May 16, 2001
Irvine Valley College: Living Like It’s Heaven on Earth: Yes, It’s National Friendship Week at that community college!
By Red Emma
Earlier this week—and on the very same day—Red Emma received both an email and a written solicitation, one purporting to celebrate “National Friendship Week” and the other inviting him to subscribe to “America’s Last Real Newspaper.” Wow!
The email included the now annoyingly e-biquitous bit of intellectual sophistry reprinted below, the moral equivalent of two of Red Emma’s favorite (and by that I mean despised) old chestnut barbershop aphorisms: “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had Raghu Mathur for an illegally appointed president” and “God grant me the serenity to accept the Republicans I cannot change, courage to change the Holocaust Revisionists, homophobes and nutty deans I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.”
Yes, I’m confident that some well-meaning e-noodler has sent this special little memo to you too, but just in case you haven’t received it, here it is, in full:
If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:
There would be:
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
52 would be female
48 would be male
70 would be non-white
30 would be white
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all
6 would be from the United States.
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
1 would own a computer
Of course, your anarcho-socialist part-time reporter has no quarrel with the apparent rhetorical thrust so far (although I do count 635 people, above, not 100, yuk, yuk. And, for the record, I am confident that that one computer would be down). It’s what follows, posing as analysis—or something—that gets Red Emma, well, redder:
When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent. The following is also something to ponder...If you woke up this morning with more health than illness...you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death...you are more blessed than three billion people in the world. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep...you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy. If your parents are still alive and still married ... you are very rare, even in the United States and Canada. If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you, and furthermore, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.
Double blessing! Wow, for little red me? I am “ahead of” other people?
Here Emma had to restrain himself from jumping up, counting his spare change, and delivering it immediately to the Church of His Choice.
But wait, there’s more:
Someone once said: What goes around comes around. Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching. Sing like nobody's listening. Live like it's Heaven on Earth. It's National Friendship Week.
Who, exactly, said that? And who decided NFW was this week? And has somebody alerted Raghu? And who, exactly, is this “someone” who is thinking of me?
My email ended as follows, though at least it ended.
Send this to everyone you consider a FRIEND. (Their caps, not mine—I’m a writing instructor.) Pass this on, and brighten someone's day. Nothing will happen if you do not decide to pass it along. The only thing that will happen, if you DO pass it on, is that someone might smile because of you.
You just gotta know that I’m passing this on to make YOU smile, dear Dissent reader, to brighten your goddamn day. This knuckleheaded homily is clearly meant to annihilate any critical thinking or political analysis that might in fact result from consideration of the otherwise helpful and groovy facts. Shrink the world, indeed. As I re-read this collection of hackneyed Hallmarkery, I am reminded now of those timeless inspirational posters hung by our college president in A100 (at considerable expense) and their thoughtful representations of “Courage,” “Teamwork,” “Trust,” “Flatulence” and “Irritable Bowel.”
No, of course, I’m not blessed. Neither are you. Sorry. We are privileged, the result of a sophisticated and chauvinistic system of class, ethnicity, and institutionalized violence. We happen to have been born, entirely by accident, into problematic citizenship in both the best and the worst nation to perhaps ever sit around and shit all over planet earth. This funny little empire recently elected an oil man to keep us “blessed” and the rest of the world pissed. President Shit-Fer-Brains, whose daddy’s counselors, high priests, gangster friends and other war criminals are now reinstated in Junior’s office, plan even now to blow up outer space, all in honor of the mission of that senile old fart who poses, smiling, with another president (all the while thinking “Who is the asshole, Nancy?”) in a photograph also hung proudly in A-100.
But I digress.
The other missive received that day at Casa de Emma Roja was a direct mail appeal to subscribe to, yes, The Spotlight, “The Voice of the American Majority.” You can’t make this stuff up. Attentive readers of this Pulitzer-bound journal will recall my dear editor’s long-running unsolicited and one-sided correspondence with a “writer” for that paper, a promoter of his bad self and the much-missed (not by me) Herr Frogue, now starring, I read, on Broadway in a popular Mel Brooks musical comedy.
Dear readers: in what kind of strange life do people distribute happy talk about “blessings” even as Nazis propagandize and right-wing idiots continue to run public education—and by run I mean, of course, straight into the ground? It’s just everyday life in South Orange County, California. And everybody but the people who live here seems to know it.
Example. Red listens occasionally to the generally silly and reductive Mr. Larry Mantle on KPCC’s “Air Talk,” mostly to argue with the host, whose stock in trade is clichés like “stock in trade” and paraphrasing his excellent guests inaccurately, to the complete detriment of their ideas and analysis.
By the way: in the tradition of “Trekkies” and Grateful Dead fanatics, I like to call the host, myself, and other Air Talk faithful listeners, Airheads. The head Airhead’s guest last week was an academic whose unlikely opus of historical/political analysis argued, convincingly, that, yes, our very own li’l reactionary county was the starter yeast, as it were, for the whole sour loaf of right-wing Barry Goldwater-Reverend Schuller-Ronald Reagan-Accuracy in Media-Heritage Foundation-Moron Militia-Thomas Fuentes cabal.
Here then: the Actual Transcript of Two Airheads on Public Radio…
Caller: Hi, Larry. My question probably won’t be as smart as your terrific guest, but I was wondering: as an instructor in public higher education in Orange County, I got teased a lot by my friends and colleagues in LA County. But then I came to find that a member of my community college’s board of trustees was a Holocaust denier–
Mantle: Oh, you work at that community college—
Caller: Yes, Larry, that’s right: South Orange County Community College District. And here’s the thing—and your guest might want to comment: the board member was actively supported by the chair of the county Republican Party. But here’s my real question...
—Yes, thanks Larry. That community college!
* * *
As some of my fellow faculty members accept lunch invitations from deans, even as adjunct faculty members are being harassed, threatened with firing or discipline or, as in the case of Philosophy instructor Ken Brown, are in fact fired, you gotta wonder: with friends like these, who needs Raghu?
Yes, FRIENDS, it is, apparently, National Friendship Week! In the spirit of same, Red Emma announces his own slogany week of concurrent actions, modestly titled: Resist Fucking Anything Week. Please! Anything at all. Send back a memo. Decline lunch invitations from management. Do some interesting photocopying. Post an unapproved flier. Think a naughty thought to yourself. Wonder thoughtfully: "My god, how much worse does it have to get before I object?"
Out of acts of modest resistance come, yes, consequences. It’s like Professor Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you. Then, they crack down. Then, you win.” Well, we’re a long way from winning, comrades. And, even then, victory is bittersweet. The small win resulting from Red Emma challenging the district, for instance, after its blatant discrimination against this Adjunct Faculty member, only forced him, ironically, to endure more time in these people’s company. Talk about mixed blessings! Double blessings!
Reminds me of the Shalom Aleichem joke about a proper blessing for the Czar. Sure, says the rebbi, here’s a proper blessing for the Czar: “God bless and keep the Czar...far away from us.”
Red’s modest victory manifested itself in the further sadomasochism required of union activists, in my case actually dressing up and enduring a hiring committee interview for a fulltime tenure track teaching job he had not a snowball’s chance of getting. All just to insist that these clowns follow the contract! Warned for years about the weirdness down at Saddleback, I proceeded with my usual humor, enjoying a high-colonic and methamphetamines in the car and, upon arrival at the sprawling Frank Lloyd Wright-designed campus, inserting small pins deep in my head. Ouch, those smart, I thought to myself. Good thing I put ‘em near my brain.
My favorite moments of the nearly three-hour “contractually required” interview process:
A. Offered a bagel snack, I took the baked goodie back to my soundproofed private pre-interview cubicle and, after taking a single bite, observed green mold growing on it. I alerted the cheerful secretary person: “There’s mold on this bagel,” I said. Showing a truly patriotic and cheerful lack of concern for my health and the state of District bagels, she said: “Oh, I hope not. I just ate one myself.”
B. Once inside the actual interview chamber, a guy on The Committee, sporting a mental institution issue haircut, explained to me the new procedure. Although, he said, you have been given a question to which you’ve no doubt prepared in response a teaching demonstration, that question is not the actual question of this committee. I will now read to you the actual question, as I am required to do. After I’m done reading the question, you can proceed to answer the original question, for which you prepared your teaching demonstration.
Like everybody else in the room, I ignored him.
C. The affirmative action officer said not a word, her singular job apparently to hold a cardboard sign reading “10”—neither my score nor my beauty rating, I surmised. So pleased was she with the homemade signage that, when I asked her whether it meant ten minutes for the question or ten minutes remaining in the interview, she simply wiggled it further and smiled.
D. Left afterwards in the office of an absent faculty member with, to put it delicately, elaborate taste in furnishings (and, to put it less delicately, weirdo Renaissance Faire dress-up decorating tendencies), Red Emma found himself stuck with a computer screen absent editing icons. A self-admitted technological imbecile, Red called “Help!” and within minutes found himself surrounded by secretarial staff, none of whom knew how to use the damn thing and would not summon the committee chair or anybody else for assistance.
E. At this point, a fellow union member who, upon seeing me there, asked if I was interviewing for the position, wondered why I’d want to work at the college. I don’t, I thought to myself, but I am certainly enjoying my morning of activism and lower gastrointestinal cleansing on behalf of adjunct faculty.
Which reminded me of another of my favorite jokes: how long have you been working here? Ever since they threatened to fire me.
By now the drugs were wearing off. The whole miserable affair reminded me again of Mr. Gandhi and his famous remark about British civilization. Here it is, mutatis mutandis:
“What do you think of professional behavior at Saddleback?”
“I think it would be a good idea.”
Sour grapes? Maybe. Although with a couple of Old Guard knuckle-draggers on the hiring committee, even Gandhi wouldn’t have been forwarded for a fulltime position.
* * *
If we could shrink the earth's population to a college in South Orange County containing precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be:
1 illegally appointed president.
1 unqualified dean
5 board members opposed in principal to public education
1 HR administrator who blackmailed above board members into a job
400 plus adjunct faculty underpaid, undervalued, and unrepresented
1 extra electric cart for Raghu
Well, you get the idea, FRIEND. Have a happy week! Bless you! Salud! Gesundheit! —RE