Ron Schueler (1)January 14, 2008
In 1998 I applied for a job as an adjunct professor at Johnson State College, a small state school in northern Vermont. I had been living in Brooklyn for awhile, getting by on sporadic temporary jobs. I had been, among other things, a liquor store clerk, a proofreader, a writer of cheaply made books sold to school libraries. I was thirty, same age as the man pictured here. I guess I hoped the teaching job would lead me to a more purposeful existence.
I had gotten my undergraduate degree from Johnson a few years before and was still close with two of my writing teachers there, who put in the good word for me. I didn’t have any teaching experience, but their recommendation helped me get the job anyway. Or maybe they just needed someone, a body. I was given two classes, Basic Writing and College Writing. The pay was meager, but that had never held me back before.
I didn’t have a car or even a driver’s license but a friend gave me a ride to Johnson a few days before classes were set to begin. I had few possessions. I got a second floor apartment within walking distance of campus. The apartment had two small bedrooms, which I left empty. I slept on a futon mattress on the floor of the space meant for a living room. My little gray cat Alice slept with me, burrowing under the blankets and pressing up against me. There were no blinds on the living room windows, so light from the street lamps came in. It was hard to sleep. The view from these windows was of a bank with a digital sign that gave the time and temperature. If I wanted to know what time it was I just had to look out the window. If I didn’t want to know what time it was I was in the wrong place.
I bought a card table and two white plastic chairs from the hardware store next door. I had borrowed a small television from my stepfather, and I set it up on a couple cardboard boxes. It only got a couple channels. I had a boombox, too, but there wasn’t much in the way of radio in northern Vermont. I found I missed the sports talk that had helped fill my hours in Brooklyn. Mike and the Mad Dog. The Schmooze.
The two unused bedrooms faced the part of Route 100 that was known for a few hundred yards as Main Street. There wasn’t much on Main Street besides the hardware store and, further away, a place to buy beer, grinders, and gasoline. Just below the window in one of my empty bedrooms was a slight raised mound of concrete in the sidewalk, right by the doorway of a vacant storefront. Maybe it had once been a doorstep. Teenagers with skateboards were drawn to the concrete mound. It seemed there were always two or three of them out there, taking turns failing some attempt at a trick involving the mound of concrete. The same sound, again and again: rolling wheels for a few seconds, then the clattering of the skateboard, then a pause, then the same sequence again. I sat in my apartment trying not to listen and trying not to stare at what time it was. I bought generic macaroni and cheese and Molson and chocolate at a grocery store just on the other side of the bank. I didn’t have a bottle opener, so I had to pry open the caps of the beer on the kitchen counter, but I wasn’t very good at it, so I ended up having to pound on the top of the beer until my hand was bruised and foam had spilled onto the floor. The formica edge of the counter got torn away from the particle board beneath. The days went by.
“My name is Josh Wilker,” I eventually said to a room full of 18-year-olds. “I’m going to be your teacher.”
(to be continued)