Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Endth Degree

"Is going to college still even worth it? College grads are coming out with degrees, yes – and herpes – but also with student loan debt totaling $60,000, $80,000, $100,00. These kids haven’t even gotten started in their careers and they’re already saddled with what’s tantamount to a full mortgage. In this shitty economy, graduates find themselves back in their old bedrooms at their parents’ homes, taking jobs in the service industry that they could have gotten without a college degree.

"The cost of higher education in the US has soared in recent decades while median incomes have stagnated. The California State University schools raised their tuition for the second time in less than a year, making this year’s tuition over 23% higher than the previous fall’s. And those are just the most recent increases. Attending a Cal State school now costs twice what it cost just back in 2007. And that’s not even counting the price of weed.

"The old canard is that people with bachelor’s degrees make twice as much as high school graduates over their careers. But average starting salaries for college graduates just fell 10% and, if you take into account the higher income taxes paid by college grads and the four to six years they spend out of the job market getting their degrees, is that $60,000 to $100,000 in college loan debt really worth it?

"And is the degree really worth it? A new comprehensive study of college grading over the decades finds that just about everybody who pays their tuition bills is deemed exceptional. 43% of letter grades awarded today are A’s as compared to just 15% back in 1960. By 2008, A’s and B’s represented 73% of all grades awarded at public colleges and 86% of all grades awarded at private colleges. It’s Lake Wobegon,  'Where all the children are above average.' And that’s in spite of studies that show college students spend far less time studying today than they did decades ago.

"If everybody is a genius, aren’t you paying $100,000 to $150,000 just to get your ticket stamped? You’re not buying an education so much as you’re buying a degree with a commendable GPA. Has the college degree with a B average become just a consumer product you can buy with a $100,000 loan? Wouldn’t a bright, industrious kid be better off in this economy to just jump into the job market and try to excel through merit?"

- Bill Maher

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Screaming Insecurities

"You always help everyone else but you never let anyone help you."

Dear God, the amount of times I've heard that in my life. It's right up there with, "He has the smarts, he just doesn't apply himself!", "You were right," and, "Santa hates you." And while the latter three only mildly bug me due to the only possible reaction being a smirk and a shrug, the You-Never-Open-Up lecture has always lingered around in my mind with each new person that says it as I add them to my collection of arms-length "friends".

What caused this? I dunno. I'm fairly certain there's no singular catalyst. It's not like Bruce Wayne where the reason he became Batman was (1) the death of his parents and (2) see number 1. If you dig around my past enough you could chalk it up to abuse, neglect, stress, abandonment, and a host of other after-school special plot lines. And I'm sure they'd all be valid to a degree and could be easily snapped into place in my psyche's history.

But why do I still do it? That's a more complicated subject. It's not as if I'm immune to loneliness. I go through that every night. I don't fall asleep next to someone, which is a big thing for me. Even going back to college constantly reminds me of how out of the loop I've become. Put it this way: I went through high school before Google or cell phones. In fact, the only thing the internet was good for was AOL instant messaging... mainly because there were no cell phones. So there's a very intense gap between me and most kids there. The internet jump-started a mini-generation that I was at the beginning of, but now anyone even 3+ years younger than me reveals a stark contrast in culture. Even when I'm around colleagues at work, there's still a disconnect, because after we're done at the studio, I head home and they go out without me because I don't drink - not socially, anyway. And there's no comfort at home (sans my guitars) which would normally be enough to temper the sting of solitude if the songs and sounds that come to my fingers didn't amplify the situation.

"Then sing happy songs!" 

That's like telling someone who stepped on a landmine to "walk it off."

Shut up.

Monday, June 4, 2012

...and a Happy New Year.

Walking out of church, Greg asks if he can be driven to his car at the other parking lot. My father nods and through the crowd of people breathing steam under a chilly night, we find our car. A few slow minutes and a gradual turn or two, we arrive at my brothers spot. I tell my family I'll ride with Greg to my great grandmother's house and I'll see them in a few. They wave me off.

On a whim, my brother decides he's hungry and asks if we can stop to get some pizza before we get there. We pull into a Papa Johns and order a special for $13.50. Ten minutes later, I'm ducking into his 2001 Mitsubishi Mirage with a hot box of pizza in my lap. We share a few jokes back and forth, laughing with our heads thrown back and elbowing each other's shoulders on each punchline.

Our cell phones both buzz simultaneously. The intersection's red so we pull them out and check. It's from my little sister, Lindsey. "Get here right now!" it reads. Greg and I smile at each other at my sister's technological ingenuity and continue on down the dark highway telling jokes and discussing our fantasy basketball league.

My phone rings. It's Lindsey again.

"Neil, can you please get here right now?"

"Why, what's up?"

"Um, everybody is fighting."

Rolling my eyes, "God, about what."

"I don't know. Shelby and grandma were yelling and then they were pushing and stuff and then grandpa was there and Jerry started hitting everyone and now grandpa's bleeding."


"They're inside yelling right now."

"Is mom there?"

"She's in there yelling, too."

"Stay outside!"

I tell Greg to drive.

I swing the car door open and jump onto the curb before Greg can come to a complete stop. Running across the street, I shove my sleeves up. I can hear the yelling from inside already. I jump the porch railing. The front door is half open and I hear heavy objects being knocked over from inside. I shoulder the door hard and dash into the living room. And there's Jerry, my 38 year old cousin, smiling and looking down at my grandfather on the floor while my mother stands between them. My grandma is on the floor in the kitchen holding her knee. As the front door i hit slams the wall behind it, everyone looks back at me. I ask what the fuck is going on and point at Jerry. He looks at me and jumps behind the lounge chair. My mother, Donna, Shelby and Debbie run in front of me to stop me from charging Jerry but I moved them aside. My great grandmother, June, yells my name and tells me to just stay put. Jerry stands up, pulls his long hair back behind his head and runs down the hallway to his room. Donna keeps yelling, "You don't know what happened! Stay out of this!" I tell her to fuck off because I see my 67 year old grandfather bleeding and her drug-addict, ex-convict, on-parole son looking down and grinning at him. My brother walks inside and grabs my arm telling me to just hold on because it won't help doing something to Jerry. I yell down the hall to stop being a coward and to come out of his room to pick on someone his own size and age. Only dark silence. So after a minute of my brother and over 800 lbs. of people holding me back, Donna screams at my grandmother, walks away and shuts her bedroom door. I tell them to tell me what happened.

My aunt Shelby and grandma (her sister) haven't gotten along for years now, half over money, half over two sisters getting old. To the point where they visit their mother (my grandmother) in shifts for the holidays. Well this year, Shelby stayed longer than usual and was still there with her kids Chris and Debbie long after 7pm, which is when my grandmother visits. So as my grandma arrived, Shelby and her kids pass them as they leave, ans my grandma wishes them a Merry Christmas. They all turn their heads and say nothing. My grandma again says Merry Christmas as they pass her. Again, nothing. Then she says, "I guess that's typical Rohmehild now." The son, Chris, snaps back, "You know what Judy, kiss my ass." So an argument ensues, and Donna (the other sister), comes over and starts yelling at my grandma. They have a yelling match, and Donna pushes my grandma, knocking her to the ground. My mom steps between them and my grandma stands herself up and slaps Donna over my moms shoulder. Donna stats kicking and targeting my grandma's bad knee. This is when my grandfather walks in and steps in between them with my mom. Donna's son, Jerry, hears everything and runs out into the kitchen screaming at my grandfather to stop hitting his mom. My mom tells him he's not hitting anyone. This doesn't stop Jerry from running around the house to the other side of the house and starting sucker punching my grandfather in the head from behind. The blood was all over his shirt and kitchen floor.

And that's when I came in.

All too late.

After a call to the police is made, everyone decides to leave and go to their homes before they arrive. My grandfather returns from Emergency Care an hour later with nine stitches in his ear and gauze and padding wrapped around his head. My grandmother's knee is swollen and can't walk. My mom's $400 glasses were crushed in the scrimmage.

And I can't help but wonder why in the hell I wasn't there to help stop this. My dad? We was at home making a dish for the dinner that night. Like my brother said later that night, they should let me take care of Jerry since no one else can/will.

What was the purpose of leaving me out of that? If I was there it would have stopped long before it got that far. Five women over 50 can't stop a fight, let alone a crack head 38 year old.

I feel so angry. And helpless. And more than anything, sad.

This is my family?