Monday, November 09, 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today


I walked into the second section of my U.S. History survey (1865 to the present, don'tcha know) at Baruch College on November 9, 1989. I taught two sections in a row for $2,000 each which, with the $5,000 I made from the New School, and an occasional donation from my new girlfriend was enough money to live on for a semester. And I was hoping to God that I would get one of the jobs I had applied for.

I didn't get the big tenure-track job (note to my public: the Tenured Radical has the distinction of losing more jobs to more interesting and highly successful people than anyone else I know.) I did get the one-year job, which was actually supposed to be a three year job, which catapulted me into my current post with Zenith University. But that's another story for another day.

So I was standing at the lectern in the second section of my U.S. History survey that night after completing my normal routine, which was to work all day on my lecture, teach the first class, fix whatever went wrong in the twenty minutes between classes, and do it all over again for the next shift. And I was shuffling my notes around, for a class on the origins of the Cold War, no shit! when a student walked in and said, "They are tearing the Wall down in Berlin."

I said, "Huh?" Thinking to myself, That can't be happening, because the Cold war has been going on my whole life, and no one ever said it could stop. (Of course, I didn't know that sooner, rather than later, there would be a War on Terror because if this shit ever stopped, what would the arms manufacturers do.)

So my student answered, "Yes, right now, there's a whole mob of people in Berlin tearing the Wall down."

Needless to say, the class I taught for the second shift was substantially different. I took the bus across town an hour and a half later to our apartment in Chelsea, and watched the mobs at the Wall while we ate Chinese food. But before I settled down I clicked on our answering machine and my friend Andrew, who was living in Paris, and was (is) a man of great enthusiasms was shouting: "The Wall is coming down! We are all catching a train to Berlin to go watch!"

And I thought to myself, What am I doing teaching history when I should be in Berlin right now?

5 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Cool-ass story!!

Me, PhD said...

I haven't posted my Berlin story, as of yet. Why? Heh, I was a wanna be punk in middle school, or some such.

I think yours is better than my tale of getting kicked out of class with the best for laughing (I think).

Awesome.

grumpyabdadjunct said...

Hilarious! Like your friend I was in Europe, in Greece. I'd just been to Berlin (I must've been one of the last people to go through Check Point Charlie) and when I heard the news I was tempted to go back. But Greece was warmer, and had cheap wine, and I was a callow youth....

cliotropic said...

Thanks for the reminder that everyone with tenure was once a junior faculty member. :)

Anonymous said...

Relevant: Slavoj Zizek had an awesome, intriguing op-ed in the NYT yesterday (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/09/opinion/09zizek.html) about the perhaps less-than-radical changes wrought by the collapse.

Less Relevant: Graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are on the verge of striking (http://preview.tinyurl.com/yeymv78). Thought you might be interested.