Education, Famous Commn People

Famous Common People I Have Seen, The Greek Perfesser

I went to my state university 1964-1968, having to work my way through school, with no car, and a part-time wage of $2.40/hr at a book store, where I worked 30 hours-a-week, for 4 years. In those days our state universities required what they called a core curricula for every student, so that even engineers, pre-Med students, were required to satisfy their bachelors requirements by taking courses in American History or Government and the Humanities so that they would be able to receive their degree as “whole men and women”, rather than univision “geeks”, although that term was not around at the time.

I majored in history and political science, and would select entire course studies because of a book I’d read or a film I’d seen. I saw “Lawrence of Arabia” ending up with a minor in Middle Eastern studies, stopping short of a major because I couldn’t endure studying Arabic after two semesters of Japanese to satisfy my core curricula language requirements. Then I saw “Dr Zhivago” and got another minor in Russian and East European studies, learning a lot about Marx, Lenin and that bunch. Little did I know how much they’d help in later years, first living in Japan, then working around the Middle East and Soviet Bloc for nearly 30 years. I didn’t never dreamed things would turn out that way.

But I also had to select a Humanities course, and of course, I selected one based on a film I had seen at a theater in Lexington, “Never on Sunday”, in Greek with English subtitles. I saw this film because of the theme song and my first introduction to Greek music and dancing, even before I saw “Zorba”. The star was Melina Mercouri, who played a Greek prostitute who never took clients on Sunday, which was her day of rest. On Sunday she went to Athens’ open-air theatre to watch Greek plays. It was there that moviegoers knew she had a soul of gold heart, and almost a decade later I would develop a soft spot in my heart for the world’s oldest profession. (She resembled my Aunt Betty.)

(Melina was also a strong Marxist and after the colonels threw down the Greek government in 1967, she became an international ambassador against the junta, was stripped of her citizenship, then became Minister of Culture of Greece in 1981 after the military junta had been thrown down. I always liked her, although her political side has made Greece a basket-case.

But because of her performance in this film, for my Humanities requirement I selected Greek Plays; Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristophane, since one of their plays, about Greek wives, was portrayed in a scene of Mercouri’s film.

So I signed up for this course, and showed up to the classroom, which held about 40 students and plopped myself down on a front row seat in front of the professor’s desk. Then a student assistant came up and told me the front row had been reserved and I’d have to move. So I moved to the rear.

All settled in, then in came this tall, bulky, white-haired man in a tweed jacket, very pompous looking, who looked a little like John Houseman from the “The Paper Chase”, a law-school TV series from the late 70s.

And I recognized him immediately, for two years earlier he had preached, yes, “preached”, well, sort of, at my church, nestled away at the foot of Black Mountain along the Virginia state line. He was the unforgettable “event” of the month in our town, mostly because of his grand entrance, his manner of dress, and his way of speaking. in a sermon where he barely said a single word in English.

Instead of the normal organ music that started Methodist services in that mountain church, we were awakened and stood to a loud English organ piece, as in strode this very same man, only dressed like an Oxford don, in black and red, flowing robe, and some silly hat on his head.

 He mounted the pulpit, removed his cap, then gave some long recitation in Latin. My mother wasn’t the least bit impressed, as it was all just a bit too papish for her. And none of the things you would normally see on the church bulletin never happened. He introduced himself as a visiting professor from the main campus at our nearby community college, which is where the home university encouraged all the rural regions to send their graduates for the first two years, to learn a little real culture before coming to the main campus.) He read a scripted sermon which sounded 18th century or earlier, then something in Greek (I think), then abruptly the congregation stood, the organ piped up, we sang the Doxology and he marched out. I can’t recall if there was even a passing of the plate. I just know, it pleased my dad especially, since he was in and out in under 45 minutes.

And here he was, the Perfessor, teaching a class on the Greek tragedians, and guess what else—He was the Head of the Humanities Department.

Interestingly it was one of the few required courses I actually enjoyed, in part because I had the visuals already planted in my mind, thanks to “Never on Sunday”.  But not from anything the Perfessor said, for he sat at his desk, and simply “read his lesson”, just as an Oxford don would do. It would be many years before I’d learn that’s how it was done at Oxford.

There was no back-and-forth with any of the students, and I didn’t interact with them either…only to note that front row, where I’d been banned from sitting, was always occupied by eight or nine pretty co-eds.

Probably sorority girls, I guessed.

I say “sorority girls” because that was 1966, and almost all females wore skirts and blouses everywhere on campus. No slacks even. Blue jeans wouldn’t become vogue for a couple of more years, once the hippies invaded and dressing down became fashionable. Girls may have worn more casual attire after hours or on weekends, only, since I rented a room in a boarding house and walked everywhere, I rarely went anywhere co-eds were likely to go after hours.

But I worked in the largest book store in the state, owned by a man who, like my father and father-in-law, had come back from the war and used his GI Bill to build what, in 20 years, had become a chain of college book stores in the South. And he hired the prettiest girls he could find to do the cash registers (most of whom needed the money) and sorority girls to work the front counter, most of whom didn’t need the money. They were from up north, Massachusetts or New Jersey, and all were pretty, graceful, and polite, and belonged to a sorority. And by the day to day foot traffic with the other students who came in, you could tell they were sorority girls mostly by the way(s) they coiffed their hair.

That was why I assumed those girls in the reserved seats in my classroom were sorority girls, only it would be two years before I’d learn the rest of the story.

I think we had three or four quizzes, and on all, I got B’s. And the final was a compilation of previous tests, so I thought “a breeze” but when I went to the office  to see my grade posted, it was a “C”. I went inside to complain, but of course, Perfesser had already gone for the summer. Be back in the Fall. And in the Fall I started grousing to upper class sorority girls behind the counter at the book store.

“Oh, you took one of His classes.” 

“Here’s the deal”, they told me: The Perfesser likes pretty girls, and we hear (I think she was Tri Delt) that he’s made arrangements with some connected frat guys to recruit pretty girls for some of his throwaway classes where he had to teach underclassmen. He was an upper-division professor.”

She said, “I think it was a up-skirt thing.”….which had absolutely no meaning to me until I went to Japan in ’72, where it was a voyeur’s paradise, especially on stairwells.

I just know that the eight girls who attended that class got all but two of the A’s and B’s. And I’m guessing the B’s went to the girls that wore underwear.

Post-script, in law school I heard that Perfesser had been quietly retired.


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