Old Man Yells At Cloud

I feel sorry for you Millennials with your student loans.  As a solid Gen-Xer, I was fortunate enough to not have to bear the burden of having student loans.  I know.  I’m one of the fortunate ones.

What’s my secret?  How did I manage to escape the burden of such heavy debt?  How rich are my parents?

Were my high school grades just that outstanding and I got a scholarship?  I mean, my extensive knowledge with regard to the 1982 NBC primetime line-up alone…

All good questions.  Every last one.

I managed to escape the student loan trap by being a goddamned dirtbag who never went to college.  I do not recommend this as an approach to avoiding student loan debt.

Not attending college was a “bold move”, in that I had no money to go to college.  Since nobody else in my immediate family had gone either, there was nobody to tell me how I could have even done it, anyway.  There was no internet to find this information.  We were poor as fuck, so nobody knew the first thing about crazy shit like “applying for financial aid”, or “talking to someone about your future”.  When you grow up poor, you are acutely aware that you don’t have a future.  It was just assumed that if you didn’t have $40,000 in cash lying around, then you didn’t go to college.  Go find yourself a jobby-job.  End of story.

As the brilliant Ted Knight so eloquently says in Caddyshack, “Well, the world needs ditch-diggers, too.”

When people asked me on my graduation day from high school what I was planning on doing after school, my answer was that I was going to, you know, hang out.  See some bands.  That’s exactly what I did, too.  I hung out.  I saw some bands.  I had no car and no job.  Had my mother not gotten remarried and moved out of the house, I would have had nowhere to live, either.  She let me live rent free in the old, falling apart house for six months as a graduation gift to me, thank god.

After lying around on the couch doing nothing for months on end and slowly descending into a flaming bout of mental illness which was akin to those scenes in “The Aviator” where Leonardo DiCaprio is crazy as fuck, manic with OCD, stops bathing, and keeps repeating the same sentences over and over while twitching, I finally pulled myself out of it and got an entry level full-time job that paid me $6.00 an hour, through a friend who could also give me a ride there.  My two-week paycheck, after taxes and whatnot, for 85 hours of work, was $373.00.

Anne eventually moved in and we split the rent at the house.  We relied heavily on the Burger King “Two Cheeseburgers and Two Fries for $2.22” deal for meals, and ate at our parents’ houses whenever we could.  I still didn’t have a car and instead had to pester everyone I knew to give me rides.

I was fortunate that my mother’s husband surprised me with an awesome used car one day when I was 21 years old, that he let me pay him back for over a five year period at $100 a month with no interest, otherwise I would have never been able to get a car on my own.  I was never able to put more than $5 worth of gas into it at a time.  The first time I could afford a full tank of gas, I was 26.

In the end, stuff worked out, and by “worked out”, I mean I spent decades of my life not even having $400 to my name.  If I had to estimate how much money I spent cumulatively in overdraft fees at my bank, it would be in the thousands.  Sometimes I overdrafted on purpose, and took the max amount of cash out as sort of a gonzo loan until payday, where I would deposit my paycheck at the end of the week and it would just take my account back up to $0.

After working full-time for 16 years, the first time my checking account had $1,000 in it, I was 34 years old.  I felt like a millionaire.  I opened my first savings account when I was 36, and didn’t start contributing to a retirement account until I was 37.

When the subject of my lack of higher education has come up at job interviews over the years, it makes me feel like I want to literally die right there in the interviewer’s office.

“You mean you didn’t go to college…at all?”

Then they make the face.  The face that, if I’m lucky enough to be hired, makes me feel like I have to work ten times harder than everybody else, just to prove that I’m worthy of the position.

That’s why it is incredibly insulting when someone asks you what college you went to, and when you tell them that you didn’t go to college, they say, “Good for you!  I wish I hadn’t gone!”

It’s like telling someone who has polio that you wish you could go back in time and not get vaccinated against polio.

Why am I regaling you with all this nonsense?  Because I want to impart one large piece of wisdom on you.  GO TO COLLEGE.  A CHEAP ONE.  FOR A DEGREE THAT WILL SOMEDAY HOPEFULLY MAKE YOU SOME MONEY.*

“Okay!  I’m thinking of majoring in philosophy!”

No.  If you tell me that, I will push you into a fire and walk away.

You can toss any arts degree in there while you’re at it, and I say that as someone who has both tried to make a living as an artist and is a huge, huge supporter of the arts.  Someone whose friends are almost all exclusively artists.  Someone who believes art is the most powerful language in all of humanity.

Had I had the ability to go college when I got out of high school, I surely would have majored in some broke shit like creative writing, or painting, or poetry.  You know, things you absolutely do not need a degree for in order to do them.

Get an accounting degree.  Major in international finance.  Medicine.  Science.  Engineering.  Something with computers and whatnot.  You can work your job and still write poetry in your spare time.  Also, your poetry sucks.

That was uncalled for.

I guess what I’m really saying is loans or no loans, nearly everyone is fucked unless they’re born with money.

 

*This is just one humble dirtbag’s opinion.  Your anecdotes where you fully disagree with me or show me your student loan bills will be printed out, put through a shredder, and then used as kindling for a drum circle bonfire, which I will not actually be attending, because “drum circle”.

Gene Gene, The Lunatic Cab-Driving Machine

My best friend Anne and I didn’t get cars until much later than most young people, which was a problem because we also wanted to have as much nightlife as possible.  This put us in many compromising positions over the years catching rides from other people (as you may have read about a few blog posts ago where we were nearly murdered in the woods), so we had to find other solutions for how we were going to get to the various bars and clubs that we needed to go to every weekend.  We were finally over 18, and we wanted to break free of only being able to hang out at places that were within walking distance.

We were both working full-time at shitty low-paying jobs ($7.00 and $6.00 an hour, respectively), but we had super low living expenses at the time, which meant we at least had a little spending money.  Not enough to buy a car, and we weren’t old enough to rent a car, so we had to figure out some other way to get around town to go out dancing.  We lived in a severely public transportation-challenged area in Florida.

The closest place to go hang out and dance to “alternative music”, which would also let us in as 18 year olds, was about a half hour drive away.  Every now and then we could convince a third party to drive us up there, but they more often than not would be of the variety that wanted to go home at midnight, and Anne and I wanted to stay until the sun came up.  We were budding party monsters, and we wanted to stay out all night every night.  You invest enough time gluing tiny crystals to your eyelids and you need to make sure you get as much dancefloor return on your investment as possible.

We decided we would start taking cabs to the club, which was far from ideal.  Not only did it cost $40 each way plus tip, but the cab service in our area was spotty, at best.  You might get all dressed up, call for a cab, and the dispatch place would literally say, “We don’t have any cabs available for the rest of the night.”  Sometimes they would show up three hours late.  Sometimes they just didn’t answer the phone at all.  When somebody actually did manage to show up, they would be the type of person described on America’s Most Wanted as “Last Seen in Florida”.

Also, pretty much everyone on America’s Most Wanted was described as “Last Seen in Florida”.  I don’t know why they didn’t just change the name of the show to that.

One particular Saturday night, we called the cab company and they said they had someone in the area who could pick us up right away.  We were thrilled, and we scrambled to finish getting ready.  The cab driver pulled up into the driveway a few minutes later and we hopped in.

His name was Gene, and he was an old school loudmouth-type from New York.  You know, the kind of guy who in the 70s, when his dad would hit him in the back of the head at the dinner table for talking back, he would yell back, “Would ya just watch the hair?! Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it.  He hits my hair.

But he wouldn’t even be quoting Saturday Night Fever.  If anything, Saturday Night Fever was probably quoting him.  Now I have to go watch Saturday Night Fever again.  For the 800th time.  Be right back.

Man, that movie is fucked up.  I hope they got some trauma counseling for Annette besides “head-shrinkin’ is for pussies”.  It never fails to turn me into emotional jelly when she sobs at Tony Manero, “All I ever did was like you!”

When we gave Gene the address of where we wanted to go, he said he was going to need the money up-front in order to drive us that far.  I guess he thought we were going to get to the club and make a break for it in our 60s throwback minidresses and white knee-high go-go boots and stiff him for the fare.  We would have been fairly conspicuous trying to pull that off regardless of our outfits, considering we would have collapsed fifty feet from the cab, because we both had the athletic endurance of a wet paper towel.

We didn’t have any real options, so we gave Gene the $40 fare up front, and then got on the road – where he proceeded to tell us his entire life story.  Something involving a union, a meatball, and/or Mussolini’s purported cousin who lived down the street from him.  Naturally, he let us know that he “knew a guy” who could “take out” anyone he wanted with “one single phone call”, because all of those guys know a guy who can take out anyone they want with a single phone call.

I’ve never understood why that’s a thing people brag about?  Also, I’m pretty sure if you brag about that sort of thing to strangers, then you don’t really “know a guy”.  I’m sure the “Know A Guy” Guy doesn’t generally like to murder strangers on behalf of cab drivers who tell people their life stories within thirty seconds of meeting them.  Loose lips sinking ships and what-have-you.

We got the impression Gene was a Grade A bullshit artist, but he was so intriguing as a 70s New Yorker stereotype, we were transfixed by his stories.  It was like having a cross between John Travolta and Travis Bickle drive you around town.

As Gene sped down the I-95 on-ramp, he became annoyed at a car he perceived wasn’t letting him in.  After he merged onto the main highway, he hit the gas and sped up to them, then jerked in front of them and slowed down, turned on the light inside the cab, turned his body towards us in the backseat, leaned over and stretched one arm waaay back, right between our faces, and stuck up his middle finger at the car behind us.  “Sorry about my reach there, girls – I had to make sure that fucker saw I was flippin’ his stupid ass off!  Some fucking people, I tell ya!”

Right after this triumphant flip-offery, Gene’s favorite song happened to come on the radio, which meant that Gene, now brimming with middle finger power, turned the volume up until the blown-out speakers crackled, slammed his foot down the gas pedal, took both hands off the wheel, and started playing furious air-drums, with a lit cigarette in one hand.

No, it wasn’t a Journey song.  If this were fiction, trust me, I would make it a Journey song.

It was the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”, and since Gene had all the windows down, his cigarette ashes were flying right back into the car as he air-drummed away.  We sped down the highway towards the club going a hundred miles an hour as burning snowflakes of cigarette ash whipped us in our glittery faces.  At the big drum finish at the end of the song, Gene got so wild with his air-drumming that the cherry from his cigarette flew into the backseat and landed on my lap and burned a hole in my dress.  I picked it up with my fingernails and threw it out the window as fast as I could.  Gene said, “Oh shit, did I get ya?  SAHH-REE!” as he lit a new cigarette.

Then a Sublime song came on and he said, “Fuck this shit!”, and turned it down. At the very least, you could say Gene certainly had his standards.

When we got to the club, Gene gave us his business card and said to call him when we needed a ride back home, I guess since he now knew we were: (a) good for the $40, (b) apparently didn’t scare too easily, and (c) hadn’t yelled at him for trying to set me on fire.

Did we throw Gene’s card away?  Hell no!  This is the part where I remind you that young Anne and Maggie were idiots.

We had an awesome night at the club and stayed until close.  We called Gene and he picked us up, as promised, and didn’t even make us prepay this time.  Apparently, we had “bonded” on the drive up, so now he trusted us.  He was a little more sedate this time, but still talked a mile a minute.  It was less of the variety where he told us he could have someone killed, and more of the variety where he told us about all the people in his life who had let him down.  It was the end of the night, so I imagine he must have been weary and tired at that point, and really, how many stories can you tell about how you kicked that motherfucker’s ass after he stole all your gold chains?  We were tired, too, so we stayed pretty quiet most of the ride.

As we turned down a street that connected the two main streets in town, Gene, as it would soon become apparent, caught his second wind.

The connecting street was lined with huge, old trees and beautiful homes with matching beautiful yards.  It was one of those really nice family neighborhoods with tree-swings and birdhouses that matched the main houses.  Just idyllic and gorgeous, like something out of Better Homes and Gardens.  It was also one of those neighborhoods that went to great lengths to keep people from using it as a cut-through, I assume because they had already had their fair share of cars racing down the street like a straight-away when their kids were just trying to ride bikes and roller-skate.  Every intersection, no matter how small or how close it was to the previous one, had a stop sign with speed bumps before each one, and the speed limit throughout the neighborhood was 20 miles per hour. Gene was not a fan of this as a concept.

Gene got the to first stop sign and speed bump combo, looked around and said, “Well, what the fuck is this shit?”

Gene then put two and two together pretty quickly and decided that this traffic control system was no mere traffic control system.  Not to Gene.  This traffic control system was the first shot in a class war.  A class war that Gene had, apparently, been fighting his entire life, and had built a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder to prove it.

He held down the horn, hit the gas and burned out the tires as he shot towards the next stop sign, intermittently laying on the horn the whole way.  He slammed the brakes and skidded a good twenty feet before he came to the next speed bump, stuck his head out the window, and yelled, “YOU LIKE THAT, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!  YOU WANNA KEEP ME OUT OF YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBORHOOD?!  OH, YOU DON’T WANT PEOPLE LIKE ME CUTTING THROUGH YOUR PRECIOUS FUCKING NEIGHBORHOOD, DO YA?!  OH NO, YOU’RE WAY TOO FUCKING HIGH CLASS TO LET SOME POOR FUCK LIKE ME ON YOUR STREET!  HOW YOU LIKE THIS, YOU RICH FUCKS!  HA HA HA HA HA!!!!  YOU LIKE ME NOW, YOU FUCKS?!!”

Anne’s and my hearts were racing as we gripped each other’s hands and held on for dear life.  We figured at the very least, when the cops came it would be obvious that we were just customers and had no part in this, seeing as neither of us had a tommy gun or a feedbag of cocaine on our laps.

(Then we let each other’s hands go, because we remembered we’re tough guys who don’t hold hands.  In 27 years of best friendship, I believe she and I may have hugged twice.)

There were six more stop signs in the neighborhood.  You can just go ahead and re-read a few paragraphs up to find out what happened at each one.  He even made up a little melody to go along with his obscenity-laden tirades that he punctuated with his horn honking, like this:  “THIS – IS – WHAT – YOU – RICH – MOTH – ER – FUCK – ERS – GET – FOR – BE – ING – SUCH – FUCKS!!  YOU – CAN – GO – AND – SUCK – MY – DICK – YOU – FUCK – ING – FUCKS!!”

When Gene dropped us off at home a few minutes later, still breathless from his tirade, he said, “Listen.  Girls!  Keep a few of my cards, and call me direct the next time you need a safe, clean ride.  I don’t like the idea of youse girls getting into a cab with some of these guys.  Some of these characters are real nutjobs.”

You would think this experience would mean that we would never be calling Gene ever again, but Gene actually became our regular cab driver until Anne finally bought a car later that year.

You would also think that Gene wouldn’t repeat the honking and screaming obscenities out the window thing every time he drove us through that neighborhood, but you’d be wrong on that one.  He did it every single time.

We Went to Jail to Try to Pick Up Guys

Anne and I had one major requirement when it came to dating in the 90s.  The guy absolutely, positively, must, must, must have long hair.

It didn’t have to be Sebastian-Bach-from-Skid-Row-long to their waist or anything (although that was the ideal), but it definitely had to be at least Whitfield-Crane-from-Ugly-Kid-Joe-shoulder-length.  We would often come home from high school, pop on MTV, and sit around and have conversations that went something like this:

“I just don’t think I could ever be attracted to a guy who didn’t have long hair.”

“I know.  When I see a hot guy with short hair, it just makes me sad.  I mean, how many years would it take to grow that out?  Would I be willing to wait that long?”

The problem was that we lived in South Florida, which wasn’t exactly Los Angeles or Seattle, where in the 90s you couldn’t swing a life-sized cardboard cutout of Chris Cornell without knocking over five guys with long hair.  In South Florida, post 80s, the long-haired man became a more elusive creature.  When Anne and I would see one in the mall, we would literally drop whatever clothes we were holding at Wet Seal and quietly chase after him like some kind of secret Beatlemania and then stalk him as he walked around the record store.  We would often be riding in the car with my mom, who greatly, greatly indulged us, and when we saw a long-haired guy walking down the street, we would force her to turn the car around so we could get another look at him and yell, “Woooooooo!” out the car window.  Also, about half the time it would turn out to be a woman.

“Being a woman” was about the only thing that would disqualify a long-haired person from being dating material for us back then.  We were willing to overlook just about anything in a guy if they had long hair.

Are you a jerk?  Yes?  Do you have long hair?  Then you’re not a jerk so much as you’re just “misunderstood”.

Are you unemployed and live in a van?  Yes?  Do you have long hair?  Then you’re not unemployed and living in a van so much as you are an “uncompromising freelancer nomad”.

I think it’s probably the same for men who chase after women who have those 48DDD Jessica Rabbit boobs, where you overlook your suspicions about her framing you for murder because tittaaaaaaays.

Anne and I would sometimes find ourselves in a dry spell, long-haired guy-wise, and on one particular night, we reached pretty far down the well to try to remedy it.  We went to jail.

My mom worked in a doctor’s office and had befriended the little old lady, Margie, who cleaned the office at night.  Margie was one of those little old ladies who had worked shit jobs scrubbing floors her entire life, and wasn’t even a little bitter about it.  She was a solid lady and was just delightful to be around.  She was so adorable, she used to run away from the lizards outside the office door while yelling, “I don’t like those bugs with tails!” in her thick, Pittsburgh accent.  Honestly, you couldn’t even write her as a fictional character, because nobody would believe it.  She was like a sugar-sweet version of Johnny Dangerously’s mom, Ma Kelly.

Unfortunately for Margie, she had a parasite named “Brett”.   Brett was her grown-ass, unemployed 30-something shirtless son who sponged off of her and sat around her apartment all day drinking and smoking weed with his fellow sponger-friends, routinely got arrested for drunk and disorderlies, and was an all-around low-life.  Margie worked full-time scrubbing floors, but had to be home by 5pm every night because that was when Brett expected her home to make dinner for him.  And do his laundry.  And give him pocket money for the bar.

Margie had a more forgiving view of Brett’s situation, which she often summed up as, “Brett can’t get no steady work”.

This somehow implied that Brett was looking for work, which he definitely was not.  We heard this refrain so often from her that we officially changed his name from “Brett” to “Brett Can’t Get No Steady Work”.  We lost touch with them over the years, but if I had to guess, I would say that Margie probably keeled over and died from exhaustion fifteen years ago while making Brett his favorite pasketti and he’s still storing her dead body in a freezer somewhere so he can collect her Social Security checks.

Late one Saturday night, Margie called my mom in a panic.  It seemed Brett Can’t Get No Steady Work had gotten arrested again, this time for starting a bar fight probably over whether it was produced “Viet-NOM” or “Viet-NAM”, and Margie’s vision wasn’t good enough to allow her to drive in the dark to go bail him out.

Anne was spending the night at our house, and when my mom said she would go pick Margie up and take her to jail to bail out Brett Can’t Get No Steady Work, we didn’t think that much of it.  That was, right before my mom was getting ready to walk out the door, and it dawned on me, “OH MY GOD.  DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY LONG-HAIRED GUYS THERE PROBABLY ARE IN THAT JAIL?”

Anne and I hopped up and threw on our sluttiest clothes and ran to get in the car with my mom, because teenage Anne and Maggie are idiots.  How our teenage years didn’t end with us being found in shallow graves or stuffed inside the septic tank of a tour bus is completely beyond me.

We figured that even if the long-haired guys were behind bars, they probably had friends or bandmates who would show up to bail them out, and being that this was county lock-up, some of those guys may have even been in there for a few months, so they would be hot to trot for a couple of barely legal types like ourselves, assuming their legs weren’t still shackled together.  Not that leg shackles would have disqualified a long-haired guy from our dating pool, of course.  We would have just said he was the kind of guy who “liked to take things slow”.

We primped and lipsticked in the car vanity mirror in the parking lot at the jail like we were getting ready to walk into a Warrant video.  We strutted through the parking lot, readjusted our bras for maximum push-uppedness, and flung open the door.

Much to our dismay, rather than the virtual Headbangers Ball we were expecting to find in the waiting area, anyone who was there looked exactly like Margie.  It was an exclusive club of old cleaning women who were there to bail out their good-for-nothing adult sons.  I was surprised they didn’t all know each other and settle into a game of Mahjong while they were waiting.  Instead, they scrutinized the cleanliness of the floor and offered up homemade business cards for their cleaning services to the cop at the front desk.  They probably should have used the opportunity to unionize.

When Brett Can’t Get No Steady Work made bail, we sad-faced trudged out of there and back through the parking lot, in full-on sullen teenager mode.  As we got into the car, defeated, Anne looked up at the tiny windows that dotted the side of the building and saw a long-haired silhouette wave to us from inside the jail and said, “OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?!!!”.

I looked up and he was gone.  Like a shooting star, I had missed it.