Everyone in his department knew John wouldn’t get tenure because he smoked pot in his office.
John knew that too.
John was tall and thin and sported a beard and long hair — too radical for a college in West Texas. He told me once about waking up in the middle of the night and smelling gas all over their upper valley house. He had to open doors and windows and turn fans on for the rest of the night.
His plan, before he got fired, was to enroll in medical school in Juarez across the Rio Grande. Every year they always took a few Anglos.
John also knew his wife was diddling around with another professor. “We all want to have affairs,’ he told me quietly, as we sipped a few brews at the Kern Place Tavern. He seemed calm about it. “But few have the courage to do it,” he added.
“Yeah,” I replied, “we are like our closest DNA cousins, the Bonobo monkeys, who are always screwing each other to bind closer the tribe.”
John said his wife was having an affair quite openly with a Black history professor. “It makes her feel especially liberal,” he said. “She wants people to know how cool she is. I think they sometimes come to this bar to play footsie under the table.”
“You don’t think she’ll leave?” I asked. “I know my wife would split if I messed around.”
“No,” he said. “We’ve got three kids and her mother lives with us.”
I taught journalism at the same college. “You know,” I added, “a friend of mine says the Black professor thinks she’s dirty, but maybe my friend made that up.”
“That’s a stereotype,” John said. “She showers in the morning and at night before bed. She’s clean.”
A few months later the affair ended.
I’d met John’s wife Deborah once. She was tall, thick boned, and had beautiful black hair. All I knew of her was she ran a daycare on Mesa in El Paso, and it did well.
More months passed and my friend John got fired from the college. He went to medical school in Juarez as planned and became a pediatrician. Pot smokers are usually calm and good with kids. John’s got a big fancy house now on Rim Road that looks over the city and onto the mountains beyond Juarez. Such a house he never could have bought on the salary of a professor.
We don’t run into each other that much but every now and then have beers at the Kern Place. Time, as we all know, has a way of fleeing.
I write every morning. It’s July 4th in 1998 today.
Deborah and John are still married. All three of his kids have married and he’s got a number of grandkids. John is about 60 and certainly still enjoys his work.