Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Thanks But No Thanks
I had been talking to my friend in Austin. It was late morning, but we were both still trying to wake up. I was drinking coffee; he realized he didn't have any and surmised that this was the reason he was grumpy. I heard the phone in the other room, faraway, under water. When we hung up I checked the messages. A message from my MLA interview school--Oh My God!!!!! I had time to hear his name, and "we are calling" before the phone cut out. What could it mean? They must be calling me for an on-campus interview! Of course they were. People don't call you if they don't want you.
With shaking hands I dialed the phone, not realizing that it had probably cut out because it needed to charge. I reached the man who had called me, and his voice sounded tired and sad, but friendly. I explained what was happening with the phone, and he told me that he had been calling to apologize because the committee had made their list of candidiates to bring to campus, and I wasn't on it. The phone cut out again. This time I called him on my cell.
I explained how much I had enjoyed meeting them. He told me how outstanding I had been in the interview. He mentioned how much he had enjoyed our conversation about chivalry and queer comportment. I realized that I had probably been his candidate. Ah, chivalry. I remembered moments in the interview when he had steered me away from lesbian modernism towards themes of nation and national belonging. I remember thinking at the time, with a shock, that he was maybe homophobic. Now I realized he had been trying to protect me, push me to show my breadth in front of people who might have been skeptical.
He asked if I would be staying on at my university. I told him I was already gone, that I hadn't gotten a book contract in time for tenure. He commented that I really was on the market, then. I replied that I really, really was. I told him about the culinary school where I was adjuncting. He asked if I was teaching literature there. I told him I was teaching composition, but that I got free lunches. He hid his surprise by cheerfully mentioned possible jobs in the spring list. I grunted politely, though I think we both know associate jobs never come out on the spring list.
He told me again how important my work was, how well I had described it, how interested everyone had been. I bit my tongue, wanting to tell him that this would probably be the last of it. But we were, of course, courteous. He is a charming man. There was sorrow in his voice as he thanked me again. He insisted that if there was anything he could do . . .
For a minute I wondered what he meant, exactly. Could he recommend me for something? Not exactly. Could he put exlax in the coffee of the people who had voted not to bring me? That was an idea. Better yet, remember this conversation when all his candidates turn down the job in April because their schools gave them what they wanted in salary boosts and spousal hires. Tell them to call me. (Phone sign with hand beside my head. Mouthed words: Call me.)
I hung up the phone and went back to planning my comp classes for tomorrow. I thought of the girl in the front row of my beginning freshman class, the girl who writes with a pink pen with a big fluffy pink feather at the top, like she's Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. I feel fond of that freshman girl's love of beauty, her insistence that her pen be pink, and pretty, and all about her very own style. I feel protective of her. I wish there was something I could do to make sure the bravado of her pen could always sail high beside her, and that she might wield her beautiful things proudly aloft, like a standard-bearer in a battle of old. But all I can do is wish her well, and hope her courage and dignity is enough to carry her through this world.