"College is just a scam fer spoiled kids who ain't workin',"
the jerk says to me inside of Wal-Mart.
I'm inside of the hair salon, which I normally wouldn't go to, when some chubby man in a oil-stained flannel shirt steps in and starts running his mouth. I'm not sure what served as the catalyst for the conversation, but he's bragging about his son to the beautician next to me.
And like a fool, I tune in as he says, "See, I didn't let my kid get a free ride to no fancy college. He was a good student and all that, but I didn't believe in college. College is just a scam fer spoiled kids who ain't workin'."
Keep quiet Chris, I tell myself over and over. But if you know me, you also know about my mouth and the way it zooms like a marathon runner. I'm talking Sean Lovelace speed.
To the local, I reply, "That's certainly not true."
He cocks his head at me and smiles with his nicotine squares. "I bet yer parents paid for yer school, didn't they?"
I nod. "Sure they helped, but it was mostly your tax money."
"See, ain't that some shit. This kid's been a pretty boy all his life, and he has college handed to him by our hard work."
"It's called loans," I tell him.
"So what?" he asks. "Now yer in debt with a degree? Tell me, what did school get you?"
I know what he's aiming at. I've been out of school about five months and still work at my day-job from high school. But how fast is a degree supposed to kick in? Is there an expectation of college kids immediately landing $100,000/year jobs upon graduation? I answer, "A lot of intrinsic value."
He chuckles and nudges the beautician next to him. "N'tren-see-ick value, oh shit. What in the sam hell does that even mean, boy?"
Boy. "It means I have a fair knowledge in almost everything. It means, I discovered myself." At this point, I'm ready to take him to the parking lot. Sure he's got the weight advantage, but I have a wrench in my trunk. College graduates know all the ways to win a fight.
"Yeah," he mutters, "you had a bunch of drunken parties which you think taught you something."
"I actually didn't drink that much in college," I say.
"That much. I know how it is in college. You guys all drink and party and fuck around day and night. You skip classes cuz of hangovers. Smoke a little weed, did you? Is that where you learned yer N'tren-sick self?"
"No, sir. I did not. I worked my ass off in college."
He continues to give his opinion, although the laughter from the beauticians is one of nervousness. There's no way to win this conversation. College graduates know what it's like to be in this situation; to have unnecessary ridicule for their time in hamster cages.
What he doesn't understand is what truly goes into school. Those who wake up every morning, hungover and ready for the next party, they don't make it too long. You can unwind in college, but you can't live Animal House. You can find students who have, but most likely, they dropped out or failed out.
See, college is about discipline. It's about knowing when to be serious and when to relax. It's knowing your limits. What this guy doesn't understand, is the amount of work it takes sometimes just to pass Math 125 with a C-. He doesn't know the satisfaction of honors or the Dean's List.
He, and those like him, don't know what it's like to panic all night before the big exam in the morning, or how to write a 20-page term paper. He's never written a piece of fiction only to have a professor spit on it. He doesn't know what it's like to produce your very best work five days a week.
See, it's about finding love and losing it. It's about gaining everything you want in life, and losing it all just before finals. It's about trying to live a new life, while struggling to maintain the old.
It's about being broke and still trying to keep enrolled. It's about community.
College takes simple kids and turns them into understanding adults, one's who can think beyond the price of fuel, and consider the worldwide effects of a bad economy. It's about worldviews. It's about thinking glocally. It's about understanding the cultural differences between you and your peers who come from countries with nothing you can relate to your own.
This guy has never called his parents at 1am in tears, worrying about a love one's health and his grades all at once. He's never sweated over the big presentation, or the big date with someone smarter and more beautiful than himself. He doesn't know piss about networking. Goddamn him for looking for a hand to help him up, while we all search for a way to help ourselves.
What I can never explain to this man, is what goes into earning a college degree. How do I convey notions of every single thought I've had or event I've suffered through. Has he ever been yelled at or criticized by dozens of people he admired all at once? Has he ever followed two opinions at once? Has he ever read a news article beyond it's headline, and then researched the sources behind the news? Does he know the difference between Fox and CNN?
I bet he doesn't know the first thing about economics, law, or ethics. Doesn't know what a shitty camera a PD 150 is. Does he know what dues ex machina means?
See: The Easy Way Out.
If only this guy knew what it was like to bleed out the ink on his diploma after four years of the hardest fucking work in his life, only to find out there are few jobs within his field outside of college. We, the college graduates of one of the worst economic turns in history, stay silent and let him speak, because we learned that wise-man don't speak when they just want to be heard, but speak when they have something to say.
He might raise his middle finger every day, say, at cops as they drive by or people driving the speed limit on the highway. But he doesn't know the value of a good "fuck you." He doesn't know how to use it sparingly like we do. We wait until there's so much to say that we can express ourselves in no other way. So, perhaps, if he reads this, he will know the power instilled in my middle finger when I give him the Californian Howdy as he stumbles half-drunk to his $7/hr 9-5 job, bragging about how his kid makes $15/hr from years of hard work. We tell him to fuck off, because he thinks the worth of a human being is the same as the worth of a product he can buy in Wal-Mart. We salute him until he learns how to spell the word "intrinsic" and say it without using any more than three syllables.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.