birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


I hadn't finished the book, but I had been chosen for the panel, and the day had arrived. I wore my most professionally suitable attire and washed my hair. I spent the walk to my school's International House reviewing the chapters I'd read and skimming over the chapter headings for the remaining ones. I had a pretty good idea about what happened. I can put two and two together.

The room was packed out when I arrived, and I sat on the panel with professors from different states and fellow students from other student organizations. We were a unified socialist front--African American Student Association, Asian American Student Association, Latino Student Association. The Cuban Revolution was all inclusive, with a few notably gay exceptions. But that wasn't the point of this talk. This talk was about solidarity, about Chinese Cubans, about blackness, the proletariat rising, unification.

The faces in the audience savored every socialist word, and the room was crammed with labor union representatives, iron workers, coal workers, steel workers. A month prior I'd met with the local socialist party. As a college student, they said I could never understand how it was to be a laborer, I could never understand the struggle. But how cute was I to support them? You don't have much to contribute, but academia could be a stauncher ally. They asked me to do the panel.

The prominent professor at the opposite end of the panel approached me afterward. "You were phenomenal," he exclaimed. "What year are you? Ever think of going to graduate school for history?" I hadn't. "Here's my card. Let's exchange numbers to stay in touch. If you're interested in research, I can help support you." I only had my dorm phone number, but didn't see that he'd ever have use for it, so gave it to him anyway. We both moved on to congratulate our other fellow panelists and the audience members who had organized the event.

Later, when my dorm phone rang, I expected it to be the guy I'd been hanging out with a lot lately. The one who, two grades ahead of me, had gone to my high school and now said he always thought I was super cool and hot, even way back then. I'm sure he never knew my name or that I existed in high school, but his effort at backpedaling massaged my self-esteem.

But it wasn't him anyway. It was the professor. Let's call him Derrick. His name didn't seem to fit him, Derrick. The only Derricks I knew were scrawny black boys who liked to touch my butt and run away on the way home from the bus stop. Professor Derrick was married, "to a black woman," but I didn't know that then. "I'm only here one night and am in a hotel nearby." My heart jumped. Was this much older, accomplished, Fulbright scholar, surely tenured man inviting acne-riddled, sophomore virgin me to his hotel room?

Already I had forgotten his somewhat squat, pudgy form, and slightly balding head of hair. Flattered beyond belief, and maybe just a little bit curious--was I worthy of a PhD in history--am I the kind of person that can leave that kind of impression on someone? "I-I don't have a car..." I stammered, not even sure I would go if I did. I think I hoped that would be the end of it. "I just want to talk. I want to hear more of your ideas about Marxism. You made a lot of great points at today's event. And I'll get you a taxi. Where's your dorm?"

I seemed to be in autopilot. Even today I can't say whether I remember the taxi ride except that I was permanently red for the insinuation. Here I was a 19-almost-20 year old taking a taxi to a hotel down the road. Somehow I made it to the hotel room.

He didn't just want to talk, but he did a lot of talking as he pushed his face into my hair. "What was I doing to him? He was married, what power did I have over him?" He let me leave when I asked him to. "I-I have a boyfriend. I thought you just wanted to talk."

"Please," he whined, singing my name. "Please."

"I can't. And you're married." He had told me, "in full disclosure," so we didn't have any secrets between us.

He called and payed for the return taxi. I made it out a little shaken and confused but unscathed.

He still teaches at the same university, still gives talks on Marxist theory and takes study abroad groups to Cuba. He certainly opened my eyes to a few new theories. I certainly never mistakenly deified a professor again after that.


Faking It on Skis