When Opposites Attract: An Adjunct Takes to the Streets

The adjunct professor rarely appears in fiction. Alex Kudera introduced Cyrus Duffleman in Fight for Your Long Day (2011), among other things, a commentary on pay inequity in academia. Of course, it is more than that. Cyrus knows the system is corrupt, but he also knows he's a willing participant, so he is answerable only to his own conscience.

In Auggie's Revenge, we meet Michael Vittinger, an adjunct subsisting on the fringes of academia just like Cyrus. Here, however, life gets a little more desperate, edgier, after an off-campus encounter. He meets Auggie, a corrupt individual who stalks the larger outside world, on the make, hustling. Just like the college administrations who hustle to grab students' money and dispense as little as possible to faculty. So, they may seem like opposites, sharing participation in corruption, even if Michael is a bit more passive. But Auggie knows full well, "We were the ones who slipped through the cracks."

Many of us have known or have even been friends with an Auggie, and we often can't explain why, though we know it sometimes occurs in romantic relationships. For adjuncts and other underpaid laborers a void exists, that of the lack of professional status. Auggie occupies the dark underbelly of society and mounts a crusade of revenge.

When Michael reflects on his academic "career," he is so ambivalent with a "flat affect," as to be almost literally untethered. The chance encounter with Auggie is like being caught in the wake of a purposeful vessel, but in Auggie's case it's more like a pirate ship. Unfulfilled, Michael has a void, so Auggie fills it.

As such, Michael becomes obsessed with Auggie's tragic story about his childhood: sodomized by an abusive step-dad who took his inheritance when his mom passed from cancer. Auggie's "abuse stories" influence Michael "so that it infects [his] entire syllabus."

Then there is the association with one of Auggie's "friends," a Jonny November, a kind of nihilist with a lengthy rap sheet, who likes to rob packages off front porches. He isn't much of a philosopher, but that philosophy is all-encompassing: "Life is short." And his little parable about a retired man who passed out in his garage partially face-down in his cat's dirty litter: "That's it. A life. Death in the shit." Auggie brings Michael to visit Jonny and Auggie re-tells the sad story of his childhood. Michael then blurts out: "We could kill him." "[M]urder as justice," he concludes.

Once Michael turns this corner, his newfound sense of purpose allows himself to jettison his association with colleges. So, there are parallel stories here; besides the revelation of a murder plot and socioeconomic blight in general and the ripping off by the adjunct system in particular.

So, the plot's afoot, and a fourth member is added to the crew: an erstwhile former student girlfriend of Michael's named Melony, who is to lure the victim. Melony, not on stage for much of the story, proves superficial, if enthusiastic about the plan: "It was like the coolest idea, like one of those 'efficiencies' Sarah Palin is always talking about...we'd save time...and execute justice...So, you know, this was going to be like the movies."

The scheme does not go according to plan, but somehow, Michael seems to have the worst aftermath, as he is rendered homeless and wracked with regret, cut off from his tenuous connection with "normal society." At least the victim is put out of his misery, but Michael, now a fugitive, has descended to just about the lowest rung on the ladder when he suddenly decides he must crusade against all pedophiles and embark on one last desperate crusade. To Michael, sodomizing children is directly analogous to the rape committed by all corrupt institutions with their poverty engineering. The unspoken mantra driving society: "poor people have too much."

Kudera's imagery and language are heightened with Michael's voice as he declares near the end, while invoking Rousseau, "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains, yes, and these chains do not always imply there are other human beings in a man's life. We grapple with rusted, flaking black steel alone; our manacles are not only self-inflicted but also self-preserving. For many of us, most, there is no "Other" keeping us down."