The college where I teach is tucked into the more-tolerable side of midtown Manhattan. I had never heard of this college before I began to teach here, and neither have you. Its students aspire to jobs in the less-glamorous arm of a glamour industry that thrives in big cities like this one. The school offers so few courses in the humanities and liberal arts—courses that I considered almost the full range of possible studies when I was in school—that there is only one department for all of these things.
I am an adjunct, a job I will soon liken to parachute-jumping: I descend from the sky (or rather, I emerge from the mouth of my MTA tunnel) twice a week, early in the morning, and I push through the doors of this institution, which open for me and the magnetic key-card that bears a picture of my face looking first-week frazzled. I ascend to the faculty offices of a different department—I take the stairs, the elevator is clogged with undergraduates chatting about their roommates and the night before—copy my handouts, and forge into the computer classroom at the top floor where I teach the 18 students who have been assigned to me. The room has neither skylights nor windows. It’s a computer classroom, and when the students don’t heed my nagging at them to cluster around the center table, they look to me like prairie dogs, peering over the sides of their terminals at me, sniffing the air. The building manager has said that he doesn’t believe my estimation of how cold it is in this room, and that he couldn’t turn the thermostat down anyway if he did; the temperature is calibrated to be easy on the roomful of expensive machines. From 8 to 9:30 a.m., twice a week, students and teacher shiver together.
The auto-signature on my campus email account reads “Faculty,” and I like it, the way I like smiling at the other profs in the morning, the way I like it when a student raises her hand and shyly calls me “professor.” But I don’t really know these students and I don’t know this place. I learn what I can during my brief parachute-jumps, before I get back into the tubes that whisk me away to the other parts of my employment, livelihood, and recreation. I can imagine the other parts of their lives as poorly as they can probably imagine mine. On the way back to those tubes, I look up at the Chrysler Building; its knobs that remind me of a caterpillar, shining like nacre. Is it only because of the name, Chrysler, that I think of “chrysalis”? Every time I pass close by the building, I look up and lose my bearings. It feels like a quick prayer.
This is my workplace. For the next eleven weeks, this is the terrain I’ll parachute in and out of.