You and the seven other members of your grad school cohort are competing for the last tenure-track job in the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s a standard interview: meet with the committee, give a job talk, and drive around in a go-kart, hurling turtle shells at the other candidates. You get off to a great start, holding down first place as you zip around campus, carefully avoiding undergrads, banana peels, and probing questions about your personal life from the oldest professor on the hiring committee. After taking out one of your rivals with a red turtle shell — and a devastating critique of their reading of Deleuze — you suddenly find yourself in a scary new part of campus. It’s a dark room, filled with wailing ghosts and holes in the rickety wooden floor that reveal a bottomless abyss of despair. You are told that this is the part-time faculty office. You are also told that the tenure-track job search has been canceled and that the best they can offer you is a one-semester adjunct contract, a shared desk in the ghost office, and a salary of two banana peels per month. You will not be reimbursed for your go-kart expenses.
You live in the labyrinthine world of the academic job market, pursued at all times by four haunting specters: Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Student Loan Debt. You stay alive by stealing pieces of fruit, selling “power pellets” to undergrads cramming for the LSAT, and by teaching six sections of freshman comp every semester. Each time you think you find your way out of the maze, it turns out to be a tunnel that leads you back to where you were 10 years and 800 job applications ago. When the ghosts finally catch up with you, you ask if they would mind calling you “Doctor” instead of “Ms.” They frown, tell you to stop being so pushy, then eat you alive.
You try to climb to the top of the Ivory Tower, but you face all the usual obstacles: a lack of tenure-track job openings, the glacial pace of academic publishing, and a giant fucking gorilla who throws heavy wooden barrels at you. You try everything: jumping, smashing the barrels with a hammer, and writing a lengthy Twitter thread about tenured primates’ bad behavior in the academy. You get a lot of retweets, but you also get hit with a barrel while you’re checking your phone. You plummet from the Ivory Tower and are never heard from again. The gorilla is promoted to VP of Barrel Outreach and Innovation.
Your life is a complicated puzzle. You try to arrange the various pieces of your academic career into a seamless 100-hour work week: there’s a “T” for teaching, an “S” for students, a “Z” for Zoom meetings, and a “J” for your job at Quiznos, which actually provides the bulk of your income. Before long, everything piles up, and it’s game over. You hit reset on academia, but stick with Quiznos because the employee discount on toasted subs is the closest thing you’ve ever had to a retirement plan.
Unable to afford a bus pass, you steal a bike from a frat house and ride around town, returning all the essays your students never bothered to pick up. You zip through the student neighborhoods near campus, deftly avoiding abandoned kegs, pools of vomit, and eye contact with anyone who might be sober enough to recognize you. You’re doing great — you might even get home in time to do more grading! — until a sophomore business major runs you over with the “spare” BMW his parents let him borrow for the school year. Your injuries are minor, but since your university hasn’t provided adjuncts with health insurance since the 1970s, you are forced to spend six months convalescing on your basement apartment futon after your homemade plaster cast gives you a staph infection. The university assigns your classes/paper route to a fresh-faced Ph.D. grad, and you spend your days trying to buy expired antibiotics on the dark web.
Super Mario Bros.
You successfully avoid man-eating plants, flying turtles, and a fire-breathing dragon to arrive on time for your interview with Princess Toadstool, only to be told that it’s actually being held in another castle. Waiting for an Uber to take you across town to a different lava-filled fortress, you begin to seriously consider an alt-ac career in the plumbing industry.