Your essay "The Beauty of the System" is an outstanding portrayal of
the futility of the suburban middle class life and the increasingly
frenzied, but futile, attempts to remain in the shrinking middle class
and "improve" one’s lot in life. Although I now live in the heart of
fly-over land, I grew up in northern Virginia in the 60s and 70s. I
still have relatives there, who moved out of the inner suburbs to the
"affordable" confines of the nightmare called Ashburn.
Back in the days of my childhood, a 1,000 or 1,500 square foot ugly brick box of a house, a telephone, a black and white TV, and a crappy Chevy station wagon marked one’s achievement of having reached the middle class, and we were darned glad to have those things.
I’ve seen in my own life and in those of my family members how the continual raising of the bar for "necessities", and tax and trade policies that have engorged the rich at the expense of the rest of us, do nothing but force us to run harder and harder to stay in the same place.
Having finally tired of the crushing weight of hypocrisy, greed, and stupidity that increasingly characterize this country, I dropped out a couple of years ago. I left a nearly 6-figure salary to go back to school for a PhD. The big brick house with the 3-car garage was sold, and I now live in a modest townhouse on a $24K graduate student stipend.
Do I have great insurance, a big plasma TV, satellite dish, iPod, cellphone, Blackberry, AMEX gold card, and a Lexus in the garage? Nope, I’ve got none of those things. Yet, I somehow survive and pay my bills. My blood pressure is down and my satisfaction with life has increased exponentially.
My brother-in-law, who lives in Ashburn (God help him), has most of the typical middle-class props and toys and is grinding himself down to the bone, working 60 hours a week and selling some things on eBay on the side to make ends meet. I don’t expect him to live to 65.
Rather than rejoining my former Federal agency (a remarkably corrupt and fetid sinkhole of taxpayer dollars) after graduation, I hope to find a modest teaching position in some quiet corner of the country. Hopefully I’ll be able to afford a modest roof over my head and a small car that runs most of the time. I may never make more than $40K in a year and I couldn’t care less.
The spirit of public service to which John F. Kennedy called us no longer exists in the Federal Civil Service. I hope that I might once again be able to provide such service by helping others to improve their lives and the state of this planet in the field of education. Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but sometimes, dreams do come true.
Your words are a beacon of light in an increasingly dark and frightening night. Keep fighting the good fight, Joe!
In fly-over land
You are an inspiration to Americans. Unfortunately, Americans could give a shit about inspiration that does not come prepackaged in red white and blue from Fox Network.
Now the next thing we gotta do is a kidnap operation on your sister and your brother-in-law. Maybe spirit them away to Papua, New Guinea, where they can discover the joys of raw sex, betel nut and beautiful sunsets.
Seriously though, you ain’t no dreamer, buddy. Some people just figure it out for themselves, and everyone else around them calls them a dreamer (while secretly whispering that they are nuts.)
In any case, kids "in some quiet corner of the country" are going to be very fortunate students indeed.