9/18/2012

Does This Work?

This Garrison Keilor routine came to me via Scott Malchow/Pete Johnson. It's an excerpt from Keillor's Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny as  "Guy Noir" observes kids in a coffee shop: 

"The place was crawling with art students from St. Paul Art School, Market Street (SPASMS), also known as Simply Pray And Send Money Soon, housed in the old Great Northern warehouse on Market Street . . . Kids with baggy low-slung pants and backward baseball caps and active vocabularies of about five hundred words . . . They all had glittery metal hanging from their eyebrows, eyelids, lips, earrings all around their ears, metal plugs in their noses and tongues--it looked like they had fallen face-first into the tackle box . . . 

"Poor kids. They'd talked their parents into fronting the dough for art school so the kiddos could prolong adolescence a few more years. That's what MFA means. My Fascinating Adolescence. It's the Montessori generation, so everybody wins a blue ribbon, everyone's ideas are valid, everyone is on a journey, we're all talented, all roads lead to Art. The girls dress like streetwalkers and the boys like drug dealers, and they adopt the slang of the black underworld, which they have no firsthand knowledge of, and they're okay with that. They're okay with not knowing much of anything. I envy them that. They had Ritalin and Prozac to smooth out the rough spots, and now they sit drinking expensive warm milk and building elaborate shrines to themselves on Facebook as they try to live creative lives and be free and do good in the world, which is why we need Mexicans to sneak across the border and mow our lawns and clean our toilets- so the kids can sit around looking in a mirror and feeling like artists, though none of them can so much as draw a pink petunia in  a plaster pot . . . " What's left out of this partial quote of Keilor's book (between the " . . . 's") is as funny, relevant, sad, and accurate as the bits Johnson included. It is all very reminiscent of Joseph Heller and I mean that in every good way possible. 

I know these kids. Not that long ago, I had a kid in one of my record lab classes who seemed to be waiting for some magical insight to clue him to the fact that the point of the class was to learn something. He, occasionally, appeared to be on the edge of grasping that concept, but always fell back to his normal position of acting clueless (or cool, depending on your perspective) and asking to be shown, once again, the things the other members of the class had down pat. A moment of clarification came to me at the end of a class when he accidentally dropped a few mic cables on the floor and spilled some other equipment. He glanced, dully, at the mess he'd made and continued out of the studio. 

I stopped him, saying "______ you know you're going to have to pick that stuff up, right?"

He responded with, "But it was an accident."

"I know that, but it's your accident. You have to pick it all up and re-wrap the cables. When you're done, drop it all off at the desk." And I left the room, but not the area because I wanted to be sure he actually did it.

After some moaning, he cleaned up his mess and ended up taking all of the equipment back to the front desk. I was baffled by the whole exchange until I realized that he'd probably never had to pick up after himself in his life. His mother, most likely, followed along behind him sweeping up his trash, putting away his clothes, solving his problems, bawling out the teachers who dared expect him to accomplish the same work as other students, and spoon feeding him when he was too tired or bored to feed himself. 

My wife calls this "the old parent syndrome": people who waited until they were middle-aged before having kids or, even worse, people who restarted their family life after a first, second, or fifth failure and decided to "get it right" by smothering their last chance old-sperm-and-egg-damaged offspring with attention and protection. This is the opposite end of traditional parenting, which demanded that parents have a gaggle of kids so that at least a couple would survive and thrive. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, although I won't likely get to be around for the final analysis. 

When I was a kid, as soon as were tall enough to reach the wheel and the pedals, lots of us were plopped on to a tractor seat, shown where the controls were, and pointed in the general direction of an empty field with the instruction, "Keep your rows straight and I'll come get you at dinner time." If we wanted money, we took on a paper route and learned how hard it is to get $2 out of adults at the end of the month. If we needed to get to baseball practice on the other side of town, we got on our bicycles and started pedaling early enough to get to practice on time. If we wanted a musical instrument or a rifle or ice cream, we saved up our paper route money and bought one or took a woodshop or machine or cooking class and made what we wanted. If we couldn't figure out what we wanted to do with our lives, we dropped out of school and got a job and supported ourselves. Even hippies in communes farmed, scrounged for grocery store throw-aways and scrounged a living working and panhandling. Can't make a living with one job, get two more. That's what coffee is for, right? Moving into your parents' basement after college just wasn't an option--practically or ethically--until the current generation of glow-in-the-dark boomerang slugs. 

I'm not saying there weren't deadbeats in the Boomer crowd, but I am saying they were the Limbaugh, George W. Bush, Moonpie Gingrich exeptions. Even Mitt Romney has paid a lot of money to create an illusion of his work ethic in business school (sort of a contradiction, I know). Like our parents, most of us got jobs in retail, manufacturing, service, sales, education, local or federal government, and a very few stayed in farming. After Reagan, a lot fewer were farmers (20,000,000 family farms fewer) and that occupation and farming communities are still vanishing at an astonishing rate

There is something incredibly irrational about going deeply into debt to extend adolescence. Going to college as a social activity is astoundingly stupid and, maybe, the ultimate expression of personal incompetence. If that isn't paying to have friends, I'm unclear on the concept (also true). College isn't for everyone. Some people are simply dumb. Some people are so driven that college only slows them down. A lot of us have to experience life a bit before we know what we want to study. College is not life, just as adolescence does not exist after puberty in real life. You can pretend to be a kid all the way into senility (Just ask Little George Bush), but you're still just a spoiled, useless kid. So, pick up after yourself, you worthless little prick. 

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