Dispatches from the Loser Generation
I’ve been travelling around the country for some time. But it was in East Haven, Massachusetts on a porch in the heat that a bartender dubbed me a ‘traveler’. Now that it was out there people since from all over have called me that. The best thing about it has been collecting stories from new friends and old all across the country. They’re great people, but that doesn’t keep them from being members of the Loser Generation.
First Dispatch: Megan in Portland
“I met Megan abroad. I was teaching in Singapore, seeing what made their students do well on those tests. (Hint: they don’t have the same rules about plagiarism that we do.) She and I met online, as is my typical form of meet-up these days. We hit it off, not romantically but as good friends. After a couple months she went back to the States.
“When my contract was up I headed back and got in touch. She was in Portland, and I’d never been. So, having little to occupy me…
“One of the first things I noted was that the polite cartoon characters on the bus urging me to move to the back and not yak on the phone were wearing beanies and fleece while sporting soul patches. Also: poverty. Lots of poverty on the public transport system.
“It’s an unusual town where the young suits downtown have gauged ears and conspicuous tats creeping out of their collars and winding down their wrists. It being January it wasn’t easy to get a good look at the native fauna though, with the unforgiving winds ushering locals indoors. I went to the sights: the parks, Powell’s Bookstore, and the food carts. But more on Megan.
“M’s a couple years older than me, 27, and is taking the long road to her diploma. She was in SG [Singapore] to study. She’s an awesome cook, and is known character at Whole Foods. She’s renting a house near campus with three other girls and a cat. She’s studying neuroscience, and probably getting published soon.
“Her roommates and boyfriend are pretty cool. They’re good to hang around and have a drink with or talk about the state of politics today. Some are still in school, some have graduated. Everyone’s working barista, waitress, and bookstore-style jobs.
“She’s not entirely sure what comes next. She’s used to working to get by, in stints when she wasn’t in college. With her degree she’ll likely need to round up funding for the rest of her career. Apparently there may be something available at a lab locally, which would be great. If not, well, we didn’t talk much about that.”
Second Dispatch: Joseph in Ithaca
“S: Hey dude – I’m in Ithaca!
what are you doin’ there?
“S: Visiting Joseph. And Em. He’s up at Cornell for grad school.
“J: what does he study?
“S: Some sort of bio. Environmental stuff with earthworms.
“J: well at least the weather’s decided to be summer.
“S: I know! It was 60 degrees the other eveing.
“J: ithaca is a depressing town. make sure your friend doesn’t hang himself.
“S: It’s a depressed town, certainly. Like Louis C.K.’s bit on whole towns that are shit.
“J: isn’t it the suicide capital of the u.s.?
“S: Probably. Joe’s doin’ alright here, though. It’s better than the jobs he had after [university].
“J: what was he doing before?
“S: Chasing geese off of New York reservoirs with a flare gun.
“J: that sounds awesome.
“S: Awesomely cold and low-paying, yes. Basically he’s pledged to stay here as long as he can so he doesn’t have to enter the workforce.”
Third Dispatch: Haley in New York
“T: Hey! Are you in NY?
“C: I am. :)
“T: Say hi to Haley for me!
“C: Will do. I’m staying at her place.
“T: I know. I saw your profile. ;)
“C: How’s life?
“T: It’s okay. Things are a little stressful right now. Eric’s deploying soon.
“C: That’s rough.
“C: When does he get back?
“T: Early June. He leaves on Thursday.
“C: Well send him my and Haley’s best luck and wishes.
“T: How’s Haley doing? I’ve not spoken to her in, like, a month and a half.
“C: She’s doing okay. She’s dating Rick now, if you ever knew him from school.
“T: I don’t think so…
“C: He and I were in the same department. He’s a cool guy. She’s trying to get by, and is working a sort of 9-5 secretarial job, temping. She’s working on her own projects when she can.
“T: Did she ever send off her applications to go back to school?
“C: Nope. Didn’t want the debt.
“T: Makes sense…
Fourth Dispatch: Sam in Cleveland and Lynne in L.A.
“Howdy. Quick message while I’ve got a minute.
“I’m back in Cleveland at Sam’s. He just lost his job shortly after I planned my trip. Cleveland is…Cleveland. I think I saw everything I ever wanted to see last time I was out here. We’re chilling out. Not eating out as much as last time, not surprisingly.
“His girlfriend’s moved down to L.A. so he wants to follow her out there fairly soon. He’s got a cool kickstarter project he hopes will raise some funds. His girlfriend, Nat, is at the B.U. campus in LA (which makes little sense to me, but whatever). She’s pretty cool, and hopes to break into the entertainment business out there. I’m going to put her in touch with Lynne.
“Speaking of which, I got a call from her on Monday. She’s having trouble getting a job, but things are going well with David. Best of luck to them... She’s doing some freelance work, but since everyone in Hollywood got fired jobs that anyone used to be able to just walk in off the street and take now have ridiculous pre-reqs. A job that is basically coffee gopher is now asking five years’ experience – and people can provide it, because they used to be it ten years ago. It used to mean if you had that on your resume you sucked too badly to even advance.
“So she’s still at home, and is making enough to basically cover her monthly loan payments, even though she knows people and has contacts. David’s doing a bit better, and they want a place of their own, but until she can find something solid that just isn’t going to happen.”
These writings are all based on real people I’ve spent time with on my travels, and all composed of real details, changing names. There've been many others. A few, in brief:
B – Who after graduation shared an apartment with her college roommate in Seattle, working retail to pay the bills, working in theaters at night for no pay. She decided to go back to school.
O – Who after graduation worked as a waitress in South Carolina, living with her parents, then a summer job working with children. She then took on an internship, and eventually landed a year-long job in Connecticut.
E – Who dropped out for a while, unable to pay tuition fees. He’s now at another school, far behind when he might’ve graduated. Works at a Panera, and doesn’t know what he’ll do once he graduates. Lives with his parents.
D – Who works at Gamestop and has gone from liberal arts college to community college, and back to another liberal arts college. Lives with his parents as well. Drives a bus as another source of income.
A –Who graduated late, moved to Maine to be with his girlfriend after a stint with parents. Works for a nonprofit; future uncertain after the November election.
K – Who moved out to Boston and works three different shifts, always bringing her work home to finish, to pay the bills. Graduated in 2011, and unlike many I’ve mentioned, works in the field she studied.
N – Who graduated in 2007 and worked in a bookstore from then until last year, when she quit. She’s now bagging wholesale coffee, sharing an apartment with four other individuals.
S – Who got his diploma and promptly worked three jobs: as a waiter, a piano teacher, and a lackey for a video company in Oakland so he can share his apartment with a friend.
W – Who got a certificate to be a masseuse after college, and has yet to find a position in her state, living with friends and without a car in a depressed town.
R – Who has worked as a waitress in Madison, WI since she graduated five years ago, pursuing her passions in her free time and at night for almost no pay in the field she studied.
V – Who tried to be a teacher in NYC and ended up working for a private company in Jersey City after three years of subbing.
H – Who documented Occupy and told me they were making plans in Denver if I was interested.
I said in the last post we were going to be the solution to our own problem, how a bunch of middle class families ended up getting wiped out, and how those of us graduating post 2007 have been hit so hard. Now that I’ve given some detail about the problem, statistically and anecdotally, I can begin to talk about the solution.