The Teaching Assistant

Here’s another passage that didn’t make the cut because it was a little too close to my own life. I also wasn’t entirely enamored with the use of “you” in this one. It struck me as if the narrator were trying uncharacteristically hard to be chummy with the reader.

The Teaching Assistant

The only reason large universities have graduate programs is so they can palm the majority of their freshmen off on underpaid, overworked and completely unqualified teaching assistants. And before you get the wrong idea, I should point out that academia’s definition of “assistant” is probably much different from yours or mine. You probably associate the word with assistance—as in, “The teaching assistant assisted the professor by meeting with students after class to discuss the intricate and subtle web of phallic imagery that weaves its way through Moby Dick.” The average university administrator, on the other hand, might—with a perfectly straight face—say something like, “Lacking any experience whatsoever, the teaching assistant will assist the university by devising a syllabus, planning lessons, leading class discussions, grading papers, lecturing and serving as a friend, counselor and mentor to fifty or so odd freshman while completing graduate-level coursework, research and examinations each semester.” In fact, no teaching assistant I’ve ever met has actually assisted anyone.

Not that I’m complaining. My grandfather was a coal miner. Dwayne Coleman’s a cop. Anthony Gambacorta doesn’t have a job at all, and Sean Sullivan will probably spend a separate eternity in hell for each dollar he ever gouged from an unsuspecting customer back when he was selling cars for a living. In contrast, none of my classrooms have ever caved in, my students have rarely threatened to shoot me, I’ve never stood in an unemployment line, and except for the occasional hex on my immortal soul, the afterlife shouldn’t pose much of a problem either.  At least not as far as my students are concerned.

The Whole World Can See You

April may well be the cruelest month, but I’d also argue that it’s the sneakiest. I feel like it just came out of nowhere — and just when I was getting used to March. Needless to say, May is just around the corner, which also means that the print edition of The Grievers will be available fairly soon. To celebrate, I’m continuing with my series of occasional samples from the cutting room floor — bits of narrative that didn’t quite make it into the final version of the novel. In this one, I think I was trying to reveal my protagonist Charley Schwartz for the exhibitionist he truly is, a man who, despite his claims to the contrary, likes being the center of attention. I ultimately cut the passage because it interrupted the flow of the larger narrative, but if you really like it, you can splice it into the novel somewhere around page 90.

The Whole World Can See You

Karen and I lived on a narrow, unpaved road that was sandwiched between Route 30 and the railroad tracks that carried me to and from work every day. There were three sets of twin homes on our block, all on the same side of the street. Across the street from us was an empty lot that was overrun with weeds and tall grass. Next to that was another lot, which Karen called the poopy lot because a doggy daycare center on Route 30 used it as a toilet.

Technically the area where we lived was called the Main Line, so named for the tracks that hemmed us in on one side, but our little corner of the world bore no resemblance to the land of massive homes and manicured lawns people imagined when we told them where we lived. Which isn’t to say that we lived in a bad neighborhood at all, only that our zip code gave telemarketers and mass-mail hucksters the mistaken impression that Karen and I had somehow managed to ascend to the status of landed gentry on the combined salaries of a high school teacher and a grad student.

For as long as we’d been together, Karen and I had been engaged in an ongoing debate as to how much of the neighborhood could see me when I forgot to close the blinds before undressing. According to Karen, the answer to this question was that no less than everyone on our block—both residents and passers by—could catch a glimpse of me and my particulars every night between ten and eleven-thirty as I got ready for bed.

While there was certainly merit to this argument, I was respectfully inclined to disagree. First of all, every house on our block was adjacent to our own, so the only way our neighbors could possibly spot me naked would be to set up a meticulously angled system of mirrors in the empty lot across the street; if that were the case, I added, how could I, in good conscience, deprive them of the view they worked so hard and inventively to obtain? Second, the people who passed through our neighborhood at that hour—and by this I mean the drunken college students who wandered in a perpetual haze from bar to bar along Route 30—were usually too far gone to ever notice what was going on right under their noses, let alone in the narrow window of a second floor bedroom in a quiet house on an unpaved street on the fringes of their parochial little maps of the world. Third (and perhaps most important), regardless of whether I closed the blinds, I always undressed with the lights off; as a result, our bedroom window operated on the same principles as the one-way glass in a police lineup: I could see them, but they couldn’t see me.

Despite the fact that science was on my side, however, Karen persisted in her belief that my subconscious refusal to close the blinds was a sure sign that she had married a pervert.

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said, preempting her first strike as I undressed that night. “And I’m no pervert.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Karen said.

“But you’re thinking it.”

“The whole world can see you, Charley.”

“I told you before, this is science.”

My shadow stretched across the wall as a passing car lit up the room with its headlights.

“Science,” Karen said.

“If they’d seen anything they would have honked.”

“Would you just get in bed, please? I’m cold.”