"I once had an office -- a cubicle really -- in the physical-plant building of a major university. Gigantic machines rumbled all around me. My coffee mug sometimes vibrated off my desk. I used to pretend that I was an oiler in the engine room of the Lusitania. The room was well below ground level, and, during the rainy season, the entire floor would flood, sometimes to a depth of 18 inches. There were high water marks on the cinder-block walls from previous inundations. Mold ascended the fabric sides of my cubicle until, finally, it looked and smelled like a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest.
After a couple of months -- and conversations with the other workers -- I learned that I could reach various points on the campus through underground steam tunnels. On my way back from teaching a class, I could pretend that I was Jean Valjean evading Inspector Javert in the sewers of Paris. My cubicle was so far from the center of campus that students rarely found me. Once, shortly after teaching Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I asked one of my advisees "Are you an assassin?" And he said, without missing a beat, "No, I'm an errand boy sent by grocery clerks." We laughed for two minutes. It was the high point of my semester."