Professor Pretentious routinely posed impossible-to-answer questions and scoured the room for a response. When no one raised their hand, his pasty face and piercing blue eyes always landed on me.
“Miss (maiden name),” he’d say in his intimidating Bostonian accent.
I’d stammer something unintelligible, and he’d sneer, “It’s quite obvious, my dear, that you didn’t do the reading.”
But I did do the reading. I just didn’t understand King Lear.
I was a kid from Brooklyn. “A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats” was as foreign to me as “Yo, ya mothah wears army boots” is to a Zulu chief.
As the weeks passed, I became afraid to go to class. One day, minutes before my seminar was about to begin, I sprang from my seat and headed for the stairwell. I didn’t understand the assigned passages, and I was about to be shamed, dishonored and disgraced in front of my peers.
Running out of Van Meter Hall, who should I encounter but Professor Pretentious himself?
“And where are you going?” he asked.
My mind raced for an answer, and before I could let my brain catch up with my 19-year-old mouth, the words flew out:
“For a CT scan,” I said. “They think I have a brain tumor.”
At the time, I thought something outrageous might actually be more plausible than a fake hack. But 30 years later, I wonder if I didn’t create some bad karma that’s come back to bite me in my well-padded butt.
In the years since that Shakespeare class, I’ve had an emergency C-section, bunion surgery, spinal meningitis, laser surgery on my cervix, chronic plantar fasciitis, vertigo, infertility, hair loss and a 17-year bout of incurable athlete’s foot (thank God for oral antifungals).
There was a fender bender that gave me a neck injury … the freak volleyball accident where I served, jumped onto the court and sunk into a mole hole, snapping my ACL … the year as a teacher without a classroom, pushing a cart full of heavy books that caused a hernia … and last February, I signed a six-month contract with Orange Theory Fitness and got injured doing my first burpee. The diagnosis? Patella femoral syndrome – improper tracking of the knees. The treatment? Four more months of physical therapy. With two knee surgeries, whiplash and sciatica under my belt, if they had frequent flyer cards for wall squats, I’d have earned a trip to Maui by now.
Months of limping threw out my lower back, which aggravated the pinched nerves in my neck, which caused shooting pains down my arm, which triggered carpal tunnel pain up my arm … and I haven’t even gotten to the recurring cases of walking pnemonia, pre-menstrual axe murderer mood swings or kill-me-now food poisoning from a rotton shrimp.
And let’s not forget the bat mitzvah where the band launched into Kool & the Gang’s, Celebration and — pulling out my old Saturday Night Fever moves — I threw out a hip with an overly-zealous Travoltanian thrust, leaving me to be carted out of the country club in a wheelchair.
And I’m 50; it can only get worse.
I think about young people staying up all night, piercing body parts that should never see the light of day, risking hepatitis on skull tattoos with Hello Kitty bows, and putting holes in their ears large enough to accommodate a pickle. And I remember being young and unconcerned. But you get older. Your friends start having gall bladder attacks and kidney stones. Suddenly, you switch to Egg Beaters and shoes that look like a pump, but feel like a sneaker … and the next thing you know, you’re sitting in your paper robe with the Glad Wrap tie, holding a prescription for Lipitor and wondering what the hell happened.
I’m telling you, that tumor lie haunts me like a 200-mile drive after a bad chimichanga.
So how, pray tell, do I undo the karma? Can I hold a séance to resurrect the spirit of Professor Pretentious, so I can fess up and find out to whom he willed the voodoo doll with my picture on it?”
Should I fill my pockets with four leaf clovers, crickets, rabbit’s feet, crystals, horseshoes, wishbones and white elephant amulets?
One Web site suggests I carry a certain piece of a male walrus’s anatomy. Do they stock those at Target?
Can Kay Jewelers craft a setting?
“Oh what a tangled web we weave …”