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I have some chores to do around the house, but first, young ones, gather round, while I tell you a story of the what it was like to be young before the Great Dystopia of the 21st Century. The rest of you can mute this, but the kids need a lesson. /1
I graduated HS in 1979. College was, compared to today, more affordable. But far fewer people went, because many were, um, broke. My high school class joined the Army or packed into trucks for the Sun Belt, while others went to the local state college or UMass. /2
I went to college, but the 70s (and some bad choices in life) broke my parents. I took out loans at 13.9 percent, while inflation was in double-digits. ("Inflation?" say the kids. "What's that." But I digress.) I wasn't staying in my hometown, so I took a chance. /3
My family home, btw, was a dump on the banks of a horribly polluted river my folks bought after an a apartment and an, uh, unplanned marriage. They fixed it up over 20 years. (The river now has Atlantic salmon in it, instead of chemicals. The horror of the new century!) /4
Like everyone I knew, I worked from 14 on, even under the table. And I was *well off* compared to others. My dad had relatives overseas, so I spent some summers on a farm in Greece. I even did summer college courses, which was a big expense for us, but I did it. /5
But I was no valedictorian. Mostly, I was in trouble a lot. I got out of town, and graduated college with a ton of debt into a 10% unemployment rate. I took a shot at grad school, with no money. Work-study, more loans. Community service? Internships? Ah, no. /6
This very summer, 35 years ago, I lived in a dump, two bedrooms that I and my roommates converted to three, above a super who smoked cigars and apparently ate nothing but boiled cabbage. Cracked glass, plugged toilet, cockroaches. /7
My roomies were a Venezuelan student who spoke almost no English, and a carpenter. The neighborhood was interesting, and mostly empty. A good place to see a guy get stabbed while you're doing laundry, which I saw. It's now a beautiful area with bistros, but not then. /8
I literally walked the streets looking for a job, including every pizza joint nearby, because I once made pizzas as a job. No dice. Finally took up being a cabbie. I washed cars at Budget on Brighton Ave., with my shiny new Columbia master's degree. /9
Lucked out one day to get a job for $250 a week and zero bennies at a Greek newspaper by being, you know, Greek. I kept hacking and moonlighted other jobs. Soon, I had to give up on grad school, accepting a job with the Army in North Carolina I got b/c I could speak Russian. /10
Finally, I got an offer for a scholarship at Georgetown. I was 24. I hauled ass through that, got my first teaching job at 30K - but still crushed by debt that I got "renegotiated" *down* to 9 percent. So, again, I moonlighted. Prof by day, consultant...and cash-paid DJ. /11
I bought a condo in 1990. I was an idiot. It lost 30 percent of its value by the time I was fired in my first job and had to move. I borrowed 25K from my parents (who took it off their house as a loan) and paid it back early, with interest./12
I got married. My wife (a PhD herself) couldn't find a job anywhere near my job, so we lived apart our first year of marriage. Finally took a clerical job at a fraction of her pay so we could be, you know, together. /13
I did not own a house again until I was 40. The rest of my life is uninteresting: Luge lessons, summers in Rangoon, meat helmets. But if you young 'uns think this was an easy haul, I invite to you piss up a rope. And my story wasn't that unusual for ppl I knew. /14
I grew up in the ground zero of deindustrialization with two parents who didn't finish high school, when the country was in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate free-fall. The environment was a mess; trash and pollution everywhere. Also, there was disco. /15
Yes, you poor kids who want to be writers in Brooklyn and the Bay Area? I know, it's tough. God, the pain and sorrow. But please stop complaining. I was happy that I wasn't drafted and did not think my parents had it better. They didn't. War and depression? No, thank you. /16
We didn't have it better than you. I'd have thought a smartphone was the most important thing I ever owned. I lusted back then for just one night of quiet, air conditioned sleep. You have that.
We live in good days. Rejoice and be happy. /17x
Here endeth the lesson
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