Jody Horowitz declined Courtney’s invitation to come to Southeast Kansas for a campus visit. She didn’t say why. I hoped it was because she’d read my jobs wiki warning.
Candidate Allison Wigginton did accept the invitation, though, and she arrived in Weirton Wednesday evening. Like Devon in her interview—like me in my interview—Allison flew into Joplin and rented a car to drive the rest of the way to town. I wasn’t invited to the candidate dinner at Chrissy’s the night of her arrival, and I didn’t get a chance to meet with her Thursday morning during the exhausting round of meetings and interviews, and her teaching demonstration, which she gave to one of Ted’s classes, conflicted with one of my own CW classes. Still, I was able to show up for the official sit-down interview, the one where the hiring committee gathers around and asks the same questions that were asked during the phone interview.
We met in the conference room, with Tee substituting for Nancy, who was still stubbornly hanging on in a coma. I came in and Courtney introduced me to Allison with an oh-yeah-this-guy shrug. Allison, though, was lively and attentive and shook my hand warmly.
“I’m glad to finally meet you,” Allison said. “I’ve heard all about you!”
“Yeah, I bet you have.”
We sat at the big table and went through the questions—again. It was dull.
At one point Allison laughed and said, “You know—I’m concerned that if I give a different answer than last time, you’ll have me arrested for perjury!”
“It might happen,” I said. “This department can be kind of petty sometimes.”
“No!” Tee snapped. “That’s not true!”
“We value improvisation,” Courtney said.
I shrugged. I said. “Welcome to Southeast Kansas.”
Campus visits are always tough. Even at a place like Midwestern State, where the people were nice, the process is tough. At a place like Southeast Kansas, where the people were largely shit-for-brains bullies, the process is brutal. By the end of the day, nice and tough or petty and brutal, the department members usually have a good idea of what the candidate will be like when they’re stressed and exhausted—though in fact they have little idea what the candidate will be like under normal, everyday circumstances, or how good a teacher she might be, or how brilliant a scholar, or how pleasant an office neighbor.
Yet Allison actually had it pretty easy—she didn’t get sick, like Devon did on her campus visit.
When Devon arrived, the hiring committee couldn’t take her to Chrissy’s for dinner because it was closed for remodeling after a grease fire. So they took her to Carlito’s, the best—obviously, the only—Italian restaurant in town. Devon was tired from her long day of flights, four stages of flights, from Wilmington—Wilmington, where she’d been a visiting assistant professor at UNCW—to Charlotte, from Charlotte to Dallas, and from Dallas to Joplin, and tired even more from driving her rent car from Joplin out of the hills and across the prairie to Weirton. She was tired. Exhausted, maybe.
That was the first time I saw Devon. She wasn’t at her best. Nancy brought her into the restaurant, and I saw this slender, pretty, brown-haired woman who seemed—wary, and subdued. And really tired. My heart just kind of went out to her—I could imagine what a confusing sad letdown it was for this obviously smart woman to come to a desolate place like Weirton and meet her possible future colleagues, odd-looking PPs Nancy and Courtney and Tee. Shit, I remembered how let down I’d felt.
During the dinner, Devon managed to offend everyone at the table except me. Courtney and Nancy and Tee were offended when Devon just sat there with a pensive wary tired look on her face while the usual stilted hiring committee dinner conversation started and stalled and wound around and around and went—nowhere. How was your flight? What do you think of Kansas? What’s North Carolina like? Nancy of course was gurgling those annoying fake-sounding—and fake in fact—gurgling chuckles while checking out Devon’s reaction. The flights were long, Devon said. Heh-heh-heh-heh. Kansas is flat. Heh-heh-heh-heh. North Carolina is pretty. Heh-heh-heh-heh.
But then, while Nancy was gurgling about something stupid, Devon suffered a minor disaster: a glop of oily greasy pesto dropped onto her lavender blouse. Devon frowned and dipped a napkin in water and tried ineffectually to clean herself. The fake stilted conversation—the fake chuckles—went on and on as Devon scrubbed at her chest.
I asked, “Want me to run up to Walmart and get you some cleaning stuff?”
Those were my first real words to Devon.
Devon looked at me, sort of smiled. “No,” she said. “I guess I’ll just get this soaking when I get back to the hotel.”
Devon scrubbed away a bit more at her blouse, oblivious to everything but the grease spot. Then she looked up and saw Tee watching her scrub at the spot, and Devon blushed like a little girl caught doing wrong.
The next day Devon suffered another and more major disaster—she came down with diarrhea from the horrible greasy meal at Carlito’s. Several times she jumped up and left meetings and interviews to suddenly dash off to the nearest restroom, something weirdly awkward and disconcerting and embarrassing for the body-averse people who were talking to her.
I was in one of the meetings were Devon had to jump up and leave, a meeting with the American Lit faculty. Devon’s long thin face was pale and red at the same time and she whispered “Excuse me” and got up and hurried out.
When Devon was safely out of the room, Tee said, “You know, I really don’t appreciate the way she’s embarrassing us like this.”
Courtney said, “She’s faking—I didn’t get sick after last night. Nancy didn’t get sick. You didn’t get sick. Tom didn’t get sick. How come she got sick?”
“We took her to Carlito’s, that’s why,” I said. “That place is fucking terrible—eating there’s like playing salmonella roulette.”
“Oh, Carlito’s is fine,” Tee said. “For Weirton.”
Old Earl Renner said, “Well, you know—I’m sure this has to be very embarrassing for her, too.”
“She’s not embarrassed!” Courtney said. “She’s faking! She’s probably sitting on the toilet looking up answers to questions on her phone or something.”
Eventually, Devon’s long day was over and she went back to North Carolina. The next day the entire department met to discuss the potential hires and have a vote. The other candidate for the job was Lawrence Simcote, a tall young white guy with a PhD from Florida State. He had fewer publications than Devon, and one book, compared to her two, and none of her major awards, though he had a little more editorial and teaching experience. Florida State Lawrence came off as energetic and dynamic and somewhat arrogant, and he was alarmingly well-groomed for Weirton, with a big gravity-defying oily pompadour of dark wavy hair.
“Lawrence isn’t ideal,” Tee said. “But—”
“But at least he’s not running off at the bowels during the interview,” Courtney said.
“I was going to say he’s not unlucky,” Tee said. “Devon’s very unlucky—look at the way she spilled that pesto on her blouse.”
“Forget the pesto,” Courtney said. “Think about her bowels! Devon is disgusting.”
“So what if she got sick?” I asked. “At least she doesn’t look down her nose at people.”
“Lawrence wasn’t looking down his nose at us,” Bart said. “He was trying to balance all that stupid hair on his head!”
“Stop it, you guys!” Courtney ordered. “We shouldn’t be talking about the physical attributes of the candidates.”
“Sure,” I said. “We’ll just talk about their digestive attributes.”
“Devon to me just seems like kind of a—a flake,” Tee said. “An accident-prone flake. Who else gets food poisoning on a job interview? That’s just crazy.”
“I think her pedagogy is unsound,” Nancy said. I think that was the only thing Nancy knew to say about anyone’s pedagogy—unsound, unsound. Whatever. “She didn’t have enough order in the classroom. Too many students were asking questions!”
“See?” Courtney said. “Nancy’s been teaching fiction for thirty years! She knows what she’s talking about!”
“Also,” Nancy said, “Lawrence was very polite and gentlemanly when we were at dinner, and Devon didn’t say three words.”
“So she’s an introvert,” I said. “English professors are supposed to be bookish introverts.”
“No, no way,” Tee said. “When you’re out on a job interview, you have to overcome your introversion or aloofness or whatever it is you have. Everyone in this room did it—even you managed to do it.”
“But—” Ted started. He half-raised his hand.
“As far as I can tell,” Tee said, “Devon’s never overcome—anything. She doesn’t even try.”
I shrugged and shut up. Still new in the department, but I could see where Tee was going, substituting sneering judgment for understanding, bullying for knowing. The SEKSU pattern—all power to the narcissists.
“But if we can go back to Devon’s diarrhea for a moment,” Ted said. “I’m—”
“Her alleged diarrhea,” Courtney said.
“I’m thinking her digestive problems may be an indication of other problems,” Ted said. “Emotional problems, right? I mean, what if she can’t handle the stress of a semester? What if diarrhea’s just how she reacts to stress?”
“We have restrooms on every floor of this building,” Bart said. “She’ll be fine.”
Eventually the hiring question came to a vote. Voting was anonymous, but it was clear where the votes came down. Tee voted for the pompadour, as did Courtney, Nancy, and Ted. But the majority of the department went the other way and voted for Devon. Against the haircut. Devon got voted in, 15-4.
After the votes were counted, Courtney shouted, “You’re kidding! I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working with that woman!”
No one really answered. Quite a few people appeared troubled. The creative writing faculty had all voted for the losing candidate on a creative writing hire. They all voted for a haircut over a person, but the fact that they unanimously opposed Devon made some of the older faculty members uncomfortable. The people in the Creative Writing Program had a tradition of running their own thing their own way, and getting what they wanted.
“Come on!” Courtney said. “Let’s have a new vote! Devon’s going to be a disaster!”
People sat silently for a moment or two. I looked around the room. No one was making eye contact. I could hear the soft whirrs of the Martie’s buffing machine out in the lounge coming through the closed door while Courtney fussed at everyone. Tee herself seemed to be at a loss. I wanted her to end the meeting so that we could all go home, but Courtney kept talking.
After what seemed like a long time, Sally Baldwin, who was in the meeting to take notes, yawned. She glanced at Tee and asked, “Don’t the bylaws say something about voting on new hires?”
Tee frowned and sort of half-shrugged. Old Earl frowned and went over to a shelf and pulled down a big loose-leaf binder. Then he sat and began paging through it.
“We don’t want to damage the department,” Courtney said. “Think of the students!”
“Well,” Earl said. He cleared his throat and looked up. “You know, everybody? Sally’s right, of course—we can’t have another vote. Departmental bylaws state that we can have only one vote on a new hire—unless it’s a tie.”
I remember almost sighing with relief. I was new then and I didn’t really know what was going on, but I was grateful for Sally and for Old Earl.
“No!” Courtney slapped the conference table. “That’s crazy!”
“But it’s the rule,” Earl said. “And I guess it’s a rule with a good reason—to prevent endless arguments like this!”
“Well—well--I move that we amend the departmental bylaws this one time!”
No one seconded Courtney’s motion, not even the other creative writers. It wasn’t so much because everyone loved Devon or because they hated the haircut—nobody really knew either of them—but probably more because everyone was mostly tired of having to deal with voting, and they were tired of listening to Courtney, and, like me, they simply wanted to go home.
And so Devon was hired.