I’ve had my share of peculiar teachers; Professor Gonzalez who strapped a biper to a cord and ran like crazy through the classroom to exemplify what the Doppler Effect was; Mrs. Corujo who intentionally bumped her head in the wall when a student confused a quadratic with a derivate; but somehow Cal got imprinted on my memory.
During our internship at the States we signed up for Database Design oblivious it was a graduate Course. In a room filled with 250 alumni we were expected to blend and go unnoticed, except, we were the only 3 Mexicans… and we were the youngest… and we were girls; 85% of the class population were men.
Surprisingly enough we excelled the course. Cal was a remarkable teacher: funny, engaging and an expert on the subject; his two special traits: an insanely wide horse grin he had no shame in showing off and the other: he wore a different Hawaiian shirt every class, which was imparted 2 times a week. I never saw him repeating a single shirt… that’s a lot of Hawaiian shirts.
Cal was explaining a sample exercise for our 1st term preparation when he asked the class a tricky question; he had his face turned to the projector. A few ventured a Hail Mary, they were mistaken. The answer began to bubble in my lips, without giving further thought I blurted it out loud. “Who said that?”He asked… I kept quiet cursing the moment in which I opened my mouth. “Who said that?” he repeated in a louder demanding tone. “I… I did” a bashfully murmured. He then faced us literally jumping and clapping in excitement, the palm trees in his shirts accompanying his dance as he yelled: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and then pointing at me: “Don’t you ever second guess yourself. You were right!” and finalized with a “Muchas gracias” in an awfully pronounced Spanish. 250 pair of eyes were fixated in me, I went from feeling blushed to turn burgundy. It was my glory moment as a foreign student.
One week before our 1st Term Cal got sick, he was absent for a week. We entered the classroom quite surprised he wasn’t already there. Brian, the TA, sat on the desk and simply said: “I will fill for Cal this week, he’s sick.” Everyone started applauding and laughing. Brian was wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt.
I was half-asleep riding the bus to Cal’s class when a murmur behind me shook me from my daydreaming “Did you hear about the plane that just crashed one of the Twin Towers?” With that thought lingering I followed the path to the Auditorium; the same gloomy murmurs could be heard everywhere “Plane crashed… maybe an accident… in New York”.
By the time the 250 of us were seated, the second Tower had been already hit. Cal came out and I barely recognized him. His face seemed overcast with worry; his equine smile was gone. He had to deliver the news: the Nation was under attack. He urged us all back to our dorms and apartments until further notice, he advised us foreign students to seek counsel if needed; the school was shut down for the day.
As the hums and mumbling turned into loud speaking; and the first grim stares into the Arabic students took place; I stood in perplexity with the books under my arm trying to reflect on what this would mean for this Country and how would this day be remembered.
I was leaving the almost deserted classroom and I turned to Cal, who was still talking to his two TAs, he offered me a feeble smile and I had almost failed to notice: he was wearing no Hawaiian t-shirt that Tuesday.
Loren Seldner is a freelance writer living in a beach town in Northern Mexico.