Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back to the Hellmouth, or, You Can't Make This S#!* Up

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If you were writing a novel about my life, what new, sadistic twist would you add, just to keep things interesting? Let's review the plot so far.

Previously, on Sfrajett's City:

Excellent Public U Grad school, followed by four years on the job market, a job, finally, in an expensive Southern city at the miserly salary of 38K, with a friendly but strangely factionalized bored small department, a girlfriend who refused to move there, a new job the following year in an even more expensive city at a mere 5K more, an unfriendly, huge, completely alienated department with massive personnel changes (three different Heads in four years, minority scholar desertion, famously self-promoting new Dean with Something to Prove), a girlfriend who left anyway and a decimated academic leave, the realization that my book wouldn't fly and that I'd have to write a new one fast, a mother diagnosed with brain cancer and dead seven months later that same year, a forgotten fifth-year review (they just "forgot" to do it) also in the same year, a new Head who didn't think much of me, a Dean who wanted only Ivy League junior faculty, a fabulous new girlfriend, an unfabulous turn-down for tenure, a great book contract on the new book I wrote very fast, the department Head's promise to re-open my case, the decision not to reopen my case, a bad job market again and again, unemployment, depression, the decision to go to law school.

Are you keeping up?

So in this episode, I'm enjoying a lovely, no-strings sojourn teaching Gender 101 at Elite City University. Fall, moving, and law school readjustment seem far away. I keep having these wonderful dreams at night where I find new rooms at Elite University, rooms that somehow will help me be able to get my life back. These dreams make me feel happy in the morning. It's a beautiful spring day. The forsythia is blooming, the blossoming trees are blooming, the hibernating bears that work and live here are rolling their tummies out to the Big Park jogging paths. Everyone is happy. My class has spring fever, so they are useless today, but it's still ok.

I come home and I'm checking my messages yesterday, and I see a call from a number at my old school. The one that fired me. I listen to the listless, heavily-medicated voice of one of the incredibly unhappy department staff tell me a box of books arrived there with my name on it, and could I please tell them what to do with it. My books. My book.

The one I wrote to get tenure there, remember? Keep up.

The stupid press, in other words, has mailed my frackin' book to Satan's University, where I no longer work or wish to work or remember or ever think about again, ever. All I have to do is go back to this hellmouth and pick it up.

I slump against a chair. The good news that my book is actually out is quickly replaced by the horror of what I might have to go through to get it. Immediately I imagine parking the car--no, PAYING to park the car--and walking across the street, across the broad, flat, public expanse of concrete and grass where I will be unmistakeable to anyone going in or out of the building that houses the English department, the Administration, Registrar, all the other language departments, Gender Studies . . . the list goes on. The main building on the east side of campus, in other words.

I imagine running that gauntlet only to take the elevator up to the twentieth floor, where I can walk by everyone's office on the way to the English department. Once there, I can declare my name, have others overhear, see the flicker and snicker in the eyes of the medicated secretaries.

If the box is big, I can struggle out the door, into the elevator, and across the concrete expanse once more, fleeing in humiliation with this last, sad vestige of my academic self, the book that should have been a Professional Achievement.

I feel myself slipping into an Incredibly Bad Mood.

GF comes home and immediately declares she will fetch the box for me. I am momentarily cheered, until I begin to imagine sitting at the curb, giving her directions to get to the 20th floor. I don't want her to have to go there, either. Things get even more complicated because her ex works at Satan's University, and wouldn't it be perfect if she ran in to her? But that's a whole other story.

I call a friend to commiserate because I know he will cheer me up. He congratulates me for the book coming out, and declares that it is PERFECT that they sent my book to Satan's U. Warming to the topic, he theorizes my clearly-labeled box of books as a kind of brilliant serendipitous affront, a real statement, an out-and-out rebuke to the mess of misfits who didn't tenure me.

Sometimes I love him so much.

GF, Phone Call and I all pour ourselves drinks and toast each other. We are all cheered up. Friends save the day.

This morning, in a sluggish monotone, Satan's secretary offers to mail the box to me.

Hell avoided!


What Now? said...

I'm totally with Phone Call -- I think it's beautiful that your book wound up there and sat in the office for a whole day so that everyone coming in and out saw it. Bah to them!

MaggieMay said...

I'm with Phone Call too. The good folks at Satan U. were too short-sighted (i.e., stupid) to understand how amazing you are, when even your blog so *clearly* demonstrates that? Fuck 'em. I'm glad they got to see your book!