Saturday, June 19, 2010

Remembering Dr. Z...By the Way

The efficacy of Keynesian economics is being debated once again in both polite and impolite society. But rather than stake out a position on the demand side versus the supply side in this dismal science argument, I’d rather just wax nostalgic and recall a college professor of mine whom I'll call Dr. Z.

Dr. Z was an adjunct professor substituting for an ailing instructor in a course called Intermediate Macroeconomics. The place: my alma mater, Manhattan College. The year: 1984. Dr. Z was a very tall, dome-headed Egyptian fellow, who not only wore thrift shop threads that didn’t quite fit his gawky frame—high waters and hobo shoes—every single day, but a sartorial selection at least thirty years past its prime.

Despite my Dr. Z experience being brief, it was nonetheless quite memorable. This man rates as one of those classic college characters I will not soon forget—a professor remembered for his idiosyncrasies above all else, including teaching acumen. From the get-go, Dr. Z warned us that because “there was no ‘P’ as in Peter and ‘B’ as in ball” in his native tongue of Arabic, he was apt to “make a mish, mosh, moosh of the two…by the way” all along the way. And he didn’t disappoint on that score.

In addition, the good doctor frequently finished his sentences with the throwaway “by the way” phrase. He couldn’t stop saying it during his lectures, which he took very, very seriously, by the way, often working himself into a frenzied, sweaty trance to explain that Keynes’s General Theory “contended that consumption was a stable function of disposable income.”

Dr. Z also subscribed to the educative power of repetition. He peppered his lectures with “I repeat again” pronouncements and recapped word-for-word what had just been said. Dr. Z took attendance every class because, he revealed, he desperately needed the work and didn’t want to be fired. The man informed us that times were tough for him as a part-time professor, and that he called home somewhere in lower Manhattan “between the muggers and the hippies.” This former neighborhood of his has since been gentrified, by the way. And when the buzzer sounded each class’s death knell, the Z-man stopped in mid-sentence and profusely thanked the whole lot of us. “Thank you very, very much,” he would bellow at the top of his lungs and really mean it. No, Dr. Z: thank you…for the memories and teaching me about John Maynard Keynes, too. 

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