress. At first I don’t notice her so I keep talking. “Paradox and promise is what I think of when I think of America. And believe me those themes are implicit in our literature.”

“Shh. It’s the Queen,” says someone behind me.

“Oh. WHOOPS,” I say, exaggeratedly placing my hands over my mouth for comic effect. No one laughs. As the Queen glides in front of me I wave to her.

“You don’t wave to the Queen, idiot,” says the person behind me. “Look what she’s doing.”

Sure enough the Queen is staring at me and laughing with loud haughty contempt.

At this point, I wake up.

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