Monday, October 20, 2008
As We Head into Fall
The recent weeks have seen a blur of activity, on both the academic and personal fronts, which can account (I hope) for my lack of substantive posts during that period. So far as school is concerned, the month of October is, as any academic can attest, a busy one for college campuses. In contrast to high school students who remain in the same classes for an entire school year, university pupils switch wholesale in December or January and so take their midterms at the beginning of Fall.
So far, my Sociology 101, Anthropology 114, Music 103, and Government 344 exams are done with. I am generally satisfied with my performance on all of these tests. My Government 344 (American Foreign Policy) professor is an irascible Japanese man whose grasp of the English language is so poor that it literally impedes the learning experience. To boot, he does a very poor job of articulating his standards, which, from current observation, seem to equate greater quantity with higher grades.
On his midterm, I answered the overwhelming majority of the questions (several short answer and two essay) correctly but was nevertheless docked points for “vague” and “superficial” responses that in fact identified what needed to be identified. Those who scored best, and whose essays he requested be read aloud to the rest of us, said basically what I did but used ten pages instead of two. I do not find this cute. It is in fact very annoying, but what can be done about it? Some professors are just like that.
Even under those circumstances, though, and with literally no preparation whatsoever (I learned of the midterm as I walked into class), I managed to pull a 75%, with which I was satisfied.
My Anthropology 114 grade came back a 94%, my Music 103 a 96%. I have yet to receive my Sociology test, seeing as I skipped that class today to give myself more study time for the Government 301 (Judicial Process) midterm that I took this afternoon. With that test out of the way, I am now done until finals, something that gives me great pleasure. I imagine that I scored a high B to low A on both the Sociology and Government 301 exams.
I do have a Music 103 chapter quiz this Thursday, but I’m not overly concerned with it.
The only thing looming on the academic horizon that does give me cause for worry is my Government 344 paper, due next month. In it I must discuss U.S.-Russia relations during the coinciding period of the Bush and Putin administrations. There are only two other people in the entire class who chose to work on Russia (the most popular topic was the rising strength of the Chinese), so we’ve planned to e-mail each other back and forth comparing sources. I think that’s the most difficult piece of the whole thing; there are just so many different pools of information out there, and the task of sorting out from the muck papers that are relevant and from those the articles deemed scholarly enough by my professor’s regulations will be the most time-consuming component of the project.
I have yet, despite numerous promises, to write to Russian Girl, one of my fellow classmates with whom I am supposed to be in correspondence, because I cannot find her e-mail address. I hope she’s not irritated with me, as she’s approached me about it several times.
This weekend I will have to start work on this assignment, much as I dread it. I truly feel that anything short of an expert diplomatic brief would fail to meet up to my professor’s expectations, but I’m sure that I’ll muster together an acceptable-enough body of ideas to pass the class, which is all that really matters.
It’s a real shame about that Government 344 course; the topic, American Foreign Policy, has the potential to be so interesting, but the demanding and borderline incomprehensible instructor has sufficed to make it unpleasant. What a waste. The very textbook itself, entitled American Foreign Policy Since World War II, is fascinating and engaging to read, and the class’s T.A. is an intelligent and obviously talented young man, who, on the day of his lecture, held the entire room at rapt attention.
I had intended to skip class that day due to being sick, and had just stopped by to inform our teaching assistant why I wouldn’t be able to make it. When I found him in the hallway, I said, “Listen, I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be in class today.”
“Really?” he asked, a little surprised that I was informing him of this inches from our classroom door.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not feeling well, so I think I’m going to head home.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, that’s too bad. Today’s my lecture.”
I bit back a sniffle and looked up curiously.
“It is?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry you can’t make it.”
I wound up slinking into the classroom, quietly taking my seat, and staying for all but the last half hour of the period, in which time Awesome T.A. captured our interest with a dynamic and informative presentation concerning the beginning of the Cold War and the development of initial tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Here, in this twenty-six-year-old man (he told us that he was “barely old enough to vote” in 2000, which I take to mean he was eighteen at that time), was living proof of the section’s worth, interestingness, and potential. He did justice to the topic far greatly than the actual professor has been able to, and, as I have remarked wistfully to some of my peers, were he teaching the class it would likely be my favorite of the semester.
That title currently goes to my Government 301 class, formally called Public Law and the Judicial Process. The instructor is a short, slight woman who looks to be in her early to mid fifties, a former lawyer with keen intelligence and a great deal of spunk. She is humorous in a reserved and dignified way, someone who says quirky things but manages to come off as professional while doing so. I can see how this confidence and these mannerisms could easily cross, when she wished them to, into sheer arrogance, but I have yet to be exposed to that side of her personality.
Lawyer Woman regaled us on the first day of class with the story of her daughter’s fiancé, whose pick-up line was, “What’s your favorite Constitutional amendment?”
Last week, while lecturing on the importance of wills, she shared with us that she updates hers before any major trip. Once, prior to a visit to Hawaii, she and her husband, lacking a witness, wrote out their changed wishes in pencil, the only way, according to Lawyer Woman, that a non-notarized document of that nature can be considered valid.
“And it’s a good thing we did that, too,” she said. “Because I was disinheriting one of my children.”
She’s not the kind of person who says outrageous things for a laugh if they aren’t true. She literally had denied one of her own flesh and blood their inheritance, and simply viewed this as a casual anecdote to share with her law class. I really like her, but at the same time I can’t help but wondering what her child, who she raised from infancy to adulthood, who she likely held to her own breast and gave nourishment, could possibly have done to have warranted such treatment.
It’s something I can’t quite comprehend, the disowning of a child, but it happens with alarming frequency. Two of the people I work with, Black Dress Girl and Tough Boy, aged eighteen and nineteen, respectively, have been kicked out of the house by parents who just don’t care.
One of Powell’s old friends, Pretty German Boy, a graduate of the high school class of 2008, was informed by his father two days before college tuition was due that it would not be paid for and that he would also be obliged to find somewhere else to live.
No part of me understands why someone would do this to their own son or daughter. Pie, my sister, is so precious to me that, no matter how angry I became with her, I could never leave her cold and alone. I firmly reject the notion that responsibility for one’s offspring ends once that offspring has reached the age of eighteen. Granted, at that point in a person’s life they really must begin to assume some duties, but outside of purely legal contexts, there is no real difference between seventeen and eighteen. Both are children, both inexperienced, both unsure of the world and what it holds, both needing advice. The good parent, the parent who loves their child and does because they should, not because they are officially obligated, undertakes all they can to provide that child with the tools they need to move forth into the adult world successfully and happily. At eighteen or nineteen years old, few people have developed those skills.
If the child is doing something constructive with their life, such as attending school or working towards some goal, I feel that they ought to be supported by the parents. Many readers would construe that clause to mean financial support, which of course it does, but it also refers to support of another kind. People my age, people in their late teens and early twenties, are afraid. They often have no clue where to go or what to do, and, secretly, deep down, they want a firm hand to compassionately show them the way. The notion that members of this demographic are suddenly given over to a very adult understanding of the world is one that is false, yet of course the alternate and preferable response straddles a fine line.
A twenty-year-old cannot be “disciplined,” as my father last night termed his reprimands of me. It just doesn’t work, and it’s not healthy. You don’t ground someone who is legally able to drink. At the same time, they can’t be turned entirely loose on their own. Many parents would call this an excuse used by their “adult” children to justify being entitled to financial support but unfettered by parental controls, which, in a sense, is exactly what the situation entails.
I think seeing it through that lens is incorrect, though. The average eighteen to twenty-two-year-old requires financial assistance in order to build up their own foundation and get through school, which obviously implies parental involvement in their life. Simultaneously, their personal growth would be stifled by parents who attempted to condition that monetary aid with unreasonable restrictions on the child’s life. I think that very few hardworking young people have any desire to take advantage of this duality. It is my belief that they, that we, are as a group trying to construct who we are, trying to incrementally move away from the nest and emerge into maturity as smoothly as possible.
It is such a difficult stage, in my opinion worse than adolescence (of which it is an extension) because the rules regarding it are not nearly so definite. Perhaps in time, when I am much older and this recently-articulated period of one’s life, nonexistent at the time of parents’ prime in the late 1980’s, has been a part of our culture for longer, we will be more sure of how to handle it. Until then, everyone is playing ad hoc.
You know, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, if this continued, to see a revision of laws concerning people over the age of eighteen. In several states of the Union the age of majority is nineteen, and in one, New York, it is twenty-one. Twenty years from now, might people my age, as people three years my junior currently are, be deemed incapable of making their own legal decisions? Will the practical reality of increasing dependence and lengthening adolescence eventually extent legal minority by several years? I don’t know.
I have always thought, though, that eighteen is a ridiculous and arbitrary age to call someone grown. Were I writing the books, it would be twenty-one.
So, to make a long story short, school is going surprisingly well. I don’t mean to jinx myself, but with the exception of Government 344, I’ve gotten A’s on every single midterm I’ve taken, and I’ve done quite well on most of my regular tests. The Government 301 paper to which I earlier alluded, one in which I am to compare two different court cases, is one that I’m actually looking forward to writing.
Work has been going very well, too. As I wrote in a different post, I was hired back at Western City Movie Theater, and am currently working there two days a week, typically Fridays and Saturdays. This has so many benefits. To begin with, gas in this area has descended off of a high of $4.00 a gallon to roughly $2.80 a gallon. I saw one station where the price had gone down to $2.79 a gallon. I make $6.55 an hour at the movie theater and work eight hours a week (four each Friday and Saturday), resulting in an average income, after taxes, of forty dollars a week. The cost of filling up my car’s tank, once fifty-one dollars, is now closer to thirty-five. I have been operating under the assumption since August that I would not be able to prevent a net loss of money from my bank account, but would hopefully by working be able to expend less than I would without a job. That assumption has since been overturned. While a few dollars’ difference between my paycheck and my pump costs may seem insignificant, I spend very little on myself and know that the spare change will add up.
The greatest part of working, however, and the reason why I would continue to work were I to inherit one million dollars tomorrow morning, is the interaction I have with people of my own age group.
For once, for the first time I can honestly remember since high school, I have friends. Given, we all know each other through work and outside of work my companions remain very few. I’m not willing, though, to place the conditions on this happiness that would make the bonds forged inside the movie theater somehow invalid because they did not occur in the world at large. For the last two weekends in a row I’ve gone out at night and not come home until three or four o’clock in the morning. Before, my Friday and Saturday nights were spent in front of the computer or on the couch, not by choice but by necessity and because of my absolute isolation. It was terribly depressing and lonely to think of what other people my age might be doing while I, as ever, lingered about my house, avoiding my parents as much as possible because I was so ashamed at what my presence there night after night said about me.
The weekend before last I stayed after work on Saturday night to watch “City of Ember” with three co-workers, Black Dress Girl, Very Mature Girl, and Odd Boy. Because we talked and goofed off for so long, we didn’t actually put the movie in until after two in the morning and I didn’t get home until four.
I loved it. God, I can’t describe how good it felt to have a reason to be out, to have people to talk to, to be stupid with, to laugh with, to feel normal with. I just loved it. Our crowd there is an eclectic one, but united by one trait: “Everyone who works here,” said Odd Boy. “Has something wrong with them. It’s like all the outcasts got together and created their own place.”
Very Mature Girl agreed.
“The only person I know,” she said. “Who works here and doesn’t have something wrong with them is Short Italian Boy. He’s just completely content with life and happy with everything.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But Short Italian Boy is sixteen. I was like that, too. I mean, that’s the weirdest thing about this; I was the happiest kid. I was never an angry teenager or anything like that, and then my Freshman Year of college I just kind of crashed. People like that, who are really sweet, often hit a wall where they realize that the rest of the world isn’t like them and doesn’t see things the way they do. I hope that Short Italian Boy doesn’t experience that, but it does happen.”
Let me introduce you to the key members of our group.
Short Italian Boy is a sixteen-year-old high school Junior, of small stature, dark skin, black hair, and pimpled face, who has the appearance of a fourteen-year-old. He is very cheerful, considerate, and chivalrous, making the best of a bad situation when a former co-worker of ours played with his affections while simultaneously playing with those of Tough Boy.
Very Mature Girl is a seventeen-year-old high school Senior, short, significantly overweight, with bright blue eyes and long brown hair that’s been dyed consistently enough to fry the ends. She has an infectious laugh and a great personality, despite coming from a difficult home. I call her “very mature” because she bears burdens that she shouldn’t at her age, working out of necessity and sometimes supporting a mother who doesn’t always hold a job.
Redhead Girl is a seventeen-year-old high school Senior and a new addition to the staff, someone I don’t yet know very well. She is slightly plump with a pretty face and, as her pseudonym indicates, red hair.
Blunt Girl is a seventeen-year-old high school Senior, of broad face, strong nose, blue eyes, brown hair with blonde highlights, and a curvy body. She comes across as older and is often overtly sexual (with both men and women), despite the fact that she is, according to Black Dress Girl, a virgin.
Black Dress Girl, eighteen years old, and a 2008 high school graduate, comes from another bad home. She is a staff leader at the movie theater, with a wicked sense of humor and an analytical intelligence far beyond her years. She comes off not as eighteen but as significantly older, older in fact than me. She is very overweight, probably what would be called obese, but dresses fashionably enough and has enough self-confidence (or at least projects enough self-confidence) to carry it off. Her natural hair color is blonde, but currently it’s cut short and dyed red. I’d say that she is my closest friend there, and the only one who has ever been in my house.
She describes herself as “Pan-sexual,” yet, for this exotic designation, is one of the most real people I know right now. Her parents are awful. They have taken out cars and a home under their daughter’s name, refuse to give her any financial support whatsoever, and, as a part of this, have kicked her out of “their” house. She currently lives in a run-down apartment with several roommates.
Tough Boy is a nineteen-year-old 2008 high school graduate, currently working and not in school. His father, at the demand of an overbearing wife (Tough Boy’s stepmother) kicked him out of the house when he turned eighteen. He is slightly taller than I am but very strong, with a flat stomach and muscular legs and arms. His hair is brown and short.
Odd Boy is a twenty-one-year-old 2006 high school graduate, also not currently in college. He was an assistant manager at a grocery store in River City, Midwest State, before coming down here to be the assistant manager of our movie theater about two weeks ago. I still don’t know quite what to make of him. None of us regard him as our superior in any real sense of that word, and he quite plainly sees himself as our peer. He is friendly, outgoing, and amenable without any strings attached, one of the most fun individuals I’ve met in a long time.
A number of interesting commonalities have helped to make us better and more natural friends: his birthday is on April 9th, whereas mine is on April 10th; both of us are Risk (the board game) fanatics; we both, as we learned the other day, say “cool beans;” we were both badly made fun of as children, and in both cases weight played a part, though in his case it was for being heavy and in mine it was for being thin; we were both abused by our parents; we both had serious breakdowns and went through crises of faith; we’ve both endured severe depression and been suicidal.
I am inherently suspicious, though, and remain cautious of this individual, a six-foot tall Italian-American with chiseled features and curly black hair, who, now that the weight that dogged him as a child is long gone, is said by the female members of our staff to be devastatingly handsome. My inclination is to believe that someone who is so open and friendly wants something, though I don’t know what it is.
Am I just being stupid? Can someone be unusual and different, have experienced traumas and come away with emotional issues, without being a psychotic killer? I am, so in theory it does happen. I’m always wary, though.
This Friday we all had a lock-in at the movie theater, complete with pizzas, a raucous game of hide-and-go-seek tag played with all the hiding places offered by six empty movie auditoriums, several silly activities, drinking, and everything but movie watching.
I have a reputation for being a lightweight, which I lived up to spectacularly during this event. After one Coors Light, I was tipsy; after two, drunk; after a Miller, completely trashed.
I know that sobriety is a virtue and that underage drinking is a menace to society. I furthermore know that many of this site’s readers have cultivated healthy and happy lives without alcohol, but I see it this way: I am twenty years old, and there is nothing wrong with getting hammered every now and again if I so choose. The last time I drank to the point of being drunk was in July or August, and I won’t do it again for a long while. Honestly, though, it’s fun to just completely abandon yourself to stupidity and uninhibited drunkenness. There is a release to it.
Luckily for me, the others thought this was hilarious instead of annoying, so I got away unscathed on the social end of things.
I don’t understand this, as I find drunk people to be intolerable, particularly if I am sober, but that’s just me.
“BB,” Blunt Girl said as I careened into a trashcan. “Let me help you.”
With one move, she’d literally swept me off of my feet and was carrying me as one might carry a baby, with my neck resting on one of her arms and my legs on another. While very heavily intoxicated, I did have the presence of mind to look into her face and declare, “You’re my knight in shining armor.”
That brought out a laugh.
She sat down in the circle of our friends and put me on her lap.
“I’m really heavy,” I informed her. “I’m probably crushing you.”
With another laugh she pushed me off, and we resumed whatever game we’d all been playing.
I have found this all in all to be a great improvement on my prior circumstances, and am seeing it affect other parts of my life. Because I am no longer friendless, my interactions with peers at school are more relaxed and less desperate, lacking the rigidness that they previously had.
Today, before my Government 301 midterm, I spent about half an hour chatting, mostly about the test, with a fellow classmate. Halfway through our conversation, someone else I’ve met came over and said hi, entirely of his own volition.
These things mean so much to me.
So, I am very thankful for the theater.
How long can all of it hold? I am in college, they are not, and the differences in our socio-economic status are bound to come into play sooner or later. I just don’t care, though. I don’t. My own people kind of turned away from me, so I’ll take what I can. Plus, I like these people. They’re good people, at least.
And, not to be a downer, but I was kind of ready to pull the trigger about two weeks ago. What kind of life is that? What is a life that has no one in it? There’s this institutional belief that suicide is always bad, but if someone is so miserable that forcing them to continue living would be tantamount to punishment, why not let them go?
I’m not there right now, I’m just saying.
That’s where I am now. It’s hard to believe that we’ll be having a presidential election in fourteen days, two weeks from today, my God.
A great deal is sure to come up as Fall advances.