Tony Award winner Mark Medoff, author of Children of a Lessor God and The Homage.
"Money is oil to dignity's water."
So muses John Deyme, the eager bumbler of FLUNKY . Fully ambitious and fully talentless, John is determined to impress West Central College president Don Boyle, a savvy practitioner of rough-and-tumble, Chicago-style patronage and politics.
As associate dean, John greases the skids for the mercurial Boyle's schemes. John becomes an academic bag man, buying off Boyle's enemies and manipulating faculty union elections. John's willingness to roll in the dirt of realpolitik impresses his superiors, and soon he is assigned dicier tasks, such as destroying public housing to pave the way for West Central's campus expansion. Along the way, John has comic clashes with faculty union zealots, with Jo Ann Staulen, the college's grim PC Dean, and with his drinking pal and fellow flunky Bruce Herrig.
John's personal life is also an ever messier tangle: he loves and quickly loses Lydia Fairview, a fellow administrator slyly on the make; he has an affair with Lauren, a neurotic car saleswoman; and he tramples the one purely good thing in his life¿friendship with the Kwangs, his Korean immigrant neighbors¿by becoming more than neighborly with Kim Kwang, a high school senior.
Ultimately, John is left to muse on the wreckage of his career and friendships¿even as his bitterest rivals emerge unscathed and prosperous.
Boson Books also offers A Self-Made Monster by Steve Vivian.
For an author bio and photo, reviews and a reading sample, visit bosonbooks.com.
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: If It's Monday Morning
If it's Monday morning, the President will be yelling.
Dr. Don Boyle, the President of West Central College, will crash
into the conference room like an errant Scud missile. Then, face
reddening, he'll launch into his arm-waving, finger-pointing, full-
throttle Monday morning inquisition. I mused that Boyle, like a
soprano practicing scales before a performance, rehearses his
operatic tirades before the bathroom mirror of the Presidential
lavatory. The Presidential water closet, by the way, is the subject
of ceaseless rumor. According to the most reliable gossip, it's
mauve and blue and boasts a wide-screen stereo TV, phones, sauna,
microwave, cappuccino brewer, toilets designed by a leading
chiropractor, and a bar stocked exclusively with 1959 wines. These
Chicago Irish, I guess, live with zest.
We waited for the President's entrance, clutching our notebooks
and grinding our teeth. Nobody talked--we were too busy being
nervous. The Cabinet meetings, as the Prez calls them, were always
on Monday at 10:00 a.m. and were always frightful.
A slamming door announced his entrance.
Again, I was struck by the contrast of his small stature and
large temper. Boyle's barely five foot eight. He's in his early
40's but is teenage thin. He weighs maybe a hundred fifty if you
factor in the five pounds of polyurethane he lavished daily on his
styled auburn hair. His suits were slightly baggy, suggesting a
child in adult clothes. I'm a good six one and pushing two hundred
forty pounds; I've often ached to smash Boyle against a wall,
battering-ram fashion. But then he starts yelling at everybody.
Suddenly you're a ten year old, cowering before your pissed off
He took his chair, which was upholstered in unborn calf. "To
begin," he boomed, "I direct our attention to Dr. Malvick's analysis
of spring enrollment figures."
We dutifully thumbed through our pile of papers. I envied
Malvick, the Dean of Enrollment. The economy, though officially
"recovered", had failed to produce jobs that pay actual wages. The
shell-shocked citizenry was enrolling in record busting numbers,
hoping to gain some college credits and get a job. Or just keep the
one they had.
"What should we think of these figures?" Boyle asked
I was about to praise the figures, but Bruce Herrig--a virtuoso
buttock buffer--was the first in line to Boyle's behind.
"Wonderful, just wonderful. Up six percent."
We murmured and nodded and grunted, all the while hating
Malvick's guts. Malvick flashed a self-congratulatory smirk.
"This report is a disaster!" Boyle boomed.
"It doesn't, I mean, I don't understand," Malvick sputtered.
None of us understood. The news was all good.
Boyle snatched a page of Malvick's printout, tore it into
confetti, and threw it at his face.
"You're a short-sighted fool!" Boyle declared. His declaration
left Malvick blinking through tears and Presidential spittle--the
Prez spit when he yelled, so he spit plenty--but Malvick dared not
wipe his suddenly damp and ashen face.
"You've cost this college hundreds of thousands of dollars! I
have never seen someone so incompetent," he continued, his eyes
narrowed to a vicious squint. "So stupid, so thin-spined and dim,
I was grateful to be hung over: I could settle back into my murk
and fog as Boyle mauled Malvick. The first flunky always got it the
worst because the Prez had the whole weekend to simmer and boil. He
tended to fire most of his load at target number one.
But Malvick made a terrible mistake. He talked back.
"I must humbly suggest," the Dean began, "that the report was
not as, it's really quite positive."
The President paused in mid-insult, as shocked as the rest of
"The report is, it's true," Malvick blundered, "and I--"
"Unghh, ahrabba, ungh!"
"The state board of education could reprimand us for distorting
"Flunky!" Boyle jabbed the air with his forefinger; he looked
mad enough to jab Malvick's eyeballs. "I do the reprimanding! Pump
up those figures! We must show an overwhelming demand for a second
Yeah, the second campus. It's all Boyle cares about anymore,
and he's hell-bent on breaking ground within the year.
"--education is enrollment-driven! Push the numbers!"
"I will, I shall!"
"Get out of my sight."
We flunkies gasped collectively.
Malvick stood as if to leave, then he--
--he dropped to his knees, like a supplicant before the wrathful
king, and pleaded with clasped hands and white knuckles. The
President scoffed and waved him away, threatened him with the campus
police and a lawsuit. The poor Dean, I knew, was scheduled for a
triple by-pass next month. Without a job, he had no medical
insurance. Without medical insurance, he had no reliable pulse.
The Dean kept genuflecting, but Boyle was unmoved. The Prez's
secretary poked her head into the conference room. Boyle nodded,
and in thirty seconds the campus cops arrived to remove Malvick.
The cops grabbed Malvick's feet and dragged him across the deep
pile carpeting. "I can't lose this job!" he wheezed. "I have
health problems, I--" His head struck the door frame.
Malvick's pleas faded down the hallway. We stared straight
ahead, our faces betraying no emotion.
Boyle paused for several gulps of coffee, and he scrutinized us
over the rim of his stein-sized mug. He had us. If we didn't jump
through every hoop, we could face mortgage foreclosure or medical
disaster within the week.
As for Malvick--what? You think he'll sue? No, that's
comically naive. Don Boyle's got the goods on Malvick, you can be
sure. Hell, everybody knows that Malvick's been boffing his half
literate and fully stacked secretary for the last six months. The
secretary is a patronage employee, and she knows where her bread is
buttered. If told to, she'd march into court with a headline
grabbing tale of sexual coercion. Never mind that she'd be lying
her plush buns off; patronage sometimes requires perjury. No, if
Malvick wants even the slightest severance, he'll shut up or the
college's goon squad of lawyers will make him run the gauntlet in
court, in full view of Malvick's wife. His three daughters. His
The meeting resumed. Boyle, face animated with tics and
grimaces, interrogated each of us. Herrig, the Director of Public
Relations, was currently on the rack.
"--didn't we agree that the new color pamphlet would have five
colors, not four colors. Didn't we? You failure."
Herrig didn't bother to defend himself because defense was
impossible. Last week, Boyle wanted four colors in the pamphlet.
Now he demanded five. Boyle changed his mind about everything
continually. He was addicted to those pop business bestsellers like
Vlad the Impaler's Strategy Secrets and Dare to Scream, Dare to
Dream. He called his thought-flips the "Flexible Proactive Goal
Management Method of Chaos Driven Decision Making".
My thoughts turned to Lydia Fairview, sitting three chairs to my
left. Lydia could lose a few pounds, true, but her red dress was
tight in all the right places as she took notes. I caught her
glancing about the room and smiled, but she returned to her
See, Lydia pretends to hate me. Last year during the Christmas
party, she drank too much and fell during the hotel bar band's Neil
Diamond medley. She rose, flapping and braying, jugs liberated from
their prescription-only brassiere.
I shoved aside her shocked watusi partner and offered my
assistance. She was indignant, complaining that she didn't want
help, but I insisted with collegiate clutches. She kicked me. Now
it was my turn to hit the floor, grabbing my bruised shin. But
that's just her way, I think. Lydia, I'll bet you, likes some
violence with her sex.
I was recalling the heft and hang of those hooters--rendered
exotic by the dance floor's blue and green lights--when a Boyle
bombshell struck my bunker and brought me back to the present tense,
er, tense present.
"Deyme, brief me on our political action caucus."
"Don't let me down."
"The progress is, it's, it's coming along nicely, Dr. Boyle."
I tried to review my notes on the political action caucus. This
was difficult because I'd forgotten them. "We've met lots of times.
At least twice."
Boyle's nostrils flared.
"And we've got volunteers to cover the precincts with leaflets a
month before the Board elections. And I've got some contributions
to buy coffee and gas money for the volunteers."
"Speakers lined up for the Rotary and Township meetings next
My peripheral vision faded. I could see only straight ahead, as
if I were looking through a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was
Boyle's ruddy and muscled face. I got light-headed, and for a
nanosecond I thought I was going to faint into Herrig's lap.
"Yes, I have speakers lined up."
Please, God, please. Please don't let him ask who my speakers
"We all know how very important these Trustee elections are for
us. To think this guy Drock could get elected to the board--"
Boyle chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, then turned to somebody
Herrig loudly cleared his throat. I offered him a quick and
smug smile, then slipped back into the sludge of my hangover for the
Welcome to my life. I'm James Deyme (as in "dime", as in two
nickels), but I prefer the less formal John. All the James's I knew
as a kid were cross-eyed freckled bookworms. So just call me
I am Associate Vice President of West Central College, one of
several community colleges in Chicago's sprawling suburbs. If
you're unfamiliar with the intrigues of higher education, you might
be impressed by my title. Don't be. As my name-choice reveals, I'm
ironically less than comfortable with books, with learning, with
As one of today's Education Professionals, I didn't study
language or math or science or any other actual subject. I studied
something called "Education". We Education majors slogged through
courses in bulletin board design and Affective Interpersonal
Relating and esteem repair. Oh yeah. We play acted too. You know,
we acted out roles like the Sickeningly Cheery Teacher and the
Pistol Packing Student who flunked the spelling bee. What the hell.
We education majors often score near the bottom of the SAT
yardstick. What else are we supposed to study?
After getting my teacher's certificate, I further enfeebled my
intellect with a "doctorate" in Educational Administration.
Educational Administration really gives bullshit a bad name. In one
class, we studied school organizational charts: a box here, a
rectangle there, even the occasional rhombus, all connected with
elaborate lines and arrows. The course's climax occurred when I
created my own organizational chart composed exclusively in
triangles, which suggested "dynamic responses to challenge."
After my doctorate, I resolved to conquer corporate America.
For two years, I managed one of those Rumpus Room Teaching
Centers...you know, the chain outfit that closed because half the
"teachers" were child molesters. None of the sickos, fortunately,
had infiltrated my particular Room. Thank Christ, because I was
pretty slack in the interviewing process.
After the Rumpus Rooms closed, I was on the dole for six months
until I crossed a picket line at a local high school and got a job
teaching social studies to some unbelievably sullen sophomores. The
bureaucrats liked my spirit though, and when the job at West Central
became available, they put in a good word for me.
God damn did I luck out! No way could I find another job that
paid sixty five grand a year, plus bonuses and benefits. That's the
thing. All those middle managers who prospered during the 1980's
are hacked to pieces in the killing fields of the 1990's. Can't you
hear the clotted cries from the mortally downsized? Hear those
awful pleas for a cyanide pill? Yeah? So do I.
At West Central, we flunkies are paid very well to endure Don
Boyle's rants. Snorting and belching at the public dollar trough,
we have little cause to complain--though we still do. But, telling
you the truth, I'm thrilled to be here. I think I'm working for a
genuine genius. That talk about Boyle one day being a U.S. Senator,
that's not just bullshit.
Boyle's genius is probably in the genes. His father was, as a
young man, a Catholic priest whose taste for the good life--
attractive women, unblended whiskey, poker with Chicago's Irish
establishment--convinced the Church that he was better suited for a
lay position. He became a prized Catholic school administrator. He
had a rare grasp of politics and was appointed city comptroller,
where he mastered the high wire art of Chicago patronage. The old
man never forgot his roots, and the Chicago diocese was all too
pleased to accept the wave of "charitable donations" in return for
its political clout. Donald Boyle got a free Catholic education all
the way through graduate school, and he too became a patronage pro.
He'd even run a few Catholic high schools, but he got sick of that
damned separation of church and state. Boyle hungered for the tax
dollars of public higher education. Now he had them.
By eleven thirty, I was ready for an early lunch. I wanted to
leave immediately, but it looks better if you wait for a few other
bureaucrats to leave first. From my office window, up on the second
floor, I could see colleagues heading for the parking lot. I waited
five minutes and left.
"Have a good lunch," called Barbara, my alleged secretary.
"Make sure to call Herrig and Johnson and all those other guys,"
I said. "I need to line up speakers for the Rotary and, and
"But I do have a report to type this afternoon," she reminded
"So make your calls during lunch!" I snapped as politely as I
On Mondays, the nearby Chinese restaurant has an All You Can Eat
buffet. I can eat a lot, as my burgeoning belly and bulbous butt
graphically attest. I was shaking with food fever. You've seen the
food fever shake: it's the shake of the starving stray dog who
discovers a squirrel carcass pressed into the road. His tail, his
butt, and his trunk shake. His limbs tremble. That's me, shaking
and belching as I mug my heap of chicken wings and fried rice.
After my second plate, I wowed my fellow diners by imitating a
flatulent otter. Chastened, I hurried into the can and went at it.
The fish sticks I had for breakfast hadn't agreed with me. I
finally finished the job, though I would have been grateful for
Back at my office, a message from Boyle was on my voice mail:
"Call me immediately."
Rheena, Boyle's fawning secretary cum surrogate Grandmum,
announced my call. Boyle didn't greet me with a curse, which
encouraged me. "Listen, I forgot to find out this morning. Who've
you got lined up for that Rotary meeting day after tomorrow?"
"I've, I've got Herrig lined up."
"And for the west Cook county Democrats meeting next week?"
"What, is he a good speaker?"
He was awful. "He's outstanding."
"Okay then. But I want you to get different speakers for the
Republican crowd. I need a speaker who can talk about lower taxes
and high standards and all that, you know, all that bullshit. Just
in case any of the Republicans gets elected--we can't alienate that
"Very wise, Dr. Boyle."
"We could cope with any of them but that bastard Drock. If he
Drock was a Republican of the far right variety, and he was
stumping for one of the three contested Board of Trustee seats.
Drock had a mini-empire in area computer stores, and he was
promising to bring abhorrent "fiscal responsibility" to West Central
"That bastard Drock," Boyle snorted, "has been saying that West
Central administrators are the highest paid in the state! And he
says that the second campus is just a patronage front for Democratic
"That's really irresponsible!"
"Demagoguery!" Boyle hung up.
Damn it, I had to get to work. What would it take to persuade
Bruce Herrig to make some speeches for me?
Cash, of course. I flipped open my battered wallet and sighed.
Ninety two bucks probably wouldn't be enough. Then the phone rang.
Boyle eschewed niceties such as "Hello" or "Another thing."
"If Drock wins this election," he growled, "I'm in a tub of
boiling fat. And you're there with me."