Friday, October 22, 2004

Stand By Me

Unless you want to sit there staring up at my double chin.

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I interrupted my sabbatical and returned to the beautiful USF campus to pick up my mail and sniff around for trouble -- marital, financial, intellectual, anything to feed the gossip jones that distinguishes humanity from brute creation.

And there -- no one had told me! -- in my office to my astonishment was my stand-up desk that *adjusts through the power of electricity* to a variety of heights conducive to a healthy back, i.e. conducive to fewer early mornings sitting on the sofa when it hurts too much to sleep watching some black-and-white semi-classic on the Turner Movie Channel while the pain eats at my hip socket.

In fact, it is referred pain from a nerve being pinched somewhere in my lower back, but understanding that displacement doesn't pull the teeth of the pain. They are very sharp teeth.

I thought, "With a marvelous adjustable desk, maybe I will come into the office occasionally to work now!"

And then I thought.


I disapprove of people on sabbatical who come into the office. You waste commute time, you divert yourself and you divert your colleagues. Your sunny freeloading presence brings them pain.

They say that when Stanley Fish was chair of the English Department at Duke University he was "good in the halls," meaning he moved from one informal group to another, wheedling and intimidating. A colleague on sabbatical who comes into the office becomes all too easily a Cancer in the Halls, walking around with his cup of coffee, loitering here, lounging there, thinking about thinking about thinking ... about.

So, I'll stay away, though if I had a big nice office I would be tempted. One reason I am so delighted with my new desk is that my office is really pretty miserable. Forget the sabbatical. Time to talk about The Nitty 101 and The Gritty: A Seminar for Majors. All the offices for the liberal arts faculty on the 5th floor of University Center at the University of San Francisco are pretty miserable. Every other floor is fine: nice coffee spot on 1, impressive cafeteria and dining hall on 2, big study area on 3, bunch of meeting rooms on 4.

But somewhere back in the day somebody ran out of patience or kindness or imagination and went medieval (architecturally speaking) on the posteriors of the liberal arts faculty.

Our offices are small, about 10 by 10, and the partitions are so thin you can hear your next door neighbor rethink her paradigm. The whole floor has a plenum, a space above the dropped ceiling that is filled with, oh, residue. Since the 5th floor tends to be too hot, most of us move a couple of acoustic tiles in the dropped ceiling. My wife, who is an architect, says that is equivalent to snorting asbestos -- though we've never run any tests so accept her statement as the rich and colorful hyperbole it was intended to be.

I have one of the better offices. I have a window, which I can open. I can see beautiful St. Ignatius Church. On warm days I can look out at the students on the grass south of Harney Plaza and see them nuzzle one another.

But pity the young faculty, mostly untenured and filled with dread, who get the inside offices. No window, no nothing, no hope except the death, retirement, madness or disgrace of the old parasites under whose thumbs they labor, or the abject failure of the young comrades with whom they drink, love and play academic musical chairs since not all of these young faculty will be left sitting at the end of the academic day.

As I said, most of them are untenured. The untenured need to hover, to stay in the vicinity of power, to work not only doggedly but also conspicuously. From the point of view of optimal mental health, what these youngsters need to do is cut a class, throw off their clothes and run naked into the surf and swim out out far out and tread water and look at the clouds until human voices wake them and they drown hahaha.

No one ever got tenure thinking jokes about T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot is not a joke. Somewhere back in the catacombs on the 5th floor of University Center someone -- some rival -- is not only rethinking the paradigm, she is shifting it. And if you were there, you could hear the thud three or even four offices away.

I can speak frankly about the UC gulag only because it too shall pass and soon. Each man kills the thing he loves the coward with a kiss the brave man with a yadda yadda yadda. I'm joking here, people. A fine new liberal arts building is being planned with every convenience and excellence, so benevolent and thoughtful is the USF administration, and the glory of that building and those offices shall shine all the brighter because we shall, until the day we die, remember what it was like to live like a dog in a kennel while giving our students a really fine education.

Now you see how intensely delighted I am to have my adjustable desk. When circumstances are hard, we need sugar for our tea and butter for our bread, and my new desk is sugar and butter. My physical therapist says that human beings -- speaking spinewise -- were meant to run and jump and tear with their teeth the living flesh from the bones of animals. They were not meant to sit and bend over their paperwork. With my wonderful new desk, I will be able to grade 20 30 40 50 papers at a time. I will assign so much work no one will take my classes and ... I guess, I'll write letters to the editor. I'll do something.

They also serve who only stand and think and think and think some more about a new a better a carpeted and air-conditioned paradigm with a view of all the pretty children killing time.

No comments: