by Jordan Moffatt
My second year philosophy class seemed normal at the beginning, but by the time midterms came around I had the sneaking suspicion that my professor was the hamburglar. There were hints early on, of course, that only seem clear to me now: his referral to Heidegger as the “Big Mac” of Hermeneutics; his insistence that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus had the “secret sauce”; and also that the visual representation of Nietzsche’s übermensch in his powerpoint slides was an image of Grimace. Also: his name was Hamilton B. Urglar.
But the real tipping point for my suspicion came when I went to visit my professor at his office to discuss my midterm paper. When I went into Prof. Urglar’s office, he was seated at his desk eating a hamburger.
“Lunch,” he explained, crumpling up the wrapper after taking a final bite and then throwing the wrapper onto a pile of hundreds of other used wrappers that overflowed the garbage can. “So to what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?”
“I’m here to discuss my midterm paper,” I said. “I’m having trouble reading the feedback you wrote — the ink’s been smudged with what looks like mustard.”
“Well let me see if I can do some translating.”
He took the paper out of my hand and then set it in front of his face. Then he squinted and moved the paper back. Then he did the opposite of squinting and moved the paper right back to an inch away from his eyes. Then he shook his head.
“One piece of advice: never get older. It wreaks havoc on your vision.”
I laughed politely, which I hoped was the type of neutral yet supportive reaction that he wanted.
“Let me get my reading glasses,” he said, looking around the room aimlessly before focusing on something behind me. “Would you mind grabbing my satchel? It’s on the coatrack behind you.”
I grabbed the satchel, but apparently from the wrong end because a cape, fedora, black-and-white striped shirt, red tie with hamburgers on it, red gloves, and a Zorro-style black mask all fell out. Prof. Urger seemed stunned for a moment, then regained composure and scrambled to put everything back in the satchel. “Hallowe’en’s coming up,” he explained. I looked at the pile of burger wrappers. “Research,” he explained. Then he hastily ushered me out of his office, explaining to me that he had lots of work to do and that he’ll change my mark to an A, no questions asked.
I walked out of the office confused. It seemed to me that my professor was the hamburglar, but I needed more proof. Having nothing on my schedule, I decided to investigate. I picked up a newspaper, cut two eyeholes in it, then sat on a nearby bench and pretended to read the newspaper but actually what I was doing was looking through the holes so I could watch when Prof. Urglar left his office so that I could follow him and find out what was really going on with his fillet o’ fishy behaviour.
A quarter of an hour later, I finally saw my professor sneak out of his office. I followed him. He ducked into a corner and then when he came out of the corner he was wearing his “Hallowe’en costume.” It wasn’t Hallowe’en. Then what I saw him do was run into a McDonald’s, burgle all of their hamburgers, stuff them in a big green garbage bag, and then run away. Seemed pretty conclusive to me. I ran back to his office so that I could go and sit in his chair with my back towards the door and then when he came in I’d spin the chair around and say something like “thought you could get away with it, eh?” Something like that. But he door was locked when I got there, so I had to wait for him.
A quarter of an hour later, Prof. Urglar finally returned to his office. He was wearing his normal clothes again but I saw the stripy shirt hang out of his satchel. Also he was carrying a big green garbage bag that smelled like hamburgers.
“Hello again!” He said, trying to sound calm. “I take it you have more questions about your midterm?”
“Uh, yes, yes — that’s exactly it,” I said, convincingly.
He unlocked his door and then I ran through it and sat on his chair, then spun it so its back was to the door and then I spun it so it was facing the door.
“Thought you could get away with it, eh?” I said.
Professor Hamilton B. Urglar sighed, closed the door, slumped the burger bag on the floor, and wrung his four gloved fingers through his greying hair.
“I knew this day would come,” he said, sitting down at the chair on the other side of the desk.
“So are you the hamburglar?” I asked.
He unwrapped a fresh burger. “Mind if I eat while I explain?”
“Go ahead,” I said.
He started eating. “Yes, I’m the hamburglar.”
I gasped for effect.
“But I don’t want to burgle burgers,” he continued. “I’ve been cursed in a way. Here’s the deal: if I eat a hamburger that I’ve stolen from McDonald’s, I somehow become ten minutes younger. Back in my heyday, I ate so many stolen burgers that I managed to stay a Denice the Menace-aged boy for 26 years. But then I started reading philosophy and I realized that burger stealing was unethical. My view on life changed. I gave up burger stealing, and decided to age naturally and devote my life to the study of philosophy. I want to help young people like yourself discover philosophy — I want to change lives for the better like mine was.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Which part?” he asked, gulping down a third burger and looking thirty minutes younger.
“The part about you quitting. You clearly haven’t quit.”
“I did quit. I aged naturally for thirty years. I was living a life of virtue. But then something happened that you might not understand: I got old. And when you get old, you’re willing to give up your ideals to be young again.”
“But is an unethical life worth extending?”
“An excellent philosophical question! But what about a life that is both unethical and ethical? After all, I am still preaching the study of philosophy and living the good life. But the means I am using to continue this practice are unethical. So where do you stand on that?”
“Philosophy’s hard,” I replied.
“Yes,” he said.
He started eating another burger and I sat thinking for a little while. Then I think I got it.
“You’re confusing living young forever with living forever young,” I said. “If you remember what it’s like to be young, your old years will feel longer than they actually are.”
He threw the rest of the burger he was eating into the garbage.
“I knew I was right to give you an A,” he said. “That was the last burgled burger I’ll ever eat.”
I smiled, stood up, and walked towards the door of the office. Just as I was about to leave, Prof. Urglar stopped me.
“One more thing before you go.”
“The note on your midterm paper, the one you couldn’t read.”
“What about it?”
“It said: ‘Spend a little more time on the conclusion.’”
I nodded, knowingly.
“Same goes for you.”
Jordan Moffatt is a writer and improviser living in Ottawa. His short fiction has appeared in Bad Nudes, The Feathertale Review, Matrix Magazine, and elsewhere.