Suppose you came to hear about the day Dr. Wu made himself a victim in the classroom. Not too long ago after his wife had left him, taking with her their only daughter for a job in the Catskills. Beach bronzer smeared along the pale circle where the wedding ring once protected the artery to Wu’s heart. Foreigners appear schizophrenic. Dr. Wu’s hard drive on his computer had broken and everything inside was lost. Might have thought a guy like Wu could recover everything, but he couldn’t. He smashed the computer instead. On the pavement behind Galilee rock’n a deerslayer hat, Wu smashed his computer and lost everything inside it forever. Wu just freaking the hell out and smashing a computer and going off in, I think, Mandarin. Wu in this deerslayer hat, just slamming his computer into the pavement over and over like a dusty magic carpet. Long, deliberate whacks into the pavement. To say why Dr. Wu was shaken up, who knows? No one could really understand him, not his colleagues, not his neighbors, certainly not his students. On evaluations students described a teacher they couldn’t understand. Wu dropping Chinese idioms about food and no one else shaking with laughter but Wu. Wu snorting. Wu chewing the air, chomping. Wu playing stand-up to empty chairs. Wu rock’n that deerslayer hat. Perhaps Wu flirting, perhaps not. Wu only staring at a girl’s heart. Students videoing Wu doing karaoke at Jackie’s. Perhaps holding their phones out in front like a crucifix, as it might look to one seeking to exercise Wu. Wu telling anecdotes about his cat Jeff. Wu looking painfully confused at punk ass American students who looked back at Wu like he was Mandarin. Wu going on about the Doppler Effect. Perhaps he began to loathe his students like a Wal-Mart greeter loathes customers after Christmas. Some sketch narratives on Rate My Professor don’t tell the whole story. He visited the steam room in his underwear and black dress socks. Wu told me in the steam room what he was working on. Wu was excited, choosing his English carefully, parting steam with his small hands. Wu like a breast stroker. Wu speaking with a stutter like Moses. Dr. Wu, I heard him, said he was doing something groundbreaking, said he’d observed Dark Matter, said he was writing a paper, said he would be famous soon. Exiting with soaked tighty whities sagging like a child’s diaper. Oh Dr. Wu what kind of rodent was in your attic making noise? Zodiac rat chewing on copper wiring. They tried to convert Wu at Calvary Baptist until they discovered he wasn’t Korean. Wu hated acupuncture. Wu in his deerslayer hat on gameday at the Houndstooth, a shaker in each fist, getting numb on fireball. Imagine there were jokes behind the teacher’s back. Imitations of educators are student charades. But did they see it coming? Wu some specter of campus violence, but this time turned on itself to make a show. The counseling center is open for anyone who needs its services. Was there a paramour in there, in Wu’s dome? Always is one in every class. Her name? Marlee. Wu singing the ghost electric in the lecture hall. Wu crowning himself with laurels as Marlee paints him a pedicure. Everyone thought it was a joke, so they laughed when they saw the gun, a Ruger. Wu caged in his living room. His life a zoo when the vertical blinds were parted by the electric movements of Wu’s cat Jeff. The cosmic system of our earth. The half-digested wolf inside the python. Kids today see too much. This happened the week after spring break when the weed really hits the fan. Willows of breath blanched with vitamin D and post-game voices on the week after the vernal pause. I mean, what the fuck? The days of time change. Does the foreign ghost return home or does he stay and haunt his adopted land forever?
Scott McWaters has been teaching in the English Department at the University of Alabama since 2002. This piece is from a recently completed manuscript, Tuskaloosa Kills, co-authored with fellow teacher Abraham Smith. Their book contains lyrical ballads about living, teaching, and growing a little older in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.