well, at least I get some perks

The following is a conversation between me and my friend Deirdre:

Me:  “It looks like I donated over $200 last year to charity.  I don’t think that’s enough to pull me out of hell for all the mean things I say, though.”

Deirdre:  “Maybe not but it’ll get you a seat near the air conditioner.”

That’s awesome.

 

 

Something to Keep You Busy

Ok, I suck.  I went on vacation and did not post one single blog.  As I prepare to go back to work, as well as figure out my next post, please enjoy this piece I worked on over a year ago…

 

 

Dear Destitute College Grad-

First off, I was once in your shoes.  Lest you think I am preaching to you about your situation, keep in mind I am a college graduate and I too was once destitute. 

A college education is one of the tricks played on American society as a whole.  I am not saying there is no value in having a college degree.  The certificate looks really cool, and it’s fun to whip this out whenever you feel down so that you can point to it with tears in your eyes and remember how much money you still owe.  In addition, it does bear some weight when you are applying for a job. Unless, of course, it’s a job you really need so that you can stop eating Pringles and ramen noodles, in which case you will be overqualified and will not be hired.

But a college education is kind of a trick because everyone believes in some small way that a college education will guarantee SUCCESS and that you’ll get a GOOD PAYING job.  It might do those things, but what they don’t tell you (and they cannot tell you this when you enter college because, really, you would not care and you’re already freaked out enough as it is) is that you MUST have a specific idea of what it is you want to do when you graduate.  Sounds simple, but it’s not.  For example, say you went to school thinking you wanted to “help people” and go into “social services”.  This could conceivably mean you want to be a janitor.  But we all know this is not what it means.  But what does it mean?  Do you want to be a counselor, social worker, child care advocate, court appointed guardian, psychiatrist, case worker, nursing home administrator, or police officer?  Hmm? And of course, you probably don’t know this yet, and so you spend 3 ½ years diddling around with Gen Ed requirements and courses required for your Sociology major.  That leaves roughly one semester to fine tune your career choice (with courses specific to it) in a way that will wow a future employer – “So, Miss College Gal, you have one course in Childhood Psychology?  That IS impressive!  We’d love for you to work with these 30 kids!”

The easy answer, of course, is to not go to college immediately after high school. You could go out into the world, get a better sense of yourself (let’s face it, 18 is not a real “self-actualized” age), try out some jobs, and then go back to school with a crystal clear goal in mind.  Again, sounds simple.  But few people have the cojones to say, “No, mom, dad, friends, and family, I am not going to school now.  Damn the established order of things!”  Then of course, there’s the age factor.  Do you want to be the older student surrounded by 18 year olds (who now annoy the hell out of you by virtue of their very existence) and be the only one who can buy beer?  Oh, and also, now that you’re older you’re most likely supporting yourself; and so the double duty of going to school and making a living at some job may be necessary.

So, it’s kind of a catch-22 here.  Go to school without a goal and you leave school with a degree, in debt, and floundering for a job.  Wait to go to school and you enter school floundering for a job, afraid of debt, and having no life (save the small tokens of thanks for buying beer from your newfound 18 year old friends). 

Either way, there is a very distinct possibility you will have a college degree and still be struggling.  This is a genuine surprise for many people – and for the people around them.  More than once I have told someone that I have a college degree (typically Mr. Joe Shmoe as I go and fetch his coffee or fit his feet for running shoes) and have been confronted with a look that is both pitying and amazed, along with a comment like, “well, don’t worry…something will come along”.  (And truth be told, I have more than once thought I should ask, “What?  Do you know what it is I should be doing instead of this thankless menial job? Because I don’t.”) 

I struggled for roughly 11 years after I graduated from college.  (And, yes, I could have been the model for the example of the Sociology student above.  Okay, I was the model for that example.)  For several years after college, I continued to work at jobs that support most high schoolers (but NOT a grown woman with a school loan to pay back – and yes I know I could have not gone to school and worked at these jobs anyway and not had a mountain of debt – ha! Joke’s on me!).  I worked in retail for so long that today (now that I am out of the profession) the mere thought of doing retail work sends me into a panic attack.  For real.  I have difficulty shopping when it’s busy, and I have an inordinate amount of sympathy for retail workers (unless they are doltish teenagers who ignore me because then I know that I could sooooo be doing a better job). I mean, shoppers can get ugly.  And for what?  Is it misplaced anger?  Is this man yelling at the salesgirl over the discrepancy in cost on his dress shirt because deep down inside he is really angry about the Iraq war?  In the light of a broader picture, it seems insane how upset people get when shopping. Insane. 

I digress, however.  You do what you gotta do.  And if you have to sell your soul to the Devil of retail when you have a college degree just so you can pay for said degree while also eating Pringles and ramen noodles, so be it. 

So, Destitute College Graduate, what happens to you now that you have a degree but have come to terms with the fact that this degree does not say anything more specific about you other than you have a debt to re-pay and will work to do so?  Okay, it also says you hung in there and worked hard enough to obtain a degree.  I, for one, will never regret getting my bachelor’s because I think it speaks volumes about my ability to recover from hangovers and make it to class – something that I am not as successful at doing in the working world.

The answer is that you start working and trying things out.  It is that simple.  You get a job.  You support yourself. 

After many years of retail (and tales I can save for another story), I decided I’d like to work with “troubled” kids.  The school system calls them “Emotionally Handicapped”.  I call them “Asshole Enabled” with “Even Bigger Asshole Enabled” parents.  Yes…it is tragic when a young teen has so many problems at home that coming to school with other people his age and doing school work in a structured environment that is safe is an insurmountable hurdle.  However, sympathy will wan when a teen you have been charged with assisting and supporting (in addition to his regular teachers) to just make it through the day tells you to do obscene sexual acts with your mother or to stick this object you-know-where.  Clearly, this was not the occupation for me. 

My big move (both literally and figuratively) was when I started to work with “special ed” kids.  This was a rewarding job.  I mean that.  These kids had definite disabilities – learning or otherwise.  If you managed to make it one day without a meltdown, fit of rage, or complete chaos, it was a noteworthy victory. Again, tales for another story abound; but suffice to say it was an interesting job and each day was different.  In order to work at this job, I had to move about two hours away from where I had been living (with my grandparents).

By the way, nothing says “low” like going to your ten year high school reunion unemployed and living with your grandparents (but I still had that college education behind me!).  It got to the point where I would just spontaneously blurt “I don’t have a job!” at former classmates before they could even ask.  Cut to the chase and beat ‘em to the punch, that’s my motto.

So, I got a job two hours away, and had to move.  And to be clear, what made this easy to do at the time was the fact that I HAD NOTHING.  I mean, nada, zip, zilch.  I had, in my sorry state of unemployment and deferred school loans, sold everything I owned (also done in anticipation of moving to New Orleans and becoming a freewheeling vagabond – and I only wish I were kidding about that – a plan that did not work out).  I was going to be moving with little more than my clothes and bathroom supplies (tiny TV and VCR, notwithstanding). 

And you know what this job was, specifically?  I was, with my Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, and credits to my education like Childhood Ed and Adolescent Psych, an aide.  And if you are not acquainted with the concept, an aide is slightly above a student teacher – but only because you’re getting paid.  Oh, and pay?  It was a whopping $7.25 an hour.  I’d love to tell you that this was beneficial in my quest to pay back the $15,000 I owed to (insert some woman’s first and middle names as an institution here). But that would be a lie.  I’d also love to tell you that this helped me to clarify what I ultimately wanted to do as a career.  More lies. What $7.25 an hour allowed me to do was live in what I lovingly refer to as “the crack shack” for $75/week plus my expenses. 

If you think I have written you this letter, College Grad, without understanding what “destitute” means, think again.

Imagine, if you will, a large rural farmhouse (read that as “run down”) occupied by seven strangers and located in a quaint New England town.  Being trapped in the twisted redneck version of the Real World was not fun, my friend.  The owner of the house (let’s call him Crack Shack Kenny for anonymity’s sake) did not seem to hold any credence to home maintenance.  As a result, there was no ceiling in the kitchen.  Well, I guess if you consider exposed insulation and dripping pipes a “ceiling”, then it had ceiling up the wazoo. It was ceiling-tastic in the bathroom too.  You read that correctly, THE bathroom (one for several strangers).  The bathroom was very reminiscent of… well, the bathroom one might find in a crack shack.  It was dirty, beat up, and had holes in the walls that could, with a small amount of expansion, satisfy a voyeur with low expectations. Fortunately, the bathroom was near my “room” (bedroom with a twin bed, a closet and two windows for $75 a week – a bargain!).  I could easily plan my bathing around everyone else’s schedules.

Crack Shack Kenny was nice enough.  He was middle aged and had a very small Chihuahua named Fawn. His pet seemed slightly out of place until I saw Kenny’s “room”.  It was decked out a bit more than mine (carpet, curtains, you know…luxuries) and Fawn seemed to fit right in. Fawn was my favorite creature in the house, so it was unsettling to come home one day to the solemn face of Bare-Chested Man who told me that a coat rack had fallen on Fawn.  It sounds laughable.  I mean, a coat rack?  Fawn turned out to be ok but came home from the vet in a body cast.  If you thought death was your ticket out, Fawn, think again.

Honestly, I don’t remember Bare-Chested Man’s name.  All I know is that he earned his nickname due to his propensity to appear in the kitchen from the confines of his room every time I was making dinner. With no shirt on.  I should have lost weight while I lived there because every meal I made was accompanied by a conversation (boring!) with a hairy sweaty man who liked to rub his chest in what I am sure he thought was a seductive way but was, in fact, gross, gross, GROSS.

And speaking of weight loss, it was while living at the crack shack that I tried eating Fat Free Pringles.  Don’t EVER eat them.  After eating a handful of Pringles laced with Olestra, the roof of my mouth was covered in a waxy substance that I can only guess is the same stuff that causes the anal leakage they warn you about.

I had my own shelf in one of the three refrigerators at La Crack Shack, and tried to keep as little food as possible in it.  All of the residents shared one medium sauce pot, one small sauce pot, and a small pan.  Dishes were whatever you owned, or, as I soon discovered, optional.  Many a night I would notice one of the pans (along with the person’s leftover dinner and fork inside it) in the refrigerator.

Other residents included Boston Commuter Guy, Snoring Man (who I never laid eyes on in the six months I lived there), and Oxygen Tank Guy.  I am pretty sure Oxygen Tank Guy died when I was living there, but I cannot prove this.  One day he lived in the first room on the first floor, and the next day Boston Commuter Guy was taking this room (prime real estate) for himself.

I was the only renting female in the house.  I was the only female in the house, period, until Crack Shack Kenny brought home his Ecuadorian mail-order bride. (I am NOT making this up.  Kenny told me that he found her on the internet and was bringing her here as his bride.  Maybe no money was exchanged, but this was definitely a “barter” situation.)

She did not speak English past “hello”.  I do not speak Spanish, and I never heard Kenny speak Spanish.  The extent of my interaction with the Ecuadorian bride was a nod of acknowledgement in the kitchen.  This was often followed by her saying something in Spanish, to which I would simply reply with a polite smile (because I never knew what she said).  One day CS Kenny stopped me in the kitchen (with his diminutive bride dutifully standing next to him) and informed me that her feelings were hurt because I never spoke to her.

I really did not know what to do with that.  I mean…seriously?  The fact that the Ecuadorian bride could not convey her feelings to me without Crack Shack Kenny’s intervention should have clued him in to the root of the problem, which was that we don’t speak the same language.

Well, Destitute College Graduate, I’d had enough.  I started looking for a part time job to supplement the aide job.  I figured it would not be hard to find considering I had a college degree and all.  And I was right!  I found another job that paid $7 or so an hour.  Score!  As luck would have it, this job gave me opportunities to advance – and finally make more than $7 an hour so that those school loans (STILL being paid off) would not be ignored any longer.  The aide job fell to the wayside (oh, I threw altruistic ideals out the window….oh well).

I’d love to tell you that my current job is related to my college degree in any other way than as a testament to my fortitude.  I’d love to tell you that I could not have learned what I do now without that degree.  But it would be a lie.  A lie a lot like the ones they tell you when you graduate from high school…

 

*For anyone who is about to bombard me with criticism for coming off as “anti” secondary education, you can just suck it.