Leave College at the Door

The plight of this generation’s college graduates has become another creeping headline. Reports and testimonies, in print or online, are heavy with statistics that depict bleak times for anyone having graduated or on their way out the door.

Yet, the numbers are only the casing. Rarely do even alternative media poke at the experience of the subject. Rarely do they ask “why” the subject owes their firstborn to debt, or investigate the actions leading to their current situation – other than the sympathetic reference to the grind that millions of graduates chew on day after day.

Pity that any bleeding heart would convert to cynicism at reading of some kid who, presumptively, didn’t know better and pissed away their opportunity. Even if they endured.

I grew up in a forsaken town called Lima, Ohio. You may have heard of it in passing. It is a frayed loop on the Rust Belt. Once a mafia halfway point between Chicago and Youngstown, the town was one of America’s secrets thanks to its vaunted tank manufacturing plant. Lima’s greatest legend was its ranking on Hitler’s ‘Cities to Bomb’ list during The War because of that plant.

Unfortunately the bombings never happened. Many of us who grew up there subconsciously wished they had. Being raised amongst ruins of history would have added some significance.

The streets are chopped and trashed, the air stinks of refinery smoke. Downtown is a suarez of ruin porn. The town is sectioned off into Middle Class, Poor and Dilapidated.  The once renowned high school is a breeding ground – I graduated with at least a dozen visibly pregnant girls. There’s a bar in every neighborhood. Woodlawn Cemetery is the ritualistic hot-spot, where you’ll find stoned teenagers roaming in and out of the mausoleums on a misty Saturday night.

If you had any gall, you’d scavenge the notorious Tuberculosis Hospital for copper wire to hock. My Dad and Uncle did that more than once, back when I was in diapers. That’s how I had presents on Christmas in ‘92.

Coke ran through the city in the 90s, now it’s H. The drugs of the times mimic the mood of the times.

Having grown up in a landfill where my personal hangouts were the record shop and the library, having a couple friends whom I was barely close to and seeing myself driving the same forklift my dad drove for 18 years, I took the first ignorant ride out of town.

I bought into the mystique of College being an intellectual center and the greatest camping trip imaginable. Shake in its open enrollment, its offering of the major I was looking for and its location in a bigger city and I bit the hook.

College was my chance to blitzkrieg Life. Though I had no plan, I didn’t need one. Fate had solidified my success as a student, as a socialite and as a growing man. Pillage and move on. So let it be written, so let it be done.

It was an impish success. I made Dean’s List one semester, won a made up award for a short film I wrote, shot and co-edited, gained the respect of a few professors and graduated in four years. The major success was anteing up a list of dear friends.

The rest was a crap shoot. I pissed away thousands of dollars of invisible refunds after the check was deposited. While everybody else was clawing their way towards stability, I was slouching on a trust fund breastfed to me by the tits of the Federal Government and the state of Ohio. It was a substitute guardian enabling my growing tolerance for vice and games.

Besides the dorms, I didn’t have a place to call home until my senior year, a hole in the wall apartment on (the aptly titled) Gay Street. I didn’t own a laptop until last year, a 10 year old Dell that ran like a tortoise on downers. I don’t have a car. I was kicked out of one dorm and spent months hunting for a couch or a roof. Yet when I think about the experience all I can do is laugh.

When covering the post-graduation grind, news stories will focus on the external forces that played their filthy role in the spiral towards debt and minimum wage checks. What you will not find is the following admission on account of the graduate:

I did this to myself. I fucked up.

After a wretched summer of unemployment, I found reliable income as one of the thousands of drug dealers spread across this nation of downward mobility.

I became a versatile cog in a union of dealers that push on every street corner in every American city. We operate in broad daylight under the sanction of the local, state and federal governments. We deal to you, your children and your relatives at inflated costs and without us you do not get your daily fix. Escobar couldn’t shine our shoes.

We are gas station attendants.

We are the ones who keep your bellies full of empty calories, who drown your nightmares in alcohol, who allow you to fill your tank and shred your system with tobacco.

We swallow your grievances. We pretend to care about your problems at home. We tidy up after your unruly kids. We sanitize the mess when a drunken bum shit sprays the bathroom floor on a Summer afternoon.

I’ve come in contact with every dingy brand of walking grunge one can remember or imagine. Grease monkeys, food stamp hoarders, lungers, booze hounds, Chets and Jens, social smokers, zombies, hipsters, pill heads, panhandlers, schizoids, titty dancers past and present, wrinkled racist bastards, hookers and ex-hookers, dwarves, catholic school girls, racial stereotypes and a man who planned to poison the D.C. water supply.

After four years and five figures of schooling I’ve ended up behind a cash register asking people “Regular, mid-grade or premium?”, “Do you want king size or the 100’s?”, “Do you want the two-for-one White Owls or Swishers?” “Do you want plastic tip or wood tip?”

There is a grim humor that goes with the job. The humor that says you can rabble on about gas prices, why you didn’t get a receipt at the pump or how your wife blows your money on cartons of Virginia Slims. And we’ll listen and nod with that friendly clown smile ripped across our required mask.

But in the end, like The House, we take you for everything. And kill you in the process. Either through pollution or addiction, we kill you.

The year and a half stint {and counting} has been an exercise in receiving people as they are. You learn more about the yearning for ambition in the long faces and desperate phrases of the Earth’s salt than you will by skimming notes in the campus library.

Living teaches what matters. Living has the only pair of embracing arms carrying a Louisville Slugger in each hand.

Living says that regardless of the savage ill-will I hold towards some person’s nuance, these are the people – some regretfully – who will be in the throes of the next haphazard revolution. Some will be on the front line, others will cower in disbelief at the sight of roving mobs in American streets and the rest will be left fending for their skin from those mobs.

These are the people we have to count on, whether or not they have a Bachelor’s Degree.

Ian Hubbard has been hacking it out for an experience beyond vice and doom in the midst of the Rust Belt. Keeping his head down to the grind, Hubbard awaits his moment in the sun. He moonlights as a creative consultant and is said to give great back rubs. Ian can be reached at ian.hubbard89@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ian.