SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 17, 2019

School for Corpses, Part VIII: Will This Shit Never End?

 

As the stories kept trickling in about how awful and insane this interim chair was behaving toward not just me, but everyone in the department, and with doubts growing about whether or not there was anything “interim” about her position after all, and with Richard affirming repeatedly there was nothing paranoid about my growing suspicions that the chair really had no intention of hiring me from the start, I continued preparing for the class. What choice did I have? If I learned at the end of November that it was actually happening, I didn’t want to have to scramble around to get things together. I read and re-read the assigned texts and other background materials, taking extensive notes along the way. I even began closely following Alex Jones’s Infowars conspiracy site. Every morning I tried to guess beforehand what paranoid pro-Trump spin he’d give to that day’s headlines. It wasn’t that hard.

            I’d been little more than an amused tourist before, but was now finding myself getting deeper into the creepy and delusional world of the professional paranoid cult. It really was the new religion. I mean, I was still amused, but I was coming to understand the thought process better than ever before, and it was a little scary. Jones in particular had positioned himself as the new Minister of Propaganda, and was pushing hard for both a new Civil War and the End of the World.

            Well, whatever.

            Meanwhile, I was hearing nothing at all from the school, save for one email about some theatrical event or another. I would have expected a lot more, right? That someone might see fit to send a new faculty member some contact numbers or something. Did they want me to submit the syllabus? Were there any orientation meetings I was supposed to be attending? Even a few departmental memos might have been some sort of comfort, but there was nothing.

            Less comforting still, I learned that in the midst of my dealings with the IT department a while earlier, they had changed my password without telling me. So now they had my password, but I didn’t.

            Then in early November I finally received something that was potentially helpful. It was a reminder to get textbook requests into the bookstore so everything would be ready and waiting on the shelves when the new semester opened. Okay, so that was something that made sense. I was just supposed to send in the titles, authors, editions and ISBN numbers for all the texts I planned to use, and that would be that. They’d even included a convenient form to fill out. Kind of a pain, but it could be done.

            Then at the bottom of the note was the warning that all this needed to be done by November fifteenth.

            Well, shit. I wouldn’t know if the class was happening until the thirtieth, and I had no way of knowing how many books to request, as I didn’t have access to the page that would show me how many students had signed up.

            So, fuck it, I guess. The little buggers would be on their own. I discarded the note, same as I’d discarded the one about the theater thing.

            I tried to stop thinking about the class, as the closer we drew to the day of reckoning at the end of November, the more convinced I became, with plenty of evidence to back me up, that I could kiss that potential check goodbye. Why knock myself out when I could be getting some real work done?

            But it was hard. I kept running through lectures as I walked to the bank or the store, and even as I decided to read (well, listen to) something that had nothing at all to do with the class, I found myself listening to books by crazy conspiracists like Jim Marrs, or histories of the contemporary White Nationalist movement, which held a lot of these conspiracies dear.

            Richard’s own troubles within the department not only continued, but grew uglier and more complex, as he likewise caught a whiff of an internal effort to force him out, not on account of anything he had done (it was revealed that earlier Title IX complaint had never actually been filed), and the stress was taking its toll.

*       *       *

Two weeks before the registration deadline, I had given up all hope. It wasn’t going to happen, and was never intended to happen. It was a less than bitter thought, and was in fact quite liberating. Abandoning hope makes things so much easier. Anticipation is foolishness. For a while there, a few hours anyway, I even toyed around with the idea of doing the whole thing as an online course I’d set up myself. It was a damned fine class, and plenty of people who lived outside of New York had expressed an interest, so what the hell? Then I remembered I had absolutely no clue how to do such a thing, and the idea of expecting people to actually pay a few bucks for the privilege was foolishness. So I forgot about it.

            Nevertheless, three days before the end of the registration period, in a last ditch effort to do an end run around a silent department, I contacted a pleasant and helpful woman at the Registrar’s Office. She was the one who’d given me my ID card, and told me I could always ask for her help. So I dropped a line asking if she might be able to tell me how many kids had signed up at that point, just to get some clear and valid idea of how doomed I was.

            Half an hour later she wrote back, telling me she’d have to consult a few people first. That never bodes well.

            Half an hour after that I heard back from one of the people she’d consulted, who suggested I just try accessing the site (the one I had never been able to access) the following week, after registration was over. Another half hour after that, one of the other people she’d consulted sent along another note, suggesting I simply contact the Humanities Department secretary, as she would have direct access to the latest numbers.

            I didn’t want to come right out and tell them that my real motivation was that I didn’t trust a thing anyone in the department told me, which is why I was hoping to get confirmation from a disinterested third party. That would just sound paranoid and crazy. Besides, given these responses, I quickly learned they were all in on it together, the bastards.

            Just out of curiosity and just for fun, the following day I sent an innocent and polite note to the department secretary.

Hi Amanda,

I hope this isn’t too much trouble. I realize there are still a couple days left in the registration period for spring, but as I don’t have access to the page myself, I was wondering if you might be able to tell me how many students to date have signed up for my new class? I’m trying to get a sense, knowing there’s a minimum enrollment, of whether or not it’s going to happen.

            That’s simple and polite enough, right? I didn’t even use the word “jackals” or anything. It went out a little after ten on a Wednesday morning.

            A day passed with no response. Then Two. Then three. Then it was the weekend. I began to entertain delightful fantasies about panicked emergency meetings in back rooms where they tried to decide not only how they were going to tell me it wasn’t going to happen, but who was going to break the news to the cripple. They all knew this day was coming from the start, right? But now that it was here, what the fuck would they do? Little did they know I just didn’t give a good goddamn anymore, and what’s more had enough work backing up that having to put it on hold again to teach Homer and the Red Scare and Alex Jones to a bunch of sniveling whiners who couldn’t hear the term “9/11“ without crying would just be a pain in the ass. But I’d just sit back and wait and let them figure out their next move themselves.

            Still, needing to know one way or another so I could start mapping out the next month, on Monday I dropped another brief but polite note to the same department secretary who hadn’t responded last time. Registration was officially closed, so they had final numbers in hand and no viable excuse for not telling me, unless they wanted to admit to those panicked back room meetings.

            Two hours later, I finally received a response.

Dear Jim,

Margaret will be back in the office tomorrow, and I’ll ask her about your class then.

            It was fully expected, somehow, but for fuck’s sake, will this shit never end? Why all the skullduggery and whispering? Why was no one at any point capable of giving me a straight answer about anything? I didn’t care about the class anymore, but all of this, everything that had happened since August, was plain stupid.

            The following afternoon, after waiting for that promised follow-up that didn’t seem to be forthcoming, I composed yet another polite note that didn’t use the phrase “squirrely fuckheads” and sent it directly to Margaret, the interim chair.

Dear Margaret,

As I still don’t seem to have access to the web site, I was wondering if you might be able to tell me if my proposed course received the requisite enrollment to green light its running this Spring?

            Screw the underlings and go-betweens, I was tired of all this and wasn’t about to let her off the hook. This was her game—she’s the one who started it and had been pulling the strings all along, so let her be the one to answer for it.

            Three hours later, the response came through. That it came through at all was surprising, though the response itself was not.

Hi Jim,

I have been watching your course carefully. Unfortunately, there are only 3 students registered for the spring, 2019 so it will be cancelled. It will be included in the 2019-2020 curriculum, both in the printed and online versions. During the spring, 2019 registration period, rising second, third and fourth-year students will see it, increasing the possibility that it will register more robustly.

            Yeah, I bet she’s been watching it closely. So in other words instead of bringing the whole thing to a well-deserved end at long last, she was going to drag it out for another year. Why was I not surprised by this?

            Well, she may think that’s what she’s doing, but I want nothing more to do with any of it. I’m done.

            As a footnote, a week after the class was cancelled, I received an email from the department secretary informing me that training sessions on how to navigate and use the site to which I’d been denied access would begin the following week.

            I deleted it and got back to some real work.

 

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