Bar Hours

Henry O’Donough, this post-modernist professor at the University, kept office hours in the afternoon and “bar hours” on Thursday night, on the border of the City, between one of its eastern suburban neighborhoods and the exurban neighborhoods of two cities with names that translate into English as “The Table” and “The Box.” Most of the students who came to this little strip mall dive bar to hang out with the esteemed scholar, interviewer, and editor of several postmodern anthologies, including one that is a perpetual best seller for Duke University Press. And Professor K, ever trying to hold on to the tail of the fast-moving Zeitgeist, has a decent story in O’Donough’s best known anthology. Strangely, during my first year of knowing Professor K, I would go to “bar hours” to hang out with Henry and some classmates, past and present associates of Henry’s, and to unwind from Professor K’s classes, which were always held on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Henry was a very smart critic and as drunk as the writers he interviewed, wrote about, hung out with, or all of the above. Actually, he was drunker than any of them. Think of Henry as the Keith Richards of the literature scholars.

Even inebriated. Henry was very sharp. When I took his class on science fiction, he taught while drunk off his arse. No doubt he kept a bottle or bottles of something to drink in his office. Don’t quote me on this. The University also had a pub on campus, so there were also legitimate means to drink and then go on to the next class. The University pub wasn’t his style, though. The strange thing was that he was still very lucid and his comments helped greatly in the understanding of those works. He slurred some words here and there, but he always stayed on line, whether in his lecture or in reading passages from the books.

Henry wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts for most of the year. I don’t ever remember seeing him wear a pair of pants. He only got a haircut every few months, but author photos from some books suggested that he previously had his hair cut just once a year. Drunk and unkempt, he did behave professionally. He did his work as a professor and he treated his students well.

There was something utterly perverse about a professor holding “bar hours.” Professor K, who tried to push perversity in his writing topics, classroom reading selections, and his assignments, often retired to his home and drank with very few students. Professor O’Donough’s weekly dive bar party was a place where students could continue conversations that got cut short by the end of the classes or his formal office hours, relax, and get to know each other and Henry and his wife, also a professor of American literature at the University. I don’t remember a majority of the hours, well, because I had quite a few drinks. And I never got as obnoxious as I did on Professor K’s office firewater.

In the middle of my graduate career, the “bar hours” became trendy. Classmates of mine who had no association with Professor O’Donough – they weren’t in his classes, doing thesis with him, alumni, or even writers he had a professional relationship with – figured going to the dive bar in the strip mall in the suburban border of the City was cool. I didn’t attend the bar hours during this period, though I’ve always been simultaneously amused and annoyed at the trendiness.

In my last year, in the fall, during my final semester of actual classes, I decided to go to “bar hours” with a longtime classmate I’ve known since my late undergraduate career, also someone who had some association with Henry O’Donough. I may have said hello to Henry and some other people. My memory’s not clear here. I’ll blame it on the beer. I remember this scene clearly: I saw Mindy Shatner with her University acronym-embroidered sweatshirt hanging out with some classmates, most likely students of Henry’s wife. She saw me, raised her chin at me to say “What’s up?” After my stint of being the TA of her creative writing class and dealing with her being rude and disruptive to the point of verbal assault, I wasn’t ready to forgive. After all, all of this happened in the spring semester before. I quietly turned away and decided to focus my attention on my beer and my friend. She would be invisible to me the rest of the night. It was the last time I attended “bar hours.”

Henry O’Donough had since retired. I missed his final “bar hours” party. I don’t know where I was nor do I remember what I was doing at the time. The things that he taught about reading science fiction and post-modern works took me time to learn. I continued to learn things long after being out of his course. I could have easily learned the wrong thing from him – that in order to be writerly or literary, getting drunk was the way to go. Honestly, I don’t think he even bought into that idea. He was simply someone who drank and one of those rare people who could work through their intoxication. I think of him from time to time and wonder how he’s doing. Fantastic, I hope.

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