Friday, December 18, 2009

What's goin' on.

Well, it's Friday, and it's the end of another semester. Hell, it's almost the end of another year.

It's been a good year. I guess I have a lot to be thankful for. It's been a long, tedious road, but I finally feel like I've come to a place I've been workin' toward for a long time. Funny thing though... Finally gettin' here's got me kinda turned around.

I started teaching, flying out and living on Navy ships and teaching college classes in March of 1990. I went from being a security guard at a country club and part time substitute teacher to traveling the world. It was awesome. I did that job for almost four years. It was a wonderful, invaluable experience. It'd be impossible for me to calculate how much money it would have taken for me to do all that traveling on my own dime. I was happy as hell, but I never did make any money in those days.

Thing was, when I was sailing around the world, vacationing on a beach in Australia or Italy, I really didn't care if I was poor. Hell, I was having a great time, and I was thinkin' I had a cooler job than anyone else I knew. It was a blast, but in time, even that job began to feel like a dead end gig. I started looking beyond the fun, thinking about my career, and realizing that there wasn't much growth potential in teaching on the ships.

There'd been a time, when I was in school and working at the country club, when I'd see a plane flying overhead. It would be slowing down, flying low, headed for one of the local airports. I'd drift off in my mind, wondering who those people were and where they were going. It seemed then that the folks in that plane were going somewhere, doing something interesting. They way I looked at it then, my life was deadly boring. I didn't see myself going anywhere. Then, after graduating and sending out applications, I got that call. I thought about it for one night and the next thing i knew I was flyin' to Naples and getting on the USS Thorn.

Well, after flying and sailing around for a few years I found myself out in the yard again with the dog, and I saw one of those planes up there again. What happened then surprised me. I found myself thinking "Oh you poor bastards. You've been on that thing for hours, and they probably haven't fed ya. And someone just farted, and your sinuses are clogged from the dry air, and they've probably lost your luggage, and you're not done yet, are ya?" It surprised me. The wonder of it all was gone and I'd become cynical. I'd been there and done that, and I guess I was ready to move on.

I was never gonna move my career forward teaching on the ships. I knew that, so I decided to get a job teaching here in Killeen, on Ft. Hood, teaching for the same college that had hired me to teach on the ships. My folks had moved down to Temple to be closer to my Grandmother, and they'd taken all my stuff with them. So it was easy. I got a job teaching on the base, bought a jeep and started making car payments.

Thing is, I was only qualified to teach History back then. The Navy campus had always waved the qualifications and let me teach Govt. on the ships, but the folks on Ft. Hood wouldn't. As a result, I was always limited in the number of classes I could teach. That meant I never made much money. But, I was livin' with my folks in Temple. My only bills were car payments, gas and food, so I didn't feel poor. I was goin' canoeing and backpacking in the spring, spending the money I made and enjoying myself.

When I complained about being a part-time instructor and needing to teach more classes, people told me that I needed to get qualified to teach something else, like Government. But I resisted it. I didn't want to teach Government, and I didn't want to go back to school. But eventually I found I had to do something. I was at that stage again, seeing that dead end coming up at me fast. So I moved to San Marcos in the summer of 1997 and went back to school.

I loved living in San Marcos. It was awesome. And I loved being in grad school again. I found that I'd done a lot of growing up in the decade since I'd gotten my Masters in History. I got my 18 hours between the summer and fall semesters of '97, kept a 4.0 average, and was back in Killeen by the end of the year with enough qualifications to teach Government. And, I'd accumulated about $8000 of credit card debt. That's when I really went to work, and I haven't looked back since.

By 2003 I was makin' three times the money I'd made before, working for two or three colleges and teaching online classes. I'd paid of the credit card and the Jeep, and I was making enough money to make payments on 17 acres of land and the house I'm livin' in now. Even so, as good as things were then, the dead end was still there, starin' at me. After all, I was still part-time, and I'd come to think that I always would be. I'd even begun to think it was really better to be part-time. I'd developed a kind of "working class hero" chip on my shoulder. I figured that most of the full-time, main campus profs I knew were arrogant assholes, and I was better off not becoming one of them.

But there was always a sword of Damocles hanging over my head as a part-timer. About the same time I signed the mortgage on my house, some pencil pusher on the main campus decided that part-timers like me were teaching too many classes and our course load had to be cut. The state law was on his side. Part-timers were supposed to me limited to teaching 9 classes a year, but I and a few of my colleagues were teaching more like 35. It's easy to do that when you're teaching for so many different campuses. One hand doesn't know, or doesn't want to know, what the other is doing.

For years, it served everyone's interest to look the other way. The Ft. Hood campus looked good, I made a decent amount of money, the college made money from the students and the classes got taught. Everyone was winning. But then the accreditation year came along and someone on the main campus got scared that the college would get in trouble if the accrediting institution found out about folks like me.

So, in about 2003, with me increasingly feeling like a rat on a wheel from all those different jobs, and with the main campus folks up in arms, two things happened. I stopped teaching online classes and the main campus folks cut us back to something like 20 conventional classes a year. Between those two things, my income went down about $20,000 a year. But my bills didn't go away, and I'd gotten used to a better standard of living. So I kept spending money like I was still makin' it, assuming that I would again and I'd be able to pay the bills. In other words, I started running up the credit cards again, eventually to the tune of about $56,000. I guess I just went crazy for a while.

Some time in the middle of all of that I started blogging. I met some wonderful folks in the blogging world who helped nudge me along, encouraging me to take a few new directions and make a few long over due change my life. I'll always feel beholding to those folks, for their friendship and honesty, and I still feel lucky to know them. It's been a time of transitions. In that time I met the woman I share my life with now, and a year or two later my father passed away. Those changes have set off changes in my family that are still reverberating, working themselves out, as I'm sure they will forever.

Then, a little over a year ago, another interesting opportunity arose. The folks I work for on Ft. Hood were willing to hire guys like me to be full-time and pay us a bunch of money to encourage us to drive to San Saba four days a week and teach at a state prison. They were gonna pay me the same amount of money I was already making, teaching at three campuses, just to teach at San Saba. Then they were gonna pay me extra money to keep me teaching at a few of those other campuses. I thought about it for a while, talked to some friends, and eventually decided to go for it.

That turned out to be a great decision. The new job has worked out wonderfully. Not only am I making more money than I ever thought I would, but I've made some great friends in San Saba. I feel like my life's been enriched beyond what I ever thought it could be. I'm still workin' long hours and teaching a lot of classes, but I feel like I'm finally being adequately compensated for all that hard work. I sold the land, paid off all of the debt, and now find myself sitting on the edge of what looks like a brand new, fresh starting line in my life.

Some things haven't changed though. I recently had a funny experience in one of my evening classes. I can't remember how it came up. I think the students were asking me what I'd be teaching in the next semester or something. The topic of my work load came up and I told them I had 8 classes going on three campuses. One Black dude chimed in with "You sound like a Jamaican." Everyone laughed, and my mind, and those of many in class, flashed on this running skit in the old TV show In Living Color.

I said "Yep, that's me. Tree jobs maaan. Now, lets geet to work!" That set the whole class off. It was hilarious.

Anyway, yea, I'm doin' really well now. And it's not just the money. I know in my gut that the good money can go away again at any time. It's happened before. I dunno. It's been a long strange trip to get to this place. I guess, gettin' here has left me feelin' a bit weird.

It seems like a lot of things have turned upside down in the last few years. It's like I almost feel guilty for being where I am. I know that there are a lot of people out there who are havin' a hard time now, including a lot my friends who are still teaching part-time. There's a lot of folks out there that I love. It tears my heart up to think about them. I wish I could do somethin' about it, but as good as things are, I'm not doin' THAT well.

One of my most persistent fantasies these days has me winning the lottery and spreading the money around. It'd be so cool to do that. I could lift the wight off of so many shoulders. But I've gotta take care of my own, and just pray that the rest takes care of itself somehow. Anyway, I keep buyin' the lottery tickets.

Main thing is, I know my journey isn't over. It's far from over. This is just the highest peak I've reached so far. I get excited, thinking about where I'm goin' from here. Only God knows. Whatever happens, it's all good. Anyway, I just felt like sayin' all that. Sorry if I went on too long. Cheers.


PRH....... said...

Great Flashbacks Jeff...Merry Christmas to you and Denise, and the extended family...

See down the road in 2010...

BRUNO said...

(Psst! Hey, Mushy---he sounds like he's found OUR "stash"! Aw, DAMMIT---he found the GOOD-stuff, too...!)

I think MY G.P.A. in high-school was 0.10 ?

Naw, wait a minute---that was my Blood Alcohol Content during---and at the end of!---my senior year!

Just jealous, dude! No, really! I can only dream of how MY life would've turned out, with YOUR experience and knowledge in education. And, world-wide, at that!

I think you're currently doin' the right thing, which is refusing to grow-old, and go down without a fight!

Enjoy the "battle", my man...!

Mushy said...


I'm really proud of you Jeff, you've come a long way and finally about ready to be on your own...but Bruno and I aren't quit ready to cut the strings!

I've had email problems, so maybe I'll be in touch more often.

BRUNO said...

That's true! But he's makin' such a mess here, in the nest!

But, he's gettin' so damned BIG, that he keeps fallin' out, anyway!

Guess I'll hafta use 2x4's, instead of twigs this year...!

FHB said...

Thanks guys. Loves the comments. I'm still learnin', so don't go anywhere too quickly.