Autumn wind/A beggar looks at me/Comparing



There was a time when traveling by plane was an event. You dressed for it, and were given a seat that was both comfortable and spacious. Even if you were traveling ‘Student Stand By’ everyone treated you with respect, and you expected to arrive at your destination within a few minutes of the moment indicated on the ticket.

These are not those times.

Even though they had boarded the plane only forty-five minutes late they hadn’t actually taken off until twenty minutes after the scheduled arrival time. They had spent those fun filled hours sitting off to the side of the taxiway while other planes went around them and the flight attendants walked briskly up and down the aisle. Occasionally they would fuss with a small door to a compartment that wouldn’t close completely, and then make heated calls on a phone near the door.

After an hour or so Thomas got the attention of one of the flight attendants and asked her, “I was just wondering. We aren't by any chance waiting for a supply of small, lemon soaked napkins are we?”

The flight attendant lifted her left eyebrow a quarter of an inch higher than you would normally think possible, or prudent, and replied in a tone of voice that had all the warmth of the dark side of Mercury, “No, sir. A compartment door won’t close completely creating an unsafe condition in the case of an emergency.”

“Um, just a thought, you know, and speaking as a layman with just a vague understanding of the consequences of falling out of the sky from a few thousand feet; but if—and this is strictly hypothetical, I’m not suggesting in any way we might actually do this—but just on the off chance we were to crash I would think the collateral damage, as it were, would be of sufficient severity to occupy most, if not all of my attention. I don’t think bumping my elbow on a small closet door would be especially high on my list of concerns.”

“Do you always talk like that?”

“No, not always. I’ve been told that on occasion I can be a bit obtuse.”

She thanked him for his feedback, and indicated that if he had any more concerns or suggestions Security would be happy to take him off the plane and discuss them for several hours. She could assure him that this was just the kind of smart assed remark that would allow them to release a lot of pent up hostility they had been saving for just such an occasion.

Eventually the door was kept closed by wedging a piece of folded napkin next to the latch. From there on the flight went as well as one has come to expect. The flight attendant, however, very pointedly gave Thomas only one packet of complimentary pretzel. (After a protracted trial the Airline agreed to cease using the plural as it was found to be misleading.)

Later there was a bit of a scene with an unfortunate man in first class who, when they finally landed, could not get his sport coat back because the little closet it had been hung in was wedged shut with some folded napkin. Hardly anybody noticed however because Airport Security had him trussed up and taken to a holding cell in less time than it took the woman blocking the aisle at row seven to take everything out of her purse; remember she had put her phone in her overnight bag, and empty it out; make a phone call to Rupert and tell him to get the trapeze ready; and repack everything. The man (the one in first class, not Rupert) later sued the airline for the cost of the sport coat and the emotional damage its loss had caused, but the airline refused to pay on the grounds that it was not a very attractive coat, and was completely wrong for that shirt and tie.

Rupert was later admitted to the hospital for unspecified lower back injuries.

On a subsequent flight the door unexpectedly sprang open during boarding when the folded napkin fell out and gave a passenger a rather nasty crack across the knuckles. That is, the door gave the passenger a rather nasty crack across the knuckles, not the napkin. The napkin just fell quietly to the floor and tried to disassociate itself from the scene that followed. The pretrial motions are currently entering their third year.

On the second day of the conference Thomas sent Spenser an email regretting his presence in San Diego during their meeting, and praising what he knew had been a productive exchange and the many excellent proposals he was sure Spenser would have made. He then promised to set up a follow up meeting to discuss the details as soon as he was sure of his travel schedule.

That afternoon was a busy one for Thomas.

From 1:30 to 3:00 he was attending a presentation explaining the fiscal benefits of what was being called the ‘Walmart Model.’ It was becoming popular in many smaller universities and in the increasingly cutthroat world of community colleges, especially those who included profit among their educational goals. You continually reminded staff (Here the old fashioned distinction between staff and faculty must be discarded because they are all, after all, simply employees.) that they are your most valuable asset. Then, to ensure the financial success of the institution, and more importantly your bonus, you keep every one that hasn't been unionized on semester to semester contracts, teaching just under a full load and paying at a rate that has been carefully calculated to be $20 dollars a unit lower than insulting.

You then end every budgeting, scheduling, and curriculum meeting; or any other meeting where someone might be tempted to inquire about something like health insurance or a livable salary by pointing out that staff is also your greatest, but most easily controlled, expense.

From 3:30 to 5:30 was a seminar exploring the reasons for the growing trend of faculty, especially adjunct, to have little or no loyalty to the schools that employed them. Thomas had privately worked out a theory that staff’s loyalty to their employer was intrinsically bound up with, and proportional to, their employer’s loyalty to them, but he had learned to keep that kind of thinking to himself. University and community college administrators, along with just about every other form of management, tend to feel they have stretched altruism to its breaking point just by hiring the grubby little bastards, and said grubby little bastards should show their eternal gratitude by doing as they are told when they are told. Plus, managers are very touchy about things like their bottom lines and bonuses and do not take kindly to the sort of seditious talk that might reduce either one—especially the later. In fact they are much more comfortable with you making a quite thorough examination of their spouse’s bottom and its lines than casually glancing at their school’s bottom line. It’s one thing to spread, and perhaps crumple, a couple sheets; it’s quite another to tinker with one’s spreadsheet.