Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Writer's Life

This, then, is how it began – a Saturday night phone call from Greg Herriges of the English Department at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.

I had been invited, months before, to give a reading at the college on October 9th as part of a reading series hosted annually by the college and StoryQuarterly magazine. A year previous, I’d had a story in StoryQuarterly that the editor, Minnie Marie Hayes, really liked. In fact, she’d offered to sponsor me for a fellowship at the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference this past summer. Alas, for quirky reasons that only the Breadloaf people could explain, I was not eligible.

Perhaps, then, this gig was a second attempt on the part of Ms. Hayes to express an appreciation a bit deeper than “mere” publication in her magazine. Whatever – I was pleased and grateful. I enjoy doing readings (and like to think I’m good at it), and I enjoy being appreciated.

That Saturday night phone call, however, was Greg telling me there was a good possibility the college would be on strike on October 9th. The faculty had already done their legal thing by authorizing a strike within the proper time frame. The talks, apparently, were not going well.

Regardless of what happened, I would be paid the agreed-upon fee but, he said, if I was interested, I was more than welcome to come and read on the picket line if it came to that. He said my co-reader, Danish American author Thomas E. Kennedy (a friend of Greg’s who’d also, apparently, done previous readings at the college) would be there.

I said okey-dokey. Or something like that. Essentially, though, I’d spent too many years in management’s dugout and could not imagine missing this chance to support the workers.

Then on Monday I received a call from the director of student activities at the college, Mr. Michael Nejman. Very pleasant, very professional, he repeated the same information as I’d gotten from Greg but then told me that, if a strike did occur, my services would not be needed. Management, clearly, was not interested in increasing the ranks of the picket line. I understood that.

This is how it ended. The drive to Palatine on Interstate 90 Monday morning was easy with only a predictable amount of mid-morning traffic. I found the campus easily and met Greg Herriges in his office – super fellow, very welcoming, quite embarrassed over how not only his original program had fallen apart but even the picket line reading was no longer possible.

Seems that over the weekend a tentative settlement had been reached along with an agreement that there would be no picket line until (if necessary) after the faculty vote on Wednesday. Author Tom Kennedy was also in his office so we all chatted about things literary, including Greg’s meeting with J.D. Salinger and his long-time friendship with the writer T. C. Boyle. We then went over to Marlowe’s for a nice lunch. We were also joined there by Marie Hayes, editor of StoryQuarterly magazine and co-sponsor of the reading series.

All of it pleasant, very pleasant.

So, in essence, I drove a hundred and six miles for a free lunch and left with a check for $250. It was not a bad day.


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