It must have been around '86 when I tried desperately to get into Professor Sprague's "How to Write About American Culture" class at UT-Austin.
He was notoriously "from the East" and a real "old-school tough guy." He was 50-something with a gravelly voice. He greased his hair and wore long sideburns, a la aging establishment hipster-wannabes circa 1975. He wore tweed suits with starched shirts, and big gold cufflinks, and he smelled of cigar smoke. (Today I'd probably find him sexy. When I was 20, though, I was terrified.)
His classes were small, 10 or 12. I signed up officially, no guarantee of admittance; then I dropped off a few of my essays at his office, and then called his office answering machine and left messages and begged. I got in.
I was 20 or so. I lasted maybe 3 classes. It was probably during the 3rd class that he asked me something directly. Can't at all remember the question, but do remember how flustered and inarticulate I was, how he impatiently passed me over. After that very session, a classmate named Carol and I were standing around chatting. Sprague came out of the classroom, stopped in front of both of us, accompanied by two male toadies, and said: "We're going for a few drinks. Do you want to come...CAROL?"
What the fuck was the point of THAT humiliation? Did I, a silly, nervous 20-year-old who couldn't articulate in class, really deserve THAT intentional slight? (Carol, to her credit, turned him down and stayed there talking to me.) I dropped the class immediately, completely embarrassed and humiliated.
Cut to about 7 years later. I was coming down the stairs of the UT grad library where I worked, I suppose looking better and blonder and carrying myself much more confidently than when I was 20, and I ran into... Le Sprague.
We made eye contact and he then physically stopped me, touching my arm: "Weren't you in one of my classes?"
Me: "Yes, your American Culture class a few years ago."
Sprague: "How are you? What are you doing now?"
Me: "I'm applying for grad schools."
Sprague (now holding onto my arm, looking into my eyes intensely): "If you ever need anything... If you need a recommendation, just come and see me."
No, I didn't go see him. (I supposed I didn't "need anything.") Interesting to me, though, the tiny bit of karma played out there.