Teaching is an endless two-way exchange between student and instructor. Ideas are exchanged, values are exchanged, world-views are exchanged.
And something else is exchanged as well - if not better - microbes.
And having caught the full brunt of the latest pestilence sweeping the Paul Smith's College campus, I stumbled to the Post Office Pharmacy, hoping Jim Bevilacqua could hook me up with an instant cure. Maybe a packet of Plains o' Giza Mummy Powder or Professor Kreuger's Miracle Serpent Head Oil Elixer. You know - the latest medical science has to offer.
I was sneezing and wheezing, gasping and rasping, and trying to hack up either a lung or a pear-size hairball, and I felt about as good as I looked. But once I got in the store I felt a whole lot better.
For one thing, I had faith in Jim's pharmacological prowess.
For another, there at the counter was my pal Rita Sageman Madden.
The girl who's got everything
I'd say Rita and I go back a long way, but in truth, we go back ALL the way, since I've known her all my life. And beyond knowing her, I've always liked her. Why? Well, I've got a bunch of reasons.
For one, Rita has always been nice to me. I never remember a time she wasn't pleasant and upbeat - even when I was in the midst of my post-adolescent Angry Young Dope phase.
For another, she's got a wealth of stories about all sorts of things, from growing up in Massachusetts, to Saranac Lake in the '50s, and everything else in between and beyond. And it's not only that she has the stories, but she can tell them well, too, with an attention to detail that's picture-perfect.
Third, like me, she's a compulsive mystery reader, so whenever I see her, I get a good recommendation or two (this time, Elizabeth George).
Fourth, Rita is razor-sharp and always has been. I won't say she never misses anything, but if she does, it's because she wants to.
Finally, she's wonderfully outspoken. She's never minced words or held back an opinion. She's one of those refreshing souls about whom there's no ambivalence and with whom you always know where you stand.
I'd like to say she has a great sense of humor, but if you can believe this, she doesn't always laugh at my jests, so the verdict's still out on that one. She is, however, a real sport and a delight to visit with.
A Dope of the cloth
Anyhow, we started chatting as we usually do, about nothing in particular, when she suddenly cast an eagle-eye on my sport coat.
"Hmm," she said, "that's a nice blazer."
"Thanks," I said.
"No," she said. "I mean, it's really attractive."
"Well, it should be," I said. "I paid four bucks for it."
"You didn't," she said.
"I did," I said. "After all, it's a Harris Tweed."
"I know it's a Harris Tweed," she said, as if the only people who wouldn't know are too louche for words. "But where'd you get it for four dollars?"
"Now that you mention it," I said, trying to get her goat, "maybe I paid six bucks for it."
"Fine," she said, "But WHERE did you get it?"
"The Dorsey Street Exchange," I said, "where I do a lot of my high-end shopping."
Our conversation was put on hold as Jim handed over my meds. All the while, Rita was looking my jacket up and down. Then she spoke.
"Well, it's a fine-looking coat," she said.
And then, in a move so swift and slick it would've blown the minds of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, she flipped open my coat front and looked inside.
"Oh, Palm Beach," she said. "That's a very good label."
"I know," I said. "I've got another Palm Beach Harris Tweed a John Weitz design."
She "Hmmmed," with what I took to be approval.
"You know," she said, "Bill has a bunch of Harris Tweeds that he hasn't worn in years. It's such a waste they're just hanging in his closet."
"Oh?" I said.
"Yes," she said. "And some time I'm going to gather them up and give them away."
"Good idea," I said.
"Too bad they're all size 50. You're a what 42?"
She was, of course, spot on.
We talked a bit more and walked out of the store together. Then, just before we split up she said, "Yes, it's too bad his coats are all 50s. It would've been a nice favor, giving them to you."
"It would," I said. "But if you want, you can always do me another favor."
"What's that?" she said.
"Just make sure the next guy you marry is a 42."