SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 13, 2012

A Lesson in Efficiency

It happens every couple of years like clockwork. More recently as the publishing industry has slowly been slithering into a dank and dark pit to die, it’s been happening annually. I start to notice that I really don’t have much of any money at all left, and have no prospects for anything in the foreseeable future. In response I wouldn’t exactly say I panic, but the situation does make me a little nervous and I decide it’s time to join millions of other losers and start looking for some kind of a job.

        The first problem of course is that for the past twenty-five years I’ve done one thing, and it turns out to be one thing for which there’s very little call anymore. At least not for any kind of cash payment in return. I tried writing screenplays like so many others in my position—big big bucks in those screenplays, you know. Ridiculous amounts of money—but for some reason the things I wrote weren’t considered quite, um, “Hollywood” enough. Then there’s that whole “blind” thing to consider. I found there’s not much of a market out there for a blind guy whose only skill is something no one wants. A few years back I even broke down and contacted one of those blindo organizations, but all they could offer was a job training seminar where I would learn how to, I dunno, wrap pieces of plastic around slices of American cheese. I might have been desperate but I wasn’t quite as suicidal as I used to be, however much I like American cheese.

        After teaching that one semester back in 2009, I figured I had my fallback all set up. Things got bad in the future, well, I’d just go back to teaching again, right? Always vowed I would never have to and wouldn’t want to, but time is a funny leveller.

        First thing I did was contact the head of the department where I’d taught that one semester. He’d contacted me shortly after I left, after all, and asked me if I wanted to come back and teach some damn class about cripples, broads, and minorities. I politely declined, as I had other things to do. Now it was my turn. I even proposed a couple of new classes that I was certain would be sure things. A couple of really snappy additions to the stale old curriculum.

        Well, it seems he saw things a bit differently. It also seems that since my time there he had conveniently purged me from his memory (can’t imagine why, charming fellow that I am), and the last line of his two line response was: “We will keep your documents on file.” Yes, well, we all know where that file is.

        Undaunted I soldiered on, dusting off a well-worn cover letter and making sure the resume was at least passably believable before sending things off to a slew of other and better local schools. Who would care that I didn’t have a damn degree? What’s a couple of missing classes from thirty fucking years ago when balanced against everything that had happened since? And better still, who wouldn’t be scrambling to get a blindo on the faculty? I mean, how correct is that? They could flaunt it around like so much cheap jewelry.

        So one Monday morning I sat down to the machine here, checked the names and titles and email addresses one last time before flinging electronic packages off into the void one after another, just waiting for that ol’ bidding war to begin. Hell, a knife fight or two might even break out between department heads over who could get me on staff.

        The first rejection arrived before I’d even sent the third resume out. That was okay. I wouldn’t have been too thrilled with that commute anyway.

        The second rejection arrived about half an hour later, while I was still at it. That was okay too. It was a small school with a small department, so it was almost expected. There were plenty of others out there. Big impressive places with lots of money and real estate. I’d checked out their faculty rosters and pfft—a bunch of nobodies. You ask me, they should be aching to spruce things up a little, and they’d be willing to pay top dollar to do it, too.

        By day’s end the field of potential bidders had narrowed considerably. And by the next afternoon (only, I’m guessing, because a few of the department chairs had been out of the office on Monday) the rejection was unanimous and loud. At least a few of the notes were pleasant in their own way, though most included the phrase “I’m afraid I can offer you no encouragement.” And I guess I understand their situation. With the collapse of the publishing industry the schools have been flooded with people like me. Those people lucky enough to be in there already are going to hold onto those cushy jobs with both claws until they’re dragged away beaten and bloody.

        Guess I would too, were that one of my present options. Instead I’ve found myself back in the old familiar pickle. You’d think I’d get used to it after all these years, and in many ways I have. But somehow I have the feeling that next year I’m going to try the same damn thing again, and will likely receive the same response. At least I have the cover letter written already.

        On the bright side through all this—I always try to look at the bright side—for all we hear these days about impenetrable, slow, and tangled bureaucracies in which nothing ever gets done, I received all the rejections to all those resumes within twenty-four hours. Now if that’s not a model of efficiency to be admired, I don’t know what is. And because of it, I won’t have to waste all that time and psychic energy sitting around wondering if anyone will hire me or not.

 

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