After years of waiting for rejection letters to get an interview, and rejection letters after getting an interview, and rejection letters after having had the on campus interview, as well as rejection letters for articles and proposals, I had come, in those days before email, to have mixed feelings about the postal person. And these mixed feelings reverberated in a very unpleasant ways with those three years of waiting for the post man to come and tell me I had been drafted or not.
I began to dislike the mail person even though I didn’t know him or her. Or maybe I didn’t like feeling chained to my awareness of the postal person, when he or she was supposed to come, or my suddenly very acute hearing that alerted me to the distinctive squeak of the postal person’s postal vehicle. It was kind of like having somebody come up behind you and go boo. I would be cruising along in the late afternoon usually and bang I would be aware of the damn postal person. They say you don’t want to be a bearer of bad tidings. I think I understand why, because if I had been king and the postal person had brought me another rejection letter I would have made him pay for it.
The on campus interview had been in early February, and I found myself listening for the postal person through the rest of February, through all of March, and into April. I knew by then, no dice. When and if the rejection letter ever came, I did not plan to open it. Then the phone rang and, to my surprise, the Chairman of the English Department at St Louis was on the other end of the line.
He was a nice guy, awful busy it seemed, more my age but a little younger, and he had called he said because they had taken an unconscionably length of time he felt to notify me of their decision. He apologized because part of the problem had been him. He had cancer he said and was under going chemo and some paperwork for the Dean had been late because of his treatments. So here was a guy undergoing chemo calling me to apologize for being late with a rejection letter because I had no doubt where this was going. I could tell the Chair was tired and pissed off. Probably he had wanted me for the job. Finally, he said, he probably shouldn’t say it but he wanted me to know the vote had been real close. In fact, I had lost out on the deal by one vote.
Later on, I sort of wished he hadn’t told me that. But here was a guy with cancer, on chemo, calling to apologize to me for not having sent out their rejection letter more promptly. He really hadn’t had to do that. So in the end, I thanked him and expressed my appreciation and hoped that all went well with his treatments.