Murphy: “Hm. You don’t exactly look like happy dancing tonight, Kris.”
Kris: “Mmrrffpf. Final exams.”
Murphy: “Ugh. Don’t remind me.”
Kris: “Kids have the damned gall to think they’re stressed taking the damned things. Wait ’til they have to write them. And then [shudder] grade them!”
Murphy: “I said, …”
Kris: “You asked!! Dammit, Murphy, you know the drill as well as I do.
“You sweat trying to make sure the questions match the material that you’ve slaved and study guided and drilled to your death, you sweat making sure that the test can be done within the time allotted, you sweat making sure you’ve met all the regulations, addressed all the special needs.
“And then you get the tests back, from the kids that didn’t concoct some excuse to not show up on test day (for whom, of course, you have to carve a makeup schedule out of what’s supposed to be your time off), and discover that half the class paid no attention whatsoever to your lectures or guides, that most of the answers that aren’t pure gibberish were lifted out of the pages of the book that you told them not to read!
“And you’ve got to concoct some way to pass them all anyway or your course, and possibly your entire department, could wind up on the university’s chopping block, and who cares whether the students you’re passing, and sucking money from, are good for anything but flipping hamburgers when you’re done with them? Happy dance? It’s the finals lamentation, Murphy. What am I doing this for, and who gives a flying fickle finger of fate about it?”
Murphy: “Well, then, what are you doing this for?”
Kris: “Right. You’ve got a better idea?”
Murphy: “Surely you’ve daydreamed about something you could be doing that would make you happier. Why aren’t you doing it? What are you afraid of? Losing the chance of launching tirades at your friends in the faculty club?”
Kris: “Awright, awright, touché, I’m sorry.”
Murphy: “No worries, Kris. It’s a stressful time of year; trust me, I get that. But seriously, if there’s something you’d rather be doing … I mean, tenure’s a nice perk and all, but lots of folk do without it without their worlds coming to an end.”
Kris: “Yeah. Tenure’s such a nice perk, the universities aren’t offering it to anyone any more. Listen, Murphy, I’d be the first guy to stop and smell the roses if I weren’t convinced that, if I did that, I’d get sliced and diced by the tines of the combine that’s harvesting the petals for perfume. Problem with this ‘pursuit of happiness’ thing is that it’s a moving target. Your grandparents ever tell you stories about moving to the ‘burbs?”
Murphy: “Not that I recall.”
Kris: “Mine were full of ’em. Wanted to leave the city, they said, with its smog and crowds and crime and taxes. Duck the problems, they said. Better place for the kids, they said. Live happily ever after. Know what happened?”
Murphy: “No …”
Kris: “The problems followed them. Small towns turned into crowds overnight. Taxes skyrocketed ’cause the towns needed roads and schools and shopping malls, and police to tackle the drugs that were worse than they ever were in the city. Tack on the three-hour daily commute, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ became just another misery, perhaps slightly more splendid because you could see trees instead of tenements. At least until the trees got bugs, and then got knocked through the roof of your house in the latest storm.
“I bet you’ve been following some of the stories that’ve been all over the Internet lately about high-powered people who’ve stepped back from the glitz, or at least so they claim.”
Murphy: “Yeah …?”
Kris: “They had something to step back from! Have you considered how 1-percenter it is even to contemplate this ‘smelling the roses’ business? Sure as hell is easy to do if you’ve already made a pile. Or if you’ve thrown in the towel about ever making one, and have worked out how to get by anyway. What about all these folk who have to work from dawn to midnight for the privilege of sucking hind tit, if they’re lucky? Sure they’re afraid of something if they try this ‘pursuit of happiness’ stuff. Like missing the rent payment and getting tossed out on the street in Minneapolis in January.
“I may be pissed off about what I’m doing at the moment, but I’m sticking with it. Because this might be all the happy I’m going to get in this life. I don’t call that being afraid. I call that dealing constructively with reality. I wish I could teach that to more of my students.”
Murphy: “I don’t like your chances.”
Kris: “Neither do I.”