Cabby's corner: The culture war
WHO’S WAR? Shouldn’t everybody join in the war effort, instead of letting a bunch of people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder do all the dirty work?
‘I really don’t like recruiting kids out of any of these schools,’ the recruiter confessed. ‘Most of them, no matter how academically advanced, are socially backward when it comes to co-existing with fellow employees.’
The culture war
Cal Poly’s entitled youth stay home to do battle—and make their millions
By Dell Franklin
Late on a Saturday afternoon, I picked up four male Cal Poly students. From their rented home in a quiet residential area, they were headed across town to a party in the “Jungle,” an enclave where students dwelt in condos, apartment complexes and rental homes. They were in fine spirits, having just finished finals and only months away from graduation. The kid sitting shotgun was black, wore wire-rimmed glasses and a Cal Poly ball cap. The three kids in back were white. One of them politely directed me to take a shortcut through the campus.
“How’d you make out on your exams?” I asked the kid beside me.
“I aced ‘em, man. I was on it.”
“Good for you. What’re you majoring in?”
“Business and marketing. Graduating in June, and then I'm going out and making my millions.”
“A million isn’t enough these days,” sais a kid in back. :You need way more.”
“How you gonna make your millions?” I asked shotgun.
“I got some ideas,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I plan to start out in a solid corporation, and go from there. I have to learn the ins and outs first, get my feet wet, before I start out on my own.”
“You sound like a very ambitious young man.”
“You got it.”
“What do you think about Bush’s plan of starting your own re-tirement plan instead of social security?”
“I’m for It, one hundred percent. I don't want anybody taking my money. I’ve worked my butt off getting through school, and I intend to outwork everybody to make my millions. I don’t see why I should put my money into a fund that’s going to run out by the time I’m retirement age, anyway.”
“But what if things don’t work out, and you don’t have any social security to fall back on?”
One of the kids in the back seat leaned forward, joining us. “There’s not gonna be any money left, so what’s the difference?”
“Right on!” said another kid in back.
“So you think social security’ll be extinct in twenty years?”
“Right. The boomers are hogging all the cash. It’s every man for himself, dude.”
“What about those folks who aren’t educated enough, or technically sophisticated enough to go out on their own to make enough money to start their own plans? Or aren’t capable of making a smart plan?”
“They’re shit outta luck!” They all laughed.
A few weeks earlier, at the career counseling office on campus, I picked up a thirtyish man in a business suit and loosened tie and drove him to the airport. He toted an overnight bag, laptop and cell phone. He was a recruiter for major corporations. He usually hit Cal Berkeley, Arizona State, and another technical engineering school like Cal Poly. I asked him about the kind of students he preferred recruiting.
“I really don’t like recruiting kids out of any of these schools,” he confessed. “Most of them, no matter how academically advanced, are socially backward when it comes to co-existing with fellow employees. I’d rather recruit somebody who’s had a couple years under their belt in some other firm, so they get a chance to learn how to work with other people.”
“Why do you think they’re so backward?”
“A lot of these kids are twenty-two and they’ve never really had jobs. They don’t know anything about the world, or life. I don’t care how brilliant they are, there’s more to a job than the technical as-pect. There’s an arrogance and a sense of entitlement to these kids that really turns me off. They need to be humbled in the work place by being under somebody who kicks their ass a little. These kids demand to start out at seventy-five grand, right out of school. Demand! Cal Berkeley’s worse. They want ninety-grand! I’m here to try and find somebody I think can do the work and get along with fellow employees without being too much of a high-handed pain in the ass.’
“Ninety-grand?” I said. “Never had a job?”
He laughed. “Ridiculous, huh?”
I wondered about these kids in my cab, the world their oyster.
“So what do you think about George Bush?” I asked.
“He’s solid,” said the kid in back, who was up on his seat. “The man stands for something. He’s not a piece of shit like Kerry, a straw in the wind."
“Yeah, well,” I said, “Kerry went to war, volunteered, got shot, while Bush opted out…his daddy got him into the National Guard in 1968 when nobody could get in.”
“So what. At least he didn’t come back and turn on his own troops, calling then murderers.”
“Bush was for the Vietnam war, and so was Cheney, but both chose not to serve. They decided to let everybody else do the fighting, in case you wanna know, kid.”
“I don’t know what that has to do with what’s going on now,” said the kid breathing down my neck, his voice becoming strident.
The kid beside me said, “Yeah, what does it have to do with what’s going on now? I mean that respectfully, sir.”
“I know you do,” I said, driving slowly across campus. “OK, we’re in a war, supposedly against terrorism. In past wars, the pop-ulation rallied out of a sense of duty, and everybody went. And there was a draft. The guys in my generation went to ‘Nam because most of their dads went in the Second World War, so they felt a need to make a sacrifice. If you’re gonna talk the talk, walk the walk. You be-lieve in this war? Bush’s war?”
The kid breathing down my neck said, “Goddam right. We're fighting terrorists who fucking attacked us.”
“Iraq attacked us?”
“That’s where the war’s at, dude. You want those fuckers over here?”
“You feel pretty strongly. You gonna join the Army or Marines after you graduate, and do your part?"
“Why should I do that?”
“You’re patriotic, aren’t you? Shouldn’t everybody join in, instead of letting a bunch of people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder do all the dirty work, put their asses on the line?”
“That’s why we got a volunteer Army,” said the kid beside me. “If you want to go, you can go…”
“I’d rather stay home and support the troops and the country by fighting the culture war,” said the kid breathing down my neck.
“What the hell’s the culture war?”
“Liberals like you,” he said, becoming more strident. “We’re sick of that old bullshit Hippie agenda…you talk about avoiding the draft, back in the sixties? What about Clinton?”
“He didn’t strut around like a tough gunslinger and bang the war drums like Bush, and he didn’t get us into wars like this one, kid!”
“The culture war assures us that the unions and the government don’t give away the country,” said the kid in back. “The culture war is about fighting the ideals that were part of the New Deal. This is a new era. All these welfare programs, and the fact that somebody, because of their color, or whatever, can be preferred by a college over somebody who earns better grades…”
“Exactly,” said shotgun.
I decided not to say anything about all the little dickheads who got into places like Harvard and Yale because their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers went there.
The most interesting part of the conversation with the recruiter was his hiatus in Italy after his junior year In college. He decided to go to Firenze and get a work visa to support himself for two years while he went to school there. He traveled extensively, when he could, and discovered a different perspective on life, and America, from such a distance.
“It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the money in the world,” he told me. “Too many kids go through high school right into college and straight into a job, everything pretty much mapped out, and they don’t see the other side, it’s a narrow existence, and it goes on for a lifetime. In Europe I met people, saw things, did things I never would’ve conceived of doing without taking a chance on trying some-thing different. I read different writers, like Henry Miller, Upton Sinclair, and it gave me an insight into our country, and how every-body else sees us. It was enlightening, to say the least. When I came back to the states I finished up school and went to work, but that experience abroad gave me a background, an education money can’t buy.”
I told him how I, after getting out of the Army, thumbed around America for a year, and worked four months on the last riverboat to ply the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as a passenger vessel. I never would have experienced this had I not taken off on my own like a hobo with bindle stick. I dropped the recruiter off at the airport and sat with him in the cab for another five minutes, just talking, and after we shook hands he paid with a substantial tip.
As I approached the Jungle, the kid in back had his hair up pretty good. He clearly didn’t like me when I mentioned to him that poor kids were repeatedly returning to Iraq to fight the fight to keep him free and safe, supposedly, while he drank with his buddies and chased after pussy and prepared to make his millions.
“Do you know what it’s like?” I asked. “To be a thousand miles away, in a strange land, doing the dirtiest of the dirty work known to mankind, for your country, while everybody’s back home getting laid, drinking beer, eating steak, and giving lip service to heroes?” Before he could answer, I said, “In the end, it IS lip service. You talk about supporting the troops, but nobody really gives a shit except the guys over there, and their relatives. And when they get home, everybody pats ‘em on the back, tells them how great they are, and within weeks they’re on their own, all fucked up for life.”
“Hey dude, somebody’s got to stay home and work their asses off to keep the money flowing to fight these wars,” he snapped, as I pulled up to the party house. There was a keg in the yard, and male and female students milled around, sprawled on a wide veranda, and there was laughter and loud voices emanating from inside the house. ”Our taxes pay for these wars, dude. That’s what my parents have done, working THEIR asses off. You may not like where they live, or how their politics are, but they keep the country going, not you, scrounging around in a cab.”
It is not just how much money you are tipped, if you are tipped by a fare, but the manner in which it is done. This kid disdainfully, dismissively flipped a small wad of unruly singles into my lap and quickly got out. There was the usual dollar tip. Shotgun showed me his knuckles and a sympathetic smile, and we rapped.
“Go make your millions, kid,” I said. “Good luck to you.”
“Thanks, man, see you around.” §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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