Generation hungrY

Socks go on feet.

Just the other day I was contemplating going back to school. It’s something I always talk about doing, but never actually get around to. Like organizing that sock drawer.

I have taken courses here and there, but nothing serious. Nothing degree seeking. I think because it was such a struggle to finish my B.A. that it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t struggle with the academics, I majored in English: i before e, except after o; use passive, instead of passive-aggressive voice, and always put an accent on the a. You see, I’m a natural.

I struggled in other ways.

Just having the silver spoon knocked out of my mouth, I was left to figure out things on my own, including paying for my last year of school. So I went to work. Trying to find a balance between career, money, a social life, independence, brand new credit cards and, technically, still being a college student. Before my senior year I was already employed by a newspaper’s dot-com department. By age 21 I had left to become a designer at a non-profit, but turned into a grant writer instead. I would’ve stayed, but I was recruited to join a television network’s dot-com department as a producer, where I was handed my first lay off.

While I continued to build my resume, school was put on pause. Because I was hungry. Hungry for a career. Hungry for a six-figure salary by 27.

I was having the time of my life. Meeting people. Learning new skills. Earning a ridiculous paycheck. I believe the first time I saw four figures and change on a check in my name I got dizzy and turned beet red. Although getting an “A” in my Mark Twain class was nice, it didn’t make me feel the same way as that paycheck.

I eventually completed those last few credits and got my degree through the mail (I was working, couldn’t go to graduation).

And that was my struggle. Pretty ridiculous in light of what today’s college students are going through.

On the streets of Miami, a rich metropolitan city with a bunch of private universities, including the internationally acclaimed University of, college students beg on street corners. They do not beg for you to buy them beer at the 7-11. They do not beg as a fraternity prank. They beg because they cannot find jobs. Jobs that would normally subsidize their meal plan, their groceries, their toiletries. Those jobs are no longer available. So, they beg their neighbors, relatives and distant cousins for enough money to buy Cup Noodles to combat the cold in their dorm room.

The seniors of that group will soon graduate when the cold has long left us. For those lucky enough to get a job, they will soon realize they have entered a world that is not looking to train, show or help. That they are perceived as large children that listen to mysterious satanic messages through their white earphones.

The freshly graduated will eventually report back their findings to their once fellow students. They will say that half of the office is old enough to be their parents and the other half, their grandparents. They will say that they are still broke because $21,000 a year can hardly cover rent and car insurance. And they will say how much they miss college and are considering returning for a Master’s. Not to learn something new, but to subsidize their child-labor salary with a living expense allowance afforded by a student loan — for lunch money.

Poor and hungry smart kids. Not hungry for ambition. Hungry for food. I suppose if they stay in school long enough they could become professors. I suppose they’ll be ecstatic when ten years later they receive their first, full professorial paycheck and realize that they have to now subsidize their paycheck by authoring a text book in order to payback those student loans.

So, you see. Not all is lost. We are now breeding scholars instead of career-driven numnuts.

The day I finally decide to go back to school, perhaps the professor can passionately deconstruct The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Or the day I decide to organize my sock drawer I can hire a Complex Systems Ph.D to do it.

If I have a job by then.

And if that job pays six figures.

Sick school days

A good friend is about eight hours away from becoming a dad for the first time. But instead of nesting with his wife, he’s at work.

I met him many years ago at a job where he was the IT guru, before we were all IT gurus. After nine months making ridiculous amounts of money in the tech/web bubble, we were both laid off. Strangely, ever since, our on-again off-again employment statuses (or stati?) have mirrored each other. If I landed a job, he was sure to land one within the month. If he was laid off, I would be laid off within the week.

Only, this has been the first time that we are out of sync. I’m still fiddling with temporary projects, but he’s found a full-time gig, with benefits as a school teacher.

This last fall, he decided he had enough with the instability of his industry and the hours and the demands. That, and he had suddenly become an expectant father. So, Mr. Papa Don’t Preach decided to venture into the world of education to teach inner city kids all about computers and web design and CSS. At first it was a rough ride finding common ground with the youth he was taught to appeal to through marketing and design elements, but with the guidance of his wife, a tenured, professional educator, he was able to navigate the rough waters.

There was, however, one thing that was exactly the same from his days in the corporate world: the fear. And now with a new baby on board, it was multiplied by however many Pampers a newborn goes through a month. The fear of being dismissed. The fear of not being a good provider. It’s intoxicating…in a Chernobyl kind of way.

But it’s the school system. How bad can it be?

In his state, you are not automatically renewed every year. At the end of the school year, depending on the performance of your students, your professional review and – get this – how many sick days you took, you may not be invited back for the fall. His school system gives every teacher a bank of up to 14 days to use at their discretion, but as soon as your reach your 7th day of absence, you get a letter placed in your personnel file.

Between the fall and tomorrow, he will have only taken two days. The first he used to be at his mother’s side for a pretty serious operation and the second, tomorrow, to be by his wife’s side when she makes him Daddy Yankee.

And then, back to work on Monday.

Of course, they do offer paternity leave. Being a teacher does have some benefits, like getting paid for 10 months of work. But it is strongly frowned upon to actually use the benefit that allows you to take care of your own personal life.

I don’t have kids, nor do I want them. But that shouldn’t make me more marketable than the people who do want to start a family. Employers act like those kids also go on payroll and will eventually destroy their bottom line. Or that a sickly parent or a troubled teenager or a personal struggle needs to be dealt on the employees time, after 6:00 PM.

If only all of the attention placed on what happens in my bedroom after 6:00 PM would shift to what is happening to our workforce before 6:00 PM, then maybe we can see that preserving real family values is in conserving worker’s rights.

P.S. Papa Smurf, call me as soon as the new leader of the liberal party is born.
Put the kid to work right away.

Force work

At a recent job interview I was asked about my flexibility to work evenings, weekends and holidays – on top of the 40 hour work week. “This is a twenty-four-hour, 365-day job,” said interviewer. If I was trying out for press secretary for the President of the United States I wouldn’t have blinked. If I was applying for the position of Britney Spears’ publicist I would have already planned my going away party, just in case I had to join Team Britney right then and there. But for censored company ? Eh.

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