The hallway outside my office smells
like dead mice. About three weeks ago the Registrar’s
office, one floor up, was fumigated, and the mice went
into the crawlspaces and walls to decompose. I told my
students coming for writing conferences to follow the
smell of dead mice and they’d find me, in the basement,
waiting for them.
I love my office. That’s probably at
least in part because I don’t belong to the hierarchy of
the tenure-track faculty, who seem to believe that their
value in the department is reflected in their office
space. Professors have individual offices; when space
comes available, the bargaining and hustling begins for
those offices that are bigger, that have windows, that
are tucked back in private corners. S/He who has the
best office wins.
I share my office with two congenial
colleagues who, like me, are full time non-tenure track
faculty members—“Adjuncts,” “Overloads,” or, simply, “FTNTT.”
We are in one of the four basements in the building that
houses the administration of the University, the only
basement that still is, as far as I can tell, a
certified nuclear shelter. I like to tell my students
that, in case of nuclear attack, I will survive, and
that if they happen to be meeting with me at the time,
we will be responsible for repopulating the earth or, at
least, the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
There are no windows in the basement. We
are not located on a thruway, unless you count the path
from the elevator to the snack and soda machines around
the corner. We are, essentially, alone down here. We can
close our venetian blinds and be completely cut off from
the outside world.
When students come to my office, often
after a confusing trek through various parts of the
building, they are often shocked that I’m in an actual
basement. I don’t know what they thought a basement
would be, but apparently two doors away from the
“Mechanics Room” was not part of their vision.
I have made my part of the office my
own. I have a desk, two bookcases, crates and file
drawers, and enough wall space to hang my posters of New
York City and the Dalai Lama. Family photos and tributes
to my favorite (dead) singers, along with my moose
bobble head and other assorted tsatskes make this space
homey. The purple beaded curtain that acts as a Les
Nessman-ish border for my cubicle often delights, but
more often entraps, students who enter for the first
There’s an oriental rug to give the
asphalt tile floor a touch of warmth and class. Three of
the four visible clocks in the office belong to me. My
favorite is the pink one that hangs below the “official”
school clock that is tied in to the campus clock system.
(Yes, we have a campus clock system.) There is a sign
between them that reads “HOLLOWAY HALL TIME” with an
upward arrow and “ACTUAL TIME” with a downward arrow.
This helps everyone when the official clock reads 7:23
and the actual time is 2:40.
While we may know what time it is, and
while I in particular appreciate having a homey space to
work in, my office mates and I are both pitied and
envied by our tenure-track colleagues, who either feel
that the office location is a sign of the department’s
lack of respect for us or that we are so far out of the
thick of things that we escape the rat race three floors
up. We all know that we are valued members of the
English faculty, but the rat-race reference is probably
true, and is just one of many reasons I love my office.
The smell of rotting mice is starting to fade, too.
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