My Job Stinks, Literally


katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

One of my colleges is a quiet, little collection of buildings neatly tucked in among several large, pastorally lovely, and incredibly smelly dairies. A few days after the occasional rain we get here in the desert valley of Southern California the hills turn a vivid green, with skies so blue you wonder if it’s somehow digitally enhanced. Driving into work on the winding, meandering roads always lifts my mood and brings a smile to my face — as long as the windows are rolled up. Even when I breathe through my mouth, I somehow still smell the cow manure. I also have to remind myself to switch my car’s a/c intake to “within the car” so that I’m not pumping eau de la nature’s best fertilizer into the car’s interior.

Classroom a/c units are no match for the thick, textured stench that wafts through the rooms in a drowsy way. Originally, I thought that the summer heat locked the smell close to the ground, but now that I’ve worked at this college for a few years I realize that hot or cold, and through every season, the town just stinks. In fact, turning the heater on in the winter seems to make it worse.

This is the same school where students regularly come to class in cow-dung-coated boots….so even when I manage to dodge the outside smells, they come after me.

The worst part is probably the flies. I think we should get hazard pay; some of these flies are the size of small dogs. They are also super-aggressive and come at waving hands much like I imagine WWII Japanese bombers zeroed in on those destroyers at Pearl Harbor. Around the beginning of every Fall semester (which is usually mid-August in my neck of the woods), it is common to see people with fly-covered heads and arms walking down campus sidewalks. I had to stop wearing any kind of perfume, using laundry soaps with fragrance, or scented deodorants and soaps, even sunscreen can lead to a fly attack.

Like weird jewelry, the flies nestle in hair and stick to backpacks, hitching free-rides. 

The funny thing about the cow smell is that if you expose yourself to it for more than a few minutes, it tends to linger on the skin and permeate the hair. I try never to have an appointment after my classes at this campus, out of respect for the nasal sensitivities of those whom I would meet. 

For the past three years, my students have been assuring me that I’ll eventually get used to the smell (and the flies). Yeah. Sure. Moo. Buzz. 

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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