by Mark Sashine
An immigrant is getting an work interview in the Southern College
(by Mark Sashine)
“ You will drink Michelob and watch TV a lot,” said my friend, a college professor. We were sitting on a fence, the middle-aged Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. My friend had just returned from a baseball field and was in a teaching mood.
“ That’s what we do here, in the middle America ,” he mused, “ When we lose the job we get frustrated and reckless. We stop taking care of ourselves, become moody and prone to cheap alcohol. You are a Russian. Maybe you will drink vodka instead of beer. You will also be ashamed of yourself and hide from other people. Of course, you can always talk to me.” He looked at me sidewise and went on,” You should start saving. I would recommend to sell that new car of yours and get a cheap one. I could sell you my father’s Cadillac for about $300. “
He wasn’t the first one. Since I lost my job with the small local engineering company I was approached by many people for deals. Chinese graduate students wanted to buy my house for cash. The butchery on the 2nd Street offered me a discounted bulk of meat to “ live through the hard times”. I politely declined.
I bought the Cadillac because my wife was working and she needed a car. That monstrosity stopped once in the middle of the road, exhaled a cloud of smoke and died. My friend told me that I shouldn’t have saved on oil.
I didn’t get fat. Neither did I touch any beer or vodka. I even changed my walking route because whenever I passed the State Liquor Store, an inquisitive neighbor would always be there.
“Oh, Hi, Mrs Busybody Doodledum! Great weather we are having, isn’t?”
“ Hi, Mark. You lost some weight. I heard you have tough times. I hope everything is OK with your family? How are you doing these days?”
“ Well don’t you see, you, nosy heck? I am buying a gallon of the cheapest vodka
to drown my misery in it. I am doing great. Got a lot of offers all around our county. You will be amazed how many companies want specifically Russian engineer, straight from the shelf.”
“Our prayers are with you, my dear.”
They might have prayed good because on that very day I received my first invitation to the interview. It was a teaching position in the Junior College near Montgomery, Alabama.
“ You are not serious, “ said my liberal friend, “ Do you know what Alabama is? Those people still can’t recover from Selma events. Ever heard of George Wallace? The last thing they need is a Russian guy. “
“ I am Jewish, “ I said.
“That’s even worse. They will decide that you are a New York Yankee-Jewish- Russian Communist Conspirator infiltrating a pristine life of the dedicated Christians. How much do they pay, you said?
“ I didn’t say anything, but I believe it is about $40K a year.”
The professor gasped, “ Man, go for it. In Alabama $40K is like $100K in New York. You will live like a king.”
“ What about George Wallace?”
“ Forget him, he is dead. I will visit you for vacation. They are close to Florida, right?”
It took me some time to find a place even with the Triptik. Ohio was clear and Kentucky was not that bad as well as Tennessee. After the Tennessee border came Alabama, the Beautiful but there seemed to be not much there except Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery. I guess it was easy to march there in the 60th; they surely couldn’t get lost.
“ I am going with you, “ my wife said. ”We can take turns driving.”
“ Should we go at all? Alabama doesn’t sound to me like a place I would like to stay for life.”
“ This is the first offer you’ve received. We need to go there if only for the experience. Let’s have fun together. I never saw Alabama. Is Maycomb still there?”
Early in the morning our gray Honda slipped out of the city like a mouse and off we were on the road to Cincinnati.
“ They say Alabama is very different.” I said. “Lots of black people. If I get the position what will you do?”
“ I teach Russian here. There should be opportunities there also.”
“ I doubt if they are interested.”
“ Why do you think so? You think that’s because they are black?”
“ Well, we don’t have many black people in our town in Ohio, so we really don’t know much about them. But I saw some of them and learning Russian language is the least of their worries. They are struggling to survive.”
“ Did you approach them and try to offer them any Russian language studies? No try, no success.”
My wife always had very direct opinions and believed in the value of an effort.
When she taught Russian she once took part in the methodology meeting on whether to teach gay literature to the students.
“ I don’t understand those people,” she complained to me,” They talked and talked about what did it mean to be a gay author, how to introduce such books to students, etc. I said that there were only two types of literature: good literature and bad literature. Anything good belonged to all mankind. Everything bad belonged to the trashcan. They became silent and stayed silent for some time as if I said something very inappropriate.”
“ Maybe you did.”
“ I found out that these folks didn’t have opinions. They judge the books by the amount sold. For them “To whom the Bell Tolls” is unknown while the book by Bush’s dog is a must. If the author is gay it is a homosexual literature even if it is a non- fiction about ancient Shumeria. Do you know that they say Mercutio was gay?
“ Mercutio? The guy from Romeo and Juliet?”
“ Uh- huh, that’s him. They say that he was in love with Romeo and that’s why he took care of him.”
“ Looks like they judge by themselves.”
I felt hurt. Mercutio, the knightly, noble character, a man of vision and honor. I loved him since I first read the play. It was a perfect union of two manly souls: the romantic, but strong and thoughtful Romeo with a sense of justice being his highest virtue and light- hearted, cynical, but noble and caring Mercutio, the perfect friend in need. Mercutio was the first to see what might happen because of his friend’s passion. In his effort to protect Romeo he deliberately provoked Tybalt, striving to get rid of him thus giving a love it’s fair chance. And now they call his brotherly love a gay romance.? Nice touch.
“ There’s a rest area on the way,” my wife said. “ Let’s make a stop.”
I always had a fascination for the rest areas. You pull in waiting for an adventure. It can be a new food or a crowd of bikers , or even a dog sniffing your shoes. Rest areas concentrate the road energy, they are the discharging stations of the psyche.
Maybe that’s why people eat so much there. You see a van full of greasy clothes, animals and children, all eating hamburgers, even the dogs. This time it was ice-cream. A little kid and a dog were sharing a Nestle cone while their mother was pumping gas. Talking about germs.
“ Maybe that’s not so bad,” said my wife. “They don’t wash their hands, share their food with the dogs and eat pizzas from the trash. Maybe that boosts the immune system”
“ Who eats pizza from the trash? Not that there is any difference if it is on the table, but…”
“ I saw my colleague taking a pizza from the trash can. The pizza place dumped some low quality pizzas in boxes into the trash and he was right up there.”
“ That’s called saving, honey.”
“ Please, don’t call me that. It makes me sick. Honey, baby, sweetie, whatever. It’s as if you don’t know my name.”
“ OK, although I won’t mind if you call me honey. Also, that good-by kiss every morning is worth considering.”
“ Oh, please. It’s like patting a dog.”
“ Back to the dogs then. I think, they let the children share the cone with the dogs because they consider the dogs as members of the family. It’s a bonding ritual.”
“ Maybe they think that if the dog eats it, that food is OK? Remember the kliebasa in the old country? Cats and dogs didn’t touch the stuff.”
“ We ate it, didn’t we?”
“ Oh, yes.”
We stayed silent for a while. The road carried us through the pastures and several calm cows looking at us suspiciously as if they knew we didn’t belong there. They were beautiful specimens, visibly satisfied with their existence. I remembered the cow stables in the northern swamps of my youth where hungry animals wept like children and sighed, “ Well, whatever they do here, these cows are taken care of.”
“ You better think about your name,” said my wife.
“ What’s wrong with my name?”
“ Nothing, but imagine the folks in Alabama chewing it up.”
I imagined a Southern gent lighting his cigar from the lighter produced by the black butler and addressing his belle, ”Sweetie, we interviewed a funny lad this morning. Someone called Ss-uss-hine. What a hissing name, like a copperhead greetings.”
“ Please, darling don’t use profanity at home. And put your handgun away. You know that I hate that oil smell.”
“ You better get used to it, baby. If they hire that Asss- man we all better clean our guns. He is a Russian, you know.”
“ What are you talking about? You want to hire a godless commie to teach our children? “
“ Relax, my charming patriot and give me a kiss. No, don’t’ kiss the barrel of the gun, just my lips, dear. It will all be hunky- dory. We had some trouble here with lynching black folks, so that Russian would be a charming variety. Turned out he ran away from his country, so who will bother about this rogue.”
“Your turn,” said the female voice. I opened my eyes and replaced my wife at the wheel. It was dusk when we reached the Montgomery area. The soil turned red and there were no cars. We turned to the State Road and slowed down.
Gloomy houses stood far from each other, separated by wooded areas. The landscape reminded very much of Jurassic Park. Suddenly a magnificent dragon- fly flew over the side window.
“ Hey, stop it, I have to catch that thing!”
“ In your dreams, “ said my wife,. “ I am not stopping on this road until we reach the town. That is if there is a town. It looks to me that your college is located in the Twilight Zone. Are you sure it does exist?”
“ Oh it exists, all right. I checked the registry. But I always wanted to catch one of those dragon- flies since childhood.”
“ Be patient Maybe we stay here and you will get tired of them. I am already tired of something odd.”
“ What’s that?”
“ I am tired of Mr. Doxon. Didn’t you notice? Whatever we passed was Doxon’s. It’s Doxon’s Mill, and Doxon’s Church, also Doxon’s road as a matter of fact. We are in the Doxon’s country.”
“ Eh, now I remember that it is Doxon’s College.”
“ This Mr. Doxon would be a rich man of some sort? Maybe a family? Is it like in one of the Tennessee Williams’ plays? Russian residents, vote for Boss Doxon in Congress! By the way, which church are we going to attend?”
“ Why are you asking?”
“ That’s because we’ve passed three houses and thrice as many churches.
Lo, man, the town. I don’t believe it.”
JC Penney apeared out of the mist like a Flying Dutchman. It was sided by the Doxon’s Funeral Home. On the other side a Doxon’s pub offered the genuine Alabama cooking. You could imagine the life path: straight from the Church you go to the pub, eat your grits, drape yourself in the JC Penney garments and off you proceed to the Funeral Home to lay down to rest in that reddish clay or maybe transform into a dragon- fly. All under the caring eye of Mr. Doxon..
The Holiday Inn was a relief. It was the same as everywhere; no Southern memorabilia, no mentioning of Mr. Doxon, no crosses on the walls. The only difference were several individuals in overalls hanging out at the parlor bar. When we entered and checked in those folks turned their heads towards us exactly like the cows do on the hillside.
“ You, folks on business here?” asked the clerk.
“ Yes, I need to go the the Doxon’s college.”
“ Oh, that’s not far. It is on the road to the military base. You can’t miss it, it is the only one in town. Great college. Mr. Doxon is very generous. We all are very grateful to him. Since he founded this college we don’t need to send our kids to other schools. They learn everything here, right in our backyard. Enjoy your stay. You can get some grits at the Doxon’s.”
“ I am not hungry,” my wife said.
In the morning it was nice and cool in the Main College Hall with pleasant dimness after the bright outside sun. The hall was decorated by two full portraits of a man and a woman dressed in academic robes and handling the rolled manuscripts.
“Terrific, aren’t they?” said the soft voice beside me,” These are Mr. and Mrs. Doxon. Actually, the College is named after Mrs. Doxon. She always promoted education.”
That was an incredible black man. He was so tall that I felt myself shining his shoes. The dimness disappeared because of the glimmer off his teeth. When he shook my hand I felt like all my blood was squeezed out.
“ We are happy that you got here, Mr. SS- shine. I am the Dean of Admissions and Faculty Affairs. I will give you a tour of the College and then we go the Council Hall where we ask you some questions. After that we visit our President.”
“ That would be Mr. Doxon, I presume.”
“ No, Mr. Doxon Junior is our Trustee. Our President is Mr. Calhoun. Shall we?”
The college was very well- equipped. There were state- of- the- art chemical labs, a new library, full of books and CDs, an excellent physics classroom. I was very impressed by the clean and neat bathroom and canteen with its cathedral ceilings. All the students we’ve met were polite and friendly. They were dressed in uniforms. The faculty was also conservatively dressed.
“ Do you have a dress code?” I asked.
“ Yes, we prefer that way. It helps to concentrate. We are the Junior College and many kids still need discipline.”
“ Do they live on campus?”
“ Most of them are local folks, but we have a dorm. We prefer locals, though, so that we maintain the ties to the family. Mr. Doxon emphasized the family orientation of the College. Most of our graduates can easily get a job in Mr. Doxon’s vast enterprises.”
“ Do they come here often?”
“ Who, the Doxons? Not really. They have a mansion here, but even there they are not frequent guests. They have a lot of responsibilities. Mr. Doxon invests everywhere.
“ Obviously, he invested into this college very well. I like everything I see so far.”
“ I am happy to hear that. And here’s is our Council.”
Seven people sat around the oval table. As no one offered me a chair, I grabbed one myself.
“ Why are you interested in this job, Mr. Sassine?
“ I always wanted to teach. I have a vast experience in engineering and I think, I can contribute to the development of young minds.”
“ Our students might seem very different to you, after what you’ve seen in the North.”
“They are more concentrated, yes.”
The Cynedrion nodded their heads in approval. Even Mr. Doxon on the wall portrait seemed amused. I noticed that every time one of them asked a question, they all glanced towards that portrait as if asking for approval.
“Mr. Sshine, you are a Russian , right?”
“I am a Russian Jew but they call us Russians, here, yes.”
“ We don’t have a Jewish Temple here. How would you be able to follow the traditions of your religion?”
I guess, it wouldn’t be difficult for Mr. Doxon to build a nice, private synagogue and hire a rabbie for the his only Jewish Professor. Not that I will need it. I am as far from Jehovah as I can and I tend to keep it that way.
“If it comes to that we could go to Montgomery.”
This time the heads didn’t turn. They seemed not to have heard me while scribbling something on the pieces of paper. For a moment it occurred to me that they weren’t interested in my answers; it was something else, maybe the way I talked or behaved.
“ Any questions to us, Mr. Shhahine?”
“ Yes, actually. Do you have other candidates for the position?”
“ But of course. There are several people we are considering. Our college is in demand. Your credentials are impressive, though. You still need to talk to our President.”
“ I am looking forward to meet him.”
Mr. Calhoun, the President was as white as my guide was black. His enormous feet were comfortably suited on the table and his cigar was as long as Mason- Dixon line. So was his accent.
“ Mr. S—sssas—shine, is that true you are Rus—sssien?”
“ Yes I am.”
“ We never had any Russians here before. Some people might react suss..piciously.”
“ I thought about that. It is my impression that whoever is hired will be approved by Mr. Doxon and what Mr. Doxon approves, goes.”
Mr. Calhoun suddenly emerged from the smoke surrounding his face. Turned out he had a moustache and piercing gray eyes . Where did I see such eyes before?
“ Mr. Doxon and people here are very close. Our community always respects his opinion while he endorses our values. You are a smart man, Mr. Sashine ( so much for the accent) Maybe too smart. I wish you luck.”
I was not invited to lunch. The black guy accompanied me to the door .
“ I am not finished,” I said. “ I would like to speak to the students.”
“ The students? We never let the interviewees talk to the students.”
“ Why not?”
“ I don’t really know. I never thought about that. That’s how it always was.”
“ Always since when?”
“ Since the college was founded, I suppose. Of course, if you insist, we can consult with Mr. Calhoun and the Student Council. It may take time. Where are you staying?”
“ Downtown Holiday Inn. Call me, please, before the end of the business day if you let me meet the students.”
I went through the automatic doors and turned around to look at the facade. In my native town in the old country we had a Chymera house. Its first owner was a hunter and a mystic buff. He covered the house with sculptures of gargoyles, strange, ghostly figures and exotic animals. Wherever you approached the house from, it always looked at you through the eyes of a rhino or elephant, or a snake. I had the same feeling. The college looked at me. It had the stare of Mr. Calhoun. Those were the eyes of the wolf in the Zoo.
We waited until 7pm for a call but there was none.
“We leave tomorrow morning, then.” I said.
“ Can we leave now?” asked my wife.
“ We will have to drive through the night.”
“ I am OK with that. This is the first time I don’t’ want souvenirs.”
I looked out at the street. The dusk was coming down. People moved slowly, carefully, like shadows on the edges and there was not a sound in the air except for the dragon- flies. We were in the South.
“ Al right, let’s go. ” I said.