Equity Extends Beyond Ourselves-A Poem on Labor Day

Below is a poem about a situation I witnessed on April 30th, 2002, the first day I came back to San Diego to live and plunge myself into adjunctification after nearly a decade of living in Japan. Nine months later, myself and my family were living at the point of economic desperation and the threat of homelessness.

I think and have thought of this incident as the time at which my Polyannish economic optimism of living in America as an educator, or as any working class individual without the risk of destitution ended.  What struck me then, as it does now, is how the abject defeats of the poor in this country are but trivialities in the minds of those who set and enforce policy.  Some people refer to this as simply a matter of falling through the cracks.

The fact of the matter is that increasingly, a smaller number of folks with wide feet are allowing the cracks in the floorboards to broaden, thinking only of the things they want to do in the room rather than the precarity of others trying to simply cross or stand on the floor.

For those adjuncts out there struggling to get by,  think of their own plight and exploitation, consider on this labor day the struggles of those who precariously stand on this cracked floor, other laborers, our students, or simply the person who can’t scrape up the 15 dollars to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

As you reach the poem’s end, you might rightly ask why I didn’t just step in and pay the 15 dollars. All I can say is that I was stunned by the moment, and have to live with the thought that I should have.


Standing tall, head erect, black and beaming

New shirt, pants creased, shoes shined

He strides to the desk with an uplifted gait,

and tells he’ll no longer make her wait.


“It took me a while to get paid, and just so you know,

I got a place, so I’ve come to get the stuff

you have. Here’s what I owe,

it’s 525.”


And she, holder of keys, old white and drawn, behind the barrier sent out a smile.


“It’s good to see you got it together.

Now let me go and check accounts so we can

Confirm the correct amount.”


“By all means, go ahead,” he said with pride,

“But I am sure, as I heard you say it’s 525 for rent unpaid

when you said I had to leave. It’s been just three days and

now I’m back and ready to make good.”


“Well I see here it was 525, just as you say,

but it’s been three days, and there’s a fee,

of five dollars for every day, which brings it up to 540.

I need all this before I can let your stuff go.”


Eyes wide, arms tensed, surprised he speaks,

“But I’ve not been here, I’ve not used your space.

I’ve given you all that I have. Beyond what you,

see, all I’ve got is a change of clothes.

I think that I’ve given you enough,

could you please understand and let it go?”


And she said, “No, I’m afraid the rules are clear, and

after all, I’m just the manager here.What do you expect me to do?”


“Have it in your heart ma’am, just 15 dollars, and

it’s all my stuff. I’d give you the money if I could.”


“I’m sorry that’s the way it is.”


“Well, if I were to come in a few days, could I give you the 15 then?”


“Yes you could, but then it’d be 5 dollars extra for every day.”


“But that’s crazy! For every day I try

my stuff is farther from me!

You can’t do this!


“Yes, I can,” she said low and tense.


“Goddamn!” he cried, turned on his heel

and stormed out, reached the corner, lowered his head,

and marched out of sight.


A young man helping in the back rushed to the woman’s side and asked, “Are you OK?”


As if she was the one who was hurt.


Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct