Get Active: HELU Winter Summit 2022

Good Adjuncts,

This is Geoff Johnson, AFT-ACC President, Adjunct Rep for AFT 1931 (San Diego-Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District), and SCEA (Southwestern College Education Association), encouraging you to check out the HELU Winter Summit, from Feb 23rd-27th.

HELU is a cross union cross labor sector coalition of Higher Ed faculty, including adjunct/contingent faculty, classified staff and paraprofessionals, and graduate student workers fighting to reclaim Higher Ed from disinvestment, and adjunct/contingent, staff, and graduate student worker exploitation.

AFT-ACC and AFT 1931 is are official endorsees of HELU’s Vision Platform

The goal of the HELU Summit, in a bit of a follow up to its Summer 2021 Summit, is to bring greater awareness of HELU, and of the issues and goals around its efforts, and to begin making plans towards the realization of the goals listed in the vision platform.

HELU Winter Summit Agenda

The summit will also feature a slate of noted progressive and labor activists such as Noami Klein and Jane McAlevey.

Winter Summit Featured Speakers

It would be great to see as many Adjunct/Contingent folks at the summit as possible in that this is a great opportunity for adjunct/contingent activists to become connected to a larger national Higher Ed labor scene and build greater solidarity.

I know right now that a lot of us are busy, but registration is free, and you don’t have to hit all the sessions, though HELU will accept donations

Here’s a registration link:

HELU Winter Summit Registration

See you there.

In solidarity,

Geoff Johnson

AFT-ACC President

Campus Equity Week 2021: Statement from the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct/Contingent Caucus

Hello, My name is Geoff Johnson, President of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus Today, October 25th marks the first day of Campus Equity Week 2021, and I carry this message:

First, to all adjunct and contingent faculty, a shout out of appreciation for your hard work as teachers, parents, and caregivers in what has been a time of unprecedented struggle. It is in this time that we, who represent the majority of higher ed faculty in this country, have, out of base necessity, rallied to meet adversity and provide the needed buttress of our labor to support the larger system of US higher education. We not only undertook the creation of online remote and distance education platforms on short notice, but did so often with limited, or conversely, extensive but unpaid training. And in contrast to many of our tenure-track faculty, we had to do separate and repeated trainings for each of our institutions, some of us teaching class loads in excess of what our tenure-track faculty endured. It was not without a sacrifice and cost that is still being given and paid.

And now to both these faculty and a larger audience, as COVID rates are tentatively appearing to subside, many Americans speak of a return to normalcy, and this extends to our colleges and universities.

But as adjunct/contingent faculty truly know, the real impacts of COVID on their ability to work, live, and function are, in many ways, yet to be fully realized. For them, a contagion of precarity, one which became pandemic before even the outbreak of COVID, continues and worsens. 

US higher ed is experiencing system wide declines in enrollments, meaning a loss of work for adjunct/contingent faculty, and with it, a loss of access to what little if any healthcare benefits they may have had. These same faculty, in many states, get to experience the double blow of not only being unemployed, but because of poor language regarding “reasonable assurance,” are also denied unemployment benefits. For public institutions whose funding is tied to enrollment, the inevitable crash in funding will lead to further class cuts, not only costing adjunct/contingent faculty work, but disenfranchising students, particularly BIPOC and lower income students, whose institutions of learning are most impacted. This is further reinforced by a US Congress’s failure to fund free or even affordable public higher education.  Equally troubling is the significant reduction in additional aid to Historic Black Colleges and Universities. 

Yet sadly, even with this needed funding, adjunct/contingent precarity would remain in place, in that the larger inequity in US higher ed, and US Culture would remain.

In an equitable system of higher education, all instructors, on the basis of experience and education, would be paid equally or proportionate to the work they do, simply in that students themselves do not distinguish between a professor as an adjunct, contingent, or tenure-track faculty member, let alone understand the distinction. They would also have access to the same or proportionate healthcare and retirement benefits, and would be allowed and encouraged to participate in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters. Further, they would after a proscribed time with satisfactory evaluations, enjoy an equal degree of job security to the fullest extent enrollment would allow it, and if in the event of loss of work, be afforded unemployment benefits.

Instead US higher ed, to save costs, pays adjunct/contingent faculty a fraction of what tenure-track make for the same work, sets workload limits within institutions and districts largely to avoid paying healthcare and retirement benefits, or simply denies these benefits altogether. They are more often than not further barred or discouraged from participating in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters, and when there is exception to this, usually not compensated. Finally, as adjunct/contingent faculty work is defined as “temporary” in nature, many states will deny unemployment benefits. Ironically, many of these “temporary” faculty have been hired and fired on a term-by-term basis for decades, paying into a system from which they will never collect.

The fractional treatment of these faculty, who in contrast to tenure-track faculty are, in larger proportion women or ethnic minorities, points to an even deeper systemic inequity born out of America’s darkest impulses. As such, it not only harms the lives of these faculty and their families, but their students, the US higher ed system, and America as a whole.

Much of this inequity is permitted to exist by the willful ignorance, or insincere rhetoric, of politicians and policymakers who acknowledge but then defer from the problem, and by a media uninterested in discussing the mass scale of the problem, and connecting the problem to its causes, let alone entertaining solutions.

In spite of the recent Congress’s shortcoming regarding High Ed funding, it has the means, and with little relative cost, to at least end the ignorance and neglect. 

The US Government, empowered by congressional action, can and should conduct a full study of Adjunct/Contingent pay and work inequity in US higher ed either through the Departments of Labor or Education, and publish those results. Following that, the Congress needs to then make the true effort to truly create a necessary and equitable US higher ed system as suggested above–one which, as a place of equity, can also be a place of promise, and a place for a better America.

An Adjunct’s Truth

The following post is one I received from an adjunct, who, as you will read here, is facing the very issues that this year’s Campus Equity Week campaign has been pointing out. She chooses to remain anonymous, and we respect her wishes.


Campus Equity Week 2020

I am an adjunct counselor at two community colleges. At one of my community colleges where I have been for seven years and have “seniority,” my hours per week have been slashed from 25 to 18 to 14 and now to 7. I usually find out my hours for the semester the Friday before the Monday start date. 

This last cut, given with mere days notice, caused me to have to move to a smaller apartment immediately as I could no longer pay my rent. I also can no longer make my ACA payment of 729.00 per month. At this point, I am housing and food insecure, as well as worried about lack of healthcare. 
I feel that I am one interview away from the respect that I deserve as a faculty member. Going from part – time to full- time would change my world, and yet I know the odds are against it. 

I often wonder why the full-time tenured faculty who are in a privileged and untouchable position, don’t reach out to help us in any way. Do they not remember what it was like to be an adjunct, or is it that they just don’t care?

For me, how adjuncts are treated by our respective institutions is unethical and immoral. They say they are concerned with equality and equity, but I remain unconvinced. 

Adjuncts: Watch this Video and Share It

In this episode of “The Patriot Act,”f Hassan Minhaj does a great job of getting at the real state of college today, from what’s real value is, to why it’s so expensive, and to why students are getting ripped off via adjunctification and corporatism. Essential viewing. Click on the link below:

“Is College Still Worth It?”



AFT-ACC Statement on the Need for Contingent Faculty Relief and the Extension of Unemployment Benefits

The numbers are alarming. The US Department of Labor has reported that in just over three months 44 million people, or approximately 28 percent of the US workforce, have filed for unemployment.  In addition, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, over 10% of apartment households have yet to pay their rent in spite of receiving benefits from the CARES Act provisions, which expire at the end of July.

This is an American problem, but moreover, it is a catastrophe for America’s contingent, or “at-will” workers, who comprise approximately 30% of the US Labor force.  Among these workers are 1.3 million “part-time,” “adjunct,” or contingent college instructors, representing 75.5% of US faculty. These faculty, hired term-by-term on an “as needed” basis generally work with few to no benefits, and are paid, on the whole, less than half of what the full-time colleagues make. Surveys have shown that even prior to the COVID-19 Epidemic, approximately one of four of these faculty were receiving some form of government assistance.

Though having to take on the literal overnight and often uncompensated training and conversion to remote, or fully online instruction, adjunct/contingent college instructors rose to the challenge, and were able to be paid through their Spring terms. Now that the Summer has arrived, instructors at many institutions of higher learning are facing layoffs which will extend through the Fall as many students, out of either financial need, or lack of comfort with remote learning, will either put off or abandon instruction. In addition, they await an uncertain picture in the Spring of 2021.

Beyond Spring 2021 is even less certain.  The revenues collected by state and local governments to support education have sharply dropped, meaning without an influx of funding from other sources, college budgets will be sharply reduced. There will be fewer class offerings, fewer sections, and contingent instructors will lose the income that in many cases just kept them afloat.

The darkest part of this picture is that now in many states, as many adjunct/contingent faculties’ teaching assignments are considered completed, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Such presumption and denial is based on a false presumption that the offer of, or even the possibility of an assignment in a subsequent term represents “reasonable assurance” of future or continued employment.  The presumption is the result of a false equation between High Education and K-12 teaching.  Adjunct/Contingent faculty are not guaranteed work in the next term because their employment is based on enrollment, which unlike the K-12 system, fluctuates greatly. This longstanding practice has contributed to 30% of adjunct-contingent faculty living at or below the poverty line.

Some states, such as California, have recognized that the nature of adjunct/contingent teaching in Higher Ed means teaching from term-to-term, with no reasonable assurance of future employment, and as such, this enables these instructors and their families access to benefits which are often the one thing keeping them from absolute destitution.

The United States Department of Labor needs to recognize and acknowledge that adjunct/contingent faculty lack “reasonable assurance” of employment, as discussed in Section 3304(a)(6)(A) of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act.  In light of the COVID19 crisis, the loss, not just to these faculty and their families, but to the US Higher Education System will be incalculable and lasting. Further, America’s main vehicle for innovation, economic success, and most of all, societal equity, will be irreparably harmed.

Moreover, the existing extension of unemployment benefits from 27 to 39 weeks needs to be expanded to a full 52 weeks or a year to help adjunct-contingent faculty, adjunct/contingent workers and the unemployed as a whole. Only with the security to pay for food, rent, utilities, and basic living expenses can Americans move ahead.

In closing, this is not an issue or an impending crisis to be addressed later—the time is now. The expiration of CARES Act provisions is but weeks away. The devastation of the COVID19 need not be further amplified by inaction.

The American Federation of Teachers Adjunct/Contingent Faculty Caucus

Geoff Johnson President                                   William Lipkin             Vice President

Linda Chan      Secretary                                    Leonard Winogora     Treasurer

Cherie Kipple     Communications Officer

Arnie Schoenberg      Organizing Officer

Arnold Korotkin        Member at Large: 4-year Colleges

Linda Sneed                Member at Large: 2-year Colleges

Nancy Merrill-Walsh   Member at Large: Eastern Half

AFT-ACC Statement Regarding the COVID-19 Outbreak

While we are in the early stages of this pandemic, it is abundantly clear that the COVID-19 outbreak has already created the greatest disruption in American Higher Education history, with campuses nationwide being shuttered, and faculty, students and staff being forced to, with minimal preparation and support, work and learn remotely. The rapid spread of the virus, and the need to, for lack of a better word, “manage” its transmission, have forced administrators and public policymakers to make quick and tough decisions which will have both an immediate and lasting impact.

More than simply being educational providers, colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning play a vital and irreplaceable role in the success, prosperity and growth of their respective communities and the country as a whole. The ability of these institutions to fulfill their mission requires the coordinated cooperation and involvement of students, staff, and faculty.

Of these faculty, a significant proportion, and in many institutions, the majority, work on an “as needed,” or contingent basis, and in addition to receiving lesser pay, benefits, and job security, are given less institutional support or voice in the shared governance of their respective institutions.

Now, in what is clearly an unprecedented crisis, the vast bulk of higher education instruction is being moved to “remote” learning or online platforms, with little to no time for preparation or training.

Classes transitioned to a remote format are not a substitute for face-to-face instruction and do not equate to face-to-face instruction. Such classes are a mechanism to provide instruction given the current COVID-19 crisis and take preventative measures to ensure social distancing and to minimize the outbreak.

In light of the above, to empower these faculty to fulfill their mission in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is essential they:

1) Receive full pay for their current assignments and ancillary activities, whether their coursework or duties have been moved to a remote or online format, or cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

2) Not lose or see reductions in benefits due to the aforementioned change in assignments or duties as a result of COVID-19 outbreak.

3) Not be forced to use up sick leave as a result of the institution’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including faculty subject to quarantine, whether voluntary or involuntary, as a result of exposure.

4) Be given the sole discretion, as faculty, to determine how their instructional and/or non-instructional workload can be completed remotely.

5) Be compensated for additional training needed for the transition of classes to a remote format.

6) Be, when lacking the proper tools to provide online education, loaned tools by their respective institutions for no charge.

7) Not be subject to evaluations that could potentially be used for punitive actions including, but not limited to termination or a denial of future teaching assignments. They should be cancelled for the length of the outbreak.

8) Be able to retain their rehire status in the event of class or assignment cancellation caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

9) Be able to retain their rights to their own intellectual property, either created for, or moved online to provide remote or online teaching in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

10) Be included in decision-making processes regarding curriculum, the delivery of instruction, and their respective institutions’ shared governance process.

11) Be made eligible for unemployment compensation as a result of job loss or underemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Further, to protect these faculty who may still be teaching face-to-face courses, or providing instruction in a healthcare setting, it is essential that their institutions put in place proper safeguards to ensure they and their students’ safety.

Finally, it should not be lost upon these institutions, their administrators, or public policymakers that the precarity of all higher education faculty working as adjuncts or contingents, including graduate students and non-tenure track faculty, that COVID-19 has only exacerbated an intolerable and unsustainable model for the continued success of higher education. It is therefore incumbent that as the COVID-19 crisis abates, that concerted effort one again be taken up to address the inequities of pay, job security, lack of benefits, institutional support, and inclusion these faculty face.

The post COVID-19 success, prosperity, and growth of our respective communities and country depend upon it.

The AFTACC Executive Committee

Geoff Johnson, President                             William Lipkin, Vice President

Leonard Winogora, Treasurer                   Arnie Schoenberg, Organizing Chair

Arnold Korotkin, Member-at-Large          David Albert, Member-at-Large



New Jersey Passes Contingent Faculty Bill of Rights

Great news from the state of New Jersey.

Filed passed, filed with the New Jersey Secretary of state as of January 13th, 2020, New Jersey bill NJ SCR185 (Urges New Jersey institutions of higher education to take action on ensuring rights for contingent faculty), provides a sort of Contingent faculty Bill of Rights calling for the right of contingent faculty to have:

  • Equal pay for equal work
  • The same academic freedoms provided to tenured faculty
  • Professional support such as office accommodations and technical support and supplies
  • An orientation to the institution and department, or a comprehensive handbook specifying the duties and rights of contingent faculty at the institution
  • Be included in the shared governance of the institution, and to hold voting rights
  • Be included in department meetings and events
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Attend appropriate academic conferences without penalty
  • Audit tuition-free classes at the institution, when space permits
  • Access unemployment benefits

Now it should be incumbent upon those of us outside the state of New Jersey to get our respective legislatures to adopt this language.

Below is the full text of the bill with line numbers edited out.

A CONCURRENT RESOLUTION Urging Institutions of Higher Education in the State to Take Action on Ensuring Rights for Contingent Faculty.

WHEREAS, Institutions of higher education have become increasingly reliant on contingent faculty, which include both part- and full-time non-tenure-track appointments. This includes positions that may be classified by the institution as adjunct professors, part-time lecturers, and non-tenured faculty; and

WHEREAS, Contingent faculty are professionals who hold a minimum of a master’s degree, with many having acquired the terminal degree in their field and years of valuable academic and professional experience; and

WHEREAS, Contingent faculty now account for over 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education. The excessive use of, and inadequate compensation and professional support for, faculty in contingent positions exploits these colleagues; and

WHEREAS, Many institutions have invested heavily in facilities and technology while cutting instructional spending; and

WHEREAS, Contingent faculty are typically excluded from curricular and department planning, even though the knowledge they have of their students would benefit these objectives; and

WHEREAS, Although contingent faculty are both qualified and dedicated, faculty who are teaching in these positions are hobbled in the performance of their duties by a lack of professional treatment and support. Many lack access to such basics as offices, computer support, and photocopying services, and they typically receive little or no evaluation, mentoring, or professional development opportunities; now, therefore;

BE IT RESOLVED by the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey (the Senate concurring):

The Legislature recognizes the need for and urges each institution of higher education in the State to take action on ensuring certain rights for contingent faculty including the right of contingent faculty to:

  • Equal pay for equal work
  • The same academic freedoms provided to tenured faculty
  • Professional support such as office accommodations and technical support and supplies
  • An orientation to the institution and department, or a comprehensive handbook specifying the duties and rights of contingent faculty at the institution
  • Be included in the shared governance of the institution, and to hold voting rights
  • Be included in department meetings and events
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Attend appropriate academic conferences without penalty
  • Audit tuition-free classes at the institution, when space permits
  • Access unemployment benefits

Copies of this resolution, as filed with the Secretary of State, shall be transmitted by the Clerk of the General Assembly to the Secretary of Higher Education and to the president and governing board of each institution of higher education in the State.


This concurrent resolution recognizes the need for and urges each institution of higher education in the State to take action on ensuring certain rights for contingent faculty including the right of contingent faculty to: equal pay for equal work; the same academic freedoms provided to tenured faculty; professional support such as office accommodations and technical support and supplies; an orientation to the institution and department, or a comprehensive handbook specifying the duties and rights of contingent faculty at the institution; be included in the shared governance of the institution, and to hold voting rights; be included in department meetings and events; professional development opportunities; attend appropriate academic conferences without penalty; audit tuition-free classes at the institution, when space permits; and access unemployment benefits.

California Adjuncts (and Their Supporters), Help Yourselves: Send Governor Newsom a Letter

Hi All:

Below the sign out of this post, is a letter Adjunct Crisis is asking you to print out and send to Governor Newsom to the address listed on the letter.  It calls for 150 million dollars to set set aside from the existing Education budget for:

  1. More full time positions
  2. More money for paid part-time office hours
  3. Equity pay

The sum is based off of projections of what we estimate, in working with our AFT lobbyist, the state of California has.  We’ve been doing this since 2014, and each year, it has gotten more money for at least one of the three items.  This is direct action, and one even a harried adjunct going between multiple classes can do.

So what are you waiting for?  Print it out, fill it out, and send it.

Geoff Johnson

AFT-ACC President


Governor, State of California

State Capitol, First Floor

Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: Part-time Community College Faculty

Dear Governor Newsom:

The efforts of yourself and the state legislature over the past year have demonstrated a strong desire for creating equity and opportunity in Higher Education for California’s lowest income families. Beside the improvements that need to be made to enable the students to have greater access to financial aid programs, and that public education funding needs to meet current and future costs, there remains the issue of adequate support for the faculty who directly provide.

As of Fall 2018, approximately 69% of California Community College instructors were employed “temporary” academics, or adjuncts, who were responsible for teaching 45% of instruction, according to the CCC Chancellor’s office.

These are instructors who are mostly paid only for their classroom time, at wages that are only a fraction of what the full-time counterparts make.  In addition, they with few exceptions have limited or no health benefits, and are hired on an at-will basis, with often limited rehire rights. Many suffer financial hardship, and often to rise above it, they are require to take on teaching assignments in multiple districts, and often have teaching loads in excess of their full-time counterparts.

These working conditions clearly impact adjunct instructor effectiveness, limiting the time they can either interact with their students, or connect with the curriculum, mission, and learning culture of their respective campuses.

Equally significant is that in higher proportions that their full-time colleagues, these adjuncts are people of color, immigrants, and women. Presently, 73% of California Community College s students are students of color, immigrants, or both.

A true commitment to equity and opportunity on California Community College Campuses means supporting these adjunct faculty so that they can better support their students. To do so, I ask you set aside $150 million dollars for:

  1. The conversion of part-time faculty to full-time, tenure track positions, following the recommendations of the Faculty and Staff Diversity Task Force.
  2. The state part-time office hours fund.
  3. Equity pay.

To push for true equity and opportunity, more than words are required.  Serious funding concerted and action is necessary.



NAME (Print) ____________________________ CITY& ZIP: _____________________




Letter to Jill Biden

Recently Sandra Baringer, one of American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus’s members with UC-AFT, had a chance to deliver the letter below to Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife, and notably a former adjunct and now full-time instructor at Northern Virginia Community College.  Because of both her work experience as well as her obvious connection to the 2020 Presidential Campaign, we have approached her to make her aware of the contingent struggle and ask for her to advocate for change.

Expect that we will raise the issue to all and any other major presidential candidates during the 2020 campaign.  We will be heard. #adjunctlife #campusequitynow.

Geoff Johnson President, AFT-ACC


Here’s the Letter:

Jill Biden, Ed.D.

Professor of English and Reading

Alexandria Campus, Northern Virginia Community College

Re: Contingent Faculty and Student Success 

Dear Dr. Biden:

As a fellow community college English professor, I salute you in doing the hard work of teaching in an environment where the work we do, among some of the most diverse, yet economically and educationally challenged students, can have the greatest impact.  I’m sure that for you, as it is for me, a labor of love.

I’m reaching out to you now, in this time of challenge, and with a presidential campaign at hand, to speak of a significant challenge to the US Higher Education system and its main objective of student success.

According to the AAUP, approximately 73% of American College educators are off the tenure track.  As a former adjunct yourself, you are aware that with few exceptions, they are paid significantly less than their full-time counterparts, and lack the job security of tenure, as well as health and retirement benefits.

In fact, to simply say this is an understatement.  In a recent nationwide survey of 3,076 contingent faculty conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, the following statistics were revealed:

  • 64% of contingent faculty make less than 50,000 dollars a year, and 31% report making less than 25,000 dollars a year, placing them below federal poverty guidelines for a family of four.
  • 40% of contingent households struggle regularly, or during Summer and Winter breaks, to pay the bills. 26% are at some level of food insecurity.
  • 70% of contingent faculty are hired term by term, and most were notified of their employment in any term less than two months before its start. 65% of contingent faculty have worked at their respective institutions for 10 or more years.
  • Only 43% of contingent faculty receive some form of health insurance from their employer. This has led to 18% postponing care, 12% cutting pills in half.  Close to 45% put off seeing a doctor, and over 65% have foregone dental care.
  • 38% of contingents, many of whom do not pay into or receive social security, have no idea how they will retire.

These are all academics who believed in the promise of education, have made personal sacrifices, as have their families, and go into the classroom to instruct and show the potential of that promise. Consider that as we have placed primacy on student learning conditions, it only stands to reason that the poor working conditions of these faculty limits their potential to set the proper working conditions these students deserve.

To do the proper thing by these faculty and their students, we ask that you support:

  • The efforts of college faculty locals to negotiate pro-rata pay (i.e. equal pay for equal work).
  • Key provisions of the “AFT Recommendations for the Higher Education Act Reauthorization,” namely those concerning the overuse and poor working conditions of “temporary” contingent faculty, and the cancelling of existing student debt, which severely affects contingent faculty.
  • A repeal of the WEP, or Windfall Elimination Provision from Social Security, which reduces the social security benefits of contingents receiving meagre and often inadequate state or local pensions.

Additionally, I ask that you encourage your husband, Vice President Joe Biden, to speak to these issues within the context of the current presidential campaign in hopes of creating larger awareness of the issue.  Further, should he achieve the presidency, I ask you encourage him to work towards a change in contingent academic working conditions that these faculty and their families need, which will in turn create the learning conditions American Higher Ed students deserve.

In solidarity,

Geoffery Johnson


“Going with the Carnies” A Campus Equity Poem


For our poetry reading tonight I decided to write a poem about one Summer night I had when I was 16. It’s not about Adjuncting per se, but it’s about how we lead ourselves into abusive work environments, which is due to either where we’ve been, or how we don’t value ourselves.

I ask that even, if after all the exhortations I have made about doing something for Campus Equity Week, that you still have done nothing, that you at least value yourself.

You are not just the work you do, nor should it ever define you.

Going with the Carnies

Dog day turned dog night,the
summer sultry air was suffocating yet
not enough to cut the tension of getting a
paying gig after a summer of
mowing lawns for free.

Jeff and I waited in the Southgate Lot for Jason,
a guy Jeff said would pay us to help
break the carnival down.

At 9:15 the midway went dark and out
came Jason, 5'2' blue black and hard,
smiling with eyes that cut through
any pretense of care.

"You two look ready to work, that's good because
there's no time to mess around.  Along with you
I got Mike and Earl who just showed up
and if you want pay you'll have to work and
move your ass cause I'm
gonna ride you hard."

Of Mike I only remember stringy hair
like a person who wasn't there but a
shadow to Earl, matted hair, unshaven,
dressed in a stained shirt, pocket holding a
half-crushed pack of Camels--
my age and from the other side.

"Let's start with the kiddie rides--
you two pull the plating, and--we're already behind,
so GO!"

Pulling at the steel plates, with
soft hands and fingernails off the
platform of a race car ride, I
recalled a time at five and

"How come you fuckers aren't done yet?
We need to be out by two! Hump your ass,
I don't have time to fuck with you!"

And so it went from ride to ride, fingers
pinched three times collapsing awnings, hands
cut on the tilt-a-whirl, head smacked on
the octopus--no time for band-aids.

Jason gave it to us in equal parts--
ringmaster, his voice cracked with the
anger of my father, only without the
cuffings of ears--it's perhaps why I, and 
maybe Jeff too endured.  We leaped and
jerked, strained and sweat--
yet no one dared to speak.

Four hours later, we were done,
drenched, black and sore. Jason
harrumphed, sighed, and from his pocket
pulled a thick wad of dollar bills, counting off
eight bills for us four each like a 
seasoned cook peeling an onion.

"Sorry I rode you hard, but then
you should know how it is.  Say...
you guys, you're not so bad,
I could use a team like you."

We walked away, but as we did I
looked back at Earl, now sitting in the
carny van.  Our eyes met just as it rolled
into the black and gone.

I still don't know what I saw.