This is Part 1.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Features Brian Kinney, Ron Rosenblum, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: This takes place in September 2000 in a galaxy far, far away.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Friday, September 1, 2000. The beginning of Labor Day Weekend:
It was the first of September, but the weather was still like August. Hot and humid. The room was stifling. And the tiny window was nailed shut. Summers in Indiana are long and humid and the scenery is flat and dusty. Very dusty. The air was full of that dust and heat and it was all trapped in Brian's attic office.
Brian was used to getting the worst offices, the crummiest teaching assignments, the worst class times and the heaviest class loads. He was used to it -- and he was sick of it. He had a desk that was missing one drawer and had another that seemed permanently locked -- or just stuck shut for God knows what reason. And a chair that, if you leaned too far back, would dump you on the floor like a bucking bronco.
He'd tried to have conferences with students in there last spring semester -- it was the end of May by then -- and he thought the poor kids would pass out from the heat.
"Professor Kinney! How do you stand it in here? I'm dying! Can't we have conferences OUTSIDE?" one girl pleaded. And that's exactly what Brian did -- he posted a note on the door and held office hours under a shady tree on the Quad. The Chairman of the English Department hadn't thought THAT was very amusing at all. That hadn't won him any Brownie points at ALL, as Ron had so smugly pointed out later. Ron cared a lot about Brownie points. He'd made a career of collecting them.
And this office wasn't even the most horrible one he'd ever been assigned. At least this one HAD a window. The one in Boston had been in a basement and he had gotten the impression that every time they turned on the so-called air conditioning, that what was really blowing all over him and the papers he was grading was not cool air, but the remnants of the university's latest attempt to clean asbestos out of the ancient walls. He'd gone home coughing every night when he was in Boston.
"Don't be such a hypochondriac, Brian," Ron had said then. "It isn't cute." That was Ron's new phrase. It isn't cute. Anymore. That was the unsaid word. He used to think everything Brian did was cute. Used to.
Brian thought of Ron's much larger office, with a sweeping view of the Quad, carpeting, a faux-Stickley desk, and a brand new I-Mac for him to use for 'editing.' Oh, and the research assistant. Compared to Ron's plush quarters, Brian's corner of the Humanities Building was a slum long overdue for clearance.
It might have been a little more tolerable if the teaching assignments had been decent, but they'd given Brian nothing but Lower Division survey courses in American Lit. And Freshman Composition! I mean, come ON! What was the point of being an Assistant Professor if you STILL had to suffer through teaching Freshman Comp? Brian thought he'd paid his dues with THAT in Graduate School.
And this new semester wasn't any more promising. Another survey course in the 19th Century American Novel. Jeez! 'Moby Dick' and 'The Scarlet Letter'? Didn't the kids ALL read those in high school? What was the point of doing them AGAIN? And another course in the Contemporary Short Story. That was more promising. But it still wasn't his specialty. They NEVER let him teach his specialty!
Brian had begged to be allowed to do at least an elective in Gay Literature. He'd spent hours working up a syllabus. Walt Whitman. Oscar Wilde. James Baldwin. Edmund White. W. H. Auden. Truman Capote. Gore Vidal. 'The Olympian.' Nothing too crude that might offend the ultra conservative powers that be that rule this university. Nothing too controversial -- God forbid that the students might read something 'controversial'!
Oh, and nothing too political. Nothing that might be construed as 'pushing a Gay Agenda.' Yeah, that's what the Chairman had told him when he'd called Brian into his office to reject his proposed course. Brian must have been out of town when the Gay Agenda Committee sent all the queers their notice, because Brian was unaware of this 'Gay Agenda' thing -- and he told the Chairman as much. The Chairman was NOT amused.
It wasn't as if Brian was trying to 'push' something pornographic or queer-positive or any of that crap on any unsuspecting students. Let's face it -- any student on THIS homophobic campus who was likely to take an elective in Gay Lit was probably already a convert! But Brian didn't tell the Chairman THAT!
And the Chairman had given Brian that condescending smile as he rejected his course. God, he hated that condescending smile! Brian had seen it enough in his life, but especially a lot in the last few years, at a succession of universities in Philadelphia, Boston, and now Indiana, where Brian had fulfilled the humiliating role of the 'spousal hire.'
Brian wondered if such a position existed in any other profession? It might be something to look into. Maybe there was a support group for it that he could join. God knows he needed someone to vent to since he'd had to leave his therapist behind in Boston. And he hadn't had time to find another one out here in the cornfields of Indiana. Yeah, finding a queer-friendly therapist out here might be quite a job, but he had to do it right away. He was coming to the end of his Xanax hoard and he'd have to get another prescription soon or take to buying it from the local student pushers. Ron wouldn't like that much. If he found out.
Maybe it was simply Brian's 'Fate' to be a serial spousal hire. That whenever Ron was offered a bigger, more prestigious position at another university, one with better perks or maybe a fancy title, like the one Ron currently held here in Indiana -- The Perkins Chair in Film Studies -- there was always this little afterthought. "Oh, yes -- if I DO take this position, you WILL find my partner a place in the English Department, won't you? Because, otherwise...." "Oh, no! Of course, Mr. Rosenblum, we will find a job for What's-his-name. No problem at all!"
And so Film Studies or Media Studies or whatever it was called got their prize hire -- their award-winning, Oscar-nominated documentarian, Ronald Rosenblum. And the English Department got stuck with the boyfriend -- Brian What's-his-name -- another junior grade Americanist with a useless specialty in Gay Lit. Yes, someone they would ordinarily never consider hiring. Never even look twice at for an interview. And now they were stuck with him. And, boy, did they let Brian know it, too!
"Huh?" He looked up. "Oh, hello, Fred." At least this guy was nice to him. 17th and 18th Century British Drama. Straight, but at least he didn't treat Brian like a curiosity -- or some go-go boy who had wandered into the department and commandeered an office. Jeez, thought Brian, if they only KNEW the truth! That would be the end of any hope of an academic career. Universities didn't usually give tenure to queer ex-junkie hustlers. It didn't look good on the brochures they sent out to prospective students.
But Fred was one of the few faculty members who talked to him. Most just ignored him, figuring -- probably rightly -- that he'd be gone in a year or two -- or even sooner. And Brian had to admit that even though this wasn't the friendliest place he'd ever taught, most people on campus didn't 'accidentally' lose his mail or run his syllabus through the shredder or screw up his hand-outs or shove Fundamentalist tracts about faggots going to hell under his office door. No, that was the old bitch of a department secretary. She was a million laughs.
"Christ, it's HOT in here, Brian! Can't you open a window?"
"I've tried everything but dynamite -- but you're welcome to give the thing a shove, Fred."
"Have you called Maintenance?"
"Only every week since a year ago September. Maintenance doesn't fix windows for fags on this campus."
"Oh, come on, Brian! I'm sure you're imagining that. You're very well-liked around here."
"Right." Yeah, Fred. Read my hate e-mail sometime. It's a real mood-booster.
"Anyway, Brian, I came by to give you a heads-up. Felice Cartwright just quit the Acquisitions Committee and it looks like YOU are replacing her this semester."
Brian just stared at the other man. "They can't! I'm already on one committee AND a sub-committee. That makes three, now! I don't have time to be on all these committees AND teach my full schedule! This sucks, Fred!"
"Sorry, Brian. I heard about it this morning. Everyone else begged off, so you are IT."
"That's such a load of crap, Fred! They won't give me the courses I want to teach, but all these damn committees -- THOSE I get stuck with!" Brian felt like picking up his briefcase and throwing it through the window. At least THAT might let a little air into the room. And suddenly Brian felt like he was sufficating in the hot, cramped office.
"That's the way it goes when you are the 'new meat' in the department, Brian," said Fred. "You take what they give you. Sorry about that, buddy."
"Great." Shit! Classes were starting in less than two weeks, but the semester -- maybe the entire year -- was already looking dismal.
Brian gave up trying to work in the office and packed his stuff into his briefcase. He was attempting to finish up an article on John Rechy that had an October 1 due date. Brian needed that publication for his vita. But he also wanted it for his own self-esteem, which was sinking faster than his position on this campus. And it would be nice if Brian could find the time to finish his book before another century passed. He HAD to finish it if he was ever to have any hope of promotion in the department down the line. Or of tenure. Really faint hope! But with all these classes and committees and all the other crap he had to do, his book would NEVER get done.
And the book was important, Brian thought. Original. It was on themes of hustling and the hustler subculture in Postwar Queer Literature. Yes, this was a subject that Brian knew a little something about -- although he'd never detail THAT in the preface or admit it to anyone in Academia! That wasn't something you put on your resume.
But Brian had to finish his book to show that he was more than just a humiliating serial spousal hire. And he needed it for his ego. To prove he could do it. That he could finish SOMETHING. Have something that was HIS. A real book! With his own name on it. Brian Kinney, not Brian What's-his-name, the distinguished Professor Rosenblum's partner.
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 2.
©Gaedhal, October 2002
Posted October 10, 2002