Archive for the ‘Ron Schueler’ Category

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Ron Schueler (4)

January 22, 2008
 

Adjunct!

Act IV

(continued from Ron Schueler (3)

I first started writing about my baseball cards years ago, as my time as an adjunct was coming to a close. My teaching in those last few months had dwindled from a couple classes per semester to a single one-on-one tutorial with a pale, sunken-eyed Vietnam War veteran suffering from acute insomnia stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. By then I’d run out of money and had begun racking up credit card debt to pay for essentials. I’d been spending the year living in a drafty cabin in the woods with no electricity and no running water and a small leaky woodstove that combined with my pile of green wood to give off about as much heat as a toaster oven. In the middle of the winter I’d almost burned the cabin down with a chimney fire, and soon after that had given away my cat Alice, who I loved deeply, because I decided she deserved better than to spend her golden years shivering or on fire beside a penniless idiot. I wrote something every day, one way or another, even if it was so cold in the cabin I had to wear my fire-damaged gloves. Most of the writing was an ongoing attempt at a novel that never found a heartbeat. As the useless pages piled up I began to sort of lose it. By “it” I mean hope, sanity, what have you. So just for something to do to keep from going crazy or to pass the time I started picking cards at random and writing about them in my journal by the dim light of a propane lantern. Over this past weekend I tried to find those descriptions, but wading through the dense thicket of failure in the journals from those years proved impossible. It took about two minutes of searching through one page after another of airless desperation before I shut down like a fried computer. But I know that one of the first cards I wrote about was this Ron Schueler card. I’m pretty sure I noted his big White Sox collar, and maybe I noted the partially hidden billboard behind him seeming to advertise Brut cologne. I do know I interpreted his gaze as a reflection of my own souring expectations, that existential dyspepsia that seems to say I thought things were going to turn out differently somehow.

Now it’s been long enough since then that I see that things, at least for me (I can’t speak for Ron Schueler) turned out exactly as they should have. And not only that, they weren’t half bad. There were stories. There were songs. There were even plenty of times when I really liked teaching. (I hope I can do it again someday.) I remember a lot of nervous sweat and stammering coming from me, and a lot of blank stares coming from my students, but I also remember some days when it actually felt like I had a job that wasn’t just dumb labor for once in my life. I talked about Jack Kerouac and Denis Johnson and Blade Runner and D. Boon and Muhammad Ali and whatever else came to mind, every subject somehow relating, or intended to relate, to how much I loved writing, even how much I loved life, how much I wanted the students to get excited about something, anything, and try to put it into words. Sometimes I think some of it even came across.

As for the rest of it, the cabin and the loss of Alice and the stillborn novel and the (eventual champion) fantasy team Desolation Angels, plus a lot of other things I guess I’ll get around to mentioning some other time (such as the brief interval when I shared a house with a guy who was convinced the local health food restaurant was trying to poison him, or the brief doomed fling I had, or the deer I killed, or how spring felt at that cabin when the long cold winter finally ended): I guess I’ll just say it was all a web of songs. I imagine Ron Schueler as the silent center of those songs. Even now, so many years later, new songs bloom from that Schuelerian silence. Yesterday I woke up with lyrics for the opening number of the Broadway musical Adjunct! in my head, the introduction to the main character song. Actually all I had is one line, the first line below, but I stumbled to my notebook (where else in this life is there to go?) and jotted down a bunch of possible accompanying lines:  

I’m just a margin on a page
I’m just an extra at the back of the stage
I’m too demoralized to fly into a rage
I don’t act young but I don’t act my age
My empty apartment sometimes feels like a cage

Something like that. The curtain rises, the song begins. Off-key, ridiculous. Then, as it is in life, song gives way to song. Here’s to all of it, the web of song, the silence beneath, the whole bleating indispensable mess. May the curtain never come down.

(continued, sort of, in Adjunct!: Wrap Party)

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Ron Schueler (3)

January 18, 2008

Adjunct!

Act III

(continued from Ron Schueler (2))

I lasted two years as an adjunct, which matches the average stay by Ron Schueler on each of his four major league teams. He spent two years with the Braves, three with the Phillies, one with the Twins, and two with the White Sox. Maybe two years is the normal shelf-life for adjuncts. Most of the other adjuncts at my college also seemed to be just passing through. There were a couple of long-timers, but they had fit their adjunct duties into a sturdy arsenal of resourceful chisel-jawed remunerative pursuits, one guy teaching a couple of classes when he wasn’t leading tours through the Amazon rainforest and selling photographs to National Geographic, another guy maintaining his on-campus reputation as a ruthless grammarian in between professional jazz trumpeter engagements. Most of the others seemed to view the low-paying, no-insurance, no-security job as a steppingstone to something better. I may have entertained that thought, too, early on, but in the same blurry, hypothetical way that I daydreamed about someday publishing a novel or owning a house or ceremonially passing my baseball cards down to a son. It became apparent eventually that the job was merely another in my long line of crumbling ledges to cling to by my fingertips.

One day while clinging I stopped in to see my old teacher and good friend Tony, who had helped get me the adjunct job. Tony told me of a dream he’d had the night before. In it, he’d gathered me and his wife together to tell us that he’d come up with an idea for a Broadway musical. One of the clearest impressions from the dream for him were the looks on our faces as he described the idea. First we were skeptical, then alarmed.

“It was a whole musical about adjunct professors,” Tony explained. “I even remember the big closing number. Paaaart-timers are indispensable!” Tony came up out of his chair behind his desk to sing this last part. As he did I saw the whole thing in my mind, a stage full of singers and dancers wearing fake bald spots and glasses, wool sweaters and corduroy, stacks of marked-up student papers in their fists, everyone leaping to and fro to express the unconquerable nature of the human spirit, the hero in the center of the action an adjunct who overcame all the odds, who found the song deep down below all the meaningless noise, who let the song flow through him, who found while singing that he and his fellow adjuncts and every last creature on earth were worthy of song. Worthy of love. Indispensable. I laughed so hard I felt temporarily cured.

“The end of the dream was you guys walking out on me,” Tony said. “You were shaking your head and saying ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t know.’”

(to be continued)

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Ron Schueler (2)

January 16, 2008

Adjunct!

Act II

(continued from Ron Schueler (1))

The back of this card, the same card I displayed a couple days ago, shows a handful of years and a handful of teams, a portrait in numbers and place names of a nonessential migratory clause, a body to throw at the useless innings, an adjunct. Add him, junk him. Add junk? Adjunct. I hadn’t planned to rely so heavily on Ron Schueler in this latest attempt of mine to defeat the defeat of the past. Who would? But the computer hooked to my scanner is wheezing, unusable, poisoned with viral malignancies. I have no other option, no one in the bullpen. For better or worse, it’s Ron Schueler’s game to win.

I spend much of my waking life wired to a computer, so when the thing went down with a virus a couple days ago it felt like more than just the malfunctioning of an inanimate tool. I felt damaged, invaded. As the popups kept mushrooming relentlessly across the screen I had the urge to bash the computer to shards with a baseball bat and head for the hills. Maybe in the hills I’d find peace or maybe instead I’d feel the need to hack at my skull with a screwdriver to dislodge what I believed to be a wireless transmitter embedded inside. I mean maybe it’s too late. Maybe I’m beyond repair.

This possibly fatal graft of my brain to the computer began about the time where we last left off. As an adjunct professor I was given space in an office shared by several other adjunct professors. I was also given the use of a computer. A friend from graduate school, Rick, had begun working as an adjunct professor at the school that year, and he helped me set up a Yahoo account. He had one, which he used to play fantasy football. “It’s fun,” Rick said. He seemed unconvinced. Still, I drafted a fantasy basketball team within minutes of creating my online proxy. I named them Desolation Angels, after Jack Kerouac’s saddest novel.  

There were days, plenty of them, when the Desolation Angels provided the brightest moment of my day. I didn’t have much else going on. I had an apartment with two empty bedrooms, blindless windows that stared unblinkingly at Time, and terror that crested four times a week in the firing-squad minutes directly preceding each meeting of one of my two classes. Each flare-up of terror gave way to a kind of public seizure that gripped me for 90 minutes before casting me back to my solitude sweaty and stunned, my voice raw, as if I had spent the entire hazy interval sobbing.

The students gone, I sat at the head of the empty class until my legs stopped trembling. I usually felt ashamed about one or another of the things that had tumbled from my mouth during the ill-planned lesson.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I said out loud.

But the Desolation Angels got off to a decent start and kept climbing. As the days got shorter and colder, I leaned on them more and more. I started coming into the office on weekends to study the numbers of guys on the free agent wire. I made shrewd pickups. I climbed into third place. I climbed into second.

“I can win this,” I said out loud. 

(to be continued)

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Ron Schueler (1)

January 14, 2008
 

Adjunct!

Act I

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)

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