I heard the knob hit the wall before I saw the man. I looked up, startled by the sound, and saw a nice looking man of slim to medium build, somewhere around 5’10”, with a healthy head of white hair and large wire-rimmed glasses, standing at the wall of faculty mailboxes which were for some reason located in our suite. He was wearing a light blue shirt, blue jeans rolled up with a full four-inch cuff, and beige walking shoes with white socks. In one hand he held a bulging worn briefcase, and in the other, a dark blue canvas bag. He looked to be in his early to mid-sixties. I had read a little more about him over the last week or so, and the more I learned, the more overwhelmed and intimidated I became. He was a media and US foreign policy critic, he worked alone and side-by-side with Howard Zinn and others as a Vietnam War resister, he was a human rights advocate, and of course a linguistics professor. He debated experts like Jean Piaget, Michel Foucault, John Silber, and William F. Buckley. I recognized him from his pictures, and it wasn’t until I stood to introduce myself that I realized how nervous I was.
I extended my hand toward him, and he took it. “Hi, Professor Chomsky. I’m Bev Stohl. It’s nice to meet you.” So far so good, I thought, as he murmured a preoccupied ‘hello,’ plopped the leather briefcase onto my desk and fished inside for a handful of papers. I noticed the initials NC in faded gold at the top, near the handle, so I knew I had the right guy, but the quiet was unnerving. I needed to fill the void. “It must be strange for you to come in and meet your new assistant for the first time.” As I said this aloud, it occurred to me that this probably wasn’t at all strange to him. It was too late to start over, and fainting or quitting would make a bad first impression, so I just stood there, looking at him.
“You can call me Noam,” he said cheerily, his widening smile easing my anxiety, “And I have full confidence in Jamie and Morris’s decision. If they chose you for the job, then I’m sure we’ll make a great team.” I noticed that his smile emanated not only from his mouth but also his eyes, which sparkled mischievously behind his thick lenses.
He tilted his head slightly upward when he said this, making him seem playfully delighted – I hoped at the thought of our working together. Maybe I wouldn’t have to be shipped home after all. And standing there with him for the first time, I wondered “What’s the big deal about working for Noam Chomsky?”