Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Snow shoes and the new professor

I moved to the Midwest for my first tenure track faculty job, and like most new tenure track faculty, I had some student loans to pay off. For those not in the "ed biz," it helps to know that most educational contracts start in either late August or early September, so faculty members get their first pay check of the academic year in early October. Meanwhile, if you're moving from graduate school funding or adjuncting, you were probably last paid in early June.

Note the gap of several months.

If you're like me, you've also moved across country, cash up front to the moving company. I'd also paid first and last month's rent on an apartment, and had to insure my car anew. Fortunately, my first job paid half a pay check in September to those of us who'd just moved to join the faculty. That helped with some of the expenses that had to be paid for real, moving, rent, student loans, but didn't really leave much left over. So we all lived on our credit cards and tried not to overextend ourselves beyond redemption.

I moved to the Midwest complete with a massive oldish automobile euphemistically called the Land Yacht and four pairs of footwear--a pair of old, unlined leather boots complete with multicolored fungus that looked (and still looks) like someone missed the porcelain god after a bout with too much alcohol, a pair of Birkenstocks, a pair of ratty tennis shoes in even worse shape than my boots, and a pair of horribly uncomfortable pumps I'd bought to match my power blue interview suit.

Things were a bit tight that first month: My apartment didn't have a refrigerator, but I was used to living without one in a previous life, so that was manageable. I taught in Birkenstocks. And since I'd already lived on half my October salary through September, things were still tight through October.

Only one thing had really changed, and that one thing was the weather. It got cold. And when I say cold, I don't mean the I-should-put-a-sweater-on-in-the-evening cold that I'd mostly grown up with. I mean the cold that comes when that white stuff falls out of the sky and sticks to the ground, the cold that leads every plant in the area to wish it could follow migratory birds south, the cold that makes a refrigerator seem warm.

The upside was that I no longer really needed a refrigerator to keep food overnight.

The downside was that I was still teaching in Birkenstocks. I unfashionably wore socks with my Birkies, remembering with horror the comments at my undergraduate school about how we knew it was winter when the profs "wore socks with their Birkenstocks." My hope was to hold off until long enough that my credit card closing date would pass so that I wouldn't have to face paying off the card before my November paycheck came and cleared.

Then the day came, oh glorious day! Credit card closed, I clambered into the Land Yacht and drove to the "city" half an hour away where there was a mall with clothing and shoe stores, found myself a pair of regular SHOES that didn't collect snow under the toes the way Birkenstocks do and that didn't slip all the heck all over the place when there was a hint of moisture on the linoleum in the classroom building.

It was HEAVEN! I could barely contain my joy, and practically danced into the office building to show my co-workers. One of them looked a little disappointed.

I found out a couple years later that they'd started a pool and taken bets on when I'd break down and wear something other than Birkenstocks, and she'd lost. And yes, I was a source of some amusement to the faculty who'd already adjusted to snow living.

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