Tiny Kingdom, Part II

Simon taught English at Truckee Meadows Community College. During his thirty year tenure, he'd been the most honored faculty member in department history, receiving seven awards for teaching excellence. He fell in love with teaching at the junior college. Throw a rock at most state universities and you'll probably hit a middle-class white kid who's living off his parents. College is a get-out-of-responsibility-free card. Community college students, though a few hundred SAT points short of breathtaking, tend to actually give a shit. Returning to academia after an absence was one of the bravest and most noble things he could think of. And though they'd frequently miss classes for work and pronounce Camus' name phonetically, Simon loved them.

Sixty semesters worth of vague questions and misplaced commas, he loved them. They made him feel like a king. From 1:00 to 2:15 every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, he was the Oracle at Delphi. Lectures became sermons from the mount. The lectern transformed into a podium worthy of the State of the Union address. He taught students to write essays that were neither self-righteous nor reckless, how to fall in love with revision, and to properly use a semi-colon. After regularly being kept after class with questions and concerns, he brought his lunch to class and ate between comments. Tragedies and comedies sound remarkably similar out of a mouth filled with tuna salad.

Kathy, the department secretary, was a wonderful woman. Her genuine smile made people instantly feel at home, and she gave Simon her personal code for the copy machine when he wanted to put together some supplementary readings. They shared a little bond. Two weeks ago Simon turned his grades in to to Kathy like he does at the end of every term. More Cs than he would have liked, but what can you do? Had he known this would be the last time he'd ever visit her office, he might have chosen to talk about something other than ordering yellow Post-It Notes instead of the multi-colored ones. Even though there was no way he could have known, he still beat himself up over it.

Summer had just begun. Simon always felt a tremendous sense of relief at the end of a semester. Finally, a break from preparing lectures, grading papers, and deadlines. He visited his sister in Portland and picked up some new reading materials. Sheila, his sister, was busy with her new husband and was indisposed for most of his visit. He spent most of the time reading Dostoyevsky's magnum opus. For years he'd wanted to add a Russian literature section to his 101 course and was excited to start work on next semester's syllabus.

Shortly after his return, he received an e-mail from the Dean of the College. Budget constraints had forced cutbacks or some bureaucratic, bottom-line garbage. In so many words, he was fired. Dean Sloan didn't even have the common courtesy to arrange face-to-face meetings with the 12% of the faculty he'd just laid off. Schedule revisions? The goddamn subject line read, "FALL SCHEDULE REVISIONS." It didn't feel real. Simon read the e-mail over and over. Each time it got more abstract. The language was an exercise in cowardice. It became more insulting after each pass.

It wasn't the Dean's fault that jobs were being cut, but it was his responsibility to handle it like a man. But Dean Sloan's personality squinted. Though he was physically large in stature, he was a small man. Petty with an ugly soul. God help the battalion he ever fights alongside. He's the kind of man who'd leave you in a ditch and accept a medal for it without a twinge of conscience. Simon was upset with himself for being surprised by the e-mail. Cowardice was perfectly in line with the Dean's character. It wasn't more than three weeks ago Simon was in Sloan's office discussing a well-deserved pay raise. He should have known better.

An adjunct professor's salary is not the sort of profession that is kind to bank accounts to begin with. Though he was careful with money, he'd been chipping away at his savings account for years. Slow leaks are rarely noticed. Making matters worse, TMCC was the only game in town. Reno was a two horse town: the state university and the community college. In order to be accredited, three and four hundred level courses must be taught by faculty with PhDs. He cursed himself for settling on a terminal master's program. Even if he were hired at the University of Nevada, Reno, he would only be eligible for a Letter of Appointment position. He could teach a lower division class--for less than they pay most retail cashiers--but LOA positions were reserved for grad students trying to beef up their CV. Even the insulting positions were scarce.

He was impotently furious. His anger quickly turned to fear. Fear became panic. And panic made itself at home.

Simon began frantically cleaning his apartment. There were no dishes in the sink, and no laundry to be done. By all accounts, the apartment was clean already but compulsions are rarely held at bay by logic and rationality. Scrubbing the base of the faucet with a toothbrush, sweat dripping from his forehead, the man from Tonopah, NV felt out of control for the first time in his life.

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