Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Burden of an Education

My wife and parents can finally put their incessant badgering to rest. I’ve finally broke down and decided to seek a job teaching history to high school students. They, my parents and wife, are members of that ever shrinking demographic who think one should use their degree after it is earned. I can’t help but laugh to myself at the thought of such a preposterous notion. They have not yet clued in to the fact that recently the degree is just societies way of justifying four years (7 for me) of a zero contribution to community or economy. “Sure I’ve sapped government funds for the last four years, but I can do algebra.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t appreciate my education because I do. I like the superior feeling it gives me when compared to all the stupids out there. It’s not the degree certificate I don’t appreciate either. I tried to remain humble by leaving it inconspicuously among old school memorabilia, but my mom found it while helping us move and put it behind mat, glass, and frame. Now it hangs above my desk, like a beacon of light and a constant reminder of what I’m not living up too. But, I have always been a person most comfortable while sitting on laurels. So I am not shamed, but rather, contently satisfied.

It reads, "Utah Valley State College bla bla bla something about virtue of authority bla bla bla confers on The UnMighty the degree of Bachelor of Science History Education bla bla bla 2004."

I look at my reflection in the glass, wipe away a smudge with my thumb, and smile. It makes the whole room reek of prestige. So as you can see, I appreciate the degree. What I don’t appreciate is my degree’s long-term relevance and it’s earning power. First let us consider its long-term practicality.

Statistics taken from 2005 showed that the average length of a teacher’s career in the U.S. was 5 years. Many burn out well before their 2-year mark. One may attempt to attribute this to the growing feeling of evil and unruly behavior in today’s youth but a broader look at the American workplace will show that it is partly due to a major cultural paradigm shift; a new and growing philosophy that says, “only stay as long as its novel, then move on and try something else.” The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that workers between the ages of 18 and 38 change jobs an average of 10 times. That’s a different job every 2 years. Worker longevity is not like it was in the old days. I’m a testament to this truth. I’ve be a waiter, a common laborer, a camp counselor, a snowmobile guide, a ski instructor, a river guide, a farrier, a musician, a guitar teacher, an improv comedy club owner, and most recently, a writer. (And if the four people that read this blog would just recruit 10,000 people each I could make some money here.)

With these stats in mind one may wonder, why specialize? It seems superfluous unless you plan to work in an ultra specialized field like Left Frontal Lobe Brian Surgeon (That is someone who only operates on the left frontal lobe of a guy named Brian. (And you thought I misspelled brane.)) Wouldn’t you be better off just taking whatever variety of classes interests you most? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because you would be better off, and no because there is little chance my spouse would have allowed me to remain outside the work force had my school load been made up of classes like Latin dance, mountaineering, scuba diving, photography, and drum lessons. (These briefly describe the first three years of my college education.)

To the WW II generation and their baby boomer children a 30-year stint in one profession was commonplace. Learn a trade, or maybe get a liberal degree and go to work 9 to 5 until you retire and your kids take you to Sizzler to celebrate. But that is not the case anymore. A growing sense of wonder-lust combined with the ever-burgeoning tech and service industries have given us the excuse to professionally come and go as we please. These statistics also fuel the question; why specialize? It just doesn’t seem reasonable to spend 4 years preparing for something you’re only going to spend 2 years doing. It is almost as lopsided as the wedding night phenomenon. (You wonder and prepare with jittery anticipation from adolescence only to find yourself lying on your back wide-eyed with confusion two minutes after it started.)

Now let us consider the earning power of a teaching degree. It is no secret that the pay is less than equal to the job. The word “sucks” comes to mind. But to make teachers feel better about their financial situation, people with paying jobs give them magnanimous titles. “Sure the state won’t pay you more, but we can give you a title. How does ‘noble’ sound?” When socializing in a group of mixed incomes they throw around words like “rewarding,” “virtuous,” and “inner satisfaction.” But in my heart of hearts I would happily trade “rewarding” for a car made post 1980. This type of rewarding doesn’t buy the kids birthday gifts and makes parents tell lies like “using your imagination will make you a more interesting person” which we all know isn’t true because poor people aren’t interesting unless they’re in a Charles Dickens book.

That said, my resume is in the hands of over sixty people and if my parents have their way one will call and offer me a job. And one day, years down the road, I will be sitting next to my son, dusting off his char-covered marshmallow and he’ll look up at me with puppy-dog eyes and ask, “Dad, why do we only go on vacation to the KOA?” to which I’ll respond, “Because daddy has inner satisfaction.”

Friday, March 23, 2007

Separate Vacations

Recently my wife expressed the desire to take the kids alone to visit her family or on some other excursion without me. I think the conversation came up during, or immediately following, an argument while her words and actions were still totally dictated by emotion. “It will be more relaxing and fun for me” she said, “I won’t have to constantly be worrying if you are having a good time. I can sit around and talk to my mom all day about babies and glass wares and won’t have to endure your eye rolling. Plus it will be easier to take care of the kids with my family around.”
Well, soon after that conversation we were supposed to be in Northern Utah (five hours away) for the wedding of a family friend. I couldn’t go due to work and told her this was the perfect opportunity to test her theory of a better time without me. (No, we are not experiencing marital problems. No more problems than the average marriage between two headstrong people, that is.) The following are samples of phone conversations that took place between when she drove away to when she got back.

Day 1) She called 3 hrs after leaving.

Me: Hello.
Her: Why did we have children?
Me: It’s not going well?
Her: They’re screaming bloody murder and I got a speeding ticket.
Me: How fast were you going.

Day 2) Day of the wedding.

Me: Hello.
Her: You could have come if you really wanted to.
Me: How’s the wedding?
Her: Your kid has almost been run over four times now!
Me: So do the bride and groom look happy?
Her: How the crap should I know!? I want to tear the hair out of my head!
Me: I’m sorry they’re being difficult. How’s your family?
Her: What’s with the quiz? Did you call just to give me the third degree?
Me: Honey, you called me.
Her: You can't just let things go, can you?

Day 3) Hanging out with family and friends.

Me: Hello.
Her: I hope you’re happy. (hang up)

Day 4) More family and friends.

Me: Hi sweetie.
Her: You can take sweetie and shove it! I’m getting my tubes tied.
Me: Ok, I’ll make the arrangements.
Her: You would.

Day 5) On the way home, six hours after departure.

Me: Hi honey. Where are you?
Her: Where am I!? I’m only HALF WAY HOME!
Me: What’s taking so long?
Her: Your kids! They’ve got bladders like squirrels and stomachs like elephants! It’s a constant feeding, pooping, peeing, screaming, crying frenzy! I WANT TO RAM HOT REBAR INTO MY SKULL!
Me: I’m sorry. I’ll give you a long back rub when you get home.
(long pause)
Her: Get an adoption agency on the phone, and see if anyone is looking for a pair of siblings.

All in all I think she was quite satisfied with her time away and looks forward to doing it again.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Since the beginning of January I’ve been on this Body For Life diet and have been doing better than I have ever done on a plan that required dietary discipline. But everybody has their breaking point; temptation they can’t resist.

The other day I walked into Smiths grocery store with the usual high-minded intent of slipping in, getting some fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread, low fat milk, and maybe some lean white meats and then slipping out before my lustful eyes had the opportunity to ogle the unmentionables. I would mention them here but like I said, they're unmentionable.

Unfortunately, as soon as I walked in the front door my senses were assaulted by a giant mountain of sugary cereals. Not a stack, a mountain. The kind Attila would need elephants to conquer. Immediately I went into cold sweats, my legs locked uncontrollably though my heart screamed, “keep walking”, and had it not been for the cart I was leaning on I would have fallen forward and broken my nose. I attempted to prove my stalwart resolve to move on by setting my jaw, and whispering through clenched teeth, “get thee behind me Satan” to which the mountain replied, “no”, a simple but brilliant retort. I quickly concluded I was no match for this mountain in a battle of wits so I decided to just turn my back on it like Lot on Sodom and Gomorrah.

But I am a pillar of salt. I looked back. And when I did my eye caught a newspaper ad that read, “8 for 8 dollars.” Now, had these boxes been regular price there may have been some hope. Reason would have kicked in and screamed “No! You’ll bankrupt your family and ruin your marriage!” But temptation was only intensified exponentially by the incredible bargain. I felt like a chubby ten-year-old, just released from fat camp on Halloween night with an empty sack, a Superman cape, and the perfunctory charge to “stick with it buddy.”

There was nothing I could do. My will was undone. I bought 16 boxes.

When I got home some time later I knew I would have to face my wife. I decided to be forthright and own up to my mistakes. Much to her credit, when she saw me walk in with an armful of boxed diabetes and a heart full of shame she was not critical or even angry. She forgave me and loved me in spite of myself.

I unpacked my grocery bags, put all the cereal on the table and that was when I realized I accidentally got home with two extra boxes. Thinking back now I can’t help but wonder, was it really an accident? It’s like Smiths was telling me “listen, I like you. The first one's free” which we all know are the last words heard by a soon-to-be addict.

Luckily I have Maggie to help shoulder the burden.

You know what they say, misery likes company.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Smallest Talk

Despite the common reaction of most women when they see a baby, they (babies) aren’t usually cute. If it’s their own child, women are deluded. If it’s someone else’s, they’re polite. However, the delusion to their own babies is a good thing. The fact that women are so heavily biased is simple nature, the result of our species evolution, and rightly so. Just think what would have happened to the human race if women were as objective as their male counterparts. Every time an ugly baby was born (a staggering 99% according to experts) they would have turned their backs on the helpless neonate uttering some heartless sentiment like “I’m not letting that mangy hairless ape suck on my crumb catchers.” We’d have never made it past the hunter-gatherer period of history. Mankind would have been wiped out, and the cause: maternal neglect. (NOTE: Crumb Catchers is what my mother-in-law calls breasts. I would have just given the female body it’s due respect and called them such, but I wanted the sentiment to come off as womanly as possible.) Speaking objectively, Babies are more like personified raisons: squirming, grunting, pooping raisons. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. My son Cash is one. My daughter, in infancy, not so much - she fit in the raison category, but Cash is the genuine article. It is not my intension to play favorites. I should say my daughter has developed surprisingly well and at just under two years of age has a wit and charm to rival most young adults. I only say this to illustrate the fact that I can be totally objective and not at all biased. So, although I can appreciate, on a purely phylogenic level, the subjectivity of women toward babies, it has been the cause of many redundantly annoying encounters, which brings me to my point.
Small talk has never been my strong suit, and the older I get the harder time I have hiding that fact. I think it is because small talk is such a surface level, insincere, culturally expected social interaction. That said, when you decide to bring a child into the world you have basically fated yourself to the same line of small talk every time your small child is with you in public.

“Oh my gosh, He is precious!” A passing stranger would say.
“He’s a she.”
“Of course she is. That explains the adorable bow in her hair.” [this is said with a squished up face, a high pitched voice, and a finger on the baby’s nose like she’s trying to get the baby to crap a Pez] “Where did you get it?”
“Well, when a man loves a woman sometimes their passions lead to…”
“I mean the bow.”
“Oh. I don’t know. Bed Bath & Bows. Or Bows Unlimited. I don’t know, my wife gets that stuff.”
“Well she is just precious.” The stranger says again.
“And now that we’ve come full circle I bid you good-bye.”

I should say that small talk is not one of those pet peeves that angers me (unless I’m talking to one of those non-closers who speaks in stream-of-thought like they’re brainstorming for a college term paper) so I don’t want to come off as cold and calloused. I know that it is just the result of nice people trying to show they care enough not to snub you or cross the street when they see you coming. I just wish that our culture had long ago established some way to show kindness without the exchange of meaningless tripe, especially when the tripe is blatant lies like my daughter is the cutest baby in the world. That’s sweet, but impossible. I mean, she has my genes. You can’t blow hot air up my butt and tell me it’s nice weather. Now, what the random passerby failed to notice is that my daughter learned sign language before she was a year old, can de-shell a walnut with her bare hands, and will probably go into zoology since she already knows all the animals and their corresponding sounds. Now that would have made a good conversation.