Today is the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
I remember that day as the catalyst for the entry of the United States into World War II.
I remember it for the millions of people destroyed by that war.
I remember it for setting mankind on the road toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And I remember it because of an eccentric English professor I had as an undergrad.
Dr. X was fond of giving us surprise quizzes, which he called "Pearl Harbors."
He was 6 foot 4, 250 pounds, from the Deep South and with the accent to prove it.
He was the human incarnation of Foghorn Leghorn, the wisecracking cartoon rooster with the Southern drawl.
Fittingly, Dr. X was born on a poultry farm, we would later learn.
He would stride into class, pause before his desk a moment and then say with a smile, "Y'all ready for a Pearl Harbor? Shoot, what'chy'all know?"
And that was just the opening volley of his singular approach to education.
He usually spoke to us with eyes squinted shut. But he had the uncanny ability to know precisely what was going on in his classroom, always.
He could detect anyone who violated his cardinal rule against chewing gum -- he called it "spearmint," regardless of the flavor -- even if the offender sat far in the back corner of the class and chewed in complete silence.
"Get that spearmint out yo' mouth," he would yell. "You can shoot drugs in my class, you can have sex in the aisles. But you better get rid of that spearmint."
Dr. X was exacting. Our answers to questions about literature had to be completely correct and unambiguous, and opinions had to be backed up.
Otherwise, we paid the price.
"Y'all are waltzin' to a rock-and-roll song," he would sputter like a Roman candle. "Y'all are talkin' baby talk. Ah goo goo goo. Y'all are drivin' holes in my brain! Holy water! Holy water!"
In one class, we were discussing Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown." Dr. X asked me some question, now forgotten, about some element of the tale. He didn't like my answer.
"Your intellectual cargo has capsized," he said with a smirk, eyes closed. "Your intellectual cargo was not too heavily laden. You're reachin' for the life preserver!"
His repertoire was as varied as it was creative.
One day, the class had been particularly diligent in our homework and the string of correct answers we gave earned rare praise. "Y'all are poppin' out ideas like pancakes from the griddle of yo' mind," he said.
The man was crazy like a fox.
He could recite entire Shakespeare soliloquies from memory. He was a yoga devotee who, despite his large frame, often sat atop his desk in the full-lotus position, eyes shut but all-seeing. Sometimes, he would stand on his head in front of his desk while lecturing.
I wonder what happened to him. I know he retired quite a few years back -- I took his class nearly 26 years ago -- but it's as if he fell off the face of the Earth. I've Googled him to no avail.
He was fond of visiting Manhattan to attend the opera and, rumor had it, to visit the porn shops in Times Square. Someone told me he may have moved to New York City.
Dr. X may offer all the wrong reasons to remember Pearl Harbor.
But he declared war on our literary misconceptions, and his X-isms are engraved in my mind.