I've had my share of Kafka moments.
Many of them happened on the job.
More than a few have the same motif.
When I was twenty and in college, I made candles for a living. Or, I should say, I made candles for my boss who made a living from the candles his candle-slaves made.
Often, when I bent over to pour the wax, the boss would pinch my ass. I jumped up, yelling, "Ow!" The boss giggled, wiggling his hefty eyebrows.
After two months of this, I wanted to pour wax all over the boss, stuff a wick up his nose, and light him on fire.
Instead, I quit. The boss went on to become mayor. Ass-pinchers often become politicians.
I became a waitress and got my ass pinched as well as patted. One time, I got my ass slapped. I was waitressing at Mother's Country Club, a popular, dumpy dive out in the rice fields. A duck hunter, who was chowing hunks of deer flesh, slapped my ass. I'd just delivered his clam chowder, and the ends of my braids dripped globs of white, chunky muck. My ass had a big sting from his fat palm. All the duck hunters at his table laughed. I wanted to borrow one of their rifles and blow their heads off.
Instead, I quit. I became a secretary in a bookstore, counting paperclips and staples to see if we needed more. My boss sat at his desk behind my desk in the small, dimly-lit office with a window overlooking the store. It was like being in a submarine. I was supposed to catch crooks stealing books off the shelves. I stood at the helm of the submarine, squinting through binoculars, searching the literary waves for rhetorical criminals. The boss never pinched my ass, but he took long looks at it. I could feel the looks like pinches. Sometimes, the boss went to the bathroom, and I had two minutes of freedom. Then he was back, asking about those paperclips. "How we doin'?" I sat down on my ass, the boss breathing down my neck, the binoculars banging against my chest, and counted. Then I counted the staples. Eight hours a day. I didn't want to kill the boss. He was too sad, and I was too depressed. I wanted to die.
Instead, I quit and became a teacher. For seven years, I drove my ass around a bunch of towns, from one college to the next, trying to string together enough classes so I wouldn't starve. I was desperate to the point of illness to stay in good health because I didn't have medical insurance. I spent all my money on gas. Nobody pinched my ass, but it was still on the line all the time. The Dean of English at one of the colleges asked me to lunch. I was up for a Sabbatical Replacement position. He said he wanted to see if I was the "right fit" for the college. I thought, Okay, but also, Right fit, my ass. Who was he to decide? I'd been teaching my ass off for years while he'd been counting staples. But he was Dean, and he was a Mormon, married, with five children. A really respectable guy. In the car on the way to the restaurant, he put his hand on my knee. I almost asked him, in iambic pentameter, if he'd like to pinch my ass but I could tell he had much more than pinching in mind. Eating lunch with the Dean made me miss the duck hunters. They were assholes and knew it, while the Dean saw himself as an educated and civilized man. On the way home, he put his hand on my knee again and started to move it up. I moved my knee toward the door, toward your ass is going to jail. The Dean got the message. I got the Sabbatical Replacement job. I guess the Dean was afraid I'd tell on him. Who knows? Kafka knows.
I didn't quit teaching. I finally got a full-time job at another college. After a few weeks, a rumor came down the intellectual pike: I was hired because I'd slept with the English Department Chair. In academia, ass-pinching had definitely graduated to a higher level. I found out that one of my colleagues (a senior faculty member, in her sixties) spread the rumor. I didn't know this woman at all. We'd just met, and she'd taken a dislike to me immediately. Why else would she want to smear my non-existent reputation? I hadn't been at the college long enough to make anyone hate me, or so I thought. Then I realized it had nothing to do with me. It was her problem, whatever it was. It was about her. I marveled, though, and still do, at how we project our surreal reality onto others. Why? Only Kafka knows best.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
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