Chapter One: The Market

Chapter One: The Market (Novel: The Professor)

Daylight had not yet arrived when Stan and his wife, Laxmi, joined the string of cars and trucks lining up on a Sunday morning. It was half past four and the venders were lining up for the weekly swap meet. Half of them were Mexican, selling goods from Mexico or the wholesale district in LA. The two kids were sleeping in the back seat. It would be another half hour before the gate would open and they could find their small spot and set up their shop.

The early morning fog had rolled in from the Pacific, cool and damp. Stan had always liked the smell of the sea. It reminded him of the early morning exercises on the drill field at San Diego, when he had been in the Navy. It was hard, but he was on the coast and things were looking up. He was going for adventure, wherever it led. At least he was not in Missouri. That was good. He would find a way. Now he had a similar feeling. He would again find a way to make it work.

The academic job market had been dry for two years since Stan Sucker finished his doctorate. He had been in the market now for nearly two years without coming up with anything. It was shit, when here he was setting on his completed doctorate. There was just the one interview in western Colorado, but he had come away empty handed from that. It was not easy with a hundred or more applicants applying for every job. It had been a desolate place anyway, out there in Grand Junction. After a couple of cold bleak days there, it had not seemed very grand.

While humping the market, Sucker had managed to work part-time in the registrar’s office at the university. It put some food on the table. That was all. Marking time. That is, until one of the employees in the office told him that if he was working more than half-time he was eligible for some benefits from the university. Stan didn’t know if it was true, but asked the supervisor about it and requested to be paid the benefits if he was eligible.

At first, the university balked. They claimed he was not eligible for any benefits. But when Stan asked the Human Resources Office about it, they backed down and offered the pay. The next day they sent him a letter terminating the job for him and a friend, Mark, who worked with him who had also asked about benefits.

I shouldn’t have asked, Stan thought. At least, I would have had a part-time job. And the benefits were just dipshit too. As it was, if the university could not continue to cheat him out of his legal right to benefits, then they would not allow him to work at all. This was the sort of business ethics that was practiced at the highest educational institution in the state. Sometimes it began to get on his nerves. He had been treated like shit for years as a student and now things were not getting any better. When would he get a lucky break?

While Stan struggled to prepare some articles for publication, his wife decided to sell some things in the swap meet. It was more of a hobby than anything else, as they were not likely to make a profit. They would realize this soon enough. Stan bought a plastic canopy and found tables to set up a booth. He prepared display cases for the costume jewelry and other trinkets they would sell. It took a trip to the wholesale district of LA to buy the costume jewelry and other items. He drove his old car down the freeways and found the wholesale district. Still, it was hardly possible to compete with the Koreans who got their supply direct from Asia.

When the registrar’s job ran out, he had applied at the unemployment office, now known as the Division of Employment Development. After giving him a written examination, he was told that the only job that he qualified for was a construction worker.

“What the hell?” Stan asked the jobs counsellor. “How can that be? I have never worked in construction before and I have just finished a doctorate in political science. Surely there is something that is related to my field of study.” The bureaucrats were not to be put off, however. They were adamant. He was now registered officially in the state as a construction worker. This would be his official job classification. There was no way they could change it, they said. The battery of tests proved that his aptitude ran only in the direction of doing construction work. There was no way to argue with those results. They would let him know when a job opened up for him.

Stan was a little dazed by this but anyway, it was bureaucracy. What could one expect working with bureaucrats. He had done what he could and had to leave it at that.

As a result of his work at the university, he was eligible for a few dollars a week of unemployment compensation. The stipulation was that he had to continue to apply for jobs every week and take a job if one came up.

Stan was putting the final touches on a paper that he was sending off for publication when his phone rang in the early afternoon. It was the guy he had met at the Employment Development Office.

“Mr. Sucker, we have a job for you,” the officer said. “We have a house for you to move.”

“What? Sucker said. “A house to move? How the hell can I move a house? I don’t have the first clue how to move a house and it must take some equipment. It would probably take a big truck or something maybe to get it onto wheels.” He imagined some powerful equipment to lift a house onto a huge truck.

“Well, your official job qualification is listed as a construction worker,” the explanation came. “That includes moving houses. That’s your business. You are a house-mover according to our records. You will have to deal with that. I records show that you are a qualified house mover. So you will have to move the house. Otherwise, we will have to cut off your weekly benefits. So if you can come to the office, I will provide the information.”

“That’s crazy,” Stan said. “I need a job but one would have to be in the profession to move a house. One would probably have to own a company.”

“Well, according to our records, that’s your profession.” The voice said. “That’s the best we can do for you.”

“Fuck’n AA,” Stan thought. “That’s the best they can do. The motherfuckers. They want me to move a fucking house and they spend their time shuffling papers on their desk. It would have been funny if it had not been so absurd.” 

Sucker was flabbergasted at such a thing. He was just trying to eek out a living with some part time work. If he could get some publications, he might be able to get a job and get out of their hair. That was what he was humping for every single day. But it took time. If he piddled around with their small meaningless jobs, he would never get into academia and get away from their chicken shit. He just couldn’t understand the logic. They were treating him as if he was just wasting his time in idleness. He was trying to get on in life and start a real career. They were just making it harder for him. They were wasting his time.

Luckily, his small checks did not stop coming at once. He tried to ignore the absurdity of the state employment honchos who seemed to be out on cloud nine. Construction worker, my ass, he thought. What kind of fucking construction worker was he after nine fucking years studying political science. He had never done any such work in his life. He might provide part of the labor required to prepare a house for moving. But to actually move the house one would have to have some heavy equipment.

The next day, when he drove down to Lucky’s for some shopping he noticed that a wooden house had been loaded onto a long flatbed truck in a vacant lot. It was being prepared for moving.

“Fuck ‘N A,” he thought. “That must be the house that they wanted me to move.” One needed a construction company to do that kind of a job.

In the Fall two of his friends who were also fresh Phd.s from his department decided to go to Washington for the political science meeting where there would be a job market. It was a screening for teaching positions. The cheapest flight was the red-eye that left late in the evening and reached the city the next morning. Stan bought a cheap ticket and joined the two guys at LAX. The plane took off a little after midnight. It was completely full. It was not possible to sleep. People around him were drinking and partying most of the night. They landed in Philadelphia in the morning and then the plane shuttled down to Washington through jumpy thunderstorms. Freed from the cramped seat at last, Stan shared the long cab ride from Dulles with his two friends.

At the hotel near the Capitol Building, another jobless colleague joined them, so that there were four sharing the room. Stan would have to sleep on the floor. He was not moving up in the world very fast.

Just after arriving, he changed into his cheap suit and tie and went straight to the employment section of the meeting that had been set up. He had paid the fee and registered. Generally the professors assigned the duties acted as head hunters. They were not likely to offer jobs at this point, but just indicate their interest in having a candidate come for a full interview during the academic year.

Arriving at the venue, Stan was given a number. He first checked his box provided for the candidates. A couple of slips of paper appeared from representatives of universities. It was a good sign, he thought. Things were starting to look hopeful. They were interested in him. And he only needed one job. Almost any offer would get him started and he would take it from there. However, if he could have looked more closely, he might have seen that some schools had simply gone down the line inserting slips in all the candidate mailboxes in hopes of finding a candidate that would suit them. They had not even bothered to look at the CVs.

He checked the slips. One was from a school in South Carolina. Oh well, it could be worse, he thought. He was not in a position to turn anything down at this point. There was even a time on the slip, 1:45 in the afternoon. He was slated to see a Professor Brown.

Young mostly male candidates were milling around the area and checking the big blue folders that held the notices of positions to be opened up. They looked uncomfortable, in their ill-fitting wrinkled suits. Most had been students for years and not used to being in a coat and tie. Some of them didn’t even know how to put on their tie.

Sucker checked though the job listings and filled out his own slips indicating his interest in some positions at other schools. What the hell. This game is a lottery, he thought. Throwing darts and hoping to hit something. What are they really looking for? A scholar who will write articles and produce books, or someone to watch the ballgames with on the weekends? And of course, play golf, after they got settled in the community and were invited to join the white country club.

After a sandwich at a place out on the street, where it was much cheaper than the bloated hotel prices, Stan returned to the job section and waited. There were three rows of chairs set up where anxious, mostly young candidates were sitting nervously in suits and ties. A middle aged man appeared with short hair and asked for Stan Sucker. Stan said hello and shook his hand. The professor looked at him carefully, a slightly amused look on his face. Stan wondered if he had done something wrong. Was there something wrong with his shirt or tie? There seemed to be some problem, but he didn’t know what.

“Hi Mr. Sucker. Dave Brown,” he said. He indicated to Stan to come with him to the booth were there was a small round table. When they settled down, Professor Brown pulled out his CV and asked him what subjects he was interested in teaching as a way of beginning the interview.

“Well, my main area is comparative politics,” Sucker began. “But I would also like teach political theory and international relations. I can also teach courses in American politics if there is a need.”

Brown looked a little apologetic, not knowing exactly how to proceed. “Well, we are The Citadel,” he said, as if Sucker would recognize at once what he was dealing with. When there was no reaction, he said,

“We are a military academy down in South Carolina.”

Sucker had not had a clue that it was a military academy and only had a vague notion of what kind of university that would be. Brown had concluded from the first glance at Sucker that he was not cut out for the place and realized that the interview was headed for the rocks.

“Oh, I was thinking that it was a regular university,” Stan said. He should have known, given the name. Yes, he had known there were such places, but had not come across them.

“You know, if you came down there, you would have to cut that beard off,” Professor Brown quickly drawled. It was clear that he was anxious to relieve Stan of his misery. No need to torture him with the interview when there wasn’t a chance in hell, given that he wore a beard.

The words hit him hard in the face as if he had been slapped. Sucker felt like a fucking fool. He suddenly realized what he was up against. It flashed through his mind. The last twenty-four hours. The money he had sacrificed to come here. The airport shuttle to LA. The airport crowds. The miserable red-eye flight. The preparation to meet the professors after losing a night of sleep. After everything, he was now sunk. Sunk by his beard. Sitting across from this recruiter from a goddamn military school. He was not about to get back into that shit after his years in the Navy. He would rather not have a job.

The situation struck him as so absurd that he suddenly burst out laughing. Professor Brown laughed too. Just as well laugh, he thought. He realized the interview was over before it had even begun.

“Yea, your right. I’m afraid it wouldn’t work for me,” Sucker said. “I didn’t realize that it was a military school.”

“Yes, we have a strict dress code,” the professor said. “That’s the way it is at the school. Good luck in your job search.”

Sucker thanked him, shook hands and left. He wished he could just forget about the whole thing. Surely, I will have better luck with some other schools that are real universities and not hung up on that sort of chicken-shit rules, he thought. Jesus. It suddenly reminded him of his Navy days on the ship when he was constantly harassed by the officers about the length of his beard. Professor Brown had stuffed chits in everybody’s box hoping that he would come up with a couple of suckers that could be pulled in. Some people actually liked the military atmosphere, after all. They would like to see the little robotic students pop up in front of them when they walked into the classroom.  

He left the booth and sauntered over to where the big folders were kept listing the positions at various schools. He searched through the job listings and found a few that might be interested in him. There was no way to know. He filled out a few more slips of paper requesting interviews, but his spirits had been considerably dampened by this first encounter. He noticed that he was almost the oldest person around. The others were hardly wet behind the ears. He had done his Ph.D. late. He knew more about life, but that did not cut any ice when it came to getting a job. It might even militate against him.

He checked his box several times again, but nothing came up in the afternoon. The next morning, after some breakfast at a McDonald’s down the street from the hotel, he checked his box again and found a slip from a professor at a school up in New Hampshire. That would be excellent to get that, he thought. Sure it was a cold place, but beggars could not be choosers. And it seemed quite liberal. He was to be there at a quarter after ten for the interview.

He was met by a middle-aged professor Don Tucker who had the appearance of a real academic. He was wearing a light pullover without a tie, friendly and relaxed. Jesus, that is refreshing, Sucker thought. He is interviewing candidates and not even wearing a tie in this strait-jacket outfit of a convention. This is my type of place.

The discussion was friendly. Tucker had looked through Stan’s CV and decided that he would be appropriate for the department. He skipped the standard questions. It was obvious that having a doctorate from the University of California would qualify him if he was willing to work to teach the courses. He appeared to be willing to work. Sucker felt confident and asked him about the school, saying that he would love to join the department and work hard to build up his courses and contribute to the department.

“Yes, well, we would surely like to hire you,” Tucker began. “I like the work you have done. It is somewhat along my line. We are a quite liberal school and can be academically oriented. But I have to tell you the truth. The fact is that this is an affirmative action position. We have to hire a woman.”

“Shit,” Sucker thought. Shit out of luck again. He couldn’t just get rid of his cock all of a sudden and be in line to fill the position. And if they had to hire a woman, why waste his time interviewing him? It was all window dressing to show how fair they were being.

“Maybe I can fake it. I’ll pretend to be a woman,” he joked. He wasn’t sure, but thought that Tucker was probably being honest with him. White males had a big handicap in the job market due to the affirmative action. Universities could not ignore it. Universities were often in the market for a woman, a black or a Hispanic to straighten up their ethnic balance. Otherwise they would get in trouble with the Feds and the university would lose its grants.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, Stan. Keep checking with us. If a position opens up later on in our department, you are welcome to apply,” Tucker said. “But I am afraid that we cannot hire you for this particular position. We have to round out our diversity in the department with future hires.”

“Yes, I understand that,” Stan said. “He had always supported affirmative action. He thought it was only fair. Now it had hit him square in the face and knocked him out of a job. But why should a woman deserve the position more than him? He thought. She could be from a rich family and never have had to struggle and still land the position just on the basis of her sex. Or maybe her good looks. The men would like to have her around the department.

Sucker felt a little discouraged. First his beard had rendered him completely taboo for the job in South Carolina. Now it was his cock that had knocked him out of a position in New Hampshire. What next? He couldn’t win for losing. But then, who could argue with the market?