I started writing this in an airport. There's nothing much else to do for the two hours that you have to wait to get on a plane these days just because someone may want to blow up aircraft and buildings and people.
Plus, I couldn't really do this at my office. First, I'm a classicist at a high-quality, liberal-arts college in Minnesota -- in the second year of a two-year contract. That means I need to be as productive as I can be; the next job looms.
Second, a photo of a glaring, bug-eyed Theodor Mommsen, the great 19th-century classical philologist, hangs outside my office door. He reminds me that the only satire ve vill vork on at the office is Juvenal, Horace, or Menippus.
Still, all the hours I've spent waiting for airplanes to take off or land has given me plenty of time to wonder what many other people I've encountered are doing in academe, not to mention what I'm doing here myself.
I looked for a job the year I finished my dissertation, which was 2000 -- December, to be precise. I know because I still have the cork from the champagne bottle, and I wrote the date on it.
That academic year I got one on-campus interview -- from a small, public, liberal-arts college south of the Mason-Dixon line and on the East Coast. I'm glad I didn't get the job. The department chairman was a vast reservoir of machismo, and he took my visit with a visible and irritating nonchalance. The dean came off as imperious.
But I liked the president, even though I didn't get to meet him. He wore bow ties. I wear bow ties, too. I tell people I do it because it saves on the cleaning bill. (Classicists are known to wear a great deal of their food; there's even a quite famous scholar I've met on several occasions who would benefit from the invention of a plastic cravat).
I tell some people I wear bow ties because they're cheaper than neckties. Most of my family members understand that. Teaching 18-year-olds Greek and Latin is not as lucrative as law, banking, and accounting. But I actually wear bow ties because I like them. Most of my family members don't understand that.
My campus interview that first year on the market was on February 1. Out of some degree of insecurity, I avoided my general practice and wore a necktie to the interview. When I arrived at the agreed-upon time, no one but the part-time secretary was in, and she was on her way out the door.
So I had to wait all alone in the chairman's office. His name was Dwayne or Dwight or Larry. I don't remember anymore, mostly because I've gotten over it. The college was in a place where the ground never freezes. In Minnesota, where I am now, the frost line is about four feet below ground. I think freezing ground is healthy since it must kill all sorts of microorganisms, and I wonder why people in the South don't get really sick more often. Maybe they do. I don't know. I've never lived there. I wasn't offered the job. Maybe it's because I was wearing a necktie. [more]