Friday, October 28, 2022

Ex-Basketball Player—short story

 Originally appeared in an Alien Buddha anthology, which I never saw, nor did anybody else.


Yesterday a student of hers was expelled for a third-offense plagiarism incident which happened in her lit class two weeks ago. The student a charming funny guy and, it seemed to her, used his charm to get through school, along with his talent for basketball—he was the captain of their JuCo team—and when his charm didnt work he used his anger and she saw the red flags from the beginning when he dropped her Comp II class and didnt enroll in another one, because the same thing happened with another student, another basketball player, who became ineligible to play after dropping and failing too many classes which his coaches told him to take. But she didnt know this student had previous incidents—not that that would have changed anything—but in any case the assignment was a small creative response to John Updike’s Ex-Basketball Player which she’d had him read out loud in class and which he didnt understand. She was trying to say, dont end up like this, but the student was confident in his quote ‘talent,’ and that he still had a chance at playing for the NBA, and the Associate Dean didn’t expel him until two weeks later after he’d already made up the assignment and now the coaches all blame her.

Yesterday in her night class of three women, instead of running thru brainstorming ideas for the new unit—topics in rural living—making lists and freewriting and doing a mindmap—instead they just sat around and talked like adults with a little cool jazz in the background about their lives—one today going to a belated celebration of her dead husband. Another spoke fondly of living near Glacier National Park. The third spoke about her granddaughter wanting to get married at 17 to a guy who reminds her of her awful husband of 36 years.

At the end all she had to say was, —You know, you should write about these things.

And now they are. Which made up for her typos in the assignment handout.

Two yesterdays ago the Dean threatened her with retaliation because she didn’t want to teach an overload class at the other campus 1.5 hours away. He had lied to her about it previously when he asked, mocking her, condescending her, trying to bully her into that damn class which, with drive time, would create an 11 hour day twice a week. He told her he’d take her decision to not teach an overload in mind for her end of year eval. So what else could she do but file an incident report with HR—even though she knows HR is not her friend—so feeling like she wont be around Strangely, Colorado much more. Which makes her angry but maybe relieved? She applied for a job in Arizona yesterday just because. Which made her feel good, like she had some control.

Today staring at her computer screen all day—seven hours for a State Faculty Curriculum Committee being held somewhere on the east side of the Rockies because this is the 30% service requirement for her job. She doesnt even really know what they/re doing—approving classes that will never be taught at her school. Like winemaking. She doesnt feel like anyone on the east side of the Rockies really cares what someone from this podunk community college even thinks. Fortunately her camera and mic are off—she cant do any real work or even apply for other jobs but she’s got her mandolin to noodle on and occupy her hands, though this will only get her thru the morning. Meanwhile the Arts & Sciences Department is having a mandatory ‘brown bag’ from 12 to 1—meaning she’s working on her lunch break, her friday now eight hours long, at least four hours past her 40, because she teaches night classes four nights a week. Maybe she should be like The New Yorker editor and masturbate during the meeting: he got caught because he ‘forgot’ to turn off his camera, but didnt even lose his job and in fact the New York liberals came to his defense because masturbation is natural. She guesses you’d have to rape underage girls to really get fired except—oh yeah —the Democratic governor of New Mexico and a prince of England got away with that. And, like, two presidents. Too bad Jeffrey Epstein killed himself (cough cough). Maybe someone could ask Bill Clinton about this. But not her. She’s staring at a screen sipping hojicha tea thankful that yesterday the Community Colleges of Colorado Chancellor was unable to impose vaxx mandates on the ‘rurals,’ tho he wanted to. But the college’s new president is black and she was like, uh uh. Imagine blacks and poor rural whites having something in common.

Today she started writing for a poetry chapbook contest but she probably won’t win because the judge is probably liberal therefore wont like any vaxx mandate criticism because there’s nothing liberals like more than telling others what to do, except of course for abortion in which case hands off my body. Liberals think they’re the left when they’re the center—‘nothing will fundamentally change,’ said Dementia Joe to his rich donors in a rare moment of lucidity. Yeah, she knows his wife teaches at a community college—a big one with money—but his son Hunter made millions being on corporate boards who wanted influence with his dad, except Hunter seems to have smoked it all away in a crack pipe. But don’t worry you can ‘buy’ one of his paintings for a million dollars. The point being, poets are liberals and listen to NPR. Best American Poetry is infused with NPR, sponsored by EXXON Chevron Boeing Blackrock The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—but dont listen to her—she wants a threesome with Harley Quinn and Black Widow. Today she will be too braindead to take a run or even play her new fiddle bought on impulse down in Junction many yesterdays ago—the one thing she told herself she’d buy with this new job, thinking she could form some nügrass band here even though maybe soon she will be houseless if she quits or gets fired.

Today the people involved in discussing and picking apart proposed new courses are really involved—all five of them—They dont even need a majority to approve anything, just a motion and a second, while the 20 others dont care, muting cameras and mics as they do other things. She could be out hiking somewhere tho its raining, or going to rain, and going to rain all day, which is nice—she could use a little rain on her face right now. She could go take a nap later and she probably will. Right now she is remembering the harmonic minor scale, though mostly when noodling and soloing she just uses the blues scale—the flat fifth Devil’s note of blues and metal, tho the major seventh in a minor scale sounds evil too—Bach used the major seventh in minor all the time to build tension—with always a resolution. She just prefers it without the resolution, like in real life.

Snow in Vail Pass already. The baseball team couldnt get thru though basketball slipped by. The baseball guys have to sleep four to a hotel room. In january they’ll go to AZ for three weeks and basically drop out, then expect to come back and have instructors accommodate them. Travel expenses for sports in general here are in the 100s of thousands. She doesnt understand how her school stays fiscally solvent.

Today she’ll take a nap! Because the SFCC Committee just got out early! And its raining and maybe she’ll masturbate—perhaps to office lesbians unless her neighbor is home, because the walls are thin and he is loud. But: with the miracle of no essays to read this weekend! Freedom! Maybe a long muddy run later. She finally connected with a therapist down in Junction, because she feels her anger building—already here—not at her students, or not all of them, but admin. If they could just be honest and communicate better. She knows she doesnt communicate well, but she tries to be honest.

She puts on Thelonius Monk’s I Mean You to drown her neighbor out. She knows her anger is an effect of stress and loss of control, though sometimes anger is anger and a self-defense response. And there’s the blue note—the Devil’s note! In jazz too! Hail Satan! Maybe she’ll read some Nietzsche and Bukowski, cultivate her inner irreverence. Which angers the admin. This teaching job: she meditates less now and writes less now, plays less music. She talks to herself more, but masturbates less, so maybe her relationship with herself isn’t just sexual.

Anger too from sadness at this student getting expelled. And ending two friendships this past year. Which she’s ok with. But still there’s an emptiness. Actually three friendships: she was dating a woman here which she never expected. But they drifted apart and/or lost interest in each other. Which is to say the woman lost interest in her? She thinks? Maybe? Not that the woman is a bad person. But.

Twenty-one yesterdays ago the student in question caused a scene in class and, out in the hallway, pulled the race card, even though there were other black guys from his team waiting for them in the classroom. (She thinks ‘even though,’ but maybe it was ‘because.’) And all that week he sent emails ordering her to change his grade, though that was for participation when his overall was 88%. Coming to her office to say he’d talked to others in class about their participation grades and how they didn’t say anything, how he had read Ex-Basketball Player in class, that she just didnt appreciate his quote ‘talent’— which at first she thought he was somehow talking about his writing talent, but of course it was his talent at basketball. She realized that that was how he’d gotten through school. That and his charm and anger and desire to play in the NBA, which was all happening around the time that black players from the NBA were coming out against any vaxx mandate, speaking more lucidly logically intelligently about their reasons than any talking head or politician for the last year and a half. (Liberals still wanting to believe that only Trump supporters are anti-vaxx).

But—and she admits—that she felt the class would be ruined. And then he plagiarized. And the bureaucracy rolled out: she was not allowed to talk to him or show him his work until the Associate Dean could be present to give ‘restorative justice’. Which took a week and ended up being her talking to the student while the Associate Dean sat there with a satisfied smile, after telling her he had seen no evidence of intentional plagiarism, even though half a page was copied word for word from Wikipedia. But, despite all that, the student and she came to a certain peace.

Today she will make lentil soup as the clouds roll in at 3500’—she is in them—mesas hidden in drizzle. On her run, a flock of birds sit on a wire singing. Cool drops cool on all their faces in cool blue air. She will not slip and fall and get muddy as she feared—she’s had two major injuries to her right foot in three years. At 42 she doesnt think she’ll get back to 100% but today while the lentils are burbling she can play her fiddle—Monk’s Blues or at least the intro as a tribute. Bluesy chromatics which she also likes in metal. The soup good though not as great as anticipated. She is about sick of all the food she makes now. She spends a good chunk of her paycheck eating out—She feels like she needs to treat herself for living in Strangely, population 1500. Not that the food the students eat at the cafeteria sounds good. The athletes eat McDonalds on the road or Olive Garden. She’s thinking of this student expelled right before the team left for a tournament in Denver so no one was even around when he left, probably today, an ex-basketball player. She kind of wants to be an ex-writing instructor if this goes on. Tonight she’s going to watch some kind of international film, go for a walk after in the dark rain around La Mesa, the rich neighborhood across from the campus. Get barked at by dogs and look in people/s windows, look out off the mesa at Strangely and Chevron oil fields. She’s not convinced this school will be here in 10 or five years. It survives on student athletes—give out scholarships, receive money for butts in seats—plus rich donors. No one will go on to play professionally. They will all be ex-sports players in a year or two.

This new policy of restorative justice—which one of the (three!) Vice-Presidents came up with—taken from prison reform, which she is in favor of, but not in the context of a community college in a rural town. Liberal buzzwords wont go over well, especially not with rich donors (one of them has a room in his house of ‘mounted’ animals, including two monkeys named Barack and Obama—known b/c the women's basketball team last year (all black) got a tour with their black coach.)(As a side note: the coach slept with at least one of them so was fired and they all quit, along with the softball team who were being bullied and harassed by their coach.)(But sure, low enrollment is the faculty’s fault.) But justice implies that a crime was committed—in the prisons absolutely a crime has been committed against the incarcerated, but the students are not prisoners, the instructors are not guards. Justice also implies a victim, and she is not comfortable with viewing her students as victims, or with students viewing themselves as victims. With this student being expelled, nothing seems restored either, though the same thing would have happened with the old policy. Now the school has just advertised its liberal ideology, showing conservatives that they were right—colleges do have liberal agendas and the lawmakers will come for them. (Maybe—because Colorado is a purple state even if not here on the Western Slope. Though she hates to talk in blue and red, left and right, anymore. Marx said there is the working class, and the rich, who drive national and state policies of mandates and shutdowns. Middleclass liberals unable to admit we need a revolution because they might lose everything and want things to stay the same. If we could ever get the poor whites and poor blacks and latinos to unite, neither the Hamptons nor Boulder are defensible spaces. But the rich-owned MSM keeps the Narrative dividing us.

Today the announcement came—as part of the negotiation with the CCC Chancellor in Denver, the rurals proposed going online after Thanksgiving to mitigate anymore risk from the OMFGvirus. So they’re still doing it: acting like the virus will go away if we keep performing. But she’s grateful because she would have not complied. And Dementia Joe is making all federal employees get vaxxed, even a republican president probably wont revoke anything once in office. She just wonders how liberals can continue to believe the Narrative, which has changed so much, and not be outraged at how the federal government (both administrations) has lied to and treated mericans. But the answer is that liberals werent affected by the shutdown like the poors. They won’t believe the american government helped finance the Wuhan lab from which this virus escaped, because to believe that would be to believe our government doesnt care about us. But all she can really think about is the student driving back today in the rain—maybe having to stay in a hotel because Vail Pass is closed. Alone, heading back to Denver where his team will be playing. But, he fucked up three times. Even in his make-up assignment (which she didnt ask for but accepted) he wrote a sort of poem, the first line saying most students don’t plagiarize intentionally—which she halfway thinks he plagiarized, but she didn’t have the heart to google the sentence. But could he still think that? Why did the Associate Dean even cc her on the letter of expulsion to the student?

Tomorrow she will search for more jobs in states without mandates. Tomorrow she will send out reminder emails to her students. Tomorrow she may take a hike in Fruita if she has the time. Tomorrow she will spend money on books to add to the pile next to her bed—which she does gradually get thru. Tomorrow she’ll talk to her friend (old girlfriend) Melissa about meeting up in Vegas either over t-day or x-mass b/c its cheap, not to gamble. Tomorrow she may research outdoor activities around Vegas. Tomorrow she will still think about this student. Tomorrow she will still be angry at the new Deans. Tomorrow she will send off info to the therapist in Junction, which may end up costing lots of money because her insurance sucks. But she can feel the anger and last time it got this bad she yelled at her supervisor in front of the other GAs at PSU—some looked at her with fear afterwards as if she were a psycho bitch and she doesn’t want that, though neither is she going to take someone retaliating on her ass. So tomorrow she will do the things that make her feel better: Tomorrow she will continue to scribble in her notebook. Tomorrow she will play her fiddle or mandolin. Tomorrow she will walk outside preferably away from buildings. Tomorrow she will sit on a pillow and stare at a wall quietly. Tomorrow she will drink plenty of water. Tomorrow she will read books—fiction philosophy poetry. Tomorrow she will take a long hot bath. Tomorrow she will take time to stretch her body. Tomorrow she will brew some hojicha tea. Tomorrow she will breathe.

The day after tomorrow she will go for a hike. She will drive east along the Río Blanco. She will look at the changing leaves—aspen and cottonwood. She will accumulate splatted bugs on her windshield. She will pass the JESUS IS COMMING! graffiti, which someone has erased the tip of the O on. She will pass the reservoir which Denver has its sights on. She will admire the magpies beautiful eating carrion. She will drive 45 miles and lose phone service blessedly. She will drink hojicha tea and forget past and future. She will arrive at the trailhead at the same time as someone else. She will let that person and her dog get ahead so she can be alone. She will be alone. Because being alone is very important to her. She will follow the trail thru juniper and piñon pine. She will hike up thru the gamble oak, it too turning orange. She will sidehill up a canyon away from town. She will curve up onto hills overlooking town. She will move out of the way for a runner and her dog. She will briefly feel guilty for not running this trail. She will forget that and enjoy her feet moving slowly. She will enjoy myself moving slowly over rock and roots. She will look across the valley at the Flat Tops. She will think fondly of backpacking them with the woman she was dating. She will be grateful for that experience no matter what. She will be grateful for this experience here now. She will descend the hills back into town. She will walk the neighborhood streets back to the trailhead. She will drive back to Strangely along the river. She will be content.

The day after the day after tomorrow she will be back on campus sitting in HR listening to the HR person—who is of course professional—tell her that the email exchanges on both sides of this incident are heated, to which she will think, No shit. I’m being threatened with retaliation and lied to by my supervisors—of course my emails are heated. But she will smile politely and say she understands, because of course she understands—the report of the incident will go to ‘System’ in Denver, someone there will make a judgement based on that report, written by the HR person who is friends with both Deans and their supervisor, the Vice-President of Instruction, and the bureaucracy will protect itself. So, she will look out the window, and see the student walking with the Assistant Basketball Coach out of the Vice President of Instruction’s office and over to the Admissions office. And she will say, —Of course.

And the day after the day after the day after tomorrow the student will be in her classroom.

Thursday, October 13, 2022