I looked at Tee. “Now what?”
“We need to discuss your teaching observation,” Tee said. “If you want to take a break, you can.”
Sally, I guess, wasn’t needed for notes any more. She packed up her notebook and headed for the door. Hannah Jackson left, too—she winked at me on her way out the door.
“The observation Nancy did?” I asked.
“Just because Nancy had an—accident—you know, that doesn’t invalidate her observation,” Tee said.
“Actually,” Courtney said, “it sort of makes it more re-valid.”
I said, “Sure.”
I got up and went out in the hall to get a drink of water. Olivier Nordstrom came up to me. He was another colleague that I barely knew—a rhetoric guy, his office was way on the other end of Reeb and I seldom encountered him.
“We’re on your side,” Olivier said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“If they can do this to you, they can do this to anybody,” Olivier said. “None of us are safe. None of us have been safe—for years.”
“What does Courtney want, anyway?” I asked. Olivier had been around a long time. Maybe he knew something I didn’t.
“Power,” Olivier said. “Control over all of us—over all this. Over Reeb Hall and everything in it.”
“That’s not much,” I said.
“Wars have been fought for less,” Olivier said. “It’s time we fought back.”
My phone vibrated. A text from Lynnie. I had to hit the passcode three times before I got to her text.
whats going on over there—I hear people saying eng dept has you on show trial? I know courtney gets to be stalin but who gets to be beria
“Excuse me,” I said to Olivier. I typed.
they’re making me a martyr!!!!
I’m all for it—I’m already in the gulag
Back in the conference room, Earl was gone, and Ted was sitting with Tee and Courtney. He did his best not to look at me. Good. I sat back down at my notebook.
“So,” Courtney said. “How are things going with you?”
I blinked. “Today?”
‘Not today,” Tee said. “In general—career-wise. Teaching-wise.”
“Uh, pretty well,” I said. I looked from Courtney, with her black hair and giant eyes and sunken pink-painted cheeks, to Tee, with her tired pocked gray cold moist oatmeal complexion and thin brown lips. “Yeah, everything’s going pretty well—I mean, considering.”
“That’s what you really think?” Tee asked. “That things are going pretty well?”
“Considering….” Courtney said.
“Yeah….” I said.
“Considering what?” Tee asked.
“Considering that I’m overworked and under fucking attack,” I said.
This was the kind of shit Devon had gone through again and again and again. The class observation, the response, the meeting with Courtney and Nancy and Ted. Then, the next day or the day after, the follow-up meeting with Tee. But now with Nancy in a coma, I got to cut straight to Tee. Still a useless time-suck, but at least I didn’t have to watch Nancy pull at her fingers.
Courtney said, “Yeah, and I guess you still think you’re mourning Devon, too, right?”
“Yeah….” I said.
“And yet you think things are going pretty well?” Tee asked.
“Yeah,” I said. For fuck’s sake. I could see where this was going. “Yeah--considering.”
“Well,” Courtney said. “We think you need to re-evaluate your perceptions.”
“I’m going to make an official recommendation that you need to re-evaluate your perceptions,” Tee said.
“Okay, that’s fine,” I said. I stood up. “Is that it?”
“No,” Courtney said. She blinked a couple of times. “I mean, don’t you want to know why we think your perceptions are wrong?”
“Not really,” I said. I mean, I already knew why—they were both full of shit. Why should I care about their full of shit perceptions of my perceptions? I sat back down. I said, “Since we’ve discussed all my other alleged problems, I guess it’s because of that class Nancy observed?”
“Nancy was very disturbed by your class,” Tee said.
“Nancy told me that the class was very disturbing,” Courtney said. “All that talk about wombat sex was inappropriate.”
Wombats? I laughed—they looked at each other, surprised. I said, “Oh, come on—not a single person in that room mentioned wombats—or sex.”
“Are you calling Nancy a liar?” Tee asked.
“Nancy is fighting for her life—in the hospital,” Courtney said. “And here you are calling her a liar!”
“Calling a colleague a liar is a very serious accusation,” Tee said. “It’s really unprofessional.”
Yeah. Unlike accusing me of attempted murder, sexual harassment, slander, and atheism.
“Okay, well—I don’t want to be fucking unprofessional,” I said. Did they know I was mocking them? I was mocking them. “But maybe we can call it deliberate falsehood? Or maybe Nancy’s just fucking delusional? But—” I slapped the table hard “—nobody in that fucking room talked about fucking wombats!”
Tee and Courtney looked at each other again for a moment, silently.
Ted finally spoke up. “I think we should interrogate the students who were in that classroom and find out what was really discussed.”
Ted just wanted to talk about wombat sex with students. Perv.
“Sure, go ahead.”
“I bet we’ll prove Nancy is telling the truth.”
“Is that all?” I asked. I stood up.
“Well,” Tee said. She looked at her notes. “Nancy told us that your pedagogy is unsound.”
“Yeah? Well, Nancy’s pedagogy comes straight from Maoist China. She runs her classes like fucking re-education camps. I’m not going to do that.”
Tee and Courtney and Ted all stared at me blankly. Finally, Tee said, “You need to think of the students.”
Of course I was thinking of the students—I was thinking that every single one of them was going to get an A!
“You know,” I said. “If you people don’t like how I’m teaching creative writing, you can go ahead and pull me out the classes, okay? Get somebody else to teach those classes. I mean, really, do it—you won’t hurt my feelings!”
“He othered us again,” Ted whispered to Courtney. She nodded.
“Well, I’m going to make an official note that you need to reconsider your perceptions,” Tee said. “And this note and Nancy’s letter will both go into your tenure file.”
The tenure file. You know, maybe four years earlier—fuck, maybe even a year earlier—I might have cared about that. Cared about tenure. But now—after everything, after witnessing Devon’s bullying, after her fucking murder, after my realization of the shit I lived in, after the dick pics and Fred’s suicide, after my show trial—all tenure meant to me was being forced to spend the rest of my professional life with a pack of dimwit criminal fuckwads.
Give me martyrdom.
Give me freedom!
“Okay, I can live with that,” I said. I headed for the door.
“Don’t go far,” Tee called to me. “There’s an emergency faculty meeting and you need to be there!”
I had a few minutes to rest before the faculty meeting. I sat in my office, staring into the dark corner—but, surprisingly, I wasn’t really depressed. Exhausted—yes. I was wrung out and wasted, I wanted nothing more than to go down to the Tri-State and knock back a few Jaeger shots with Lynnie and then go home and take a nap with Fuzzhead. I wanted to get drunk and sleep! But I didn’t feel dark, or afraid, or worried, or anxious.
After a while I gathered up my notebook and my phone and—making a big show of locking my office door, in case anyone was spying on me—I headed toward the meeting on the floor below.
On the stairs I ran into Jackie Sewell and Dawn Gaske, rhetoric teachers, lecturers, sadly burdened with teaching five sections of comp a semester. We went down the stairs together.
“It’s fucked what they’re doing to you!” Jackie said.
“Totally wrong,” Dawn said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Jackie laughed. “He says it’s crazy!”
“It’s fucked,” Dawn said.
“Courtney needs to step off,” Jackie said.
The meeting room was about half full. I took my usual seat by the window. Ted and Courtney came in and sat by the door, Tee came in and fidgeted with the computer. Old Earl came in and sat next to me. He looked as exhausted as I felt.
“That’s not the sort of thing I want to do every day,” Earl said. “Must be nice to be young, huh?”
“On some days,” I said. “On days like this—not so much.”
“I hear you,” Earl said.
“But—I did figure something out today,” I said. “You know? I’m fucking indestructible. They hit me and nothing hurt—nothing.”
“Well,” Earl said. He lowered his voice. “Don’t be too sure about that. They still might actually find a way to fire you.”
“Oh, no!” I gasped dramatically. I gestured around—at my alleged colleagues, at the room, at all of Reeb Hall, at all of Gulag State, at all of fucking Kansas. “Oh, no! If I got fired I’d have to give up—all this!”
“Well,” Earl said. “I guess I can understand your sarcasm.”
Courtney stood up. “Everybody!” she yelled. “I’m passing around a get-well card for Nancy. Please sign it—and please attach your most healing thoughts!”
“Heal this land,” Bart whispered. He was sitting right behind me.
The card came over to Earl. He wrote
Best wishes for a full recovery!
And signed his name. I took the card and almost passed it straight back to Bart, but then thought that not signing the card might seem odd—would be suspicious, maybe, to certain suspicious-minded assholes—so I pulled out my pen and wrote
Rest hard and get better
And take your time getting back--
Thomas Wallace Holt, PhD
and passed it back to Bart. He laughed. “Your sincerity is quite touching!”
“Nancy was my teaching mentor,” I said. “I owe her everything.”
Sally came in and sat in a corner with her notebook. Tee got down off her stool and stood behind the lectern.
“Okay, everybody—we can begin.”
“First thing!” someone in the back yelled. A woman. I turned and saw Constance Olmanson standing up. “First thing I want to know is—why are you persecuting Tom?”
“She must be sweet on you,” Bart whispered.
Tee said, “What happened this morning—”
“Was bullshit!” Olivier yelled.
“—is covered by the privacy act, and we can’t violate Tom’s privacy—”
“Oh, I waive my privacy,” I said.
“—by talking about—”
Courtney stood up and faced the back of the room—faced the rhetoric people. “What Tom did was a violation of the collegiality—”
“If you can do that to Tom, you can do that to any of us!” Constance yelled.
“—the collegiality of this department!”
Someone yelled something about “already destroyed collegiality” and then everyone was yelling at once. I looked around the room—me, somehow at the heart of all this. Close to it, at least. Was I aloof now? Was I standoffish?
But then I looked at Old Earl. He was gazing around, too. Astonished and maybe kind of—exited. Earl. He’d been department chair until Courtney led a coup against him, forced a vote of no confidence, and installed Tee as chair. Now two of Courtney’s dependable allies were gone, and the formerly cowed professors smelled blood. I thought—Anything is possible now. Maybe we could get Earl to come back.
Maybe we could change this place.
My phone vibrated. A text. I had to hit the stupid passcode to open it, and I found a text from Lynnie.
TOMMY I just got a dick pic!!!!!
The picture was attached. I kind of half-covered my phone to look at it—and it was the herpes dick. Kind of wet-looking and limp. I looked across the room at Ted—and he was looking back at me, maybe smirking behind his greasy stupid beard.
Tee pounded on the lectern with a book. “C’mon, everybody! Please! We have a lot of important things to talk about!”
“We’re talking about important things now!” Aaron Olmanson said.
“But we’re talking about things that aren’t on the agenda,” Tee said.
“But should be!” Dawn Gaske yelled.
My phone vibrated.
got another dickie pic!
he’s sending to my sucksu email
I looked over at Ted. Now he was bent over his phone. The shit.
“We can’t talk about disciplinary problems here,” Tee said.
“But I already waived my privacy rights,” I said, watching Ted.
“You can’t do that!” Courtney said.
“Yes, he can!” Earl said.
“Stop!” Tee yelled. That was the loudest I’d ever heard her raise her voice. STOP! “Everybody? Okay? We need to decide right now who’s going to take over Nancy’s classes!”
And—boom. Just like that. The room quieted down. No one wanted to take over Nancy’s stupid classes. Those classes were big buckets of shit Tee held in reserve—held as a threat—to dump on some poor unfortunate’s head. No one wanted a head full of shit.