Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory is about choosing what you want to be when you grow up, and finding out you still have to wait tables on the weekends.
When Mickey Hess discovers that he can list his experience as a college instructor on an application to work as an ice cream man -- and still get the job -- he starts to wonder if being a professor has lost its prestige.
With college enrollment and tuition costs at record highs, universities are staffing their courses with part-time instructors who commute between different schools to make a living. Big Wheel follows one year in the life of an adjunct instructor who takes on side jobs as an ice cream man, stand-up comedian, haunted house character, and Billy Graham Crusader. The jobs begin out of financial necessity, but become more of a diversion from a teaching career that Hess fears he is starting to take far more seriously than this employers are taking him.
"Mickey Hess's self-published creative nonfiction masterpiece, Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory, was recently reprinted by provocative indie press Garrett County in November 2008, and to my mind, it is the funniest, most honest depiction of the struggle almost all college graduates face when trying to decide what the hell they're going to do with the rest of their lives. Hess, during the time the memoir is set, is a young adjunct professor teaching at four different colleges throughout Kentucky and Indiana, working without a contract or health insurance, who takes weird job after weird job to supplement his income: ice cream man, character at a haunted house, ball-pit monitor at a children's arcade, incompetent house sitter. The question the book keeps asking is, "Can you pay the rent while still maintaining some sense of dignity?"
--Joe Meno, author of Hairstyles of the Damned
"Mickey Hess has taken his experiences as a struggling writing instructor and made them into a wry, picaresque novel. Thoroughly humorous."
"Underground publishing advocate Mickey Hess uses deadpan humor and pungent observations to describe the price he pays for pursuing a passion -- teach college students how to write."
--Chicago Reader, which awarded Big Wheel "Critics Choice"
"Mickey Hess is a passionate, funny man who loves to teach writing to his students, encouraging creativity with sometimes very unconventional ideas (playing basketball with baby doll heads comes to mind)."
--Christopher Taylor, Boxcar Books
"We are a generation of cynics, but what happens when cynics find jobs with meaning? What happens when you find that you can't keep up the facade of youth and irresponsibility forever? [Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory] is insightful, but also funny as hell."
--Davida Breier, Xerography Debt
"Mickey Hess' story of a year in the life of an English instructor brings to mind Whitman's celebration of himself as an observer and mirror image of life's parade in "Song of Myself." He takes on varied odd jobs -- ice cream man; improv comedian; volunteer at a Billy Graham Crusade Revival -- for both the money and what he finds to be a requirement of teaching: experience."
--Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor
"It's a light-hearted look dealing with that period in life when you have to go from being a reckless youth to an adult, without sacrificing anything. That's hard to do and for some people it just paralyzes them."
--James Furbush, The Sly Oyster
"Mickey Hess is a likeable guy and he spins a colorful story. His sincerity and subtle humor preclude any chance of self-pity entering this tale."
--Sean Stewart, Razorcake Magazine
"Mickey Hess makes you want to move to Kentucky and hang out and write poetry for the rest of your life."
--David Amram, author of Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac
To listen to Mickey Hess talk about Hip Hop, click here