Sunday, September 2, 2018

Leaving Las Vegas

[I remembered this story the other day and thought it worth sharing here. I’ve reconstructed the dialogue. But every word is true.]

I was teaching an intro lit course in the fall, the usual twenty or so students. In the fourth week of the semester, someone new showed up. I remembered a name from the roster and asked, “Are you         ?” I asked to talk to him after class.

“It’s the fourth week of the semester,” I said, or words to that effect. “How come you haven’t been to class?” I could not have imagined what I was about to hear.

“I was in Las Vegas.”

“What were you doing in Las Vegas?”

“I was going to school.”

“But you were registered here, for this class. Have you missed all your classes here?”

“No, just this one.”

“So you’ve been going to your other classes? Why haven’t you come to this class?”

“I told you — I was in Las Vegas!”

I hadn’t yet read Infinite Jest. If I had, I would have registered the David Foster Wallace sign of baffled silence: “...”

I gave the student a syllabus and all materials that had gone out in class. He had already missed two writing assignments. An in-class writing assignment was scheduled for the next class meeting, which meant that he had to read quite a bit, right away.

As I soon learned, there was some truth to “I was in Las Vegas.” The student had transferred after attending a school in Las Vegas the previous academic year. So he had, at some point, been in Las Vegas. An athletics adviser (yes, the student was an athlete) called to assure me that he would be making up all his assignments promptly. The student must have alerted her to his sudden, unexpected difficulties. I had to alert her to the course policy: “Late writing is acceptable only if you have my approval in advance.”

As I recall, the student disappeared from the class not long after his first appearance. He never dropped, perhaps so that he could hold on to enough credit hours to remain a full-time student. I wish I could have asked him what it had been like going to school in Las Vegas.

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