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Where I am this week

22 Jun

Here’s a video some guy made about the neighborhood where I am habitating this week (brief NSFW-ness due to some harmless mooning). I could probably make some Very Serious Social Commentary here, but I’m pooped so I’ll just let it speak for itself:

Sooo… yeah. Where are you this week? What shenanigans are you getting up to? And um, did you ever live anywhere like Murray Hill? What was THAT like?

Passing for the Ruling Class

28 Mar
Via Patrick Martinez

The grocery store nearest to my house resides on a street of ill repute. The building is run-down and ugly, the produce is always wilted and overpriced, and the beers in 40-ounce bottles outnumber other beverages 5 to 1. Their shoplifting problem is so bad that they keep the baby formula under lock and key. Were it not within walking distance, I’d probably avoid the whole place and its often smelly, drunk patrons altogether.

All this is to say that I don’t really fit in there. Not to say I necessarily fit in with the pretending-to-care-about-organics crowd over at Whole Paycheck (har har), but still – I don’t have a pimp or any crackbabies so there’s not much to talk about with the other denizens at the grocery mart.

I was surprised when, as I carefully picked my way past seven or eight screaming toddlers on my way to the ice cream aisle, I was accosted by a wayward checkout clerk. Her tap on my shoulder startled me in the way I am always startled when a stranger talks to me in a public place, so I was careful to put on my patent-pending city face before turning around to face my molester, wherein I was presented with the following perplexing question:

“Ma’am, do you use food stamps?”

Taken aback, I dumbly shook my head. This lady sure was nosy!

“Well I just need to let you know that the EBT machine is down today. So if you need to pay with food stamps, you can’t do that here.”

“OK, thanks. I think I’m good.”

She squinted at me suspiciously as if to say, “Yyyyeaaah right. I know you. I know all about you and your baby-formula stealing ways. You’ve got a secret Oregon Trail card tucked away in that greasy little mitt of yours, and after you’re done loading up your cart with Pampers and tallboys, you’ll saunter through my aisle and try to swipe that welfare-queen card of yours, and when it’s declined you’ll make a run for it. I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES!”

After a few minutes of this squinty standoff, we turned in opposite directions, suspicious gazes last. All this left me wondering: “Am I not doing a good enough job of passing as a member of the Gin-U-Wine middle class?” Sure, I have been known to run a few errands in my pajamas, but who hasn’t? I shower regularly, I speak with a newscaster accent, I recently got a real, actual haircut, and goshdarnit, I was brought up quite well! 

Then, of course, I immediately started waffling about my feelings. Why should I care that the checker thought I might use food stamps? It’s ingrained thinking for most people that poor = bad, and clearly I’m not exempt. And this has come up before – I’ll be wearing a J. Crew sweater and someone at work will make a joke about me shopping at Goodwill. I don’t get it, it bugs me, and it bugs me that it bugs me. Looking rich, or at least not destitute, seems to be a mysterious club into which Mr T. and I are both barred entry.

Educational Elite

21 Mar
Graduate-bot says what?

I’ve been thinking a lot about school lately. In fact, I’ve been thinking about higher education, Ivy-league and otherwise, since before I finished undergrad. I’m not talking academics, here, because I’ve been thinking academics since forever. My official membership in the Nerd Herd was granted in high school, and I keep the flame burning in my adult life by making grammar jokes and geeking out about fonts on the regular.

No, I’m talking about something far more insidious, something which I’ll call “Schooling.” I started thinking about this before the end of high school, when I was applying to colleges. Even though I had a 4.0, high SAT scores and seven million extracurricular feathers in my hat, I knew my family couldn’t afford Wellesley or Harvard, so I didn’t bother applying. I picked the closest, cheapest public university. I held steadfastly to the idea that “good” schools don’t equal “smart” people. And I still believe that’s true with all my heart.

But a couple years out of college, I started reading a bunch of junk about class (Snobbery: The American Version, and Class: A Guide through the American Status System, among others) that adjusted my perspective. Sure, going to a “good” college doesn’t make you a “good” person. But having credentials from a “better” school WILL make people perceive you as “better” – better at your job, better at thinking/living/succeeding – and you will therefore be the recipient of preferential treatment, likely advancing farther and faster than your averagely-schooled countrymen. Thus, the perception that people who went to good schools are better/smarter/faster becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In true Baader-Meinhof style, my new perspective was reinforced wherever I went. My current workplace is above-average in its obsession with Schooling. My immediate supervisor not only gleefully puts down my alma mater, but includes my hometown(s), parental occupations and the part of Portland where I live as dry tinder for the fires of devaluation. Introductions to new people are prefaced with long strings of alma maters, followed by names as inessential afterthoughts.

Not me, I swear.

A recent article from The Cronicle of Higher Education took educational elitism to a whole new level, reinforcing my suspicions that it’s not what you accomplish or how smart you are, but where you’ve been and who you know that matters in certain (powerful, rich) circles.

“Why all this prognostication?” you may ask. Outside of discourse for discourse’s sake, some of you know that I’ve been mulling pursuing my masters for oh, say, ever. I applied to a few schools, and got into all of them. I’ve narrowed my choices down to two: One is close to home and dirt-cheap. The other is far away and Ivy league. So research into educational elitism is not only interesting, but personally a propos. If the coursework is the same – and I believe it is – which one do I choose? Do I follow the proletariat’s path and attend the former, or “sell out” and attend the latter? Dear readers, weigh in in the comments. Do it now, lest I royally screw up my future, my credibility, or both!

*By the by, linking to these books don’t equate to authorial laudability – both authors are a tad douchey, and exhibit little humanity in belittling those-of-lesser-means, which ought to be a cardinal sin in the writing world. If you can’t empathize, you shouldn’t storytell.

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